Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Fantasia Daily, 2011.12 (25 July): ExpoRail, Don't Go Breaking My Heart, and The Innkeepers

This was my last day of genuine vacation before starting to dial in from work on Tuesday, and I opted not to waste it. There's been a thing I've been wanting to do every year I've come here, at least for the past few, but I've always had a devil of a time making it work. This year, though, I finally made it:

Exporail Sign

Exporail is a great big railway museum, the sort of thing that requires far too much space to actually keep in the city, but which I have (somewhat ironically, perhaps) found difficult to access by public transportation. To be perfectly fair, my own language skills have been a big part of what made it tough for me to get there; the various transit websites for the area are not particularly English-friendly and my French is, as I may have mentioned, not great.

Monday was not a particular exception; though I finally figured out that I could take an AMT train from Lucien L'allair station to St. Constant, I'm not sure what the point of "verifying" the tickets was, especially since nobody ever checked them on the train like they do on the commuter rail. I also completely spazzed on which door to use to get out of the train at St. Constant, wound up getting at the next stop, and almost wound up in the wrong place because some signage there seemed to indicate that trains going the opposite direction were on the other platform (which seemed to be closed off). Fortunately, I only lost fifteen or twenty minutes to that - there was soon another train coming in the opposite direction, but those were twenty precious minutes, as the line in question has a weird asymmetric schedule - trains out of Montreal all day (though hours apart), but trains back into the city stopped running at 1:15 or so, leaving me with about three hours total.

So, I would have liked to have more time, but I got there, and it was pretty darn awesome. Here's the first picture I took inside the museum's main building.

Exporail main pavillion - left side.

That's only half of what they've got in the main display area; there's a whole rail yard to walk around, passenger trains to ride on some days, and another building out back with even more engines, cars, and cabooses. I'm kicking myself that I didn't go earlier in the weekend; as part of celebrating the 175th anniversary of Canada's first railway, there was reduced admission and things brought out that usually don't get seen.

Anyway, I've got a bigger album on Facebook, although you really have to be there to get the full effect.

One funny sign I saw (and yes, I know what it really means):

I know what the sign means, but...

... don't worry, I took all these pictures on an Android device.

And now, the reviews of the day. No guests, but a couple pretty good movies:

Daan Gyun Naam Yu (Don't Go Breaking My Heart)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2011 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2011)

Though it is quite possibly in your head just form reading this film's title, a certain 1978 Elton John/Kiki Dee duet makes no appearance on this movie's soundtrack, in any language. It has one part too few, after all - Don't Go Breaking My Heart, the movie, has three fine leads, making for a love triangle that manages to be balanced and very, very funny.

Chang Zixin (Gao Yuanyuan) is a catch - she's pretty, smart, cheerful, kind, and funny. Her ex-boyfriend with the bitchy, pregnant new wife seems painfully aware of this. Cheung Shen-ran (Louis Koo Tin-lok), the hunky investment banker with the office across the street, sees it, silently flirting via messages in the window before asking her out. Fang QiHong (Daniel Wu Yan-zu), a disheveled architect whose drinking has made him fall from the top of his profession, also sees it; he meets her by chance, helps her convert her ex's junk into an upbeat new look (though he keeps the frog), and even lays off the sauce so that he can show her something impressive. However, a pair of missed connections means she winds up dating neither. At least, not in 2008. Three years later, Zixin's company hires Shen-ran as the new head of the Hong Kong office, while a cleaned up QiFong moves into the office across the way that had been vacant since the US financial crash.

Many romantic comedies run on coincidence; Don't Go Breaking My Heart is able to embrace it. This can be a massive cheat, but it works here in large part because the filmmakers see happenstance not as shortcuts or justification (the "it's destiny" play), but opportunities. Zixin encounters the same people repeatedly, yes, but what's important is what she does with those chances. The script has other tricks up its sleeves, of course, and put together they make for a winning combination of surprises and wit.

Full review at EFC.

The Innkeepers

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2011 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2011)

Ti West knows how to make his audience jump, which isn't necessarily as easy as it sounds. Harder, though, is leading up to those jumps with light comedy and deep shivers, and West pulls that off, too. The trick is to get all three working well together, and West manages that better than most, though with some bumps along the way.

It's the last weekend before the Yankee Pedlar Inn closes its doors forever, and the owner isn't even on hand for it. The last two employees, college dropout Luke (Pat Healy) and perky teenager Claire (Sara Paxton), have already closed up the top floor and have just two rooms booked on the open second, with two others set aside for their own use. And while the mother on the outs with her husband (Alison Bartlett) is annoying, Claire is a fan of the other guest, former TV star Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis). Still, Claire and Luke mostly plan to spend this last weekend worrying less about customer service than trying to dig up signs of the ghost said to haunt the place.

In some ways, West should perhaps take it as a compliment that I would have been perfectly willing to trade potential haunting for some more annoying guests and maybe interactions with other locals stuck in the service industry. That material is genuinely funny and offbeat, with Claire and Luke having mildly snarky personalities that handle that scene well, meshing nicely but also having their own voices. There's a ton of good comedy in here, but with a sneaky undercurrent of them being friends who might not see each other again after the inn and maybe wanting more. That, there, is an enjoyable film itself.

Full review at EFC.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Fantasia Daily, 2011.11 (24 July): Urban Explorer and Wake in Fright

Believe it or not, this two-movie day was a Sunday! I'd seen much of what was playing during the afternoon - Battle Royale, Endhiran, and Detective Dee - and the other presentation was "La Mythologie Hammer + Frankenstein Created Woman", and though I would have totally dug seeing the movie on the big screen, it would come after an hour of panel discussion, which looked to be in French, and since my skill with the language is pretty much at the "catch a few words, read something meant to be understood by children" level, it would have been an awkward start.

Well, there was also Pop Skull, and I missed that the old-fashioned way - paying attention to the MLB Gameday window and not getting there in time. I'm not hugely disappointed by this - I was in the "like, not love" camp for Adam Wingard's entry at BUFF this year (A Horrible Way to Die), missed this one at BUFF four years ago, and just generally found that the Wingard retrospective was stuff I could afford to miss. And it game me time for dinner at m:brgr, one of a half-dozen great burger places you can find around Concordia.

Then, it was time for movies with directors in attendance:

Urban Explorers producer Oliver Thau, co-star Catherine de Léan, and director Andy Fetscher. Nice folks all; it's a shame that their movie had really severe problems, because I admire their ambition and willingness to do crazy things to make a horror movie. Unfortunately, that doesn't always translate to great results. I dissect why a big scene in this movie flops in my review, and it's worth noting that I wasn't the only one laughing during that scene, which was supposed to be thrilling.

Wake in Fright director Ted Kotcheff, who is just a wonderful gentleman. As you can see, he had a lengthy written introduction for the film, and even more to say without so many notes afterward. It was one of the more interesting discussions I've heard at Fantasia (or any festival), because they frequently tend to draw younger filmmakers rather than the men with the wealth of experience Kotcheff has. He's an intelligent man who doesn't have to connect with other fans via pure enthusiasm, which was a refreshing change of pace.

And now, reviews:

Urban Explorer

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2011 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2011)

Sort my reviews alphabetically, and this one will wind up next to Urban Explorers: Into the Darkness, a 2006 documentary made on a similar shoestring which also shot plenty of footage in places the filmmakers really shouldn't have been. The subjects of that doc will probably resent this horror movie something fierce - it's one thing to be seen as daring to the point of recklessness, another just to be stupid.

Four tourists have converged on Berlin to do a bit of urban exploring (sneaking into abandoned structures and infrastructure even if it's off-limits). Because of the illegal nature of the activity, they connected online and meet under aliases. "Mickey" (Nick Eversman) is American and excited, while his Venezuelan girlfriend "Mallory" (Nathalie Kelley) is not nearly so enthused. Brash "Haiku" (Brenda Koo) hails from Korea (though her accent when speaking English is quite North American), while camera-toting "Olympia" (Catherine de Léan) is from France. Their local guide, "Dante" (Max Riemelt), has offered to show them the "fahrerbunker", a recently discovered World War II bunker for Nazi party drivers that was quickly resealed to prevent modern hate groups from making a shrine of it. They still encounter some neonazis along the way, but an accidental fall proves a more immediate danger, sending two of the party to find help while the others stay with the injured member. Help does arrive, but in the form of disheveled hermit Armin (Klaus Stiglmeier).

