Friday, July 18, 2008

Fantasia 2008, Day Fifteen: The Detective, Dark Floors, The Echo, Babysitter Wanted

Again, no time to actually write a whole lot up before getting to today's movies. The object lesson for yesterday seems to be that a 20oz soda with no calories will fill you up, leading to not actually feeling like supper despite having one of the few two hour blocks to eat an actual meal during the course of the festival. I really wanted to visit that steakhouse again, and have a grilled steak rather than (very good, mind you) roast beef. Maybe Monday.

Today's plan: Handle Me With Care, the cryptozoology min-doc double feature, Le Tueur, Repo! The Genetic Opera, and Special Magnum. If you're in town, Our Town isn't bad, and [REC] is pretty darn good.

C+ jing taam (The Detective)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre J.A. de Seve (Fantasia Festival)

The funny thing about most memorable film noir detective movies is that they don't actually involve a lot of detection - the private investigator just sort of ping-pongs from one strange situation to another, often winding up in a spot where the whole mess seems contradictory. Why should Oxide Pang mess with tradition?

His Tam (Aaron Kwok) is a P.I. working out of Bangkok's Chinatown, and not a great one. One day, Lung the butcher (Shing Fui-On) knocks on his door, saying that some girl is following him, trying to kill him. Tam looks at the picture, surmises that there's no way this pretty girl has much interest in Lung, and figures it's about stalking by proxy. He's sending Lung home when Lung drops a large wad of bills on the table. Well, it can't hurt to look...

Famous last words, of course - a lead on her apartment brings Tam face-to-face with a dead body, and it won't be the last. Longtime friend Inspector Chak (Liu Kai-Chi) will inclined to call Tam the angel of death by the time it's over.

Full review at EFC.

Dark Floors

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

There are times when I feel guilty about being part of the American audience, which is simultaneously so big that international productions above a certain scale feel they need it to make back their budget, yet so fiercely parochial and well-served by what is made here that it's almost impossible to crack. This leads to things like Dark Floors, a movie conceived by Finnish heavy-metal act Lordi and their music video director, opting to shoot in English and then having the cast they import from the UK affect American accents. I don't know that this movie would have better in Finnish, but it's hard not to watch all the way to the end and wonder if maybe something got lost in translation.

We open with Sarah (Skye Bennett), an autistic girl who finds her MRI frightening even before the machine malfunctions, almost setting on fire. That's the tipping point for her father Ben (Noah Huntley), who decides that this hospital isn't going to do her much good and she might as well be comfortable at home, despite the warnings of nurse Emily (Dominique McElligott). The power goes out while they're in the elevator - shared with impatient businessman Jon (William Hope), mentally unstable Tobias (Ronald Pickup), and security guard Rick (Leon Herbert) - and when it finally comes back on, something is definitely not right: The sixth floor of the hospital seems to be completely empty, for starters, and that's before the ghosts and monsters start showing up.

Hospitals are scary places to begin with, and not necessarily because of the sickness. There's something unnatural about how cleanly-designed and sterile those places can be, and emptying them out makes them even more disconcerting - it increases the feeling of helplessness most non-medical professionals feel there. Dark Floors plays into all that, and then, just at the point where audiences might start taking that for granted, starts messing things up - the lower floors are dirtier and no longer unoccupied - ghosts, monsters, and corpses start appearing, bringing the atmosphere from unnerving-but-safe to outright dangerous.

Full review at EFC.

The Echo

* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

Apparently the quest to find Asian horror to remake has now expanded its eye to the Philippines, where Yam Laranas's Sigaw was a hit and did fairly well on the festival circuit. The good news about this one is that Laranas transplanted it to New York himself, and appears to have done a pretty good job of making this second version worth the effort.

Meet Bobby (Jesse Bradford); he's just been paroled from prison after serving three years for involuntary manslaughter, and he's not looking for any trouble. When his parole officer asks where he's planning to stay, he says his mother's apartment, though his mother died while he was in prison. It's still full of her things, still bearing all the signs of the mental breakdown that preceded her death. Bobby is able to find a job, working for Hector (Carlos Leon) as a mechanic, though he's on a short leash there. He's isolated most of the time, though - none of his old friends talk to him other than his ex Alyssa (Amelia Warner), and she's as wary as you might expect. And his neighbors aren't helping him get a good night's sleep - Walter (Kevin Durand) makes life hell for his wife (Iza Calzado) and daughter (Jamie Bloch), but what can Bobby do, since he's an ex-con and Walter's a cop?

Laranas plays up how the culture of the big city is all about being careful: Friends tell Alyssa to stay away from Bobby, Hector certainly doesn't trust him to begin with, and while the manager of the apartment building tells Bobby that he and one other person (Pruitt Taylor Vince) are the only ones complaining about some of the sounds on their floor, Bobby is standoffish when the other man wants to talk. It may be the natural response to seal oneself up in a bubble with so much humanity on all sides, but it's not healthy, and it's no surprise when Bobby starts to crack.

Full review at EFC.

Babysitter Wanted

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

And just like yesterday, I find myself running out of time to write even a mini-review if I want to get myself some food before starting the festival. Well, I'll catch up later. In brief: Pretty darn good, even if it does make its plot twist fairly obvious even if you're not looking for one.

Still, it gets the job done, and is legitimately thrilling even while it works a lot of comedy into the mix. During the Q&A, the director mentioned that even though it does a great job of making the audience queasy, there's actually only something like three minutes of gore to it.

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