Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Fantasia Daily 2014.14: The One I Love, Slipstreams and Eclectic Sheep, Ju-on: The Beginning of the End, Four Corners

Made a quick stop at the press office to collect a screener before The One I Love, but I don't know if I'll actually have time to watch it (they have to be back on Friday). I kind of don't want to - unless this is really your job, why spend part of a festival leaned over your laptop watching DVDs? Maybe I'm better off just hoping that Doctor Proctor plays at Fantastic Fest, since I go to these things to see movies with an audience, not to just get my film count up.

Speaking of things you might not otherwise get to see with an audience, here are some of the filmmakers from the "Slipstreams and Eclectic Sheep" block:

Slipstreams and Eclectic Sheep filmmakers

Left to right, that is Elinor Svoboda, who made "Merus Breach"; Tim Sanger of "Redaction"; Josh Tanner, who brought "The Landing" from Australia; and Dave Paige, who directed "Atrium".

Good folks with good stories. Svoboda is a sound editor by trade, so it's no surprise that her movie focused heavily on that, although host Mitch Davis joked afterward that the projectionist had to ride the volume control like the truck driver riding the brake in Sorcerer to avoid blowing out the spiffy new sound system. Which makes a good segue to Sanger, who mentioned that he didn't watch sci-if while making "Redaction", but focused instead on 1970s cop films. Not so much by Frankenheimer, but a lot of Alan J. Pakula. Tanner, meanwhile, said that in order to shoot his story that was meant to be very much in the American Midwest in Australia, they wound up repurposing the sets built for Superman Returns, which makes me want to dig that out and see just how much it still looks like the Kent Farm.


And now, off to get the screener they didn't have on hand yesterday (Cold Steel Mountain) and check out The Creep Behind the Camera, The Fake, and When Animals Dream.


The One I Love

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2014 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia Festival: Paradigm Shifters, DCP)

There are filmmakers that like to explain all the details of how their plot devices work, there are those who like to keep a little mystery, and then there are the makers of The One I Love, who seem extremely fuzzy on the whole concept. Fortunately, their concept if a good one, yielding plenty of laughs and maybe a little bit of thought, even if by the end the audience has no idea how it works.

It starts prosaically enough; Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elizabeth Moss) are having trouble in their marriage and nothing seems to help. Finding very little he can do in the office, their therapist (Ted Danson) tells them he has something that might help - a nice little property they can use as a retreat. They get there and do find themselves reconnecting - but when they happen upon the first house, the experience becomes almost too good to be true.

I won't spoil what they find there, but the good news is that the characters don't take long to catch on, and can spend half the movie investigating what's happening, although from very different directions: Ethan wants to know what's going on and how it works, while Sophie is mostly looking to just get the experience. It's kind of interesting how that dynamic plays out - while on the one hand writer Justin Lader and director Charlie McDowell seem to give a little too much early credence to Sophie's complaints that Ethan wanting explanations ruins the experience, her diving right in after what are basically surface-level pleasures does not come across as particularly healthy, either. Or at least, not good for the marriage. The film doesn't exactly play out as an examination of the two mindsets and whether they're compatible - it kind of churns in the background - but it's something that can be projected onto it if that's how one is inclined to approach the story.

Full review at EFC

"Atrium"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Slipstreams And Electric Sheep, digital)

There was a definite them of idealized and controlled relationships to this block, even extending to the previous feature many of us saw (The One I Love). This one does a pretty nice job of it, from the early moment that wife Laura (Sara Jester) has a sharp response to her husband Travis (Sam Zuckerman) asking if she's not feeling well. It escalates in a quality slow build from there, eventually arriving at a climax that is not unexpected given the block that this short is showing it, but effective enough.

It works as well as it does, I suspect, because writer/director David Paige has an eye for figuring out which elements of an ostentatious apartment or other bits of design will make a setting that is basically contemporary into something that seems a little off-kilter. Add that to a very nice bit of work by Sara Jester and you've got a familiar sci-fi story well-presented.

"A Better Life"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Slipstreams And Electric Sheep, digital)

"A Better Life" has one of the niftier takes on its subject I've seen, one that I'd be interesting seeing fleshed out, if not quite to feature length, than maybe as a television episode: A man in a comatose or persistent vegetative state is given neural implants that will allow his wife to keep him active via remote control so that muscles don't atrophy and maybe the familiar surroundings and activity helps to break him out more than lying on a hospital bed. If The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits had a revival going on right now, it would be a great fit.

As it is, though, it's still pretty strong. The science-fictional idea is nifty, and the character-oriented side of Diane remembering how Bill could often be difficult while she simulates empty displays of affection is strong too. Aimee Klein sells this quite well indeed, and I rather liked the performance Hardy Koenig put in as the doctor performing this miracle. It's got a bit of an issue at the end, where the twist is pretty much the expected ending by now, but otherwise I liked it quite a bit.

"Redaction"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Slipstreams And Electric Sheep, digital)

Writer/director Tim Sanger mentioned having worked in a law office at one point during the Q&A for "Redaction", and it was pretty clear that he'd put a great deal of thought into how something like this would be part of an evolving legal system which sounds like a domestic abuse victim's worst nightmare. It would be no wonder that most people choose to have the incident removed from their minds, both for the obvious, visceral reasons and for the sheer lack of hassle.

It's another concept I'd like to see expanded to a couple times its length to perhaps play with the idea via parallel narratives or something. Jaimi Paige (as the victim) and Sarah Lilly (as a counselor who knows what she's going through) are pretty great in the one we get, though, displaying an excellent grasp of the way this future issue would play out for the individuals. I also like how Sanger decides to focus on their perspective just enough to make it clear that the husband (who does opt for redaction) and the police officer who caught the case are very much secondary concerns; it's the sort of idea where a filmmaker might be tempted to dive in head-first and examine all perspectives, even when they don't need it.

"Jiminy"

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Slipstreams And Electric Sheep, digital)

Scoring Denis Lavant for a supporting part in your short film must feel pretty good. It probably helps when you've got a clever, witty script to present him with, and Arthur Molard's "Cricket" definitely has that. Though I wasn't quite sure whether the "crickets" implanted in people's necks were simply silicon chips or some bioengineered actual cricket (there are shots that imply the latter is the case), it doesn't matter. The idea of an implant that can constantly advise its recipient and allow some things to happen on automatic is a good one and Molard does good things with it.

Indeed, at twenty minutes, his short is a model of charming efficiency, hinting at interesting uses and interesting side-effects, while still leaving enough room for Benjamin Breniere's cricket technician to have an interesting story of discovering the benefits and perils of one's own agency. Breniere is pretty good in this, projecting a certain confidence bordering on unearned arrogance, and taking things in interesting directions when the script points him there. The rest of the cast is strong as well, while Molard and co-writer Teddy Jacquier come up with a steady stream of intriguing uses for their plot device, both in life and to move the plot along.

A neat bit of sci-fi, probably my favorite of the package.

"On/Off"

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Slipstreams And Electric Sheep, digital)

Easily the most slickly-produced of the short films in the block, "On/Off" unfortunately does get buried beneath its impressive visual effects in a way that most movies only get accused of. Thierry Lorenzi has his visual effects guys build an impressive vision of a space station that needs repairs and some nifty other effects along the way, and for a moment it looks like they'll be used in service of something - there's impressive imagery visualizing things falling apart for lead character Meredith (Carole Brana) - but Lorenzi instead goes for a twist ending that is rather empty.

"MerusBreach"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Slipstreams And Electric Sheep, digital)

The most openly experimental short in the package, Elinor Svoboda's "Merus Breach" certainly leaves a strong impress with its almost painfully aggressive sound design that simulates what it's like to be a "sensitive" in a future where hyper/infrasonic waves inaudible to most of the population are used to fight pollution. It certainly gets the audience to empathize with these people, enough so that the revelation midway through is almost unnecessary.

It's otherwise quite well done. It drags a little, but it gets a lot of mileage out of good, simple design both visually and audibly. Stacey Iseman and Tyler Parr get the job done as the speechless leads. It's a kind of peculiarity that's not for everybody, but where you have to admire both the creativity and execution.

