Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Fantasia Daily, 2012.12 (30 July 2012): Blood Letter, Love Strikes!, and Schoolgirl Apocalypse.

First day of working half-days while hitting the festival dans la nuit. Since I can no longer use my work computer for personal stuff without forfeiting what I do (though what my employers would do with the copyright to a bunch of movie reviews, I couldn't tell you), the rented room in the apartment looks like this:

The Montreal Office

Working mornings is no fun, especially when I am in the one part of Montreal (just across from Molson Stadium in the "McGill ghetto" where you apparently can not run out and grap something from a Tim Hortons in ten minutes. I need to get some breakfast-type groceries.

The plan for the day had been to hit the Star Wars exhibit at the Museum of Science, but that was sold out for the day when I got there. Probably will be again today, too.

Made for a short-ish day at the festival, since I'd already seen the 3pm shows, and I maybe should have chosen Wrinkles over Blood Letter. I'd made that decision on the basis of the latter being in 35mm, but when I got in, King-wei was explaining that the screening had been changed up a little so that we could have subtitles, as the number of folks who spoke Vietnamese in the audience was probably low. It looked like we were getting real-time subtitles, with a PowerPoint presentation being projected at the same time as the film and sometimes getting a little ahead as someone in the booth tried to match slides with dialog. If that was the case, I'm not sure why they didn't show film as with For Love's Sake on opening night, but I didn't get the whole story.

Note: I noticed the pun of Blood Letter's title just before entering the theater but haven't stopped chuckling over it yet. I checked IMDB and am shocked that it hasn't been used for a cheesy horror movie or as the generic title of an imported action title in the US. What's wrong with people? It both sounds like a generic Weinstein job and could likely have fit other movies well before this. How'd they miss it?

John Cairns interrogated

Schoolgirl Apocalypse was sold out, but you might not be able to tell from that picture of director John Cairns and the festival's Nicolas Archambault. Folks cleared around midnight (some leaving before the movie was done, presumably to catch the last train). Tough break, when a movie starts a bit late and there's also a short.

(The short, "Status" by Australia's Richard Williamson, was executed pretty nicely, although I'm not completely sure that its sigularity scenario completely works for me.)

Nice guy; he talked about the practicaities of shooting a micro-budget movie in Japan for a while and was very forthright about how he wasn't really sure the film's mix of live-action and animation completely worked. I think conceptually, it was all right, but it was also an area that exposed just how little money he had to work with, as was the creature effects at the end.

He also mentioned that the movie was now available on various streaming services in North America, mentioning iTunes. He didn't mention Amazon for that, but did mention that the film's novelization was a free download on Kindle for 24 hours (so, about ten left now). It looks to flesh out a lot of backstory from the movie, which might be pretty neat.

Anyway, time to see if I can get into the Star Wars thing today. I'm half-tempted to wait and see if it comes to Boston, but last year's Indiana Jones exhibit didn't. After that, the plan is A Fantastic Fear of Eveything, Robo-G, and Killer Joe (and an early night if I miss that).

Thiên Mệnh Anh Hùng (Blood Letter)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012, HD)

If nothing else, the English title of Blood Letter is a neat play on words, even if it won't stand out on a DVD shelf of imported action movies. That's not the best thing about it - it hits its legendary revenge martial-arts marks pretty well, actually. It's just worth mentioning because the rest of the movie is kind of like that; well-executed, but one of many.

12 years ago, a statue coming to life portended a new arrival at the pagoda of solitary monk Su Phu (Minh Thuan) - a young boy who washed ashore with a dying servant. Now grown and having been schooled in martial arts (though he has not yet mastered the more mystical practices), Nguyen Vu (Huynh Dong) learns that he is the last surviving member of a family exterminated on false charges of murdering the king by Queen Thai Hau (Van Trang), and swears to get justice. Arriving in the city, he meets others opposed to Thai Lam - nobleman Vuong Enia and sisters Hoa Ha (Kim Hien) and Hoa Xuan (Mi Du) - and learns that the way to clear his family's name is to retrieve the so-called "blood letter" detailing Thai Lau's crimes, which has recently resurfaced. Of course, Thai Lau is sending her best man, Tran Tong Quan (Khuong Ngoc) to find it as well.

This has been the general outline for a great many martial arts movies over the entire history of the genre, and it's certainly gotten a fair amount of use in a number of other traditions as well. Blood Letter doesn't deviate very far from it, and to a certain extent, why should it? It gives Nguyen Vu a functional dramatic arc, many excuses for fight scenes, and a nice sense of scale. On the other hand, it can be kind of predictable - the Motivating Death and Inevitable Betrayal come exactly where the audience has grown to expect them and thus lack a certain ability to shock, and writers Victor Vu (who also directs) and Bui Anh Tan sometimes are only loosely able to string scenes together.

Full review at EFC.

Moteki (Love Strikes!)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012, video)

Love Strikes! (Moteki) is a somewhat rare case of a movie starting off as one thing - a zany musical romantic comedy - and becoming all the better when it becomes something a bit more conventional. Both types of movie are promising, but calming down does this movie some good.

