Friday, July 07, 2006

Fantasia '06, Day 1: The Descent and Seven Swords

Well, in good news, I wasn't quite so worn out as I was last year, or at least I didn't think so. I think I walked my way into trouble - the hotel I'm staying at is about a mile or two from the screenings, and it's probably a good rule of thumb that if you pass more than two subway stations, you probably should have been taking the subway. The Descent was fantastic, but Seven Swords had me jerking my head forward as I realized I was drifting off. Not much of an indictment against the movie - hopefully I got the inevitable day where I overestimate my capabilities out of the way quickly.

The tentative plan for tonight is Dirty Ho and Princess Aurora in the J.A. de Sève theater, followed by A Bittersweet Life and Art of the Devil 2 in the main hall. The timing between the two is tight, though, so I may either knock off early and write the first two up or find some food and give Forest of the Dead a shot.

The Descent

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 6 July 2006 at Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia Festival 2006)

The Descent doesn't mess around on its way to being the best action-horror movie to come down the pipe in a while. It tosses out a couple of nasty deaths early, gives us danger enough for two thrillers, never lets up, and never takes a break for arguments that can really wait until the characters have survived the next five seconds.

What you need to know: Six women - mostly from the U.K. - are using their vacation to explore a cave system that their American friend recently found in North Carolina. Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) lost her husband and daughter a year before; Beth (Alex Reid) is her best friend. Rebecca (Saskia Mulder) is a maternal-type English teacher taking the trip with her less-experienced sister Sam (MyAnna Buring), a med student. Organizing the trip is Juno (Natalie Mendoza), who hasn't told the group that the cave system is not the well-explored one she implied but in fact one that's not on any map, and Holly (Nora-Jane Noone), her daredevil protégé with an even more acute tendency to leap before she looks. So, things are bad enough when a cave-in seals off their entrance; when they realize that they may not be alone...

Read the rest at HBS.

Seven Swords (Chat Gim)

* * ¾ (out of four) (incomplete)
Seen 6 July 2006 at Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia Festival 2006)

Tsui Hark's new martial arts epic is beautiful and action-packed, but also exhausting. It likely doesn't help that I was already drained from the bus ride and the hike from the hotel and all that, but you know how people will hear a thick book is being adapted for film and say "this should really be a TV mini-series; a two-hour film won't do it justice"? Seven Swords will be the test of that; the same sets and (I think) much of the same crew to make a mini-series (Seven Swordsmen) which will have much more room to breathe than the 2.5-hour feature.

And, don't get me wrong, if I could see the feature version again without bumping something else off my festival to-do list, I'd be happy to do so. It's got a pretty nice cast, a lot of action, and it really looks like no expense was spared in the making. It also seems to have a big fight scene roughly every ten minutes, too many characters for me to keep track of while regularly conking out, and perhaps over-stylized action.

There's a couple TBA slots still left on the Fantasia schedule; maybe Seven Swords will get one of them, in which case I'll give a more useful report.

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