Monday, August 16, 2010

Fantasia Catch-up, Part 01: Clash, Rubber, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

I'm not sure quite how regularly these will get posted in the next few weeks; I figured this would be a good place to stop because I'm going to want to include Scott Pilgrim in TWIT (even though I seem to have lost my stub), and I wanted to do a full review because the ones on EFC were uniformly negative, and that average rating needed to come up. While I was writing,an even more positive one was posted, of course.

Putting aside Clash, I think both Rubber and Scott Pilgrim have futures as midnight movies; they both practically demand an odd mood and probably play better in a crowded, like-minded room. I was genuinely surprised at how sparse attendance was for Pilgrim on Saturday; even though I'd seen the trailer get a lukewarm response, it's a fun movie that hopefully word-of-mouth will do kind things for.

Anyway, onward! But first, a reminder that no matter where and when Rubber plays, theaters should make an effort to have its star in attendence:


Bay Rong (Clash)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 9 July 2010 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2010)

It's probably unfair to compare Clash (aka Bay Rong) to The Rebel, the previous action movie to co-star Johnny Nguyen and Tranh Van Ngo, but it's inevitable - the two leads are back, Nguyen once again writes and produces, much of the behind the scenes crew is the same (with that movie's co-editor taking the director's chair). This looks to be made on a much smaller budget, and is contemporary as opposed to being a period piece. Unfortunately, it just isn't at the same level; the action scenes are fewer and farther between, and the melodramatic story doesn't quite work.

It involves Trinh (Thanh Van "Veronica" Ngo), a hard-as-nails mercenary who has put together an anonymous team to do a job: Stealing a laptop from some westerners for a gangster known as "Black Dragon". Trinh values anonymity to a paranoid extent, giving everyone code names and insisting they use them, kicking one of her men's butt a little when he tries to argue with her rules. She's got reason to want to keep a secret; her boss, gangster "Black Dragon", is holding her daughter hostage, and won't return the little girl until she has completed a number of missions. Of course, secrets can cause a little trouble - one of her men (Johnny Nguyen) is an undercover cop.

For all the story that Johnny Nguyen crams into the script, the mission itself never becomes terribly interesting. You may as well call the laptop a MacGuffin and be done with it, and for all the mistrust and betrayals that eventually take place, the intrigue just isn't there. The characters are basic types without a whole lot of individual personality - most are pretty grim hardcases, although there's an inexperienced rookie driver in the mix. The end is also a bit of a let-down; while, yes, earlier the movie made a bit of a joke about seeming like another movie, this isn't a terribly satisfying way to break the mold.

Full review at EFC.


* * * * (out of four)
Seen 9 July 2010 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2010: Camera Lucida)

It's natural to be a little wary of Rubber. It's a movie made by a French musician that takes place in America, with a gonzo concept and an experimental execution; just looking at the description, the odds of it being unbearable, either from snobbishness or quirkiness, are rather high. And while it is as absolutely bizarre as one might expect, the result is almost always genial absurdity.

That gonzo concept? A discarded tire ("Robert") somehow comes to life, rolling across the desert of the American southwest under its own power, apparently animated by pure anger. It is so angry that when it comes across something that it can't crush by rolling over it, it is able to reach out telekinetically to batter and even explode whatever lies in its path with the pure power of its rage. And yet, when it encounters Sheila (Roxane Mesquida), a young woman apparently driivng home from college, it stops, smitten, perhaps. Of course, just because Robert can't bring himself to kill Sheila doesn't mean anybody else at the motel where she has stopped is safe - a confusing turn of events for Chad (Stephen Spinella), the sheriff's deputy who comes to investigate when the bodies start piling up.

Experimental execution? Well, in addition to Spinella kicking the film off with a fourth-wall-breaking monologue about how nothing happens for a reason in the movies, we see an accountant (Jack Plotnick) setting up a spectators gallery across the desert, where a bunch of people sit in lawn chairs, watching the goings-on via binoculars. We regularly jump back there to hear comments on the action, and eventually they cross paths with the action in extremely unusual ways.

Full review at EFC.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

* * * (out of four)
Seen 14 August 2010 Regal Fenway #13 (first-run)

When Moulin Rouge! came out in 2001, I commented that it was a musical for the generation raised on MTV and sampling. I didn't mean it as a slam, just an observation, but some folks I said it to were more than happy to repeat it as if it were obvious derision. In some ways, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is similar - it's a romantic comedy for a generation raised on video games, comics, and manga. It's a pretty darn good one, too, but someone inclined to dismiss those media will likely be immune to its charms.

It's been a year since Toronto slacker Scott Pilgrim (Age: 22, Rating: Awesome) and his girlfriend broke up, but he's going out with 17-year-old Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) now, even though his bandmates Kim Pine (Alison Pill) and Stephen Stills (Mark Webber), sister Stacey Pilgrim (Anna Kendrick), and cool gay roommate Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin) all recognize it as a bad idea. And that's before he meets Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), an American girl who has just moved to town that he literally can't get out of his head. Ah, but Ramona has some baggage: Seven evil exes, whom Scott (Michael Cera) must defeat in order to date her.

The hook for Scott Pilgrim as comics was that it takes place in a world where video game logic applies: Warp zones allow Ramona to zip between places quickly, bad guys disappear and leave coins behind when vanquished, and you can pick up a second chance if a 1UP crosses your path. For the movie, director Edgar Wright and co-scripter Michael Bacall retain both the video game and comic conventions, and it's a tricky gimmick to make work; while having sound effects occasionally pop up on screen is good for reminding us of the unreal atmosphere between the times when the fighting makes things completely nuts, other bits don't translate quite so well: The infographics that occasionally pop up work better in comics because you can read captions at your own pace without slowing time down, and the "he punched the highlights out of her hair!" gag really doesn't work at all when divorced from Bryan Lee O'Malley's art style. On the other hand, Wright and company often do an exceptionally good job of pulling the audience from scene to scene without regard for how they're separated; the movie will cut to another place or a later time in such a way that it feels like there's no interruption.

Full review at EFC.

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