FANTASIA 2013: Capone files his much-belated final report from Montreal, with reviews of the dark comedy DOOMSDAYS and the sci-fi family drama I'LL FOLLOW YOU DOWN!!!
Hey everyone. Capone Capone in Chicago here. Last month, I spent a few days in Montreal for the Fantasia International Film Festival, a long-running and truly massive genre-centric event that lasts about three weeks (I was there for about a week). I was doing really well with daily updates of what I saw, but because of a late night final film and and early departure time the next morning, I never got around to reviewing the last couple of films I saw there, and they were both truly solid entries in what was such a great week of movie watching. I have one more film that played at Fantasia 2013 that I'll review separately soon. But for now, enjoy my last official report from this exceptional festival, run by a staff of some of the nicest people I've ever met.
Sometimes the thing the pulls you into a movie you know nothing about is only a small portion of what makes it so damn enjoyable to watch it. Case in point, I'd never heard of writer-director Eddie Mullins feature debut DOOMSDAYS prior to this festival, but when I saw the name Leo Fitzpatrick in the cast list, my interest was piqued. If you don't know the name, Fitzpatrick was the virgin-deflowering, AIDS-spreading bastard in Larry Clark's KIDS, and has appeared in a few of Fitzpatrick's subsequent works; he was also in a few seasons of "The Wire"; and has shown up in such films as STORYTELLING, BUBBLE BOY and the upcoming D.C. sniper story BLUE CAPRICE. The bottom line is, I'm a fan of Fitzpatrick's acting, and since he doesn't often appear in that many mainstream films (certainly no in a leading role), I was happy to check him out in this one.
Fitzpatrick plays Bruho, who, along with his pea coat-wearing buddy Dirty Fred (Justin Rice) spend their days wandering through the woods in the Catskills looking for rich people's empty vacation homes in the off season. They aren't particularly interested in robbing these folks blind or vandalizing property (although both of these things happen in small doses). They simply eat and drink what they can, sleep, re-energize, and leave either when they get bored or the owner or a neighbor busts them. Bruho and Fred aren't simply homeless drifters; they have a logic and reasoning for their behavior, and have a great time justifying their behavior. They believe that the world is about to experience an oil crisis of such magnitude that society as we know it will simply cease to exist. With this in mind, they don't see the point in getting jobs or a permanent place to live. This may sound like the ultimate slacker fantasy film, and in some ways it is, but these two guys have a weirdly functional system in place, complete with some hilarious banter when they get caught.
For a while, we simply follow them from house to house, watching how they operate and getting to know small slivers of their lives before pairing up. I don't even recall if we learn how they met. Along the way, they pick up a few strays, including the younger, immature Jaidon (Brian Charles Johnson), whose main objective is the get drunk; and Reyna (Laura Campbell), who serves as an intellectual equal and temporary love interest for Fred. Her greatest asset may be that she has access to an empty residence that she's housesitting.
You probably figured out that DOOMSDAYS isn't about plot, and it's not even a fully formed enough to be called a character study. But there's enough going on here in the crackling dialogue and anarchic sensibility to make it supremely entertaining. I recognized Rice from Joe Swanberg's film ALEXANDER THE LAST and NICK & NORAH'S INFINITE PLAYLIST, and he may be better known to some as an indie musician, having most recently written the music for last year's documentary BULLY. But I don't think I've seen him be quite as antagonistically engaging as he is here. You simultaneously want to hug him and punch his face. Fitzpatrick is the more tightly wound of the two, the kind of guy you be afraid to touch for fear he'd explode. He gives off the vibe or an unstable war-damaged veteran, but he has a softer side that reveals itself at the strangest of times.
Mullins' DOOMSDAYS is at times deviant, defiant (sometimes drifting into angry), and always subversive. One might be tempted to slip this film into the mumblecore category, except that there's way too much going on here, and none of it feel like rambling or mumbling. What fascinated me about these two going from one tastefully decorated home to the next is that the absentee owners become characters themselves. Based on what they leave behind, we start to build these invisible characters that play a substantial role in the proceedings. And we can't help but wonder what society function they're attending when they aren't vacationing, or what seven-course meal they're feasting on while Bruho and Fred guzzle their expensive booze.
The film is extremely funny, but the underlying social commentary (the 99 percent taking up residence in the summer homes of the 1 percent) is just as critical to the film's success. Consider this the two-man version of Occupy Catskills. DOOMSDAY is that rare gift of a film that will have you laughing and thinking simultaneously. I'm not sure if it has a distributor or release date set yet (if it does, I couldn't locate it), but add it to your list of films to keep an eye out for in the coming months, maybe at a late-in-the-year film festival. It's well worth tracking down.
I'LL FOLLOW YOU DOWN
One of the genuine surprises of my Fantasia experience was this time-travel family drama from writer-director Richie Mehta (AMAL) and starring a 25-year-old Haley Joel Osmont (THE SIXTH SENSE, FORREST GUMP, A.I.), who is doing everything in this movie from swearing to love scenes. I haven't seen Osmont on the big screen since 2003's SECONDHAND LIONS, but I was happy to see that he was still capable of the levels of intensity and appeal that he showed signs of as a child actor. In I'LL FOLLOW YOU DOWN, he plays college physics student Erol who is plagued by the idea that his father (Rufus Sewell) left him and his mother (Gillian Anderson) when Erol was only nine.
At this point, you might be wondering what a film like this is doing in a genre-heavy film festival. Ah, well. Erol's dad didn't just leave his family; by all account, he vanished from the face of the earth. He went to a conference at Princeton, arrived on time, even made dinner plans with his father-in-law (Victor Garber), and then disappeared. As Erol pieces together the circumstances of his father's vanishing act, he starts to piece together something almost unthinkable, let alone believable. Also a renowned physicist, dad was looking into the possibilities of time travel for very specific reasons.
What interesting about I'LL FOLLOW YOU DOWN is its absolutely commitment to making the story of how Erol's obsession with tracking down his father's last moments is negatively impacting the relationship with his mother and his girlfriend Grace (Susanna Fournier). And the deeper Erol goes into this investigation and his attempts with his grandfather to re-create his father's research, the more he drives away Grace especially, whom he'd been planning a future with. I don't think I'm ruining any secrets by saying that there comes a point in the film where Erol must make the choice whether to go back in time and see if his dad's experiment worked or stay at home and live his life with Grace, knowing full well that going back could erase his relationship altogether. It's a fascinating dilemma that add some much needed heart to the science-fiction genre.
The film also doesn't shy away from a fair amount of technical jargon and metaphysical theorizing, but that only adds to the authenticity of the story. One of my favorite performances in the film belongs to Anderson, whose character has clearly never gotten over the disappearance of her husband. Whether he abandoned his family or died on his trip, the emotional impact is severe and has taken its toll on her, and it's great seeing Anderson plays someone who isn't quite as cool and calculating as many of the other roles she's taken on over the years.
I'LL FOLLOW YOU DOWN transitions gradually from intense family drama to science-fiction adventures, bringing along with it the heartfelt baggage from the first half of the film. If anything, the film gets more emotional as it goes on, but this is no sap-fest. This is a well-crafted work that has some of the same energy and themes as the 2000 Dennis Quaid film FREQUENCY, one I've always liked for taking the time to make us care about its characters. Much the same can be said for this film, which features a grown-up Osmont continuing to impress us in different ways than he did when he was a child, and I hope he continues to get higher-profile parts like this moving forward. Perhaps the biggest surprise for me at Fantasia 2013.
-- Steve Prokopy
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