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.

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