Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Fantasia Daily 2015.14 (27 July 2015): The Blue Hour, The Visit, Ryuzo and the Seven Henchmen, and The Interior

Pictures and anecdotes later; only so much time between laundry and movies today.

Today's plan: Catch Me Daddy, Robbery, dinner, Cop Car, and Fatal Frame. The Visit is recommended, and note that those first two are playing in Hall rather than de Seve now.


Onthakan (The Blue Hour)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

When making a film meant to be eerie and still, greatness is almost the baseline requirement for the cinematography. Fortunately, Thailand seems to be unusually well-stocked with both great shooters and things for them to point a camera at, so The Blue Hour is off to a good start, and builds into something unnerving as well.

It begins by showing Tam (Atthaphan Poonsawas), a middle-class teenager, making his way to a disused public pool for a rendezvous with Phum (Oabnithi Wiwattanawarang),a slightly older, more confident guy he met online. It's an ideal meeting place for these sorts of assignations - free as opposed to a hotel, away from parents, empty because of rumors of past drownings and subsequent hauntings. But while Phum seems unlikely to add to Tam's collection of mostly-discreet bruises, he may be dangerous in other ways.

Not that Tam is entirely a sweet kid who is bullied for being gay. That's the bulk of the character, sure, but it's rare for anybody to be that entirely passive, and it's not long before his complaints about being unfairly blamed for everything have caveats that, yeah, he did steal that Buddha statuette. Atthaphan Poonsawas handles adding that sort of nuance to Tam nicely; the core of the character is still an easy guy to empathize with, but he's also very much a teenager that is going to find trouble and may in fact be looking for it, if not quite to the level he eventually finds.

Full review on EFC.

"Témoinage de l'indicible" ("Tales of the Unspeakble")

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

Director Simon Pernollet tells a nifty tale of his childhood in Tepoztlan, Mexico here, with the family all living in a spooky house that was surrounded by nahual. Those would be sorcerers and shapeshifters (generally up to no good) of Mexican and Central American myth. As Pernollet tells the story, nearly every member of his family had some sort of encounter with them, though they escaped unscathed.

He tells the story in an interesting way, moving his camera around an empty house and grounds that may not be the one in the stories, but gives the right impression, while Pernollet describes events in narration. The fully-made beds and otherwise intact house imply that it was abandoned in place when the family got too freaked out, adding to a sense of unease that rumbling bass helps to create. The filmmaker winds up playing with fear nicely, as there's no big horror-movie sting to the story, but the environment and atmosphere is built to the point where one can comprehend fright itself doing all the work.

Nifty little campfire tale, well presented.

The Visit (2015, doc)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: Documentaries from the Edge, DCP)

The Visit is apparently meant to be the second in a thematic trilogy of documentaries by Danish filmmaker Michael Madsen, and I'm curious what grand-scaled idea will round them out. I hope it's something a little more like Into Eternity, where the consideration of long-term storage of nuclear waste felt practical as well as too big to truly understand, as this film's topic of first contact with alien life, while fascinating, winds up both too specific and too vague.

After a bit of discussion about how, for the past 100 years, humanity has been sending a great deal of radio into space, which will inevitably attract the attention of any intelligent life out there. Madsen posits a single alien spacecraft arriving on Earth and landing, and then interviews a fair number of people on how that situation would likely play out. Many are connected with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, headquartered in Vienna, but there are scientists from a number of countries, an expert in space law, and military and political spokespeople from the UK added to the discussion.

As with Into Eternity, Madsen and his interviewees often speak in the second person, addressing the alien visitors rather than the actual audience, and it's not always as natural as it was in the former movie. That's in part because a good deal of the documentary is about how actual communication with extraterrestrials may be impossible, and in part because the subjects only occasionally seem to be let in on the premise, which isn't necessarily compatible with the sort of simulation and explanation they are doing. Madsen also seems to find himself trapped between the general and the specific, like he wants to present the framework of how the world would respond to this sort of encounter but ultimately realizes that it is impossible; there are too many contradictory paths that can play out.

Full review on EFC.

Ryûzô to 7 nin no kobun tachi (Ryuzo and the Seven Henchmen)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Takeshi Kitano's name is well-enough known in American boutique-house circles for certain things - mournful cop movies, violent yakuza fare, self-referential and deconstructive comedies - that Ryuzo and the Seven Henchmen almost throws one for a loop. It's a small, silly comedy that in some ways plays as a mixture of those things by puncturing yakuza film stereotypes and pushing them into the past, but it's also very mainstream, positioned less as artistic satire than a goofy old people movie.

And it actually does that fairly well. Kitano gives himselves a lot of characters to deal with, but he and his elderly cast (including himself as a detective who maybe harbors a certain fondness for these old-school retirees) happily dive into the indignities of aging and trying to be both intimidating and honorable as life removes that option. Everybody in the cast gets something funny to do, and it builds nicely, starting with an embarrassed son asking his title character "Ryuzo the Demon" to please where long-sleeved shirts so that his tattoo doesn't embarrass the family and ending with a fight and chase that is equal parts absurd and effective, just clever enough to suggest that a finale that traditionally means defeat might be these characters getting to finish their lives as the noble outlaws as which they see themselves, rather than shameful issues their kids don't know what to do with.

The Interior

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

The Interior seemingly starts as an off-kilter comedy and stays that way for roughly the first third, when the title comes up, the scene shifts, and the main character re-appears with a beard and a backpack as if to say that now the movie begins after the backstory. It is, really, a clever way to split the film up, even if it's going to be a bit of time before the film gets where it's going.

That place is a middle-of-the-woods horror movie, although with the twist being that Patrick McFadden's James is apparently craving isolation in this phase of his life, and it's the possibility of human contact that has him jumpy, and not necessarily because it's dangerous. There's obviously something going on in his head that may or may not explain why he's so motivated, and which may explain the inexplicable things going on around him, and writer/director Trevor Juras deserves credit for how tightly this all fits together. The first scene starts a chain of events that leads directly to the last, even if that chain will take James to the other side of Canada and occasionally seem like just wandering in the woods.

I dig it. This is a small movie that would seem to hit my fear of being lost in the woods but actually inverts it, and gives the audience a surprisingly broad number of moods on the way to an inevitable, but still thrilling, conclusion.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Fantasia Daily 2015.13 (26 July 2015): Tazza: The Hidden Card, Wonderful World End, He Never Died, Some Kind of Hate, and Love & Peace

What started out as a kind of unpromising day - Tazza: The Hidden Card was mediocre and Wonderful World End needs a bit of consideration but probably won't become a favorite - became one of the festival's best by the end, with some answers to "what's your favorite movie of the fest" and fun Q&As.



First up, He Never Died, which had (left to right) sound designer Daniel Pellerin, writer/director Jason Krawczyk, composer James Mark Stewart, and producer Zach Hagen in attendance. Mr. Pellerin gets first billing not just for standing on that side of the stage, but as a reminder that his work in the movie was fantastic, especially how a sleeping or dormant Jack would trigger a flood of old-time radio and other sounds, piling on just how much history the guy has and how it weighs on him, though he can't look like it.

I get the impression that star Henry Rollins was the guy a lot of people in the audience wanted to be there, but he wasn't available, although contrary to his reputation he's apparently not just a total pro but a really pleasant guy; Krawczyk joked about him coming into the production office with cookies to talk about the violent horror movie they were going to make.

He also mentioned that they had ideas about a sequel miniseries that, I'm guessing, would incorporate a lot more flashbacks into Jack's life, and that's something I can really get behind.



The next movie, Some Kind of Hate, also featured guests: Writer/director Adam Egypt Mortimer, co-writer Brian DeLeeuw, stars Ronen Rubenstein and Sierra McCormick, and producer Amanda Mortimer. This turned out to be one of the most enjoyable Q&As, especially as the younger stars told their stories: Rubenstein said that it was an important movie for him to make because he lost a good friend to suicide after she was bullied, but also talked about how shooting a smoking scene for the better part of a day left him with some pretty nasty nicotene poisoning. McCormick was a delight, talking about loving horror and not having done one in a long time and then getting razzed for being a seventeen-year-old talking about stuff way back in her life. There were also some funny stories about how they shot on half a summer camp, with the other half filled with nine-year-old fans of her Disney Channel show, and she had a great time meeting them but seeing her in her Moira get-up may have scarred the little guys.

The thing I really liked, though, was how everyone, especially the director, talked about how they really didn't want this to be referential. A lot of genre film can get into "spot the reference", and they really wanted this to be contemporary and its own thing. They also talked about how that own thing was a tough sell at times, because Moira is a much more human character with things to say than your typical supernatural slasher-movie villain, which scared some producers off, even if it is what makes the movie great.

After that: Love & Peace, which was fantastic. For all the talk in line about how nothing was really grabbing people yet (lots of good stuff, not a lot bowling us over), we'd forgotten that there were still three Sion Sono movies to come.

Today's plan: The Blue Hour, The Visit, dinner, Ryuzo and the Seven Henchmen, and then deciding between The Interior and "Tales from Beyond the Pale" live. Shrew's Nest and Haemoo are both recommended.


Tajja: sineui son (Tazza: The Hidden Card)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

I appear to have really liked the first Tazza movie (alternately called War of Flowers and Tazza: The High Rollers) when it played this festival eight years ago, although I don't remember it well enough to remember whether an early scene from this sequel was there or is being retroactively inserted. Whichever is the case, The Hidden Card starts with a clean enough slate to tell a similar story about a guy being really good at cheating at cards, at least until he meets people who are better and more ruthless at it than he is, albeit apparently not as well.

This time, the gambler is Ham Dae-gil (Choi Seung-hyun, aka "T.O.P."), nephew of the previous film's Go-ni and a natural hustler himself. Gambling runs in the family enough that his grandfather winds up in debt to local operator "Ghost" (Kim Joon-ho), and when Dae-gil tries to protect his family he winds up fleeing to Gangnam just a day after meeting Huh Mina (Sin Se-kyung), the extremely cute sister of gambling buddy Gwang-chul (Kim In-kwon). In Seoul, he joins a childhood friend (Lee Dong-hwi) at in an underground casino's crew, although a series of reversals will inevitably lead to games where far more than money is on the line.

Tazza is a long-running comic series in South Korea, and there's a tendency to repeat the same stories as those hang around, whether it's villains committing similarly-themed crimes, warriors having to master new and more devastating fighting techniques, or a next generation going through the same things as their predecessors. To be fair to The Hidden Card, it only mirrors The High Rollers in the broad strokes and dispenses with its multiple narrators and pseudo-documentary inserts. Those broad strokes are fairly universal, but the trouble with this sort of sequel is that it's trying to both be back-to-basics and create something bigger and more complex for existing fans, and the result is often a script that alternates between going through the motions and emotionally and heaping so many events into the story that the audience has no time to react to them.

Full review on EFC.

Wandafuru warudo endo (Wonderful World End)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, HD)

This one, I think, may need some mulling over, although more for its downright peculiar ending than the occasional sense that as someone who is not a teenage Japanese girl, this film is most fairly indifferent to me. This picture gets outright weird at the end, although I'm sure that a fair number of adults will find it difficult to relate to well before that.

It is, after all, the story of two teenage girls, Shiori (Ai Hashimoto) extremely confident in her appearance and trying to be a model/actress/idol and Ayumi (Jun Aonami) a 13-year-old fan who runs away from home to meet up with the older girl. A weird sort of jealousy develops when Ayumi is taken in by Shiori's boyfriend Kohei (Yu Inaba), but as things progress, the obsessive fandom has interesting effects.

This sort of fandom has traditionally been fairly particular to Japan, although with young people able to become YouTube stars, it's potentially more of a global phenomenon. I wasn't quite certain about Shiori's deal - it often seems like she's in her early 20s and playing a teenager online, especially since she's living with her boyfriend and apparently has nowhere else to go otherwise, but other moments indicate she's just what she says she is despite referencing being "out of character". Either way, Hashimoto makes her intriguing, while Aonami makes Ayumi's quiet sincerity kind of scary at times, because it is not directed in a healthy direction at all.

That end, though, with a bunch of new elements and sharp hints that someone is nuts and this is playing out in her mind... I wonder if it's supposed to be a call-out to the music videos the cast (and director Diago Matsui, perhaps) did for Seiko Oomori, whose songs make up a big chunk of the soundtrack. It really seems like a big break from the rest, and I don't know how much it works.

He Never Died

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Somehow, when I was looking at this movie's description, the idea that it was a deadpan comedy (although the blackest you can imagine) never came through, which made it an extremely pleasant surprise. It's the rare movie that is both what you would and would not expect.

The big draw is Henry Rollins, playing a blood-drinking immortal who doesn't quite fit in with traditional v-word lore, but who has been trying to keep it on the straight and narrow, although that is accomplished in large part by doing nothing. When he's forced to deal with the world around him because his relatively recent past catches up with him, his social atrophy and utter lack of reaction to what would be threatening situations for normal humans is terrifically funny, apparently even more so for those used to Rollins as a loud, forceful heavy metal musician. It's a fun contrast to everyone around him, whether a sweet diner waitress, an appealing screw-up of a daughter, or a low-level criminal who has seen enough to know that messing with this Jack fellow is a bad idea.

The really clever bit, though, is that as funny as those scenes are, they also feed directly into into the bits that make He Never Died both a nifty crime flick and a horror story. There's a street-level, dark alley feel to those elements that works very nicely indeed, and lends itself to some great action that may frequently be one-sided, but is a gas to watch anyway, because Rollins and writer/director Jason Krawczyk have a solid picture of how this would go down, and nail it every time. It makes calling the movie a comedy a bit inaccurate, even if this is one of most honestly funny movies of its type in recent memory, earning both its laughs, thrills, and darker moments.

Some Kind of Hate

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Is it wrong to kind of hope that a pretty great horror movie perhaps stalls out at cult favorite? Some Kind of Hate is a strong, smart, bloody example of what the genre can do when its aims are greater than just churning out product, and it introduces what could be an iconic horror villain as great as the ones spawned in the 1980s. That's the rub, though - I really, really don't want to see Moira Karp reduced to what the likes of Freddy Kruger, Jason Vorhees, and Michael Myers became in pop culture.

Of course, for that to happen, they'd have to recast, because part of what makes Moira so great is that she is very clearly a teenager who doesn't wear a mask or (seldom) speak with a distorted voice, and Sierra McCormick is going to grow out of this role, and good luck matching that. She and filmmaker Adam Egypt Mortimer make Moira a monster whose motivation is all too easy to understand - that is to say, the best kind. She's paired up with an impressive Ronen Rubinstein (as the bullied camper who summons her) and Grace Phipps (his potential girlfriend) and a slew of obvious targets.

It's a great little horror movie, with kills that are maybe all of a type but which work as storytelling. The filmmaking is sharp and carefully considered, likely enough to strike a chord rather than just seem exploitative. It's the horror genre at its best, and I hope it becomes a springboard for more great things rather than a franchise which dilutes its greatness.

Rabu&Pisu (Love & Peace)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

The first of three Sion Sono films being shown at this year's festival is a joyous, crazy delight, piling whimsy ever-higher even while Sono reveals a darkness behind it. the great bit, though, is that the pieces that may make an audience uneasy never poison the joy surrounding it, even as Sono finds himself springing imagery on the audience that could horrify if handled differently.

That's doubly impressive, because the film really starts out feeling really loose, as Sono follows loser former musician Ryoichi Suzuki (Hiroki Hasegawa) through a series of embarrassments, including missing out on connecting with the girl at the office who might kind of like him (Kumiko Aso), until he buys a turtle, involves it in some weird fantasies, and then flushes him down the toilet, only for "Pikadon" to have his own adventures in the sewer. What he finds there is almost unbelievable, but amazing, and draws so much attention that it's easy to miss that there's important stuff going on topside.

Sono makes a great story of ambition and desire for something out of reach corrupting pure instincts, of extreme self-confidence and self-doubt being equally destructive, but the way he tells it is going to be what makes an immediate impression, as he not only creates the closest thing I can imagine to a Sion Sono children's movie, but does so with earnest joy, culminating in a finale that is both incredibly cute and hilariously destructive, without ever getting smirky or superior. He almost dares the audience to be cynical, because it's easy to see some of what he does being revisionist and "adult", but pulls back in a delightful way.

I'm being vague here, because this is a film that really deserves to surprise people. I can see it becoming a staple at the Brattle's "Alt X-Mas" series, and it plays just as well in July.

The Fantasia Daily 2015.12 (25 July 2015): Mortadelo & Filemon: Mission Implausible, Princess Jellyfish, Deadman Inferno, Wild City, Bunny the Killer Thing, and more

With the first movie I hadn't seen not starting until two, I decided to give the VR Experience another shot, this time with the Oculus Rift and "Body/Mind/Change Redux", a Cronenberg-inspired (and hosted) short that fuses bits from his movies (mostly Videodrome and The Fly) into an odd little thing that shows off new technology by building a story about how new technology will sap the humanity from eager volunteers.

That said, it was a much niftier experience than the previous day's, mostly because the material was more exciting and built around something that seemed active rather than entirely passive. The Oculus Rift also seemed a bit better designed than the Gear, but that may hinge on personal preference. It was also being driven by a laptop rather than a phone, which may have helped. At any rate, I'm not sure that the technology is really ready for prime time yet, but this was a much more interesting demo than yesterday's.

After that, I donned different headgear to see Mortadelo & Filemon in 3D, a bit surprised that it was an English dub despite being listed as subtitled in the program. I don't know what a huge difference that would have made; the English-language cast was anonymous but mostly capable.

(Note: A 3D movie is not necessarily the best choice when also eating lunch, in this case a protein poutine from across the street. Surprisingly, I did not make a mess!)



The first feature visitor of the day was Deadman Inferno writer/director Hiroshi Shinagawa, who made a surprisingly entertaining zombie movie, albeit one that's a bit self-referential. One of the more amusing answers to a question was that star Sho Aikawa is actually a Harley Davidson enthusiast, so he jumped at the chance to do some motorcycle stunts



I was sitting higher up than usual, so you'll pardon the horrible photography of Tony Timpone (l) talking with Bunny the Killer Thing writer/director Joonas Makkonen (c) and co-star Enni Ojutkangas (r). As you might expect from reading a synopsis, there were a lot of genital-related questions and "hey, how offensive do people think this is" stuff, because the movie has that right out there. Makkonen seemed to enjoy that more pointedly while Ojutkangas was a lot more casual about it, also interjecting about how shooting in -30 Celsius weather was kind of hellish - when you're making a zombie movie in those conditions, you have trouble because the tubing full of fake blood gets frozen.

