Sunday, July 31, 2005

Fantasia Day Six (12 Juillet 2005)

No movies until 5pm on Tuesday, so I took the Metro down to the Porte Vielle (or the Old Port, as we used to call it in Portland, ME). A thoroughly nifty part of town.

My first stop was the clock tower, with its 192 steps and beautifully visible internal clockworks. There's bits about the tower's history as you climb up the numbered steps, and the visible mechanisms are quite nifty. It's worth noting that the solid concrete steps up to the mechanism are replaced thereafter by a metal spiral staircase with rails on only one side, and if I had trouble psyching myself up to climb those, I can only imagine what certain other members of the family would have thought about it.

The views are very nice, though. The part of the city that is on the water is generally the best part; it's very built up on one side and wide-open on the other, so you've got all the bustle without any sense of claustrophobia.

One of the landmarks visible in the second picture, the cold-storage warehouse which was such a point of civic pride for the city during the nineteenth century, is being converted into condos. Technology marches on.

There's also a lot of nice places to just walk along the river and sit down, which is good, since I decided, after working up a sweat climbing up and down that clock tower, that the river may be a nice way to see the city. So I went to the Saute Moutons jet-boating thing, not initially realizing that while it would spend fifteen minutes or so going up the river, it would then spend the next half hour smashing through rapids. I got very, very wet, almost despairing of drying out before heading back downtown for the evening's films.

Great fun, though - heartily recommended.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 12 July 2005 in Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia)

I generally don't comment much on what the filmmakers say during the Q&A sessions, since it's not really relevant to whether or not someone will enjoy the movie, but one thing producer Clark Balderson brought up rather wigged me out: This movie, based on a true crime story (but with a fair amount of liberties taken), shot on the actual scene of the crime. Which isn't unheard of, when it happens in a public place. But here, we're talking someone's house, in a small town that's only ever had one crime of that nature. Got to be strange. Which, of course, fits with the rest of the movie.

The movie centers around the small town of Wamego, Kansas, in the 1950s. Two young men, Jimmy (Jak Kendall) and David (Mike Patton) live with their aged mother, Eleanor (Karen Black). David has taken over their late father's business and place at the head of the table, and has little use for his sissy, piano-playing brother, except as a target for abuse. When the carnival comes to town, Jimmy sees it as a colorful respite from his home life, especially the girlie show and Sandra, its lead singing attraction (Karen Black again). Little does he know that the last time the carnival came through, David got her pregnant, though the troupe's ringleader (Patton) had the pregnancy brutally terminated. Before too long, Jimmy reaches the end of his rope, and homespun sheriff "Ed" (Susan Traylor) finds herself investigating David's disappearance, while Sandra plots to escape the carnival.

Read the rest at HBS.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 12 July 2005 in Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia)

Battlefields are good places to set ghost stories. There is, obviously, an ample supply of restless spirits, and since people have a tendency to fight over the same ground over and over again, the specters will have parallels with the haunted. The haunted will also have weapons that prove utterly useless against their new foes. And if an entire group of people winds up disappearing mysteriously, it's not a loose end that needs to be tied up - it's just something that happens in war.

R-Point posits that it happened a few months earlier - a company of ROK soldiers stationed in Vietnam during the war went into enemy territory and vanished without a trace, but now there's been intermittent radio messages coming from one. Captain Choi Tae-in (Kam Woo-seong) is assigned given a few men (who have been promised an early trip back to Korea) and sent to investigate. When they arrive at "R-Point", they find a marker stating that the Chinese had built a temple over a mass grave and describing a curse, that none who had spilled blood could leave the place, not even their souls. They find the temple - which a group of American soldiers has been using as a supply dump - and start looking for the missing unit. One member is closer than expected.

Read the rest at HBS.

Another Public Enemy (Gonggongui jeog 2)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 12 July 2005 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia)

Despite that sequel-looking title, no prior experience is necessary to enjoy Kang Woo-suk's Another Public Enemy; it's more a thematic follow-up than a literal one. Anyone who enjoys a slick, corruption-fueled crime drama and is open to Korean cinema is coming in fully equipped, although an extra cushion for your seat wouldn't hurt: At nearly two and a half hours, it sometimes seems to take its time getting to the good stuff.

The film opens some fifteen or twenty years ago, and we meet Kang Chul-jung in high school. He gets involved in a rumble with a neighboring school, but when it comes time for corporal punishment to be handed out, one student, Han Sang-woo, is pulled out from the rest, due to his father's wealth and influence. Kang swears that he will study hard and dedicate himself to fighting that sort of corruption. Flash forward to the present, and Kang (Sol Kyung-gu) is a rising star as a prosecutor, personally leading police on raids to smash gangs. Han (Jeong Joon-ho), meanwhile, has become a monster, selling off his foundation's schools and other less-profitable assets in order to fund a golf academy in America. He even runs down a street cleaner when the man scolds him for littering. When one of Han's partners suggests foul play in the accident that placed Han's older brother in a coma (and Han in charge of the family's foundation) two weeks after his father's death, Kang pounces on the opportunity to take him down - but not only is it dangerous to take a case so personally, but Han wields enough money and influence to create enormous pressure from above to drop the case.

Read the rest at HBS.

Fantasia Day Five (11 juillet 2005)

Just saw one movie that day, which I didn't much like. So, rather than sit in the hotel room and write reviews, I played tourist, heading north to check out the Stade Olympique area - mainly the Biodome and Tower:

None of my pictures from the tropical area came out terribly well. For a zoo, the Biodome doesn't really let you see the animals in some parts very well. I got a picture that might have a croc in it, but since I was obeying the "no flash rules, it's hard to tell.

So, we've got some fish in the first picture. It was feeding time, so there were lots of little fish parts being tossed in. There were also puffins from a neighboring tank coming in to get themselves some snacks. A bunch of kids thought they were penguins (we'll get to those guys in a bit),

The next couple of pictures show a whole bunch of birds. This was in the "St. Lawrence Seaway" area, which was the most pleasant one to be carrying a backpack through while wearing shorts and a t-shirt. It was also the most active, with birds flying over your heads from one section to another.

One thing I found really nifty, just from a taking pictures standpoint, is the barrier between the environment created for the animals and the obviously manmade structure. The ground-level animals won't really notice it, other than not being able to range as far as they might like, but the birds will, although it doesn't seem to phase them. They're gulls, so they'd encounter something similar in the wild.

Next up - penguins! Penguins are cool birds. They're easily anthropomorphised (I'm not sure why Pixar or one of the other CGI animation companies hasn't done a full-on penguin picture), and they do funny things, like these guys, just staring at the wall.

I suppose it's another case of animals wondering about being in a zoo. I also wondered, after seeing March of the Penguins, what penguins in a zoo do around mating season. The film shows this fascinatingly complex and involved ritual, involving crossing miles upon miles of glacier, then alternating care for the eggs and babies, but that's not an imperitive for these guys.

Right next to the penguins were areas with puffins and auks, and I figure they must get jealous of their southern cousins. Not that animals in zoos necessarily like being stared at, but after a while, they must think "c'mon, we're small, black, and flightless too! What makes us less adorable than them!"

Or not. And puffins can fly. So, back to the penguins.

This was probably one of the few parts of the Biodome where people would just sit and watch. Part of it is because the birds aren't camoflaged like so many of the other animals, and their black coats stick out from the snow-white environment, so it's not hard work for the kids to spot them. They also do fun things, walking, sliding on their bellies, and swimming.

It's also noteworthy that even in the rather limited space provided (although I imagine that there's a "back room" to which the penguins can retreat), birds of a feather really do tend to flock together - the emperor penguins hang with the other emperor penguins, the macaroni penguins with the other macaroni penguins, and so on. They're all in the same environment, so it's not as though there's a reason to separate; it's just instinct.

The next stop was the tower built for the Olympics. It's tall and inclined, and notable for being tall and inclined. It looks almost like part of a space settlement, a rail gun to shoot payloads into orbit.

The top does offer some impressive views of the city. Montreal seems to be spread out a little more than Boston proper (although if you include Cambridge, Brookline, and Quincy, Boston seems much larger). Most of the Fantasia stuff took place in the downtown area with the skyscrapers way off at the end.

The second picture points toward the St. Lawrence and catches a bit of the BioDome at the bottom of the frame. I felt a little nervous taking the funicular to the top, and then when I got up there, not much to do but look and take pictures.

One last shot, of the tower and its attendant domes - the Biodome and Olympic Stadium - before getting to the movie review. I must say, I know from watching ESPN that Stade Olympique was a pretty dire place for a baseball game, but it looks quite cool from the outside.

One Missed Call 2 (Chakushin Ari 2)

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 11 July 2005 in Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia)

I suppose that when you go to into a movie whose name ends with "2" without having seen the movie that has the same name minus "2", you're sort of asking for trouble. No matter how much exposition you're fed at the beginning of the movie, you'll be starting from behind, and what series veterans will see as expanding the mythology can come across as an awful lot to swallow all at once. And you don't get everything, so there will be some nuances of the sequel that fly right past you. I'll probably see the original One Missed Call sometime (it's well-regarded, and Takashi Miike doing straight-up horror), but I don't hold out much hope of it making me realize that One Missed Call 2 is actually a good movie.

So, apparently, last year, there was this thing going on in Tokyo where people would get a call on their cell phone with (1) a ringtone they'd never downloaded, (2) a date/timestamp of three days in the future, and (3) the sound of the person answering it dying horribly. Then, at the appointed time, they'd die, and they'd be found with a red gumball in their mouth, and it was all somehow connected to some creepy, recently-deceased little girl. The last actually died on live TV. Now, it's all starting again, only without the candy, and with variable lengths on the timestamps. The main focus here seems to be Kyoko (Mimura), a day-care teacher who sees one friend and another friend's father killed off in rapid succession. With her own doom looming in three days, she teams up with her boyfriend Naoto (Yu Yoshizawa), the detective who investigated the original ringtone deaths (Renji Ishibashi), and Tenzoe (Asaka Seto), a reporter who has apparently also been following the case for a year despite apparently not being in the first movie; she appears to have some sort of psychic connection.

Read the rest at HBS.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Fantasia Day Four (Dimache 10 juillet 2005)

Missed Fafner in the listing of day 3 stuff, since it wasn't actually a movie, but the first four episodes on a TV series, screening about a week and a half before they're released on US video. Not bad, but not a lot happened in two hours. Good-looking show, but I don't think I'll buy the DVD right away or likely pick up volume 2 in September. Maybe I'll put it on a Netflix list.

Heh. Like I'll ever see $20/month for Netflix worth it with the amount of videos I watched, compared to hitting the Brattle.

Sunday wound up being a long day, since there was a projector malfunction first just as The Place Promised In Our Early Days was starting. Apparently they had to borrow equipment from another theater, which was cool because that meant the show could go on, but it meant a forty-five minute delay. Fortunately, I was in Theater Hall all day, as opposed to Salle J.A. de Sève, but it meant no going out to grab food, since they eliminated any slack between shows. And then the writer/director of The Birthday was a surprise arrival at the end of the night, so we were there until after one. So, thirteen hours in the theater.

Kind of a bummer: Two of the most visually amazing movies of the festival, which eventually won some of the jury awards - Mindgame and The Taste of Tea - played on digital video, at least on Sunday. If Mindgame is at the New England Animation Bash in a few weeks, on film, I'll be all over that.

The reviews:

The Place Promised in Our Early Days (Kumo no mukô, yakusoku no basho)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 10 July 2005 in Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia)

The "science fiction should focus on human emotions, not big explosions or cool ideas" crowd should be quite fond of The Place Promised Us in Our Early Days. Though it features a multitude of intriguing concepts and a potentially action-packed ending, Makoto Shinkai's film maintains a rigorous focus on its three main characters. As a fan of "hard" science-fiction, I must admit to wishing these ideas were explored in a little more detail, but the work is very strong. It's absolutely worth a look, and its director is one to follow.

The film takes place in an alternate history, where Japan was partitioned much like Germany after World War II. Hokkaido and the northern archipelago have been annexed into "the Union" (the word "Soviet" is curiously omitted) while Honshu and the southern islands are under American influence. Middle-schoolers Hiroki Fujisawa and Takuya Shirakawa live just across the Tsugaru Strait from Hokkaido and the enormous tower built there in the early 1970s - one so tall that it seems to stretch into infinity, and which can be seen all the way from Tokyo. They dream of building a plane to fly to that tower, and using found materials (including an engine), they start on it soon included in their plans is Sayuri Sawatari, a girl in their class who is related to the genius who designed the tower for the Union (among other scientific breakthroughs).

Read the rest at HBS.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 10 July 2005 in Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia) (projected video)

Just look at this thing. Seriously, don't try too hard to follow the story or expect too much for the characters - that stuff is there, and it's not bad, but it's the visuals from Yuasa Masaaki - set to the music of Seiichi Yamanoto - that will grab you, challenging you to keep up. You probably will not like all of them, but that's okay; the movie is so stuffed to the gills with new sights that you will likely see enough to be well satisfied by the time the movie is over.

The story, such as it is, involves aspiring manga artist Robin Nishi (also the name of the man who created the manga that this film is adapted from) meeting his childhood girlfriend Myon, only to hear that she is about to become engaged to big, handsome Ryo. He offers his congratulations, of course, even if he's still carrying a huge torch for her. It's not to be, though, as a pair of yakuza burst into the bar run by Myon's sister Yan, looking for the girls' father, and kill Nishi (in a most humiliating manner) as he tries to stand up for Myon.

Read the rest at HBS.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 10 July 2005 in Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia)

The first thing you see when a movie opens these days are vanity cards, labels showing which companies produced and distributed the movie. As with seemingly every Korean movie at this year's Fantasia festival, the studio is Cinema Service; this film's production company, however, is called "Fun and Happiness". It seems kind of silly to say, but how many brand names describe their company's product so well?

The film's humorous opening addresses a number of misconceptions the public may have about the sort of high-flying martial-arts master we see in kung fu movies but not so much in real life - you know, the ones who can run up walls, jump several times their own height, and project concussive energy from the palms of their hands? The conventional wisdom is that the chi masters train secluded in the mountains, but why would they want that? Ja-woon (Ahn Sung-kee) and the other four of the seven chi masters (yes, that's accurate) have settled in Seoul, where Ja-woon's daughter Eui-jin (Yoon So-yi) is their only disciple - and she works in a convenience store to make ends meet. Most people, the masters scoff, don't even know what chi is any more.

Read the rest at HBS.

The Taste of Tea (Cha no Aji)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 10 July 2005 in Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia) (projected video)

The Taste of Tea is the kind of film that can drive me insane: Two hours and twenty minutes of a relatively typical family facing relatively small day-to-day challenges. The fanciful visuals dress this up a bit, though not enough to stop wondering "hey, is there any kind of actual story here?" Despite that, the movie is sort of mesmerizing. It regards its subjects with a sort of detached fondness, and by the end has managed to get us to share that affection.

