Monday, August 15, 2011

The Fantasia Daily, 2011.17 (30 July): Gantz 1 & 2, Article 12, Surviving Life, The FP, and Cold Sweat

I think I did a better job of avoiding the festival nap this year than most - of the 70-ish movies I saw, Surviving Life: Theory and Practice is probably the only one that I conked out in and thus won't be able to review. It's an example of how the nap can strike at any time, though - I'm not usually tired at seven o'clock, and I'd managed to sleep in after a late night at the Horny House of Horror on Friday, but the wall hits when the wall hits.

So, before the next movie, I hit the concession stand for a Pepsi Max and one of those strange Canadian candy bars we don't see much in the States, which meant that I was well and truly alert for this at the front of the theater:

Tim League, Jay Trost, Brandon Trost

That's Tim League of the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas, along with The FP directors Jay and Brandon Trost. I think that this was actually a couple days before Drafthouse Pictures officially announced that they would be distributing the movie in early 2012, so League's presence seemed a bit random at the time, although not totally so; the movie had apparently made some noise at the Alamo's Fantastic Fest screenings during SXSW, although part of that noise was the cast and crew being rowdy during the screening.

And if "I've only got so much vacation time a year" doesn't do it the next time someone asks me why I don't include Fantastic Fest on my annual moviegoing itinerary, I'll just pull that picture up on my phone. As much as I enjoy having a little fun with not-so-serious movies, this sort of "hey, we're drinking to excess and acting ca-ray-zee" thing wears out its welcome pretty quickly for me. It drove me bonkers when I went to SXSW a couple years ago - I seriously did not need midnight shows delayed a half hour for drinking games when I'd been seeing movies since 11am and would get up and do it again the next day - and I suspect a whole festival like that would not mesh well with my temperament at all. You may insert your uptight New Englander jokes here.

(Also, did anyone else find it tacky that Fantastic Fest announced their first wave of titles on Fantasia's opening night? Seems like odd timing. Seriously, guys, it's okay if cities other than Austin are talked about as cool film spots for a day or two!)

And now, what I saw on my last Saturday at Fantasia this year:


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2011 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2011)

Here's my original review at EFC from back in January, when I saw this film in a Fathom Events presentation (full entry here. I liked it quite a bit more the second time around, and not just because of how having the original Japanese soundtrack is an immense improvement over the terrible dub track I saw back then. It's amazing; not making the audience laugh at the line delivery turns out to be a massive improvement for a movie meant to be suspenseful. Who knew?

To a certain extent, I think that recalibration of expectations helped as well. I dig the Gantz manga, but without a ridiculous budget, the movies were never going to match the amazing action scenes in the books, so the movie was something of a disappointment the first time through. However, it's a bad practice in general to judge something on what it isn't rather than what it is, and this film is a fine sci-fi thriller.

Gantz: Perfect Answer

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2011 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2011)

The Gantz manga is too large and sprawling to make into one movie; and even two may have been a stretch - the first half of this two-part movie covered roughly the first fifteen or so 200-page volumes that have been released in the US, and left plenty out. Gantz: Perfect Answer has the task of explaining what the heck was going on in Gantz and then wrapping the story up, which is one tall order. It gets the job done, and usually with enough style that the audience can overlook the bits that really don't make a lot of sense.

(Note: Spoilers for the first Gantz movie will abound; if you haven't seen it, you might wish to do so and then come back later.)

After watching his friend Masaru Kato (Kenichi Matsuyama) die in the last movie's climax, Kei Kurono (Kazunari Ninomiya) has sworn to make things right. In the regular world, it means he and girlfriend Tae Kojima (Yuriko Yoshitaka) are looking after Kato's little brother Ayumu; when he's called by to a strange apartment by the mysterious "Gantz" entity to hunt down aliens for "points", he and fellow veteran Yoshikazu Suzuki (Tomorowo Taguchi) execute them with ruthless efficiency, protecting the newbies so that they can earn enough points to revive fallen comrades. As bizarre as this is, things are about to get even stranger - model Eriko Ayukawa has a black orb that is sending her on missions of her own, cop Masamitsu Shigeta (Takayuki Yamada) is digging into the strange pattern of deaths and reappearances around Tokyo, and Kato has apparently returned from the dead without anybody accessing the 100-point-menu.

There comes a time in many (if not most) continuing series where the focus inevitably turns inward. What starts out as a scenario that allows the storyteller to explore many ideas within a familiar framework becomes a focus on the details of the framework itself. Perfect Answer winds up in a sort of in-between place - although it never devolves into focusing on minutia, the new characters introduced have less room to breathe than Kato, Kei, and Kishimoto did in the first. Making Gantz and the aliens the focus of the story rather than just plot devices does tend to highlight that the series's video-game logic really makes no practical sense.

Full review at EFC.

Article 12

* * (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2011 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2011 - Documentaries from the Edge)

It's always unfortunate when a worthy topic becomes the subject of a bad documentary, because it can be very difficult to separate the quality of the picture for from the merit of its arguments. Usually, it's not that difficult to be objective judge each separately, but Article 12 is the sort of self-satisfied preaching to the choir that can push even a sympathetic audience member to investigating the other point of view just so that he or she is not blindly agreeing with these guys.

