Let Me Make You a Martyr (2016) [Fantasia International Film Festival 2016]

martyrThe official plot for Let Me Make You a Martyr is “[a] cerebral revenge film about two adopted siblings who fall in love and hatch a plan to kill their abusive father.” (IMDB.com)  Watching the film, the plot doesn’t seem that simple.  Multiple people plot to have another killed while living difficult lives as best they can, some trying to do some good at the same time.

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L’Élan (2015) [Fantasia International Film Festival 2016]

LelanIn a small French village arrives an elk (élan in French) that walks on two legs, wears a trench coat, and communicates telepathically.  Everyone he meets seems to accept him as if his presence is completely normal, except for a UFO fanatic who wants to meet and analyze him.

Director Etienne Labroue of Les Guignols de l’Info co-wrote L’Élan with Marc Bruckert and they created a marvelous fable here of a being on a quest to belong, finding a family ready to take him in and protect him.  The story here is touching, funny, and sometimes sad.  Bruckert and Labroue show a lot of talent in this sweet script that reminds the viewers of early Jean-Pierre Jeunet crossed with Quentin Dupieux.  As this is Etienne Labroue’s first film, it shows a lot of promise and directorial talent.

The characters built by Labroue and Bruckert are a little cartoon-y but here it works given the story and the settings.  The cast hired to bring those characters to life go for it with gusto and an impeccable sense of timing.  The whole cast does this so well, it’s difficult to pick a stand-out.  Aurelia Petit, Délia Espinat-Dief, Olivier Broche, Cyprien Dugas, et al deserve major kudos for fearlessly bringing their parts to life and not being afraid of looking a bit silly on screen.  It all works in the end and brings a village of kooks to life for our entertainment.  The narration is done in a way similar to Amélie but with a bit of a nuttier story which is told in a childhood story manner.

The way the film settings are and the way its shot ring out the ludique side of the story.  Everyone and everything is brought together in a way that creates a fairytale-like atmosphere.  The design of the élan himself is cartoonish with a touch of giant stuffed animal to the head’s look.  His whole being is a bit disproportionate from itself, giving him a sweet disposition and style even though he could easily have been a bad guy.  L’Élan is designed in a way to remind the viewers of childhood toys and TV shows, while his attitude and mannerism are quite child-like.  He brings an outward innocence and allows the viewer to connect on a different level with the story through nostalgia and comfort.

L’Èlan is an entertaining comedy with a lot to offer.  It takes a crazy, absurd idea and goes with it fully, giving the viewers a childhood fairytale but grown-ups.  It’s almost innocent but not quite.  It brings back a warm feeling while also reminding everyone of their need to belong.

Fantasia International Film Festival ran from July 14th until August 3rd, 2016 and will be back in the summer of 2017.


Little Sister (2016) [Fantasia International Film Festival 2016]

littlesisterColleen is a former Goth kid who has found her calling and is working towards becoming a nun.  After her brother comes back from war heavily damaged psychologically and physically, their mom pleads with Colleen to come for a visit.  A simple few days at home turn into a rediscovery of self, of her relationship with her family, and of her passion for her calling.

Written by Zach Clark from a story by Clark and Melodie Sisk, Little Sister is directed by Zach Clark who builds a family drama showing the real sides of people who start off by avoiding each other, then become closer through reminiscing and through getting to know each other again.  The characters they build here do feel like a family that lost touch and is learning to know each other anew.  The way this is written and done feels organic and natural.  This family is not perfect and neither are their relationships but the care and love they have for each other transcends their issues and differences.  The characters created are human, none perfect, none all bad, they are just trying to navigate life as best they can.

This Lunsford family is comprised of: Joani, Bill, Jacob, and Colleen who the story follows.  Ally Sheedy is Joani, Peter Hedges is Bill, Keith Poulson is Jacob, and Addison Timlin is the lead of colleen.  Ally Sheedy shows the viewers why they fell in love with her in the 80s by giving a touching performance of a stressed out mom who did all she could to give her two kids a great life.  She embodies the mom full of worries who doesn’t know how to handle her adult children.  Addison Timlin as Colleen shows growth for her character throughout the film, starting off as a timid young nun-to-be and ending as a confident woman sure of her path as a nun.

As the brother Jacob, Keith Poulson shows as much as he can under his full head prosthetic. Much of his performance rests on his voice and body language, which he uses very well. The prosthetics for Jacob’s burnt at war head and face was made by Brian Spears and Pete Gerner and is fairly well done but not great unfortunately.  For most of the film, it’s applied well, but in a few scenes, the application is not full and the second “skin” can be seen moving separately and un-sticking from the actor’s face, something that is annoying but not film breaking.

The cinematography by Daryl Pittman makes the family house look cozy, warm even.  The way interactions are framed helps focus the attention on what is important.  The music by Fritz Myers paired with the song choices underscore the action and add to Colleen’s personality.  They add to the emotions and make the film a complete experience.