We watch a the Haruno family, living in a town outside of Tokyo a little too far out to really call suburban (I grew up in a place like that, and jokingly called it supra-rural). Nobuo (Tomokazu Miura), the father, works in the city as a hypnotherapist, while his wife Yoshiko (Satomi Tezuka) stays at home, drawing, getting assistance from the grandfather (Tatsuya Gashuin), whose mind is slipping. When not posing for Yoshiko, he spends a great deal of time in his room, peeking out the window at six-year-old Sachiko (Maya Banno). Sachiko is a very serious little girl, concerned about the product of her imagination - a giant version of herself - that is following her around. Her older brother, Hajime (Takahiro Sato) has just seen the girl he has a crush on move away, whereas Uncle Ayano (Tadanbou Asano), an record producer staying at the family home either on vacation or because he's currently unemployed, is more concerned with the girl he'd loved as a younger man moving back.

Read the rest at HBS.

The Birthday

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 10 July 2005 in Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia)

Eugenio Mira's The Birthday isn't quite in real time - somewhere along the line, about fifteen minutes get cut out (during the Q&A, the director informed us that the opening text should have said that Norman Forrester was about to have the most bizarre 110 minutes of his life, as opposed to 95). Still, the intent to tell a story in real time is there, and that gives this movie a unique feel, a burst of energy that pulls the audience along, no matter how strange the story gets. And it'll get pretty strange.

Norman Forrester (Corey Feldman) knows he's in over his head as the movie starts. He's a not-terribly sophisticated New Yorker working in a Baltimore pizza place, but his girlfriend Alison Fulton (Erica Prior) is a gorgeous, high-maintenance blonde from a wealthy family. She's invited him along to her father's (and uncle's) birthday party, which is being held in the Fulton family's first hotel. Now closed, the hotel is empty except for the Fultons' tony affair in the main ballroom and the considerably wilder party being held in a second-floor room (one of those guys knows Norman, too, and invites him to drop by when the other one gets boring). Feeling out of place to begin with, Norman is completely thrown for a loop when one of the waiters recruits him to help ferret out who among the partygoers and staff are planning a massive human sacrifice as part of their plans to revive some eldritch creature and bring about the end of the world.

Read the rest at HBS.

Next: A short day of movies which I make up for with pictures of penguins.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Fantasia Day #3

An interesting day. Kids loved the King Kong vs. Godzilla action, but not many of them stuck around for Please Teach Me English, which I think a lot of them, especially young girls, might have gotten into. Fantasia doesn't have a "Fantasia for families" section on their website like they did last year, so parent might not immediately grasp from the program that it's sort of pitched to the same audience as an Olsen Twins movie. Only it's, you know, good.

Then it was across the street for Karaoke Terror, which would probably be my favorite film from the festival if not for Godzilla: Final Wars. It's absolutely insane, but builds its craziness up almost perfectly. I'm hoping the Brattle picks this up later in the year, maybe even for the BFFF (although I'd mostly rather that week programs movies I didn't see at Fantasia).

Anyway, on to the reviews:

King Kong vs. Godzilla (Kingukongu tai Gojira)

* * ¼ (out of four) (English-dubbed version)
Seen 9 July 2005 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia)

This movie is one of the greatest ideas ever. King Kong and Godzilla are both exciting works of fantasy, among the most popular films produced in their native lands, and the title characters are known world-wide. To have them square off is something that should make every fan of both movies giddy. It's too bad, then, that the movie (at least as presented in North America) is somewhat lackluster.

The plot, at least as it is presented here, has pharmaceutical/media kingpin Tako (Ichiro Arishima) sending an expedition to a tropical island to trade for berries which have incredible medicinal properties. The natives won't give them up, though, because of a "giant god". He dispatches Osamu Sakurai (Tadao Takashima) and Kinsaburo Furue (Yu Fujiki) to make a deal, or at least get film of this strange creature. They do get pictures of Kong, fighting with a giant octopus, and receive orders to bring the beast back to Tokyo with them - Tako wants his own monster after a nuclear submarine investigating an iceberg discovers another giant monster trapped within - a giant reptile with radioactive breath quickly christened "Gojira"!

Read the rest at HBS.

Please Teach Me English (Yeongeo Wanjeonjeongbok)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 9 July 2005 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia)

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Please Teach Me English is that even though star Lee Na-yeong is a former model, her character remains a dork pretty much all the way to the end. Sure, there's a moment in a dream sequence when the audience gets the idea that her looking plain may in fact take a little effort, but when she takes off her glasses and tries to look pretty a few scenes later, she looks like she's trying too hard, as opposed to a starlet who has had all her uglifying make-up and costume choices removed. Cinderella-story veterans may find this to be the strangest thing that the movie does, despite it being stuffed with silliness almost to bursting.