The title of "Article 12" comes from the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights; that portion of the document states that "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks." However, the film points out, this is not always the case; even in democratic republics like the United States and the United Kingdom, privacy protections are becoming weaker, both because of government surveillance and by the voluntary actions of the populace.

There are plenty of good arguments for why privacy is important and why the present day's steady erosion of it is dangerous, and it would be very nice if filmmaker Juan Manuel Biaiñ laid them out in a more rigorous, structured way. Instead, he starts by assuming that the audience prioritizes privacy as highly as he does and then repeating a series of dire proclamations about how the weakening of these rights is bad, although there is a curious lack of concrete examples as to why. Sometimes, interview subjects like Noam Chomsky are allowed to make huge, unsubstantiated leaps between premise and conclusion.

Full review at EFC.

Prezít svuj zivot (teorie a praxe) (Surviving Life (Theory and Practice))

N/A (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2011 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2011)

I want to like Jan Svankmajer. I really do. He's a guy who has moved between live-action and animation for a long time, gotten praise internationally, and influenced people all aorund the world. And, truth be told, I have enjoyed a good chunk of what I've seen from him, odd thought it may be. Surviving Life (Theory and Practice) generally falls into that category.

But, man, he knocks me out. I don't know why. Often, I've been able to point to weird showtimes or other factors like that, but this was right at 7pm. Fourth movie of the day, but I can handle that. And what I saw of this one, I rather liked. Some weirder-than-usual bits - I really didn't get what he was going for by using the cutout animation for long shots and than live action for extreme close-up. I suppose mostly just fun, but it was a weird bit of stylization in a movie that spends a lot of time on dream imagery..

Ah, well. It'll probably show up at the Brattle sometime in the next year, and I'll make sure to stop off at the 7-11 for a Pepsi Max before hand, just like I did afterward to make sure I'd be up for...

The FP

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2011 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2011)

The FP is the sort of flick that is precisely built to appeal to a certain category of movie fans, who are often surprised when it doesn't do much for others. I have no doubt that it will find its cult quickly, and it should: It's crafted, not manufactured, and offers genuine goofy enthusiasm rather than precision pandering.

Things are going down in Frazier Park (the FP, yo!) - a year ago, local Beat Beat Revelation champion BTRO (Brandon Barrera) collapsed and died in a battle with rival L Dubba E (Lee Valmassy), and now L Dub's gang controls all the liquor in the county. The only hope for The FP is BTRO's brother JTRO (Jason Trost), if the brothers' buddy KCDC (Art Hsu) can get him to return and train under BBR master BLT (Nick Principe). But can he do that, especially since Stacy (Caitlyn "Caker" Folley), the cute girl he met that fateful night, seems to have taken up with L Dub?

Well, of course he can, otherwise it's a very short and unsatisfying movie for all involved. The Trost brothers (star Jason and cinematographer Brandon co-write and direct) know what sort of template this movie will eventually follow, and they don't deviate very far from the pattern. They just amp it up, figuring out to three decimal places how far you can push the ratios between characters' devotion to a sport, the stakes involved, and the game's inherent silliness before it stops being fun-stupid and starts being stupid-stupid. They stay pretty solidly on the fun-stupid side, attaching some frequently-hilarious bombast to patently ridiculous competition.

Full review at EFC.

Sudor frío (Cold Sweat)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2011 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2011)

Cold Sweat is silly and ridiculous in just about every way it can be, but it's the sort of ridiculous that works. Director Adrián García Bogliano and company do a nice job of adding just a little bit more crazy with each reel, making for a fun midnight movie.

Back in 1975, the film informs us, a group of Argentine rebels stole twenty-five boxes of dynamite, but nothing came of it at the time. Today, Roman (Facundo Espinosa) is looking for his ex-girlfriend Jacquie (Camila Velasco), who appears to have left him for some blond guy she met online. Fortunately, he's got help; his friend Ali (Marina Glezer) is able to track down where this guy lives from his IP address. When they get there, the run-down house is home not to the lothario they were looking for, but a couple of old guys - Gordon (Omar Musa), who uses a walker, and Baxter (Omar Gioiosa), who is somewhat more mobile.

One should not underestimate old guys, either in movies or in real life. They are the people that natural selection hasn't figured out how to stop yet, and the older they are, the more likely they are to have learned how to mess you up over the course of their lives. It's not giving too much away to say that Gordon and Baxter are the villains of the piece, and they're an enjoyably unconventional choice for the job; ideology seems to have given way to extreme crotchetiness. Some senility, too, but really, having them just resent young people is enough. In addition, they're clearly sick of each other after thirty-five years cooped up together but neither able to imagine life without the other. Omars Musa and Gioiosa play off each other amusingly, with a natural chemistry as they bicker and both managing to give their characters an actual threatening air even as the movie has a laugh at their age and infirmity.

Full review at EFC.

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