Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Fantasia Daily, 2011.21 (3 August): The Last Ronin and The Devil's Rock

Not a lot of stories to share. Hey, we're rapidly approaching "one month ago"; I think I'm doing pretty good here.

Besides, this was a bit of a wrap-up day - after work, I headed to St. Catherine Street to pick up my screeners (a dozen of them, including some I was genuinely worried about not seeing), kind of surprised that I was going there instead of the press room that was set up in the Hall building. It looks like the festival has moved their offices to a somewhat larger space in the same building they've been in since I started going, but which seems to have better air conditioning (based on the five minutes I spent there annually, I have no idea how they put up with working whole days in that place during summer).

I killed the rest of the afternoon with dinner at Mr. Steer and comics shopping at Capitaine Quebec. For all the various fancy burger places I try out during every trip to Montreal, I'm not sure any of them beat this long-standing diner in terms of making a really good burger. Crunchy outside, tender inside, practically spherical and thus able to be served on the same humble buns you would use for a backyard cookout.

After that, I hit the comic shop at an incredibly opportune time - during August, they're having a 30% off sale to celebrate their 30th anniversary, and this discount stacked on top of the ones already being applied to sale/clearance books, and since part of what I was looking for was 2000AD collections... Well, I got a couple $20 books for $4. That made me very happy.

And after that... Movies! Nobody came out from Japan for The Last Ronin, but The Devil's Rock was well-represented:

Mitch Davis & Paul Campion at Fantasia 2011
Mitch Davis is very excited to have writer/director Paul Campion there!

"The Devil's Rock" cast & crew at Fantasia 2011
(l-r) Mitch, Paul, and co-stars Gina Varela & Matthew Sunderland.

The night ended on a fun, energetic Q&A. Impressively, it didn't seem to be awkward at all for Ms. Varela, considering her character spent a non-trivial amount of the movie naked and there were more than a few wolf-whistles and questions/comments centered around her hotness. I mean, it would be weird for me, but then again, I am sure as heck not the kind of guy who is inclined to either get naked on film or go up on a stage to answer questions, much less do them in conversation.

Still, how often does this sort of thing happen for guys? I'm not sure I've ever seen that sort of reaction to a male guest at a film festival.

Saigo no Chushingura (The Last Ronin)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 3 August 2011 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2011)

The story of the 47 ronin is perhaps the most famous story in all of Japan, telling how in the early 1800s, after their lord was forced to commit seppuku, forty-seven of his samurai spent a year biding their time and planning before striking back at the lord who maneuvered their master into this position - and then committed ritual suicide themselves to atone for their crime. The Last Ronin is not that story itself, but rather an intriguing off-shoot, telling the tale of its survivors - including ones whom the bushido code suggests should not have lived.

Kichiemon Terasaka (Koichi Sato) numbers himself among them, for he is the 47th ronin. However, before the final attack, the leader of the band, Kuranosuke Oishi (Nizaemon Kataoka)gave him the responsibility of letting the story be known, and also delivering financial compensation to the widows. After over sixteen years of crisscrossing the country on foot, "Kichie" has finally completed his work, and comes to Kyoto for the seventeenth anniversary rites. Upon arriving, he notices the merchant Kariya (Kohi Yakusho), who bears an uncanny resemblance to his old friend Magozaemon "Magoza" Senoo, a fellow ronin who fled the night before the attack, an act of terrible cowardice. And Kariya is a man of secrets, chief among them Miss Kane (Nanami Sakuraba), a beautiful young woman who secretly lives in his house deep in the forest, receiving lessons in ettiquette and deportment from former courtesan Yugiri (Narumi Yasuda). And when Kane catches the eye of Shoichiro (Koji Yamanoto), the son of wealthy clothier Jiro Chayashiro (Yoshi Oida), it is Kariya whom the father asks to investigate the girl's background.

Though it is likely no surprise to those who have read the original novel by Shoichiro Ikemiya, the literal title character, Kichie, is not the primary focus of the film. It is not long before Magoza takes center stage. The early scenes set up a mystery or two, but while the final details which tie the story together are saved for the end, that Kariya and Magoza are the same person is never in doubt. Still, the grace with which director Shigemichi Sugita and writer Yozo Tanaka shift the focus from Kichi to Magoza is impressive; it might take until midway through the film for the viewer to realize that the film is much less about Terasaka's burden as a living witness than Senoo's responsibilities as a parent.

Full review at EFC.

The Devil's Rock

* * * (out of four)
Seen 3 August 2011 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2011)

You can make a pretty decent horror movie without a whole lot in the way of raw materials. More than practically any other genre, filmmakers have been able to do quite a bit with just a room, a handful of good actors, a half-decent concept, and a good gore team. At the very least, The Devil's Rock has an excellent gore team, and the rest isn't bad either.

It's the eve of D-Day, but before the Allied attack can begin in earnest, some German defenses must be neutralized. Thus, a pair of ANZACs who have been in Europe since the beginning of the war, Captain Ben Grogan (Craig Hall) and Sergeant Joe Tane (Karlos Drinkwater) have paddled to one of the occupied Channel Islands, aiming to take out a German gun. When they get there, though, the gun is unmanned, and the base next to it is a charnel house. A survivor, Colonel Klaus Meyer (Matthew Sunderland), tells them that the base was used for Nazi experiments with the occult. This one, clearly, has had mixed results - they've summoned a demon, but control is clearly an issue. It's locked down now, but when Grogan looks at it, he sees his wife Helena (Gina Varela).

It's a tough situation when both demons and Nazis are saying that they're the ones with your best interests at heart. Director Paul Campion and his co-writers have a great deal of fun with the classic "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" scenario, which is a good thing - a feature-length movie confined to a few rooms where you can count the important characters on one-hand needs suspense more than anything else, and Campion's smart about it, cranking the tension up high to start and then finding ways to move the needle on the pressure gauge as much as he can as the movie goes on. It's not a perfect script by a long shot - the situation constantly demands Grogan accept the word of someone with every motivation to lie, and he seems to choose correctly or incorrectly based on how far along the story is - but the set-up is good and Campion can milk it.

Full review at EFC.

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