I'm not entirely sure what I think of it to be honest. A rowdy midnight screening is not really the place to discuss whether horror movies using explicitly sexual violence is a good idea, especially in one that is modeled more on over-the-top slashers than thrillers: That's the sort of movie where people cheer the kills, which is weird to begin with, more so when the kill tends to explicitly include a rape, and there's some really uncomfortable other moments. Sure, it also includes an assault victim beating the monster across the face with his own severed unit, but is that enough to make ?


ANYWAY, today's plan: Tazza: The Hidden Card, Wonderful World End, He Never Died, Some Kind of Hate, and Love & Peace. Will definitely try and watch a screener of The Dark Below eventually.

(When this was going to be posted at 11am Sunday, before I ran out of time, that was relevant.)


Mortadelo y Filemón contra Jimmy el Cachondo (Mortadelo & Filemon: Mission Implausible)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, DCP w/Xpand 3D)

Two films at this year's festival had directors returning to projects they had done in live action a decade earlier with animated films. For The Case of Hana and Alice, it was a matter of creating a prequel using the same talent; Mortadelo & Filemon: Mission Implausible seems to be aimed at creating something as close to the style of the original comics as possible. It certainly appears that Javier Fesser managed that, including a great deal of anarchic slapstick.

A new safe has just been installed in TIA headquarters, with the Superintendent placing one piece of top-secret information inside. That makes it target enough for Jimmy the Joker, who has been burgling this agency for years with the help of his conjoined-twin henchmen Billy & Bob. Fortunately, top agent Filemon, cheerfully assisted by his loyal valet Mortadelo, is ready to fly in with his jetpack and assortment of high-tech gadgets that James Bond and Ethan Hunt together can't match. Piece of cake.

Despite never having read Francisco Ibáñez's comic (first published in 1968), I'm guessing that longtime fans might be raising an eyebrow or two at that description, but I'd suggest they not worry. Things will soon be back in wacky screw-up territory, and it's actually pretty clever how Fesser makes that fake-out work whether one knows what's going on or not. He and his co-writers also do what seems like a fairly impressive job of fitting a dozen or two characters, presumably all from the original comics based upon how familiar the core people seem to be with them, and both find them something to do and introduce them casually. There are a lot of potential pitfalls here - aside from pleasing new and old fans, they're also juggling what feels like three or four shorter stories instead of one main plot - but the film sidesteps them adroitly.

Full review on EFC.

Kuragehime (Princess Jellyfish)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

As much as I found this movie super-cute and highly enjoyable, I'm kind of glad that it was distilled down to a couple of hours from what certainly seems like the sort of manga that can go on and on, and there are certainly moments when an even less literal translation could help: The "petrification" gags and some of the designs for the other otaku girls at the Amamizukan apartment building besides Tsukimi could be toned down.

Still, that's mostly surface stuff. The main event, which has Tsukimi, an aspiring manga artist who loves jellyfish but has some pretty crippling self-image issues, befriended by a tall model-type that typically terrifies her only to discover that this girl is actually a cross-dressing boy, is a lot of fun. It starts with two tremendously appealing leads in Rena Nounen and Masaki Suda who give Tuskimi and Kuranosuke perfectly complementary reserved and brash natures with an easy common ground. There's great chemistry there for both romance and best friends (with Suda's looking pretty passable in a dress helping out), and a low-key rather than melodramatic love triangle when Kuranosuke's uptight older brother enters the mix. Mokomichi Hayam is a secret weapon as the Koibuchi family chauffeur who makes every scene he's in funnier - and who, like every likable character in the movie, is a bit of a nerd where something is concerned himself, though he owns it with confidence.

The plot that develops - a monolithic developer with a bitchy representative who plans to tear the girls' building down and Kuranosuke's plans to fight them by creating a line of jellyfish-inspired dresses - is silly but committed to with genuine sincerity, and while it has its ridiculous moments, it also has great ones, and the filmmakers never forget that it's there as a way to make Tuskimi and Kuranosuke a team than just its own thing. It gets the movie to a pretty nice ending point, too, where there's room for more but the important work seems to be done.

(Although, is it just me, or is it weird that they spend the whole moving fighting against gentrifying their neighborhood but then talk about outsourcing the manufacturing to India at the end? That's kind of inconsistent, right?)

"A Tricky Treat"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

Arguably the only reason one can't see the punchline of "A Tricky Treat" coming a mile away is that at under five minutes, it's not exactly a mile long. The weird framing gives the game away fast, although it's not like the filmmakers could have done it any other way.

Without spoiling anything, it may be an obvious punchline, but it's one that lends to some decent gross-out gags in the lead up to it. The special effects crew does pretty good work giving director Patricia Chica a severed head she can do all the nasty things needed to lead up to the pull-back in the last few seconds. She and writer Kamal John Iskander at least seem to know that even if it's built around a big reveal, the short can't rest entirely on it. It's a good joke told reasonably well, something that might be fun to stick in front of a horror movie or use as part of a marathon come Halloween.

Z Airando (Deadman Inferno)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, HD)

A little subtitling or famliarity with a setting can make a big difference - I did not initially realize that the [former] yakuza were on the Japanese mainland while other characters were on an island until the two groups of gangsters actually got on a boat. It's an example of how I think writer/director Hiroshi Shinagawa maybe wanted to do a little more story-wise with this movie than he really had room for: There are a lot of characters and subplots to keep track of, although he sort of handwaves the zombies with "well, that's how it happens in the movies".

Still, it's better to be ambitious than lazy, and Deadman Inferno (or "Z Island") creates genuine affection for its large cast of characters, enough so that it can deliver a genuine gut punch in the middle of fairly comedic action. On top of that, Shinagawa's background as half of a comedy team has him a bit more attuned to giving characters back-and-forth banter to work with rather than just quips. He also builds some spiffy action sequences that play to his cast's strengths, whether it's a couple of karate-kicking schoolgirls or Sho Aikawa weaving a motorcycle through a pretty crowded set.

It's not perfect - there are some dumb and unnecessary detours, and having a few kick-ass ladies in the cast unfortunately seems to be balancing out some rather unnecessarily sexist bits. When it's on, though, Deadman Inferno is one of the more energetic zombie movies you'll see, and it's on more often than not.

Mai Sing (Wild City)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Welcome back Ringo Lam, a director who has been absent from the Hong Kong movie scene for too long, but who doesn't really seem to have missed a beat with this neon-noir. In many ways, Hong Kong cinemas is a new world since he made his last feature in 2003, from digital shooting to having a close eye on the Mainland audience, but he's still capable of coming out with crime and action that is smart even as it's operatic.

This one starts by flashing back to detective T-Man (Louis Koo) handing in his badge, saying he's a bad cop. A few years later, he owns a bar, and that's where the trouble is coming from: A pretty lady from Qingdao, Yun (Tong Liya), is in no condition to get herself back to her hotel, so T-Man brings her back to the home of his stepmother Mona (Yuen Qiu). She encounters T-Man's half-brother Chung (Shawn Yue Man-lok) upon waking, and when they go to return her to her car, not only has she lost her keys, but a group of Taiwanese gangsters snatch her. It turns out that she has something her lawyer boyfriend George (Joseph Chang Hsiau-chuen) wants back, and even though T-Man can see the disaster that's coming, he and Chung are no the types to just stand aside.

Wild City may not be as incisive as some of Lam's other film's - "money is the root of all evil" is not a particularly new and cutting observation - but there may be more going on than there appears to be. T-Man (short for "Tin-man", so you can see why the English subtitles went for that abbreviation) and Chung are Hong Kong through and through, and this mainland girl who drops into their life is both everything that is alluring about the larger China and everything that is dangerous - she's beautiful, has a bunch of money, is in over her head in a new world and needs you but is also kind of indifferent. She's going to wreck them without actually being evil and they can't turn away.

Full review on EFC.

"El Gigante"

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

I can't sugar coat this much - I kind of hated this short, because it feels like horror filmmaking at its worst: Emptily sadistic, built backwards from wanting to depict people mutilating and killing each other in nasty ways, and expecting audiences to cheer its viciousness (which they disappointingly do). It's a grimy, nasty appeal to its viewers' worst instincts, and after it has exhausted its kind-of-clever idea ("hey, I came up with the word lucha-gore!"), it serves up a played-out extra stinger.

And, of course, it's being developed as a feature. Maybe that will work; maybe it will give director Gigi Saul Guerrero and writer Shane McKenzie a chance to actually say something about desperate, hard-working people crossing the Mexico/US border and being put through hell and ultimately eaten alive, or maybe it will actually be thrilling rather than utterly one-sided. They'll have room; I just hope they've got more than cruelty and half an idea.

Bunny the Killer Thing

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

After sleeping on it, I'm still not really sure where I stand with Bunny the Killer Thing. The sexual violence aspect to it is a tough nut to swallow, right on the line between being a legitimate extension of horror movie violence and something that is really uncomfortable considering the tone that they were going for. I mean, there's a rape scene right in the middle of this movie that involves running from a guy in a bunny suit with a giant prosthetic penis.

Don't get me wrong, the film has its moments. There are bits of physical comedy good enough that I want to give the rest of the film the benefit of the doubt, there are a handful of funny characters both in the main and supporting cast, and when it comes time for certain characters to start kicking ass, it's incredibly satisfying. On the other hand, I've got no idea why so much is in English. It makes sense as a common language for an international cast, but it sounds bad in most cases, and when told that some of these characters were supposed to be English, I wasn't swallowing it.

This kept me awake and alert during a midnight screening much better than other movies, so I guess it deserves credit for that. But I felt bad for watching it, and I don't think a horror movie is supposed to create that sort of unease.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Fantasia Daily 2015.11 (24 July 2015): On the White Planet, Full Strike, Tales of Halloween, and The Ninja War of Torakage

There are mornings in this work-from-the-road thing where three non-consecutive hours of non-meeting work just doesn't get it done, especially since your head is already half at the festival.

Anyway, first up was On the White Planet, a pretty darn grim animated film from Korea. I kind of suspect that this one was an art-house presentation if anything over there, but Fantasia has played a number of really bleak animated films from Korea, which sometimes creates a pretty skewed impression of what the medium is like over there.

There was a bit of time between that and my shows at Hall, so I took in the "VR Experience" next to the de Seve theater. Waiting in line wound up taking up a lot of time, even though ten minute caps were set on people using the equipment. That seemed to be in part because that equipment, at least the Samsung Gear I was using, felt glitchy and difficult to use in terms of set-up. Once I actually got things running - a 7-minutes sort-of-documentary on Tibetan yak herders and a 3-minute look at an apatosaur from Jurassic World, it was pretty neat. Not quite there yet in terms of resolution, but the fact that this sort of thing is being driven by a phone rather than a sizable box is kind of crazy.

It left me just enough time to get to Full Strike, where Andrew Ooi of 852 Films did an intro alongside King-wei Chu:



No post-film Q&A, but it was an entertaining introduction, where they mentioned that most Cantonese comedies in the past have had the profanity toned down in the English subtitles, but that the translation here had much more accurate swearing. Including a lot of "fornicate your mammaries", in so many words, which is a funny sort of phrase. He also mentioned that they were working on a take on Jackie Chan's Drunken Master that would be "Stoned Master". Hong Kong comedy is wonderfully non-classy, and a video message from star Josie Ho basically said not to expect anything.

They needed the time in order to fit everyone from Tales of Halloween in the next slot:



Didn't get some names, but left to right, that's director Mike Mendez, producer Patrick Ewald, director Darren Lynn Bousman, someone who I don't think said anything including hs name, director Neil Marshall, and director/producer/creator Axelle Carolyn. Not present: Carolyn's dog Anubis, who did at least make an appearance in her segment, as I said he should.

Things thinned out after that for The Ninja War of Torakage, which was an odd experience: Yoshihiro Nishimura wasn't there, nor, apparently, was Mark Walkow, the usual guy helping to bring this sort of zany Japanese action to the West. Nobody was running around in a diaper before or after the movie. It was weird and not what you usually get from this sort of thing at genre festivals, where previously the people involved have worked pretty hard to push their movies in North America and they were crazy events. This was just another movie, albeit a fun one.

Today's plan: Sticking around Hall for Mortadelo & Filemon, Princess Jellyfish, Deadman Inferno, Wild City, and Bunny the Killer Thing. Miss Hokusai is recommended, but it's too late for that. Sorry.

Chang-baek-han eol-gul-deul (On the White Planet)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, DCP)

Hur burn-wook's movie is told primarily in white with some gray and black highlights, but is dark as all hell, positing a world not just where the one kid who is the only person or even thing on Earth of a non-ashen hue has already become a hardened killer by the time the film starts as he's hunted for being different, but where the whole world seems to have devolved into violence and chaos. The whole movie is populated by monsters, right down to the pedophile rapist who is part of the group he falls in with.

It's kind of too much, numbing despite the fact that one of the two impressive sequences the film opens with is horrific in its brutality. That bit where the kid kills someone and then smears the white blood on his face manages to encapsulate an idea - this kid is willing to go to monstrous lengths to fit in because he sees no other choice and knows nothing but violence. The sixty-odd minutes after that seems more like restatement than development, despite the fact that there is a story there, albeit one that eventually kind of dead-ends.

Amazing-looking, though. Hur makes all of the characters suitably harsh, and kind of simplistic in design, but easily distinguished. It's the backgrounds that really pop: Thick black lines like you seldom see in animation, stark borders rather than shading, techniques mostly used in very flat media that nevertheless give the world enough three dimensionality to have a far-off horizon. It reminds me more of American comic artists like Charles Burns than Korean comics and animation at times, especially when the narrative cuts away to still, comic-style story of a man trapped in a labyrinth, being watched by spectators.

One aside: The kid is generally referred to as "colored" in the subtitles, versus "white", and I wonder how much thought the translator gave to the reactions that language would provoke in the United States. There's really no better way of phrasing it, and it actually plays into what the movie is saying about persecuting those that are different, but it's got an extra jolt, and I'm curious how much that was intended.

Chuen lik kau saat (Full Strike)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

There are plenty of silly things in Full Strike - it is, in fact, ridiculous more or less non-stop - but the filmmakers never really portray badminton as a sport that is, itself, laughable. They could have, and that will likely be the implication when people describe and recommend this movie to each other. That choice, though, makes Full Strike light rather than mean-spirited, a goofy little lark rather than a parody.

It starts in tremendously silly fashion, as former badminton champion "Beast" Ng Kau-sau (Josie Ho Chiu-yee), thrown out of the game ten years ago for her violent outbursts and now fat & lazy, drives off the road when a shuttlecock-shaped meteor crashes to earth and she's chased into an athletic club by what may be a bum or an alien. It winds up owned by her family and currently rented to Lau Dan (Ekin Cheng Yee-kin), an ex-con who claims to be trying to turn over a new leaf as a professional badminton player with confederates Kwan (Wilfred Lau Ho-lung) and Chiu (Edmond Leung Hon-man), along with drunken coach Chik (Andrew Lam Man-chung). Suck Nipple Cheung (Ronald Cheng Chung-kei), the smarmy son of the owner, has Kau-sau and Granny Mui (Susan Shaw Yam-yam) go in as coaches to spy on them, but, well, they wind up forming a team to compete in a televised event against Suck Nipple's group later.

Just describing the plot doesn't really get across how much this movie is willing to go for the wacky joke at every possible second, from the ex-cons' various disabilities earned honestly during a life of crime to Cheung's ridiculous mustache to the bizarre profanity characters will hurl at each other. This thing is full of slapstick and absurdity that seldom fails to land, although often with a surprising grace rather than a thud: Even if the nearly-blind Kwan is oriented so as to be trash-talking his teammate rather than his opponent, he's not really being mocked, and Andrew Lam is funny whether he's a horrifically drunken mess or impossibly graceful for a guy so out of shape. There's shockingly little guilt to be found even as characters are played as absurd.

Full review on EFC.

Tales of Halloween

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The good thing about not being able to write up every movie during the festival: Maybe the IMDB will be filled in a bit when I do get around to talking about each segment individually. One thing that really surprised me was that I thought Lucky McKee's segment may have been the best of the lot; he's a guy I sometimes find paradoxically frustrating both because I tend not to love his work and because he does so little, more or less dropping off the map after The Woods was a lousy experience. "Ding Dong" was funny and had a nasty payoff, but there's something genuinely unnerving underneath it even as it's being played for laughs.

It's fast-moving, which is both a blessing and a curse: Fitting ten segments and an elaborate title sequence (with a spiffy new Lalo Schifrin theme!) into ninety minutes means few have time to breathe and build a deeper sort of fear than jumps - even those that try have to deal with the brain shifting gears from the zanier segments. Others, like Neil Marshall's "Bad Seed", feel not quite like compressed features, but like compressed TV episodes (which makes me think, how much fun would it be for a procedural like Law & Order to just go full horror for the Halloween episode and then return to normal the next week without mentioning it, like NYPD detectives have to deal with the supernatural once per year?). The filmmakers talked about maybe reordering segments before the final release, and I don't know about that - as much as the three trick-or-treating stories to start felt a bit repetitive, I don't know if it would be better elsewise.

It's a fun little movie, though, much more a "Halloween" movie than "horror", if you get the distinction, celebrating the annual chance to enjoy things that go bump in the night and dress up crazy more than looking to disturb its viewers. That's fine, and I don't know if it could be otherwise with the churn, although one should perhaps set expectations accordingly.

Ninja Torakage (The Ninja War of Torakage)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

It's not fair to say one either digs Yoshihiro Nishimura or one doesn't, because his output as a director can vary wildly even if the general style is the same - the awful Zombie TV comes from the same part of his brain as the very fun Helldriver. He often makes movies to give himself a place to put some of the crazier make-up/effects ideas he has and let some crazy action and goofy comedy rip. Ninja Torakage is that sort of thing, but it's on the fun side.

Surprisingly, there's relatively little really strange effects work to it - one weird monster, plenty of way over the top gore in the fights' aftermath - although it gets plenty strange at times. It's got a look that embraces its low-budget artifice, a cast that's having a good time and never really bad but also never subtle (Eihi Shiina does not care about nuance at all), feeling about halfway between a backyard production and something polished enough to play theaters. The action is enthusiastic, but the presense of Nana Seino in a small role kind of highlights the difference between Nishimura's brand of action and the really amazing stuff: You look at what she did with Sion Sono in Tokyo Tribe or Mamoru Oshii in Nowhere Girl, and Nishimura just seems to have his actors hacking at each other with their swords.

But, then, that's what Nishimura does, and this is one of the times when he's got good enough collaborators that the energy comes out as a positive.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Fantasia Daily 2015.10 (23 July 2015): The Real Miyagi, Cash Only, and Ant-Man

Not quite the day I'd planned on yesterday. The idea was to see the press screening of Turbo Kid at Cinema de Parc, and I was almost in good shape to make it, but second-guessed myself into a mess, getting off at the wrong subway stop and then not reading the maps right to realize that Bleury turned into Parc at an intersection, so going too far in the wrong direction and eventually missing it. I wound up using the morning to have S'Mores French Toast at Eggspectation and then catch Ant-Man (how the heck does a weekday 11:30am movie, even on a larger screen in 3D, cost $18, Montreal? That's nuts!). After that, I had time to head to the Old Port and check out the video game exposition at the Science Center.

Guys, they have an Atari Jaguar with Tempest 2000 running on it there. I may have spent an hour on that, and I certainly need to get my Jaguar working once I get back home because that game is awesome and playing it without the sound just increases my craving for the full experience.

I lost my last life just as the exhibition halls were closing and got back to the festival just as The Real Miyagi was starting. Nice little movie, although seeing the crowdfunding credits at the end, I found myself imagining a future where we're all kind of judged on what sort of labor-of-love documentary is made about us in our twilight years. I don't know if anybody could raise the money for a short for me.

I had a free slot after that - I'd seen Goodnight Mommy and wasn't getting into Turbo Kid. A bummer, that, but there's no need to try and cram me into a sold out screening or another just because I'll blog about it and couldn't remember directions earlier. It gave me a chance to have a second actual sit-down meal in a single festival day (weird, I know), heading over to Mr. Steer. They've gotten a little fancier in the past few years, still basically a diner at heart, but I was able to order a half-pound "giant" burger which apparently had Rochefort kneaded directly into the beef. Really good, as usual - Mr. Steer has some of the best burgers in the area, especially once you strip away the fancy toppings and just judge the grilled meat.

After that, I made myself proud by skipping Ju-On: The Last One, Really and watching Cash Only. I ran into some friends there - some like Paul who'd been there all along and wanted to talk about how Goodnight Mommy didn't fake them out properly and others like Kurt who just got here - and settled in for what was likely a much better movie than the sequel to the remake I didn't like anyway.



A good showing of filmmakers: Director Malik Bader, writer/lead Nickola Shreli, executive producer Ele Bardha, cinematographer Christos Moisides, and editor Matt Diezel. A really fun group, especially since they were happy to talk about how sometimes things came together because they were aware of what they might not be able to pull off, like casting the "Dino" character very differently from the original inspiration, a decision which also gave the film a little added verisimilitude as it allowed them to imply Serbian-Albanian tension on top of what's already going on.

Today's plan: At de Seve for On the White Planet and then Hall for Full Strike, Tales of Halloween, and The Ninja War of Torakage. Possessed is also a fun midnight.

Ant-Man

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2015 in Scotia Bank Cinemas Montreal #7 (first-run, AVX DCP w/Real 3D)

It was just yesterday I was talking about how good heist movies move like such a well-oiled machine that there's not much to talk about, which makes Ant-Man especially interesting because it was very publicly not a well-oiled machine for a while, with the man who had been developing it for years walking off the project and Marvel scrambling to find a replacement and not have anyone else who might have signed up to work with Edgar Wright bail as well. Thankfully, they found good people in Adam McKay and Peyton Reed rather than doubling down on the studio flacks who might have otherwise been put in charge, and the result is a whole lot of fun.

That Marvel is doing a comedic heist movie between their big event movies is kind of great, and it does not hurt at all that Paul Rudd fits the part of Scott Lang like a glove and is surrounded by other good people, including Michael Douglas, who maybe isn't playing the Hank Pym of the comics but certainly feels like what he may have become if those characters were allowed to age in real-time. Corey Stoll takes "comic book villain" and bites into it hard, and Peyton Reed helps give the movie a really zippy sort of life. He's the exact sort of guy that people would have been thrilled with Marvel hiring in the first place if we hadn't had years of expecting Edgar Wright.

That said, you can see some of the reasons why Wright walked off - the Avengers tie-ins to what he planned as something outside the Marvel Cinematic Universe are intrusive, and for as fun as Stoll makes his character, he doesn't feel like the sort of thing a detail-obsessed filmmaker like Wright would make. Still, they did inherit a lot of his action planning, which makes for good fun without going too big, an occasional superhero movie sticking point. On top of that, the thing could have been PG if they'd maybe toned some language down a bit, even down to the alternates they used in the preview ("I want you to break into a place and steal a thing" is funnier than "...and steal some shit", anyway).

It's kind of amazing - nobody would have been surprised if Ant-Man collapsed as a disaster, but Marvel recovered really nicely to make one of the most purely entertaining movies in the franchise. Their success record is really enviable.

The Real Miyagi

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2015 in the J.A. de Sève Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: Documentaries from the Edge, HD)

There have always been a fair number of documentaries like The Real Miyagi, but I wonder if there are a lot more in the future. Equipment to shoot/record fairly well in 2K is readily available, if not quite cheap, it's a lot easier to track down archival material than it was, and if you get the right subject, the path to getting certain parts crowd-funded is clear. Furio Demura is the right kind of subject - reasonably interesting, willing to be involved, and able to inspire folks to go to participate. Fortunately, the things that can get this sort of movie made also tend to make it interesting.

Demura was an impressive karate fighter in early-1960s Yokohama, but when organizational politics started pushing him back in favor of new faces, he opted to come to California with one suitcase, $300, and just about no English. He faced a great deal of prejudice early on, but not only founded a dojo in 1965 but through his personal charisma, drive, and great skill with nunchaku, he was a key figure in popularizing karate in America, including serving as an inspiration (and double) for Mister Miyagi in The Karate Kid.

Director Kevin Derek doesn't quite lead with that, since Demura suffered a cerebral edema and fell into a coma that doctors gave him a roughly five percent chance of coming out of when the film was about a year into production (17 March 2011, to be precise). Aside from being a rough thing to deal with when the filmmaker clearly has a great deal of personal fondness for his subject, it's something that is clearly going to hang over the film as a whole and almost requires explanation: Depending on when various interviews about the same parts of Demura's life were shot, there will be some sharply different tones right next to each other.

Full review on EFC.

Cash Only

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2015 in the J.A. de Sève Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

There are a lot of actors where following the usual advice to "write what you know" will not get them the noteworthy part they crave; former Detroit landlord Nickola Shreli is not one of them. He has probably never been in the sort of binds that his character has, but he and director Malik Bader have built a tense little film about an underseen environment, so it was at least a good starting place.

The movie itself doesn't start in a great place, as Elvis Martini (Shreli) sets a fire in a building he owns for the insurance, only to realize with horror that his wife is inside. Two years later, he's raising his daughter alone and quite broke: The bank is threatening to foreclose on his other building, being a fellow Albanian-American will only get him so far with the loan shark he owes ten grand, his daughter Lena is out of school because he can't pay the tuition, and one of the only two of his tenants that will pay the rent on time is using the basement to grow weed. When he evicts Rolexa (Maia Noni), a call girl who hasn't paid her rent in three months, he finds a bag of cash that won't completely get him out from under, but will go a long way. Except, of course, that this would be the first time in movie history that taking a bag of money that's just laying around would keep things from getting much, much worse.

The filmmakers take their time getting there, though that's not something to complain about. Neighborhoods that are at least partly ethnic enclaves like the Hamtramck area of Detroit have personalities and rhythms that the audience needs to get used to, and getting to know the world that "Visi" lives in and his place in it is an important part of the movie. It also gives the filmmakers time to plant that Elvis isn't really taking things seriously enough in the viewer's head, letting both a fondness for the character and the possibility that things will go very wrong build simultaneously.

Full review on EFC.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Fantasia Daily 2015.09 (22 July 2015): 100 Yen Love, The Royal Tailor, Momentum, and The Master Plan

One of those days when I head out of the apartment with the actual names of movies less in my head than "de Seve, Hall, Hall, de Seve". For 100 Yen Love especially, I kind of needed to remind myself what I was seeing beforehand. Sometimes the day starts like that when you've got the one movie at de Seve that looks good but isn't necessarily a huge draw for you.

The night's guest was Momentum director Stephen S. Campanelli (l, with Action! programmer Éric S. Boisvert):



He had two claims to fame going into the screening of his directorial debut: First, that he has been Clint Eastwood's primary camera operator for twenty-odd years; second, that he actually went to Concordia University (Fantasia's primary home for the past decade-plus) and screened his student film at the Hall Theatre. As such, he had a lot of friends and people otherwise rooting for him in the audience.

