Thursday, July 23, 2009

Fantasia Daily for 22 July 2009: Reel Zombies, The Divine Weapon, Black, and Orphan

You know how you can tell that you're spending too much time in the apartment, writing up reviews rather than seeing the city you're vacationing in? When the plastic lampshade near the computer in the place you're subletting melts. I guess I'll have to replace that before I leave, even if I do figure that this would have happened anyway. The soft plastic seems to be a really foolish material to make a lampshade out of, quite frankly, and the fact that the bulb in the lamp was at the very edge of what is recommended (150W, 120V) didn't help - and as much as I like bright lights, even I don't use that much light bulb in my house.

I did finally have a meal on Crescent Avenue today - mid-afternoon fish & chips at Sir Winston Churchill's, and I don't feel cheap for ordering the least expensive thing on the menu. I figure if you go to a pub by that name, you have to get fish & chips, and should perhaps feel a little gypped when they're not served to you on genuine newspaper.


Note for future festival-going: The 9:30pm Pepsi Max does get me through the last movie, but keeps me up way too late. Maybe the super-caffeinated beverage isn't the way to go there.

Reel Zombies

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre de Seve (Fantasia Festival)

Zombie Night is, I'm given to understand, a terrible movie, bottom-dozen of all-time bad. Thus it has a cult following. The sequel, to hear the filmmakers tell it, was better-made to the point of mediocrity, but paradoxically less entertaining as a result; the making-of feature on the DVD was allegedly more fun. So, this time around, they set out to combine the two.

Thus, the film starts out with Mike Masters, producer of the Zombie Night movies, saying he never wanted to make another. But in the aftermath of the recent zombie-virus outbreak, he has a brainstorm - make the third part with real zombies! Surely there will be a demand for zombie-killing movies as soon as there's theaters again! So director David J. Francis throws a script together in a couple of days, they get as much of the cast and crew who are still around together, hire a new DP (Jean-Marc Fontaine), and a zombie wrangler (Bill Simmons), find some actresses willing to do nudity, and they are ready to go! Granted, they weren't so good at this before, but having real zombies should make it easier, right?

The "movie movie" is a popular genre, since folks who like to watch movies are naturally curious about how they're made, and it's generally a topic filmmakers know something about (insert joke about the makers of Zombie Night here). Even without real zombies, there's a bunch of fun ways for everything to go wrong on set, especially with this cast of characters - guys who are familiar with each other, but maybe don't really like one another. Camaraderie is fun; everyone being in "I can't work under these conditions!" mode is funnier.

Full review at EFC.

Shin ge jeon (The Divine Weapon)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

When you think about it, my attitude toward watching Divine Weapon probably reflects bad things about me: I basically wanted to watch an entire army get slaughtered by overwhelming firepower. The Singijeon is basically the medieval equivalent of the ballistic missile and cluster bomb, and tossing one of those at what are basically infantry generations behind technologically is far from sporting. Though, to be fair, this was an attack on an army whose king basically ordered the Joseons to mass-produce eunuchs, so the Mings in this movie more or less had it coming. Well, actually, the Mings had something else coming, and the soldiers weren't exactly the ones asking for eunuchs, but you know what I mean.

That aside, this is an entertaining war epic. It's got a roguish hero, a leading lady who is into engineering, plenty of action, predictable but enjoyable romance, and a final battle that absolutely gives the audience what they have waited the last couple of hours for. Kind of paint by numbers? Sure. Doesn't make it less fun, though.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

I saw this back in March, as a midnight at SXSW, but I was so wrecked at most of those midnights that I couldn't trust myself to write a decent review, and since the filmmakers announced that Evokative had picked it up for Canada and it would play Fantasia during the Q&A, I decided I'd hold off writing an actual review until then.

Back in March, I called it fun and crazy, and I'll stand by that assessment when I get around to writing the full review sometime in the weeks ahead. I still don't really think that "Lion and Panther vs. Snake-Man" is a better way of ending a movie that starts out as a bank heist and then becomes Midnight Run than something more conventional, although props must be given out for full-blown lunacy.

I also really like MC Jean Gab'1 in the title role. He attended the screening at Fantasia, along with the director and producer who had attended in Austin, and he's the kind of guy whose charisma shines through even when one's command of his language is as terrible as my French. It comes through very nicely on film, too, as he somehow manages to make Black charming and kind of lovable even in the middle of a lot of no-fooling-around action.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

I guessed what Orphan was heading toward pretty early in the film, but dismissed it. Plot-wise, it was perhaps the best way to connect all the dots, but director Jaume Collet-Serra doesn't seem to be making that kind of movie early on. So the film becomes something of an odd mish-mash - the plot details fit together, and there's some pretty strong early character work, but it doesn't feel like the movie knows what it wants to be.

Maybe the opening should have served as a hint; it's a surreal nightmare of a hospital visit, leading into Kate Coleman (Vera Farmiga) discussing the plans she and husband John (Peter Sarsgaard) have to adopt with her therapist (Margo Martindale). Nine-year-old Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) makes an immediate connection with the pair at the orphanage, and Sister Abigail (CCH Pounder) informs them that though something of a loner (and eccentric in dress), she's bright and very mature for her age. She soon joins the Colemans' other children - slightly older Daniel (Jimmy Bennett), and younger, deaf, and adoring Max (Aryana Engineer). Some of what she does sets off warning bells in Kate, though Kate's got a few skeletons in her own closet.

Early on, Orphan seems like an unusually smart and sympathetic take on the evil child genre. Esther is a little odd, sure, but the film plays it as the logical extension of the fear and paranoia that any adopted child must feel - especially one on their second family, after the first had died in a fire. The early stages of the movie play like a fine set-up for miscommunication leading to tragedy, and Collet-Serra does a fine job of playing on the audience's emotions there.

Full review at EFC.

Today has a ton up in the air: Edison and Leo, "Yariman" & "S&M Hunter" (unless the TBA on the schedule gets filled in with something interesting), Crazy Racer, Crime or Punishment?!? (unless I get a screener for it but not Cryptic), and The Possibility of an Island.

Friday, the decisions start getting really easy, since de Seve is given over to French-language shorts packages and (presumably Francophone) panels. So we go with You Might as Well Live, Cyborg She, Battle League of Kyoto, My Dear Enemy, and Crawler.

No comments: