A novelist (Yuko Takeuchi) has been writing short horror stories based on suggestions sent in by her readers. She gets a letter from Ms. Kubo (Ai Hashimoto), a student who has heard strange noises coming from her bedroom; swishing noises that sound like someone sweeping the tatami.
The nameless author remembers getting a similar letter a few years ago. . .when she finds it, she discovers that it was from a tenant in the same building. And that woman’s young daughter had acted as if she could see something. . . up near the ceiling. Then Kubo learns that another former resident of the building committed suicide shortly after moving somewhere else. (His landlady has a creepy story about the last time she saw him.)
Kubo and the writer start working together, trying to figure out what drove the man to kill himself. They look at old photos, land records and maps, and talk to old timers in the neighbourhood to learn about previous buildings where Kubo’s apartment block now stands, and the people who lived and sometimes died in them.
They go farther and farther back in time, and travel to other cities, too. They hear stories of apparent madness, fatal accidents, murder, and more suicides, all connected in some way. Restless spirits seem to be everywhere.
At one point, a young man who knows all about the ghost stories, rumours and gossip on Kyushu Islandcasually mentions that the locals think just hearing those stories will leave you cursed. Oh, oh! “Ah, a classic ghost story rule!” (or words to that effect) says the writer’s husband, knowingly.
Director Yoshihiro Nakamura also made Fish Story (2009), Golden Slumber (2010) See You Tomorrow, Everyone (2013) and The Snow White Murder Case (2014), which were all shown at previous editions of Fantasia. See Inerasable at the Fantasia international Film Festival on Friday, July 22, 2016, at 5 pm in the Hall Theatre of Concordia University, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.
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
Battles Without Honor and Humanity! What an appropriate title! Many yakuza films would have us believe that there are rules to be obeyed, a code of conduct to be followed, that there is, in fact, honour among thieves. This film just laughs at such silly notions . . . beats them to a pulp, and throws them right out the window.
And the various rituals and ceremonies? When it’s time for someone to give up a finger, no one is quite sure how it’s supposed to be done. A woman says “I saw it in Osaka, once.”
Battles Without Honor and Humanity was made in 1973, though the story it tells begins just after World War II, in Hiroshima. Japan is under U.S. occupation, and U.S. soldiers are running wild and acting like animals. The local crooks almost look civilized in comparison, which is quite the feat.
The film mixes conventional scenes with parts that are like a vintage version of 60 Minutes, with a narrator describing feuds and alliances, and onscreen text telling us how and when certain people were killed.
Gangs struggle for supremacy within the city, and gangsters struggle for power within their gangs. A boss cries poor so he can get away with underpaying his underlings. There’s lots of yelling and arguing; fights are not elegantly choreographed. Not one of these guys seems like a criminal mastermind.
Frankly, I couldn’t keep track of all the lying, plotting and double crossing that was going on. I could have used a family tree and a score card. Maybe that’s because the film is based on the memoirs of a gangster and real life can be more complicated than fiction? Battles Without Honor and Humanity was also part of the lineup at the recent New York Asian Film Festival.
Full Strike is a Hong Kong badminton comedy. There are many laughs in it, but for the first 30 minutes or so, the colour palette is a dark and depressing blue-green, here are some miserable moments and lots of yelling. Don’t be discouraged, things do get brighter!
Josie Ho plays Ng Kau Sau, also known as “Beast Ng” a former badminton champion who lost her status because of her bad temper. Now she’s miserable and constantly being criticized by her family members, who call her lazy and useless.
One dark and stormy night she sees a meteor (or something) shaped like a badminton birdie. An alien (or possibly a homeless man dressed in plastic bags) chases her onto an abandoned badminton court. There are some scary guys lurking in the shadows, too.
She phones her brother for help. Next thing you know, we’re at the police station. Turns out the building she was in belongs to her brother and uncle and they’ve rented it to three vicious criminals, who have just finished 10-year sentences for robbing a jewelry store. They will open the One Spirit Badminton Club. Their leader is Lau Dan (Ekin Cheng).
The criminals swear they are turning over a new leaf. Beast’s cousin, Suck Nipple Ng, who also plays badminton, and has returned to Hong Kong after 30 years in North America, thinks that’s just a story and that they plan to steal antiques from his nearby home. He wants Ng to sign up for lessons at the club so she can spy on them. This puts her in an awkward spot. She wants to take up the sport again, because the birdie meteor and the alien feel like a message from above that she should do so. But are those crooks still dangerous, or are they sincere about reforming? There’s no doubt that her cousin and his badminton-team minions are totally obnoxious people. Whose side should she be on?
Saying too much more about the plot would be going into spoiler territory, but you can expect slow-mo walking, training montages that include using knives, cleavers and meat, besides the usual racquets, to increase strength and achieve good form, philosophical speeches about “ebb and flow,” the declaration that “if you’re not good at something, the more people laugh at you the more you have to do it,” AND prodigious projectile vomiting from the drunken-master Champion Chik.
All that training has a purpose – to win the Fantastic 5-Asia Badminton Tournament, to prove to everyone (including themselves) that the former crooks have now become athletes.
