What to see today and tomorrow at Fantasia

Our reviews of films screening at the film festival today.

The Fantasia Festival began on Thursday and continues till Aug. 1, bringing three weeks of genre cinema to the theatres on Concordia’s downtown campus. Here is our latest review round-up:

Blood and Flesh

Blood & Flesh – The Reel Life and Ghastly Death of Al Adamson is a complex documentary about one of the mavericks of the 70s era of grindhouse filmmaking. It contains a wealth of detail about the making of such titles as Satan’s SadistsDracula Vs. Frankenstein, and The Naughty Stewardesses, with testimonials from actors, crew members, and collaborators creating a tapestry of Adamson’s world. Interestingly, it’s as much about Adamson’s movies, and by extension, the workings of the exploitation-film industry itself, as it is a true crime docu-drama. 
Grindhouse aficionados and virgins alike will enjoy this doc. It’s a fascinating portrait of a vanished world, when inner-city movie theatres and the drive-in circuit alike needed a constant stream of new product pandering to the latest trends. The sometimes crass bait-and-switch tactics that Adamson and company employed (mix-and-matching old and new footage, re-releasing the same movies with different titles to grab different audiences) would seem improbable, if not implausible to contemporary viewers unfamiliar with the era. Yet Blood & Flesh also demonstrates the extent to which this now defunct subculture was the training ground for much of Hollywood. 

Those looking for a portrait of Al Adamson will be left wanting. There’s no discussion of him as any kind of auteur, nor is there anything about his personal life, apart from a segment on his wife and collaborator Regina, and, of course, the events that led up to his murder and the investigation that followed. While speculative attempts are made to suggest a conspiracy (involving Adamson’s late-in-life interest in UFOs), the reality of the situation is rather concrete. 

Blood and Flesh is a highly enjoyable documentary, as entertaining as it is educational. It’s filled with great anecdotes, many of them quite hilarious, on some brazen filmmaking practices, before it switches gears and becomes a sadly compelling crime story. These strands culminate in a captivating depiction of an all but lost genre and the unfortunate demise of one of its greats.

Blood and Flesh screens in Salle J.A. de Sève (1400 de Maisonneuve W) on Tuesday, July 16th, 9:20 p.m.

G Affairs

A decapitated head rolls into a young cellist’s apartment. The body can’t be found and the teenage musician doesn’t remember a thing. How could it involve a corrupt cop, a sex worker with a heart of gold, a confident school girl and a dog named Gustav? A tangled web connects all of these figures into a grim tale spun from rampant corruption and moral decay in modern day Hong Kong.

G-Affairs traffics in a lot of cop movie and thriller tropes but is only interested in them as tiles in a grimy mosaic depicting a broken city where morals are falling apart at every corner. The fluorescent-lit school life of teenagers is rife with bullying and sexual advances while the shadowy world of adults is littered with crooked cops, organized crime and parents who abandon their children. Whenever we discover a new connection between two characters, it’s never played as a surprise twist but merely a shrug: of course, why wouldn’t they be connected? No one can get away from the rot.

The splintered storytelling is held together with a solid use of flashbacks and voiceover, allowing us a glimpse into the inner lives of G-Affairs’ players. Despite a very gimmicky use of chapters starting with the letter “G,” director Lee Cheuk Pan and writer Kurt Chiang deliver a confident story of overlapping lives affected by corruption in a lawless city. (Yannick Belzil)

G Affairs screens in the Hall Theatre (1455 de Maisonneuve W.) on Monday, July 15, 6:30 p.m.

Bruce McDonald’s Dreamland

If David Lynch had a Canadian daydream on a flight returning from Central Europe, it might look something like Bruce McDonald’s latest film Dreamland. This is definitely not the kind of film you would see at your local Cineplex, but thanks to Fantasia you can check it out on the big screen. 

Stephen McHattie fans will revel in his dual lead roles: In one, he is the strongman for drug-dealing pimp Hercules (Henry Rollins). Their relationship is based on love and loyalty until children become involved; his unwillingness to support his boss’s new venture supplying young girls to pedophiles rapidly comes to a head when the little brother of a girl in his apartment building seeks his help finding his sister. A parallel and intersecting storyline sees McHattie reprising his Chet Baker persona from an earlier short film, as a heroin-addicted trumpeter who becomes a target of Hercules’s after an offence. McHattie is dispatched to “send a message” to the trumpeter, adding to the film’s potent hallucinatory quality, which escalates as it proceeds.

Dreamland will surely stand as one of the great unclassifiable works in McDonald’s already unusual and eclectic filmography. It’s a noir fever dream, anchored by McHattie’s distinguished performances, which push the hardboiled, absurdist tone to the limit. No one but McHattie could deliver lines about killing without hesitation, but be unwilling to fight a man for his pinkie with such gravitas. Attention must also be paid to the film’s rich tapestry of supporting characters, including the wonderful couple who operate the pawn shop and Juliette Lewis’s Countess, who provides a flighty running commentary on everything from colonialism to aboriginal issues to gun control while planning the seating arrangements for her brother’s wedding. We would be remiss not to mention Tomas Lemarquis’s performance as the aforementioned brother, who has one of the best on-screen entrances in recent memory. To say more would spoil the fun.  

While not designed for mainstream consumption, Dreamland is a dense treat for those who crave freewheeling experimentation in genre cinema.The languid yet opaque narrative will leave viewers with a great deal to unpack, spurring hours of contemplation, conversation and debate. (Katie Ferrar and Mark Carpenter)

Bruce McDonald’s Dreamland screens in Salle J.A. de Sève (1400 de Maisonneuve W) on Monday, July 15, 2:10 p.m.

For the full Fantasia program, go to the festival’s website.