Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Fantasia Daily, 2011.19 (1 August): Dharma Guns (La Succession Starkov), Exley, and Invasion of Alien Bikini

We'll wrap this up quick because I've got a self-imposed deadline for a couple things tomorrow and, well, this isn't something I want to linger on. This day was spent in de Seve, watching the off-beat stuff that are de Seve-type movies, and all three of them wound up being weird, with some nice bits, but fundamentally flawed in one way or another. And on top of that, the two director Q&As were not really helpful for me.

F.J. Ossang at Fantasia 2011
Dharma Guns writer/director/editor F.J. Ossang.

You can sort of tell a little from that terrible photo (fun fact: the lighting in de Seve tends to be much less forgiving than in Hall), but Ossang is a dapper man, showing up in a nice suit and even though I understood only scattered words of his French, speaking in a way that certainly sounds urbane and sophisticated. A bit of a contrast from many (if not most) of the participants who show up in jeans and a t-shirt and whoop it up to sound like one of the guys. Ossang is an artiste, and while I think that hurt the movie a bit, seeing someone so clearly an adult was a nice change.

This Q&A was done entirely en français, which is cool, but leaves me out in the cold. That's too bad, because I would really have liked to have a better idea of what was going on in the movie and what he was thinking.

Cast & Crew of "Exley" at Fantasia 2011
Larry Kent (r) and several Exley collaborators.

Larry Kent is a pioneer and a titan of Canadian independent cinema, and from how thoroughly enthused the various presenters and audience members et al were to meet and speak with him, I hope I get a chance to see some of his earlier films sometime to get a better idea of just how revolutionary they were, because I'm afraid Exley just isn't very good. It's got moments, just like the other two, but for as proud as Kent was about the improvisation technique, it seemed to be the source of a lot of the film's problems for me (see also: The Divide). It's seldom a good thing when the notes I've written down for a movie include "the point at which the movie stopped making any sense whatsoever".

It's also worth mentioning that Kent is 74, and he seemed a bit fuzzy at times. Not all the time, but he would hold on to certain points and make them if it was even slightly relevant to the question, ramble, and get a bit confused. He was likely a force to be reckoned with in his prime, but the guy we saw on stage seemed past that prime, though just so far as it was only occasionally uncomfortable for me to watch.

After that, Invasion of Alien Bikini. And while I certainly won't complain about all the time Ha Eun-jung spends in her undies, that's not, technically, a bikini!

(Also, before doing the links, I didn't realize that both the director and cast were part of last year's The Neighbor Zombie. Nifty, though Zombie was the better movie.)

Dharma Guns (La Succession Starkov)

* * (out of four)
Seen 1 August 2011 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2011 - Camera Lucida)

You know what I hate about movies like Dharma Guns, beyond their specific individual faults? The way that such art-house fantasies all too often wind up suffering from the same deficiencies as their mainstream cousins, implying that the thriller or science fiction genres are inherently flawed, when in fact it is more often a case of powerful tools being placed in untrained hands, who proceed to make a hash of things.

Stan Van Der Decken (Guy McKnight) awakes from a coma with memory problems that lead him to the Azores, where he hopes to reconnect with his love Délie Starkov (Elvire) and finish his screenplay Dharma Guns, as well as consult with shrink Doctor Ewers (Diogo Dória), who has also been treating Délie since the accident that injured Stan triggered a breakdown. However, the screenplay often seems to be exerting control over him rather than vice versa, making for a very porous border between reality and delusion.

The movie opens well enough, with a playful, nouvelle vague-ish water-skiing sequence that is fashionable and straight-faced enough to be homage but also just exaggerated enough to be parody. The slick, black-and-white cinematography of Gleb Teleshov, the soundtrack that bounces semi-ironically, the plain-spoken way that characters rattle off the most absurd of lines - all are familiar reminders of a proud movement in French film, and writer/director/editor F.J. Ossang manages to make them feel less like pastiche than earnest continuation. Dharma Guns is the work of a man as intrigued by the language of movies as those whose footsteps he follows.

Full review at EFC.


* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 1 August 2011 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2011 - Camera Lucida)

I'm glad I saw Exley in a crowded theater with people on either side of me, because if I were seeing it on DVD or streaming or other medium that involved me being home in my living room, I might have bailed on it after twenty minutes or a half hour, instead of making it to the end by dint of being penned in. Not that I'd necessarily advise sticking it out to the end for everyone, but it does get better as it gets stranger.

Exley (Shane Twerdun) enters the scene getting beat up behind a bar. Janey (Eliza Norbury) helps him home, and stays the night, but the next morning he gets a call with bad news - his mother is dying. He's in Vancouver, but she's on the other side of the country, and a plane ticket costs a thousand dollars he doesn't have. So he starts hitting everybody he knows up for money, and while that doesn't go well, one knows a guy who can help him out - but what he asks sends Exley off in a series of strange directions.

Though there is a writing credit, I'm guessing that what Bill Marchant came up with was more outline than script, as the final film was billed in the program and Q&A as being entirely improvised. It's the second film I saw at the festival to make that claim, and especially in the early going, it's the same sort of aggravating experience: The other actors don't seem to be working with Twerdun, but instead seem to see themselves in competition with him and each other. Oh, they might not be in the same scene, but that just means that they don't know how loud they have to yell and how crazy they have to act to be remembered, which means that they're all hitting full volume quickly. It's headache-inducing and ridiculous.

Full review at EFC.

Eoilrieon Bikini (Invasion of Alien Bikini)

* * (out of four)
Seen 1 August 2011 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2011 - Korean Film Spotlight)

Part of what's fun about South Korean cinema is how - at least with the stuff that is good enough for export - filmmakers often seem to feel no particular need to stay within standard genre lines. A monster movie will spend a lot of time on dysfunctional family relations; a thriller will display an oddball sense of humor; a tony historical piece will wallow in blood and guts. Which means that, even though a movie with a name like "Invasion of Alien Bikini" would seem destined to be a specific sort of flick, a swerve is inevitable. In this case, though, I can't say it was particularly well-advised.

Young-gun (Hong Young-geun) is, perhaps, just a bit repressed. He's never had a girlfriend, or even gotten laid, and he channels that energy into crime-fighting, patrolling the city in a superhero costume and fake mustache to protect his identity. Tonight, he breaks up what he thinks is a mugging, bringing the injured girl, Monica (Ha Eun-jung), back to his apartment to rest and hide. The guys he fought weren't garden variety thugs, though - they were government agents tracking an alien entity that they believe has possessed Monica so that it reproduce before morning - an action that would bring about the end of the world.

The plot this sets up is admirable in its simplicity - she wants his seed for what may be nefarious purposes, but he attempts to hold out for entirely different reasons. There's a funny, sexy little movie to be made from that, although it might not be feature-length, especially given the small cast and tight time frame that co-writer/director Oh Young-doo builds in. He and the cast do a good job of working that for a while, bouncing between snappy wit and self-aware silliness. It's clearly low-budget, but does a nice job of staying within those bounds, feeling like an homage to American B-movies.

Full review at EFC.

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