Saturday, July 05, 2008

Fantasia 2008, Day Two: La Antena, A Love, Genius Party, [REC]

Yesterday was "adventures in subtitles" day, at least in the afternoon - La Antena made them part of the story. A Love had titling so brutal as to apparently cancel today's encore, and Genius Part made me hate looking away from the imagery. I took a little time beforehand to find myself some wi-fi (which, because it's located in the office next to this apartment, I am still using. I promise I'll stop once the DSL modem arrives), find some of the necessities you would take for granted in a hotel at the pharmacy, and the like. I kind of can't wait until Monday, when I'll finally have time to get out and about into the city. Movie gluttony is nice, but I'd hate to spend all my July time off inside darkened theaters.

Today's going to be an inside day, though - Batman: Gotham Knight (though I'll have the blu-ray waiting for me when I get home), Tales to Keep You Awake (Spanish horror Grindhouse with Alex de la Iglesia contributing a film), Disciples of the 36th Chamber (with Gordon Liu in person!), Le Grand Chef (Korean, not French), Jack Brooks, Monster Slayer (looks like good dumb fun), and Robo Rock (giant robots and rock & roll? Yes, please!).

La Antena (The Ariel)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 4 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre J.A. de Seve (Fantasia Festival)

La Antena opens with hands superimposed on a typewriter keyboard while a piano plays, and introduces us to its "City Without a Voice"by displaying it as the pages of a pop-up book. That's a fanciful start to a fanciful movie, one that enjoys its storytelling and which always has another nifty image up its sleeve to tease the imagination.

Years ago, we're told, the inhabitants of this city lost the ability to speak, but they soldiered on. Now, though, the city is dominated by Mr. TV, who not only owns the local television station but the main food company (TV Foods!) as well. The most popular program features a mysterious woman known as "The Voice" who still retains the power of speech. Living in this world is a TV repairman (Alejandro Urdapilleta) and his daughter Ana (Sol Moreno). One day, a letter from Mr. TV is delivered to Ana's mother's house that was meant for the Voice (the classic case of 166 Eclipse Street becoming 169 Eclipse Street because of a loose screw) that the eyes for the Voice's blind son are ready if she's ready to do her part. Ana doesn't know what this means, but decides to make friends the the boy anyway. Coincidentally, her father has stumbled across part of it - and it's sinister. He needs the help of his ex-wife (Valeria Bertuccelli) to escape pursuit, especially when Mr. TV and his cohort Dr. Y decide to kill the son, since another person with a voice could ruin their plans.

As befits a story about an entire city without a voice, filmmaker Esteban Sapir films La Antena in the style of a silent movie. The images are black and white, shot on 16mm film; the style alternates between the dream-like and early twentieth century - though an early twentieth century city where everybody speaks Spanish but much of the iconography is Soviet (an apt choice, as the film often feels like one of those Soviet sci-fi silents). Much like in genuine silents, the score incorporates sound effects, and The Voice's costume incorporates a hood that casts such a deep shadow as to seem empty, making her speech seem oddly disconnected in the same way.

Full review at eFilmCritic.

Sarang (A Love)

N/A (out of four)
Seen 4 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre J.A. de Seve (Fantasia Festival)

I really can't review this one honestly; though it was listed as being 35mm in the program, it appears that the print could not arrive on time and the HD version shown had some of the most brutal English subtitles I have ever witnessed in a theater, including that film Garo and Clinton showed at the Coolidge where the very title was misspelled. A few people left; the rest of us muddled through, occasionally laughing at what the (I presume) electronic translation had wrought. Apparently one character's name translates as "beautiful bead" and another's as "turnip". Or "turnip" is some sort of odd Korean insult. I can't say for sure.

Unfortunately, the bad subtitles didn't add much camp appeal to what seemed like a pretty basic movie. In-ho gets in fights, but falls for beautiful Mi-ju as a kid. They meet up later, grow close, and his rescuing her from a gang leaves him in jail and her in some sort of witness relocation program, but they somehow meet again when he enters the service of a better breed of mobster who just happens to have her for a mistress. Torment ensues.

Gangster romances are a tricky thing; either it's tough to get a really good love story through all the testosterone or it could just take place anywhere but for the random violence. It can be done - one of my favorite examples is another Korean film, A Bittersweet Life, but based on what I was able to piece together from the subtitles, A Love isn't nearly at that film's level.

Genius Party

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 4 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival, Animated Auteur Visions)

"Genius Party" is probably the most hubristic/critic-baiting title I've seen since a Chinese film by the name of "Dazzling" a few years back; it just begs for a "but who crashed?" sort of response. If anybody can use that title and get away with it, though, it's the people at Studio 4°C, who have created some of the most visually stunning animated films to come out of Japan in recent years. This anthology has seven segments, and there's something brilliant in all of them.

First up, we have the opening by Atsuko Fukushima; it's a zippy piece set to music with magical flowers, phoenix birds, and smiling spherical creatures that pop up out of the ground and tap into some sort of cosmic force. It sets the tone for the film with constant motion which combines the look of traditional hand-drawn animation with flying cameras that tend to be a real hassle without computer assistance. The music and effects animation enhance it to get the audience excited for what comes next.

Things actually might peak in the second segment, "Shanghai Dragon" by Shoji Kawamori, especially for those that love the sci-fi action that people usually think of when Japanese animation is brought up. It starts out as a cute story of a (literally) snot-nosed five-year-old by the name of Gonglong who loves to draw and Meihua, the girl who stands up for him. Kawamori is most famous for anime with a bunch of mecha action, and he doesn't disappoint, as an incredible bit of future technology falls from the sky, chased by future cyborgs who want to protect it and AIs who want to destroy it (and humanity). Gonglong, naturally, finds it, and what follows is grand over-the-top action which both spoofs and embraces the clichés of the genre while putting a nifty new spin on it, as traditional anime style combines with a child's drawings.

Full review at eFilmCritic.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 4 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival, Playback in Black)

Sometimes it's good to believe the hype. One of the perils of going to festivals is that I know I'm going to be writing reviews of the movies I see, and I jump the gun trying to analyze the film while it's still going, even though you can't properly do that without having it in its entirety. Throw in that [REC] has been receiving a ton of praise, and it's perhaps not surprising that I spent a good chunk of the movie wondering what the big deal was. So my jumping out of the seat by the end was somewhat contaminated by "aaaah, that's it!".

[REC] opens with Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) introducing herself as the host of a news/reality program called "while you were asleep". For this week's episode, she's going to tag along and document the Barcelona Fire Department. Most of what they do isn't actually fighting fires; it's handling broken water mains, animal rescue, and the like. Tonight's first call has them going to a small apartment building where screams have come from the apartment of an old lady who lives alone with her cats; when they get there, they find a dead girl on the floor. The woman is practically feral, actually biting one of the police officers who joined the firemen. Before they can get him to an ambulance, though, the find there are government people sealing off the building, not giving any information to the panicked residents, and the bitten cop's partner is expected to take control despite not knowing any more than anyone else.

The Blair Witch project wasn't the first "horror verité" film, but it is the one that triggered the ones of varying quality since. [REC] makes the gimmick work better than most; even if Angela initially seems more "on-air personality" than reporter, it makes a certain amount of sense for her and cameraman Pablo (cinematographer Pablo Rosso) to keep shooting once the crazy stuff starts happening, and the enclosed building is tight enough quarters that just dropping the camera and running wouldn't help that much. More so than with many films of this type, the filmmakers make the "found footage" conceit really make sense.

Full review at eFilmCritic, along with one other review.

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