Little Sister starts on a Marilyn Manson quote and ends on a much different note, following the evolution of Colleen’s life and her emotional growth.  This film is a wonderful study of family dynamics and personal growth.

Fantasia International Film Festival ran from July 14th until August 3rd, 2016 and will be back in the summer of 2017.


La Rage du Démon (2015) [Fantasia International Film Festival 2016]

laragedudemonAt the Musée Grévin in Paris, in January 2012, film scholars and filmmakers were invited to a mystery screening by one of the world’s foremost film collector, Edgar A. Wallace.  The film shown turns out to be La Rage du Démon, a late 1800s lost film that creates quite a ruckus every time it’s screened.  The last screening in New York City ended in tragedy.  The Paris screening does not go much better.  This documentary explores both what happened at those screenings as well as the film and its history.

Writer/Director Fabian Delage explores the history of horror cinema, of what lead to the making of the short silent film often times attributed to George Mélies who never claimed it as his own.  He builds his documentary on interviews with film scholars, filmmakers, researchers, and even a relative of Mélies’.  He explores the films of Mélies and of Victor Sicarius, the other potential director of La Rage du Démon, he also explores their lives and what they brought to cinema.  Some of the interviews here are with Dave Alexander, Philippe Rouyer, Alexandre Aja, Christophe Gans, and Pauline Mélies amongst many others.

These interviews are very informative creating an educational documentary all genre fans should see.  La Rage du Démon may be the main subject here due to the mystery surrounding it, but the whole history of the horror genre pre Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is exposed and explored.  Also touched upon is how such films came to be, their inspirations and how they were made.  Footage from the late 1800s/early 1900s adds to the subjects discussed and brings visual interest to something that could have been a very dry subject given all the historical facts and anecdotes involved.

Fanian Delage clearly has an eye for good, fascinating documentary subjects as well as has a touch that makes the documentary entertaining and almost mystifying as he chose a subject here that will probably never be fully clarified.  La Rage du Démon is relatively short at a run time of just one hour which is definitely a good choice as any longer could have become tedious and boring.  The short run time forces things to be tight and well edited, leaving all extraneous footage on the cutting room floor.  La Rage du Démon is a must see for both horror fans and film history buffs alike.

Fantasia International Film Festival ran from July 14th until August 3rd, 2016 and will be back in the summer of 2017.


Lowlife Love (2015) [Fantasia International Film Festival 2016]

lowlifeloveA lowlife, 39 year old film, director uses his position to sleep with young actresses under promise of making them stars.  While doing this, he’s trying to get his next film produced and cast.  Around him: His best friend makes porn films to gather money for a filming budget; a young film writer wants to get his script produced; a young actress falls in love with the film writer, et al. Everyone seems to be out for their own careers and selves, not caring about others.

Lowlife Love is written and directed by Eiji Uchida and is a study of people doing everything they need to get to their ends, to get fame for themselves, no matter the cost to others and themselves.  Uchida crafts a study of what drives people, some people, to go to ends some never would to get what they want.  His style is a bit in your face, showing events and how they affect everyone involved but never truly getting to the bottom of the reasons and the feelings behind it all.

To bring this to the screen, Uchida has a cast of 30 or so, most of them giving decent performances.  Unfortunately, most of the characters feel a bit thin and one dimensional at times, with a very few standouts.  Thankfully, one actress shows nuance and layers in her performance, Maya Okano as Minami shows the best arc, the best performance.  She shows great talent and becomes the best part of the film.  Her performance shows naïveté at first and then a form of regret as she has lost her innocence throughout the events of the film.

The cinematography by Kenji Noguchi follows the tone of the film, framing the scenes in ways to enhance their feeling of despair and of need for fame.  The film feels almost dirty some times, claustrophobic at others times, all through the look the images’ framing give it.  He adapts his style to what the scene needs, showing versatility.  However, the film’s story not being exactly great, this is a bit lost in the shuffle.

Lowlife Love is an attempt at making a dark dramedy about what goes on behind the scenes of some films but it makes it sound like it’s what goes on behind all films.  The story could have been great but its execution, starting with the story’s writing, is not on point.  A lot of it feels as though the filmmaker is trying hard but not hitting his mark, the characters feel exaggerated, and this all leads to a less than fascinating film.  Unless one is really into director Eiji Uchida’s films, it may not be worth watching.

Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 14th until August 3rd, 2016.


The Lure (2015) [Fantasia International Film Festival 2016]

lureSirens attracted by a musician playing on the beach seduce him and his band into taking them in.  With them, they become part of the entertainment at a night club while openly being sirens.  When one of the girls falls for an earthly boy, she wants to trade her tail for legs, no matter the cost.

Written by Robert Bolestro, The Lure follows two siren sisters, Golden and Silver, as they navigate life on dry land.  The story he builds here is interesting and entertaining with lead characters that attract attention and keep it.  The story takes some unexpected turns and some less so, but all of them are fun to watch (even the ones less fun for the characters).  The ending (no worries, no spoilers) is touching without being schmaltzy.  Directing this modern fairytale is Agnieszka Smoczynska who takes the script and turns it into a kind of film version of a Bjork video.  She creates a colorfully loud film in some scenes and a subdued one (color-wise) in others.

The way she shoots a domestic fight or an operation is fantastic and something this reviewer has not seen many times before (and I have seen thousands of films).  Many scenes are shot in unexpected and original ways, making the film very unique.  Adding to these directorial choices is the cinematography by Jakub Kijowski complementing the story and framing every image perfectly.  The way this film is shot brings out its peculiar, exciting scenes and contrasts them excellently with the darker ones.

Playing the sirens are Marta Mazureka as Silver (Srebrna) and Michalina Olszanska as Gold (Zwota), both giving great performances.  Mazurek shows her soft side, playing the more innocent siren who falls for a human.  The way she develops her character is sweet and makes the viewers care about her like a little sister.  Olszanska plays the other sister, more bold and mean almost.  She brings out the killer side of sirens with gleeful abandon making her performance mesmerizing.  One of the support characters stands out form the rest due to the actress’ performance, Wokalistka Krysia, the mom-type character who takes the girls in.

This performance by Kinga Preis is fantastic and layered.  She shows the character’s vulnerability and her caring side, than switches to the performer side when her character hits the stage and commands attention, almost stealing scenes from the girls at times.  A few of her performance pieces were reminiscent of LuLu.

Also more than worth the price of the ticket is the special effects for the sirens’ tails.  They look as real as can be, with fishy scales and some glistening.  They are beautiful and grab the attention.  There is also some juicy, gooey gore in the aforementioned surgery scene that looks good.  Unfortunately, the IMDB page for The Lure has no special effects or visual effects credits.

The Lure is a comedy/drama/musical/horror and as the sirens are singers being taken in by a band the music is highly important.  The numbers and performances on screen with the band and then with the girls are fun, flamboyant at times, and highly entertaining.  The pop songs are catchy and do not overstay their welcome while the choreography by Kaya Kolodziejczyk and Jaroslaw Staniek adds some sexiness to the girls’ already alluring performances.

The Lure is a great film, like a long form music video that works, reminiscent of Bjork and Mylene Farmer with a true Polish spirit.  It offers a lot and is fun while remaining touching.  It must be noted that it is Polish cinema’s first musical.  The whole crowd at Fantasia ate it up and come out talking about what they had just seen.

Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 14th to August 3rd, 2016.


The Laundryman (2015) [New York Asian Film Festival 2016]

thelaundrymanA hit man who works for a laundry company as a cover up grows a conscience.  He’s highly trained and excels at his job, however, for a while now, he is plagued by ghosts and he must find out what they want from him in order to restore some sort of peace to his life.  To do this, he enlists the help of a cute but possible clueless clairvoyant.  Through all of it, he finds out more about his victims, his boss, and himself.

The Laundryman is a hybrid horror/comedy/action film by director Chung Lee and written by Yu-Hsyun Chen and Chung Lee.  The tale built here fills the complex task of mixing multiple genres without going into parody or satire or become a send-off/homage to its genres.  Here the mix of the genres works very well and has the story evolves its elements just work.  However, the comedy levels are more present in the first third or so of the film and then occasionally throughout the rest of the film.  The comedy works because the viewer is not hit over the head with it.

That being said, some of the scenes are completely ridiculous in the best way possible.  The horror, mainly from the ghosts and not much blood outside of a few short scenes works here as well.  The ghosts here are not meant to scare but they work so well with the story.  The first fight sequence is fantastic, the way its written and shot make it really fun.  The rest of the fighting is also entertaining.  Getting all of these elements together creates a really fun whole.

The casting here feels rather perfect for the story and the style.  Hsiao-chuan (Joseph) Chang is an entertaining lead.  He has a charisma that helps carry the whole film.  His acting is just about perfect for the material.  It may not be the top performance seen at New York Asian Film Festival, but it’s still a damn good one.  Supporting him is Regina Wan as the clairvoyant and Sonia Sui as the boss, both opposites until the end.  Their performances show excellent talent as they both do extremely well.  The cast for the ghosts is fantastic too and they manage to keep a straight face through some truly ridiculous situations.

For a partially horror movie, the effects are not super prominent but what we’re given is well done.  The CGI is good and blends well in the scenes where it is present.  It’s not overly used which avoids it becoming an annoyance.  Outside of the effects, the film looks really good, it grabs the attention from the get go with its colorful representation of Taiwan and the life of a man who, by all accounts, could be living a very grim life.  Most of the film, besides the flashbacks, feels all so chipper.  In general, the film looks very good.

The Laundryman is a really fun, funny, and entertaining film.  It may be hard to find for a while being a festival title, however it’s absolutely worth checking out.  The story is good, the acting is on point, the fighting “punchy”, and the ending, all the way after the credits, will make you giggle.