"Moteki", apparently, refers to a period when one suddenly and for no apparent reason becomes much more attractive to the opposite sex, and recently happened to Yukiyo Fujimoto (Mirai Miryama). Now he's back to being a loser, or so it seems - he's just been hired by Takuya Sumida (Lily Frankly) to write for pop-culture website "Natalie", and the twitter follower that he meets turns out to be a cute girl, Miyuki Matsuo (Masami Nagasawa) who also writes for an online zine and shares a lot of his interests. She's got a boyfriend, but she's also got a sister, Rumiko (Kumiko Aso), who's pretty fun to hang out with. It's beginning to look like Yukiyo is having another moteki.

Though it's understandably not being promoted as such while on the North American festival circuit, Love Strikes! is a continuation of the Moteki TV series (itself based on a manga), with Miriyama and a few others resuming their roles. Not knowing this, the opening narration threw me a bit - I thought the "four girls" thing was what a tease of what this movie was about rather than a recap of what had already happened - but once past any such confusion, that set-up doesn't matter very much. The important bits (30-ish pop-culture-loving nerd meets nice girls, things get complicated) require no introduction.

Full review at EFC.

Sera-fuku mokushiroku (Schoolgirl Apocalypse)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2012 in Concordia University Cinema de Seve (Fantasia 2012 Camera Lucida, HD)

Writer/director John Cairns clearly has some ambition to do more than just make the exploitation film that the name implies (and he was openly soliciting new titles during the Q&A), and he mostly succeeded, but there's kind of a reason why a lot of filmmakers with his kind of budget and genre leanings go for the visceral - there's moments when Cairns's lack of resources serve to undermine what's good about his movie.

And there's plenty good. Stars Higario and Mai Tsujimoto are pretty good, Cairns creates a nice apocalypse with interesting touches on a small budget, and he balances the paranormal and human horror very well. It's a pretty good little movie, although it's current home (some of the streaming services) is probably where it can be best appreciated.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Fantasia Daily, 2012.11 (29 July 2012): The Kick, Quick, Roller Town, The Warped Forest, and The Human Race

Sunday was Fun Day at Fantasia. Not that this festival is usually anything less than a good time, but this one lined up a bunch of movies that I had a blast with as opposed to things that left me squirmy and uncomfortable. A day that goes "great action, big dumb action, hilariously silly, joyously insane, coolly intense" is a good day at the movies.

I actually arrived a bit late for The Kick, so that means I'll have to see it again sometime. Bummer!

Scott Vrooman & Andrew Bush, "Roller Town" co-writer/co-star Scott Vrooman and co-writer/director Andrew Bush

Let it not be said that the guys from Roller Town were anything less than thrilled to see a packed house for their film. They clearly had a blast making it and telling funny stories about it as part of the Q&A, as well as encouraging audiences to catch it when they can (I think it hits US VOD sometime in August, Canadian theaters in September, and Canadian VOD sometime after). They should have fun; I dig that they made a very funny movie which was kind of a big production and still seemed kind of impressed at the scale themselves.

Shunichiro Miki, "The Warped Forest" filmmaker Shunichiro Miki and translator

I've taken classes for both French and Japanese but, sadly, was still lost most of the time in during Shunichiro Miki's Q&A for The Warped Forest. That's a shame, because (a) how can you not want to have some questions answered and (b) just the reactions to questions and answers was hilarious.

Hopefully folks will get a chance to see this one, which is twisted and bizarre and ultimately quite optimistic. And, hey, it's got Rinko Kikuchi in it - people loved her in The Brothers Bloom, right?

Mich Davis & Jovanka Vuckovic, Fantasia's Mitch Davis and "The Captured Bird" director Jovanka Vuckovic

The short film before The Human Race was apparently a draw in and of itself, with director Jovanka Vuckovic a friend of the fest and apparently pretty well-known within horror fandom. She put together a heck of a behind-the-scenes team for a ten-minute short, but it all shows up on-screen; "The Caged Bird" looks fantastic.

I'm not sure it does a whole lot more than look fantastic - I suspect its symbolism and mythology may reveal itself after multiple viewings, but at first blush, it seemed to be like a bunch of horror movie pieces stitched together fantastically well, but not quite its own thing. But I'd kind of love to see what Vuckovic and her friends can do if she gets the money for a feature.

Cast & crew of "The Human Race", "The Human Race" stars Paul McCarth-Boyington and Eddie McGee and director Paul Hough

And finally, the stars and director of The Human Race, who had to endure a marathon to get their movie made - it was shot over the course of three years, although only for a day or two at a time as money got scraped together and things could get fit into schedules. One story director Paul Hough told which I don't know whether to curse for how hard making a movie can be or praise for its ingenuity is that two of the characters are deaf so that they could shoot on certain days without a sound engineer - they would communicate with signing and even background noise would be left off the soundtrack to give their perspective.

This is the second movie in the festival where you would say the print was still wet if there was a print involved; it was evidently finalized to the point where it was at the previous Tuesday. In fact, there were still parts where the color-correction wasn't finished and a timecode or two still appeared in the digital file, but I think it can be called complete enough to review when I get to it.

Today's plan: Blood Letter, Love Strikes! (more Rinko Kikuchi!), and Schoolgirl Apocalypse. The first on the basis of 35mm vs. video; I'll try and catch Wrinkles later.

The Kick

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012 Action!, 35mm)

The Kick is frickin' truth in advertising, living up to its title in every way it can. Not only does it feature more or less non-stop martial arts action, but it's a kick - light, pure fun that revels in its simplicity, giving the audience what it wants in fine style, even (and especially) when it's nutty.

There's this ancient Thai ceremonial dagger, the "Kris of Kings", about to go on display in Bangkok, and Seok-du (Lee Kwan-hun) wants it. His first attempt to steal it is thwarted when he accidentally crosses paths with the Moon family - not only does the father (Cho Jae-hyun) run a taekwondo studio, but mother Mija (Ye Ji-won), teenage son Tae-yang (Na Tae-joo) & daughter Tae-mi (Kim Kyung-suk), and younger son Typhoon are skilled as well. His first attempt at revenge has the parents send the kids out to the country with friend & manager Mum (Petchtai Wongkamlao), where they meet his niece Wawa (Jeeja Yanin), who has of course been studying muay thai since she was six. Tae-yang is upset because this could make him miss his final audition for a dance competition (guess what dad thinks about that), but more importantly, Seok-du is a persistent SOB.

So there will be fights. There will be sparring between family members and friends, evenly-matched brawls between the Moons and Seok-du's goons, crazy scenes where one good guy takes on a fair-sized gang, and of course boss battles where Seok-du or his top guard (Kim Yi-roo) take on all comers. You want action? You get it, with enough flying fists and feet in a variety of permutations to give everybody in a large cast a chance to show their stuff.

Full review at EFC.

Kwik (Quick)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012 Action!, DCP)

Quick is, when you get down to it, a pretty stupid action movie that tries to camouflage this fact with raw speed. The filmmakers would likely have no argument with that assessment, quite honestly, inevitably just asking how they did at it. And they actually do all right. No thing that can explode lasts the movie without blowing up, no piece of glass remains unbroken. It knows what its audience wants and panders away.

It does it pretty well, though. The action is pretty well-staged (although I must admit, the outtakes over the end credits which show the cast visiting a stunt driver in the hospital are a bit alarming), and the story handles the ridiculous conspiracy necessary to make this work better than most dumb action movies. A sort-of detour into meta-commentary at the end doesn't work quite so well, but it doesn't leave a bad taste in the audience's mouth.

Roller Town

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012, DCP)

Because any fad that makes anybody some money will attract some movie producer's attention, there was a brief period where Hollywood put out roller disco movies. Because every sub-genre that ever existed will eventually resurface, some guys in 21st century Halifax decided to make their own. And because sometimes we as moviegoers get lucky, comedy collective Picnicface's Roller Town is kind of a riot.

When Leo (Mark Little) was a kid, his father moved to Brookfield, Nova Scotia, and built Roller Town, but was killed by his loan shark. Now (1980-ish), Leo lives in a bedroom above the rink and dreams of attending the nearby Brookfield Conservatory of Roller Skating, even though they only take classically trained roller-skaters. Such as Julia (Kayla Lorette), daughter of disco-hating Mayor Sedgwick (Christopher Shore), who sneaks into Roller Town one night, locks eyes with Leo, and, well. Not all is well, though - Gregs (George William Basil), the man who killed Leo's father, is a silent partner in the rink, and is putting pressure on remaining owner Murray to add new-fangled electronic games to the place.

Spoofing roller disco movies is, to put it generously, shooting fish in a barrel, but at least they are colorful fish that, in this case, are shredded in a bright, cheerful explosion of fish guts. Part of the reason why it works is that beyond the garish colors and disco soundtrack, it's really just spoofing dumb teenager movies. Which, sure, isn't that much harder a target, but is so broad of one that you can hang all sorts of jokes from the premise.

Full review at EFC.

The Warped Forest

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012, HD)

What. The. Heck?

I say that with love, of course - The Warped Forest is the latest offering from the land of the rising sun that reminds us that nobody does weird quite like Japan. Shunichiro Miki drained his life savings to make what you can't help but call a follow up to Funky Forest (which he co-directed with two others), and the result is pretty impressive: Rather than just being weird or random, The Warped Forest gives its audience a surreal parallel universe that fits together in sweet, charming ways. It's absolutely deranged, but sometimes that's what you want.

The Human Race

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012, HD)

The Human Race will likely get a fair amount of notice for its star - Eddie McGee is an amputee who only needs the one leg to kick ass - but it's far from a one-trick pony. Paul Hough's movie is a simple, hard-core grindhouse flick that gets the most out of a minuscule budget by taking its simple plot and just not messing around.

Part of what's cool - besides the undeniably charismatic McGee and the combination of perverse glee and genuine horror the mounting body count instills - is that for all it looks rough at some points, it's surprisingly polished in others. The credits, for instance, are the type that get an audience pumped up, and the music is pretty darn good, too. And while Hough grumbled about the sound mix during the Q&A, if that's the one he thinks is crap, I can't wait to hear what the movie sounds like when he's satisfied.

Hopefully The Human Race can sell as a novelty act - indpendent films like this one need all the help they can get - since I suspect the folks who watch it will leave impressed.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Fantasia Daily, 2012.10 (28 July 2012): A Letter to Momo, Mon Ami, Nameless Gangster, Graceland, and Z-108

Q&A's can get weird, folks.

Cast & Crew of "Mon Ami"
Cast & crew of Mon Ami: Sound designer Ian Robinson, costume designer Ellie Schultz, producer Joe (last name not legible), stars Scott Wallis & Mike Kovac, and writer/director Rob Grant

The makers of Mon Ami were pretty great, joking with the audience and generally showing the same kind of charm that's one of their movie's assets. One thing that struck me weird, though, is how Grant mentioned that some of the choices made were meant to reflect what sort of choices the characters would have made if they were making the movie, such as using all the slow-motion and classical music for the underscore, because they thought they were a lot more sophisticated and suave than they actually are. I don't know if I really see that - I think part of what makes it work is that Cal & Teddy don't really think they're criminal masterminds, but are in over their head anyway. What works is that these guys are sort of average, know it, and still find their plan falling apart.

Seriously, it's okay to just admit that you used that music because it was free.

Makers of "Graceland"
Makers of "Graceland"

Graceland had a lot of folks in town, so much that I should have tried to figure out the panoramic features of the camera-phone. Writer/directer Ron Morales is in both shots, with producers to his left and the festival's Stephanie Treppanier and the musicians to his right. Not pictured: The guys from Resolution doing a great introduction since Ms. T had lost her voice.

The Q&A got kind of weird in the way they do for movies set and shot in a poor country with an audience that wants to be empathetic but sort of verges on the edge of being patronizing. Plus, it got into a real "issue" groove when the producer on the far right said he got involved because he felt it had a lot to say about the exploitation of women and girls. I guess that's sort of true, but I kind of thought that if you wanted to make a movie about that, you might choose one which has women in a substantive role or two. Graceland is a lot of things (I kind of wish I'd been sure enough about the plot of Kurosawa's High and Low to ask about that), but its main characters are men and the conflict driving the plot is class and corruption, not really mysogyny and pedophilia. Those are there, but not really central.

Introducing "Cougars"
King-wei Chu and director Lonnie Martin introducing his short film "Cougars".

Zombie 108 had a short film before it, and, man, did that ever not need to start later. "Cougars" was cute and clever enough, although the twist cold be seen coming a mile away, but could use a lot of refinement before going to the feature-length version.

Today's plan: The Kick, Quick, Roller Town, The Warped Forest and The Human Race. So, basically just living in Hall all day.

Momo e no Tegami

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012 AXIS, HD)

You can do a movie like A Letter to Momo with live-action nowadays, and it's increasingly common, but animation of the traditional variety still seems the best medium for this sort of fantastical but relaxed family entertainment: It makes everything part of the same world and allows for things to slow down a bit, and is especially fitting here, were drawings literally come to life, in a fashion.

After the death of her father, 12-ish Momo Miyaura (voice of Karen Miyama) and her mother Ikoku (voice of Yuka) move from Tokyo to Shio Island on Japan's Inland Sea, where Ikoku grew up. Momo, who carries a note her father started to write her (without getting beyond "Dear Momo"), is not especially thrilled with her new home, and that's before discovering that they are not the only new arrivals - although nobody else can see or hear goblins Iwa, Kawa, and Mamé (voices of Toshiyuki Nishida, Koichi Yamadera, and Cho).

Parents shouldn't worry, though - A Letter to Momo is never in any particular danger of turning into a particularly scary movie. The goblins are more pests and comic relief than any kind of real threat, although it's understandable if Momo initially thinks otherwise. The design and animation of the trio is particularly clever in this regard - despite the resemblance to the Edo-era drawings that inspired them being absolutely unmistakable, the filmmakers manage to twist them into something friendlier. For example, the way Iwa's massive mouth is always open to display his pointed teeth comes across as sort of dumb and vacant rather than intimidating.

Full review at EFC.

Mon Ami

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012, HD)

Mon Ami, despite its title, is in English, so its audience needn't fret about having to deal with subtitles. It's still rather off the beaten path, a buddy black comedy, with as much enthusiasm as gags involving grievous injury; maybe enough to win audiences over.

Teddy (Mike Kovac) and Cal (Scott Wallis) have known each other since they were six, though their lives are in a bit of a rut - they've been working in the same hardware store for a years, with Cal actually crashing in the back room when not in his parents' house and Teddy married to a very demanding wife (Teagan Vincze). When the store's owner Hank (John Fitzgerald) opts to put his sons in charge rather than promote Teddy after retiring, he and Cal decide to take control of the situation: Telling everyone that they're going on a fishing trip, they kidnap Hank's pretty nineteen-year-old daughter Crystal (Chelsey Reist) with the intent of holding her for ransom. They've got a plan, but it's not nearly as foolproof a plan as they think, especially given the fools involved.

Give this movie one thing; the energy level is very high indeed. The characters often talk fast, gags come at a quick pace, and nasty physical comedy produces plenty of blood. There's quick cuts and slow motion, and rather than get bogged down, things accelerate toward the end. The movie relies on this energy, both in terms of keeping the audience with the characters as things get further out of hand and having the characters continually make things worse for themselves when stopping to think might solve a lot of problems.

Full review at EFC.

Bumchoiwaui Junjaeng (Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012, DCP)

Can I be honest? I don't really like gangster movies that much. Crime movies, yes, but movies about the mob tend to leave me cold. For me, "the outfit" in Richard Westlake's "Parker" novels is close to ideal - vaguely corporate and threatening, but off to the side of the action.

So I suppose it's both a bit of an achievement that I liked Nameless Gangster but inevitable that I didn't love it. The conflict between distant relatives played by Choi Min-sik and Ha Jung-woo never quite becomes operatic enough to really fascinate, and Choi's character just seems put together wrong: On the one hand, he's a fat stumbler without a subtle bone in his body, but on the other, his apparent strength is that he knows everybody and can network and call in favors like a pro. It's possible to be both, but the movie never really makes a case for it.

