Saturday, August 13, 2011

Fantasia 2011 (Day 21)


Filler, filler, filler. Here's a lineup I selected solely to boost my total number of screenings. Obviously, I didn't know exactly what to expect from those films, but I didn't have high expectations. The first one seemed like your average teenage drama, while the third one appeared to be a hodgepodge of Nazi lore and supernatural horror. As for the second one, I had bought a ticket only to keep myself occupied in between. Luckily, it turned out to be the best of the three, and a necessary stepping stone on the way toward the richly-produced Warrior starring Tom Hardy and Nick Nolte. This goes to show just how hard it is to make an enlightened selection out of a festival catalog. Here, the random ticket I bought provided me with the best screening of the day. In other instances, such as the FNC from two years ago, it provided me with the very best film of the festival. Evidently, I tend to remain as broad in my choices as possible, which leads me to extremes of commitment the likes of which I should keep for other areas of my life. Selecting 75 feature films from just above a 100 is not akin to making a smart selection. It is more about making sure that I see every title that might potentially be of interest. Which allows me to draw the occasional wild card. The wild card often manifests itself as the low-budget film with a big heart such as is the case here. Such as was the case with Beyond the Black Rainbow, another film which I picked as filler without knowing how great an impact it would actually have on me. This realization makes me less adamant to better restrain my future selections, but to widen it in a bid not to miss anything. For it is always those wild cards that life deals you which will unlock the most exciting opportunities.


Wasted on the Young
Polished but vacuous Australian thriller doesn't know the meaning of nuance and so, it wastes some relevant ideas about the power of social networks to affect change elsewhere than in the Middle East. To get a fairly accurate idea of the synopsis, just picture yourself in the Australian equivalent of Beverly Hills, amongst the good-looking teenagers of TV dramas. Then imagine something wrong behind the scene, something you'd expect to be wrong. As it turns out, teenagers tend to become dangerous egomaniacs when trusted with infinite riches and empty, decadent homesteads in which to party carelessly. The absence of parents is obvious and the nihilism of their progeny follows naturally. That's the gist of the story as the annoying, over-popular antagonists showcase their arrogance by making all of their peers subservient to their will, and to the popularity that they bestow on those who attend their parties. It's all about appearances, including when those antagonists try to conceal their involvement in the rape of a classmate, which they leave for dead on the beach. Things get dicier near the end, but so does the story become increasingly unrealistic until it falls totally flat. And the elaborate computerized contraptions devised by the protagonist don't help one bit.


Shakespearean tragedy gets the contemporary treatment here as two brothers are pitted against each other during a climactic brawl set in swinging New Orleans. While linear and derivative, the narrative is also devoid of cumbersome artifices and so it proceeds smoothly from point A to point B. With the young actors' passion translating almost seamlessly to the screen and sumptuous New Orleans contributing its own internal rhythm, the narrative becomes earnestly involving and so does the crucial, gripping fight that acts as catharsis for the estranged protagonists. Overall, a great surprise.


The Devil's Rock
The Devil's Rock is an honest, but entirely misguided effort by first time feature director Paul Campion, a man who would rather insist on the accuracy of folkloric and historical details contained in the background of the narrative than craft an exciting film. By relying on a systematic thinning of narrative possibilities, he eventually leaves us with only those folkloric and historical details as a testimony to his hobbyist approach to filmmaking. The end result is a barren and underwhelming spectacle, with some slight redeeming value to be found in the impeccable makeup and latex prosthetics lying around the scenery. As for the carefully researched demonic lore contained in the screenplay, it fails to really flesh out the laboriously overdetermined drama of the umpteenth ally pitted against treacherous Nazi forces.

The film begins as two New Zealand soldiers land ashore the Channel Islands on the eve of D-Day. The two of them spend a while on the beach, moving slowly as they are probing for mines. This allows for a little characterization of the two characters, one of which dies in the next few shots after deciding to follow his friend inside a labyrinthine keep held by the Nazis. When long-drawn laments are heard from inside, we can only shudder at the thought of the ungodly tortures that are going down beyond the walls. But nothing that follows is as interesting as what you can imagine at that moment. With the two protagonists dashing in what can only be described as a narrative gridlock, the film shrivels up on itself and dies a premature death. You see, what they encounter after they cross the stone gate into the German keep is a series of opaque corridors that hide... nothing. Their opaqueness is only meant to lead the two guys on, and into the two continuous sets where the crux of the action takes place. From that point on, the film becomes no more than a boring waltz involving three boring archetypes, the kindhearted hero with the troubled past, the treacherous Nazi officer and then enticing succubus that feeds on their emotions.

It's actually quite symptomatic of the director's unsure hand at the helm to have him multiply the darkened corridors of the keep. Like the many narrative possibilities at his disposition, these corridors are systematically obscured in a bid to restrict the narrative to a manageable canvas. Unfortunately, said canvas turns out to be far too restrictive to elicit excitement from the casual viewer. As for the jaded viewer, he will find himself stuck in a funnel within a funnel, unable to trickle down into any form of affective experience, but keeping stuck in the stagnant waters of convention which the film threads like they were the crystal-clear lagoons of uncharted pirate islands. That said, The Devil's Rock is candid filmmaking at best.