Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Fantasia Day Eleven: Kiltro, Ultraman Mebius & Ultra Brothers, Mulberry Street, et Memories of Matsuko

Eleven days is just about my limit for Fantasia, or at least I'll say that for as long as I can only do eleven days. I admit to kind of going through my last day in Montreal in a daze - I didn't even write any reviews in my note pad. No breakfast will do that to you; by the time I got the two Death Note reviews written, got my luggage packed, and had the hamper bag stowed in a bus station locker until later, it was practically time for Kiltro to start at noon. Let me re-iterate: A Kit-Kat and a cranberry juice drink does not make for a healthy meal.

Anyway, Kiltro was pretty good stuff, good enough that when the producers said that the crews second movie was even better and showing at seven-thirty, I kicked myself for not requesting a screener, because no way was I missing Memories of Matsuko. After that, I went to the office to pick some DVDs up, came back for Ultraman. You sort of have to see a kaiju or sentai movie at these festivals, and since Toho's not making Gojira movies any more, we get stuck with this. The crowd loved it, though - I guess they were old-school Ultraman fans; they went absolutely nuts when "Zoffy" and "Taro" showed up at the end. I can't mock them, though - I did willingly pay for a ticket to Transformers just before the festival started.

Another wait (my movies were oddly spaced this afternoon) and then Mulberry Street, which is going to make Lion's Gate (according to the program) a ton of money. That's in part because it's a darn good horror movie, and in part because it cost very little to make; the director quoted us a five figure number, and a big chunk of that was music clearance. The stories of the filmmakers' ingenuity in shooting the movie were impressive - they redressed the star's apartment several times to use it as the set for every apartment in the place, they shot people racing to get to the fireworks on the Fourth of July and called it footage of people fleeing the city, they probably covered a fair amount of make-up by using available light. Studios should take notice of these guys, because they might be able to do amazing things with even a little money.

Then, finally, Memories of Matsuko, which is going to be hard to do justice. I'm pretty sure that if you don't cry during the final sequence, you've got a rock where your heart should be; I was thinking of bits of this and welling up throughout the seven-hour bus ride home. It's a ridiculously audacious bit of filmmaking: A fast-cut, day-glo-colored musical tragedy about a woman who dies alone after a lifetime of being ill-treated, it was slotted into the same spot Train Man had last year, and about where the director's Kamikaze Girls was two years ago. It's a great way to end the festival - a legitimately great movie from Japan that doesn't fit into the reasons I originally started going to the festival but which I almost cannot imagine stumbling across anywhere else. I hope like heck that this one shows up in theaters around here, because I don't know if I'll see a better movie all year.

And now, back to work. --sigh--


* * * (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2007 in Théatre Hall Concorida (Fantasia 2007)

There's an opening for someone like Marko Zaror in the action world, especially for martial arts movies: All the guys who hit it big in the eighties are getting older, and there doesn't seem to be much of a next generation around (a man can't live on a diet of Tony Jaa and Wu Jing alone). Chile may be an odd place to find the next martial arts star, and Zaror's acting could use some polishing, but the guy can fight.

His character in this movie, Zami, fights a lot; he's got a crush on Kim (Caterina Jadresic), a half-Korean girl he saved from being raped a few months earlier, and tends to lay out anybody who touches her. Annoyed, she tries to get him off her back by having her father's entire tae kwan do class fight him; he tells Zami that though his father was a great fighter, he is little more than a brawler. Still, Teran (Man-soo Yoon) and Kim will need his help when Max Kalba (Miguel Angel De Luca) returns to town: Kalba has a grudge against Teran and other members of his martial arts sect that goes back seventeen years, and he's looking to collect. He wipes the floor with Zami in their first encounter, but that just pushes him to head north to be trained by master Jose Soto (Alejandro Castillo) before coming back to kick some ass.

First and most important things first: Marko Zaror's got some chops as a martial artist, even if he's still very raw as an actor. He won awards as Duane "The Rock" Johnson's stunt double in The Rundown, and though he's got about the same build (a little over six feet, built like a truck), he's extremely quick and agile for a guy his size. He can (and frequently does) get up in the air and move quickly enough to take on multiple opponents. Zaror also handles the fight choreography, and my only real complaint with it is that the fight scenes tend to be too short; except for the finale with De Luca (Zaror's original teacher), they are, by and large, mismatches. The flip side of that is that they do look like actual fights, rather than something staged for the camera.

(Interestingly, the producers said afterward that they were precisely blocked while the action in Zaror's new movie, Mirageman, is much more improvised. I wish I'd had time to see that!)

Full review at EFC.

Ultraman Mebius & Ultra Brothers (Urutoraman Mebiusu ando Urutora Kyôdai)

* * (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2007 in D.B Clarke Théatre (Fantasia 2007)

If you're already a fan of Ultraman, you can probably ignore that low-to-middling rating: In the same way that I enjoy bits of Transformers in spite of myself and am a mark for things like the Dukes of Hazard reunion TV-movies, this movie is made for you. Not having been exposed to Ultraman at an impressionable age, I don't share your enthusiasm, but I don't begrudge you any enjoyment you may get from this film.