And "silly" really is the name of the game here; the first act especially has little animated bits poking out of every corner and goofy asides; many of the characters, especially the leads, are broad and cartoonish. There are untranslated jokes on the English-language television station the characters watch to practice their comprehension ("War in Somewhere" being one of my favorites). The narration provided by Na Young-ju (Lee) alternates between the kind of self-confident, um, exaggeration and simple confession. I rather suspect that this is a movie made with ten-to-fourteen-year-old Korean girls in mind, although it works well enough that even someone as far outside that demographic as me can enjoy it.

Read the rest at HBS.

Karaoke Terror, aka The Complete Japanese Showa Song-Book (Shôwa kayô daizenshû)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 9 July 2005 in Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia)

I've been playing the "X meets Y" game with The Complete Japanese Showa Song-Book (or, as it appeared in the festival program, Karaoke Terror, and the best I've come up with is "Fight Club meets Thelma and Louise", or perhaps more appropriately, "Fight Club versus Thelma and Louise". I do this not just because I would be proud to have my name on the back of its DVD case, but because I'm trying to think of a way to recommend it to friends and family who have not reacted well to previous "weird stuff from Japan" recommendations, even if they've enjoyed weird stuff in the past.

And yes, Karaoke Terror is weird. The plot involves twelve karaoke fans - six men in their early twenties and six divorced women in their mid/late thirties. The six young men don't quite recall how they came together; some met at work, others at school; the women met when profiled for a magazine article; they're called "The 6 Midoris" because they share the same given name. When one of the boys (who's already pretty unstable, taking to carrying a knife around) catches a glimpse of one of the women, he tries to force himself on her, figuring that a woman her age should consider herself lucky that someone is showing an interest. She refuses, and after a brief scuffle he stabs her in the throat. One of the other Midoris finds the body.

Read the rest at HBS.


* (out of four)
Seen 9 July 2005 in Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia)

What the hell was that?

I'm tempted to just leave my review at that, but that would be unfair to a whole bunch of people. The people making comments, for instance - "what the hell was that?" would be no longer or informative than what they wrote but still be given greater weight. Then there are the good people who organized the festival and treated me rather like a real member of the media, probably expecting a certain amount of write-up in return (admittedly, probably more laudatory than this). And then there are the readers, who might take that the wrong way and say, bah, he just didn't understand the movie.

Which, I'll readily cop to. Understand, I'm not a guy who goes into a Takashi Miike movie without expectations - I've seen a few, and been able to look past the sensationalistic exterior to see the substance underneath; I had some idea of what to expect. I still suspect that one would have to be a little more familiar with the Japanese mindset and cultural landscape to fully understand this one, and there are minutes I simply missed, because my eyes were closing or wandering from the picture/subtitles. Heck, I'd be tempted to disregard anything a reviewer says after he admits to momentarily succumbing to heavy eyelids during the movie, but let me say that I had no problem staying awake for Buppah Rahtree, which I saw immediately after Izo as the last movie of a five-movie day, so it wasn't just a late hour or fatigue - Izo itself knocked me out.

Read the rest at HBS.

Buppa Rahtree

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 9 July 2005 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia)

Of all the hyphenated terms we use to stick films into genres rather than just saying whether it's a good movie or a bad movie, or somewhere in-between, there's probably not one that seems to be more absurd on the face of it than "horror-comedy". After all, the goal of a horror movie is to unsettle the audience. A little nervous laughter is one thing, but if you're seriously trying to creep the audience out, comedy tends to be comic relief, and relief is what tales of horror don't need. So while Buppah Rahtree manages to provide more than a few laughs and scares, I'm not sure that it can ultimately be called a horror movie, even when you stick a hyphen-comedy in there.

The story is a simple enough one. Wealthy college student Akekapol Dumrongsub (Kris Srepoomseth) woos Buppah Rahtree (Chermarn Boonyasak), who is attractive but reserved. After consummating their relationship, we see that "Ake" seduced her on a bet with his other privileged friends. He changes his phone number and avoids her, even though he finds he misses her. When they meet again, though, it's because she's pregnant. The ensuing abortion goes badly, and she bleeds out a few nights later. It's a month before the landlady notices that Buppah hasn't paid her rent and she discovers the body when she comes to collect. When the police try to remove it, though, it does things a dead body ought not do, like sit up, and they run away in fear.

Read the Rest at HBS.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Fantasia Day Two

No "Fantasia Day One" post because, well, I sort of made a hash of my first day in Montreal. Basically, I don't travel much, so I planned it stupidly, getting up at 4am to catch a 7am flight. In my defense, I didn't know there wouldn't be afternoon screenings the first day when I made my travel plans, and I also didn't realize there wouldn't be a bunch of press screenings. Still, it meant I got into Montreal at 8am or so, and couldn't check into my hotel until 2pm, so I wore myself out hauling my luggage to the hotel, then walking around the downtown are for four hours. Then, after checking in, my tickets were in someone else's name. If I'd been smart, I would have just bought some tickets, since I was going to use more than ten eventually, but... Hey, not that bright. I wound up collapsing at the hotel at around eight, anyway.

So, Friday I got started, and things started working out. I got to five movies, but the spread from 10am to 2am was a little wide, and I wound up nodding off during Sigma. Still, I blame the movie as much as the day; the next day, I wound up still wired at the end of Buppa Rahtree even though I'd been nodding off during Izo, but that's the subject of the next post.

So, anyway, movies I saw in Monteral on 8 july 2005:

The Dark Hours

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 8 July 2005 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia) (press screening)

"Full reviews" are embargoed, and I'm not planning on writing a half-way one as a place-holder (although I probably should write a full one to store away before the film falls out the back of my brain). It's a nice little thriller, despite the fact that it lies to the audience, whch is not something I generally approve of. It's a nice set-up, with a good cast, and if you go for this sort of low-key, character-driven thriller, you'll probably like it more than I do.

Ashura (Ashura-jô no hitomi)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 8 July 2005 in Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia)

How much cooler is Japan than the U.S.? Ashura is an adaptation of a popular play over there, one with the name "Blood Gets In Your Eyes" (which, itself, is something I can barely imagine seeing on a Broadway marquee). It has people jumping between rooftops, astonishing visuals that make up impressive fantasy worlds, swordfighting, and demons who spurt nasty yellow goop when they're hacked up. In America, movies adapted from plays just have a bunch of stupid songs.

I kid. A little.

Anyway, the story takes place in a land much like nineteenth-century Edo, one which is plagued by demons - and the Demon Wardens. Too many Demon Wardens are like Jaku (Atsuro Watabe), who says that it is good that he can kill demons, because otherwise he'd be killing men. His compatriot Izumo (Somegoro Ichikawa) has a crisis of conscience after slaying a (probable) demon who has taken the form of a little girl; he retires from demon-slaying, instead becoming the country's most famed actor. But one night, he spots a cat burglar hiding under a bridge; the amnesiac girl, Tsubaki (Rie Miyazawa), is also an entertainer, an acrobat, and has a peculiar tattoo. The two will meet and fall in love, while Jaku turns to the dark side, killing his mentor and hooking up with the demon Bizan (Kanako Higuchi), seeking the power of Ashura, the demon queen.

Read the rest at HBS.

Low-Life (Haryu insaeng)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 8 July 2005 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia)

South Korea has, in fewer than sixty years as a separate country, had a tumultuous and fascinating history. Ostensibly democratic and free, it could often really only be described that way relative to its Northern neighbor. That environment of corruption, curfews, and military dictatorship serves as the background to Low-Life, but as the title suggests, it is not the story of those criminals in public office, but one of the gangsters who was able, at various times, to eke out a living and sometimes thrive.

Choi Tae-ung got his start as a thug early, looking for a fight at a rival high school. When one of the students cowardly stabs him in the back of the leg and runs away, he drags himself to that student's home, demanding Park Seung-mun pull the knife out himself. Seung-mun's politician father, Park Il-won, demands his son do so, impressed with Tae-ung's commitment to honor. As the police question them at the hospital, both the Parks and Tae-ung keep the details quiet, not wanting to jeopardize Park senior's political career, and Tae-ung comes to live with them.

Read the rest at HBS.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 8 July 2005 in Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia)

The hottest thing in American horror these days is remakes of Japanese movies, so of course if you want to be ahead-of-the-curve cool, it's time to leave Japan behind. The new hot action is in South Korea and, increasingly, Thailand. It's the latter that brings us the unpretentious, thoroughly enjoyable Shutter.

Shutter has a very simple goal: It wants popcorn flying all over the place because it has made you jump. It is not subtle in how it goes about getting this reaction, often punctuating its jump moments with stings on a digital soundtrack as loud as any American movie, and occasionally engaging in tricks as obvious as bright flashes of light. It knows how obvious its tricks are, and occasionally subverts them with a joke, or by happily showing the employees of a tabloid magazine matter-of-factly photoshopping "spirit photographs" together from various elements. And yet, despite all the tricks of the trade that any seasoned horror fan can spot, the movie works. If this (or an already-optioned remake) plays in American theaters, popcorn will be flying all over the place.

Read the rest at HBS.


* ½ (out of four) (Incomplete)
Seen 8 July 2005 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia) (projected video)

That "incomplete" refers to both the film (a work-in-progress, which the director said was still being edited), and my experience. Projected video is a lot like watching TV, and what do you do when the TV's on at midnight? You fall asleep, especially if it's not really a great movie. This one is fast-paced to the point of being frenetic, but it's all running around without a lot of apparent purpose. Also, it's originated on digital video, but that doesn't look so great for night and low-light shots, which is where this movie lives. If it shows up in Cambridge this October for the BFFF, I'll give it another shot.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

The Coolidge's "Thrilling 3-D Film Festival!"

(Because, hey, it was a pain in the neck to upload it to Verizon's pain-in-the-neck case-sensitive server)

It was a thoroughly enjoyable series. My brother Matt and his girlfriend Morgan came to see Dial M For Murder, and they seemed to really enjoy it. I mean, how do they not, right? It's Hitchcock and Grace Kelley, and John Williams stealing every scene that isn't nailed down as the investigating officer.

