Monday, July 07, 2008

Fantasia 2008, Day Four: The Substitute, Punch Lady, Negative Happy Chain Saw Edge, Let the Right One In, What We Do Is Secret

Ugh, I've had it sitting around here trying to finish a second review and install someone else's DSL modem. I'm gonna go find some food and a guidebook to replace the one I forgot to bring with me last week and get outside before heading back inside a screening room.

Today's plan: Before the Fall, Timecrimes (I've got a screener at home, but I'm told it's a great audience movie. I'll have to ask for a screener for Paradise Murdered), Sparrow, and then either Peur(s) de Noir or Beautiful Sunday (the former finishes first, the latter starts first, and both have uncontested 3pm screenings later in the week)

If you're in town, I can recommend The Substitute.

Vikaren (The Substitute)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 6 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre J.A. de Seve (Fantasia Festival)

That The Substitute is making the festival rounds rather than getting some sort of general release is kind of amusing. The film's cast and plot makes it obvious that its primary audience is pre-teen kids, but how many people have been to a film festival that packs the tweens in? And then there's the film itself, edited in a way that may give adults fits, and apparently catching an R rating in the U.S. so that it's kept away from its main audience. Is this a case of the Danes thinking kids can handle more than Americans do, or something even more bizarre?

The story is pretty straightforward - a silver globe from a planet that knows only war lands in a Scandinavian chicken farm, possessing the farmer's wife. They had been watching an TV interview of Jesper (Ulrich Thomsen), a writer whose latest book proclaims love as the most powerful force in the universe. Sadly, Jesper's wife has perished in an automobile accident, and son Carl (Jonas Wandschneider) is having a very difficult time getting over that. On the same day Carl's class gets a new student, it also gets a long-term substitute teacher - Ulla Harms (Parpika Steen), the farmer's wife. She's strange and often cruel, but will the parents believe their kids' assertions that she's some kind of monster or alien? Of course not!

That this movie is rated R in America is patently absurd (the MPAA supplies "language" as the reason, but I don't recall anything worse than a "hell" or two in the subtitles, although I did note that some Danish words sounded kind of like f-bombs once or twice); it's almost as though filmmaker Ole Bornedal's previous thrillers (including the Danish and American versions of Nightwatch) are being held against it. There is some action and maybe more tension the The Substitute than might be found in an American live-action kid's adventure film, but nothing to be worried about.

Full review at eFilmCritic.


* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 6 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre J.A. de Seve (Fantasia Festival)

There have been plenty of movies that were probably pitched as "battered wife fights back!" (The exclamation point is important) Punchlady is the first I know of, though, that could have been "battered wife fights back... in the ring!"

I don't want to be patronizing by claiming that this movie is insulting or dangerous, but I have to admit that I was a little uncomfortable with the relatively light touch used for this fantasy. It opens with a downright brutal depiction of domestic violence, but then sells it out a bit with its bizarre revenge-fantasy premise (Ha-eun winds up challenging her kickboxing-champion husband to a televised match, with their divorce settlement on the line) and a middle section that is almost the stuff of romantic comedy.

Full review at eFilmCritic.

Negatibu happi chenso ejji (Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 6 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

This is the second film I saw on this day that made me wonder about the audience at Fantasia and festivals generally. This is very much a film made with teenagers in mind, but how many teens come to film festivals of any sort? At least Fantasia draws a good crowd of college kids, so they're not too far from the target audience, but there were still a bunch of people like me there, folks looking to hoot at the magical girl taking on the chainsaw-wielding giant.

It's cute enough, though, and does work as a tale of teenagers trying to grapple with loss. I wouldn't really try to sell it as an action movie, but I did think it was pretty cute.

Full review at eFilmCritic.

Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 6 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

A couple years ago, Frostbite got a little hype as the first vampire movie to come out of Sweden. It was a wild teen comedy, perhaps not quite what people expected from the nation that produced the likes of Bergman, and not something that particularly stays with you. Let the Right One In hits closer to that mark, playing as moody and morose as well as bloody. It's quite frankly brilliant.

The time is the early 1980s, the place is a suburb outside of Stockholm. Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is a small 12-year-old, pale almost to the point of being an albino, and he's picked on all the time. He plays with a knife which he clearly fantasizes about putting into his tormentors, and is fascinated by a series of crimes happening in the area. A pair of new neighbors has just moved in - Hakan (Per Ragnar), whom we see kill a teenager, preparing to drain his blood before a dog scares him off, and Eli (Lina Leandersson), a girl about Oskar's age ("twelve, more or less") who is rather odd: She only shows up in the apartment complex's courtyard at night, doesn't go to school, and isn't familiar with certain figures of speech and other everyday accouterments of a kid's life. She tells him they're not going to be friends, but soon they've got nobody closer.

Though there is apparently an English-language remake planned even before this film is released in its native Sweden, I find it hard to imagine this film transplanted to another milieu. Director Tomas Alfredson fills the frame with heavy snows, dark skies, and dread, lingering on establishing shots and giving the audience a real sense of place. Everybody but the children seems weathered, and even they seem to be hardening quickly. It's a natural place for a vampire to be found.

Full review at eFilmCritic; be advised that it's almost impossible to go further without spoiling a few great early surprises.

What We Do Is Secret

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 6 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

I had a good case of Film Festival Fifth Film Fatigue going by the time What We Do Is Secret started at 10pm, which was not a good way to approach a musical biopic of a band I've never heard of.

And, quite frankly, I won't be heartbroken if I never hear of them again. I'm not a particular fan of punk, and the stuff we hear from The Germs in this movie doesn't make me particularly interested in yet another tale of musicians who do drugs and act like jackasses. It's been done, and despite how much we're told Darby Crash was brilliant, I just don't see enough here to make watching this stuff worthwhile.

That said, I can't help but be impressed with the effort Rodger Grossman put into his film. The period details are, I'm told, spot on, and he combines faux-documentary and narrative scenes pretty well. He gets good, entertaining performances out of his cast. And I don't know that it's necessarily a fault that he's assumed that his film's audience would be as much of a fan of Darby Crash and the Germs as he was - that was something like 95% of the audience at the screening I saw, and they sure seemed to enjoy it.

Full review at eFilmCritic.

No comments: