Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Fantasia 2008, Day Thirteen: Our Town, The End, Stuck, and Red

Spent the day working on SQL scripts for work, so I can afford to see movies. I'm very tempted just to say I'm using the extra vacation days, though - not only have the expected T-storms not appeared, but trying to work for any period of time here is an absolute back-killer.

Anyway, off to the movies. Today's plan is An Empress and the Warriors, May 18, The Rebel, and From Within. If you're in town, I really dug Akanbo Shojo.

Uri Dongne (Our Town)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre J.A. de Seve (Fantasia Festival)

The trailer and description for Our Town had me expecting something a little different - a little more cat and mouse, a little less "it's all connected". It's unfair to be disappointed by that (judge the movie one what it is, rather than what you expect it to be), but the idea of two serial killers becoming aware of each other and looking to take each other out is so good that I hope someone else picks up on it.

This mid-sized Korean town does have a serial killer - four dead girls in as many months, strung up and displayed in public places. Jae-shin (Lee Sun-kyun) is investigating, but the killer is much too careful and meticulous. Meanwhile, Jae-shin's longtime friend Gyeong-joo (Oh Man-suk) is writing a novel about a serial killer, which his editor dismisses as unrealistic despite it being based on true events. As a result, he's having a hard time paying the rent, which leads to a situation where he kills his landlady in a fit of rage. He hits on the idea of staging a scene to look like another killing in the series, putting the cops on the wrong track. Of course, there's an obvious flaw in his plan - when Hyoi (Ryou Duck-hwan) at the general store sees the news about a fifth body, he's more than a little curious about what's going on.

So, it's not exactly dueling serial killers, but there's still an interesting thriller to be had here. The potential trouble comes from writer Mo Hong-jin taking that situation and weighing it down with prior events. It makes a certain level of sense to have it be the chief investigator's best friend be the copycat killer; he's the one with reason to believe that he might get away with it. Then, okay, maybe Gyeong-joo walks into Hyoi's store while the news breaks. Soon, though, there comes a point where the mounting connections between the three leads becomes too much. Each of them is interesting in and of themselves, but at a certain point the cumulative effect becomes just too much.

Full review at EFC.

The End

* * * (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre J.A. de Seve (Fantasia Festival)

It is a bit worrisome when, prior to a festival screening, the director is offering what can seem like excuses or explanations - they had less money than the short film that precedes it, but it is long for a zero-budget indie, there's a big plot twist in the middle, etc., etc. If you believe in your movie, let it stand, I figure. I'm pretty sure I still would have enjoyed The End without my expectations being managed.

I admit, it may have helped a little. The opening is kind of clunky; we seem to hear about what high school teacher Joseph Rickman (Jeremy Thomas) did sixteen years ago in every other line of dialog before finally getting into details. Back then, as a teenager, he found a missing girl on sheer intuition, and he's starting to get weird hunches again, seeing a strange robed, limping man in a tragedy mask who may be responsible for a rash of recent kidnappings. Joseph's long-time friend, Det. Clara Wilkie (Ella May) worries about him, but is willing to take whatever help she can get with the case - even after Joseph recognizes and shares the unorthodox source of his intuition.

To let that cat out of the bag would be a shame, and I'm not going to do it, but it is one of the rare mid-thriller twists that makes the movie funnier rather than more grim. It's clever and relatively unexpected based upon what had come before, but does make the things that might have seemed irritating earlier on go down easier in retrospect. That doesn't mean the film completely transforms into a comedy; the characters still take the mystery story seriously, and what is funny to the audience is in fact disturbing to the people within the film.

Full review at EFC.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

Stuck is based on a true story that made headlines a few years back, although much-beloved cult filmmaker Stuart Gordon has changed almost all the details to make a feature-length film out of it. That's fine, though; the real story was likely not nearly as much fun.

We're introduced to Brandi (Mena Suvari) and Tom (Stephen Rea). Tom is unemployed and his landlord intends to change the locks on his apartment as soon as he's out the door for a job interview, rendering him homeless; Brandi has just been informed she's up for a supervisor's position, but that might just be a ploy to get her to work a second Saturday in a row. While Brandi is unwinding at a club with friend Tanya (Rukiya Bernard) and (drug-dealing) boyfriend Rashid (Russell Hornsby), Tom is learning the ins and outs of homelessness. As Tom is making his way to a shelter, he's hit by Brandi's car. Rather than call the police, she drives back home - with Tom still lodged in her windshield.

To this point, the movie has followed the actual events reasonably closely, although with many of the details changed. Things start to diverge at this point, but the core of what Gordon found appealing in this story is crystal-clear throughout - and despite Gordon's history of gory horror flicks, it's not Tom's broken and bloodied body. Gordon and screenwriter John Strysik see a parable about the inability of people to look outside their own immediate interests - not just Brandi, but nearly every other person in the film. Just about the only exception to this is a homeless man who shares a drink with Tom and sets the new guy up with a shopping cart of his own. Tom is on the receiving end of the callousness most of the time, but even he will look at a waiting room full of people who likely also had appointments at specific times and ask why he can't have his interview right away.

Full review at EFC.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

Ah, I should have written this one up instead of Stuck; there seems to be much more going on to talk about.

I liked it, in large part because it's got a cast absolutely packed with people I enjoy, and I like dogs. It's also the sort of story that could have easily become a violent revenge thriller (and it arguably does), but there's a lack of sadism too it - Brian Cox's character is determined to go about things the right way, and the filmmakers don't choose to use that as justification for throwing up a ton of hollow violence.

I'm kind of curious about the two directors working on it - I remember Lucky McKee talking about this project either at Fantasia or BUFF a couple years ago, and I'm left wondering how it wound up in Trygve Allister Diesen's hands - did McKee abandon it, run out of money, cause trouble, or what? There are scenes toward the end where it seems Diesen could only get a couple of the cast on set at a time, necessitating weird silhouette shots.

Oh, and I'm kind of amused by the small-town newspaper being the Portland Press-Herald, the actual name of the paper in Portland, ME. I don't think it was supposed to be set in Maine, but what are the odds of that sort of coincidence?

Full review at EFC.

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