The viewer may wonder, when watching Urban Explorer, whether its characters are meant to actually be any good at urban exploration. Nobody ever says that it's their first time, but none but Dante seem to have any particular skills. Heck, of the girls, only Olympia dresses like someone expecting to be in an environment featuring rusted metal, standing water, and biting animals - although to make up for her sensible clothing, it's her tendency to wander off and flash her camera that leads to many of the group's troubles. Dante is leading this apparent group of novices to a place he's never been before, and he's got an unusually casual attitude toward causing damage along the way. If this is deliberate, it's a bad idea - instead of believing the characters are maybe just a bit over their heads and having the rug pulled out, they seem doomed from the start - and if we're supposed to believe they're capable, well, that's just a huge misfire.

Full review at EFC.

Wake in Fright (aka Outback)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2011 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2011)

Wake in Fright is one of the most lauded films to come out of Australia, but went practically unseen for years (decades!) due to a poor commercial showing and the lack of quality prints. A ten-year search for the original negative and careful restoration has it back in circulation, looking good, and still frequently overpowering.

John Grant (Gary Bond) is an elementary school teacher in the Australian outback, and he hates it there. Christmas is coming, though, and with it summer break, which he intends to spend with his girlfriend in Sydney. Getting there means a stop in Bundanyabba, where he emerges from a night drinking with sheriff Jock Crawford (Chips Rafferty) without the money for his plane ticket or even for another night in the hotel. A man at the bar, Tim Hynes (Al Thomas), invites him to spend the night at his place, but the attention Grant pays his wife Janette (Sylvia Kay) doesn't go over so well, although "Doc" Tydon (Donald Pleasence) winds up being agreeable company to the stranded Grant.

"I'm an alcoholic", Tydon informs Grant, "but out here it's scarcely noticeable." And brother, is that ever the case. There may be movies where characters drink more, but likely few in which it is such a constant, desperate activity. The men of Wake in Fright drink like characters in old movies smoke, constantly and with the implication that nobody would conceivably not be doing so, because what would you be doing with yourself otherwise; when Grant briefly opts to do something else, the rest are thoroughly confused. The first half of the movie gives the impression of starting a bender - starting out in control, but with fun/relief not coming; instead, the reasons for drinking seem to come into sharper relief, with the attempts to banish them with more drink only making things worse.

Full review at EFC.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Fantasia Daily, 2011.10 (23 July): Victims,Monster Bash,Lulu,Kill Me Please,Blackthorn,Battle Royale

Falling behind with more movies to get to, so here's the photography of guests from Saturday:

Victims director David Bryant (l). Very friendly and happily willing to spill details about the making and writing of his movie. So many folks guard their secrets so tightly, it was a welcome change to not only hear someone say "we did this, this, and this" or how character moments not made explicit on-screen changed during the drafts.

Cast & crew of Monster Brawl. Yes, it's a Canadian film, and a ton of them were happy to make the trip to Montreal.

Love & Loathing & Lulu & Ayano director Hisayasu Sato. I don't know if I've ever seen a director more excited to be at a film festival. The man was absolutely overflowing with energy, wanting to get pictures with the audience behind him, etc. It's understandable; his previous work has been in various flavors of adult pictures, and this kind of respect and applause was doubtless new to him.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2011 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2011 - Playback in Black: The Next Wave)

Victims has as good a stab at making the zero-cut movie work as any, and while it does have a clever idea and some great moments, the shooting gimmick doesn't necessarily do it a lot of favors. The ability to compress time and get multiple angles are some of the most useful tools a filmmaker has, and director David Bryant doesn't get the greatest return on trading them for real-time, first-person immediacy.

"Record everything." That's the order a masked woman (Sarah Coyle) gives to the cameraman just as Chris McMann (John Bocelli) is being snatched off the street an hour before his wedding. She and a masked man (Andy Cresswell) handcuff him to the inside of a van and start off. Chris, they say, was not born with that name, but that of Neil Adams. Twenty years ago, at the age of eleven, this Neil Adams committed a horrible crime, kidnapping, molesting, and murdering a four-year-old girl. They mean to get a confession, and then...

In some ways, Victims has a remarkably tidy set-up; it initially short-circuits the need for there to be any strong evidence of what Chris's abductors claim by letting the audience know that hte film will be focusing on the moment as opposed to the steps needed to get there. Putting the backstory at arm's length also helps make the situation work in the abstract. The movie can't just be about what Chris McCann would or should do in this situation, because even without the accusations, we don't know who Chris McCann is. We have to put ourselves in the characters' shoes (all of them, including and perhaps especially the masked and anonymous ones).

Full review at EFC.

Monster Brawl

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2011 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2011)

Monster Brawl is not a bad idea - the fanbases for professional wrestling and monster movies likely have a fair amount of overlap, and the filmmakers clearly have tremendous affection for both. I'm not sure if this particular way of combining the two is movie material, but the affection is contagious.

The particular way of combining them in question is presenting Monster Brawl in the format of a wrestling pay-per-view special, with matches between Cyclops (Jason David Brown) and Witch Bitch (Holly Letkeman), the Mummy (R.J. Skinner) and Lady Vampire (Kelly Couture), the Werewolf (Skinner) and Swamp Gut (Brown), and Zombie Man (Rico Montana) and Frankenstein (Robert Maillet), with the winners of the last two matches squaring off for the heavyweight championship. The action is called by Buzz Chambers (Dave Foley) and "Sasquatch" Sid Tucker (Art Hindle), with Jimmy "The Mouth of the South" Hart (himself) as the ring announcer and MMA official Herb Dean (also playing himself) trying to keep these duels to the death clean.

It's not at all hard to imagine Monster Brawl as a comedy sketch, and in some ways that's what the movie is, the same sketch repeated five times in a row. That's especially obvious when we get to the final match, where we've already seen the combatants' respective gags and the jokes related to the guys in the booth are also getting a bit drawn-out and stale. Before that, at least, writer/director/producer Jesse T. Cook has at least had a bevy of different monster-movie tropes to draw upon and play with by sticking them in the wrestling show format.

And there are, believe it or not, some pretty good bits in there. It's been so long since I watched WWE with any regularity that I still think of it as the WWF, but it's pretty clear that Cook and company know their stuff - the mic work feels exactly right, whether it's characters going off on stream-of-consciousness rants, spoofing that with inarticulate monsters, or some combination of the two. Nearly every regular turn that the audience expects to see on a wrestling card - going at it outside the ring, managers distracting the ref, guys getting hit with folding chairs, etc. - is represented and pumped up a bit for greater absurdity. All that's missing is a "wait - that's ____'s music!" and an ally sprinting to the right from the backstage area. Cook and company nail the tacit understanding that wrestling promotions have with their audiences - everybody knows that the stories are manufactured and the wrestlers are performers more than competitors, but they put just enough effort into the story to give the audience a sense of continuity and context.

Full review at EFC.

Namae no nai onna-tachi (Love & Loathing & Lulu & Ayano)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2011 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2011)

I've learned a lot more about the Japanese adult film industry via going to Fantasia than I have any desire to know. It's not intentional - one year a Nikkatsu youth drama retrospective mentions that they specialized in "roman-porno" after that; another features a film, Lalapipo, that spends a lot more time with the characters in that world than the upbeat trailer indicates; others feature ambitious but still softcore "pink eiga". Love & Loathing & Lulu & Ayano is another entry in the second category, and I recommend it on its own. It's just reaching a point where I find myself needing to take longer showers.

Lulu Sakurazawa doesn't exist; the name is just a pseudonym for Junko Ogura (Norie Yasui), a girl recruited off the streets to appear in an adult movie with the promise of "being someone else". It's appealing - she's 22 and cute, but very timid, likely stemming from the promiscuous, bitter mother (Makiko Watanabe) she still lives with. Lulu may be a a cosplay otaku dork, but she can do anything, even make friends with Ayano (Mayu Sakuma), her ex-biker co-star who scares the rest of the set with her anger management problems. There's a limit to how empowering this is, though: Lulu's first fan (Ini Kusano) definitely has stalker potential, Ayano's boyfriend Yuya (Hirofumi Arai) has made a creepy request, and Lulu is starting to take up more and more of Junko's life.

A lot of overtly demeaning and otherwise off-putting things happen on porn sets, but perhaps the most unnerving scene comes early on, as Junko goes shopping for the costume she'll wear in her Lulu persona. This costumed salesgirl comes up to sell her on the fairy wand accessory, and she's just a bit too loud, too committed to her character, and speaking in something that sounds like baby talk. Junk looks a bit startled at first, and there's something even more off-putting than usual about the combined objectification and infantilization of women here. It's a minor theme throughout the rest of the movie, but that moment especially makes anyone in the audience who kind of digs that sort of thing a little complicit as Lulu heads down this road.

Full review at EFC.

Kill Me Please

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2011 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2011)

Here's a weird, but interesting little movie. Dr. Kruger (Aurelien Recoring) runs a clinic in Switzerland, ostensibly for the purpose of helping people commit suicide with dignity. The thing is, he is really no believer in this; his true purpose is to convince the despairing that life is worth living. Sadly, his well-meaning life's work ultimately always seems to lead to failure, as patient after patient eventually opts to end his or her life, no matter how initially reluctant.

This is a pitch-black comedy, with a number of odd characters thrown together in odd ways, given an extra shot of surreality by its black-and-white photography and characters who have a cock-eyed view of things even if they aren't planning to kill themselves. It builds up a heck of steam as it goes, getting both more funny and more philosophical as we learn more about Kruger and his patients.

And then the end... I'm a little torn. On the one hand, it's extremely funny, more outrageous than what had come before and filled with little moments that add up to a really crazed last act. On the other, it does sort of seem to come out of nowhere, like writer/director Olias Barco had no idea how to end the movie without some external force coming in and knocking everything over.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2011 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2011)

Also in the "interesting" category, but not quite so entertaining, is Blackthorn, which presents itself as a story of Butch Cassidy's later years, suggesting that he lived in Bolivia for at least twenty years after his supposed death under the name "James Blackthorn", but eventually decided to return to America, unexpectedly finding himself in the middle of one last adventure as a result.

It's not bad - the movie is beautifully shot, and Sam Shepard fits the role of Blackthorn to perfection. The movie itself, though, is deliberately paced and despite its high concept, doesn't seem to have particularly grand or weighty ideas for the audience to contemplate as it goes. There's themes of the call of home and one's potential irrelevance as one ages, but not with particularly special insight.

Batoru rowaiaru (Battle Royale)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2011 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2011)

A few weeks ago, my brother's wife was trying to explain why The Hunger Games was worth getting excited about, and I was kind of annoying by responding to each reason with "so... like Battle Royale". Totally unfair of me, as at the time I'd read neither book and hadn't seen this movie. Now that I've at least seen this film, the rest have a lot to live up to.

What I love about it is that director Kinji Fukasaku and his son, screenwriter Kenta Fukasaku, just let it all hang out there. The premise behind the story is loopy - classes of high school students randomly placed on an island and told to fight it out until only one is left alive (and, if there's no "winner" within three days, everybody dies) - and the Fukasakus tke this as license to make everything in the movie just a little larger than life. Or a lot larger than life, as is the case with Takeshi Kitano's murderous, angry teacher who is taking a perverse glee in overseeing the deaths of the entire class who tormented him two years earlier. It's a really fantastic combination of high concept story and gritty action.

Plus, it's got one of the best soundtracks I can remember, especially in the first half. The whole movie is a near-perfect example of really making pulp shine.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Fantasia Daily, 2011.09 (22 July): El Sanatorio, Clown, Detention and Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS

This is from Friday, I think. Friday was the annual trip to see what's new at Pointe-à-Callière, the awesome archaeological museum down by the old port. This year, it was a temporary exhibit on how wine evolved was introduced to Gallic France. A nifty bit of history, and it's always fun to stop and say, hey, that thing in the glass in front of me is thousands of years old.

In keeping with the same theme, I crossed the street to the Science Center where was an Indiana Jones Archaeology exhibit which will almost certainly have a stay at the Boston Museum of Science sometime in the next couple of years. And I will, naturally, hit it up again when it does, because there is in fact a whole bunch of neat old stuff in there which will likely be somewhat localized when it moves to other cities, as well as a bunch of extremely cool props from the Indiana Jones movies. I was good and didn't take pictures, but Ark of the Covenent and Shankara Stones right there, if behind glass.

I do kind of hope that when they do move it to other venues, they find ways to perhaps make it less dependent on the handheld device with the video screen and headphones that they have the visitors carrying around. It's a neat piece of tech with a fun-for-the-kids interactive game attached to it, but it also creates this weird scene of everybody, including families, listening to and watching the machine instead of discussing the exhibits with each other. The design of which clips go with which exhibits also created a certain amount of bottleneck at points.

So, that was neat, but took long enough that I wasn't able to stop in the most succinctly and temptingly named restaurant I've ever seen, "Le Steak Frites", where you bring your own wine and ordering consists of answering the question "how would you like your steak?" Maybe tomorrow.

And now, pictures!

King-wei Chu and El Sanatorio director Miguel Gomez.

Gomez was a guy truly excited to be at festivals in general and Fantasia in particular, with a bunch of fun stories to share, such as how he wound up doing some CGI wire-removal by himself when his effects house flaked on him, or how a character not meant to be someone in particular probably was mocking a real person, now that he thinks about it. One thing he mentioned that I've heard before was how in smaller countries like Costa Rica, getting a movie made often means working with the government's arts funding, and they can be pretty averse to funding horror movies - or really, just anything that works as mainstream entertainment first and a moral lesson somewhere lower on the totem pole. The tools get better and cheaper all the time, but we're not quite at the point where independent film can really explode yet.

Detention star Shanley Caswell, a Toronto rapper whose part isn't listed in IMDB, co-writer/director Joseph Kahn, co-writer Mark Palermo

Another fun Q&A session, although I don't know whether to feel like Kahn has the right attitude or is defeatist when talking about how, after this, he doesn't know about making another movie because the hassle isn't quite offset by the joy, and there are so many strings attached. He talks about how he is currently trying to make as many music videos as he can to pay off the money it took to make Detention, which has to be frustrating. Hopefully it will get a theatrical release and pay him enough that continuing to make movies feels worth it.

Also, Mark Palermo has a great deadpan sense of humor, and apparently got in touch with Kahn after being the only critic who like the director's previous movie, Torque. No, that doesn't give me a small amount of hope, not at all...

El Sanatorio

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2011 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2011 - Playback in Black: The Next Wave)

Here's how this goes: I tell you that El Sanatorio is a first-person horror movie about a group of young filmmakers who take their cameras inside a haunted building, you groan "what, another?" At this point, I'm expected to say "but this one's different!" And maybe it is; it's Costa Rica's first entry into the horror genre and manages to inject a fair amount of humor into the proceedings. Mostly, though, it's just good.

The haunted building is El Sanatorio Duran, built in 1919 for TB patients, but since used as a prison and an orphanage. Legends have it that the ghosts of orphans and a raped nun haunt the place, among others (it depends on who you ask). The filmmakers are director Luis (Luis Bogartes) and journalist Arturo (Pablo Masis). They recruit a motley crew of others - medium Lulu (Marisa Luisa Garita); techs Papillo (Kabek Gutierrez) and Gaston (Abelardo Vladich); megalomaniac producer Esteban (Olger Gonzalez); musician - and skeptic/atheist! - Kurt (Kurt Dyer); and Mariana (Maria Elena Oreamuno), the researcher that Arturo would like to get closer to. They spend some time learning the lore of the place, but before long, they're in.

That's when the scares start, but no the good times. From the very first scene, cast and crew seem to be having fun with the idea that the characters don't take this activity all that seriously. They snicker during interviews. Luis and Arturo get distracted by the old Nintendo system they find when looking for a tape deck with which to play back the cassettes from an earlier investigation. Arturo is clearly more worried about his crush on Mariana than anything else. Co-writer/director Miguel Alejandro Gomez isn't quite making a comedy, but the high joke density makes what could be the expositional slog portion of the movie entertaining on its own.

Full review at EFC.

Klovn: The Movie (Clown: The Movie)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2011 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2011)

After seeing Klovn: The Movie, I find myself both curious about and wary of the TV series it's spun off from. Curious because the movie is damn funny, and if its style of humor is typical of the series, they can get away with some stuff on Danish TV (or it's running on the Danish equivalent of HBO). Wary because I don't know if this sort of crudity would work on a regular basis, and this is potentially a generic sitcom if toned down.