3-D is fun. One thing I noticed, big time, was that I noticed depth, in terms of things going into the screen rather than jumping out. Also, the polarized, "Natural-Vision" 3-D looks so much better than the red-blue that it's not even funny. Growing up in the 1980s, I thought that the polarized glasses were a relatively new technology; I first encountered them on a trip to Walt Disney World, and had thought that 3-D films during their heyday in the 1950s all used the colored glasses. Not the case. Of course, I didn't know about the different projector set-ups theaters used then, or the difference between a white and a silver screen. Most theaters today can't show these films the way they were - the projectors have to have different lenses, and need the reflective screen.

So I'm sort of curious how Disney's 3-D Chicken Little is going to work. Apparently, it's going to require digital projection, and won't be red-blue. So I'm guessing it's LCDs on the lens, alternating between vertical and horizontal along with the individual frames. But that's got to be just asking for a seizure, right?

Anyway, Clinton McClurg (the highly entertaining program director of the Coolidge), says that they'll be doing it again soon. It would potentially be a heck of a thing to do around Halloween.

Kiss Me Kate

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 12 June 2005 at Coolidge Corner Theater #1 (3-D Film Festival) (NaturalVision 3-D)

Kiss Me Kate has one of the most clever uses for 3-D that I can recall seeing, in that it explicitly delineates three different levels of reality. It's a backstage comedy, you see, so during the final performance sequence, director George Sidney occasionally arranges the action so that the audience for the play is between the movie audience and the action on stage. It's a constant, subtle reminder that while what's going on on-stage is funny, it's not as "real" as what's going on backstage.

In a lot of movies, I'd suspect that this was just an attempt to create a flashy 3-D effect, but the structure of the play is self-referential enough that for me figure it's deliberate. Kiss Me Kate is a movie (adapted from a Broadway musical) about the mounting of a Broadway musical based upon Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. The movie has songs by Cole Porter, and also has a character named Cole Porter writing songs for the play. Lilli Vanessi (Kathryn Grayson) and Fred Graham (Howard Keel) don't quite fit into their roles of Katherine and Petruchio off-stage - they're a divorced pair of actors whose mutual annoyance trumps their love, more His Girl Friday than Shakespeare - but it's close enough for government work.

Read the rest on HBS.

Dial M for Murder

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 13 June 2005 at Coolidge Corner Theater #1 (3-D Film Festival) (NaturalVision 3-D)

In Dial M for Murder, Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) is a former tennis player, although his plan for ridding himself of his wife Margot (Grace Kelly) suggests his true talents lie in a different sort of game. Chess, perhaps. Tennis, after all, is a game made up almost entirely of quick reactions and physical endurance; murder, at least as Wendice plays it, requires careful planning and the ability to think several moves ahead in addition to being able to react quickly to an unexpectedly strong opponent. And as Alfred Hitchcock shows to delightful effect, it's somewhat easier when you're the only one who knows about the game.

Tony and Margot, obviously, don't have the perfect marriage. She was attracted to the famous athlete, but soon tired of the travel; he, suspecting an affair, quit tennis and settled down in a regular job. Now, it's the better part of a year later and the American friend Margot had been seeing, mystery writer Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings), is back in town. But Wendice isn't worried; he's hatched a perfect plan to have his wife murdered (and inherit her money) while Halliday vouches for his location. Perfect except for one detail: Margot turns the tables on Charles Swann (Anthony Dawson), the man Wendice blackmails into actually doing the deed, killing him in self-defense. But not to worry; for Tony Wendice, this could prove to be only a minor setback.

Read the rest at HBS.

House of Wax

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 14 June 2005 at Coolidge Corner Theater #1 (3-D Film Festival) (NaturalVision 3-D)

Were wax museums considered creepy before this movie? Certainly, the visitors to Henry Jarrod's second wax museum are coming for the macabre, but so were the people seeing the movie, and that doesn't make the Coolidge Corner Theater creepy. House of Wax takes place at around the turn of the twentieth century, and for all I know, buildings full of wax statues were fun, family entertainment before horror movies and pulp fiction pointed out how creepy statues that still and lifelike could be. This movie in particular does a pretty good job.

The film starts with Professor Henry Jarrod (Vincent Price) showing the painstaking recreations of historical figures in his wax museum to Scott Andrews (Paul Picerni), a critic and Matthew Burke (Roy Roberts), his partner. The critic is impressed, and likely to write a glowing review upon his return from Europe, but the partner wants a more immediate return on his investment, and if Jarrod won't create grotesqueries to compete with the other wax museums, well, collecting on the fire insurance is just fine. Jarrod tries to stop him, but is knocked unconscious as the fire consumes the museum around him. Of course, with such suspicious circumstances, it takes months for the insurance to be collected, and soon after, Andrews and his girlfriend Cathy (Carolyn Jones) are killed by a mysterious, silent attacker. At the same time a wheelchair-bound Jarrod reappears, planning a new museum where he'll give the public what they want, and accompanied by a hulking, silent assistant. Soon, bodies are going missing from the morgue, and Sue Allen (Phyllis Kirk) swears that one of the statues bears an uncanny resemblance to Cathy, her former roommate. Hmm...

