Friday, August 07, 2009

Fantasia Catch-Up #02: Slam-Bang, Gushing Prayer, Hells

While I was writing these reviews, Fantasia released their audience awards. I stuck around long enough to vote, so, before the previews for my EFC reviews, let's see how well my opinions sync up with the festival at large:

Best Asian Feature
Gold: Love Exposure
Silver: Ip Man
Bronze: Thirst

My Vote: Paco & The Magical Book

An incredibly strong field this year. You could arrange those four films in any order and not exactly be short-changing anyone, in my opinion.

Best European, North, or South American Feature
Gold: 8th Wonderland
Silver: tie between Embodiment of Evil and Must Love Death
Bronze: Black

My Vote: Deadgirl (seen at BUFF)

I'm sort of puzzled by the two films that tied for silver - as much as there was great love for the director of Embodiment of Evil, it just wasn't very good. Must Love Death is pretty far from award-worthy, too. Deadgirl, on the other hand, is brilliant.

I don't think there was anything from Australia this year, but there was one from South Africa that wasn't getting near any awards (see below). I wonder if they'd just get lumped in with the Euro/Americas features. No Russian pictures this year - are they European or Asian?

Best Quebec Feature
Gold: Sans Dessein
Silver: The Ante
Bronze: Crawler

My Vote: Did not vote

All I saw was Crawler, and it was just sort of okay at best. I slept through much of Train to Nowhere. Many were presented without subtitles, so I'd have been out of luck.

Best Animated Film
Gold: Hells

My Vote: Tokyo Onlypic 2008, or Hells if my first choice didn't qualify.

Onlypic had a bunch of live-action segments, but Hells is a fine selection regardless. I missed several I would have liked to see.

Guru Prize for Most Energetic Film of the Festival
Gold: Yatterman
Silver: Ip Man
Bronze: tie between Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl and Fireball

My Vote: Yatterman

Guru is an energy drink; I don't know whether they're exclusive to Canada or whether I just don't check that part of the beverage aisle out. I had one of those things last year and swore off energy drinks; that stuff is vile. Anyway, tough to see anything but Yatterman taking this; that movie is utterly crazed from frame one to the end.

Most Innovative Film (Short or Feature)
Gold: Love Exposure
Silver: 8th Wonderland
Bronze: tie between Genius Party Beyond and Must Love Death

My Vote: 8th Wonderland

"Innovative" is a tricky thing to recognize. 8th Wonderland gets my vote for being perhaps the first I've seen to really represent on-line community well. I'm not sure exactly how much some of the others innovate - Love Exposure is daring, certainly. Genius Party Beyond is a sequel, though one made more or less alongside the original. Must Love Death does fuse two difficult-to-combine genres, though not always well.

Best Documentary
Gold: Best Worst Movie

My Vote: Best Worst Movie (seen at SXSW)

I didn't particularly like Wild and Wonderful Whites, two of the other three were of little interest to me, and I just couldn't make Diary of a Times Square Thief. BWM is a lot of fun, though.

Best Short Film
Gold: "The Horribly Slow Murderer with the Extremely Inefficient Weapon"
Silver: "Hidden Life of the Burrowing Owl"
Bronze: tie between "Cencoroll" and "Mortified"

My Vote: "Hard Revenge, Milly", or "Survivors" if my first choice didn't qualify.

"Hard Revenge, Milly" is long enough at 45 minutes that I'll eventually review it on EFC as a companion to its 82-minute sequel. "Survivors" is one that I think I missed during the write-ups, but it's one of the niftiest zombie takes I've seen in a while, positing that somewhere in the back of a zombie's brain, the original person is aware of what his or her body is doing, which leads to a nifty kicker. Of the winners, I've only seen "Horribly Slow Murderer", which is pretty darn amusing. Most of the shorts I saw were before features, although I did get to the "Zappin Party" and "Outer Limits of Animation" shows. I kind of miss "Square Jaw Theater", although there probably aren't enough superhero shorts being made to populate it right now.


* * (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre de Seve (Fantasia Festival)

Slam-Bang is, as the director pointed out several times during the introduction and Q&A, a notable movie for being a bit of pulp action made independently in South Africa. It is apparently very difficult to get a film made there at all, and what limited funding is available apparently goes toward issue-oriented dramas. Notable doesn't necessarily mean good, unfortunately, but you need the notable movies to build a foundation.

(Yes, I recognize that summer 2009 is a bit of an odd time to say that they don't make action in South Africa, with the spiffy-looking District 9 about to be released. That, however, is clearly the beneficiary of some serious outside investment, as opposed to a home-grown effort like Slam-Bang.)

The film opens like many crime movies do, with a decent-enough but easily pushed around guy like George Bennon (Roland Gaspar). George handles IT in a small (and apparently legitimate) business connected to crime boss Mr. G (Jan de Beer); and another gangster, "The Chinaman", wants some information off G's computer (and, yes, his phone voice is an ugly stereotype, right down to calling George "lound-eye"). Get it, George is told, or girlfriend Karen (Jackie Rens) dies. And don't call the cops. Or tell her. She, of course, is already unhappy about George's lack of attention, and probably really wouldn't like it if she found out the only way to get Geroge into the house was to seduce the gangster's wife Maddy (Paula Raposo). Of course, things go wrong: George's contact The Turk (Malcolm Ferreira) seems cool enough, but G has discovered the theft earlier than might hope, and has sent a number of killers, including Isabella (Nicole Smart), after them.

Full review at EFC.

Funshutsu kigan: 15-sai baishunfu (Gushing Prayer)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre de Seve (Fantasia Festival: Behind the Pink Curtain)

More than many films, Gushing Prayer is probably best enjoyed when placed into some sort of context. At the festival, there was an introduction that touched upon the cultural, economic, and political situation in Japan in the early 1970s, as well as some discussion about writer/director Masao Adachi, whose radical politics led to a life more incredible than any of the "pink" softcore flicks he made. You don't really need that, but it certainly helps to show why this particular pink is such an artsy thing.

Gushing Prayer follows Yasuko Aoyagi (Aki Sasaki), and three of her friends, Koichi (Hiroshi Saito) and two whom I do not believe are actually named in the film. They make loud noises about not being a pair of couples, though - they aim to behave in truly liberated manner, free of conventional forms of attachment, with prostitution almost considered an ideal. Of course, that's just not human nature, and Koichi starts to feel some jealousy when Yasuko announces she may be pregnant with the child of their teacher, even as it causes Yasuko some despair.

I've only seen a couple of pink films from this era (and have mixed feelings about seeing more should the "Behind the Pink Curtain" film series land at the local repertory theater), so I can't really judge how much of an oddity Gushing Prayer is. It certainly plays somewhat peculiar from the perspective of a twenty-first century American, like an especially chatty nouvelle vague film whose crisp black and white photography gives way to full-color sex scenes (as was the style for many pink films of the time; they were made on a budget tight enough that color stock was saved for the big scenes). Not particularly explicit sex scenes, but clear enough that there wasn't much doubt about what was going on.

Full review at EFC.

Heruzu Enjueruzu (Hells)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

It's fitting that this animated (in every sense of the word) adaptation of Sin-ichi Hiromoto's manga Hells Angels is produced by a company called Madhouse, because it frequently seems the result of throwing in everything, plus the kitchen sink, plus any other sinks that a room full of lunatics could think up. It's charming as well, but gets most of its energy from sheer inventiveness.

We open with Linne Amagame racing off to her first day at a new school, promising her mother that she'll make a thousand friends. She is, as always, frantic and running late, her blue hair an unkempt mess. Linne only has time to make one friend before darting out in the road to save a kitty. Next thing she knows, she and the cat are in Hell, but in this movie's crazy mythology, hell isn't a place of torment. Well, maybe a little - it's a high school, where souls take monstrous forms as they learn what's necessary for their next lives; Linne's new friends Kiki, Wolfie, and Stealer fit vaguely in the vampire, werewolf, and zombie categories. Something weird is going on, though, even by Hell High standards - Linne and the student council (including hunky president Ryu Kotou) still have human form and bleed when injured, suggesting that they are not actually dead. What is Principal Helvis up to?

The recent trend in big-budget American animation has been toward smoothness - every pixel in the frame is given equal consideration, with characters and props often looking more like the output of a CAD/CAM program than an artist's pencil. Japan hasn't been immune, but it does still manage to push something like Hells out every once in a while. The characters in Hells are often drawn with thick lines, distort as they move, and many likely would not be able to stand if they existed in the real world. Sometimes the coloring can't keep up with the line art.

Full review at EFC.

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