Thursday, July 12, 2007

Fantasia Day Seven: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society, Km. 31, Big Bang Love, et The Tripper

Updated Sunday's post with are review of Arch Angels.

Yesterday wound up being pretty nice; I spent the few hours I had before movies started in the Canadian Center for Architecture's museum. The exhibit on Bernard Rudofsky was pretty interesting, although the one on 1960s/1970s architecture magazines seemed kind of tedious - I quit reading the information on the walls at somewhere around 1969, and didn't feel it made a lot of sense as a museum exhibition - if you can't flip through them, see how they're organized and read articles first hand, what's the point? I don't claim to know a lot about museums, but the best ones allow you to interact with and experience their material in your own way; this was just looking at covers and reading a description while standing. That's a website, only a website would be better because you'd be in a better reading position and it might let you actually browse the magazine's content. Still, Rudefsky's studies of aesthetics and what we now call ergonomics was pretty interesting. Although, being from Maine and living in Massachusetts, I'm not sure how well those houses that prize harmony with the environment would fly: Around February I tend to want the environment to stay the heck away.

Looks like a short day today; I'm skipping Naruto: Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow because if yesterday's Ghost in the Shell feature taught me anything, it was not to try and access the latest part of an anime you're not familiar with. So I'll head down the La Vielle-Porte before returning here for Special, either Ghosts of Cité Soleil or On Evil Grounds probably the first "well, I should probably see something" decision of the festival), and then Silk.

Ghost In the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society (Kôkaku kidôtai: Stand Alone Complex Solid State Society)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 11 July 2007 in J.A. De Sève Théatre (Fantasia 2007)

Cyberpunk's not quite dead, but it's been on life support for a while. Once everybody started using the internet, it became difficult to make computer-oriented stories seem futuristic and cool without also making them arcane at best and incomprehensible at worst. It's a problem which vexes the latest entry in the Ghost in the Shell franchise, although I imagine that those who have been following the Stand Alone Complex television series will be in much more familiar territory.

As the film opens, Japan's top counterterrorism squad, Section 9, is responding to a hostage crisis at the airport. It ends with the hostage-taker committing suicide, afraid of someone called "The Puppeteer", and he's not the first - other officials of the defunct Seok Republic have also taken their own lives, leading Section 9 to suspect some sort of systematic corruption of their cybernetic implants. Lead detective Togusa and his team investigate, and while veteran team-member Batou is following a lead, he runs into Major Motoko Kusanagi, the former head of the team who resigned two years earlier and is now investigating mysteries that conventional government organizations are ill-equipped to solve, and she's found links to both a seeming plague of missing children and the computer system devoted to the care of Japan's senior citizens.

There's a lot going on here that at least those of us not familiar with Stand Alone Complex - I suspect that storylines about the Seok Republic, the infighting among various agencies, and certain members of the Diet worrying about the influx of refugees' effect on Japan's ethnic makeup are carryovers from the previous series. Director Kenji Kamiyama and his collaborators mostly assume that the audience is up to date, both on continuity and jargon, so if all you've seen before is Mamoru Oshii's theatrical features (if that), I'd recommend being very attentive as you watch, because the details about the world and the specific story can fly past you otherwise.

Full review at EFC.

Km. 31 (Kilómetro 31)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 11 July 2007 in Théatre Hall Condordia (Fantasia 2007)

Km. 31 is a good ghost story, and comes fairly close to being a great one. In fact, I won't argue much with someone who comes out of it saying that it is a legitimately great ghost story, as I seem to be hampered by my insistence that these things make sense.

I don't mean that sarcastically; it's a legitimate blind spot. Ghost stories and other types of supernatural horror are based upon something irrational and unquantifiable happening in an otherwise rational world, but my brain is wired to expect a mechanism that can be understood and worked with. Failing that, I want everything to at least fit in thematically. Km. 31 seems to be doing pretty good in that regard almost literally right up to the final scene, and when the film doesn't give me the conclusion it had seemed to be leading me toward, I feel cheated. Those who find that sort of randomness a virtue will have no problem with it.

