Fantasia Fest Roundup Day 2: Yoga Hosers & Operation Avalanche
This week, ComingSoon.net has made the trek to Montreal, Quebec for the 20th anniversary edition of the Fantasia International Film Festival, the largest genre festival in North America. We’re at the tail end of the festivities, which will screen films until August 3, but we are going to run capsule reviews of some of the things we have seen and people we have talked to.
Today, we’re looking at two subversive films with a comedic bent and a genre spin on them: Kevin Smith’s teen horror farce Yoga Hosers and Matt Johnson’s fake moon landing found footage flick Operation Avalanche.
Before the Canadian Premiere of his new film, Kevin Smith — he of Clerks and Jay & Silent Bob and SModcasting fame — decided to give a 45-minute intro explaining and/or apologizing for what the sold out crowd was going to experience and why it did not contain his usual scatological humor and dick-joke/Star Wars-laden dialogue smattered with four-letter words as commas.
“What we’re about to see is what I intended to be a kids movie,” Smith told the audience to gales of laughter. “I made it for tween girls. I never made a kids movie in my life and I really wanted to try it. I’ve been taking my daughter to the movies her whole life… I started looking for this movie but this movie didn’t exist. I wanted to take my kid to a movie that’s like, ‘Hey, it’s about girls and s**t!’ but they’re not fighting over boys and s**t like that. They’re just hanging out and every once in awhile they f**kin’ beat-to-death one-foot-tall Canadian Nazis made of bratwurst.”
You can accuse Smith of many things, but dishonesty isn’t one of them. The movie he describes in that intro is EXACTLY the kind of movie Yoga Hosers is. It’s essentially a f**ked up Disney Channel Movie conceived and executed with such a shaggy, left-field pothead mentality that THC should be listed as an Associate Producer. Of course, Smith would not be the first filmmaker to make kids entertainment under the influence, as any “H.R. Pufnstuf” casualty can attest, but he does wear that badge of honor proudly on his sleeve.
As a result, Yoga Hosers doesn’t have what you’d call Swiss watch precision, containing many scenes featuring 15-year-old protagonists The Colleens (Lily-Rose Depp and Harley Quinn Smith) introducing side-characters who have no real bearing on the story, such as SNL’s Sasheer Zamata as their school principal, or pointless cameos by the likes of Stan Lee or Batman voice Kevin Conroy. The girls have a fun-if-vapid rapport with one another (as first evidenced in Smith’s Tusk, where they played the same Eh-2-Zed convenience store employees), and the pair is given the chance to show off their singing abilities as well as mad yoga fighting skills along with a palpable comedic chemistry. And boy did they learn how to lean into their Canadian “soorey.”
When the gal pals do battle with said army of tiny bratwurst men (Bratzis, all played by Smith) or a giant hockey goalie monster stitched together from human corpses, the movie starts to resemble the silly fun of Charles Band’s old direct-to-video rubber monster horror flicks of the ’80s and ’90s (Ghoulies, Puppet Master, etc).
Unfortunately, every time Johnny Depp appears in prosthetic-nosed makeup as Quebec’s premier monster hunter Guy Lapointe (another reprisal from Tusk) the proceedings come to an ass-grinding halt, with the megastar mugging and improv-ing his scenes into unfunny oblivion. Even a recurring Zucker-Abrams-Zucker-esque gag of Lapointe’s mole constantly moving around on his face from shot-to-shot grows stale and desperate very quickly.
Smith told the audience that he deliberately rushed through Depp’s scenes so as not to upset the main reason Yoga Hosers got funding, but the Pirates of the Caribbean icon’s anachronistic presence undermines the decent effort the girls are putting in to try to make sure the movie doesn’t devolve into a mere family cinematic outing. It’s only when Depp is onscreen that the nepotism on display becomes a liability.
“It’s a very unreal experience and to a lot of people, understandably, it’s like, ‘Wow you just gave this very undeserving girl her own movie because of nepotism,’ and yes, absolutely nepotism,” Harley Quinn Smith told us while chuckling during an interview, displaying some of her dad’s tongue-in-cheek, self-effacing humor. “I definitely understand that’s why I got here, but I definitely want to prove that nepotism is not the reason I stay in the acting world. I do constantly audition and work with so many coaches. As much as I love working with my dad, it’s very important to me that I find work elsewhere. (laughs)”
Besides the girls, Smith also utilizes to his advantage a cheerful, cartoony look to the film that works well with the heightened atmosphere he’s trying to cultivate. The special effects are campy-but-well-executed given the small-ish budget, and it feels like everyone had a blast making this thing. Whether that same sense of fun translates to the audience is anyone’s guess, but if the Fantasia screening was any indication, Canadians will find it a real hoot, especially with in-jokes about Canuck figures like Terry Fox and Adrien Arcand.
