Sunday, July 20, 2008

Fantasia 2008, Day Seventeen: Island of Lost Souls, Seven Days, 4bia, Sasori, and The Midnight Meat Train

Almost got shut out of The Midnight Meat Train last night, which would have bummed me out because I wouldn't have been able to see Ryuhei Kitamura's entertaining Q&A. Hopefully someone will have a transcript up soon, because he was entertainingly honest about his adventures in Hollywood thus far - it sounds like he passed on The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and wound up directing this picture in large part because of a chance encounter with Samuel L. Jackson (who, by being a Kitamura fan, just adds more cred to him being the coolest guy in Hollywood). He mentioned working on an American version of Versus along with some other big, crazy action movies, and the latter part at least makes me happy (although I wonder about the former, considering his comments earlier in the talk about not being interested in sequels, remakes, or otherwise revisiting material).

That wound up letting out at 2:30am. It is probably just a matter of time until I wind up taking some kind of nap in a theater. Hopefully it'll be one of the disposable-looking movies at the ends of my day rather than the nifty-looking stuff in the middle. My plan is Tunnel Rats (will my first exposure to Uwe Boll actually be the one that doesn't suck?), Muay Thai Chaiya, Voice of a Murderer, Alone, and Pig Hunt. If you're in town, Island of Lost Souls is fun, Punch Lady... less so.

De Fortabte sjæles ø (Island of Lost Souls)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

I hate to bring up Harry Potter when describing Island of Lost Souls, but there wouldn't be so many movies of this type - kids fighting supernatural threats - if it wasn't such a phenomenon, and it is an easy point of reference. Nikolaj Arcel's taken on the idea is maybe not so grandiose as the most well-known, but it is still a ton of fun, and better in some ways.

14-year-old Lulu (Sara Langebæk Gaarmann) and her little brother Sylvester (Lucas Munk Billing) have just moved to the quiet seaside town of Broby with their mother Beate (Anette Støvelbæk) after her divorce. Lulu's got a keen interest in magic and the occult, and one of the first thing she does is pull out her Ouija board and see if the new house contains any spirits who would like to talk to her. It doesn't seem to have much effect, but later that night a glowing light comes out of their closet and is absorbed into Sylvester. It turns out to be the soul of Herman Hartmann, who in 1871 was part of a secret lodge dedicated to fighting supernatural evil. And while Herman mainly wants to return to the sweet oblivion of death, he's stuck in Sylvester's body unless some sort of mystic can be found to release him. 13-year-old neighbor Oliver (Lasse Borg) suggests his mother's "psychic physical therapist", Ricard (Nicolaj Kopernikus), who turns out to be surprisingly helpful.

There are a lot of things I like about Island of Lost Souls that other juvenile fantasies don't do, to their detriment by my way of thinking. One of them is that Lulu is not any sort of Chosen One, descendant of the mystics from the prologue, or prophesied savior; she's just a brave and smart girl who steps up when stepping up is called for. Sure, it's a nice fantasy that you're secretly more special and important than the other kids around you, but the fact that these kids do cool things on their own makes them even more impressive.

Full review at EFC.

Seven Days

* * * (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

Is it petty for me to be pleased that the screening of Seven Days was not packed with Lost fans coming to see that program's Yunjin Kim, though they would not otherwise go near a Korean film? Probably. I'm a little surprised that didn't happen, although maybe Lost isn't as big a deal in Quebec as it is elsewhere.

The movie itself is a decent enough thriller, although it's the sort that would have me questioning the legal processes like mad if it were set in the United States, and I still wonder about it even though I know next to nothing about South Korea's justice system. Within that ridiculously accelerated context, though, it's an enjoyable enough mystery.

See Prang (4bia)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

I must admit, I wasn't expecting this to be such a complete delight, but it winds up being one of the more enjoyable horror flicks at Fantasia. It's a sort of Thai-horror sampler, in turns creepy, gory, funny, and just plain scary, with the four loosely connected stories each entertaining in their own way. Well worth checking out if you get the chance.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

This one is kind of a mess, but it's a slick mess. The mix of Hong Kong and Japanese style action is interesting, but I think it suffers a bit from seeming to compress a long-running manga, cramming a whole bunch of wild characters and ideas into a bit over an hour and a half without much time to really get into them.

The Midnight Meat Train

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival - Bloody Radical: Unconventional American Horror)

Assigning a star rating to The Midnight Meat Train puts me in a quandary. On the one hand, I think that something like 90% or more of this is fantastic, some of the best recent horror filmmaking you will see. On the other, I really like endings, especially ones where the end feels like the logical culmination of what had come before, and my reaction to the movie's ending was, well, that it was something else. And yet, I'm told that most of the original short story is contained in that ending, and it's handled faithfully, which is generally a good thing on principle. So, you see, there it is: A quandary.

We start with Leon Kauffman (Bradley Cooper), a young photographer making ends meet with crime-scene work while hoping to put together better things. His girlfriend Maya (Leslie Bibb) and friend/agent Jurgis (Roger Bart) have finally gotten noted gallery owner Susan Hoff (Brooke Shields) to look at some of his work, which elicits a comment about how he's not really capturing the city the way he wants to. What he does wind up capturing is the last shot of a model before she disappears on the subway. He connects it with another picture, this one of Mahogany (Vinnie Jones), a silent, imposing butcher whom we've seen ambushing people on the late night trains, brutally murdering them. Soon, Leon becomes obsessed with proving that this man is behind a rash of disappearances.

Clive Barker's short story is apparently a popular one among horror fans, though I've never read it. For me, the big drawing card was Ryuhei Kitamura's English-language debut, and Barker's fans should be pleased to see that the story is in good hands. Often described (or accused, depending on who is making the statement) of having a Hollywood sensibility in Japan, and he doesn't make The Midnight Meat Train into a J-horror-styled picture at all. He and director of photography Jonathan Sela do shot the heck out of the film, though, finding all the nifty angles and great compositions that a movie about a photographer really should have. He does a lot of nifty things with the camera, from the continuous static shot of Mahogany's first kill to the way the point of view whips around the subway car in the big climactic fight, emphasizing the cold brutality in the first and the increasing frenzy in the latter.

Full review at EFC.

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