But let's back up a bit. The film starts with Agata (Iliana Fox) driving down the highway. At the Km. 31 marker, a small boy jumps out in front of the car, and Agata hits him. She gets out of the car, calls her boyfriend Omar (Raul Mendez), and while looking for the boy (who has mysteriously vanished), she herself is run over. A few miles away, this triggers a sort of reaction in her identical twin Catalina (Fox again), who leads her Spanish friend Nuno (Adira Collado) to where Agata lays, barely alive. The doctors have to amputate Agata's legs and she comes out of surgery in a coma; when Catalina and Omar ask about the boy she mentioned, they're told there was no boy. The search for answers leads Omar to Martin Ugalde (Carlos Aragon), a detective obsessed with the dozens of hit-and-run accidents that have happened at that highway marker, and Catalina and Nuno to an old woman (Luisa Huertas) who sheds some light on the supernatural forces at work.

Full review at EFC.

Big Bang Love: Juvenile A (46-okunen no koi)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 11 July 2007 in Théatre Hall Condordia (Fantasia 2007)

Takashi Miike showed down a bit a couple years ago to take a stab at doing a big-budget family movie, but since then he's gotten back to what passes for normal where he's concerned: Churning out movies at a rate nearly unheard of for other filmmakers, working cheap and occasionally tossing something downright peculiar in among the yakuza dramas and horror films. Big Bang Love is one of the strange ones, an interesting mixture of unusual styles and subject matter that works more often than not, if only just.

After an opening that is deliberately abstract and related to the main story thematically more than literally, we get into the meat of the story: Prisoner Shiro Kazuki (Masanobu Ando) has just been killed, apparently strangled by cell-mate Jun Ariyoshi (Ryuhei Matsuda), who is saying things like "I did it". Still, an official investigation must be made, but it leaves the investigating officers perplexed: Shiro is a timid young man, despite the brutal crime that placed him behind bars, while Shiro was a belligerent repeat offender who had made an enemy of everyone else in the building; even the warden has a motive.

The murder mystery is mainly a framework off which to hang an examination of how these characters never really had any kind of shot, as opposed to a puzzle to be solved. Indeed, there's so little to it that the film occasionally seems to repeat himself, having his detectives run in circles, covering the same material multiple times (once or twice, I suspect, re-cutting the same footage to do it). Instead, Miike gives us vignettes about how the environment Shiro grew up in seemingly offered him the choice of becoming a thug or becoming a victim. Jun, on the other hand, becomes a bit more of a cipher by design, as the film abjectly refuses to stick him in any of the typical gay pigeonholes; indeed, occasionally the audience will find themselves wondering just what his sexual orientation is, or whether that's too binary a concept for someone like Jun.

Full review at EFC.

The Tripper

* * (out of four)
Seen 11 July 2007 in Théatre Hall Condordia (Fantasia 2007)

I'm not saying that The Tripper should have been a slam dunk by any means, but it does kind of have something for everyone - an axe-wielding Ronald Reagan going to town on a bunch of hippies? There's pleasure to be had there, unless you like both Reagan AND hippies, in which case I suspect you're in a tiny minority. That it's as political as it is goofy is part of the fun, but co-writer/director/co-star David Arquette doesn't quite seem able to harness the potential of his good idea.

After some scathing quotes from Reagan and a "thirty years ago" prologue that we know will be important later, we meet a group of already half-baked, half-drunk slackers heading for a big outdoor concert in their van. Well, one's pretty sober - Samantha (Jaime King) isn't terribly interested in the chemicals, although she doesn't regret leaving her conservative boyfriend Jimmy (Balthazar Getty) behind. They get harassed by some redneck lumberjacks along the way, but eventually make it to see local Sherriff Buzz Hall (Thomas Jane) trying to shut it down as unsafe, despite the graft promoter Frank Baker (Paul Reubens) has paid Mayor Burton (Rick Overton). Now, sure, Buzz is only thinking about the weather, the privacy-loving local pot growers, and the tiny size of his police department, but he certainly seems to have the right idea when some guy in a Ronald Reagan mask starts going after the visiting (faux) hippies with an axe.

Give Arquette some credit where it's due - the man has a clear love for the slasher genre and doesn't hold back from giving the gorehounds what they want. Ronnie takes out a couple dozen people in this movie, and it's seldom off-screen. Axes get buried in heads, people get mauled by dogs, and gallons of sticky red blood spatter all over everything. There's bad jokes, attack dogs, and Ronnie breaking out some of his most famous sound bites before a kill. On a certain basic level, it delivers the goods.


It's kind of a shame, actually; the movie is so self-consciously aiming for satire that its failure in that regard negates some of its virtues as a splatter movie.

Full review at EFC.

No comments: