Sunday, July 18, 2010

Fantasia Daily for 16 July 2010: Phasma Ex Machina, Sell Out! ,Fish Story, Mil Mascaras vs. the Aztec Mummy

Once again, I'm running late, so I'll just say that Friday was the best day I've had at Fantasia so far this year, starting from a pretty-good sci-fi/ghost story and all the way into a fun luchador flick at midnight. And boy, did I need it after a day chasing my own tail at work. I can't wait until Tuesday when vacation just becomes vacation.

Tonight's burger was enjoyed courtesy of Gourmet Burger, where I really should have asked them to hold the caramelized onions, because I think I scraped much of the bacon off with them. However, it's worth noting that they have floats, with the Coke involved coming from a glass bottle. Classic.

Phasma Ex Machina

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2010 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2010)

A realistic ghost story is, if you ask a skeptic like me, ultimately a contradiction in terms, but that doesn't mean that storytellers shouldn't make the effort to get as close to one as possible. The moments in those stories that audiences find affecting, after all, are the ones where we at the very least believe in what the characters are doing. Phasma Ex Machina goes above and beyond by attempting to approach its paranormal elements scientifically.

That's the only way Cody (Sasha Andreev) can really think to do it. Though he dropped out of college to look after his younger brother James (Max Hauser) when their parents died in an automobile accident, he's been spending most of his time in his garage workshop and much of the insurance payout on electrical components. His theory is straightforward: Most modern ghost sightings correlate with powerful electrical activity, so by building a sort of modified Van der Graaf generator, he should be able to cause his parents to manifest. He doesn't seem to get much more than fried components and spooky noises, though - although not far away, Tom (Matthew Feeney), an engineer who sold him some custom pieces, is being visited by his late wife.

There's a bit of small-world syndrome going on here, in that Tom seems to be a rather convenient character: He not only makes the piece of equipment that Cody needs to complete the machine, but we get very little indication that anyone other than him is affected. Not zero, although we're left to infer that from the policeman who investigates intruders in the house being called away to another break-in. So it may just be selection bias; perhaps Tom seems to fit the plot too well because, even if many people are suddenly seeing ghosts, he's the one with the knowledge and personality to track what's going on back to the source.

Full review at EFC

Sell Out!

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2010 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2010)

With a name like Sell Out!, you can probably guess what sort of satire Yeo Joon Han is going for in his movie, and a lot of it is absolutely going for easy targets. What makes it work - to the point of frequent laughing out loud - is how thorough he is and how on-target he stays.

Rafflesia Pong (Jerrica Lai) is the host of an interview show on Malaysia's Fony TV 11, "For Art's Sake", where she interviews various contemporary artists. It's often a trainwreck, and on the verge of cancellation, until a poet with cancer - her ex-boyfriend - expires on camera. That gets her a new show about interviewing ordinary people on their deathbeds, and fuels her rivalry with reality-show hostess Hannah Edwards Leong (Hannah Lo). The Fony execs have another troublesome employee to deal with, too - Eric Tan (Peter Davis) has invented a revolutionary cooking machine, which throws them for a loop. Creativity, after all, is highly discouraged and it doesn't even have a mechanism to cause it to fail when the warranty ends. Clearly, Eric needs to have the part that dreams about making the world better exorcised.

For the most part, Han isn't using anything close to a light touch; a lot of the jokes in this movie are ones that an editor at Mad Magazine might send back to the writer, saying that they were a little obvious. But, as always, it's less the joke itself than the way that it's told that's important, and the filmmakers attack their targets with rapid-fire precision. There's rarely more than thirty seconds between funny beats it the movie, and Han nimbly jumps back and forth between the absurd but all too real and the just plain strange, with fantastic bits and musical numbers (including one mean to be performed by the audience) living comfortably alongside complaints about familiar frustrations.

Full review at EFC

Fish Story

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2010 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2010)

I had genuine intentions of writing a review of this one, but the time in which I could be writing about it got sucked up in trying to find a site with cast and character names that is either in English or easy to translate (the official site looks useful, but you can't copy and past information into a translation website - if I were home, I'd probably be using my phone to take a screenshot and have Google Goggles translate it). I really wish Japanese movies had a site as useful as or IMDB (which often contains very little on foregin films)

Anyway, when I do, it will be a very positive review. In some ways, Fish Story reminds me of a comedic 20th Century Boys, with its love of rock & roll, story that jumps back and forth in time, unfolding over decades, and bizarrely connected characters. Rather than being a thriller, though, it eventually reveals itself to be a Rube Goldberg device of a movie, somehow stitching together a story about young musicians, an action/adventure story on a boat, and a bunch of seemingly unrelated characters to show how a punk rock song recorded in 1975 Japan can save the world from a comet impact in 2012. It's a virtuoso performance, really, in how director Yoshihiro Nakamura and screenwriter Taio Hayashi adapt a Kotaro Isaka novel in a way that presents the stories in more or less individual fashion while holding the ways they tie together back just enough without it seeming like they're cheating.

Fish Story is just what I love about of modern popular Japanese cinema: Something that's incredibly high-energy and creative, full of surprising twists and winning performances.

Mil Mascaras vs. the Aztec Mummy

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2010 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2010)

I've never seen a luchadore movie before (no, Nacho Libre does not count), but I'll bet that most of them are something like this, although it likely says something that the production values on an American indie shot in Missouri are likely above the dozen or two movie Mil Mascaras made during his heyday in Mexico. And that's considering how there are times when it's difficult to tell whether the producers of Aztec Mummy were making a genuine homage or a parody.

No matter what their intentions were, though, the end result is surprisingly fun. The film gives us a hero who is both larger-than-life and down-to-earth, a hissable villain, and a pure innocent joy in its adventure story that's difficult to fake. It's also a pretty good-looking film; the folks involved opted to do their best rather than go for camp or kitsch, and it's a decision that serves them quite well; audiences can laugh with this one, rather than at it.

No comments: