Sunday, July 12, 2009

Fantasia Daily for 11 July 2009: Queens of Langkasuka, Infestation, Love Exposure, and Sweet Karma

I've mentioned this many times, but seeing a lot of films at a festival is a recipe for eating like crap. I had a pretty nice burger at Dundee's on Friday night, but yesterday I got a late enough start that "brunch" was a small popcorn and a Diet Pepsi (I asked for a Diet Pepsi Max, which is just "Pepsi Max" south of the border, but the room was loud). I wasn't really hungry two movies later, but knew Love Exposure was going to be four hours, so I grabbed a slice of pizza and a Crush Cream Soda. I might have grabbed another on the way home, but I figured that would just kept me up.

Today, I'm starting with Tropical Hawaii. Strawberries, bananas, crepes (or a waffle), and fruit juice sounds like just what I need.

Puen Yai Job Salad (Queens of Langkasuka)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 11 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

Buckle your swashes, folks, we're sailing for Thailand, circa the early 17th century. There, we can expect to find enough action, adventure, melodrama, and magic for an entire trilogy. It'll pop your eyes and maybe race your heart if it doesn't wear you out.

In 1593, we are told, a genius Dutch weaponeer was ambushed at sea while attempting to deliver two Great Cannons to Queen Haiju (Jarunee Suksawas), the strong but fair monarch of Langkasuka. His Chinese apprentice, Lim Kium (Jakrit Pnaichpatikam), washes up in a village of sea gypsies, where his inventions catch the eye of an orphan named Pari. Pari is brave, but angry, leading to Master White Ray (Sorapong Chatree) refusing to teach him the art of Du Lum sea sorcery. Ten years later, Lim is still three, and Pari (Ananda Everingham), now a man, joins him on missions against Black Raven (Winai Kraibutr), a pirate harassing the sea people. Black Raven has teamed with rebel prince Rawai (Ake Oree), whose attempt to assassinate Haiju was barely thwarted by Royal Guard Jarang ("Dan" Chupon Chanprung). Langkasuka needs allies, and if that means engaging combat-minded Princess Ungu (Anna Rees) to the Prince of Pahay, so be it.

Then, in the second act...

Queens of Langkasuka is sprawling, with the sea magic of the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy augmented by some palace intrigue, a dash of Star Wars thrown in, and a bunch of muay thai fighting and soapy melodrama to perk up anyone who was feeling bored. And did I mention the ninja pirates? Or that the sunken Great Cannons are guarded by jellyfish stationed there by a Du Lum master, as they can command marine life? Director Nonzee Nimibutr and writer Win Lyovarin pack two or three movies' worth of madness into this film's 133 minutes, and they keep it up right to the end, jamming flashbacks and explanations of the philosophy behind Du Lum in until the film threatens to collapse under the weight. That never quite happens, although the movie could use a little breathing time at the end - all those subplots and relationships merit a little wrapping up, as opposed to what seems like a rush to get us out of the theater. No need to go all Return of the King on us, but throw us some sort of bone!

Full review at eFilmCritic.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 11 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

You know how most monster movies start out in the country or suburbs with the nasty stuff reaching the city something to be avoided at all costs? Infestation starts after that's happened. After giving us a few minutes to meet Chris Marquette's Cooper, there's a piercing noise, and the next thing Cooper knows, he's emerging from some sort of cocoon, but everyone else in the Bangor, ME, area seems to be wrapped up tight.

Cooper unwraps his boss, Maureen (Deborah Geffner), who insists on seeing to nearby daughter Sarah (Brooke Nevin). Soon Sarah has gone and unwrapped a few more, including oversexed weathergirl Cindy (Kinsey Packard), father Albert (Wesley Thompson) and his deaf son Hugo (E. Quincy Sloan), Leechee (Linda Park), Roger (Bru Miller), and some more. They find the cocoons were made by giant bugs, and while they're blind, they are intensely attracted to sound. Cooper suggest that they make for his father's house in nearby Berwick - Ethan (Ray Wise) is ex-military and has a well-stocked fallout shelter) - although everyone wants to check in on their families, and some want to follow the insects back to the tower of smoke where one of their party has been taken.

Though writer/director Kyle Rankin is likely best known for Project Greenlight and The Battle of Shaker Heights, he and collaborator Efram Potelle were making oddball shorts and features both before and after that. This time, the credits have Rankin writing and directing solo while Potelle serves in a number of technical roles - producer, second unit director, effects supervisor - and it seems like a good division of labor. Rankin stages the action well, and creates some nice moments for the actors to work with.

Full review at eFilmCritic.

Ai No Mukidashi (Love Exposure)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 11 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

It's hard to talk about Love Exposure without starting with the length: It is nearly four intermission-free hours long; host Mitch Davis gave the audience a five-minute warning to hit the head before the movie started while also pumping it up as one of the most amazing films he's ever seen. And no lying, it is mind-blowing at times, an amazing mix of transgression, sweet romance, naughty slapstick, and out-there plotting. If you can carve out four hours for a movie sometime, it's absolutely worth seeing.

It's also not perfect. It's got more great movie in it than many other films, but somewhere in the third and fourth hours, when one set of characters is working in porn and another is in the Zero Church, it gets a little tedious. Not in a "good lord, I've been sitting here forever" way, but I felt a little disappointed in how director Sion Sono started directing the plot; the last act was nowhere near as exhilarating as what came before, and one character sort of stopped being crazy in what was an interesting, consistent way, but just bonkers in the way the story required at the moment.

There's a lot of great stuff in here, though, and it's so singular a work that I wouldn't dream of saying what Sono should or could have done differently.

Sweet Karma

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 11 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre de Seve (Fantasia Festival)

Not a bad little revenge thriller in any way, shape, or form. I wouldn't say that this movie rises above the exploitation inherent in its genre, but director Andrew Hunt is keenly aware of it and uses it like a precision tool, manipulating matters so that we feel grimy and unclean in a low-rent strip club and yet still powerfully drawn to Shera Bechard's title character, even when she's pointedly using her sexuality as a weapon.

Ms. Bechard, by the way, could be something if she sticks with acting. She is ridiculously attractive (I wish I had brought the camera last night, because she dominated the dress she was wearing), and did a great job of being expressive and communicating in a wordless role. If she can deliver a line as well as a look, she can do more than catch the eye.

And that's Saturday. If you're in town, Love Exposure is playing again at the de Seve theater at noon. Grace is playing the Hall at 7:20pm, and it has grown on me since I reviewed it at IFFB. My plan for the day is Thirst (for real this time), Power Kids, Lalapipo, Evil Spirit: Viy (or, if Lalapipo starts late, take some time for dinner), and then Spare.

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