Saturday, July 25, 2009

Fantasia Daily for 24 July 2009: You Might As Well Live, Cyborg She, Battle League in Kyoto, My Dear Enemy, Crawler

Asia bookended by Canada on Friday, and my first experience with Sv Bell. I think he's had a movie in at least half the Fantasias I've attended; he's a local guy who makes reasonably entertaining (if not actually good) low-budget horror. You know it's a popular local guy when the line for the film becomes like a snake that has swallowed several somethings; it may start off reasonably straight, but after a certain point, most of the people coming in know someone already in line, so clumps form.

My Dear Enemy was introduced by the people of Cine Asie, who appear to be the second distributor with roots in Fantasia - Evokative premiered here last year, I believe. Both of them are doing good work - picking up the Canadian rights to films that may not be profitable for studios targeting all of North America. The way I figure it, so long as the DVDs wind up region 1, I'm happy. I'd be happier if they showed up here theatrically

You Might as Well Live

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre de Seve (Fantasia Festival - Flirting with Chaos)

A solid moron movie - the type where the lead character's quite astounding stupidity is just balanced with his innocence in such a way that we can laugh at him while still rooting for him somewhat. It's a precarious balance, because Joshua Peace's Robert Mutt has a really stunning amount of stupid that needs countering (to the point where the innocence starts resembling even more stupidity), but the movie careens from one hugely crude joke to another just well enough that it only fitfully becomes tiresome.

I'd be interested to know what kind of blackmail material director Simon Ennis has to get Michael Madsen to show up in this weird Canadian comedy, though.

Boku no kanojo wa saibôgu (Cyborg She)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

I'm more than a bit curious how Cyborg She was marketed in Japan. The festival plugged it as the new film by Kwak Jaw-young, and of a piece with his with his other whimsical romantic comedies with a touch of the fantastic. Which it is, and although it never loses sight of being romance first and sci-fi second, it makes sure not to short-change anybody.

22 November, 2008: As the film starts, Jiro Kitamura (Keisuke Koide) is buying himself a birthday present. A college student in Tokyo, he's got no family or close friends (his home village was destroyed in an earthquake, and the new town that has been built on its remains isn't home), and celebrates his birthday the same way every year. Except last year - that year, a beautiful girl (Haruka Ayase) showed up in a bodysuit out of sci-fi anime, shoplifted herself a new outfit, and sat herself down at Jiro's table, leading him on an adventure before announcing she was from the future and disappearing. This year, she shows up again, in even more dramatic fashion, taking superhuman action when a crazed gunman shows up in the restaurant. Afterward, she explains that Jiro created her sixty years in the future and sent her back in time to prevent his crippling. She's a blank slate now, but maybe living with him will help her develop a soul.

The trick to this movie is to get us to see Haruka Ayase's character as more than a mere machine, or else what's meant to be a romantic comedy can get creepy and pathetic, very quickly. The opening flashback (or, given the time-traveling nature of the film, flash-forward) helps; strongly implying that the cyborg will develop into something more. Ayase handles her end very well, too; she's got a fine deadpan expression as the girl in her brand-new, more robotic mode, but does a nice job of developing a personality as the film goes on. She's never a simple doll taking the orders of her perverted master.

Full review at EFC.

Kamogawa Horumo (Battle League in Kyoto)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

You know, if someone had told me right after Kill Bill that the girl who played Gogo Yubari would find her niche in comedy, I don't know that I would have believed him. It's true, though - Chiaki Kuriyama is the best part of the underwhelming GS Wonderland, handled the funny bits of Hair Extensions fantastically, and is tremendously enjoyable as the nerdy girl on the oni battle team in Battle League in Kyoto.

Oddly, she appears credited first in the subtitles (probably the most famous cast member to the English-speaking crowd), although the movie focuses on Takayuki Yamada's character, who joins the bizarre "Azure Dragon Club" in order to be a different girl and winds up training an army of invisible onis for matches with other area universities. It's a ridiculously cute movie, silly as they come but fun regardless.

Meotjin Haru (My Dear Enemy)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

Kim Hee-su (Jeon Do-yeon) is talking about money and investments as My Dear Enemy opens, but it's not clear whether she needs money urgently or just wants it for some opportunity. Or perhaps, she simply wants to close the book on Cho Byung-woon (Ha Jung-woo), who borrowed $3500 from her a year ago and has not called since. Each situation would caster her in a different light, but her behavior gives little in the way of a hint; her tense, pinched demeanor could fit with any of them, and she's not volunteering information.

She finds him at the track, and as might be expected, he doesn't have the money. But he intends to pay her back, even though he's in somewhat of a financial bind himself. He just needs to visit a few people. Hee-su doesn't trust him much, so she goes along. Naturally, almost all the stops along the way are women.

My Dear Enemy is a "walking movie", where two people spend the entire running time crisscrossing a city and talking, but director Lee Yoon-ki and Park Eun-yeong leave many things unrevealed all the way to the end. The audience will get some information about the characters' pasts and presents, but by no means enough to paint a complete picture. Instead, they give us just enough that the film does not seem deliberately oblique, but also plenty of room for the cast to create their own interpretations - and for the audience to fill in the gaps as they please from those performances.

Full review at EFC.

"Bonbons rouges" ("Red Candy")

* * (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre de Seve (Fantasia Festival)

A "short" film (45 minutes long!) which goes all over the place, even though it seems to start with a simple enough concept but eventually sprawls to the point where I've just completely lost track of what the red candy of the title had to do with the evil clown. Waay too long a warm-up for an 80-minute feature.

"Par en arrière"

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre de Seve (Fantasia Festival)

Three minutes of a girl in a bikini getting wet and killing another girl with a wrench. I must admit, I don't get it.


* * (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre de Seve (Fantasia Festival)

Crawler is a dumb, poorly-acted horror movie, but by gum, it's a sincere dumb, poorly-acted horror movie. If it's engaging in self-parody, it's doing so with the straightest face imaginable. The cast and crew all seem to be completely earnest in their efforts to make the best damn "killer bulldozer that is actually some sort of otherworldly beast" movie that they can, and if their ambitions outstrip their talent and/or resources, that can be forgiven.

That doesn't mean it's a good movie, by any means. The scenes with the CGI tentacles look awful, not so much because the digital work is bad but because the entire lighting and shooting scheme seems to get much worse in order to disguise the work. The nature of the monster changes on the merest of whims. It's set in the U.S. even though several actors have obvious French-Canadian accents.

The crowd was into it, though, and not entirely because it seemed to consist in large part of the cast, crew, and their friends. Sometimes bad horror movies can be fun, and by apparently doing their best, Sv Bell and company have made a bad horror movie that's as good as the worst of them.

Today is awfully thin for what could potentially be a packed day, but there's a chunk in the middle where everything is in unsubtitled French, giving me time for an afternoon meal, I guess: Private Eye, Rough Cut, Embodiment of Evil, and maybe the midnight Troll 2. Speaking of which, Best Worst Movie (7:30pm in de Seve) is pretty good.

Sunday could turn into a long or a short day, depending on when I get up. Fireball, The Eclipse, and Breathless are most certainly on the docket, but the 10am kaiju show (Mothra, a short, and the documentary Bringing Godzilla Down to Size) may just be too early. K-20: Legend of the Mask is recommended, enough that I may see it again, depending how the day works out.

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