Friday, July 13, 2007

Fantasia Day Eight: Special, Ghosts of Cité Soleil, et Silk

Updated Monday's post about Tuesday with a review of The Show Must Go On.

'Twas a very nice day to spend out in the Old Port. I looked at the Body Worlds 2 exhibit at the science museum, which was educational and kind of nasty, although some of the compositions (like the "exploded" man) were kind of cool. I don't think this version has come to the Boston Museum of Science yet.

Whoever is running the vending machines has apparently not caught up with how strong the Canadian dollar is, though. $2.50 Canadian for a 600 mL soda works out to about $2.38 American, and that is WAY above the going rate in Boston. Like, a dollar more. Sure, the fact that these machines are placed a good distance away from the nearest convenience store works into it, but boo, Pepsi. Boo. You are ripping the good people of Montreal (and visiting tourists from America) off.

Today's plan: The Unseeable, The Matrimony, End of the Line (which I had really wanted to see at BUFF), The Fox Family, and maybe The Rage (I've been kind of dragging at the end of the day, so the question of whether or not I should stay up for a retro gore movie is an open one). Amazingly, it looks like I might get an hour-long dinner break for the second night in a row between Matrimony and End of the Line. That just usually doesn't happen without skipping movies. If you're in Montreal for the festival, I can recommend Ghosts of Cité Soleil with some caveats and The Signal without reservation.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 12 July 2007 in J.A. De Sève Théatre (Fantasia 2007)

Special has a very fine line to walk - we've got to basically like its main character, and we've got to like him for the very same things that make us laugh at him, and make him an object of our pity. It's tricky to make a movie about someone who is not that bright, and I don't know if the people making Special quite pull it off the way they'd like.

"Special" is the name of an antidepressant just starting clinical trials, and Les (Michael Rappaport) is one of the first to test it. The comic-book-loving parking enforcement officer says he doesn't feel depressed, but his mood isn't positive either, so he takes the pills and goes about his business. Soon, he discovers that they're having side effects: At first, he can hover in the air; when he tells this to Dr. Dobson (Jack Kehler), he discovers he's telepathic, too - Dobson's mouth is saying to stop taking them, but mentally he's saying to keep going. The only people he tells are the brothers who run the comic book shop he frequents, who are skeptical, but if he doesn't have powers, why do the brothers funding the drug try to kidnap him after he gets on the news by saving Maggie (Alexandra Holden), the pretty clerk at the local all-night market, from a holdup?

This is a low-budget independent film, so aside from not expecting much in the way of eye-popping effects, folks going to see it should temper their expectations of the cast a bit, too. Michael Rappaport is the biggest name in the cast, and having him play the lead as this character makes the film a bit of a challenge for the audience: Les is timid by nature and probably of below-average intelligence, so he's going to spend a great deal of the movie being pushed around and/or looking like a fool. And while I think Rappaport overplays the character a little, he does get across what this guy is like, what goes on in his head. The trouble is that a character like that doesn't quite reach and and grab the audience, and as well as Rappaport plays Les, I didn't quite reach in and grab him, so to speak. It might just be that Rappaport is better as part of an ensemble and isn't a leading man who can appear in nearly every scene; he just doesn't quite have a big enough personality to carry this movie.

Full review at EFC.

Ghosts of Cité Soleil

* * * (out of four)
Seen 12 July 2007 in Théatre Hall Condordia (Fantasia 2007)

According to the information presented at the start of this film, the Cité Soleil section of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, is considered the most dangerous place in the world by the United Nations. The poorest section of the poorest country on Earth, it is almost completely run by gangs, some of whom the film alleges worked as enforcers for President Aristide - the "chimeres", ghost soldiers.

At least, that's what they tell us. Ghosts of Cité Soleil, which follows two of the city's five major gang chiefs, doesn't present a lot of evidence linking them to Aristide's Lavalas party beyond their own assertions. In some ways, it's somewhat irrelevant; though there are frequent cut-aways to the events in Haiti at large during early 2004, this is a story about the contentious relationship between brothers, with how they effect the world around them a sidenote.

The pair are Wilson "2pac" Jean and James "Bily" Petit Frère. Bily is a more vociferous Lavalas loyalist who according to his brother, seeing himself as a future President of Haiti. 2pac doesn't see any point in thinking that big; he's too practical. While he'll tell the camera that the government provided him with a car and guns, his music expresses more doubt. He also expresses disdain for how his brother runs his gang "like a police station". For all that, 2pac is the one who seems to have the greater charisma and stability - it's Bily who rails about being shown "respect", and who calls a UN relief worker in after he shoots one of his underlings in the foot to make a point.

Full review at EFC.

Silk (Guisi)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 12 July 2007 in J.A. De Sève Théatre (Fantasia 2007)

The line between science fiction and fantasy is often blurred, especially in film - many science fiction fans will tell you that most sci-fi is really just fantasy with energy beings instead of ghosts, lightsabers instead of swords, psychics instead of seers. Silk is in some ways like that, but in some ways the opposite - though it is unabashedly a ghost story, it thinks and acts like sci-fi much of the time.

Silk posits that ghosts exist, and can be seen, but are too dim for the eye to see. Enter Professor Hashimoto (Yosuke Eguchi), who has built a fractal structure known as a Menger Sponge, which can trap energy like no other material - including the energy a ghost child in a Taipei apartment. He and his team recruit Tung (Chang Chen), a detective with exemplary eyesight, to help them investigate. The one thing they know is that anyone who makes eye contact with the boy dies horribly; what Tung discovers is that there is a nearly invisible strand of silk that connects the boy with his potential victims.

Now, filmmaker Su Chao-bin may not have the strongest grasp on what a Menger Sponge is - a fractal pattern is a mathematical concept, by definition impossible to construct physically - but once he has introduced the idea, he's enormously clever with how to apply it. Film can be coated with in, for instance, to capture a ghost photographically. Put it in eyedrops, and a person can see ghosts for a bit. Build a big enough one, and you can capture a ghost inside. But it's not just that Su uses scientific jargon in his story, but the way the characters act. They seldom run from the supernatural, but are drawn out of curiosity, and investigate methodically, rather than acting in a foolish manner.

Full review at EFC.

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