"Prospect"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Slipstreams And Electric Sheep, digital)

This short is of the "making good sci-fi with worn-out props" persuasion, but it's a pretty good one. I dig that the team looking for "orulaks" is a father and daughter, with good work from Tony Doupe and Callie Harlow respectively. Harlow especially is great, carrying a lot of the movie without dialogue just from how she carries herself. Though much of what we see is very practical indeed, the CGI used on occasion tends to be a nice boost. I'd have liked a firmer ending, but what filmmakers Christoper Caldwell and Zeek Earl come up with works.

What I like best is the genuine feeling of how alien and hostile this world is, even if it was shot in an American swamp. There's a palpable feeling that the planet will swallow them up if the bandits don't, and that's not easy to achieve. Most similar shorts have people seriously saying this, but it's got real impact here.

"The Trial"

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Slipstreams And Electric Sheep, digital)

Brits Phil Arnold & Mark Player make a well-realized short here - it doesn't have the biggest effects budget of any that played the festival, but it's got nice future hooks. I can't fault Joseph Maudsley as the appropriately-panicked main character and especially liked Gary Sharkey as his lawyer. It's got a nifty idea that has good horror payoffs.

The movie doesn't quite seem to be about anything, though. There's potential in a story of an alternate trial where a psychic reads your mind, but I'm not sure what Arnold and Player are trying to do here - basic fear of the untested? A way this might be subverted? Fear of what else may come out when the "encephalic detectives" get their hands on you? They're all teased, but none ultimately get much use, leaving the end result kind of dry.

"The Landing"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Slipstreams And Electric Sheep, digital)

A very strong short from Australia, although set in Cold War America, that sets up an intriguingly tense premise and then upends it for something that turns out to be just as good. It's a nifty twist, especially as we see the full horror of it written on the face of Tom Usher playing a young boy who sees a spaceship crash into his backyard.

Either the script or Henry Nixon's performance as the boy's father could use a little bit of tightening - there's something a little exaggerated about him beyond how a kind might remember the situation - but on the whole, it's extremely well-done.

Ju-on: Owari no hajimari (Ju-on: The Beginning of the End)

* * (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, HD)

How am I going to look upon the first couple of Ju-on films should I revisit them? As things I enjoyed in part because they were my introduction to Japanese horror or examples of how downright good a job Takashi Shimizu did? This sequel/remake/refresh is just not very good, and it's frustrating to try and figure out why.

After all, the cast is pretty decent. It doesn't look or feel cheap. I suspect that re-watching the Shimizu versions would pop up the same problems with the motive not having a sharp enough focus or the "kills" being king of silly. Maybe the idea is just tapped out, or maybe the attempt at fusing too many different types of horror story, even with the film's very specific narrative-hopping structure, just doesn't work.

Four Corners

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2014 in Salle D.B. Clarke (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Pretty darn fine as gang movies go. I must admit to not having a particular affinity for this genre, and I kind of worry that being drawn to this one because it is set in South Africa rather than an American city doesn't speak well of me - I'm too willing to dismiss these stories as alien rather than close-to-home. Still, the environment that director Ian Gabriel and company visit in Four Corners is a large part of its appeal, showing gangs functioning like secret societies inside prison and a run-down but still somewhat sustaining township near Cape Town.

The core cast is very nice, too - Jezzriel Skei doesn't quite have to carry the movie as Richardo, a middle-schooler who just wants to play chess but is being pulled inexorably into the local "numbers gangs", but he's well up for it when it's on him, a darn fine starring role. Brendan Daniels is right up there as well as "Farakhan", a character audiences know just has to be Ricardo's father but isn't as detached in mind from the gangs as he'd like to think. There are plenty of others worth watching, and none of them feel too practiced; there's a steely authenticity to how everyone is inured to living on these violent streets but still alert.

There's a fair amount going on and a lot more characters besides, but Gabriel never has the plot become overwhelming. He gives us an eye into a different world with interesting people populating it.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Fantasia Daily 2014.13: To Be Takei, At the Devil's Door, The Search for Weng Weng, The Snow White Murder Case

Not going to lie: Most days in the office I'm barely getting up to spead by 1pm or so, when I knock off during these half-days. It also doesn't help that I never found the time to make a supermarket run so that I've got pop-tarts or something in my room for the mornings.

But, hey, got my tablet back yesterday! Paid $120 (Canadian) to fix something I bought as a refurb for $180 or so, which means I've pretty much paid retail for it by now, but it's surprising how much I've missed the thing I didn't have a whole lot of use for when I first got it. Knocked most of the To Be Takei review out on it, for instance.

After that, the day was spent in de Seve; predictions of not being able to get to the Cinematheque proved to be the case, but I liked The Search for Weng Weng well enough anyway. A bought a "Mighty Protien Poutine" across the street from the Hall building between Weng Weng and The Snow White Murder Case, and, yikes, the "small" was like a pie made out of french fries, cheese curds, gravy, hot dog slices, bacon, and grilled chicken. Actually one of the better poutines I've had - didn't have the squeaking on my teeth - but, yikes.

Snow White was great, probably my favorite of the festival thus far. It did mean keeping my ears shut to all the raving from the people coming out of Guardians of the Galaxy, which everybody seems to really enjoy. Looking forward to it either after I get home or maybe next Friday night.


So, off to The One I Love, "Slipstreams and Eclectic Sheep", Ju-on: The Beginning of the End, and Four Corners


To Be Takei

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2014 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia Festival: Documentaries from the Edge, DCP)

For a while, I found George Takei's twenty-first century career little more than tacky, an old man who was one a minor part of a pop culture phenomenon becoming a parody of himself in an effort to hang on to what fan he had. I'm still probably going to think that when I see him doing some of his broader bits, but this documentary should at least give some perspective of why being able to be that larger-than-life figure must be wonderful for him.

Takei has lived an eventful life. He's best known for playing Lieutenant Sulu on Star Trek, at least to a certain generation; for others, that role is mainly the hook that led to him being a frequent guest on Howard Stern's radio program and then a cheerful advocate for gay rights and integration after coming out of the closet. Perhaps less well-known is how his family was placed in an internment camp during World War II (as were most Japanese-Americans in California), or his career in politics and public service during the 1970s and 1980s.

Or maybe those parts of his life are better-known than one might think. He's been a regular public speaker on certain subjects, enough so that there are a couple of points in the film when director Jennifer M. Kroot can stitch together a scene of Takei telling the same story at different speaking engagements without missing a beat. That does not lessen their effect; Takei is a fine speaker and you can't really blame an actor for honing his performance over time. Still, this works best when Kroot finds other material to drop in, such as some stock photos of mid-Century Americans proudly displaying their racism for all to see.

Full review at EFC

"The Gas Man"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2014 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia Festival, HD)

"The Gas Man" feels like the opening act to another horror movie - the "someone's in the house" bit that emotionally scars the heroine, sends the villain off to lick his wounds, or establishes his lethality (possibly in combination) before the main story kicks in and and a few more girls get menaced by the meter-reader. I don't know if writer/director Matt Palmer ever thought of it that way - especially since this doesn't really seem like a premise that expands much further than a fifteen-minute short - but that is the bounds and general pace of it.

It's pretty good, though! It's got an attractive heroine in Birgitte Hjort Sørensen (also attention-grabbing in her small In Order of Disappearance role) who makes Mia just the right combination of assertive and rightly frightened, a premise that is simple and scary in how it zeroes in on a ubiquitous sort of trust that can easily be taken advantage of, and a nicely paced and shot struggle in an average home. Its ending is a bit "okay, then what?", but otherwise it's a nice warm-up, either for more with the Gas Man or whatever feature work Palmer can get.

At the Devil's Door (aka Home)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2014 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

A common issue I have with horror movies is that their scary events seldom seem to be parts of the same story, but just a collection of things that the filmmakers will get a jump. That is not an issue with At the Devil's Door, which is impressively focused on connecting its supernatural and human stories, although it could do with playing them out a little more.

After we see a girl (Ashley Rickards) go with her boyfriend to see a strange "uncle" for a "game", we're introduced to Leigh Montero (Catalina Sandino Moreno), a hardworking 29-year-old realtor whose business is picking up in an unfortunate way, with wave upon wave of foreclosures. She dotes on her younger sister Vera (Naya Rivera), all the family she has left. The latest house Leigh has for sale should look familiar, with owners who want it on the market right away and some rather unnerving fire damage and disclosure notices.

This film played other festivals earlier this year under the name of "Home", and that may be a better title for it in some ways. Writer/director Nicholas McCarthy doesn't have his characters talk about what the concept means to them very often, but it's interesting that while there is a voice-over about the number of the beast in the beginning, the greater atmosphere of impending doom comes from the talk of people losing those homes, whether or the radio or in Leigh's office (Dan Roebuck is perfectly defensive and embarrassed about being behind on the mortgage in one scene before it moves in another direction). Leigh has a family home but no family, and it plays into the tension between her and Vera.

Full review at EFC

The Search for Weng Weng

* * * (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2014 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia Festival: Documentaries from the Edge, DCP)

Going in, I felt like I had seen The Search for Weng Weng before, what with IMDB showing a date of 2007 on it and there being at least some time spent on the 2'9" Filipino action hero in Machete Maidens Unleashed, another Aussie doc about the Philippine movie industry. If there was a 2007 version, though, director Andrew Leavold has added a great deal to it to make something quite memorable on its own.

It's not without bumps, as Leavold, something of an underground filmmaker, is filming his own quest and finds himself going around in circles a bit, often returning to the same point, letting information that will be contradicted stand, and ultimately allowing a lot of the uncertainty of making the film overshadow what he's learning during the making of it. Not that I'd want much of this material removed - the side trip to see Imelda Marcos goes on a bit long and doesn't come across as quite so surreal as his narration builds it up to be, but it is still just kind of eye-popping; there is probably another great documentary to be made about the apparent affection many Filipinos seem to still have for their long-time first lady even though westerners probably assumed that she and her husband were strung up decades ago.

He also makes great use of his documentary's subject. Out of the public eye since the early 1980s, the archive material Leavold has is striking, both for how great a physical actor he was and how his always-looking-up eyes in the middle of a Peter Lorre face just grab a viewer. Leavold is also pretty good at using film clips meant to indicate something else entirely to illustrate his story.

Shiro Yuki Hime Satsujin Jiken (The Snow White Murder Case)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Antisocial Media, DCP)

Some of the best murder mysteries aren't really about figuring out who did it, or even about the reason; they're about stirring things up and seeing what happens. That's the deal with The Snow White Murder Case, a movie whose use of multiple perspectives means that can't avoid comparisons to Rashomon even though it is very much a thing of its era. It's a slick, Twitter-era mystery with a satirical kick from one of the best filmmakers working in Japan today.

"Snow White" refers to both a brand of soap and the victim, Noriko Miki (Nanao), a tall, beautiful employee of the cosmetics company that makes the soap who was stabbed rather a lot and then burned in a national park. When she's questioned by the police, Noriko's teammate Risako Kano (Misako Renbutsu) excitedly calls her ex-boyfriend Yuji Akahoshi (Go Ayano), who works for a TV news station and takes a break from blogging about local noodle shops to live-tweet their conversation, although he mostly leaves out the names of office gossip Mi-chan (Erena Ono), manager and possible boyfriend Satoshi Shinoyama (Nobuaki Kaneko), and his ex-girlfriend Miki Shirono (Mao Inoue), last seen fleeing to Tokyo the night of the murder. It doesn't take long for both online speculation and television news reports to annoint "Ms. S" the prime suspect - or for people who know her like neighbor Yuko Tanimura (Shihori Kanjiya) and college classmate Minori Maetani (Mitsuki Tanimura) to leap to her defense - especially as Akahoshi heads to the scene to interview everyone who knew Noriko and Shirono.

Yoshihiro Nakamura directs with screenwriter Tamio Hayashi adapting Kanae Minato's novel, and I'm actually somewhat surprised this started out as a book. One of the things Nakamura and company are doing (and doing well) here is looking at the modern media landscape, which means that parts of the movie will feature a scrolling Twitter feed, while others will run through things the audience has just seen through the filter of a television news report that obscures faces and disguises voices but also strips context and goes in for sensational headlines; yet others will pop up helpful captions to describe the latest narrator. The intention isn't to overwhelm - although adding subtitles to the Twitter feed does push it close - so much as to show what's going on in a way that the audience recognizes as modern while commenting on the distortion that such an approach offers. There's some sting to it, and some moments when the repetition seems a bit unnecessary, but it's also good storytelling, keeping details from being buried in an otherwise quick-paced story.

Full review at EFC

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Fantasia Daily 2014.12: The Creeping Garden, Hana-Dama: The Origin, Guardian, Creep

Every year, I spend one week of Fantasia working mornings to make sure stuff from the office doesn't fall too far behind. This is that week, and it started great with my work laptop's password having expired and my phone opting to drain rather than charge overnight. Plus, it was raining, and I still haven't gotten around to getting a new umbrella since leaving my last one on the bus, so not the ideal start to the day.

Started okay, though, with these guys presenting a documentary on slime molds:

THE CREEPING GARDEN  filmmakers

I'll replace it with a better one as soon as I can hook my non-phone camera up to the computer, but that's Jasper Sharp and Tim Grabham, two guys who normally do other things entirely - Sharp is well-known as a programmer of Japanese films - but sometimes you get an idea like slime molds into your head and that's the movie you've got to make. One thing I really liked was the great fondness they seemed to have for people doing research on these weird life-forms, many amateurs. They also talked about how difficult it can be to make this sort of movie, as the people who fund science docs tend to want something identifiable and anthropomorphic, leading to "endless bloody films about penguins and meerkats". Another fun bit of trivia: The first person to do their Ph.D thesis on slime molds was Japan's Emperor Hirohito.

After that, I stuck around de Seve for Hana-Dama, and let me tell you, that is an uncomfortable movie. When it's just about bullying, it's okay if somewhat over the top, but when it gets straight-up rapey midway through... Yeesh. There's something to be said for this sort of material and how it should make the audience wince, but it's worse when the lady next to me is doing the wincing and the movie follows it up with little but bizarre cruelty, even if it is directed toward villains.

Pretty much no time between that and Guardian, where I once again got seated just as a short film was starting. Who do I ask to find out if they matched a short starring Missy Peregrym with a movie featuring Sarah Carter because somebody on the festival staff like Black Sash back in the day?

GUARDIAN director Helfi Kardit

Director Helfi Kardit was there for The Guardian, and he mentioned Tony Scott as an influence when asked that question, which was kind of unusual - most of the time, filmmakers answer with guys really known for their inventive action rather than ones known for making a slick commercial product. The choppy editing kind of matched latter-day Scott, though.

After that, Creep, one of my favorites of the festival so far. So a couple of not very good movies that didn't have "Creep" in the title surrounded by two good ones that are practically on back-to-back pages of the program.


Today's plan: A lot of "well, I guess..." followed by what I really want to see: I'm not terribly excited by To Be Takei, do kind of want to see At the Devil's Door, but that's balanced by how the short film in front of it will make it all but impossible to get to Boss at the Cinematheque and, since I've already seen Starry Eyes (good!) and am not getting into Guardians of the Galaxy, that leave me seeing The Search for Weng Weng. The night ends with The Snow White Murder Case, though, so that's pretty good shape.


The Creeping Garden

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2014 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia Festival: Documentaries from the Edge, HD)

I take a certain amount of pride in seeing/reviewing movies like this at festivals, and I half think it's why some give me press passes - a lot of folks will be trying to get into the big Marvel movie, but he is down for the weird science doc.

And this is a particularly good one, full of the expected information and striking photography, and then some. I appreciate that, while they put an unnerving score by Jim O'Rourke underneath, they didn't seem to lean into the horror movie vibe that they could, considering that these things are neither plant, animal, or fungus, move (albeit very slowly, about an inch per day) and pulsate when seen on time lapse. They seem so far out of our experience as to be scary as heck, but directors Tim Grabham & Jasper Sharp instead see them as fascinating.

They also go off in some interesting directions, like 19th-century magic lantern shows, some of the first nature documentaries, and how slime molds are fascinating for simulating network connections, with a very nifty segment on how if you set oats (their favorite food) out on a map in the place of major population centers, they'll expand toward them in a close representation of how the roads are laid out in the real world. It's a sort of intelligence, but very different from how we frequently use the term.

At any rate, this is some very cool science that doesn't come off as gross so much as engrossing.

Hana-Dama

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2014 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia Festival: Fantasia Underground, DCP)

I don't know if I'd necessarily say I liked this movie for most of its running time, or if I'd call it "good", but I kind of admired its frankness about bullying, both among peer groups and institutionally. It's not the best-acted or most inventively written take on the idea, but I bought into it and sympathized with the characters, even when things were a little over-the-top. It had a moment I really liked. And even when the bullying becomes full-fledged sexual assault, I wanted to see how the characters either dug themselves out or served as a horrible object lesson.

And then the weird crap kicked in, with a corpse flower blooming out of the main character's head (something the movie had been leading up to), and it just becomes awful. There's no satisfaction in the revenge fantasies that play out afterward, but no engagement, either. It just gets weirder and nastier and although some of what's going on is clearly meant to be symbolic, it seems both ham-fisted and off the mark much of the time.

"The Proposal"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2014 in Salle D.B. Clarke (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Fun concept here - first date as martial arts/gun battle, and Geordie Sabbagh executes it with no small amount of style. That includes some nice fight choreography which seems a bit slowed down but that also did a nice job of exaggerating the clarity and giving the audience a hint that this is metaphoric rather than two assassins set up for whatever reason. Some fun gags, too, including a good punchline.

The two-person cast of Missy Peregrym and Peter Mooney - co-stars on Rookie Blue, although I don't know if they're paired up often on that show - is pretty good, too, a little more polished than you necessarily see in this sort of short film, and it shows; aside from doing the physical parts pretty well, there's a zip to how they play off each other that doesn't seem to have come completely through editing. That's a big part of what this sort of short needs, and this one works

Pengawal (Guardian)

* * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2014 in Salle D.B. Clarke (Fantasia Festival: Action!, DCP)

Keep your eye on Dominique Agisca Diyose. She's a looker from Indonesia, a good enough actress for the sort of material she's given here, and she certainly looks like she can throw down when the movie gives her a clear shot. Hook her up with a better movie and maybe a better director - maybe the next one from The Raid's team - and she can be a real star.

Guardian isn't the movie that gets her there, though - it's the one where you hope she stands out amid the godawful mess that is the rest of the movie, including a script that is just full to bursting of stupid: Nobody ever seems to do anything for any sort of reason that makes sense, whether it be Diyose's mother or her surly daughter, including a truly frustrating number of times when the former could just tell the latter what is going on and save what seems like a lot of trouble later on. The action is also both kind of excessive - long stretches of the movie are just the constant din of machine guns - and poorly shot, often in low light that the shaky handheld cameras can't really handle and cut in a way that does a terrible job of establishing the geography.

I've seen worse - it's at least got Diyose and Sarah Sanguin Carter, who's often better in things like this than her appearance might suggest. But the action is quantity over quality, and the folks involved deserve better.

"The Flames of My Love"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2014 in Salle D.B. Clarke (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

This is an interesting idea for a short that could maybe use a little polish, with Sarah Scott as a girl admitting all her outrageous lies to her boyfriend, only to have things back up over the course of the relationship and the face of her boyfriend change within the scene.

Scott gives a pretty winning performance as Kelly, but it's kind of hampered by how filmmaker Jonathan V. Hludzinski seems to have about three different ideas for this short - the rewind, the lies, the stalker - and they don't necessarily add to each other. Sometimes, they even seem to be fighting for supremacy. Ten minutes is not a lot of movie, and I think this one could use a little streamlining to give the best parts all the time they need.

Creep

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2014 in Salle D.B. Clakre (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

My only issues with Creep come from the generic title - it's only been ten years since the movie by that name with Franka Potente and word that two sequels are already planned. This movie is self-contained and works in a way that I don't think is repeatable. Maybe I'm wrong and the folks involved knew where they were going for a trilogy before shooting the first bit of footage, but...

That stuff doesn't matter, though - what does is that this is a very entertaining movie, with Patrick Brice and Mark Duplass coming up with a good reason for a found-footage style movie to be generating footage and then piling every joke that they can on and selling the heck out of it. Creep is a tremendously funny movie - one of Duplass's best comedic performances - and even when it starts getting into more unsettling territory, the jokes are perfectly executed. It's "wait, what?" humor executed more or less perfectly.

The Fantasia Daily 2014.11: Hal, Giovanni's Island, The White Storm, The Midnight Swim, The Man in the Orange Jacket, The Seventh Code

Kind of running 24 hours behind "schedule" here - this year's week of working mornings is not quite so friendly toward "write on one computer while a query chugs on another" as one might hope - so this is going to be quick. Kind of like much of they day. I just had time to walk to m:brgr between Hal and Giovanni's Island, and then once more notice how the anime audience really can be a separate thing: Fantasia keeps a line-up so that people who were at one screening can go in to the next first and keep their seats, but there was almost no overlap between Island and the Hong Kong action of The White Storm.

The time between that and The Midnight Swim was ridiculously tight, though - the start time plus the running time of The White Storm more or less equaled when Swim started exactly, so you could hear me and Kurt Halfyard groan a little bit at picking "court metrage" ("short film") out of the introduction. A good time, but a bit of a sprint afterward to get to the next, where I was seated just as the short film before it started.

THE MIDNIGHT SWIM filmmakers

I shouldn't take pictures if I don't know the names, should I? Left to right, that's cinematographer Shaheen Seth, one of the festival hosts whose name I really should know by now, director Sarah Adina Smith, and producers Jonako Donley and Mary Pat Bentel. Smith did all the talking, including how the house in the movie was her family home, and she has two sisters, but the only really autobiographical thing in the movie was the lip-syncing bit.

"Hinata no Aoshigure" ("Sonny Boy & Dewdrop Girl")

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2014 in Salle D.B. Clarke (Fantasia Festival: AXIS, DCP)

Universal youthful awkwardness seems to be a more common thread in Japanese animation than it does on this side of the Pacific, to the point where "Sonny Boy & Dewdrop Girl" maybe seemed a little more like something I've already seen than it should have. A shy grade-school boy having a crush on a girl, becoming friends, but not confessing his affection isn't just something you see in anime/manga, but it's the center of a lot.

This one's pretty good. There's a chance to be glib that it sidesteps, and while it leans a bit hard on the fantasy moments in Hinata's head, the visuals of those moments are pretty darn nice. Still, I think my favorite part is the epilogue during the credits, when the movie shifts to Shigure's point of view and her thoughts on Hinata are basically "he was a bit of a goof, but nice"; it's the sort of story that can afford to have a little air let out of it once in a while, after all.

Hal

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2014 in Salle D.B. Clarke (Fantasia Festival: AXIS, video)

I know some folks who will dismiss Hal because it's animated (and from Japan - the characters even have big eyes!) but might otherwise seek out the humanistic flavor of science fiction it represents. It's a nifty little movie which switches up bits of one of the genre's more common stories without losing sight of why it might connect with its viewers.

It's sometime in the future, enough so that old Mr. Tokio (voice of Tamio Oki) has a helper robot, Kyuchi, although he'll be giving it up for a bit - his granddaughter Kurumi (voice of Yoko Hikasa) has completely retreated from her life after her husband Hal's death. Tokio and specialist Dr. Aranami (voice of Shinpachi Tsuji) have the idea to give Kyuchi human form as a duplicate of Hal (voice of Yoshimasa Hosoya) in order to draw her out. A tricky, emotional job for a robot, even though Kurumi and the original Hal have unwittingly given him the direction he needs by writing their dreams on the sides of Rubik's Cubes.

Writer Izumi Kizara and director Ryotaro Makihara don't spend much time at all delving into the science-fictional details of their story; there is almost no discussion of the technical aspects of the change from Kyuchi to "Hal", for instance. It's apparently near enough in the future that the world is not terribly dissimilar to our own, although the hints of higher technology - Kyuchi's design, the holographic cameras Kurumi puts in buttons, increased use of smartphone apps - are nifty and feel like logical extrapolations; a subplot about how much some of this stuff costs and gets paid for shows that this is not the utopian future it might seem like to someone of Kurumi's middle-class background, although any histrionics about the world being built on a lie might be a bit misdirected.

Full review at EFC

Jobanni no shima (Giovanni's Island)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: AXIS, DCP)

Tatsuya Nakadai did the voice of the older Junpei in this? That is flat-out fantastic, although looking at IMDB I see that the guy has just never stopped working even though he was a big-deal leading man back in the day.

It's a pretty great little movie even without that in mind, though. While it's hard not to have Grave of the Fireflies in one's head at some points during the latter half of this one, it's fortunately not anywhere close to that sad, as its take on the resilience of children - in this case, two brothers on one of Japan's northern islands that is occupied by the Soviet Union after World War II (and remains part of Russia to this day) - is much more optimistic, as the Japanese and Russian children become close no matter how their parents come into conflict. There's still a little edge to it - the scene where Tanya shows her room to Junpei and Kanta without seeming to fully realize that it was theirs before the occupiers took the house is going to feel beautifully ambivalent to adult viewers, though maybe not to the kids The film is full of little moments like that, and they make it feel real and lived-in.

Interestingly, the visual style of the movie is often very simple, with the kids' faces often distorting more than you might expect for a relatively serious movie. Still, it's interesting, especially to look at how the animators draw Tanya, who looks a bit distorted but probably did seem that way to her Japanese friends. The renderings of the Russian furniture moved into the Japanese home makes them look huge compared to the simple, low-to-the-ground things they replaced, and the whole look of the movie's background changes when the characters arrive at the Maoka internment camp.

Afterwards, I was kind of surprised that some folks brought kids, but a little thought has me thinking that it's not too heavy for them. I would absolutely recommend it as a family movie, though - it's got layers that adults will see that kids don't, and might bear some discussion afterward.

"Evil Twin"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Action!, DCP)

There was an event at the Regent Theatre last year (maybe the year before) called something like "The Boston Action Movie Film Festival", which played a lot of short films like "Evil Twin": Less fully-realized narratives than joint demo reels, with a director showing how well he could pace an action scene, the actors/stuntpeople showing their screen-fighting skills, and maybe some FX guys thrown in.

On that level, "Evil Twin" impresses. It's built as a showcase and that it does, jumping between locations as the cast continues some quality hand-to-hand without slowing down. The story is goofy and barely there, but Cha-lee Yoon and Kamil Can Aydin can throw down, and filmmaker Christian Pfeil does it all behind the camera. They've made a fine calling-card for themselves, and I hope it leads to more work.

Sou Duk (The White Storm)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Action!, DCP)

Sometimes, it's not enough for someone to be shot in the chest. They have to fall off a cliff, and there have to be alligators in the river below. That is the attitude Benny Chan brings to The White Storm, and it's kind of a blast, a throwback to the operatic heyday of John Woo and Chow Yun-fat, only with a couple of even bigger action scenes than Hong Kong could have pulled off back in those days.

It's a ton of fun. Not perfect - the way they sideline Nick Cheung for much of the movie in favor of the characters played by Lau Ching-wan and Louis Koo and then make up for it big-time later on is a little goofy, and even though it drives the second half of the movie, I don't know if I ever buy into it. But, man, when Chan is shooting things up or banging cars together, it is a ton of fun, and the shift between environments - the lovely grit of Hong Kong, the gorgeous scenery of Thailand (that place photographs very very well), the gloss of Macau - makes this one of the most beautiful action movies you'll see.

"Sea Child"

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2014 in Salle D.B. Clakre (Fantasia Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

A fitting pairing with The Midnight Swim, both in the general setting, tone, and how the movie did not quite connect with me. I felt like writer/director Marina Shron had a very basic idea but not a real story to go with it, and as a result the sharpness of the mother and daughter scenes at the beginning didn't really sustain as young Lila wandered off on her own, thinking about her father but not actually doing much.

The Midnight Swim

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2014 in Salle D.B. Clakre (Fantasia Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

The trick with movies like The Midnight Swim is to make the characters either outright fascinating or dole enough hints at a larger story out that the audience can overlook that not much is actually happening (presuming, of course, that they're like me and very much into the things happening). Writer/director Sarah Adina Smith does fairly well on this account; I felt like I got about halfway through or more before the realization that we were running in place hit, ironically during a bit of explaining folklore that I knew was never actually going to matter. Then things just seemed to stop for me, and even weirdness and explanations never really got things jump-started.

A shame, because Smith did a good job juggling genre and talking-head material through most of her movie, and the ladies playing all three sisters who meet following their mother's disappearance (Lindsay Burdge, Jennifer Lafleur, and Aleksa Palladino) are all excellent. There are a few too many blind alleys to the supernatural bits, but the one eventually chosen is kind of neat, conceptually.

On the other hand, folks were raving coming out of this, so clearly it worked much better for some than it did for me.

M.O.Zh. (The Man in the Orange Jacket)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2014 in Salle D.B. Clakre (Fantasia Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

Why, Fantasia (and other) programmers, do you insist on scheduling nearly-wordless movies for 10pm (or later)? I get that they're often enough of an acquired taste to keep out of prime time, but it can be rough on those of us already coming down after 8+ hours of movies.

Few movies work with this sort of exhaustion better than The Man in the Orange Jacket, though. It's a simple enough premise - man kills rich guy who kind of has it coming, slides into his house/life, and soon finds that either he has a copycat coming after him or he's starting to crack - and writer/director Aik Karapetian moves it forward at a steady pace but also tends to circle around in surreal loops. At a mere 70 minutes, the lack of conventional action and fairly sparse plot is no problem.

It's a neat, smart movie beyond that. There's something that's not quite comedy but still kind of off about the killer trying to insert himself into the rich man's life - he doesn't know how to eat the fancy soup or how to handle the distractions in the house meant for idleness. And as much as the film sheds no tears over the rich old man with the pretty young wife, there's also something to it about how that sort of wealth is isolating. It's well worth unpacking; hopefully I'll get to see it again sometime and really get into it.

Seventh Code

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2014 in Salle D.B. Clakre (Fantasia Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

This back-end, meanwhile, is an enjoyable weird, but still somewhat conventional little movie which has a flaky Tokyo girl chasing a guy she met once a month ago to Vladivostok and then getting half-voluntarily stranded there for her trouble. Of course, she makes new friends, but also gets involved in something very shady.

It winds up going sort of where you'd expect - I can't say what Akiko finally gets into surprised me - but it has exceptional fun getting there, and the latter portion of the movie is both filled with some impressive action and on occasion kind of goofy. Neither has typically been part of writer/director Kiyoshi Kurosawa's arsenal before now, but he handles both pretty well. Heck, even the music video segment - which I half-suspect is what paid for the rest of the hour-long mini-movie as a way to showcase Atsuko Maeda - kind of fits into the anything-goes feel of the thing.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Fantasia Daily 2014.10: The Zero Theorem, Uzumasa Limelight, Heavenly Sword, Puzzle, Let Us Prey, Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead

I accidentally saw Terry Gilliam's new movie yesterday. My plan was to start the afternoon with Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder (go ahead an laugh, but I liked the director's Fatso a few years back and have greatly enjoyed the crime movies based on Jo Nesbo's books) in the Hall theater, but somehow never noted that the second screening they added of The Zero Theorem meant that Doctor Proctor would be bounced to another screen. I arrived just in time for that movie, and since I was kind of expecting something colorful and offbeat, the English was initially confusing, although I figured maybe they were going for an international audience. Then, after about five or ten minutes. I realized what was up and settled in. By no means a bad movie, but I'm genuinely disappointed to miss the one I did. I'll try and scare up a screener, but that won't be the same.

Working the schedule was a bit of a theme for the rest of the day - I had a hunch that I wanted to see Uzumasa Limelight (a good hunch, for what it's worth; I liked that a lot) and Puzzle, and the only thing that fit between them was Heavenly Sword, which was just terrible. I'd wanted to see the 35mm screening of Demon of the Lute, but that would have overlapped Puzzle by five minutes even without taking the previews and introduction King-wei gives these screenings into account.

After that, there was a pretty big gap between Let Us Prey and Dead Snow 2 in the Hall theater, likely because the latter was the night's only midnight and you want to wait for the other two screens to let out before kicking it off. It meant that there was time to get some pizza, but it also gave me time to start winding down, and I feel like not all of it stuck.


There's some of that no time/long time scheduling today - a good-sized gap between Hal and Giovanni's Island, a sprint from The White Storm to The Midnight Swim, and then a semi-normal length of time before the "two short features" pairing of The Man in the Orange Jacket


The Zero Theorem

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Paradigm Shifters, DCP)

I wonder if writer Pat Rushin ever thought something along the lines of "this script is so screwed if we don't get Terry Gilliam" when writing The Zero Theorem. There are other directors who would dive into the weirdness of its world, but the material seems so perfectly matched that Gilliam passing on it or expressing interest and getting bogged down in development hell seems like it would have killed any chances to see this.

That would have been unfortunate; for all that it has a couple of stumbles, particularly in the final scenes, it's a clever movie, filled with life even if it's about a character who initially tries to retreat from it, handling what are superficially big questions with the sort of wink that says they're not important at all in favor of a middle path between spirituality and pure economics that says to just have a good life.