He talked a lot about working with Eastwood, who often comes across as having a very light hand, trusting his crew to do their jobs and make decisions rather than micro-managing. It's a reminder that there are a lot of highly skilled people on a film set, and that even folks like the camera operators, whom audiences not in film production may think of as mainly technicians, are creative people working their way up and interacting with the people audience do know more than you might expect. In Campanelli's case, that meant he was able to make contacts with Olga Kurylenko and Morgan Freeman, adding a bit of juice to this small South African-shot movie.

Short reviews today, because a 10am press screening is the only way I'm seeing Turbo Kid at the festival. Then it's a day of either being a tourist or seeing Ant-Man (maybe a little of both) before catching The Real Miyagi and then likely going for Ju-on: The Final Curse over Cash Only, although I may come to my senses at the time. Anguish and Goodnight Mommy are both recommended.


Hyakuen no koi (100 Yen Love)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2015 in the J.A. de Sève Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Sakura Ando wears some baggy clothes toward the start of 100 Yen Love, because she's actually fairly attractive but this is a character who needs to burn off her frustrating slacker exterior, and that's how it's going to come across visually. It's the kind of thing that's fairly obvious when you know that this is going to be a boxing movie going in, although maybe less so otherwise.

Which you might not, since this movie can take some pretty random turns, with Ichiko Saito (Ando) putting up surprisingly little fight when asked to leave the family home where she's been living since dropping out of college roughly ten years earlier, seeming a lot more responsible and kind than one might expect as she starts her new job, and deciding to learn to box almost on a whim despite the fact that it comes right on the tail of her being attacked. Ichiko is so resistant to explaining herself that this obvious connection is hard to make - she's a weird mess of conflicting motivations that making a conventionally triumphant sports or romance about her seems pretty difficult.

That kind of makes it hard to embrace the film's ending - we're not far removed from "f--- that guy" where Yuji is concerned, even if he really does seem like the only other character who might understand what Ichiko needs at that point. Coming at the end of an uncomfortable but kind of unsurprising finale, it's a weird way to end the movie, although in some ways that's only appropriate - Ichiko just isn't going to follow a conventional arc, no matter how one might want her to.

Sanguiwon (The Royal Tailor)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

I've been looking to make a "costume drama" joke about this film ever since I first heard of it, but for most of the running time, that doesn't seem quite appropriate, because for the first half or so, this is mainly a very funny, good-natured movie, even if the filmmakers are laying the foundations for the heavier material that will come later. In that regard, the script is fairly clever, although perhaps the last act requires the audience to be more tuned into this particular king's capriciousness than maybe I was.

Still, there's a really powerful set of character relationships making the movie very watchable from moment to moment. It's easy to expect the relationship between conservative Royal Tailor Dol-suk (Han Suk-kyu) and upstart Kong-jin (Ko Soo) to be much more contentious, but watching them quickly warm to each other is one of the film's great pleasures, The relationship between the King and Queen is easily understood but not easily untangled, while there's a chemistry between Kong-jin and the Queen that teeters on the edge of forbidden romance.

And, man, just look at the clothes. I think the light early tone of The Royal Tailor helps a lot, because it allows the filmmakers to introduce traditional Korean clothing with comedy about its impracticality that allows the characters to talk about fashion and design in a way that engages more than the audience that is typically enthusiastic about such things, keeping us engaged as they actually become much more central to the plot. By the end, wardrobe is life and death and it not only doesn't seem absurd, it's fascinating even to those who would never, ever have any part of the recent spate of fashion-oriented movies that have played the boutique houses in America.

The wrap-up may seem a bit tidy, but it's perhaps necessary to "hide" this story in the actual history. It takes a bit of the air out of a delightful movie that otherwise transitions nicely to intrigue, but not that much.

Momentum

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival: Action!, DCP)

I've got two really frustrated notes on the pad that I usually just use to note character names for Momentum, one about how a car chase was terribly choppy and another frustrated at one character dropping another's backstory that we neither need nor, at the point, particularly care about into the middle of a torture scene that was already just overlong and pointless. Who cares? Why work so hard to give a reason for the heroine not being a monster when "I'm not a complete sociopath" will do?

As you might guess from that, Momentum is one of those (likely) VOD-bound action movies that focuses on entirely the wrong things. At their scale and in their market, there's much more word of mouth to be gained from clarity and great staging than anything else, so make those car chases something where you can see relative positions in a shot, pull back a step and hire people who can fight hand-to-hand without extreme close-ups and cuts, and maybe don't be sadistic when killing people without good reason. Weak and obligatory one-lines amid rote banter aren't going to get you noticed, nor is a big Macguffin that you're not actually going to play out.

What's Momentum offer other than bulk to a cable-box menu and a paycheck for a couple of B-list actors? I honestly can't think of anything, and as there are things I don't demand from 90-minute units of action, I do want inventiveness, and Momentum lacks that to a frustrating extent.

Jönssonligan - Den perfekta stöten (The Master Plan)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2015 in the J.A. de Sève Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

More of this, please.

I've got no idea whether this reboot of Sweden's "Jönssonligan" franchise was popular enough to spawn sequels, but I want it to be. It's a neat, tight little caper movie that introduces its characters quickly, has them play out a set of linked heists with style and panache, and never forgets, even if it was a loved one's murder that kicks things off, that these adventures are supposed to be fun.

I like the cast as well. Simon J. Berger marries an Alan Rickman voice to a methodical character but does so with surprising charm and warmth. Alexander Karim makes the con artist of the group a cut-up, Torkel Petersson makes a depressed demolitions expert funny without (I think) being offensive, and Susanne Thorson has an impish but professional charm as the safecracker. I believe "Rocky" was a man in the earlier iterations of the series (and Karim's Ragnar Vanheden was white), so it's a bit of an updated and diversified cast, but one that works well together. The villains are fun and threatening, but thankfully secondary.

In some ways, I have less to say about this one than others I liked less; it's a modestly-sized caper that amuses and doesn't stumble, rare enough to be worth praising even though that's kid of what these movies are expected to do.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Fantasia Daily 2015.08 (21 July 2015): Buddha's Palm, Ojuju, Nowhere Girl, and Anguish

Doing laundry while on vacation day is kind of a drag. Less of one when it's kind of rainy and you can write in the meantime (and it's not like you've been completely away from regular life, what with working three mornings a week), but it just doesn't feel like getting away?

Kept me busy until it was time for movies, where I arrived at de Seve right in time for what I think is the festival's only English-friendly 35mm screening, a nifty presentation of Shaw Brothers oddity Buddha's Palm. Then, with time to kill but not really wanting to walk around in the rain, I headed across the street to hit Le Gourmet Burger since I'd already seen (T)error and Montreal has many good burgers near Concordia. From there, it was back in line to see Ojuju, which is the sort of thing you don't want to say bad things about because it's from a developing country and the effort is there, but it's just not that great in an objective sense. Then across the street for the new Oshii and bumping into folks I see every once in a while in Boston - aside from seeing them, I've answered a survey while in line and seen a couple other folks I know hail from the Hub doing so, and I wonder if we're giving a skewed idea of how many people come up here from New England.



Then, back to de Seve where Mitch and Anguish director Sonny Ballhi introduced the latter's movie. A pretty darn nifty directorial debut and an interesting Q&A; he talked about being inspired by a spirit expulsion therapy which supposedly has had some good results in treating people with disassociative identity disorder, but which I must admit sounded kind of pseudo-science-y to me. His genuine enthusiasm for the town where he set and shot the movie was nifty, though - he first went there at the age of ten and loved how, for as flat as Illinois and the rest of the Midwest can be, this place had hills to give it some topography.

That was yesterday; today's plan is 100 Yen Love, The Royal Tailor, Momentum, and The Master Plan. Observance is recommended.

Ru lai shen zhang (Buddha's Palm)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2015 in the J.A. de Sève Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: Retro & Restorations, 35mm)

Even by Shaw Brothers standards, Buddha's Palm is kind of nuts, piling new crazy action and more martial arts masters on whenever things start to slow down the slightest bit. That's not necessarily an unusual way to build these movies, although the frantic redirection and one-more-thing here is enhanced with superpowers and friendly monsters.

The first creator of the Buddha's Palm technique, we're told, "over-practiced with fatal results", but passed the knowledge on to his disciple Ku Han-hun (Alex Man Chi-leung), who fought many devils, made many enemies, and disappeared years ago. Lung Chien-fei (Derek Yee Tung-shing) is not much like him, a scarred nobody pining after his master's daughter Liu Ming-ying (Candice Yu On-on) and getting his ass handed to him so thoroughly when attacking her betrothed (Ku Kuan-Chang) that he goes over a cliff. But, as the narrator notes, "a monster saves him" and he winds up studying at the feet of the blinded Ku. He sets off to find a magical pearl that will cure Ku's blindness, meeting sisters Chu Yu-chan (Kara Hui Ying-hung) and Yu-hua (also Candice Yu), who seek the same pearl for their master Sun Pi-ling (Susan Shaw Yin-yin)...

...Look, that's something like the first half hour of this ninety-minute movie, and by the time Ming-ying and her now-husband pops up again, the viewer will likely react along the lines of "oh, yeah, them!"; over-stuffing doesn't begin to describe what's going on here. The screenwriters (including On Szeto, Manfred Wong, and director Taylor Wong Tai-loi) in some ways don't seem terribly worried about things making what you'd call any sort of sense, especially when an angry mob more or less agrees to put off getting retribution for a slaughter to have a reunion party despite all the bodies being right there in front of them. It's at the suggestion of Pi Ku (Lo Lieh), a martial arts master who just pops up every time the plot could use him despite him always talking about arriving too late. It's a ridiculously random story.

Full review on EFC.

Ojuju

* * (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2015 in the J.A. de Sève Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: Fantasia Underground, DCP)

Ojuju is a zombie film from Nigeria, and there can be very little doubt that its place of origin is the most notable thing about it. Horror fans have seen this sort of movie a lot, usually done much better, and only in part because filmmakers in Lagos don't necessarily have a lot to work with. That said, curiosity is a valid reason to watch this, and in some ways this sort of genre film may be a way to soften expectations when dipping one's toe into an incredibly fast-growing cinematic scene.

It starts with a couple of weed dealers (Chidozie Nzeribe & Brutus Richard) shooting the breeze, at least until some guy looking really sick comes stumbling toward them and... Well, guess. After that, we meet Romero (Gabriel Afolayan), trying to be a better man now that his girlfriend-he-doesn't-wear-a-condom-with Alero (Meg Otanwa) is pregnant, although Aisha (Yvonne Enakhena) still flirts with him, Alero's friend Peju (Omowunmi Dada) doesn't trust him, and buddy Emeka (Kelechi Udegbe) still talks to him like he's a stoner. Today, the subject is how something really weird seemed to be going on at Fela's house - Fela being one of the two from earlier.

Lots of people make zombie movies when working on tight budgets and with limited resources; if you want to make a film that people will watch, it's an achievable goal and the basics are known to work. Give writer/director/editor/producer C.J. "Fiery" Obasi some credit for seeing it as a great fit for this setting and working to make it be a bit more than the undead in Nigeria, though: He explicitly connects his plague with the dismal supplies of clean water in his country, and sets the film in a slum whose one entrance/exit and barbed wire walls makes for both practical containment and symbolic import. Not only is food and clean water in short supply, but meat is specifically mentioned as something very hard to come by, an ironic early request by many characters early on. There's meaning to this take on a familiar situation.

Full review on EFC.

Tokyo Mukokuseki Shoujo (Nowhere Girl)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, HD)

I enjoyed Nowhere Girl, but I must admit to a sneaking suspicion that the filmmakers wind up saying less than they mean to even as they do so in singular, intriguing ways. Or is that simply criticizing the film for being unconventional? Whichever is the case, the eerie slow build to an exceptional finale is likely to stick in a viewer's head for a while, and that's probably worth noting on its own.

It follows Ai (Nana Seino), a student at an art school for girls who, because of her extraordinary talent and the post-traumatic stress disorder from an undescribed incident, is basically given the run of the place by the headmaster (Hirotaro Honda) in hopes that she will improve. The school nurse (Saeko "Lily" Kamada) does her best to treat Ai, although without much visible progress. There's no missing the resentment her special treatment draws, either from her teacher (Nobuaki Kaneko) or fellow students (Hinako Tanaka, Ayuri Yoshinaga, Kanon Hanakage).

On top of that, the school seems to literally be standing on unstable ground, and the auditorium where Ai is building a large sculpture project is slated for demolition. There is almost no way that this is not symbolic, and it's the sort of thing where director Mamoru Oshii and screenwriter Kei Yamamura (adapting a short film by Kentaro Yamagishi) may ultimately try to get a little too clever, especially as the film nears its conclusion: There is pointed mention made that Ai is having hallucinations, but these things also happen in scenes where she is not present. It can be fit together, although for a movie that is constantly encouraging the audience to look closer and try and fit the parts of a troubled mind together, it's not the tight construction one might hope for.

Full review on EFC.

Anguish (2015)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2015 in the J.A. de Sève Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Anguish lives up to its title and spreads it around, doing an impressive job of mixing jump shocks and genuine human discomfort. Despite placing that sort of emotion front and center, though, it has a much broader range of empathy for its characters, creating an even better connection with the audience it's looking to scare.

It starts out by introducing the audience to Lucinda (Amberley Gridley) and her mother Sarah (Karina Logue), arguing about the daughter spending a weekend at a cabin with friends. It escalates in a way both would regret if it didn't end in the worst possible way. Some time later, another mother/daughter pair arrives in town: Tess (Ryan Simpkins), a withdrawn girl of fifteen who has been showing signs of mental disorders since she was five, and her fairly young mother Jessica (Annika Marks); father Robert (Cliff Chamberlain) is deployed to the Middle East. Despite it being November, Tess will not be starting school until after winter break, so she has time on her hands to explore and discover that perhaps the voices she hears are not entirely in her head.

Tess seems like a heck of a tricky character to play, so introverted that her mother has to remind her about making eye contact and as such not necessarily getting many chances to really interact with others; it's the sort of character that can come across as a bit of a lump. Fortunately, not only does writer/director Sonny Mallhi give her habits that seem to fit, but Ryan Simpkins digs into them and finds a nice balance between having a natural tendency to retreat from the world around her and a strong sense of curiosity. Tess seems like a complete person from the start rather than one who needs to find a missing piece, and that's important, because it gives the audience a strong sense of her when her brain chemistry goes off or the story's possession elements kick in and she may not be entirely herself any more. Even then, Simpkins is not given exaggerated, broad material to play; rather than going all-out with cackling demons, she's got to give the audience reason to believe but the skeptical other characters reason to disbelieve.

Full review on EFC.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Fantasia Daily 2015.07 (20 July 2015): International Science-Fiction Short Film Showcase, Børning, and Gangnam Blues

Well, time to break out the "Horrible Photograpy" tag, because this is the only shot I had time to get from the sci-fi shorts block:



Festival programmer Mitch Davis and "Time Capsule" director Trinity Shi, who just got up there for long enough to say hello. No Q&A afterward for this group.

Went across the street for Børning after that, and then hemmed and hawed for a bit about whether to go with Gangnam Blues or A Christmas Horror Story, eventually going with the Korean gangster movie, which didn't get out until nearly midnight, making for a late night for a Monday. Got home to see the Red Sox were crushed in a double header, which was a mite frustrating after getting to see so much winning before the all-star break.

Today's plans: The 35mm print of Buddha's Palm, a free spot, Ojuju, Nowhere Girl, and Anguish. (T)error is recommended, Singham Returns is not, and, hey, guys, why'd you advertise The Incredible Adventure of Jojo (And His Annoying Sister Avila) all week if it was going to be impossibly tight to get to it from the other festival venues?

"Welcome to Forever"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: International Science-Fiction Short Film Showcase, DCP)

It wasn't until well after noting that Laddie Ervin's short film had a couple of "That Guy" actors in it (Richard Riehle & Mike Starr) that I realized they could both have literally phoned their roles in, as they only appear on screens. I kind of want to grasp and find some sort of meta-meaning to that, although it doesn't quite fit in with Ervin's story of post-human uploaded personalities being shut down after a cloud-storage issue.

It's a nifty movie, although it bounces around in format a bit for a short film - infomercial first, then news story, then narrative - in order to both get its exposition out and a bit of story. It winds up dancing around the central idea a bit - what kind of rights should these uploaded minds have if they're not making concrete contributions to society or become buggy? - but gets nice performances out of Riehle and newcomer Clive Hawkins on the way.

"The Rat's Dilemma"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: International Science-Fiction Short Film Showcase, DCP)

In this short film from Israel, a Jewish prisoner in a Nazi camp works on a teleportation device while playing chess with his jailor; is he holding back or is there something to his willingness to sacrifice the queen in the game?

It's a nifty premise that, like a lot of short films, could probably stand with some filling-out on either end (if there's a bigger plan, it doesn't become clear). What's kind of impressive to see is how writer/director Naor Meningher is very obviously working with tight resources in terms of location and cast but manages to make that isolation work as part of the story without over-explaining it. There's also a nice central performance by Mendy Cahan as the scientist, crushed with remorse.

"Legacy"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: International Science-Fiction Short Film Showcase, DCP)

"Legacy" feels very compressed, like filmmaker Josh Mawer and screenwriter Michael Richardson had a lot of ideas of how their story of a dying scientist who places his consciousness into a device implanted in his son could get creepy and dramatic. It goes everywhere it can in under fifteen minutes, although it's a little disappointing that one of those places is not just Lawrence taking advantage of Edward's girlfriend (it says something about entrenched attitudes in sf that this sort of thing is seldom treated as a rape), but that it's apparently the straw that breaks the camel's back, when I think the really powerful bit of this story is how Edward must confront how people seem to treat his worth as deriving from Lawrence.

That said, Drew Wilson is kind of great as Edward, capturing the character's feelings of inferiority and obligation, and also giving a glimpse at the father's arrogance when we see Lawrence in control. Transitions between the two are a little more confusing than they perhaps need to be visually, but Wilson is a solid, relatively understated center that the rest of the cast can use to make their larger characterizations seem a bit bullying.