Full review at EFC.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2012 in Concordia University Cinema J.A. de Seve (Fantasia 2012 Spotlight: Filipino Cinema, HD)

Though a low-fi picture that appears to have scraped every penny together to get made, Graceland has a pretty darn excellent hook - a twistier, more noirish take on High and Low with the chauffeur keeping things from his employer to save his kidnapped daughter - which it plays out just excellently. There are a few gaps in the plot at points, but calling most out would be called quibbling.

What's really excellent is the way it goes from an efficient and brutal setup - it makes you really like certain characters before doing something awful - to a noose that starts out pretty darn tight and only gets worse from there. Things can only end badly in this movie; the question just being how badly things will end.

Very much recommended.

Full review at EFC.

Zombie 108

N/A (but likely low)
Seen 28 July 2012 in Concordia University Cinema J.A. de Seve (Fantasia 2012, DCP)

I can't legitimately grade this, since about half an hour in, the need to get some sleep started acting upon me like a force that could not be denied and I was in and out, doing that head-jerk thing every few minutes. This, despite the iced tea I'd purchased at the concession stands - which, naturally, kicked in after the movie.

Pretty sure I still wouldn't like it, though - the story was choppy and all over the place, and frequently just ugly in ways that tended to push it past my threshhold for such things. The washed-out color palette just made it drearier and harder to keep attention.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Fantasia Daily, 2012.09 (27 July 2012): Sons of Norway, A Night of Nightmares, Doomsday Book, and Hard Romanticker

The short film in front of the first feature of the day is your friend when running late at a festival. As nice a place as I've been in this year, I'm going to want to be closer to Concordia in 2013 (although, if you look at last year, you'll see me just as likely to be late for that first film, despite being able to see the venue out my rented window).

Can't say I was hugely fond of "Videoboy", the short before Sons of Norway, but I kind of liked its coming-of-age story ideas. It just took a relativley long time (30+ minutes) to get through them, and the payoff made more sense thematically than literally.

Nobody there, but the next couple had guests:

Buddy Giovinazzo & Company, Buddy Giovinazzo & company doing Q&A for "A Night of Nightmares"

As you might expect from the nickname, Buddy Giovinazzo (l) is actually a really friendly guy despite the dark pictures he makes. He seems quite happy to answer as many questions from the audience as he could, stopped to chat with a German filmmaker who was familiar with his TV work there, and seemed sincerely apolagetic when there was a projection problem midway through the film (which would annoy the heck out of me, because it was at a point where you'd really like the momentum to carry the audience through).

I think he may need to update the IMDB page for his movie, though; the lady in the center composed the music and did the vocals that we hear on a record player at various points in the movie, but I'm pretty sure the name by which he introduced her (and which appeared in the credits) is not the one you can find online.

As to the movie itself, I liked it, but...


... the ending kind of failed for me on a couple of levels. First, I tend to hate horror movies ending on a last-minute gotcha; it's not shocking any more and it's generally less exciting than the climax it's undercutting. That's especially true here; the main strength of the film has been its characters, and now they're suddenly other people that we don't really know enough for the change to be unsettling.

Plus, how does this work? I actually like where the story ended up, but does the collection of random freaky things actually lead to it thematically or is it just random freaky things? With a supernatural horror movie, you can do okay even if they're just symbols, but they've kind of got to mean something.


Yim Pil-Sung & company, Yim Pil-Sung & company doing Q&A for "Doomsday Book"

Very cool to have Im Pil-seong (whose name I have seen spelled a half-dozen ways, it seems) on-hand to introduce the movie and do Q&A afterwards. Originally, Kim Jee-woon was supposed to be there too, but he's hung up in Hollywood doing post-production on The Last Stand. From the video message he sent, it seemed to be stressing him out, which is too bad - Kim getting to do big Hollywood action with Arnold Schwarzeneggar is something I am really looking forward to.

Im was great, though, apologizing for not being able to answer for Kim but happily talking about his own two thirds. He also sat down to sign DVDs and posters afterwards, so I finally got a copy of Hansel & Gretel (I'd meant to buy one at the concession stand a few years ago, but they were out, and never came across one "in the wild" since). Hopefully this is an indication that Stéphanie Trépanier's Evokative Films is still an active thing, as opposed to this just being her clearing out her garage.

Today's plan: A Letter to Momo, Mon Ami, Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time, Graceland and Zombie 108. Already missed one (Arjun), and I got no responses to the "choose Jay's afternoon", so I'll go with the one that likely look nicest on the big screen. Maybe I'll break my "no screeners" pledge and as for one for Young Gun in the Time, because as much as I had issues with Invasion of Alien Bikini, I do want to see what its makers are up to next.

Sønner av Norge (Sons of Norway)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2012 in Concordia University Cinema de Seve (Fantasia 2012 Spotlight: Denmark/Norway, DCP)

Sons of Norway does as good a job as any movie at presenting the perspective of a kid for whom the world doesn't make sense, and where every attempt at understanding misses the point. It's got a light touch - maybe a bit too much so - but manages to be funny and a bit wise at mostly the right points.

Rykkin, Norway, Christmas 1978. A family is having a somewhat unconventional Christmas, but that itself is kind of par for the course for them; though living in an apartment block he designed in the suburbs, father Magnus (Sven Nordlin) is still a hippy at heart, with mother Lone (Sonja Richter) a bit of a stabilizing influence on him and their two sons. When she's torn away in a freak accident, Magnus despairs, and while younger brother Peter goes to live with his aunt and uncle for a while, older brother Nikolaj (Åsmund Høeg) stays. He's recently discovered punk, and while this is the perfect time for a boy his age to rebel, that's hard to do with a father as open-minded and supportive as Magnus.

