Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fantasia Daily for 18 July: Frankenstein Unlimited, Black Lightning, The Neighbor Zombie, Accident, The Executioner

Late night Saturday, early-ish start Sunday, not much else to say about the day, other than that some fun was had with zombie makeup for The Neighbor Zombie - the director was also the film's make-up artist, so several of the hosts of the screening were doing it as members of the undead, which is always fun.

Frankenstein Unlimited

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2010 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2010)

I saw two anthology-style movies this day; the second, The Neighbor Zombie, was much more successful for me. This one is much more a true anthology, and as such winds up being rather uneven - of the six segments, I enjoyed two ("Victor" and "Flesh for Kung Fu"), disliked two ("Dark Lotus" and "Reflections") and had mixed reactions to another two ("Occam's Razor" and "Mr. Fluffenstein"). Overall, I guess this nets out as a draw, worth seeing, but not something I'm very enthusiastic about.

Chernaya Molniya (Black Lightning)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2010 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2010)

It may have improved in the two weeks since I headed north for this film festival, but the summer movie line-up for 2010 could be described as uninspiring. It's enough to make me wonder why Universal hasn't found a way to put Black Lightning on the schedule. sure, a subtitled family-friendly adventure film is a tough sell, but it's a fun movie that gets the job done.

Dmitry (Grigoriy Dobrygin) is a bright college student studying business who feels a little outclassed by his wealthier classmates, especially after his friend Maxim (Ivan Zhidkov) seems to be dating pretty new student Nastya (Ekaterina Vilkova) before he can even talk to her. His father (Sergey Garmash) tries to help, getting him a used car for his birthday. It's a Volga DAZ-11, and while it's okay for getting a job delivering flowers, "Dima" is not going to admit that he owns a Soviet-era crapbox to his friends. What he doesn't realize is that this Soviet-era crapbox was salvaged from a secret underground lab, it has a prototype nano-fuel converter... and can fly! Diamond-obsessed billionaire Viktor Kuptsov (Viktor Verzhbitskiy) has been searching for that converter for years, and there's no way he'll let some kid use it to bypass Moscow traffic when it could help him drill for diamonds, even if that would crack the city's very foundations, muwahahahaha!

Okay, I got a little carried away there, but not much. Black Lightning is such a throwback to old-school superhero stories that one almost expects to see Stan Lee in the credits somewhere (and maybe he should be anyway - I think Maxim not being Viktor's son is all that separate's this movie's basic story from Spider-Man). All of the classic elements are there - a defining tragedy, secret identity issues, a grandiose villain who eventually must match the hero's gear, and a final confrontation at a landmark. They're present because they work; as familiar - and at times almost silly - as the elements are, it feels good to watch someone overcome their selfishness to do right, and the characters don't come across as parodies.

Full review at eFilmCritic.

I-oot-jib Jom-bi (The Neighbor Zombie)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2010 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2010)

Zombie movies have the potential to be a dime a dozen, and not just because they can be made on a shoestring budget, as this South Korean anthology film is. What makes it stand out from the crowd? Well, technically, being Korean; it may not be the first of the sub-genre to come from there as was claimed, but it's a rare example. More interestingly, the anthology format allows the film's four directors to tell a set of smaller stories that have a larger scope.

After some opening narration that sets the scene, we get two stories from Oh Young-doo. The first, "Crack", is unfortunately the film's worst entry; I think it's aiming for gory slapstick, but it just winds up being nearly incomprehensible. Things improve a great deal with "Runaway", in which a girl (Ha Eun-jeong) hiding her infected boyfriend (Bae Yong-geun) in her apartment confronts how untenable such a situation can be - sure, the infected can somewhat keep it together as long as they remain calm and resist the craving for human flesh, but that's awful hard when every normal person is trying to kill you. This one is also played as broad comedy, but that turns out to be a shrewd was to establish the film's ground rules - primarily that the outbreak did not lead to instant barbarity, at either the individual or societal level. It's a bit uneven, but the soft sell is much more elegant that and exposition dump, and it's a sign of good things to come.

Hong Young-Guen is up next with "Mother, I Love You", a much darker take on similar ideas. Here, Jeong-ah (Lim Jeong-seon) is also sheltering an infected person, her mother (Kim Yeo-jin-i), who is pretty much all the way gone. It's going all right, until a government inspector (No Jae-hwan) discovers what's up. It's a grim little story about what people will stoop to in order to protect those that they love, with a few moments that are not for the squeamish.

Full review at eFilmCritic.

Yi ngoi (Accident)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2010 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2010)

Crime movies are filled with hitmen, to the extent that, if these numbers existed in the real world, it would be a shock if any potential murder victim lived more than a couple of days and nobody could make a career out of it; the economics just wouldn't work out. Or, perhaps, the setup in this nifty movie is more common than it would seem.

The assassin, Ho Kwok-fai (Louis Koo), is never under suspicion because his hits look like accidents. Even if his team's elaborate set-ups were to come under suspicion, he is insulated from the clients, and his own team only knows him as "Brain"; he never calls them anything but "Uncle" (Fung Shui-fan), "Fatty" (Lam Suet), and "Woman" (Michelle Ye). We see one plan go off without a hitch, and then a second one which must wait for conditions to be perfect. And while the target is eliminated, something goes wrong, and the team winds up down a member. It looks like an accident - but Brain knows better.

While Accident is built like a duel between killers with a knack for going undetected - Brain quickly comes to focus on insurance investigator Chan Fong-chow (Richie Ren) as his rival - it also offers up an excellent story of obsession and paranoia. Brain is so used to maintaining complete control over a situation that to not have such control is completely intolerable, especially since he still bears the psychic scars of one accident he did not cause. It's a man becoming more and more obsessed with controlling the world around him, even though that means jettisoning much of his humanity.

Full review at eFilmCritic.

Jibhaengja (The Executioner)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2010 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2010)

The Executioner starts out pretty well, as many prison movies do; the culture shock of a young kid being thrown into the world of prison, whether as an inmate or, in this case, as a guard, is pretty tough to screw up if you've got a competent cast and crew, which this movie for the most part has. It's very compelling, especially in the early going, as rookie guard Oh Jae-hyung discovers what a scary place his new workplace can be, even for those supposedly in control, and veteran officer Bae Jong-ho makes it his task to toughen him up.

As the story becomes more about the death penalty, though, it gets a little weaker. There's an awkward juxtaposition of capital punishment and abortion that actually takes away from how the way the job changes Oh puts a wedge between him and his girlfriend (though how awkward it is in South Korea, I'm not sure; do the anti-abortion crowds tend to politically align with the pro-execution people there, and vice versa, as they do in the US?); I never really got comfortable with the subplot about the warden and death-row inmate who have become friends over the years. In many ways, the later scenes tended to remind me what a much better movie Vacation was.

I suspect that a little more familiarity with current Korean politics and life might tip the scales a bit for me, but this is otherwise a movie that isn't quite so good as I would hope for it to be.

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