Saturday, July 07, 2007

Fantasia Day Two: The Restless, The Signal, et Flight of the Living Dead

A pretty decent evening at the movies, although that came after getting stuck out in the rain at the botanical garden while doing the tourist thing. Lots of walking at the Biodome and Jardin Botanique, so it took me most of the animated shorts program to really get back into it. I ran into the Boston Underground Film Festival's Kevin Monahan and Anna Feder afterward (although they likely have no idea who the heck I am); Anna was in the same screening but happened to be sitting near someone who had brought their kids. Remember: Just because something is animated doesn't mean it's for kids. Aside from two of the shorts revolving around killing cute bunnies, the final segment, "For Whom The Bell Jingles", which involves Santa Claus wracked with guilt for... I mean, gads, keep the kids away from that.

If you're up here, I can recommend The Restless for today (see below). My plans involve a long day - Arch Angels, 200 Pounds Beauty, Dasepo Naughty Girls, The Banquet, The Rug Cop, and Hell's Ground (so Japan, Korea, China, and even Pakistan are represented). Things have been running a little late at Théatre Hall over the first couple of days, so I may wind up substituting Hatchet for The Rug Cop, depending on when The Banquet winds up ending.

The Restless (Jungcheon)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 6 July 2007 in Théatre Hall Condordia (Fantasia 2007)

There are two ways to describe Restless when someone hits you with the question of what it's about. You could respond with some gobbledegook about Chuyongdae Demon-Slayers and Chuneens. Or you could give what I figure is the correct answer - it's about a guy with a magic sword slicing through demons and former friends to prevent the end of the world.

That guy is Yi Gwak (Jung Woo-sung), and he's the last of an elite team of outlawed demon hunters. His reward for saving a would-be sacrifice from a pack of demons is to be drugged so the villagers can collect the bounty on his head. Rather than awaking in chains, though, he finds himself in "Midheaven", where souls spend 49 days purifying themselves before heading to heaven and reincarnation. Something - several things, really - is amiss, even for this bizarre situation. Yi Gwak doesn't show the usual signs of being dead, for starters. More immediate and alarming, an army of demons attacks, slaughtering souls and spirits alike. Yi manages to save one, the "Chuneen" So-hwa (Kim Tae-hee). She bears a remarkable resemblance to his first love Yon-hwa, and considering that Cuneens are souls who have achieved purity and peace by losing their memories... This reunion is spoiled in part by another one - Ban-chu (Heo Jun-ho), who first recruited Yi Gawk to the Chuyongdae and helped lead to its downfall, is the one orchestrating the attacks - and he's got all of Yi's old comrades with him.

Director and co-writer Jo Dong-oh sets up an ambitious bit of world-building, and in the film's more ponderous moments, it seems as though he's bitten off more than he can chew. All through the film, we're treated to definitions of what a Chuneen is, or given tidbits like how the Kajak Sword can only be wielded by a human being, and all sorts of other fantasy-universe minutia that honestly don't make a whole lot of difference, especially since they sort of sidestep what seem like certain obvious questions - like, if Yi's not dead, what's he doing in the afterlife? This may be something that the subtitles don't convey, but it seems like Jo and his co-writer Lee Hee-dae spent enough time building their world that they'd have reasons for the less explained things that could be fit into the explanations that go on too long.

Full review at EFC.

The Signal

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 6 July 2007 in Théatre Hall Condordia (Fantasia 2007)

The Signal is not a zombie movie, or a slasher movie, although it uses elements of both to create something new and legitimately frightening. For a horror movie, that's genuinely exciting - I can't remember the last one I've seen that resisted easy categorization.

There is this transmission, you see, and it's blanketing all frequencies. Mya (Anessa Ramsey) is woken by it when her lover Ben's television turns on my itself, but she and Ben (Justin Welborn) turn it off and hang up their phones quickly. When she gets back to her apartment building, everyone seems to be on edge. Her husband Lewis (AJ Bowen) and his friends are trying to get reception from their television, and Lewis is asking uncomfortable questions. Soon someone is dead, everyone seems to be ready to snap, and Mya is running. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the neighborhood, Anna (Cheri Christian) is worried about her New Year's Party not going right with her husband Ken (Christopher Thomas) being dead and their landlord Clark (Scott Poythress) at the door, and Ben is coming into town to get Mya.

The mysterious signal isn't turning people into unthinking, inarticulate zombies, nor is it downloading some sort of alien presence into its victims' heads. It's doing something more insidious, either turning off the thing in their minds that makes them feel murder is wrong. One character describes it as a message that other people don't have to stand between themselves and happiness. Indeed, at times the characters won't let objective reality stand between themselves and what they want, as hallucinations appear and perceptions of who someone is talking to shift. People are who they were, just without any compunctions about killing, and it's sometimes very difficult to tell who is actually insane and who is just doing what is necessary to survive in a world where so much of the rest of the population has gone crazy.

Full review at EFC.

Flight of the Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane (aka Plane Dead)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 6 July 2007 in Théatre Hall Condordia (Fantasia 2007)

The punny title of Flight of the Living Dead tells you exactly what you're in for, so the only question is whether or not it delivers the goods. It does a pretty good job on that account, hitting every item on the zombie movie and airplane-in-danger movie checklists and doing well by them.

Concord Airlines's flight from Los Angeles to Paris has everyone you'd expect on a plane-bound thriller - a pilot making his last trip before retirement, a cop transporting an international fugitive, some horny college kids, a famous athlete and his cranky wife, some pretty young flight attendants, and even a nun. There's also a refrigerated container under armed guard in the cargo hold which, as you might imagine, involves a virus that can reverse massive cellular damage... with side effects, of course.

Don't look for a whole lot of new zombie ground to be broken here - you're looking at basic yellow-eyed, rapidly decomposing, shrieking flesh-eaters. If I had to answer "fast or slow?", I'd go with fast, although it's not really that important; they seldom need to cover a whole lot of ground. Bullets knock 'em down, but nothing short of a head shot or decapitation really seems to stop them. Similarly, if you've ever seen an airplane-in-danger movie, you know communications with the ground will be knocked out, there will be a terrible storm, someone on the plane is actually an air marshal, it's a bad idea to fire a gun unless you know for damn sure you're going to hit your target but a good idea to have an extra person who knows how to fly a jet along And I don't think I'm giving much away to say that at some point, near the end, a compartment will lose cabin pressure. These are all things that have to happen.

Full review at EFC.

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