Klovn centers around the adventures of Frank Hvam (Frank Hvam), a decent-enough-seeming fellow with a remarkable ability to screw things up. Somehow, though, he's managed to stumble into a good woman in Mia (Mia Lyhne), but gets a couple pieces of unexpected news at the wedding of Mia's sister: They're going to be watching Mia's nephew Bo (Marcuz Jess Petersen) during the honeymoon, and Mia is herself expecting. Initially, this interferes with Frank's plans to go on a canoeing trip with his friend Casper (Casper Christensen), but he decides to take the boy along to show he has potential as a father. Maybe not the best idea, as Casper is a hedonist who has taken to calling this trip the "tour de pussy".

And, yes, "tour de pussy" is generally indicative of the level of good taste to be found in the movie. Casper, in particular, doesn't seem to believe in restraint of any sort, and the various sex and drug jokes are amplified just by having a chubby 12-year-old hanging around. Similarly, it's generally not enough for Frank to get into strange predicaments; he's got to wind up in his underwear somehow. It's pretty close to a non-stop stream of crude jokes about middle-aged man-children.

Full review at EFC.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2011 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2011)

So, have you ever wondered what would happen when the oroborus finished swallowing its own tail (well, besides the choiking at the bleeding out and all)? That is roughly what Detention is, a movie that spends a lot of time referencing other movies built on film references, but even when it's diving down that rabbit hole, it is doing so in the most fast-paced, energeting way possible, with director and co-writer Joseph Kahn always having one more bit of insanity up its sleeve. It's actually pretty amazing that a movie with the potential for being arch and smug that this one has instead manages to stay so energetic.

And, in fact, downright clever: Kahn takes the old quote from David Fincher that kids today don't just watch movies, they download them into their brains, and he isn't afraid to pack either his plot or comedy densely. What starts out as a cheap character tic turns into the throroughly bonkers springboard to the second half of the film, actually tying things together a heck of a lot better than most films that are sold on their intricate, labyrinthine plots.

Of course, it also means that the year I graduated from high school is now officially far enough in the rear-view mirror that you can straight up joke about it being nerdishly retro, as opposed to the usual "things move so fast these days that five minutes ago is passé" stuff. So I may have to dock a few points for demonstrating that I am, in fact, old.

Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS

* (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2011 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2011 - Tribute to John Dunning & André Link)

I could get into this more, but let's face it - just the very idea of this movie should make everybody involved reconsider, from the writer all the way down to the guy with a media pass who could have seen Helldriver again.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Fantasia Daily, 2011.08 (21 July): Petty Romance and The Divide

Funny thing: When I saw the number of films at Fantasia that I would be able to see films without conflicts, but what has wound up happening in several cases is that I'd have days like yesterday, where despite there being five "slots", there were only new films for me to see in three. That's not necessarily a bad thing; it just means that there are a few days like this.

(l-r: Actor Michael Eklund, director Xavier Gens, actor Michael Biehn, actor Jennifer Blanc)

The Q&A for The Divide was, at the very least, lively, with tales of how the movie was shot in chronological order, largely improvised (to the occasional consternation of the lead actress), and how this was possible because they lost financing and wound up having the production largely paid for by the intern's parents. It also became pretty clear that Michael Biehn owns a room like this, and if he wasn't genuinely enthused for this movie, he's an even better actor than I thought.

Jjae Jjae Han Romaenseu (Petty Romance)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2011 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2011 - Korean Film Spotlight)

The dynamic of a comic book's writer and artist could (at least potentially) be a great formula for a romantic comedy; it's often two strangers brought together by circumstance who find themselves having to work together and adapt to the way the other thinks to create something together. Petty Romance does that fairly well, and gets points for doing it as a mainstream comedy rather than something pitched to the comic-reading crowd, although it could use a talented writer of its own.

Jeong Bae (Lee Seon-gyun) is a manhwa creator with a knack for drawing action but who struggles with dialogue, a weakness that just got a project he'd worked on for years rejected - and he needs the money to get a painting by his father back. The good news is that an editor friend has just announced an international adult comics contest with a $100,000 prize. With the deadlines tight and personal stakes high, he looks for a writer. He winds up with Da-rim (Choi Kang-hee), a translator whose penchant for creativity (despite lacking any knowledge of the subject) just got her fired from translating articles from international women's magazines for their Korean editions.

It is, by the nature of the genre, almost a given that Bae and Da-rim will wind up together, but to writer/director Kim Jeong-hoon's credit, there's enough genuine antagonism between them at the start that it doesn't necessarily seem like a good idea: Da-rim is a pushy screw-up with an unearned high opinion of herself, while Bae is a bit of a snob and tends to enjoy the moments when gets the upper hand far too much. Kim also has a great time making the traditional buddy characters not the greatest of friends: Bae's fellow artist Hae-ryong (Oh Jung-se) is spying on them for material for his own contest entry, Da-rim's friend Gyeong-sun (Ryu Hyun-kyung) was the editor that fired Da-rim and makes a play for Bae, and Da-rim's twin brother Jong-su (Song Yoo-ha) whose sexual excesses are the inspiration for the comic's villain. They're a thoroughly mercenary bunch.

Full review at EFC.

The Divide

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2011 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2011)

What do you want from your post-apocalyptic tales? The Divide lays the two paths out before the us - strangeness and danger outside or paranoia and infighting inside - and then literally seals the characters in. That's not the wrong decision, but, wow, are the glimpses of the other path that the film could have taken tantalizing.

It doesn't matter why, but the bombs are falling, and Mickey (Michael Biehn) is ready; the 9/11 survivor has converted the basement of the building where he's the superintendent into a fallout shelter. He may not have been expecting to ride it out with roommates, but he's got a few: Young couple Eva (Lauren German) and Sam (Ivan Gonzalez); engineer Delvin (Courney B. Vance); mother Marilyn (Rosanna Arquette) and daughter Wendy (Abbey Thickson); half-brothers Josh (Milo Ventimiglia) and Adrien (Ashton Holmes); and their friend Bobby (Michael Eklund). Attempting to explore the outside backfires in a big way, trapping them in the basement, and the situation gets worse when the other characters start to suspect that the already misanthropic Mickey is holding out on them.

That's a pretty strong cast, and director Xavier Gens gives them remarkably free reign, shooting the picture in chronological order and encouraging improvisation. During the post-film Q&A, he mentioned that very little of the original scripted dialog remains in the film, while some actors (most notably Michael Eklund) took this freedom and ran with it, making minor parts into showcases. That's a tricky way to work if everybody isn't on the same page, and to a certain extent the movie does become something of a shouting match, with whichever characters are more psychotic and whichever actors are more willing to play that up ruling the day. Saner characters and actors less apparently willing to just seize their screen time sometimes get pushed to the side.

Full review at EFC.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Fantasia Daily, 2011.07 (20 July): Hello Ghost, Ironclad, You Are Here, and Underwater Love

I think I need to reboot this computer, so no images today. It just would have been You Are Here director Daniel Cockburn anyway, so you'll have to wait a bit for that.

Yesterday's story short: Two uninspiring conventional movies, a quick trip to Future Shop to get a decent network cable (I can write at the desk now!), the annual stop at m:brgr, and then two wonderfully odd selections from the "Camera Lucida" series, which I suspect may be misnamed - these movies aren't very lucid at all.

Now - wait, work wants me? Oh, I am definitely taking a couple hours back later.

Hellowoo Goseuteu (Hello Ghost)

* * (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2011 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2011 - Korean Film Spotlight)

Hello Ghost makes me feel a little better about Hollywood. Sure, one could take the pessimistic view and see it as a sign that America is exporting the worst aspects of its culture in such quantities that others are assimilating it, but I choose to believe that the impulse to make supernatural comedies with questionable concepts is universal, and that seeing South Korea screw one up indicates that for all the crap people give Hollywood, this sort of thing is harder than it looks.

Kang Sung-man (Cha Tae-hyun) has been suicidal for some time, but has never been able to pull it off. After overdosing on pills fails, he jumps off a bridge, and this time his heart actually stops He's revived at the hospital, though, and now in addition to everything else, he can see ghosts. Four of them - a round, blue-suited chain-smoker (Ko Chang-seok); a woman who cries constantly (Jang Young-nam); a bratty kid (Cheon Bo-geun); and a mildly lecherous old man (Lee Moon-su). He gets the standard spiel from a fortune teller about how they won't move on (and let him off himself) until they have completed some unfinished earthly business with his help. to make things even more awkward, these wishes tend to being him in contact with - and embarrass him in front of - hospice nurse Jung Yeon-su (Kang Hye-won), who is certainly sweet and pretty enough to count as a reason to live.

Give writer/director Kim Young-tak some credit: For a broad comic fantasy, Hello Ghost is a lot more carefully structured than it initially appears to be. The complementary characteristics of Sung-man and Yeon-su are reasonably clever - both are surrounded by people just one on side or the other of death; he's a lonely orphan while her dying father is too much a presence in her life. And certain bits of the story tie together in fine fashion, although the connections are occasionally less elegant structuring than overbuilt plot devices.

Full review at EFC.


* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2011 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2011)

While Ironclad has a truly remarkable amount of crunching, blood-spurting medievel violence, its most memorable moment comes from Paul Giamatti yelling at Brian Cox. If there were a direct-to-video Oscars, he would be a shoo-in for a "Best Villainous Overacting" nomination, at the very least. Sadly, though, filmmaker Jonathan English spends so much time cramming more and more action in that he seldom has a chance to get the best parts of his cast into the same room and let them go at it with something other than swords.

Of course, this is a movie about a siege, and that's not the way sieges work. You've got the good guys on one side of the wall, the bad guys on the other, and except for a person or two having second thoughts on which side is which, it's all about holding fast until the next attack. The siege in question is that of Rochester Castle in 1215 - having signed the Magna Charta, King John (Giamatti) decides he wants to take it back with a vengeance, and sets about eliminating all of the other signatories. The Duke of Albany (Cox) means to stop him, but has only one Templar Knight (James Purefoy), his squire (Aneurin Barnard), and a ragtag band of former allies to stand against John and his army of Danish mercenaries. They hole up in Rochester Castle - to its master's very mixed emotions - with plans to stall him until reinforcements can arrive from France.

Ironclad has three big battle sequences as King John's men attempt to storm the castle, and while English does sometimes have the cinematographer shake the camera a bit more than necessary, the action scenes are not bad at all: The camera isn't constantly in so tight that you can't see what's going on - in fact, there are several pretty good scenes of swordfighting - and most of the actors and doubles look like they know what they're doing. The blood does flow, with nothing romanticized and a fair amount of warfare shown as particularly vicious. There are siege engines, towers, and a thing with pigs I'd never heard of which is insanely effective.

Full review at EFC.

You Are Here

* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2011 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2011 - Camera Lucida)

I have friends who are going to seek out You Are Here based primarily on one member of the cast, and they might as well, as it's a weird enough film that it's not necessarily going to play regular theaters or even boutique houses on its own; it'll have to be sought out for some reason, and if that's because it's the second-to-last film Tracy Wright was in before her untimely death, that's as good a reason as any.

It is a truly odd little movie, though, an indie film that is obsessed less with the emotional lives of its characters as with the cerebral ones. Writer/director Daniel Cockburn creates a number of odd little vignettes whose characters someties overlap, but the main unifying element seems to be curiosity about how we think. It's most explicitly laid out in a dramatization of a thought experiment in which a man who does not read Chinese is placed inside a room with a manual for how to respond if a piece of paper with Chinese characters is shoved under the door, but every single segment ties into the idea of how the mind processes information, and what role individual consciousness plays in it.

Interesting stuff, and seldom dry; Cockburn's stories quickly become funnier and more embracing of the absurd after what could be a fairly pretentious start. Ultimately, I do think that there's an sort of cynicism to the end, but You Are Here works pretty well both in pieces and as a whole.

Onno no Kappa (Underwater Love)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2011 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2011 - Camera Lucida)

I'm not sure how many pink films are made in Japan per year. Probably a lot; they tend to be short and low-budget, and there's always a market for skin flicks. Fantasy themes are probably not uncommon. But how many are musicals? With scores and songs by a European pop group like Stereo Total? Creature effects by Yoshihiro Nishimura? Cinematography by art-house staple Christopher Doyle?

That's what Underwater Love is, a combinaiton of wildly disparate ingredients that somehow work together in a way that is remarkably seamless and loopy. It's a simple story about a woman about to marry whose drowned high-school friend returns to her in the form of a kappa to save her life, and as much as that sounds kooky even for Japan, it works because there isn't an ounce of meanness or cynicism to it. It's a joyous bit of softcore, the sort where even the people whose faces were hidden behind kappa masks were smiling.

Another likely reason why it works so well is that director Shinji Imaoka, despite having all those biggish names attached to it, it's not an over-the-top production. Everything is more than a little nicer than the standard pink eiga, but there's no pretension to it. Underwater Love doesn't try to mock or transcend its genre; amid its strangeness, it's just trying to be the best it can be.

Full review at EFC.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Fantasia Daily, 2011.06 (19 July): Bleak Night, 100 Years of Evil, Midnight Son, and Birthright

Huh, Photobucket isn't letting me upload right now, and I'm sure as heck not going to get hit with international roaming to upload the pictures directly from my phone. Maybe I'll update that tomorrow.

In the meantime, It's worth mentioning that Naoki Hashimoto had one of the more interesting introductions and Q&As so far this festival. Like a lot of the Q&As where nobody involved seemed to be speaking English as a native language, the questions and answers sometimes only seemed related in a general sense, but Hashimoto's repeated declaration that he was trying to make a film and not a television drama was intriguingly telling. His film, Birthright, is very much the sort that many people might think of as not losing anything if seen on DVD in the living room - no vistas, minimal action, no loud, pumping soundtrack - but it's undeniably made for the theater. Things happen in the middle distance, almost like the audience has to look through the screen to see what's going on. The fast-forward button could prove to be a terrible temptation at home, but the movie must be allowed to play out at its own pace. Similarly, the sound is calibrated very carefully; at points it must seem to come from far away, quiet enough that it may not be clear what the subtitles are translating at first.

Indeed, Hashimoto mentioned that during the testing, he got frustrated by the sound of the theater's air conditioning, feeling it interfered with the movie. I don't know whether they turned it down for the screening (I didn't notice it being any stuffier in the auditorium, and I was in de Seve all day), but I loved that he was passionate and devoted enough to his film to make sure it showed right. It was one of the decreasingly few that showed on 35mm, and I almost see him delivering the cans of film from Japan himself, because it's just this important to him that it be shown right.

(As an aside, Birthright strikes me as a non-intuitive choice for a movie that might have been unusually effective in 3D; so much attention is paid to distance and space in this movie that I suspect Hashimoto and his cinematographers might be able to use those tools unusually well.)

Pasuggun (Bleak Night)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2011 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2011 - Cine-Asie presents Korean Film Spotlight)

Hee-june (Park Jung-min) is a bookish kid, regularly picked on and even bullied by more popular "friend" Ki-tae (Lee Je-hoon), a situation that Ki-tae's friend Dong-yoon (Seo Jun-young) does little to stop. A familiar story - so why is it Ki-tae's father (Jo Sung-ha) who is visiting the other boys after his son's suicide, looking for answers?

That's the central mystery lurking at the heart of Bleak Night, although those searching for either a simple answer or even a conventional detective story may be disappointed. Writer/director Yoon Sung-hyun steps through a series of flashbacks and offers up plenty of clues, but the eureka moment seems determined to prove elusive. Not only is this not an investigation that can head to a definitive solution, but the best source of information is unavailable. For all that Yoon frequently plays switches perspectives and even investigators, we never see anything that is solely from Ki-tae's perspective. If we are to know his mind, it's going to be from what the other boys tell us.

Not that this seems particularly like a Rashomon situation with unreliable narrators; every perspective seems to add up consistently. Still, it's instructive to see what Yoon puts in and what he leaves out, as well as how he cuts between them. There's a huge jump in Dong-yoon's account, for instance, that may be him trying to downplay his guilt about another awful event, and the flashbacks to before Ki-tae's death can frequently be confusing, as the characters' behavior, especially Ki-tae's, can seem to change drastically between them. But that can be the high school experience, with people presenting different faces to different circles of friends and attempting to appear a bigger bully just to survive. Yoon gets that and presents it in all its confusing reality, not offering clear signals with cinematography or design but letting the audience recall these facts of life and sort things out themselves.