It can be frustratingly difficult, in fact, and that's demonstrated early, during the otherwise serene Christmas scenes. The basic need for Nikolaj to establish his own identity, or maybe Magnus to finish growing up himself - or a little of both - is at the core of the story, and when the movie is at its best, that idea is presented beautifully, with awkward reactions and discomfort at points where relief might naturally be expected.

Full review at EFC.

A Night of Nightmares

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2012 in Concordia University Cinema de Seve (Fantasia 2012, HD)

Should horror films necessarily have a consistent mythology that makes its villain's methods and goals (twistedly) logical, or does such a thing work against it actually being horrifying? A Night of Nightmares has a lot of elements that make for a fun little movie, enough to be tremendously fun in the present tense. Just don't ask how it all works.

This one starts with Mark Lighthouse (Marc Senter), a young man with a music blog into which he pours the bulk of his time. His latest discovery is a singer who goes by the singular name of "Ginger"; when he asks for an interview, she accepts, suggesting they do it at her place, a rather isolated farmhouse - you know, the type with no mobile phone reception. It actually goes pretty well, at least until Phil (Jason London), a figure from her past, shows up, but a stalker is the least of their problems.

Writer/director Buddy Giovinazzo is best known in the United States for gritty, intense urban stories like Combat Shock and Life is Hot in Cracktown (mostly paying the bills by making police procedurals for German television), to the point where a horror movie is actually a sort of light-hearted break for him. Heck, it's fun by most standards, with light banter between the leads, gleeful jump scenes and occasionally nasty bits of humor. Heck, he even plays with the form a little, starting things off with a flash-forward that tells the audience just how the bulk of the movie will play out.

Full review at EFC.

Doomsday Book

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012, HD)

Go figure - the middle segment of Doomsday Book, the one directed by action maestro Kim Jee-woon, is for the most part quiet and philosophical, while Im Pil-seong contributes two entertaining, absurd, funny end-of-the-world scenarios. It's an odd and intriguing mix, a little uneven at times (especially the first segment), but with a darn good cast and entertaining throughout.

And, to be totally honest, I think I would watch a movie that was just the last news broadcast from the third segment; it's funnier than most things that are sold as straight comedies.

Full review at EFC.

Hâdo romanchikkâ (Hard Romanticker)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012, HD)

I liked this one a lot more than expected, and not just because I was vacillating over what to do at this point in the night, not really hugely enthusaed for either option. But this turned out to be a fast-paced, entertaining movie, with plenty of funny moments, a nifty score, and a mostly-enjoyable lead performance by Shota Matsuda.

I do have to admit, though, that it left me cold at certain points, too. The story is not the strongest and the gangsters (and those on the fringes) don't really distinguish themselves individually.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Fantasia Daily, 2012.08 (26 July 2012): The Mechanical Bride and The King of Pigs


Short movie day, but that was sort of planned from the beginning. I'd already seen the 1pm offering, and I bought my ticket for the 10pm Muppet show a week or two ago. So, once I had the Day 7 blog post up, it was off to the old port, where one of my favorite places to visit in Montreal, the Pointe-a-Calliere archeological museum, had a Samurai exhibit.

I wish I had pictures, because it was pretty amazing - the centerpiece that caught ones eye as soon as you entered the room was roughly a dozen suits of samurai armor, spectacularly well-preserved and cared for, with another few scattered around the exhibition space that also contained numerous swords, scabbards, ikebana containers, etc. Pretty cool all around.

For the first time since I started going there every year, there was a second exhibition in a new space attached to the museum, this one about the Etruscans, a rich culture that existed in Northern Italy before being subsumed by the Romans. The building was in the process of being renovated and had a nice paint-y smell to it in places, and the exhibit was extensive. Very nifty, since I hadn't known these people had existed before. The final room was especially cool/freaky, as it had a number of busts created by the Etruscans whose placement in individual plastic display cases was like something out of a science fiction/horror movie.

The Etruscan display meant I was a little longer at the museum which expected and there was no chance I was going to make it back to Concordia for 11/25 The Day Mishima Chose His Own Fate, so I decided a late lunch/early dinner would not be amiss, and lo and behold:

IMAG0161, Sign for "Le Steak Frites", dans le vieux-port

The menu isn't quite so basic as you might expect - they sort of share a kitchen/outdoor dining area with a casual Italian restaurant, so there's some bleed-over on the selection - but it is pretty close to "how would you like your steak cooked, sir, and I see you have not brought a bottle of wine; can we get you a Coke?" This pleases me; it is well-known that good food is wasted on me and I hate trying to figure out what an item on a menu is, so a simple medium-rare steak and potatos is wonderful.

I dithered by the river a bit afterward, so I just got back in time for The Mechanical Bride:

"The Mechanical Bride" director Allison de Fren, "The Mechanical Bride" director Allison de Fren

Director Allison de Fren mentioned that she had been working on this project for ten years or so, during which time she'd written a dissertation on the subject while something like five other documentaries covering similar ground had been released. It meant she had a lot of knowledge to impart, though, and could give more interesting, analytical answers to the questions afterward. Audiences typically expect filmmakers to be experts no their subjects as opposed to experts on presenting a topic, but de Fren had obviously given stuff enough thought that when she answered, I wished she had been able to put more into the movie, which was more or less an overview by its nature.

Also, you couldn't pay me to do hosting duties for the most tame of subjects, but something like a movie about men who buy $6,000 life-size dolls to engage with sexually? No way. Change your expression just a little when she's mentioning one thing or another, and suddenly people are acting like there's meaning to it.

"The King of Pigs" director Yeun Sang-ho, "The King of Pigs" director Yeun Sang-ho & Fantasia Staff

I was pleasantly surprised to see that The King of Pigs director Yeun Sang-ho had come to Montreal to support his film; it's a challenging animated feature that warrants some discussion. Unfortunately for me, that discussion turned out to mostly be in French.

After that wound down, it was back on the Metro, off at Place des Arts, and follow the throng to the box office so I could pick up my ticket to the "Just for Laughs Festival Muppets All-Star Comedy Gala". Which was, let me tell you, a blast. My only regret is that when buying tickets, there were two choices offered at the price range I had chosen and I couldn't find a seating chart on-line fast enough, which meant I wound up at the end of the ninth row rather than the fifth. Still - the Muppets! Fifty feet in front of me! Live!

And a pretty fun show it was. One thing I noticed when watching Being Elmo that it's a mark of how good the performers are that you can watch them doing the technical work but still get completely sucked into the characterization, which was what you sort of had to do unless you wanted to just watch the screens; it just wouldn't have been practical to build the set so that the performers were always hidden. Fun fact: Gonzo puppets always seem to have feet, even though most of the others are cut off at the waist.

Very fun show. As it was an "all-star comedy gala", about half of it was other stand-up acts, which were pretty good. The Muppet bits, though, were worth the price of admission alone, if only for the expereince. I saw them do a couple musical numbers as a group, saw the Swedish Chef make poutine, saw Fozzie do stand up (and Statler and Waldorf heckle from the second balcony), and a Muppet Labs sketch which involved "French-Canadifying" Beaker, with the end result being Youppi.

Great fun. Wouldn't have missed it for the world, and I wish I could have gotten some photos, but we were asked not to, and while that's the sort of thing I might have been tempted to defy toward the end, they were filming the show (does HBO still broadcast these?) and that meant there was a dude with a handheld HD camera within ten feet of me at all times (for those who know how much I love having my photo taken, you can imagine my thoughts on this). I would totally have gotten caught, and there is no way I was being thrown out of this.

"Today's" plan: Sons of Norway, A Night of Nightmares, Doomsday Book, Play Dead, and Yes We Can! and Hard Romanticker, it turns out.

Mechanical Bride

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2012 in Concordia University Cinema de Seve (Fantasia 2012 Documentaries from the Edge, HD)

It's not an uncommon occurrence - you see a documentary at a film festival and there's a Q&A afterward. Someone asks an interesting question, the director gives an interesting answer, and you're glad you came but kind of wish that the meat of that exchange had worked its way into the film. The Mechanical Bride is one of those movies - a decent overview of the creation of life-size dolls and the men who buy them, but not much deeper than that.

It starts with an annual "adult products" exhibition in Los Angeles, where attendees are amused and titillated by the synthetic girls on display. Not wanting to just view them as a curiosity, filmmaker Allison de Fren travels the country (and the world) to interview enthusiasts, manufacturers, and commentators to learn more about the phenomenon.

She gives an interesting overview, speaking with some of the expected people - RealDoll and Superbabe founders Matt McMullen and Mark Maki, for instance, and their counterparts in Japan and Germany. There's discussion of the challenges in manufacturing, where they are headed in terms of integrating robotics and programmed responses or even artificial intelligence. It's an interesting contrast, with the RealDoll people coming across as dedicated craftspeople (interestingly, the company's staff is roughly 50% female, though only one in twenty-five of their products are sold to women) while Maki and Superbabe seem a bit more industrial and cynical.

Full review at EFC.

Dwaejiui Wang (The King of Pigs)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012 Axis/Camera Lucida, HD)

Animation fans will spend a great deal of time telling the rest of the world that the medium is good for more than children's entertainment, and will point to movies with either violent content or mature themes to make their case. It's unusual to see both handled well in the same movie, though, which makes The King of Pigs a searing rarity.

The film opens on a woman's corpse and her killer Hwang Kyung-min (voice of Oh Jung-se) trying to locate a childhood friend, Jung Jong-suk (voice of Yang Ik-june). Jong-suk has problems of his own - he's failing as a ghostwriter and tending toward abuse in his own relationship - but meets with Kyung-min to reminisce over their middle-school days. Not that they were good times - young Jong-suk (voice of Kim Kkobbi) and Kyung-min (voice of Park Hee-bon) were incessantly bullied, and when another student, Kim Chul-yi (voice of Kim Hye-na) stood up to their attackers, things only got more volatile.

The precise manifestations of class and economic status in late-1990s Korea may not be completely familiar, but it's clear that this classroom serves as a microcosm of a broken system - an elite is able to abuse the poorer classmates with almost complete impunity, with the victims feeling they have no recourse but violence, especially since the authority figures like teachers only seem to respond when the privileged are attacked. The abused seem quite aware of how this works - Chul describes them as pigs, only considered useful as they are killed - but with their thoughts on survival, that's as much high-minded as they get in their philosophy. Survival comes before changing the system.