Twenty-five years ago the Yapool, a particularly nasty alien menace, landed on the moon and fought the Ultraman brothers by controlling a "U-Killersaurus" monster. It makes it to Earth, but the brothers create a "final force field" to imprison him in the ocean near Kobe, at the cost of their special energy and ability to transform into Ultramen. Now, young oceanographer Aya Jinguuji (Aiko Ito) is detecting something anomolous, so international paranormal respone team GUYS sends Mirai Hibino (Shunji Igarashi), who is secretly the alien hero Ultraman Mebius, to investigate. A team of four aliens are planning to attack the city and fight Mebius. Meanwhile, Mirai befriends Aya's seven-year-old brother Takato (Ouga Tanaka), who used to be a big fan of Ultraman and GUYS but has become timid since encountering a giant monster while playing.

The Ultraman Seven and Ultraman Mebius television series upon which the film is based are kids' shows, and the film is aimed directly at the pre-teen audience: All of the characters aside from the original Ultraman Brothers and Takato are barely out of their teens, a lot of time is spent on Takato and his dog, and the monsters are all men in brightly-colored suits, far from realistic enough to scare anyone. The story is as simple as they come, and it seems like a story a kid would tell, with things changing in the middle and new characters showing up out of nowhere. Adults may find themselves growing impatient at times, maybe even snickering if the film has no particular power of nostalgia over them.

Full review at EFC.

Mulberry Street

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2007 in D.B. Clarke Théatre (Fantasia 2007)

There are certain elements of a good horror movie (of a certain type) that don't necessarily come as easily as expected: The slow build, the characters we genuinely care about, the sense that there may be nothing that can be done. Mulberry Street has all that and more; it's got something to say on other subjects without getting away from the rat-borne plague.

The day starts off with a certain amount of potential - former boxer Clutch (Nick Damici) is expecting his daughter Casey (Kim Blair) home after her tour in Iraq. Of course, while he prepares for her return, he's awkwardly dealing with the attentions of a still-attractive single mother (Bo Corre) and engaging in idle chit-chat with his neighbors about how they'll all probably be out soon because the city has used eminent domain to seize the building for a developer, which is also one of the lead stories on the local news, at least for a while. Then there's a nasty rat attack on the subway, and another, and the victims are acting strange. Soon Manhattan is being cut off from the rest of the city, the building's super has been bitten by an unusually large rat, and while the Mulberry Street residents are trying to lock things down, Casey is trying to get home through an unusually quiet and dangerous city.

The screenplay by star Nick Damici and director Jim Mickle is a thing of well-measured beauty and attention to detail. Native New Yorkers, for instance, will appreciate that Casey's journey home has fairly accurate geography. This may not matter to 99% of the film's prospective audience, but it lets the people who do know such things play along a bit, and rather than taking them out of the movie even a little bit, it enhances the suspense, as they know how far she has to go and what obstacles may be in her path. There's also a certain subtext to her journey home, in that every veteran finds what was once familiar somewhat alien after having been through combat. It's also not hard to connect the dots between the rats destroying the heart of the city and its most vulnerable residents from within and the developers about to displace these characters - not to mention the nasty double meaning of the development's (and movie's) tagline of "The Neighborhood Is Changing". It's tough to miss parallels to New Orleans at how characters assume the government will do something, but they remain invisible.

Full review at EFC.

Memories of Matsuko (Kiraware Matsuko no Issho)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2007 in Théatre Hall Concorida (Fantasia 2007)

I don't want to describe Memories of Matsuko glibly. It would be so easy to point out the huge difference between the story's subject matter and the methods used to tell the story in a way that sounds like I'm being sarcastic, comes across as trying to show off how sophisticated I am because I love something off the beaten path, or simply makes it sound distasteful. It's too good a movie for that. Lord knows I was put off by the premise - a brightly colored musical about the life of a lonely woman found murdered in a field - until I recognized the director.

That director is Tetsuya Nakashima, whose previous film Kamikaze Girls was a particular favorite of mine when it played two years ago, and the style of the two films are very similar: Bright colors, fanciful compositions, larger-than-life personalities and a great deal of jumping back and forth in time. While many might choose to tone things down for the darker subject matter of Matsuko, he instead adds an extra layer of exuberance, with elaborately staged musical numbers. It works - with the high points of the title character's life so beautiful, the lows become even more ghastly.

The story starts with Sho Kawajiri ("Eita") waking up to find his father Norio (Teruyuki Kagawa) in his apartment, idly looking through his porn. The two haven't spoken since Sho came to Tokyo to try to make it as a musician two years ago, and it turns out that this isn't a first for Norio: He had an older sister, Matsuko (Miki Nakatani), who left home thirty years earlier (Sho didn't know she existed) and has just been found murdered. Norio is bringing her ashes home, but asks Sho to clean out her apartment. It's filthy, but soon begins to offer up tantalizing glimpses of Matsuko's history: There's a picture of her making a funny face as a child and a poster of a recent boy band. A garishly tattooed but gregarious neighbor mentions a scarred man who had been lurking about recently, and the lead detective mentions that she was a popular teacher thirty years ago. From there, Sho starts to piece together the story of her life.

It's a life of extremes, and several of the episodes have a similar feel: They start with Matsuko happy, and singing, maybe in love, only to have things collapse into physical abuse, betrayal, and disappointment. But watch Miki Nakatani's performance closely; there's more going on than her hairstyle and costumes changing with the times; as much as Matsuko seems resilient and able to bounce back from her latest disaster, the bounce is a little less far, and a little less genuine, each time. Some of what Nakatani does is very broad comedy and some is heartbreaking, and it's quite impressive to watch what she does turn on a dime and turn back again, without making the character seem schizophrenic or disjointed. And she can sing, too.

Full review at EFC.

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