Full review at EFC.

100 Years of Evil

* * * (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2011 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2011 - Playback in Black: The Next Wave)

In some ways, 100 Years of Evil works more as a deconstruction of the continuing use of Nazis as lurking supervillains in pop-culture than as an example of it. After all, with World War II sixty-five years in the past, even if Hitler had somehow secretly survived, not only would he be in his dotage, his history since then would have him looking sadly ineffective. This film posits that he invented the soap opera and fast food - nefarious, to be sure, but something of a step down.

As much as directors Erik Eger and Magnus Oliv have fun taking the idea apart and working it for laughs, they do so in large part by playing it straight. As weird as some of the characters in the film are, especially obsessed scientist Skule (Jon Rekdal), there are only occasional moments when things get overtly goofy. Rekdal actually gives Skule a strange sort of pathos as a man controlled by his obsession, helplessly driven to uncover lies.

Midnight Son

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2011 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2011 - Visions of Vampirism)

This one was going so well before it went full-vampire by the end. Director Scott Leberecht spends the first chunk of the movie creating an interpretation of the vampire myth that seems thoroughly believable, even playing with the audience by suggesting that the presence of vampires in pop culture may be influencing pasty, anemic Jacob (Zak Kilberg) in his descent into blood-sucking. It's sad, reasonably well-acted, has a sweet little love story at the center and manages to turn the whole idea of vampires and their sex appeal on its head in amusing fashion.

And then, it's like Leberecht either forgot what he was doing with the first act or didn't realize as he was creating his set-up that it was actually a lot better than the rote story he was building. All the things that were clever and made sense get thrown out the window, the grounded bits become fantastical, and the last scenes just seem like a lazy surrender to convention.

Saitai (Birthright)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2011 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2011 - Cinema Lucida)

On the surface, Naoki Hashimoto's Birthright is the opposite of what a thriller should be: It is long, static scenes of people doing nothing and even saying nothing, with no frantic activity to be found. It's the sort of film that seems calculated to drive me up the wall. And yet, it is riveting, serving up a story that wrests incredible suspense from its very simplicity and starkness.

A young woman (Sayako Oho) comes to a seaside town and starts observing the Takeda family that lives there. Daughter Ayano (Miyu Yagyu) and father Minotu (Hiroshi Sakuma) don't notice her, and while mother Naoko (Ryoko Takizawa) occasionally seems to, she doesn't acknowledge the silent watcher. After a few days, she makes her move, donning a school uniform and meeting Ayano on the road, saying a boy at a different school wants to meet her. This gets Ayano into her car, where she is handcuffed, blindfolded, and brought to a large, empty building. The girl locks the doors and unshackles Ayano. And then they wait.

From the very start, Birthright is designed to be unnerving, with shots that place everything in the middle distance and sound that is mixed the same way, voices overheard from a distance away. The bulk of the movie has no music, and the girl (given a name on the film's website but not, IIRC, within the film itself) is far from forthcoming. It is an atmosphere set up to prime the audience for the next thing to happen, but not necessarily to deliver it. Indeed, it soon becomes clear that there really is not "next thing", and that what the audience is seeing now is in fact the point of the exercise - and if that's the case, anything can happen.

Full review at EFC.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Fantasia Daily, 2011.05: Retreat and Love

(Update - Yesterday's post now links to a full review of A Lonely Place to Die)

Not my greatest day at Fantasia - wrote too late to get to my first screening, lazed around the apartment for a while later, dithered when it came to finding a place to eat. Then went to Hall for a couple of highly-touted films that really didn't deliver, but for different reasons.

Both had directors in attendance. Here's Retreat director Carl Tibbetts (on the right):


... and Love's director William Eubank, producer Nate Kolbeck, star Gunner Wright, and producer Mark Eaton:


Apparently Love is made in large part as a collaboration with the band Angels & Airwaves, who are apparently a big deal. Big enough for some very enthusiastic college kids to apparently come up just for this one movie, at least, setting up in the front row while the regulars were apparently across the street watching Die.

As to why both were disappointing, well...


* * (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2011 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2011)

It's tough for me to really say what I think about Retreat without spending a lot of time on the ending, which is the sort that I suspect sees itself as uncompromising but winds up making me feel rather at loose ends. It's also a symptom of the film's main problem: Carl Tibbetts loses track of what he wants the film to be about. It starts off firmly focused on Kate (Thandie Newton) and Martin (Cillian Murphy), a married couple returning to a favorite isolated island retreat to work on the issues in their crumbling marriage, only to have the tension increase when Jack (Jamie Bell) washes up on shore, saying that Europe has been devastated by an airborne plague and they've got to seal themselves in.

Now, aside from the frequent lapses in logic - and even if the characters don't have time to consider how something doesn't sound right, the audience does - the really big problem with Retreat is that, while it starts out as Martin and Kate's movie, Jack winds up taking it over so thoroughly that by the end, the couple's issues have more or less been swept aside. The final coup de grace is a symbol of that, and it's a real shame, because the three main cast members are each darn impressive at playing their individual characters.


* * (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2011 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2011: Camera Lucida)

Love, meanwhile, is a classic example of the "beautiful-but-boring" sci-fi film. It's hard not to be impressed by the fantastic amount of work that writer/director William Eubank has put into the production, building both an impressive-looking space station set and a recreation of an American Civil War battle that borders on the obsessive. It's a meticulously detailed picture, which Eubank shot beautifully.

Still, it doesn't take very long before the "do something resembling anything" blues kick in. Astronaut Lee Miller (Gunner Wright) just basically sits on the space station for a long time after contact with the Earth is lost, reading the journal of a Civil War soldier (Bradley Horne) that has mysteriously appeared there. And that's it, for some time. The movie makes frequent detours to various interviews and side stories to fill time and push the movie's themes of how humanity needs connection to survive, but it's a rough slog for a while.

And then there's the final act, which basically shouts "yes, I have seen 2001!" The mysterious hotel room imagery is too similar to be missed, but Eubank's ideas never seem as grand or unnerving as Clarke's & Kubrick's. He wants to say something (or many things) big and universal, but winds up just pulling random nifty images together and hoping that they are as meaningful to the audience as they are to him.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Fantasia Daily, 2011.04: Millennium Dragon, Ip Man: The Legend Is Born, A Lonely Place to Die, and Trollhunter

I'm hungry, need a haircut, and have movies to see, so not a whole lot of time to talk about walking around the St. Catherine's Street sidewalk fair or getting home and finding to my delight that the Sox-Rays game wasn't over, and I had 5+ innings of baseball to watch - in French!

So, pictures:

Legend of the Millennium Dragon producer Kazuteru Oshikiri & festival staff.

Not visible: The security Sony Pictures had on hand to make sure nobody tried to record the movie. Seemed kind of over-the-top, but if it served as a deterrent for people taking out their iPhones mid-movie, I'm all for it.

Programmer Mitch Davis leads a Q&A with A Lonely Place to Die filmmaker Julian Gilbey. Nobody gets excited about a new discovery that he really loves than Mitch, and Gilbey's discussion of how actual logic in the screenplays makes a movie so much better is something I say all the time.

It's also worth noting that a lot of people really seem to dig Lonely Place to Die; Twitch's Kurt Halfyard sat next to me and said that he'd seen it at ActionFest earlier, but had to see it again because the projection wasn't right there and this deserved better. Can't say I disagree.

And now, reviews!

Onigamiden (Legend of the Millennium Dragon)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2011 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2011)

The craftsmanship of Legend of the Millennium Dragon is remarkable; it's the sort of animated feature where every cel is frame-worthy and the assembly into a moving picture is wonderfully fluid. Like many animated films of its type, though, it's got a "can you top this?" structure that can be overwhelming.

Jun Tendo is a kind of clumsy kid in the present day, but one who is in for a shock when a monster appears out of nowhere to attack him. He takes refuge in a strange temple, where he is transported back in time to the Heian era (the 9th century AD, roughly) - a time he'd been taught was peaceful, but he winds up in the middle of a war between the noble houses and the forest monsters, or oni. The wizard Gen'un tells Jun that he is the one who can awaken and control the eight-headed dragon Orochi and defeat the oni alongside young samurai Raiko. It seems like too much responsibility for the boy, and that's before he meets wounded oni Mizuho and discovers things may be more complicated than he'd been told.

Before all that, though, the film opens with a battle, and it's an impressive visual preview of what's to come: The landscape looks like a painting and the characters like evocative drawings that translate to motion perfectly. The coloring that makes the oni seem unearthly are especially cool, a shimmering effect that may have been a little tricky to pull off in this traditionally animated picture. Digital tools are used extremely sparingly, giving the picture a consistent visual style no matter what wonders it throws at the audience.

Full review at EFC.

Ye Wen Qian Zhuan (Ip Man: The Legend is Born)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2011 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2011)

If you think the reboot trend in American movies is insane, consider that Donnie Yen's first Ip Man movie came out in China in 2008, the sequel came out in 2010, and then even before that year was out, this prequel/restart of the franchise with "Dennis" To Yu-hang in the lead role is released (it may be more of a copycat, but an odd one in that it involves people who worked on the previous films). Like the previous films, this one combines incidents with Ip's life with a mostly fictional plot. Also like the previous films, there is enough really excellent action on-screen to make one forget about biographical accuracy.

The film starts in 1905, when a young Ip Man and his adopted brother Tin-chi are enrolled in the Wing Chun school of Chan Wah-shun (Sammo Hung), where they meet Lee Mei-wai, who almost immediately develops as big a crush on Man as Tin-chi has on her. After Wah-shun's death, their training is continued by Ng Chung-so (Yuen Biao), and in 1915, the now-grown Ip Man (To) goes to college in Hong Kong, where he meets Leung Bik (Ip Chun), a less prominent Wing Chun master who teaches him some unorthodox moves. When he returns home, Chung-so is insulted and the same triangle with Tin-chi ("Louis" Fan Siu-wong) and Mei-wai (Rose Chan) are still there, now with the deputy mayor's daughter, Cheung Wing-shing (Yi Huang) added to the mix. Plus, Japan is attempting to exert more influence on the area, mostly in the person of Yuko Kitano (Kenya Sawada), and Ip Man is framed for murder.

A quick look at Ip's Wikipedia entry indicates that while writer Erica Lee gets the contributions of his teachers right, much of the rest is fabricated. That is, in some ways, par for the course; Ip Man seems to be the new Wong Fei-hung in terms of how the movie industry is building him up as a folk hero by adding grand adventures to what was already an interesting life, and naturally ones which have him confronting evil foreigners. Apparently they've got to do something to have Ip Man fighting for real rather than sparring, but the big plot twist that enables it, while not coming out of nowhere, is handled in a fairly clumsy manner. Kind of a shame, because the relatively light story of the Ip brothers' romances and the question of whether martial arts styles should stay static or evolve are actually doing fairly well at carrying the movie, and it wouldn't be hard to use one to represent the other.

Full review at EFC.

A Lonely Place to Die

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2011 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2011)

It's hard not to enjoy action-adventure movies where the word "cliffhanger" can be used in a quite literal sense, and A Lonely Place to Die not only opens with a scene like that, but has another fantastic one coming up later. Around that it's got a nasty little plot twist, some truly vicious villains, and a set of great outdoor action sequences that establish early on that co-writer/director Julian Gilbey can be one mean dude when it comes to dropping characters at the exact moment. Gilbey became an expert climber to make this movie, and he and cinematographer Ali Asad get some stunning footage.

And while I understand Gilbey's reasoning in bringing the action into the village for the finale, it does feel a bit like a mistake. Clearly, the outdoor stuff is where he really excels, and I'm not sure it's a great idea to make the climax of the movie relatively conventional, compared to what had been uniquely thrilling. The movie also loads up on extra characters toward the end, making things more confusing when they should be somewhat simplified.

Don't get me wrong, though - it's still a hard-edged, thoroughly suspenseful action thriller right up to the finish, and a lot of movies like it don't have an extended section where they're clearly the best.

Full review at EFC.

Trolljegeren (Trollhunter)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2011 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2011 - Playback in Black: The Next Wave)

I've missed this a couple of times - couldn't make it work out at IFFBoston, got busy when it played local theaters - but thanks to the vagaries of North American distribution patterns, this was the film's Canadian premiere. I'd kind of subconsciously underestimated it over the months, though I'm not sure why. I really shouldn't have, but at least the end result was getting to see the movie in a big crowd that was really into it.

Which this movie deserves, because it is legitimately funny. Otto Jespersen is dry and cynical as the title character, while Glenn Erland Tosterud, Johanna Moerck, and Tomas Alf Larsen offer balancing (but not annoying) optimism. The special effects are actually much better than I expected from a low-budget Norwegian film - good enough that director Andre Oevredal doesn't seem to build the movie around hiding the trolls more than he has reason to. The first troll makes an exciting entrance, and the movie is played wonderfully straight all around.

If you're in Boston, it's playing late nights in the Coolidge screening room, which isn't the Hall theater, but is better than nothing. The Blu-ray is certainly going on my buy pile, because the movie is, in fact, a real favorite.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Fantasia Daily, 2011.03: The Reef, Superheroes, The Theatre Bizarre, and Yakuza Weapon

Yesterday, staying around too long to get stuff written up (and a bit of carelessness) mean I missed the movie I really wanted to see, The Unjust. Superheroes wasn't a bad substitute, but today I'm mostly going to dump some images and get out of here:

First up, we have the directors of The Theatre Bizarre:

From left to right, that's Karim Hussain, Richard Stanley, Buddy Giovinazzo, David Gregory, Jeremy Karstens, Tom Savini, and Douglas Buck

Next, the cast and crew in attendance, with some lost to the sides:

Tak Sakaguchi and Arata Yamanaka doing some action demonstration before Yakuza Weapon:

And, once again, Yudai Yamaguchi, Tak Sakaguchi, and Arata Yamanaka answering audience questions at 2am:

The Reef

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2011 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2011)

Early on in The Reef, a character looking at a wall full of sharks' jaws is told not to worry, because one is far more likely to die of a bee sting than a shark attack. A part of me would like to see the movie where, in addition to everything else, these characters must deal with a time limit imposed by one being allergic to bees and needing treatment, but the film certainly doesn't suffer much for taking the more conventional route.

The woman getting that advice is Kate (Zoe Naylor); she's on vacation with her brother Matt (Gyton Grantley) and his girlfriend Suzie (Adrienne Pickering). They meet up with Matt's friend (and Kate's sort-of-ex-boyfriend) Luke (Damian Walshe-Howling), planning to spend a few days on the yacht Luke has been hired to sail to its buyer in Asia. Things are going well, generally, at least until the tide goes out and the reef rips the bottom of the boat off. With the boat turned over and taking on water, Luke feels that their best shot is to swim for a nearby island, but first mate Warren (Kieran Darcy-Smith) fishes those waters, and wants no part of the sharks.

When faced with the combination of complicated personal histories and shark-infested waters, it can sometimes be difficult for filmmakers to prioritize. Andrew Traucki, by and large, generally opts to take the path of "avoiding the nonsense". Certainly, how the characters relate to each other colors how everybody acts when the chips are down, but the audience is spared the spectacle of people self-absorbed enough to think that the middle of the ocean with a hungry shark circling is the time to air their romantic grievances. Of course, this does mean that the movie runs the risk of getting mechanical, and at times the characters do get caught in a landmark-free loop (one sees something, another scans under the surface, pep talks to stop panicking, swim a little, repeat).

Full review at EFC.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2011 in Salle J.A. de Seve (Fantasia 2011: Documentaries from the Edge)

I'm not necessarily saying I wanted to see anybody in Michael Barnett's documentary get hurt - even Orlando's somewhat off-putting Master Legend seems to have a good heart - but there's got to be some kind of storytelling rule about this: You can't have naysayers continually talking about how dangerous this avocation can be and not pay it off somehow, either tragically or through some sort of triumph over adversity. It makes the audience wonder what the point of all that talk was, and leaves us feeling neither guilty nor justified after the "point and laugh" time.

On the other hand, as much as there are some laughs to be had in the time spent mocking the would-be heroes, there is something very noble to be seen toward the end, when the movie backs off from focusing on its subjects as potentially delusional cases of arrested development and starts looking at the good they do in their communities. There's a lot of time spent helping the homeless, which could have been a really interesting contrast with the first guy we meet eventually living out of his van. There's plenty of raw material here, but Barnett doesn't quite seem to have found a story he could fit them into.

