In July and August the Fantasia International Film Festival brings joy to Montreal film fans, and those who travel here, from far and wide, for that special Fantasia experience. Hors-festival, Fantasia also presents films at Cinéma du Parc on the third Thursday of the month. The Fantasia selection for February 18, 2016, the horror film The Witch, has been sold out since some time last week. That’s too bad for those who did not buy tickets in advance, because you couldn’t find a more enthusiastic group to watch a film with. Oh, well!
Montrealers can catch The Witch, in the original English, or dubbed into French, at various branches of the Cineplex Odeon chain, starting on Friday, February 19. In the downtown area, that means the Quartier Latin and ScotiaBank cinemas.
The Witch has attracted lots of attention since its first screening at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. It won the Directing Award at Sundance, First Feature Competition at the the 2015 London Film festival, Horror Jury Prize at the 2015 Austin Fantastic Fest Best Feature at the 2015 New Hampshire Film Festival. It’s also the “Most Anticipated of 2016” according to the Indiewire Critics’ Poll.
The film is set in New England of the 1630s. A family of recent immigrants is living on the edge of some scary woods. Life is is already very difficult, and when the youngest child, who’s just a baby, disappears under mysterious circumstances, things spiral downhill from there and family members turn on each other. Director Robert Eggers spent several years researching the era.
While watching all by myself I burst out laughing on several occasions, but this is definitely a film to watch with a large group. I can imagine Dangerous Men going over really well in Fantasia’s longtime venue, the Hall Theatre of Concordia. I hope it works just as well at Cinéma du Parc.
So, what makes Dangerous Men funny, ridiculous or strange? Where to start? The script makes no sense, there’s bad dialogue, badly delivered, and several levels of bad acting on display. People talk to dead bodies; they also have long, rambling conversations with themselves. About eighty per cent of the male characters have moustaches, but the film was begun back in the day of detective show Magnum P.I. after all. (Google it if that doesn’t ring a bell.) There’s a living room bellydance performance when you’d least expect it. And just wait for the closeup view of a police badge, or the newscast set that looks like it was made from cardboard and duct tape.
The opening minutes of the film manage to be boring and puzzling at the same time. Scenes keep switching back and forth between two couples declaring their love for each other. Who are they and why should we care? It’s not clear if these “events,” such as they are, are happening at the same time, or if we are just switching between the two couples for the sake of variety.
In one night-time scene, a man in a black suit approaches a house. (Was it the filmmaker’s home? Woudn’t be surprised.) We just see this guy from the knees down, or from the back; the lighting is so strange that his shadow often looks like a second man. The way he’s filmed we assume he’s up to no good.
Later, when he is outside smoking (near his home, far from his home, who knows?) he interrupts the armed robbery of a liquour store. This is a way of letting us know that he’s a cop. I guess.
Before he interrupts that robbery, we see a woman, safe behind some shelves, and invisible to the two robbers, watch them pull a gun on the cashier and collect money. I thought she was a customer, but no, she was the store owner. As the robbers are about to leave, she confronts one of them with a yell, grabs his bag of loot and tries some laughably ineffective martial-arts moves on him. What kind of idiot would do that? Seriously? There will be lots more illogical behaviour before we’re through. The owner gets shot and falls down in a very unconvincing, theatrical way.
Turns out that the cop is named Dave. The other man is Daniel, his brother. Daniel and Mina tell Mina’s father that they want to get engaged. Mina’s father doesn’t look old enough to be her father – a big brother, maybe. Mostly, we see dad in profile or from the back, as if the actor didn’t really want to show his face.
The next day, Daniel and Mina hit the road. (Everything seems to be taking place in California, but Daniel and Mina have a car with New York state plates. I don’t know why.) They have a run-in with some thuggish bikers on a beach and Daniel ends up dead. Mina vows to get revenge on all the bad men in this world. (That would be most of them.) She embarks upon a killing spree. Many of the murders are presented in a visual shorthand – we see Mina’s shadow on a wrinkled sheet as she stabs the shadow of her anonymous victim. Saves money on actors and fake blood!
At one point Mina takes a train somewhere. . .I think. Well, we’re shown a train, which made me think she rode it. Then again, maybe it was just passing by and I filled in the blanks, incorrectly? Mina travels without luggage or even a handbag, yet she magically has several changes of clothes. She even has an off-the-shoulder sweatshirt like the one Jennifer Beale wore in Flashdance (1983). Not to mention, where does she stash her eyeshadsow, lipstick, mascara, teasing comb, etc?
After Daniel’s body is found, brother Dave tries to find the killer, even though his boss tells him he’s too close to the case to do that. Of course, Dave ignores his boss, doesn’t everybody? Dave seems mildly curious about the fact that Mina is missing, but not as worried as one might expect, since they had almost become in-laws and he had told his brother that he liked Mina very much. In that conversation, he mentions “wedding arrangements” and says arrangements in such a strange way, it sounds like English is not his first language. The director should have asked for another take!
Most of the things I describe above happened in the first few minutes, there are lots more ridiculous things to come. Fight scenes were clumsily absurd. During some of them I swear I heard someone saying “Whack, whack,” every time a fist connected with a body.
The music was funny for a few minutes and then became very annoying, verging on excruciating. The same riffs would be repeated for several minutes even when the mood of a scene had changed radically.
Neutral observation: The handguns in Dangerous Men are relatively small. If the film were made today, I imagine that they would be much larger and look scarier.
Watching Dangerous Men has made me appreciate the scripts, actors, sound tracks, continuity, etc. of mainstream movies much more, even the ones that are far from perfect.
Dangerous Men is (unintentionally) funny, but I did feel a bit sad about it, too. It was the passion project of John S. Rad (real name: Jahangir Salehi Yeganehrad) an Iranian who fled Iran for the U.S. in 1979, five days after the Shah left Iran himself. Supposedly, Rad made between three and 11 films in Iran, and he was also personal cameraman to the Shah. After Watching Dangerous men I have very serious doubts about that, but maybe no one watched his Iranian films, either. Or maybe they were shorts. Maybe he shot very short scenes for the Shah, too, and someone else edited them.
One review I read says that Dangerous Men looks like a film made by someone who had never seen one before, and I have to agree! Yet, Rad spent more than 20 years writing, shooting editing, etc. What did he learn in that time? I also wonder if he neglected his family and friends while devoting so much time to this project? He was a bit cavalier with the posssessions of others, too. A car that gets pushed down a steep hillside had belonged to his daughter; she only found out what happened to it when she watched the film.
I’m one of those people who feels obliged to read the credits. What’s in them? Mina (Melody Wiggins) and her boyfriend Daniel (Kelay Miller) are identified as Mina and Daniel. But Dave, Daniel’s brother, is just “Police Detective.” The actor is named Michael Gradilone but Michael is mispelled as Micheal. A character named Black Pepper in the film is simply “Head of Drug Dealers” in the credits. One “biker” was played by Gorge Derby. Is that a real name, or George mispelled?? I know Jorge is a name. Another actor is just “Terry,” and a camera operator is just “Felix.” I wouldn’t have wanted to give my full name, either.
. Dangerous Men, written, directed, edited, produced (etc.) by John S. Rad
In English, 80 minutes long.
Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016, at 9:15 p.m. at Cinéma du Parc, 3575 Ave du Parc
Fantasia? In the chill of January? Yes, indeed. Montreal’s exuberant genre fim fest officially takes place in July and August, but like the documentary film festival RIDM Fantasia looks after its many fans in the off-season, too.
On the third Thursday of each month Fantasia will show a film at Cinema du Parc. (RIDM uses the fourth Thursday.)
What’s on tap this month? Dangerous Men is a little-seen U.S. revenge flick that took more than two decades to make. It was only shown in four theatres on its release in 2005, and that was because the filmmaker, John S. Rad, paid to have it shown.
Evidently, Dangerous Men is not your usual slick blockbuster; it falls into the “so bad/weird/strange/insane, it’s good” category. It was appealing enough that Drafthouse Films invested in its restoration, and now Dangerous Men is on a bit of a world tour to an assortment of cities that include Fort Collins, Colorado, Seattle, Ottawa, London and Bristol (the ones in England) and Melbourne (Australia).
Drafthouse says “It’s a pulse-pounding, heart-stopping, brain-devouring onslaught of ’80s thunder, ’90s lightning, and pure filmmaking daredevilry from another time and/or dimension. Blades flash, blood flows, bullets fly and synthesizers blare as the morgue overflows with the corpses of DANGEROUS MEN.”
The synopsis from Drafthouse: “After Mina witnesses her fiancé’s brutal murder by beach thugs, she sets out on a venomous spree to eradicate all human trash from Los Angeles. Armed with a knife, a gun, and an undying rage, she murders her way through the masculine half of the city’s populace. A renegade cop is hot on her heels, a trail that also leads him to the subhuman criminal overlord known as Black Pepper.”
CinemaBlend says Dangerous Men is as “ridiculous and insane as you think it is, but also disturbingly entertaining. ”
Rolling Stone calls it a “mesmerizing, incomprehensibly riveting movie,” and says that watching it is “an exuberant, surreal experience.”
The Hollywood Reporter says “its awful glory. . .”would make Ed Wood green with envy.” “The pacing is bizarre; the dialogue is laughably atrocious; the production values are non-existent; the acting is embarrassing; the fight scenes are ineptly staged, with loud sound effects failing to compensate for the fact that no blows are landed; and the synthesizer-heavy musical score sounds left over from a ’70s porn film. ”
The AV Club says that: “Dangerous Men is a singular movie-going experience (in a good way).” “Ridiculous, artless, and wildly entertaining, Dangerous Men is more than the sum of its fascinatingly misguided parts, although it will take a special sort of moviegoer to truly appreciate (or endure, depending on your perspective) its charms.”
IndieWire says “the bonkers trailer. . . “plays like the best action film Ed Wood ever made.”
IndieWire also compares it to Roar, another old film released by Drafthouse. It features the many large felines owned by Melanie Griffith’s parents Tippi Hendren and Noel Marshall. Roar was shown at Fantasia 2015. (Read my review here, if you like.)
Rad is certainly a great short and punchy name. The filmmaker’s real name was Jahangir Salehi Yeganehrad. He was an Iranian who fled Iran for the U.S. five days after the Shah left himself. Rolling Stone says he was a multi-millionaire engineer and importer/exporter who had also been personal cameraman to the Shah. Rad made between three and 11 films in Iran, depending on which sources which sources you believe. Vanity Fair and the Hollywood Reporter say he was an architect and filmmaker.
Apparently Rad showed an early version of the film in 1984 or 1985, but the unfavoruable reaction led him to re-work it. Vanity Fair says he might have added footage that he’d shot for a different film.
Dangerous Men was still not big hit when Rad showed it again in 2005, though Vanity Fair says that it did catch “the attention of adventurous filmgoers like Hadrian Belove (now the founder and executive creative director of the nonprofit cinema Cinefamily), who rallied enough like-minded movie buffs to sell out a single screening.”
“By my standards, I think Dangerous Men is the apex predator of outsider cinema,” Belove said. “Usually, no matter how special and strange and surprising these movies are, there’s a moment where you sort of settle in. Where you go, O.K., I get it. I know you, Birdemic. I get what you are. . . . But Dangerous Men keeps transforming and becoming a different movie. By the time you get to that freeze-frame at the end—they do a freeze-frame for the final credits—and not a single person in that frame was a character in the movie 20 minutes earlier.”
IMDB lists it as an Action, Adventure, Comedy. Probably Rad would be displeased by the comedy designation. Rolling Stone says: “Even Rad’s family isn’t sure where the line between intentional and unintentional humor lies in the film. ‘He was trying to give a message, but I don’t think it came out the way he wanted to,’ (Rad’s daughter Samira) Wenzel says. ‘He would get insulted very quickly if someone would laugh at a section of the movie. When my daughter laughed at a scene, he thought that was very unacceptable. I’m still trying to analyze where he was coming from.’ ”
Dangerous Men, written, directed, edited, produced (etc.) by John S. Rad
In English, 80 minutes long.
Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016, at 9:15 p.m. at Cinéma du Parc, 3575 Ave du Parc