Friday, July 23, 2010

Fantasia Daily for 20 July: Raging Phoenix, La Meute, 1

Seeing that the first movie I really wanted to see was at 5:20, I thought today would be a good day to finally get to the Railway museum, but no dice; I dawdled too long in the morning to make the train/bus combo. I'm going to try for next Tuesday, my 2nd-to-last day here.

Instead, I had a day on Mont-Royal. It's a hot sweaty walk to get to the top, but always worth it.

One funny thing about the festival being in Montreal for this American: The program talks about how La Meute has an unusual star in Emilie Dequennes, whom it describes as a "darling of auteur cinema". I'm sure that more French films play in Montreal, so that's how she's seen, but I imagine that most American genre audiences remember her best from Brotherhood of the Wolf, even if that was years ago.

Deu suay doo (Raging Phoenix)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2010 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2010)

I suppose that technically "Raging Phoenix" is a perfectly reasonable title for this movie - the protagonist does rise from a low point reborn and pissed off - but let's be honest, this is not a perfectly reasonable movie, and as such deserves a title that lets the audience in on just what sort of madness they're in for.

Deu ("JeeJa" Yanin Vismistananda) doesn't seem too out of the ordinary when we first meet her. She's a drummer in a band that kicks her out after she jumps into the audience to go after her ex. She's done a nice job of getting hammered when someone kidnaps her, but she escapes, only to find a whole gang chasing her. She's rescued by Sanim (Kazu Tang), whose "Mayraiyuth" fighting style is a combination of muay thai, drunken boxing, and b-boy dancing. It turns out he and his three comrades have each had a loved one kidnapped or killed by this Jaguar gang. Deu throws in, insisting they teach her how to fight.

And then things get kind of nuts. Understand, by "nuts", I mean they escalate past the "fighting guys on razor-sharp pogo sticks with drunken breakdancing" (did I mention the razor-sharp pogos? I meant to!). In fact, the reason for the Jaguars kidnapping these girls is potentially a wholly different insane Thai martial arts movie. And I kind of wish it had been something separate, because for as much impressive action as the last half has to follow up on a loopy plot, it's no longer to a techno beat with that super-distinctive style. It's "just" big fight scenes.

Full review at eFilmCritic.

La Meute (The Pack)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2010 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2010)

Torture porn is a horror fad whose moment has more or less passed, right? Sure, the Saw movies still come out like clockwork, but that's more a franchise of its own than an example of a trend now. I ask because while the new French thriller La Meute (The Pack) doesn't fall entirely under that category, it does have long stretches where it substitutes mere suffering for suspense.

At first, it looks like that may come at the expense of a group of bikers that annoy Charlotte (Émilie Dequenne) on her cross-country drive. Though she thinks she loses them, they show back up when she and Max (Benjamin Biolay) stop at a roadside diner. The diner's owner, "La Spack" (Yolande Moreau), and the local sheriff, Chinaski (Philippe Nahon), run them off, but soon Max apparently goes to the bathroom and doesn't return. Now, it's not like Charlotte is particularly attached to him, but she's curious - though what she finds when coming back the next night will make her wish she'd just kept driving.

Give writer/director Franck Richard credit - he zeroes in on his mood and only very briefly does he ever waver. The back roads he sets the story on are grimy and dusty, with worn-down cars stopping at worn-down diners, and there's a scent of hostility coming from nearly every member of the cast, with the rest initially looking kind of laughable. It's a place where a person can just disappear. Cinematographer Laurent Bares fills the screen with browns during the day and deep, inky blacks that can swallow a man whole at night.

Full review at eFilmCritic.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2010 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2010)

In just a few minutes, I'm going to write an email to the Fantasia press office asking for screeners of movies I've missed or which I think need a second look, and 1 will be at the top of the list. And not for alphabetical order, either; of all the 10pm movies I had a little trouble getting through, this was the one that most intrigued me throughout.

The premise is intriguing - all the books in an upscale bookstore are mysteriously replaced with a volume labeled "1", which contains information on what every person on earth was doing during a given minute - and there's a nifty Twilight Zone vibe to it, especially once we hear about a "reality enforcement" institute. But, wow, is it a tough one to get through at 10pm; there's a lot of sonorous narration and it seems to lose the plot about midway through. But that just may be me; I look forward to making a second try.

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