DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Father's Day - Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2011

Monday 21 November 2011

Father's Day - Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2011

Father's Day (2011) dir. Astron-6
(Adam Brooks, Jeremy Gillespie, Matthew Kennedy, Conor Sweeney)
Starring: Conor Sweeney, Adam Brooks, Matt Kennedy, Brent Neale, Amy Groening, Meredith Sweeney, Kevin Anderson, Garret Hnatiuk, Mackenzie Murdoch, Lloyd Kaufman


By Greg Klymkiw
"Death ends a life. But it does not end a relationship, which struggles on in the survivor's mind. toward some resolution which it may never find." - Robert Anderson from his play, I Never Sang For My Father

A father's love for his son is a special kind of love. As such, Dads the world over face that singular inevitability - that peculiar epoch in their collective lives, when they must chauffeur the apple of their eye from a police station, for the third time in a month, after said progeny has undergone questioning upon being found in a motel room with a dead man covered in blood, après le bonheur de la sodomie, only to return home after dropping said twink son on a street corner, so the aforementioned offspring of the light-in-the-loafer persuasion, can perform fellatio on old men for cash, whilst Dad sits forlornly in the domicile that once represented decent family values and stare at a framed photo of better times, until he succumbs to unexpected anal rape and as he weeps, face down and buttocks up, he is doused with gasoline and set on fire, then frenziedly tears into the street screaming, until collapsing in a charred heap in front of his returning son, who reacts with open-mouthed horror as the scent of old penis, wafts, ever so gently, from his delicate twink tonsils.

For most fathers, all of the above is, no doubt, a case of been-there-done-that - not unlike that inevitable fatherly attempt at understanding when Dad gently seeks some common ground with the fruits of his husbandly labours and offers: "Look son, I experimented when I was young, too."

So begins Father's Day - with the aforementioned, AND some delectable pre-credit butchery, an eye-popping opening credit sequence with images worthy of Jim Steranko and a series of flashbacks during an interrogation with a hard-boiled cop. This is the astounding feature film (the second completed feature this year) from the brilliant Winnipeg filmmaking collective Astron-6 (Adam Brooks, Jeremy Gillespie, Matthew Kennedy, Conor Sweeney) who have joined forces with the legendary Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz of Troma Entertainment to generate a film that is the ultimate evil bastard child sprung from the loins of a daisy chain twixt Guy Maddin, John Paizs, early David Cronenberg, Herschel Gordon Lewis and Abel Ferrara's The Driller Killer.

Father's Day is a triumph! It happily combines the effects of asbestos-tinged drinking water in Winnipeg with the Bukkake splatter of the coolest artistic influences imaginable and yields one of the Ten Best Films of 2011.

It is the seed of depraved genius that's spawned Astron-6 and, of course, with the best work in Canadian film, it has been embraced by an entity outside of Canada - the glorious aforementioned sleaze-bucket uber-mensch nutters who gave the world The Toxic Avenger. This collective of five (not six) brilliant filmmakers (including the above named quartet and Steven Kosanski, the F/X wizard, writer and director of Astron-6's MANBORG) are part of a new breed of young Canadian filmmakers who have snubbed their noses at the government-funded bureaucracies that oft-eschew the sort of transgression that normally puts smaller indigenous cultural industries on the worldwide map (including its own - Canada only truly supports such work grudgingly once it's found acceptance elsewhere). In this sense, Astron-6 has been making films under the usual radar of mediocrity and steadfastly adhering to the fine Groucho Marx adage: "I refuse to join any club that would have someone like me for a member."

Imagine, if you will, any government-funded agency (especially a Canadian one), doling out taxpayer dollars to the following plot: Chris Fuchman (Mackenzie Murdoch), is a serial killer that specializes in targeting fathers for anal rape followed by further degradations, including torture, butchery and/or murder. Our madman, Fuchman (substitute :k" for "h" to pronounce name properly), turns out to be a demon from the deepest pits of hell and a ragtag team is recruited by a blind infirm Archbishop of the Catholic Church (Kevin Anderson) to fight this disgusting agent of Satan. An eyepatch-wearing tough guy (Adam Brooks), a young priest (Matthew Kennedy), the aforementioned twink male prostitute (Conor Sweeney) and hard-boiled dick (Brent Neale) and a jaw-droppingly gorgeous stripper (Amy Groening) follow the trail of this formidable foe whilst confronting all their own personal demons.

This frothy brew of vile delights includes some of the most graphic blood splattering, vicious ass-slamming violence, gratuitous nudity, skimpy attire for the ladies, 'natch (and our delectable twink), morality, evisceration, hunky lads, delicious babes, compassion, rape, fellatio, chainsaw action, wholesome content, cannibalism, hand-to-hand combat, gunplay, family values, sodomy, immolation and monsters. It's all delivered up with a cutting edge mise-en-scène that out-grindhouses Tarantino's Grindhouse and delivers thrills, scares and laughs all in equal measure.

The film's sense of humour, in spite, or perhaps because of the proper doses of scatology and juvenilia is not the typical low-brow gross-out humour one finds in so many contemporary comedies, but frankly, works on the level of satire, and as such, is of the highest order. It stylistically straddles the delicate borders great satire demands. Too many people who should know better, confuse spoof or parody with satire and certainly anyone going to see Father's Day expecting SCTV, Airplane or Blazing Saddles might be in for a rude awakening. Yes, it's just as funny as any of those classic mirth-makers, but the laughs cut deep and they're wrought, not from the typical shtick attached to spoofs, but like all great satire, derive from the entire creative team playing EVERYTHING straight. No matter how funny, absurd or outlandish the situations and dialogue are, one never senses that an annoying tongue is being drilled firmly in cheek. Astron-6 loves their material and, importantly loves their creative influences. Their target is not necessarily the STYLE of film they're rendering homage to, but rather, the hypocrisies and horrors that face humanity everyday - religion, repression, dysfunction - all wedged cleverly into the proceedings.

Clearly a great deal of the movie's power in terms of its straight-laced approach to outlandish goings-on is found in the performances - all of them are spot-on. Adam Brooks IS a stalwart hero and never does he veer from infusing his role from the virtues inherent in such roles. Hell, he could frankly be Canada's Jason Statham in conventional action movies if anyone bothered to make such movies in Canada on any regular basis. Conor Sweeney as Twink is a marvel. Not only does he play the conflicted gay street hustler "straight", he straddles that terrific balance between genuinely rendering a layered character, but also infusing his performance with melodramatic aplomb. Not only is this ideal for the character itself, but it's perfectly in keeping with the style of movie that is being lovingly celebrated. Anyone who reads my stuff regularly will know my mantra: Melodrama is not a dirty word - as an approach to drama, it's a legitimate genre. There is good melodrama and bad melodrama, like any other genre. End of story. No arguments. Luckily, the Astron-6 team has the joy of glorious melodrama hard-wired into their collective DNA and Sweeney's performance is especially indelible in this respect. Brent Neale as the hard-boiled cop is, quite simply, phenomenal. Will someone out there give this actor job after job after job? The camera loves him and he knows how to play to the camera. He is clearly at home with the straight-up and melodramatic aspects of his role and most importantly, he is imbued with the sort of smoulder that makes stars - he's handsome and intense.

Astoundingly, not a single actor in this film feels out of place. Whether they're emoting straight, slightly stilted, wildly melodramatic or, on occasion (given the genre), magnificently reeking of ham, this is ensemble acting at its absolute best.

The entire movie was made on a budget of $10,000 and once again, for all the initiatives out there to generate low-budget feature films, Father's Day did it cheaper (WAY CHEAPER) and better. The movie uses its budgetary constraints not as limitations, but as a method to exploit what can be so special about movies. The visual and makeup effects as well as the art direction ooze imagination and aesthetic brilliance and it's all captured through a lens that puts its peer level and even some big budget extravaganzas to shame. Imagination is truly the key to success with no-budget movies. The Father's Day cinematography is often garish and lurid, but delightfully and deliciously so - with first-rate lighting and excellent composition. The filmmakers and their entire team successfully render pure gold out of elements that in most low-budget films just looks cheap - or worse, blandly competent (like most low budget Canadian movies). It's total trash chic - trash art, if you must.

I attended this spectacular event in France many years ago called the FreakZone International Festival of Trash Cinema which celebrated some of the most amazing transgressive works I'd ever seen. When I expressed to the festival director that I was surprised at the level of cinematic artistry, he just smiled and said, "You North Americans have such a limited view of trash culture - for us, trash is not garbage, we use the word to describe work that is subversive." This was so refreshing. It felt like a veil had been lifted from over me and I realized what EXACTLY it was that I loved about no-budget cinema - as a filmmaker, a teacher, a critic and fan.

Making a movie for no money that is NOT subversive on every level is, frankly, just plain stupid. What's the point? And Father's Day is nothing if it's not subversive. Besides, I've seen too many young filmmakers with talent galore ruined by initiatives that purported to celebrate the virtues of no-or-low-budget filmmaking but then forced the artists to apply the idiotic expectations of "industry standards" - whatever that means, anyway. This has been especially acute in Canada, but to be fair, in other non-North American countries also, where bureaucrats make decisions and/or define the rules/parameters of filmmaking.

Father's Day and the entire canon of the Astron-6 team should be the ultimate template for filmmakers with no money to seize the day and make cool shit. That's what it should always be about. And in this case, it took the fortitude of the filmmakers, their genuinely transgressive gifts as artists AND an independent AMERICAN producer to ensure that they made the coolest shit of all.

What finally renders Father's Day special is just how transgressively intelligent it all is and yet, never turns its proverbial nose up at the straight-to-video-nasties of the 80s, the grindhouse cinema of the 60s and 70s and the weird, late night cable offerings of the early 90s. It works very much on the level of the things it loves best. This is real filmmaking - it entertains, it dazzles, it makes use of every cheap trick in the book to create MOVIE magic and finally, it's made by people who clearly care about film. They get to have their cake and eat it too by having as much fun making the movies as we have watching them.

Father's Day was unveiled at Toronto's premiere genre film event, the Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2011 where it won several awards: the grand prize of Best Film, Most Original Film, Best Hero, Best Kills, Best Trailer and Best Poster - all voted on by the thousands of attendees of the festival. It will be released theatrically in early 2012 by Troma Entertainment and will be followed with the usual forays into home entertainment formats.

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