Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fantasia Daily for 10 July 2010: Mandrill, First Squad, Evil 2, Gallants, The Message, Mutant GirlsSquad

Top three things I forgot to bring with me to Montreal despite knowing that I was going to need them:

3. Shampoo
2. Business cards
1. More than one change of underpants.

... So, as you can imagine, Saturday morning was spent figuring out where the nearest Target-like store was and attending to #3 and #1. I actually tried looking at places in "The Underground City" between Peel and Guy, but I would have spent way too much finding enough to get me very far into a three-week vacation where I don't have much time for laundry. The Zeller's at Atwater it was.

After that, it was off to a full day of movies. I was hoping to run into a cool publicist from Anchor Bay Canada at First Squad; we met at the Thirst screening last year and she sent me an email saying she'd be around but maybe not at the start of the movie. I didn't see her after, which at least prevented a bit of awkwardness, as I wasn't that impressed. (I also was trying to make good time to Evil: In The Time of Heroes. Hopefully we'll meet up before I Spit On Your Grave tonight.

Some cool guests later in the evening, and since I'm running late, I'll just let the pictures tell the story:

Translator, Bruce Leung, and Clement Cheng before Gallants

Programmer King-Wei Chu presents Bruce Leung with a kung fu star award following GallantsPhotobucket

Director Yoshihiro Nishimura and producer Yoshinori Chiba before Mutant Girls Squad

Nishimura and a NYAFF programmer whose name I didn't catch after Mutant Girls Squad

Chiba rejoins the Q&A dressed as a ninja and swipes Nishimura's loincloth

So, we made a nice full circle where underwear is concerned tonight, which, let me tell you, is the sort of film festival coverage you just can not plan!


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 10 July 2010 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2010)

It is, perhaps, possible to tell just how well-done a parody is by how long it's able to convince you that it's the real thing. Mandrill presents an exceptionally straight face, to the extent that it can come across as simply adopting a style even after it's done some pretty crazy things, and not just because the action is for real.

Mandrill (Marko Zaror) is the number one hitman in Chile, although he seems to limit his targets to gangsters. He has finally landed his dream target, having been asked to eliminate the man who murdered his parents when he was a boy - "The Cyclops" - but the only person who knows where the man is located is his daughter Dominique (Celine Reymond). So it's time to break out the seduction playbook, although Dominique may prove to be a tough nut to crack, even without considering the bodyguards.

The "thanks" section of the credits makes it clear that James Bond was a major influence on Mandrill; not only is Ian Fleming listed, but so are all six actors to play the character in the United Artists/Eon film series. The tone of the film is certainly early Bond, with Zaror giving off the same sort of vibe as Connery, a tough guy stuffed into a good suit, but brimming with enough self-confidence to make him mostly irresistible to the ladies, and able to shrug off the dangerous madness of his life. Writer/director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza locates the line between loving homage and out outright parody and hugs it, occasionally making a quick hop to the other side just long enough for the audience to see him over there but brief enough for it to play as black comedy rather than spoofery.

Full review at EFC

Fâsuto sukuwaddo (First Squad: The Moment of Truth)

* * (out of four)
Seen 10 July 2010 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2010)

First Squad seems like it would be a great idea: A secret occult battlefield between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, cleverly working in real historical details, told via animation done by one of the world's best production houses, Studio 4°C. Unfortunately, it seems as though nearly every time the writers had to make a decision about how to tell the story, they made the wrong one.

They at least picked a good story to start with - the German Ahnenerbe (an occult branch of the SS) intends to resurrect Baron Von Wolff (voice of Sergei Aisman) who attempted to conquer Russia in the 13th century, only to perish when the battle was fought on a frozen lake, which swallowed his army whole. To counter this army of ghosts, General Below of the 6th Division has Nadaya Ruslanova (voice of Elena Chebaturkina), a teenage psychic who has, unfortunately, lost her memory - and most of the rest of First Squad, so she must train to retrieve them from the other side.

There's the basis for a pretty good movie here, and Studio 4°C certainly holds up their end of the bargain; the animation is gorgeous. Nobody else outside of Disney does such a good job of augmenting cel-based visuals with CGI (they do some great POV camera shots, a killer with traditional animation), and they really hit the sweet spot between historical accuracy, somewhat exaggerated character design, and imaginative visuals. Director Yoshiharu Ashino and his team in Japan do just about all that can be asked of them.

Full review at EFC

To kako - Stin epohi ton iroon (Evil - In the Time of Heroes)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 10 July 2010 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2010)

There is, I suppose, the possibility that Evil - In the Time of Heroes makes a certain amount of sense if you have seen the first film (the Evil from Greece in 2006). I have my doubts, but I suppose I must be open to the possibility. It's not that In the Time of Heroes needs a great deal of background - fast zombie outbreaks are fast zombie outbreaks - but it would be nice to know if the characters really should be taking some of what we see for granted.