Anyone who watched Robbery and Kung Fu Killer at Fantasia might recognize a face and a place in Full Strike. Eric Kwok, who played the Big Boss in Robbery, is Suck Nipple Ng’s badminton coach. Suck Nipple Ng has a garden full of large, antique statues. (I think some of the statues represent the animals of the Chinese zodiac.) That same garden appears as a meeting place in Kung Fu Killer.
Hong Kong, 2015, 108 min., DCP, Cantonese, with English and Chinese subtitles
Director: Derek Kwok, Henri Wong
Screenplay: Derek Kwok, Story Joe Chien, Yim Ka-Yee, Yan Pak-Wing
Cast: Josie Ho, Ekin Cheng, Ronald Cheng, Andew Lam, Susan Shaw
Company: Distribution Workshop
Friday, July 24, 2015, 6:20 p.m.
Concordia Hall Theatre, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.
The Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 14-Aug. 4, 2015. Read more about the festival at fantasiafestival.com
Roar is not one of those “so bad that it’s good” films. No, it’s a “WHAT were they thinking?” kind of film.
If you enjoy looking at large cats, like lions, tigers, panthers, cougars, cheetahs, and jaguars, (and the occasional elephant, added for variety, I guess) as they roar, run, play, fight, lounge around, “talk,” yawn or sleep, then Roar is for you. There are more than 150 big cats in the film – you could probably spend several weeks, and thousands of dollars, on a safari and not see so many animals. Don’t expect much of a plot, though, much less a “narrative arc.” As if.
Roar was made by Noel Marshall, who was executive producer of The Exorcist. I guess he made lots of money from that, because he and his wife Tippi Hendren (famous for her role in Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds) were able to buy all those cats in the film. Marshall is in Roar, as is Hendren, her daughter Melanie Griffith, and his sons, John and Jerry. The film was released in 1981, though few people saw it then. It has since taken on new life after being re-released by Drafthouse Films.
The story is set in in Africa, though it was filmed in California. Marshall plays Hank, some kind of research guy, who is studying wild cats – and not from a distance, either. In early scenes we see lots of cats, making themselves at home inside and outside his sprawling house, and frightening some unexpected visitors. Three years earlier, when he had received a grant for his research, he abruptly flew to Africa, leaving wife and children behind. Now they are coming for a visit. (They conveniently share this information for our benefit. Paraphrase: “Gee, Dad sure took off fast after he got that grant! It’s three years since we’ve seen him now.”)
Hank knows that they’re coming too, but for whatever reason, he doesn’t head to the airport until long after their arrival. Meanwhile, tired of waiting around, they have taken a bus, and arrive at his place before he even reaches the airport (such as it is).
Somehow, they don’t notice all the cats right away. . .but then they DO! For the next hour or so, wife and children will scream, wave their arms around and run away from the cats, who will chase them, of course. The thing is, Noah lives (all by himself, up until now) in a house with several storeys and many rooms, which permits LOTS of running. Upstairs, downstairs, from one room to another; there are more doors slamming than in your average French farce. And almost every room seems to have multiple doors, too.
Then there’s the roof. . . run to the roof, find more cats up there, run back downstairs, or jump off or fall off that roof, into the river. . .and more than once, too! When they aren’t running, the humans are trying to hide – in cupboards, in closets, in metal lockers, in rain barrels, even in the fridge – after taking the food out first.
Meanwhile, between bad luck and his own stupid behaviour, things are not going well for Hank and his friend Mativo (Kyalo Mativo) either. Tigers climb into their boat (made me think of Life of Pi!) which makes it capsize. Then an elephant tears the boat to pieces, because. . . he felt like it, I guess. Hank and Mativo borrow bicycles, but wreck them pretty quickly. Hank somehow convinces a man to lend him a car, but he wrecks a tire by driving too fast. Almost ends up going off a cliff! The man is a menace, and an idiot, too!
There’s a strange character who might be satirical, or maybe not? He’s a bad-tempered member of the grant committee, who makes a visit to the compound and does not like what he sees. This guy decides that the big cats are dangerous and should all be shot. Not sent somewhere else, or even put in cages, but just shot. Boom! Dead! Our villain, obviously. There’s something weird about his gruff voice, with its hard-to-place accent, and it also sounds like it was added later, in post-production. If you’ve ever watched a badly dubbed foreign film, you have probably heard this voice before, or one very much like it.
The yelling and screaming and running was exhausting to watch and made Roar feel much longer than its 102 minutes. Ten or even 20 minutes could easily have been lopped off, I’d say. But maybe it qualifies as an “historical document” now. Roar would make excellent home viewing for people who enjoy sketching. Pause at almost any point, and you would have a selection of big cats in a variety of positions to choose from. Roar was an interesting experience – I’m not sorry that I watched it once, but I wouldn’t watch it again, except to do some sketching myself.
Director: Noel Marshall
Screenplay: Noel Marshall
Cast: Noel Marshall, Tippi Hedren, Melanie Griffith, John Marshall, Jerry Marshall, Kyalo Mativo
Company: Olive Films
Seen at the 2015 Fantasia film Festival in Montreal, Quebec, Canada
The Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 14-Aug. 4, 2015. Read more about the festival at fantasiafestival.com