Read the rest at HBS.

The Mad Magician

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 14 June 2005 at Coolidge Corner Theater #1 (3-D Film Festival) (NaturalVision 3-D)

When a movie is a big success, knock-offs are inevitable. After Warner Brothers's House of Wax was a huge hit in 1953, Columbia Pictures set out to clone it. To their credit, they had a great deal of the original film's DNA to work with - star Vincent Price, producer Bryan Foy, cinematographer Bert Glennon, and writer Crane Wilbur, who provided a very similar story and used some of the same devices. But, as anyone who has seen a sci-fi movie can tell you, a clone seldom measures up to the original.

Here, Price plays Don Gallico, a gifted engineer whose creations for Ross Ormand's company have made Ormand (Donald Randolph) and pompous illusionists such The Great Rinaldi (John Emery) rich; to add insult to injury, his wife Claire (Eva Gabor) divorced him to marry Ormand. He devises an elaborate apparatus to saw a woman in half on his own time, but before he is able to demonstrate it on stage as "Gallico the Great", Ormand appears with an injunction to cease and desist. A man can only stand so much, and soon Ormand is being fed into the device with the safety off. Gallico's knowledge of prestidigitation will take a backseat to his skills at mimicry as he attempts to hide his crime(s).

Read the rest at HBS.

Miss Sadie Thompson

* ¼ (out of four)
Seen 15 June 2005 at Coolidge Corner Theater #1 (3-D Film Festival) (NaturalVision 3-D)

Rita Hayworth was a movie star. She was also a dancer, and probably wrote "actress" on her tax forms, but when all is said and done, she will be remembered as a celebrity who looked fantastic, had a couple of high-profile marriages, and made a couple of pretty good movies. Miss Sadie Thompson, however, isn't among them.

An adaptation of a story by W. Somerset Maugham, Miss Sadie Thompson follows its title character as she lands in American Somoa, quarantined on her trip from from Hawaii to Malaysia, where she's got a job waiting. The marines stationed on the base are as excited as can be - she's fun-loving and outgoing, and looks like Rita Hayworth, not a combination often seen in those parts. One of her fellow passengers, Alfred Davidson (Jose Ferrer), is less delighted - he's running the missionary foundation his father started, and loose women like Sadie are, he figures, a danger to the souls of both the soldiers and the natives. He's wealthy and intolerant, and has a lot of pull with the territorial governor. Sgt. Phil O'Hara (Aldo Ray) isn't going to let that stand, since it's love at first sight for him. But he doesn't know why Sadie has left Hawaii.

Read the rest at HBS.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 16 June 2005 at Coolidge Corner #1 (3-D Film Festival) (Anaglyph 3-D)

The last gasp of of Universal's monster franchise was "the creature", an amphibious beast from deep within the Amazon basin. It's no match for some of Universal's other monster series, in part because its monster is almost entirely a creation of foam rubber; the twisted humanity that makes Dracula or Frankenstein's monster so compelling is almost missing.

This monster is the apparent last survivor of a species of water-dwelling humanoids native to the Amazon river area. When Dr. Carl Maia (Antonio Moreno) discovers a fossil, he determines to mount an expedition, not realizing that the species isn't extinct - while he's meeting with old students David (Richard Carlson) and Kay (Julie Adams), the creature is busy killing the assistants he left behind at the dig site. Before heading up the river, the three add Mark Williams (Richard Denning) and Dr. Thompson (Whit Bissel) to their party, which will use the vessel "Rita", captained by Lucas (Nestor Paiva). There will be tension in the party, of course, as Dr. Maia and his students mainly want to collect photographs and specimens, while Mark wants a trophy, and the creature is looking to kill the gill-less monsters invading its home.

Read the rest at HBS.

It Came from Outer Space

* * (out of four)
Seen 16 June 2005 at Coolidge Corner #1 (3-D Film Festival) (Anaglyph 3-D)

It Came from Outer Space is a movie that certain critics will say transcends its genre because even though it starts out as a basic Body Snatchers clone, it eventually focusing on the hero having to stop the military and/or law enforcement from attacking the aliens. Yes, one can see them say, this must be a superior motion picture, for it agrees with my attitude toward the people in authority. Which can be well and good, but not when, as happens in It Came from Outer Space, coming to that conclusion involves overlooking what the aliens have been up to for the rest of the movie.

Which, at first, is crashing in the Arizona desert. Local photographer John Putnam (Richard Carlson) sees this crash, and along with his girlfriend Ellen Fields (Barbara Rush), charters a helicopter to investigate. He finds signs that it wasn't just a meteor, but no-one believes him. Sheriff Matt Warren (Charles Drake) starts to change his mind, though, when a local road crew starts acting just as erratically as Putnam seems to be.

Read the rest at HBS.