The basics are simple - a few days ago, there was a zombie outbreak of some sort in Athens, and a group of four people survived the first movie together: Family man Meletis (Meletis Georgiadis), his friend Marina (Pepi Moschovakou), young Jenny (Mary Tsoni), and soldier Lt. Vakirtzis (Andreas Kontopoulos). They lost at least one of their group, Argyris (Argiris Thanasoulas) on the way. They meet up with some new folks - Olga (Eftyhia Yakoumi), a Major in the army, Vicky (Ioanna Pappa), who had been stuck at the top of a Ferris Wheel during the initial outbreak, and Johnny (Thanos Tokakis), who helps them deal with a sniper that had them pinned down and brings them to a house where they can hide out. Jenny has been shot, though, so they need to find some medical supplies. Among the things that they don't know is that this has happened before, in the time of the great Greek city-states, and a strange messenger (Billy Zane) is coming with something for the reincarnation of the hero who drove the plague back the first time.

In the Time of Heroes is a strange mashup of tones; it jumps back in forth in time between the present and ancient times, and throws a lot of comedy into the both sections. Not just comic relief, either; there are times when it seems like the film intends to be a comedy first. Writer/director Yorgos Noussias is sometimes very haphazard in connecting the jokes with the tragic moments, to the point where the audience can find themselves scratching their heads, wondering just what sort of movie Noussias was trying to make. The characters also have an odd sort of ambivalence to the superhuman elements that show up.

Full review at EFC

Da Lui Toi (Gallants)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 10 July 2010 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2010)

According to the director, Gallants took about ten years to get financing, so one has to wonder - if it had been made then, would it have been giving late-career tributes to different old-school actors, or would Bruce Leung, Chen Kuan-tai, and Teddy Robin have just been playing slightly younger characters? It's a what-if we don't have to ponder, since they're the ones front and center in this movie, and it's lucky to have them.

We start, however, with Wong You-nam as a loser named Cheung. A screw-up at the real estate company he works for, he's been sent to a small village to help buy out tenants for a condo development. Naturally, this means working for Mang (Jin Auyeung), who still hates him from grade school. One of the tenants is a tea shop that used to be a martial arts club, still being run by two of its old students. Tiger ("Bruce" Leung Siu-lung) and Dragon (Chen Kuan-tai) are nearly sixty, but they keep faith with their old teacher, Master Law (Teddy Robin Kwan), who has been in a coma for thirty years after suffering an aneurysm during an epic duel. Cheung finds himself throwing in with the underdogs when Mang's attempts to have goons steal Law's favorable lease results in the master waking and thinking Cheung is both of his pupils - though Kwai (Jia Xiao-chen), the pretty girl helping out around the shop, is another incentive.

Gallants is the sort of comedy that jumps from bit to bit in the best possible way; directors Clement Cheng Sze-Kit and Derek Kwok Chi-kin (along with writer Frankie Tam) have a real knack for setting up funny situations, milking some good gags from them, and discretely casting them aside when they threaten to get too serious or worn-out. For instance, it's great to have a martial-arts tournament to inspire wacky training montages, but does anyone really want to see Cheung, Tiger, or Dragon suffer the inevitable humiliating beatdown that goes with it? Not really, so the script goes elsewhere, in a direction that's maybe not a laugh riot either, but has some earned sentiment that's not trite.

Full review at EFC

Feng Sheng (The Message)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 10 July 2010 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2010)

I can't really give The Message much of a review; as happened last night, I sort of hit the wall around 10pm and had I'm-awake-did-I-miss-anything moments all through the film. It's a gorgeous-looking piece, although it's the type of period film that maybe relies a little much on the effects to pretty things up. And a lot of times I think I would find myself really into a movie like this; the story is a World War II espionage thriller structured like a cozy mystery, all things I like.

But few cozy mysteries have this much torture. Not drawing things out to keep the audience on edge, literal "I will extract this information from you using all the methods of inflicting pain I can" torture. And that's a pretty unpleasant way to spend a couple of hours. It ennobles the heroes, sure, letting the audience see how they suffered, but it's not a lot of fun to watch.

Sentô shôjo: Chi no tekkamen densetsu (Mutant Girls Squad)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 10 July 2010 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2010)

So, aside from the insanity that surrounded the screening - see above - how is Mutant Girls Squad? Pretty good. That is, "pretty good" in terms of being a Sushi Typhoon sort of movie; it's cheap, tacky, ten different kinds of dumb, and its English credits give one the sinking feeling that it's the sort of movie manufactured almost entirely for export to the West (I think that's actually a huge part of Sushi Typhoon's business model), but it's one where the pure fun of it overrides how dumb it can be. Yes, Tak Sakaguchi, Noboru Iguchi, and Yoshihiro Nishimura are making this to sell to North Americans who love crazy Japanese movies, but it's not cynical on their part; they genuinely love this stuff.

And, while it's not exactly polished, it's fairly well-made. Yumi Sugimoto is a likable lead and a capable enough star, Sakaguchi does some good work choreographing the action, and Nishimura's monster and gore designs are creative and bizarre. I suspect that at least half of the Sushi Typhoon movies will be crud, but this is one of the good ones.

Full review at EFC.

1 comment:

Izzy said...

The name of the NYAFF programmer is Marc Walkow.