"Shut-In"

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: International Science-Fiction Short Film Showcase, DCP)

Of all the shorts in the block, this one was probably the only real disappointment, because at its center, it really doesn't make a lot of sense - without a bit more context, the big revelation at the center seems like the sort of thing that would only be done if you wanted this movie to happen, not as the logical response to what we're later told. Even at the micro level, actions seem to be based on keeping secrets from the audience rather than building a world - kind of ironic for a VR-based story.

Nice cast, at least, and I think there's a way you could get a good story out of this if you pushed hard enough in slightly different directions. As it is, though, it seems like a pretty severe case of bracing a twist rather than building something around it.

"Maxiplace"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: International Science-Fiction Short Film Showcase, DCP)

Nobody does satirical science fantasy quite like the French, and "Maxiplace" is yet another fine example of that. Its premise of apartment buildings where the wealthy can literally expand their space and squeeze the poor out is absurd, but also gets at something that we as an audience can recognize as true on a certain level, even when it is populated with ridiculous caricatures doing silly things.

Indeed, that's what much of the short is once it has established the idea; Monsieur Leduc (Dominique Langlais) is pathetic on top of being an entitled weirdo and Clara (Giedre Barauskaite), the pretty animal-loving ditz he takes in after she winds up homeless in the hallway, is kind of a blank, in part because like a lot of French satirists, director Vincent Diderot and co-writer Leila Deroux are quite willing to paint everyone, rich/poor/otherwise, as basically selfish and awful. In some ways, the short kind of treads water so that Diderot and production designer Fabien Moreau can get the concept to sink in. There's a lot of nasty whimsy to it, from a bed being pushed to vertical to how Leduc's bloated apartment has vertical striations from how it has expanded into other spaces.

As satire, it's lightweight in one sense, but it's also a fine conceptual virus, throwing an idea we tend to resignedly accept into sharp relief.

"Time Capsule"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: International Science-Fiction Short Film Showcase, DCP)

By far the shortest of the block, but tight - Trinity Shi's story of an astronaut dropping out of the sky after some sort of disaster is the kind of short film with zero fat that one doesn't want to say anything about because there's almost no way to do so without spoiling everything. It's not the right tone for a "Probability Zero" story, but it's kind of that length and careful packing and squaring away every corner.

So give Shi a lot of credit for that, as well as a visual effects crew that delivers exactly what the story needs and no more. And while Kyla Garcia is mostly sitting in an escape pod and looking panicked, the film ultimately belongs to her as her Claire Rodriguez pieces together what's going on and what she must do as a result.

"The Future Perfect"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: International Science-Fiction Short Film Showcase, DCP)

Another short with a kind of tortured set-up, showing a time traveler (Robert Baker) stuck in one of those "would you do something horrible for the greater good" scenarios, but generally on his return and departure as he argues with an unseen supervisor (voice of Zachary Quinto). Nick Citton kind of hangs a lantern on it during the epilogue, but is that ever actually enough?

On the plus side, Baker is darn solid as Hardesty, doing a pretty fantastic crumble in about ten minutes despite not having a lot besides a spacesuit and a fairly empty set to work with. He impresses. And while Quinto is off-screen, it's the sort of performance that makes me wish that he was going to get as much of a chance as Leonard Nimoy to put his mark on Spock - kind of arch and distant sounding on the surface but able to strip that away to create a solid emotional resonance.

"ReStart"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: International Science-Fiction Short Film Showcase, DCP)

I must admit to sometimes treating time-travel movies like "ReStart" as puzzles to solve rather than stories, so I wound up a bit disappointed that this one's main character didn't stumble upon my "solution": Abducted by some group doing time travel experiments, she is repeatedly thrown back in time to the location of her kidnapping but unable to thwart it; I figured her way out would be to switch places with her original self, letting her escape and creating a looping paradox. Maybe in later iterations.

Putting that aside, Marta Larralde is kind of great as Andrea, the victim of this situation. She kind of gets to be Linda Hamilton in both The Terminator and Terminator 2 here, although she probably accomplishes the transformation more with attitude and body language than workouts. It's impressively jarring to see early/late Andrea contrasted with each other as their paths cross later. And while writer/director Olga Osorio sticks a bit of unnecessary and maybe contradictory info-dumping at the beginning, she handles her story's cyclical nature very well, doing what she can to disconnect the audience from time in the way that Andrea is.

"Dark Was the Night"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: International Science-Fiction Short Film Showcase, DCP)

There's a twist or two to "Dark was The Night", although the film would have been fine without them or one which was more/less conventional. Maybe even better - there's a nasty custody-battle metaphor that seems to be playing out through Chris Cornwell's script which features a girl (Disy Waterstone) and her father (Daniel O'Meara) trapped in sealed compartments of a spaceship after a disaster which the mother apparently fled in an escape pod. Or is that what's going on?

Director Sam McMullen (who also worked on the story) gives hints that all is not as it seems, but he and his crew also do an impressive job of building a world for Vik and Wyatt that's solid but not overly-reliant on details, emphasizing and downplaying what's important to the story. Watersone and O'Meara are also pretty great as the family in crisis, with Waterstone showing equal measures of intelligence and nervousness while O'Meara gets the father whose desperation may not necessarily be toward a good end across very well indeed.

Børning

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival: Action!, DCP)

As you might expect for a film about a cross-country road race, Børning opens with a dedication to legendary stunt driver Hal Needham and shows an immediate affection for American car culture; that's not surprising even if the country being crossed is Norway. Is that love for high speeds enough? It's close; the movie could use a stronger story or a broader sense of humor, but it's sure got a lot of moments that work.

We meet Roy (Anders Baasmo Christiansen) in a prologue that involves drag racing, a speed trap, and his wife's water breaking, and then flash forward "14 years, 2 divorces, and 120 speeding tickets" to the present day, when he's plowed his love of American muscle cars, specifically Ford Mustangs, into his "Stallion Parts" auto shop, but isn't quite so enthusiastic about his daughter Nina (Ida Husøy) staying for two weeks rather than the expected long weekend, especially since he is utterly oblivious to what a chip off the old block she is. Long story short(er), he winds up losing the annual Street Legal competition because he won't pay her attention, and this leads to long-time rival TT (Trond Halbo) challenging him to a race. It winds up being a 2170-kilometer affair from Oslo to the North Cape, and in addition to Roy and TT, practically every gearhead in town joins in - and Philip Mork (Henrik Mestad), possibly the world's most dedicated traffic cop, gets called in from his fly-fishing vacation.

The trouble here is the story and its structure; this sort of race keeps the groups you want in conflict separate but can't allow them to get too far apart lest a winner be too obvious. That's not crippling; you can create little dramas or comedies inside the cars, and that's what screenwriter Linn-Jeanethe Kyed tries to do, although maybe not enough. There's not a whole lot to actually do with Roy and Nina, even when Chekhov's Nut Allergy goes off, although there's a fair amount of dry comedy from the car with Roy's best friends Doffen (Sven Nordin), Nybakken (Otto Jespersen), and Doffen's teenage son Jimmy (Oskar Sandven Lundevold). TT becomes almost a non-entity with nobody to talk to, and the script really finds little to do with Roy's girlfriend Sylvia (Jenny Skavlan) and her co-pilot Linda (Camilla Frey).

Full review on EFC.

Gangnam 1970 (Gangnam Blues)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Gangnam 1970 (or Gangnam Blues, the name under which it's traveling the festival circuit) is the sort of movie where I tend to spend the first ten or fifteen minutes frantically trying to remember the seemingly dozens of characters being introduced in rapid succession, only to relax a bit more upon realizing that, really, only these two and the guys in their immediate orbit are going to really matter - and given that this is a mob movie, maybe they'll be the only ones introduced early who are left when all is said and done.

Those two guys are Kim Jong-Dae (Lee Min-ho) and Baek Yong-ki (Kim Rae-won), orphans living in a shantytown outside Seoul in the early 1970s. Gangnam may be a poor area now with unproductive fields now, but developers, politicians, and gangsters see its position on the road to the capital and intend to develop it after swindling its owners out of their deeds and destroying any opposition they may have in the government. Jong-dae and Yong-ki are dragooned into doing thug work to break up a political meeting, but get separated. Yong-ki winds up joining the mob and moving up quickly, while Jong-dae is taken in by Kang Gil-su (Jung Jin-young), a boss in a rival gang who semi-retires to run a laundry business after being stabbed. It will be three years before their paths cross again, and they form a secret alliance.

There are a lot of other players and side-plots to the story, which is built on (mostly) fictional characters, though against a real-life backdrop. It is a dizzying combination of politics and crime when the two were harder to separate, bringing the intelligence services in as well. If you're not versed in the background, trying to reduce it to the stories of Jong-dae and Yong-ki is almost self-defense. Fortunately, writer/director Yu Ha will reward the patient viewer; his story of corruption and gang warfare never becomes truly simple, but does have a sort of inevitable forward motion, even as the people at the top are knocking each other off and forcing each other out of power. At times, I almost wish it were a book with references and the ability to flip back, but it is eventually merely a dense movie, not an impenetrable one.

Full review on EFC.