The Theatre Bizarre

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2011 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2011)

Most anthology films are a bit of a mixed bag, and this one is no exception, and it's probably going to take going through the various segments individually before I can really be sure what I think about it.

My first impression, though, is that horror anthologies wear me out. The first couple of films can be exciting and thrilling, but after that it almost becomes too many different forms of cynicism and grotesquerie within two hours, and even Douglas Buck's laudable attempt to change the pace winds up just not working for me. I think the movie probably peaks early on with Buddy Giovinazzo's "I Love You", a tense and darkly comic look at the end of a relationship, but the gore-fests that followed it up were just not for me.

Gokudo Heiki (Yakuza Weapon)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2011 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2011)

This was a lot closer to what I was hoping for from Dead Ball the night before - a near constant stream of action and insanity from Tak Sakaguchi and Yudai Yamaguchi that keeps the frenzy up right until the end. It's also got Sakaguchi doing some legitimately iimpressive hand-to-hand fight scenes (action filmmakers should remember that everybody always likes long takes) to mix in with the over-the-top stuff.

Admittedly, this is also exhausting in its own way: Sakaguchi is "up" and screaming for the whole darn movie, and as much as I gather that the original manga was that sort of insanity, I suspect that it wouldn't have hurt to pull back a little and tell a bit of story as well. But the crazy action works here. I still suspect that both Yamaguchi and Sakaguchi can do better, but I wonder if they could have more fun.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Fantasia Daily, 2011.02: Milocrorze: A Love Story, Bullhead, and Dead Ball

All-around great job by me last night: Got my media badge at the last minute (I apologize, everybody who must glance at it, about the terrible self-photography), panicked about not having my phone with me and thus being unable to take pictures during Yoshimasa Ishibashi's appearance for Milocrorze, found it in my pocket afterward, and somehow lost the preview DVD and schedules out of my program by the end of the night. It's a good thing I don't do this for a living.

On the plus side: Le Gourmet Burger still makes a darn good burger.

And I did manage to find my phone and its camera before the evening ended. So here are some guests after the screening of Dead Ball...
After Dead Ball
Arata Yamanaka, Marc Walkow, Tak Sakaguchi, Yudai Yamaguchi, the translator whose name I did not get

As always, the Sushi Typhoon guys do a very fun, entertaining Q&A. Sadly, this wasn't their best work as a movie, not by a long shot, but they are genuinely great at interacting with the audience and making the most of how they seem to be a bunch of kindred spirits making movies together, right down to Sakaguchi teasing Yamaguchi about how he really doesn't understand the rules of baseball.

And now, movie reviews. Oh, and tomorrow's the day the whole day's stop coming at once, as the day is going to be too packed for it.

Mirokuroze (Milocrorze: A Love Story)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2011 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2011)

Milocrorze: A Love Story is the sort of colorful, genre-mashing flick that doesn't just try to bowl the audience over, but practically insists on it, overwhelming the viewer with color and sound and sudden shifts until they either walk out numb or give in. And there's no reason not to give in, as writer/director Yoshimasa Ishibashi finds ways to both pop the eyes and tug at the heart.

Of course, the title character (Maiko) doesn't seem to be that important at first; she's the etherially beautiful woman that oddly-independent seven-year-old Ovreneli Vreneligare falls for one day in the park, but soon enough she's gone, leaving the boy with a broken heart. That's when we meet Besson Kumagai (Takayuki Yamada), a "love counselor" for young men whose hotline leads to him berating his callers and giving them questionable advice. Following his path eventually brings us to Tamon (Yamada again), a one-eyed samurai on a quest to find his beloved Yuri (Anna Ishibashi), stolen away by kidnappers four years ago. It's only after the end of Tamon's quest that we catch up with the now-grown Ovreneli (guess who), who encounters a familiar face while still nursing a hole in his heart.

Though all three sections are quite something to see - Yoshimasa Ishibashi and his fellow filmmakers seldom see a frame that they don't think could be improved by a little more color, a poppier beat, and a bit of absurdity - it's Tamon's segment in the middle that is Ishibashi's and Yamada's tour de force. Yes, the film changes styles before and after, but it shifts genres several times within this part, jumping from samurai to something contemporary to western to a stylized blending of everything without any sort of explanation other than that this genre perhaps feels most appropriate for this moment. It also features one of the most astonishing action sequences in recent memory, in which Tamon hacks his way through a brothel filled with yakuza in one long, apparently continuous shot that moves like a side-scrolling video game and continually jumps between regular speed and slow motion. It's jokey at some points and surreal at others, but Ishibashi packs an amazing amount of activity into what certainly appears to be one continuous shot.

Full review at EFC.

Rundskop (Bullhead)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2011 in Salle J.A. de Seve (Fantasia 2011)

Bullhead stands as evidence that if you make the effort, you can find an epic tale in the most unlikely of places. Here, writer/director Michael R. Roskam takes us to a cattle farm in Limburg, Belgium, where seemingly unconnected threads conspire to undermine the seeming solidity of a man who, at least physically, seems indomitable.

That man is Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts), a muscular mountain of a man who lives and works on the family farm, still single in his mid-thirties. Any ideas the audience might have about a pastoral farming community goes right out the window early, as Jacky uses his bulk to intimidate someone into using his product - bulk that comes in large part from using pharmaceutical cousins to the hormones the Vanmarsenille bulls are loaded up with. It's those hormones that will set half of the film's trouble in motion, as a cop investigating the "hormone mafia" has just been killed by a pair of Flemish gangsters (Frank Lammers & Sam Louwyck), and a connection via Walloon mechanics Christian and David Filippini (Erico Salamone and Philippe Grand'Henry) may wrongly lead to Jacky's brother Stieve (Kristof Renson), and Jacky's old friend Diederik (Jeroen Perceval) is informing to the cops. Plus, there's Lucia Schepers (Jenne Dandoy), a lovely girl tied to the incident in Jacky's past that, more than anything else, made Jacky the man he is today.

There's a lot going on in this movie, and it can be very easy to get tripped up if one is not paying close attention - one detective angrily declares that she doesn't believe in coincidences, and the presence of a couple certainly makes the pattern of connections more complicated. Also, large parts of the story are fairly Belgium-specific: Roskam places the action in three different parts of the country, and certain tensions are exacerbated by the country's bi-lingual nature: Most of the characters are Dutch-speaking Flemish, while others are French-speaking "Walloons", and the plot can often turn on whether or not someone can understand a conversation going on right in front of him or assumed class differences that may not be immediately clear from the film's one-size-fits-all English subtitling.

Full review at EFC.

Deddoboru (Dead Ball)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2011 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2011)

To grumble about Dead Ball getting lazy as it goes on is probably unfair. After all, most buying or renting this movie will know that director Yudai Yamaguchi and star Tak Sakaguchi did something very similar a few years ago with Battlefield Baseball, and quite honestly, the parts that worked reminded me of other movies, too. Knowing that they've had practice does seem to imply that they could do better, though.

Little league pitcher Jubeh Yakyu is, perhaps, too good at baseball - when playing catch with his father one day, he throws a pitch that is so unimaginably powerful that it leaves the old man dead, and both Jubeh and his brother on the road to delinquency. Now 17 (and played by the 35-year-old Sakaguchi), Jubeh has been caught and sent to the Pterodactyl Juvenile Reformatory, where he is assigned to bunk with young Shinosuke "Four Eyes" Suzuki (Mari Hoshino), but also on a secret assignment from Governor Mifune (Ryosei Tayama) - investigate what Warden Ishihara (Miho Ninagawa) is up to, as the segregationist granddaughter of a Nazi collaborator surely can't be all about reforming boys through baseball!

Dead Ball certainly starts out as a great deal of fun; Yamaguchi is playing the movie as an over-the-top goof, but he's also building some genuine tension and positioning Jubeh as legitimately deserving the awe the others treat him with. The baseball-oriented bits are broad "splatstick" and the plot set-up between them is cribbing from some of the best sources, with a 1980s-John Carpenter feel to the soundtrack and a definite Escape From New York vibe to the scenes in which Mifune briefs Jubeh on what he wants. Jubeh is given a wrap and five-o'clock shadow to call to mind Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name, and a penchant for pulling cigarettes out of nowhere that actually works as a running gag, even once characters have started noticing it. The early scenes at Pterodactyl are often gross-out stuff, but earnestly odd.

Full review at EFC.