Sunday, July 16, 2006

Fantasia '06, Day 10: Oddness

First, check out some new reviews added for previous days: My Scary Girl and Wilderness.

Went to the office yesterday hoping to find someone in, didn't. I'm not too bummed about not getting screeners; although some of these films will likely be hard to come by unless Ned programs them for the BFFF this fall (or the Brattle in general), I'll have seen about forty movies by the time I go home tonight, and trying to take five more home with me would just be being greedy. Of the 36 I've seen so far, I've only written 17 reviews, so I'll probably be finishing these up through the end of July.

Breakfast was a crepe with strawberries, bananas and chocolate at Cocktail Hawaii, dinner was a combo special at Mr. Steer's. All else was movies.

Today's plan: Check out, stow my bag-o-laundry at the bus station, watch Vampire Cop Ricky, the "Sukeban Boy"/"The iDol"/"Negadon" collection, Samurai Commando 1549 and Train Man, then maybe find something to eat before catching the 11.15pm bus home. The idea is to sleep on the bus after crossing the border and be some sort of zombie at work tomorrow. I'm not claiming it's a good plan, but I'm stuck with it.

3 Mighty Men (3 dev Adam)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2006 at Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia Festival 2006)

For a long time, this movie was thought destroyed in a fire, and if I were the man investigating that, I would have checked to see if Stan Lee or Steve Ditko were anywhere near Turkey at the time. After all, it's bad enough that they just appropriated Captain America without asking, but you've got to think that making Spider-Man the villain of the piece would tick the folks at Marvel off that much more.

Okay, the villain is named "The Spider" and his costume features green instead of blue, but there's no mistaking who he's supposed to be. His plan is to sell stolen artifacts in the Western Hemisphere and then repurchase them with counterfeit cash. He's done it so much that it threatens to destabilize the world's economy, so when he runs to Turkey, three New World heroes follow him to form a special task force with the Turkish police: Captain America (Aytekin Akkaya), the United States's famous super-soldier; Santo (Yavuz Selekman), Mexico's greatest luchador; and Julia (Deniz Erkanat), a very pretty girl from Brazil.

The story, of course, is just an excuse to string together a few action scenes and stick colorful (and maybe recognizable; how popular were Marvel Comics in early 1970s Turkey?) images on the poster. It really doesn't make a lick of sense, and at times is almost contemptuous of the concepts behind it: When the man heading up the Turkish government's investigation asks Captain America why they wear colorful costumes, he snorts that Spider does because he has the mind of a psychotic child, though he himself does because it draws the insane man's attacks. And his is bullet-proof. The second half of the movie also suggests that there must be more than one Spider (though all have the same bushy eyebrows poking out of their costumes), but when a new one pops up immediately after the last one dies, the characters just seem to shrug it off as something that's to be expected, though they hadn't mentioned it. You'd think that if Spider was a criminal mastermind, the heroes would be interested in making sure that they captured the right one, rather than a goon dressed in the costume (or killed him; superheroes seem to have fewer qualms about using deadly force in Turkey than they do in America).

Read the rest at HBS.

All-Out Nine: Field of Nightmares (Gyakkyou 9)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2006 at Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia Festival 2006)

I've got no idea what "Gyakkyou" literally translates to, but I appreciate the pun that Gyakkyou Nine's English title represents - are these players the "All-Out Nine" because of the all-out effort they put into the game, or because, in spite of that effort, they suck, and thus all make outs? That's about the closest thing you'll find to subtlety in All-Out Nine, but it doesn't matter. Sure, it beats you over the head with a hammer whose head is made of sports-movie clichés, but it's so over-the-top that it also functions as parody.

As the movie opens, Toshi Fukutsu (Tetsuji Tamayama), the captain of All-Out High's baseball team, is called into the principal's office. The principal (Hiroshi Fujoka) hands him some bad news - he's eliminating the baseball team and giving their meager facilities over to the soccer team. The news hits Toshi like a blow, sending him flying across the room, and he begs the principal for a reprieve - if he can lead the baseball team to the national tournament, surely he'll reconsider. The principal grudgingly allows him to try, and when they "win" a scrimmage against a regional powerhouse (there's a Biblical rain going on, and the other team opts to practice inside, forfeiting the game), there's hope... So the team is assigned a faculty adviser/manager who has, apparently, never seen a baseball game before. That doesn't matter to Toshi - after all, any obstacle in his path is sweet Adversity that makes his struggle all the more worthy!

This film is a broad, over-the-top comedy, quite frankly cartoonish in its slapstick and melodramatic reactions, not hiding the fact that it is adapted from a comic book at all. Indeed, it uses a lot of manga conventions (text-based jokes, a monolith with an accusation appearing in front of the characters, expositional flashbacks squirted at the viewer at lightning speed). The audience may be more accepting of it if they remember a few points about contemporary Japanese life going in: First, comic series based on sports are very popular in Japan, whether playing it straight, using the game as a backdrop to romance, or going for broad comedy as with Gyakkyou 9; which I presume is a relatively popular series. Second, the annual high school baseball tournaments occupy roughly the same place in sports fandom that the NCAA college basketball tournament occupies in the United States; the intensity with which the local community concentrates on the TV coverage of these games is probably not exaggerated that much. And, finally, Japan and South Korea co-hosted a recent World Cup, so that sport's popularity was probably at a very high level when the comics and film were made.

Read the rest at HBS.

Shinobi: Heart Under Blade

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2006 at Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia Festival 2006)

You know what? I've got no patience with Romeo and Juliet. Grow a pair of freaking spines, leave town, start a new life together, and don't make it complicated. Just friggin' DO it; you're only tragic because you insist on being tragic. Here, that story is transplanted to Japan at the end of the age of ninjas, with the Koga and Iga ninja clans serving as Montagues and Capulets.

As the film opens, Oboro (Yukie Nakama) of the Iga clan and Genosuke (Joe Odagiri) of the Kouga clan meet in an isolated spot and are instantly attracted to each other. Alas, their clans are deadly enemies, living in hidden villages, training in deadly techniques but forbidden from fighting each other or selling their services. They're able to see each other secretly, sending messages via bird when they aren't meeting. But things are about to change. The Shogun insists five of each clan's greatest warriors face off in a battle for the death, and aside from the star-crossed lovers, they're all too eager to test their skills to think, hey, maybe the Shogun is trying to weaken us so that we can be crushed and he'll have no obstacles between himself and absolute rule.

Freaking ninjas. Even the ones with super-powers are dumb, dumb, dumb. It's a reasonable enough stupidity, though - these clans have been waiting for an opportunity to wreak chaos for generations, and some of them have powers that are as much curses as gifts. Consider Kouga's Kagerou (Tomoka Kurotani), who has been fed poison since infancy so that now her very sweat can be toxic. She is not likely to accept either her clan's prince with an Iga girl or that her entire life has been spent making her a weapon that would never be used.

Read the rest at HBS.

The Gravedancers

* * * (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2006 at Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia Festival 2006)
When you get right down to it, most supernatural horror movies are based on fairly stupid ideas. The Gravedancers starts from a particularly dumb premise (not just accidentally angering the dead by dancing on their graves, but really choosing the wrong dead people to anger), but throws itself into its story with zeal and humor which never does too much to undermine the thrills to be had.

Despite living in the same area, Harris McKay (Dominic Purcell), Kira Hastings (Josie Maran), and Sid Vance (Marcus Thomas) haven't seen each other for years; they only meet up now because a friend has died in a car crash. After the reception, they return to the cemetery, where they read a condolence card which suggests dancing and being happy in the graveyard. Really bad advice, as it's not long before things in their house start moving, they hear strange noises, and even small fires start appearing. Fortunately, Sid has seen and answered an ad (which promises a cash reward) from Vincent (Tcheky Karyo), a professor of paranormal studies, so he and research assistant Frances Culpepper (Megahn Perry) are on the case...

...and stealing the movie. The main characters are, really, kind of drab. Dominic Purcell is as dour and mirthless as he always seems to be, and Clare Kramer is just fine as his understanding wife. Josie Maran is nice enough as the old friend who still has a torch for Purcell's character, and I'll give the model some credit for spending most of the movie looking like an assault victim (she screams well when called upon, too). Marcus Thomas takes ne'er-do-well duty, at roughly 2/3 slacker and 1/3 schemer; he's basically harmless, although he's fun in that the way he acts isn't nearly as predictable as the others. They're fine, we like them, we don't want to see ghosts beat them, burn them, or chop them up with axes. But Vincent and Frances are more fun. They're initially coming at the situation from scientific curiosity rather than fear for their lives, and as outsiders they can look at the other characters' interpersonal issues as, well, someone else's issues. Tcheky Karyo is dry and witty; Megahn Perry is humorously detached, not quite aware she's a character in a movie, but still kind of sounding like she doesn't quite believe the coincidences even as she's being matter-of-fact about the supernatural stuff. That Meaghan Perry is the cutest girl in a movie with two more obviously glammed-up beauties is a bonus.

Read the rest at HBS.

The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai (Hanai Sachiko no karei na shogai, aka Horny Home Tutor: Teacher's Love Juice)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2006 at Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia Festival 2006)

Usually, if someone claims to admire the perversity of a skin flick, they mean it in a different way than the statement applies to The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai. Of course, the standard definition works too, but let's face it, as a piece of soft-core pornography, what's remarkable about about this movie is just how unconcerned it is with getting its audience off.

We start with prostitute Sachiko playing a game of tutor-and-student with a client. She goes to the wrong café (in more ways than one) to meet her "boss"; instead of her pimp, she runs into a black-market sale gone bad, winding up with the disputed merchandise in her purse and a bullet hole in her forehead. This somehow leaves her brain supercharged (as opposed to hamburger), and she's soon become a philoophy professor's live-in mistress - they debate Chomsky during intercourse - and, as far as his wife is concerned, their son's tutor. It would be idyllic (though strange) except that the man who shot her wants what she has - a finger cloned from George W. Bush that can be used to launch a nuclear strike.

When director Mitsaru Meike took the job, he was probably given a to-do list with items like "2 ejaculations, at least twenty-five minutes of bare breasts, five panty peeks, symbolic penetration" on it. And he hits every one, though often in a perfunctory of self-mocking manner. Granted, the women in these movies get horny before the proverbial dropped hat hits the floor, but seldom when discussing Susan Sontag or Friedrich Neitzche. There's also something not quite satirical or ironic, but at least amusing, about how Sachiko's method of tutoring mirrors the role-playing session that opened the film.

Read the rest at HBS.

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