Saturday, July 12, 2008

Fantasia 2008, Day Nine: The Objective, Adrift In Tokyo, Shadows in the Palace and X-Cross

Fantasia 2008, Day Nine: The Objective, Adrift In Tokyo, Shadows in the Palace and X-Cross

A pretty successful day, all told: The Objective was a fairly crushing disappointment, true - I really did love Blair Witch and had high hopes for the premise of Daniel Myrick's first theatrical feature since - but Adrift in Tokyo was a very nice palate cleanser. Then I crossed the street to see a very good murder mystery and the sort of absolute insanity that Japan does better than anyone else. I know there's no chance of X-Cross getting much in the way of an American release, and that's too bad - the movie is flat-out fun, without anything close to a dull or slow moment.

Today's plan: L: Change the World, Wicked Lake, Chanbara Beauty, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, and Shamo. Maybe The Butcher or Tokyo Gore Police if I think I can swing a sixth movie at midnight.

The Objective

* * (out of four)
Seen 11 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre J.A. de Seve (Fantasia Festival)

There are roughly a dozen good movies you could make with the hook stated at the beginning of The Objective. The trouble, unfortunately, is that most of them would require more money than Daniel Myrick apparently had to work with. Sure, he's been part of a gigantic hit on a budget before, but The Blair Witch Project was small by design; this needed to be bigger.

That hook? That on September 14, 2001, CIA satellite imagery picked up a hot spot in the mountains of Afghanistan - heat and radiation similar to the detonation of a small atomic device. They send Ben Keynes (Jonas Ball) to the area to investigate; he hooks up with a special forces team led by Matthew Anderson's Wally, telling them that they are looking for a cleric - who is, in fact, a good source of intel. What he doesn't tell them is that the CIA thinks that this could be a much bigger deal than a mere atomic bomb.

Given the apparent budget Myrick and the other filmmakers had to work with, creating something of the scale Keynes describes probably isn't going to happen - you're not going to get the teaser where something explodes in the desert, or cuts to a situation room in Washington, where a potential atomic or paranormal threat just days after 9/11 if given the constant attention it deserves. Instead, there's a small team that doesn't get any chance at all to show they're elite troops, walking around a featureless desert. Most of the good stuff is being saved for the finale minutes.

Full review at EFC.

Tenten (Adrift In Tokyo)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 11 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre J.A. de Seve (Fantasia Festival)

I love movies shot like Adrift In Tokyo, on real city streets that give a feeling of being real and unique to that neighborhood but aren't necessarily the places tourists take pictures or filmmakers generally stage scenes. It's fun to play tourist that way, and when the unexpected happens - as it often does in Satoshi Miki's film - it seems both more surprising and more authentic, because those scenes seldom look staged to start.

There's also a great performance in here by Miura Tomokazu, who transforms a big, imposing beast into a guy we really like by the end of the film. Co-star Jo Odagiri is good, too, but it's Tomokazu that really grabs the attention of the audience as the film goes on.

Goongnyeo (Shadows in the Palace)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 11 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

Ah, murder. It's been around since time immemorial, among the rich and the poor, whenever someone stood to gain from having another person not be around. The modern police force which methodically investigates these crimes is a relatively modern invention, although detective fiction tells us that no matter what the time and place, there's an amateur sleuth ahead of her time. Even in the maid's quarters of a Chosun Dynasty king.

A body is discovered: Wol-ryung (Seo Yeong-hie), a personal maid to the king's concubine, is found hanged in her quarters. The court nurse, Choi Chun-ryun (Park Jin-hie), starts the autopsy, and finds that this was no suicide - the lack of brusing on the neck says she was dead beforehand. Aside from that, the girl was lactating, clearly showing that she had broken the oath of celibacy taken by the entire staff. The head maid, Kam-cheol (Kim Sung-ryeong), tells Chun-ryun to report it as a suicide, since the consequences of a murder would be terrible for everyone: Masters' and servants' behavior reflects on each other, and royal concubine Hee-bin (Yun Se-ah) is battling the queen mother to have her child recognized as the royal heir, and implicating the household could weaken her position. Chun-ryun isn't about to let the matter go, especially once she's gained Hee-bin's tacit approval for the investigation. But who will tell her what she needs to know? Queen's maid Jung-ryul (Jeon Hye-jin), who found the body? Bullied mute Ok-jin (Lim Jeong-eun), the dead girl's roommate? What of Lee Hyung-ik (Kim Nam-jin), the king's nephew, who has taken Wol-ryung's medical records? Or the hints that there may be a supernatural explanation?

There's no type of story quite so engrossing as a good murder mystery, although no genre is more unforgiving when it fails. The audience knows early on to pay careful attention to details, since anything could be a clue, so any weakness in story, performance, direction, and even continuity will be thrown into sharper relief. Director Kim-Mee Jeung and her co-writer Choi Seok-Hwan create a film that holds up to such scrutiny; though it may not be a classically solvable mystery per se, the details all fit together perfectly and each scene seems to contain at least one bit of information that not only helps the viewer create a more complete picture but whets the appetite for what is going to come next.

Full review at EFC.

XX (Eksu Kurosu) : Makyo Densetsu (X-Cross)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 11 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre J.A. de Seve (Fantasia Festival)

How much of a blast is X-Cross? At one point, noting character names for future reference, I put "Reika - insane lolita wields giant scissors" down in my notebook - and she's basically a side note to the film's main action-packed storyline!

We hit the ground running, as Shiyori (Nao Matsushita) finds a ringing cell phone in a closet of the hot-spring resort she's staying at, and hears something along the lines of "run! quickly! they'll cut off your leg!" when she answers it. In no time flat, she's strung up in front of a crowd as someone gets set to swing a big axe. Then it's flashback time, as we see Shiyori and her friend Aiko (Ami Suzuki) arriving at this very secluded hot spring, with Shiyori looking to get away after a break-up. Once we're caught up, it's something close to non-stop action as the voice on the phone tells us that the village's residents are descendants of a cult who folklore says would cut off their wives' legs to keep them from leaving - but who is this voice, and can he (or anyone) be trusted? And just what is up with that nutjob with the giant scissors (Shoko Nakagawa), anyway?

X-Cross is a film that implores you to just sit back and enjoy the ride, but it happily doesn't count on the audience taking things for granted. It's pure B-movie fun, yes, packed with pretty girls, ugly redneck cultists, blood, sharp and ridiculous weapons, and crazy costumes, but it's also got a story that, while simple, keeps the audience guessing. And not just in terms of having random stuff happen, but actually letting you enjoy figure things out and match them up: Everything fits together, and the back and forth jumping in time and location gives the audience several "ah-ha!" moments as they see how pieces fit together.

Full review at EFC.

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