There’s also a decent supporting role for Tusk lead Justin Long as The Colleens’ instructor Yogi Bayer (if you don’t find that joke funny you probably won’t like the movie), alongside Haley Joel Osment, Harley Morenstein, Ralph Garman, Tony Hale, Natasha Lyonne, Adam Brody, Génesis Rodríguez, Austin Butler, Vanessa Paradis (Lily’s mom) and, of course, Smith’s hetero lifemate Jason Mewes.
This is the second in Smith’s planned True North trilogy, the final part being Moose Jaws, and as promised in the Yoga Hosers end credits “The Colleens will return” for that last entry.
Smith die-hards may be annoyed that this (and Tusk) are such a deviation from the View Askew brand, but if you are in the target audience (i.e. 12-year-old Canadian girls) it just might hit the spot. Perhaps less so if you are a 13-to-105-year-old everybody else. When I got up during the film at one point to stretch in the back of the theater, I was surprised to see Smith in the stairwell watching the film himself, a huge grin on his face. Perhaps those that want Smith to simply continue making Jay & Silent Bob flicks without resorting to left-handed experiments like this new film or Tusk or Red State should consider that image: He’s a filmmaker enjoying himself. In the end, Yoga Hosers is a harmless trifle that will neither rock your world nor be, as the Colleens would say, “so basic.”
Yoga Hosers will be released by Invincible Pictures in the USA on September 2.
Director/co-writer/co-producer/star Matt Johnson — whose last movie The Dirties was released by Kevin Smith’s SModcast Pictures — has taken the mockumentary genre to a whole new level with his new film Operation Avalanche. Set in the mid-’60s, it’s essentially a found footage flick about two CIA nerds (Johnson and Owen Williams as themselves) who wrangle their way into a mission to find a Soviet mole inside NASA, only to discover that the USA cannot land our men on the moon for the Apollo 11 mission. Johnson then has a eureka moment that the CIA could fake moon landing footage on a soundstage and simply have the Apollo astronauts beam it back down to Earth from space.
While that in and of itself seems like grounds for an entertaining concept, the execution is something to behold. Johnson & Co. actually covertly filmed certain scenes at NASA headquarters in Houston — in the original control room and other places — under the guise of student documentary filmmakers. Because they were granted that access the film has an era-specific legitimacy that you probably wouldn’t find in the most lavish Hollywood biopic.
While the look and texture of the film all feels authentic, it has a tonal dissonance that may throw some viewers for a loop. The first third of Operation Avalanche is a lot of goofy fun, with Johnson’s over-exuberant agent taking matters into his own hands to push his mission down the CIA’s throat, much to the chagrin of his partner Williams. The plot to fake the moon landing contains all sorts of tributes to the many wacky conspiracy theories that exist, including a visit to Shepperton Studios to observe Stanley Kubrick shooting 2001: A Space Odyssey, with Johnson later utilizing Kubrick’s effects techniques in his staged footage.
As the plot progresses, however, it takes a hard turn into Alan J. Pakula-esque thriller territory, with Williams becoming increasingly paranoid when it appears their activities are being observed by parties unknown. Consequently there is not a laugh to be found in the second half of the picture, which is a shame since the early tone Johnson and Williams struck was so exciting. The final act involves a mad dash to escape these nameless men, including a killer car chase sequence with Johnson actually behind the wheel instead of a stunt man.
The whole of Operation Avalanche has a stunt quality to it, actually, combined with an intense dedication to period verisimilitude. Visual effects supervisor Tristan Zerafa went to great lengths using digital tools to “Forrest Gump” Johnson into old NASA documentary footage, not to mention digitally recreating the 2001 set and Kubrick himself entirely through still images.
Johnson admitted after the screening that he is not a subscriber to moon landing conspiracy, and actually researched how it would have been technically impossible to pull a Capricorn One back in the day. He and Williams and the rest of the filmmakers simply thought it would be fun to explore the subject within their fake documentary milieu, and damn if they weren’t right.
Operation Avalanche will be released by Lionsgate on September 16 in the US.