Saturday, July 15, 2006

Fantasia '06, Day 9: All over the place

I can't believe I didn't get a chance to go on the river yesterday; the place I went needed four to load a boat, and there were never more than three of us at the time I was there. Ah well, it was a nice day to sit in the sun and get started on writing a review (but not finishing it; this is the point in the week where my writing slows to a crawl). The exhibit on prehistoric Japan at the archeological museum was very cool.

Quality took an upturn at about nine last night - Square Jaw Theater was unmemorable aside from the kickass "Green Hornet" short, and God's Left Hand, Devil's Right Hand was bloody godawful. Brutality against kids and it looked amateurish. Wilderness was a blast, though, and the director did a good Q&A afterwards, and Meatball Machine was a fun, cheap gross-out flick with aspirations to be more.

Today's plan: Hopefully get a call from the press office about screeners - by the time they sent me an email, I was away from the laptop. That'll teach me to include a phone number next time. Then it's a day at the main hall for 3 Mighty Men, All-Out Nine: Field of Nightmares, a dinner break because I'll be hungry and not interested in Hell, then back for Shinobi, The Gravedancers and (depending on how wiped out I am) The Glamorous life of Sachiko Hamai

God's Left Hand, Devil's Right Hand (Kami no hidarite akuma no migite)

* ¼ (out of four)
Seen 14 July 2006 at Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia Festival 2006)

Director Shusuke Kaneko opens the film by dedicating it to his late mentor, Hiroyuki Nasu, which seems like a very poor way to respect the dead. Kaneko took the film over after Nasu's death, and whether you feel that Nasu would have done a better job with the film or that it's so flawed at a basic level that his dying before he could shoot it rather than after was a kindness, he probably deserves better than having his name tied to this miserable bit of nastiness.

Six year-old Sou Yamabe (Tsubasa Kobayashi) has terrible nightmares involving grisly murders, a recurring one being where he's a little girl who can't walk. He confides in his teenage sister Izumi (Asuka Shibuya), who witnesses one come to horrible life, leaving Sou missing a lot of blood and in the hospital. Then it starts for her, as Sou appears in her dreams to cryptically guide her to another town, where Yoshiko Tani (Ai Maeda) is searching for a lost friend. Meanwhile, bedridden little Momo (Momoko Shimizu) eagerly awaits the new storybooks her father (Tomorowo Taguchi) gives her. They're grimmer than Grimm, always seeming to end with a troublemaking teenage girl being brutally murdered. Hmmm.

When a movie more or less opens with a sharp object emerging from inside a sad little first-grader to leave him all but dead in a pool of his own blood, it's almost guaranteed to make a strong first impression. For me, it was disgust, followed by the crushing realization that horror films try to top themselves, and we were only ten minutes in. What's going to be worse than this?

Read the rest at HBS.


* * * * (out of four)
Seen 14 July 2006 at Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia Festival 2006)

Wilderness has a cast just primed for whittling. We're introduced to seven youthful offenders in the opening segment; it's not long after they're sent to an abandoned island for an exercise in teamwork that three women join them. Don't expect the island's population to stay in double digits for long, though - and don't expect the culling to be anything less than nasty.

The lads are doing the outward bound thing because one of them, Davie, slit his throat in response to the constant bullying he and Lindsay (Ben McKay) received, mostly at the hands of skinhead Steve (Stephen Wight) and his mate Lewis (Luke Neal), though the others in their bunkroom - Blue (Adam Deacon), Jethro (Richie Campbell), and newcomer Callum (rumored to have killed a fellow inmate at a previous facility) - haven't exactly done much to stop it. The island their guard Jed (Sean Pertwee) takes them to is former Army property now given over to the prison system. They're supposed to have it to themselves, but Louise (Alex Reid) and her two charges, Jo (Karly Greene) and Marcy (Lenora Crichlow), are there "building character" as well. And none of them know who (or what) else they're sharing the island with.

The revelation of the island's other inhabitant(s) comes earlier than it might, but it's late and important enough to be a surprise worth preserving. Part of the answer is "dogs", big German Shepards numerous and vicious enough to be described as a pack. Your garden-variety German Shepard is as imposing a marauder as any number of made-up predators, and these are not simple wild dogs. Even if they were, that would be quite enough; the lads are all city boys and quite un-used to dogs being such an actively hostile (and out of their control) part of the environment.

Read the rest at HBS.

Meatball Machine

* * * (out of four)
Seen 14 July 2006 at Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia Festival 2006)

It's the old, old, story. Boy meets girl after admiring her from afar. Girl is attacked by an alien parasite which makes her a gladiatorial cyborg. Boy loses girl. Boy meets other girl and her mad scientist father, boy is attacked by alien parasite but retains mind. Boy and girl fight to the death. How many times do we need to see the same ideas recycled before Hollywood and Tokyo come up with something new?

All kidding aside, Meatball Machine is the second take on the material; filmmaker Jun'ichi Yamamoto made a 1999 short with the same name and concept. For the feature version, he's teamed with two notable names in Japan's recent popcorn movie boom: Writer Jun'ya Kato worked on the screenplay for Death Trance ; co-director Yudai Yamaguchi directed Battlefield Baseball and the Cromartie High School live-action movie and also worked on Ryuhei Kitamura's Versus and Alive. Their work has on occasion been uneven, but just as often impressive; with Meatball Machine, they appear to be having fun making the best low-budget gore movie that they can.

The premise of the film posits aliens among us on Earth, here not for conquest but combat with each other, winner eating the loser. This causes problems for us not just because of the damage their techno-organic weapons do, but because these slug like things wield them by bonding to a human being, taking over their nervous systems and converting them into "necroborgs" (think Star Trek's Borg with bulkier armor and arms that can shape-shift into a variety of weapons). After one such fight, blue-collar worker Yoji (Issei Takahashi) finds a seemingly-inert pod that looks like a giant metal beetle and stows it in his closet for later tinkering while he nurses his crush on Sachiko (Aoba Kawai), the prettiest girl working at the day-care center next door. His first date with her has a bad end, though. Two, actually - first he gets squeamish about the scars and burns she exhibits from an abusive childhood, and the pod decides she would make an good host.

Read the rest at HBS

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