It's also made up of a number of tremendously entertaining performances - Christoph Waltz is excellent in the lead, while Melanie Thierry, Lucas Hedges, David Thewlis, and Matt Damon are all excellent support. It also seems like a while since Gilliam has been this lively, visually - for all that it's there, the director seems less obsessed with showing decay than usual, imagining a future that's fun in its colorful garishness.

Uzumasa Limelight

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2014 in Salle D.B. Clarke (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Uzumasa Limelight wears its inspiration on its sleeve, opening with a quote from Charles Chaplin's original film before giving some background on where this contemporary Japanese version is coming from. That's absolutely fine, though - after all, what is this film (or, indeed, Chaplin's) about if not paying homage to old masters.

In this particular case, it's Seiichi Kumiyama (Seizo Fukumoto), who has been playing bit parts at a studio in the Kyoto suburb of Uzumasa, mostly as a kirare yaku - an actor whose job it is to fill out sword fights and die on the hero's blade - for decades, including almost the entire length of a samurai TV drama that has been running for forty years. But now that show is cancelled, an arrogant director on another program has had him blackballed, and Kumi is left doing theme-park work. Still, he has the respect of his longtime colleagues and some of the younger generation like shidashi (bit-role player) Nonmura (Kazuaki Tai) and his friend Satsuki Iga (Chihiro Yamamoto), who asks him to train her in screen fighting and doesn't take no for an answer.

As I write this, I don't know if star Seizo Fukumoto is a guy that everyone in Japan knows, someone from the stage, or a genuine kirare yaku that the filmmakers decided to build their movie around (apparently, he's more the latter). It doesn't much matter, because he's a treasure, with an exquisitely creased face and skin that has slackened a bit on his lean frame. He inhabits the role likehe's known little else, carrying himself with a cheerful dignity - even the moments of hurt have a streak of acceptance. He doesn't oversell the gravitas, but he makes Kumiyama into just enough of a showman in his deaths to tie the character together: He's an avatar of Japanese dedication and dignity, but also an entertainer at heart.

Full review at EFC

Heavenly Sword

* (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2014 in Salle D.B. Clarke (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

God, that was terrible. It makes me regret my Bayonetta review, because I fear that even though I may not have used all my "how movies from video games are generally terrible" material on that, I'm going to kind of feel like I'm slagging a whole broad category of movies more than I want to, when the actual situation is that the festival booked two real stinkers, probably because they are predictable in terms of decent tickets sales.

This one really is laughable, though, with scenes that seem to exist entirely to reflect game mechanics, a plot that is full of empty reversals entirely because that sort of random redirection is what a game needs even if it is dramatically unsatisfying in a movie, animation that looks like it was rendered in real time by the game's graphics engine, and terrible voice acting, including the absolute worst celebrity job I can remember (hope you got paid, Tom Jane). Avoid.

Puzzle

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

This is a "Camera Lucida" selection? Really? OK...

I must say that I really dug this one. I think the fractured narrative makes it much more confusing than it needs to be, in part because it's not initially clear whether the various "X days earlier" are all from a specific zero point or relative to each other and in part because some sequences are unclear (what looked like a successful suicide was a failed one, and I'm not sure how Shigeo hooked up with the other guys), and I wonder if it was that way in the book. Past that, though, I loved what Eisuke Naito did with the material - there's a viciousness to it that is often played for laughs but which doesn't diminish the truly dark bits of cruelty.

It's also kind of great-looking. I don't know if Naito and cinematographer Yoko Itakura shot this on film, but it's got the look of it, with just a little too much light being let in and the whole thing looking slightly washed out, especially in contrast with the stuff that's clearly on video. The style to some of the deathtraps reminds me of baby-care equipment, and the whole thing just does a great job of perverting innocence into nasty revenge. Not for everyone, but kind of nifty if it's for you.

Let Us Prey

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

After seeing this, festival-buddy Gabriela suggested that part of the reason this fell flat for her was that we'd just seen another over-the-top revenge piece in Puzzle. I didn't have quite the same reaction; where she was bored, I was actually pretty well sucked in for most of it, from the "Hell is coming" opening titles to much of the standoff at the station, but afterward I sort of shrugged, said it was a movie I had seen, and moved on.

There's good bits. Pollyanna McIntosh owns this movie, for instance, with her hard-ass rookie cop absolutely holding her own against the other characters, all of whom are against her at various moments. Liam Cunningham is great as a sarcastic spirit of retribution. The pace moves.

But it becomes too much at some point, whether from the sheer number of people who have committed horrible crimes in such close proximity to each other to how, apparently, Cunningham's character is pulling from fairly specific Biblical sources that just don't mean that much to the non-Christians in the audience. The film also has a hard time separating the visceral thrill of supernatural vengeance from how it also wants us to have issues with the questionable morality involved, which makes an end that should pack a punch kind of a fizzle.

"Goat Witch"

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, HD)

If I were the sort of person that yells things out in theaters because seeing even culty/lowbrow movies should be made about me, I might have said something sarcastic about this being a terribly one-sided friendship. But I didn't, because some folks seemed to enjoy this thing, so I kept it to myself until I got to this blog which is, in fact, about me. You're welcome.

I didn't particularly like writer/director/jack-of-all-trades James Sizemore's The Demon's Rook, but "Goat Witch" at least has the benefit of being contained and focused. It's a textbook example of a movie that exists to show off the filmmaker's make-up and special-effects skills, but those are darn impressive. Sizemore brings the gross as well as anybody. Hire him, if you need that. I'd like to see him building and even directing from someone else's script, as there's nothing really to this, but his execution skills are top-notch.

Død Snø 2 (Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

I was pretty well hitting the wall at this point, so I don't know that I can judge this too fairly, especially since I was not the biggest fan of the first and this was definitely made to give those who liked Dead Snow more of that thing that they liked. It is that, and I give Tommy Wirkola plenty of credit in pushing it into being a "next step" rather than just a repeat.

My issues with this are sort of the same as the first - it's one of the horror-comedy hybrids where there's no real heft to the horror, which leaves the splatstick without the real zing it needs. The movie-geek stuff seems a bit lazier, and we're often given information in a way that is a difficult balance between "how would they know that?" and "yay for getting us to the good stuff quicker!"

And there is good stuff; Wirkola is generally inventive (especially with intestines), has an enjoyable bloody streak, and likes to go big; the movie's finale is the work of someone who has bigger ambitions than "what my budget can do" and seems delightfully practical as well. It's a fun combination, and may be even more of one when I'm fully alert. Folks who liked the first Dead Snow will probably get a kick out of this one, although I must admit that I'm much more interested in a Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters sequel.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Fantasia Daily 2014.09: Mr. Go, Yasmine, Goal of the Dead

Up until last year, I don't think I ever had any trouble using my debit card when I traveled, but it would just not work at random places in Paris, and yesterday it got refused at both the King Tut exhibit and at an ATM before I managed to find a bank with an ATM inside and stem any panic that I might have to figure out the rest of my vacation with the single Canadian five dollar bill in my pocket. Fortunately, that wasn't necessary, and I had some poutine with smoked meat after seeing the pretty awesome display of Tut's treasures, located in a run-down-looking warehouse on the waterfront.

To the movies!

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These are the glasses used in Théâtre Hall to show Mr. Go (and three other movies in the festival) in 3D, and I like them pretty well. They're a bit heavier than the RealD glasses typically handed out at the multiplex, but not by enough to really be noticeable during a 135-minute movie like Mr. Go. I was able to tilt my head without things going out of alignment, and it let Concordia use a standard screen (I'm not sure what the projection requirements would be).

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When asked why she made her first (and her country's first) movie about silat, Yasmine director Siti Kamaluddin (center) said "because it's awesome" and made a ton of new friends in Montreal. It was a fun Q&A for a pretty good movie, with Kamaluddin talking about how even though Brunei didn't really have a film industry of its own - Yasmine is the first commercially-produced feature to come out of the place - it's not a country where it was an impossible undertaking due to poverty or censorship, with American, Malaysian, Chinese, and Indian movies all playing there regularly. There was also a lot of praise and interest in its portrayal of a Muslim country which is nevertheless fairly modern and open, by all appearances.


Today's plans? Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder, Uzumasa Limelight, Heavenly Sword, Puzzle, Let Us Prey, and Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead, although I'm open to changes


Mr. Go

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, Xpand 3D)

I'm not going to sugar-coat this - Mr. Go is not the best possible movie that could be made about a gorilla who plays professional baseball. It's got some real problems. But barring this one doing well enough to bring forth Son of Mr. Go, it's likely the only one we're going to get, and if gorillas playing professional baseball sounds like something you'd like, Mr. Go certainly has its moments.

Plains gorilla Ling Ling doesn't go straight to the Korean Baseball Organization, of course; he starts out in a Chinese circus, although when the ringmaster who trained him died in the Yilin earthquake, it leaves his granddaughter Zhao Weiwei (Jiao Xu) a million dollars in debt to banker Lin Xiaogang (Kim Hee-won). Enter perennial KBO doormat the Doosan Bears and mercenary agent Sung Chung-su (Sung Dong-il), who manage to sign the power-hitting ape as a DH/pinch-hitter for the season's second half, with Weiwei coming to South Korea as his handler. Of course, Sung just sees the KBO as a stepping stone, and Lin means to get his money one way or the other, even if it involves Leiting, the circus's other, less friendly, mountain gorilla.

Mr. Go has a script that falters in a number of ways that seem rather obvious - for instance, the entire Bears team is basically extras rather than characters, and it seems like some material about how the players and coaches react to having a 300kg gorilla and his 15-year-old girl handler in the dugout might make it into the movie, but there's nothing. The last-act machinations around potentially selling Ling Ling's services to a Japanese team may be true to what being a fan of the KBO is like, but it's boring, not about any character in whom the audience has any interest. And when you get right down to it, I'm not sure what it's supposed to be about in terms of theme. That it takes a gorilla for Sung to learn not to treat ballplayers as property? Maybe, but what it's doing with Weiwei is all over the map. Screenwriter/director Kim Yong-hwa will have scenes about how she's still a kid and in over her head, and then reward her immature outburst, or build up how she shouldn't trust Sung and then have the only way forward be to do exactly that. It makes the movie feel like it's pushing against itself needlessly when there's absolutely nothing wrong with a movie for kids about gorillas playing baseball having a simple moral lesson to it rather than complexity or, perish the thought, realism.

Full review at EFC

Yasmine

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: The Best Years of My Life?, DCP)

A lot of what audiences see in Yasmine will be fairly familiar and predictable, but give the filmmakers a little slack - it's the first movie that the nascent film industry in Brunei Darussalam has produced, and it doesn't hurt to walk before you run. This is a pretty decent teen sports movie, and its high points are pretty good.

It starts with the title character (Liyana Yus) discovering that she won't be going to college with her high school friends because her father Fahri (Resa Rahadian) doesn't make enough as a librarian to secure the needed loan. It's bad enough that her friends start to drift away, and worse when Adi Rahman (Aryl Falak), a boy she likes who is also a rising star in the martial art of silat, starts paying more attention to his teammate Dewi (Mentari De Marelle). The only thing to do is join her school's silat club and do well enough to get Adi to notice her again - not so easy when her only teammates are stuffy Ali (Roy Sungkono) and bulky Nadia (Nadiah Wahid), it's quite possible that the club's adviser doesn't know anything about silat at all and the only other master they find who will teach them, Jamal (Agus Kuncoro), is in a wheelchair. Oh, and Fahri has forbidden Yasmine to have anything to do with silat at all.

Events in the main story don't always happen right on schedule, but they cover the basics - Yasmine starts out fairly irresponsible and full of herself, makes new friends, has success go to her head, and finds out that there's more to her father than she was aware of. For the most part, those bits are comfortable but not rote, especially since the details of how this plays out in Brunei are new to most in the international audience - it's an Islamic country, but one where women appear to have equal rights. The setting is quite beautiful but also a lived-in city. Some bits of the scripts seem to be stretched bit far, such as Yasmine seeking "the dark master", and there will sometimes be what seem like weeks of stuff going on between scenes that are referred to as days apart, but it's fairly well-done overall.

Full review at EFC

Goal of the Dead

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

At first glance, "zombie soccer" sounds like the sort of novelty horror-comedy that really should be about half of Goal of the Dead's two hour and twenty minute length, and I wonder if the filmmakers thought that as well, because it's built to split into two, with a new director and even new opening credits at the midway point. So it's almost shocking that this thing works - it's a chaotic but clever film with more than obvious sports gags up its sleeve.

It starts with Olympique de Paris, a soccer team fairly close to relegation, heading to the provinces for a match with Caplongue's club team with reporter Solène Belanger (Charlie Bruneau) along for the ride. Their amiable, long-time veteran of seventeen years Sam Lorit (Alban Lenoir) is from the town, but they're not exactly eager to welcome him back or particularly thrilled to see rising star Idriss Diago (Ahmed Sylla). Well, most of them aren't; some young women like Béné (Joana Person) and Cléo (Tiphaine Daviot) have their eyes on the Parisian team. But when the Caplongue team's star Jeannot Belvaux (Sebastien Vandenberghe) is injected not with performance-enhancing drugs but something akin to 28 Days Later's rage virus, all hell breaks loose, and where does out-of-control violence spread better than at a hotly contested European soccer game?

The filmmakers don't pull a From Dusk til Dawn-style switch here; the infection is contracted early, even if it does take patient zero a bit of time to actually make it to the stadium. They do give themselves enough time to play much of the first half as a pretty good sports comedy, with all the pieces there for an entertaining movie even if it were virus-free, including some laugh-out-loud bits as Solène tries to interview Idriss on the bus and the Olympique coach is doesn't know what to make of the three Koreans named Park on his team. Director Benjamin Rocher handles that part well before handing the reins over to Thierry Poiraud, who runs with an outbreak in full swing. There are moments when it seems like they are working relatively independently of each other, with both the two directors and the half-dozen writers throwing in elements of their own and then doing the best they can to stitch it together in the editing room so that it mostly makes sense.

Full review at EFC

Friday, July 25, 2014

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 25 July - 31 July 2014

Hey, Boston theaters - if you could keep some of this running until I get back, I'd appreciate it.

  • Particularly two of the movies opening at Kendall Square. I Origins was one of the ones that my press pass didn't get me into at Fantasia, and while the description of it worries me a bit - it involves a molecular biologist whose discoveries on the human eye have "far reaching implications about our scientific and spiritual beliefs", and the complexity of the human eye is something creationists try to use to bolster their point of view (although Neil Tyson did a nice job of demolishing that on Cosmos). Still, the director showed promise with Another Earth and this is in that vein and co-stars that movie's Brit Marling. It's also at the Embassy and Boston Common. The one-week booking of Yves Saint Laurent, Jalil Lespert's biography of the famed fashion designer, looks nice enough too.
  • The other one I want to stick around, A Most Wanted Man opens at The Coolidge Corner Theatre; it's an adaptation of a John LeCarre novel that features Philip Seymour Hoffman's last leading role as well as the likes of Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, and Willem Dafoe. It's getting a semi-wide release, playing the Coolidge, Kendall Square, West Newton Cinema, and Boston Common.

    The midnight special this Friday & Saturday actually starts at 12:30am, but is worth staying up for, as it's a 35mm print of Johm Milius's original Conan the Barbarian with Arnold Schwarzeneggar. Saturday night also offers Neil Breen's Fateful Findings, which seems to be carving out a spot as the new Room, in that it's astonishingly and sincerely awful in a way you have to see to believe. I'm not sure where on that spectrum Monday's 35mm Big Screen Classic, Point Break, falls, but folks seem to like it. Tuesday night they've got a preview of Child of God, James Franco's latest film as star and director, as part of the New York Film Critics series with live Q&A broadcast from NYC afterward.
  • There's action at the multiplexes, with Luc Besson's Lucy offering another bit of silly science - a take on the "we only use 10% of our brain" thing - but it apparently leads to Scarlett Johansson kicking butt and has not only Morgan Freeman but Choi Min-sik in the supporting cast, so it's probably worth a look. It's at Somerville, Apple, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway (including RPX), and the SuperLux. The other big action opener has Dwayne Johnson playing Hercules, based on a comic from a couple years back where a fallen hero is working as a mercenary. It's in 2D and 3D at the Capitol, Apple, Jordan's Furniture, Fenway, Assembly Row, Boston Common, and the SuperLux, with Imax 3D screenings at Jordans, Boston Common, and Assembly Row.

    The comedies don't open on quite so many screens - And So It Goes, with Rob Reiner directing Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton, is at the Capitol, Apple, and Boston Common. The Fluffy Movie, a stand-up concert movie with Gabriel Iglesias, is at Boston Common. They've also got their weekly specials - Rocky Horror Saturday night, Monty Python and the Holy Grail for $6 on Sunday and Wednesday, and Pompeii for $3 at 9:30pm Monday through Wednesday (not sure fi it's in 3D or not).
  • Since they're getting Lucy, the Somerville Theatre has another Luc Besson movie at midnight Friday and Saturday, with Leon: The Professional screening in 35mm. Their Sautrday "Affordable Family Features" is a great value, with $3 getting viewers "Lots of Knotts" (a double feature of The Ghost and Mr. Chicken & The Incredible Mr. Limpett) on what are apparently fantastic 35mm prints. Over in Arlington, the Capitol switches from Bill Murray to a general "Summer Rewind" with Clueless.
  • It's a major holiday in India (Eid), which means big Bollywood openings. Apple Cinemas and Fenway both open up Kick, which has a man and a woman meeting and telling their stories only to find that they have someone in common - an adrenaline junkie thief who she was engaged to and he was pursuing as a detective. iMovieCafe also picks up Alldu Seenu for the Telugu-speaking crowd; it seems to be a steamy romance of some sort.
  • The Brattle has IFFBoston alum Hellion this weekend; it's the story of a kid who is running out of control with his father (Aaron Paul) greiving their mother. It plays Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, with a 9pm show Monday. Saturday also cas a couple of specials - Sound & Chaos: The Story of BC Studio plays in the afternoon with studio founder Martin Bisi there in person, while bonkers Japanese horror cult classic Hausu plays in 35mm at 11:30pm.

    On the vertical schedule, the Robert wise Centennial features The Day the Earth Stood Still on Monday afternoon and all day Tuesday, with a special free "Elements of Cinema" screening of The Haunting at 6pm Monday. The Tuesday "Girls Rule!" movies are separate features, with 35mm prints of Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind in the afternoon and evening (subtitled) and Ladies and Gentlement, the Fabulous Stains at 9:30pm. The Thursday Recent Rave is Kelly Reichardt's Night Moves
  • More Fritz Lang at the Harvard Film Archive this weekend, and it's good stuff: 35mm prints ofM (Friday 7pm), American Guerrilla in the Philippines (Friday 9:15pm), Spies (Saturday 7pm), Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler (Sunday 6pm), and The Return of Frank James (Monday 7pm). Spies and Dr. Mabuse are both epic-length silents (3 and 4.5 hours, respectively) with musical accompaniment.
  • The 19th Annual French Film Festival at The Museum of Fine Arts isn't over yet; this weeks highlights include documentary School of Babel and multiple screenings of Apaches, Age of panic, and If You Don't, I Will
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  • From Joe's Calendar, noteworthy free outdoor films this week are Swiss Family Robinson at the Boston Harbor Hotel on Friday, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 at several places over the course of the week, and My Neighbor Totoro at Christopher Columbus Park Sunday night.


I'm still in Montreal, which means I'll get to see a Korean 3D movie about a baseball-playing gorilla tonight. But this stuff looks good too.

The Fantasia Daily 2014.08: Faults, Predestination

Short day - short enough that I could make the annual trip to see what was new at the Pointe-a-Calliere museum. This year it featured an exhibit on Montreal's "Plateau" neighborhood and a two-part exhibit retracing the steps of Marco Polo. Both pretty nifty, although I worry that I'm starting to take the excavation downstairs for granted.

They've also got a new permanent "Pirates ou Corsairs?" exhibit geared toward kids, with this at the center:

 photo IMAG0874_zps9c3fbd68.jpg

I want to see my nieces running around it in their pirate costumes, although they might not dig that the corsair in question attacked ships off the coast of Maine.

In other news, I actually sat down and ate real food yesterday - some ice cream and a cupcake at Les Glaceurs early on, and supper at Le Gourmet Burger at around 6:30. That had me toward the end of a pretty long line-up for Faults, even considering that it was the second screening. I did get in, albeit in the front row, and liked it. Afterward, it was kind of surprising to cross the street and see that there was already a healthy VIP/press line-up for Predestination almost an hour before the film was scheduled to start. No trouble getting in, but it looks like they underestimated interest in a movie by the always-interesting Spierig Brothers; hopefully that translates into the film getting a release and doing well.

They at least make a good thematic pairing because I liked both of them but can't wait until they're out in the world, because there are details I want to talk about, for good and ill, but can't yet without being a spoilerific jerk.


Today's plan: Laundry, doing a bit more tourist stuff, and then the sports triple feature in Hall: Mr. Go, Yasmine, and Goal of the Dead


Faults

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2014 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Faults feels like it should be something along the lines of The Last Exorcism, not so much in plot (although there are some similarities there) as it's a chance for an often-overlooked character actor to shine playing the lead. When it's that, it shines; if the story were just a bit better, the movie would be something really special, though as it is, it's pretty good.

The character actor is Leland Orser, playing Dr. Ansel Roth. Once a big name on the subjects of cults who even had his own talk show, he's now washed up, stealing towels from hotels that book him to read from his book to small, disinterested audiences. The latest was a special disaster, but two in the audience (Chris Ellis & Beth Grant) approach him, saying that their daughter has joined a strange group and they don't know what to do. He suggests the risky "deprogramming" option, which is unpleasant and will cost them - Roth has bills that desperately need paying. They agree, and Roth has Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) kidnapped and brought to a motel. Claire looks to be a tough nut to crack, though, and there's something a bit off about the family dynamic he'd be returning her to. And then...

Well, I'll say little more, except that writer/director Riley Stearns has concocted a script with the ability to surprise, even as it regularly entices the audience to pay close attention to what's going on. It's not quite as tight as it could possibly be; there's a thread that seems fairly extraneous, although saying which one it is wouldn't be right. A larger issue, I think, is that the whole movie, from the start to the end, would benefit greatly if there were more evidence that Roth was actually an authority worthy of respect. It's not a hole in the plot as it is, but it would just make everything work better.

Full review at EFC

"The Pale Moonlight"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

The programmers paired "The Pale Moonlight" with another bit of Australian sci-fi (Predestination), and they worked well together. Like the Spierig's feature, Tin Pang's short is a fairly strong character-driven piece that makes up for a modest budget with good production design and a story that hits its marks emotionally and physically.

I kind of dig the design details. The basic premise - world ravaged by disease, ramshackle warehouse settings where two men come looking to take the cure they think is there by force if necessary - is familiar, but the future signifier is nifty; the holographic news report (in vertical-tablet shape) has a sense of newsreels to it, and I like the sleek but chunky look of the future tech. The story itself is simple, but it's got room for fear, betrayal, and redemption in its sixteen minutes, and the cast of Matt Boesneberg, Lauren Orrell, and Peter McAllum is strong.

Simple story, but well-told. Just what one wants from a short.

Predestination

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Paradigm Shifters, DCP)

If they have any ambition at all, both good and bad time-travel movies make the viewer's head hurt a little bit thinking about how the plot fits together; the good ones make the us like it. By that reckoning, I'm putting Predestination in the "good" category - good enough, in fact, that I'm loath to try to explain why I like it to anyone who hasn't seen it.

It starts out in a way that is obviously setting things up - a "temporal agent" badly burned in an attempt to capture "The Fizzle Bomber" in 1975 New York before an explosion that kills thousands; when he emerges from reconstructive surgery, he has a new face and is sent back for one final mission by his boss (Noah Taylor). It initially involves tending bar when a man comes in with a hell of a story about an orphan girl (Sarah Snook) who applied for a corporate space program in 1963 only to have her heart broken. The bartender (Ethan Hawke) says to wait, because it's about to get stranger.

The film is written and directed by Michael & Peter Spierig from a short story by Robert A. Heinlein (renamed because modern audiences would be disappointed by the lack of the living dead), and part of what makes it an interesting surprise, if initially a little difficult to get used to, is that it retains more of the feel of a "Golden Age of Science Fiction" story than most. Think of all the Philip K. Dick stories that have had one very basic idea plucked from them and then "adapted" into loud action movies. That doesn't happen here; the bar story being related becomes the spine and heart of the film, with a bit of action at either end, rather than an explanatory flashback. It feels like a Heinlein story, not just the events from one.

Full review at EFC