Full review at EFC.

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 27 July 2012 - 2 August 2012

So, how do the theaters in Boston mock me while I'm in Montreal?

    Well, the Brattle mainly does it by offering up Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, the Takeshi Miike remake of a Japanese classic about a samurai who comes to a castle to commit seppuku only to find the local lord is a sadist, from Friday to Sunday. To give you an idea of how prolific Miike is, I will be seeing two of his movies by the time I leave this festival - For Love's Sake and Ace Attorney, so he is almost literally making movies too fast for anybody to see all of them. Note that this presentation is digital but not 3D (as it was shown in Japan), but the latter shouldn't be a huge loss; the original was more talky than action-packed.

    As far as the features on the vertical portion of the schedule goes, the double feature with episodes 7 & 8 of The Story of Film is A Fistful of Dollars - although both will only show matinees on Monday to make room for the week's DocYard presentation of My Reincarnation, a documentary twenty years in the making in which Jennifer Fox (present at the screening) documents the life of a Tibetan lama and his son, who embraces the modern world despite being believe to be the reincarnation of a famous master. The Wednesday "Recent Raves" double feature is a pair of films about children, Japan's I Wish and Belgium's The Kid with a Bike. And Thursday's "International Asskicking" twofer is the pretty awesome District B13 and Mirageman (which I missed at Fantasia, though I dug star Marko Zaror's Kiltro and Mandrill when I saw them there)

  • The Coolidge, meanwhile, offers up Chen Kaige's new film Sacrifice, in which a loyal doctor (You Ge) rescues the last baby of a slaughtered family and plans revenge on the killer.

    Over on the main screen, the midnight film on Friday and Saturday is Arachnophobia, starring Jeff Daniels as a man with the title affliction whose town is besieged by killer spiders from South America; John Goodman plays an exterminator. It's a cult classic. Speaking of classics, Monday's entry in the Big Screen Classics series is legit; The Apartment won Billy Wilder Oscars for picture, director, and screenplay, and features Jack Lemmon as a corporate cog who allows his managers to use his apartment for their trysts, including with girl-of-his-dreams Shirley MacLaine.

  • I must admit, I'm not hugely jealous over what's opening at the multiplexes this weekend: The Watch features a hit-and-miss cast (Ben Stiller, Jonah Hill, Vince Vaughn) as a neighborhood watch group that discovers that there are aliens hiding in suburbia; it opens at the Arlington Capitol, Boston Common, Fenway, and Fresh Pond. The latest installment in the Step Up series, Step Up Revolution, has another two young'uns who dance well but come from different social circles fall in love. It opens in both 3D and 2D in the same locations.

  • Two of the three movies opening at Kendall Square are French, interestingly enough. Farewell, My Queen is the new film by Benoit Jacquot and looks at the currying of favor going on in the court of Marie Antoinette as the French Revolution begins; it is certain to be a very good-looking film, with Diane Kruger playing the queen and Lea Seydoux and Virginie Ledoyen as her confidants. The Well-Digger's Daughter, which has the one-week booking, is a remake of an older French film in which a father who venerates his daughter must deal with the girl's pregnancy.

    And while IFFBoston's closing night film The Queen of Versailles references a French landmark, it's a thoroughly American picture, in which a rags-to-riches story heads back to rags in a story of the recession writ large. It's funny and does a surprisingly good job of making its subjects likable.

  • The Harvard Film Archive continues their series honoring 100 Years of Paramount Pictuers with classics like Double Indemnity (Friday at 7pm), The Conversation (Saturday at 9pm), and a Sunday double feature of It's a Gift and I'm No Angel at 7pm. The Buñuel's Mexico series also continues, with El screening Friday at 9:30pm and Sunday at 5pm, The Exterminating Angel running Saturday at 7pm, and The Great Madcap Monday night at 7pm.

  • Over at the MFA, the 17th Annual Boston French Film Festival wraps up from Friday to Sunday with screenings of Bachelor Days Are Over, a Shorts Program, 38 Witnesses, The Painting, Beloved, The Bride Wore Black, All Our Desires, and closing night film A Better Life. Then a new month means new programming, starting with the UCLA Festival of Preservation, which kicks off on Thursday the 2nd with Robert Altman's Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean and Herbert Kline's The Forgotten Village and will run through the 17th.

My plans? Well none of the above, really. But I'm not jealous; I figure on seeing 20-odd cool movies even while working half-days for my day job.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Fantasia Daily, 2012.07 (25 July 2012): Black Pond, Reign of Assassins, Resolution, and As Luck Would Have It

It's funny - you get into a groove at a film festival, and then you look up, it's been a week, and you've seen twenty-seven movies and written reviews for 13 of them. That's a lot when you look at it from outside.

I had a couple extra hours in the afternoon, so I went to La Cinematheque Quebecoise for the "If It Came From Within" exhibition:

If They Came From Within, "The Death Photographer" and "Pontypool Changes" posters from "If They Came From Within"

The exhibition is part of Fantasia's programming and will tour Canada after Sunday; the idea is to have today's Canadian horror filmmakers and critics imagine an alternate reality where Canada dominated the horror genre as opposed to frequently being a cheap place to film. The two posters depicted are from the end - "The Death Photographer" is a clever post-apocalyptic concept while "Pontypool Changes" actually has a hope of being made; it's one of the pitches being made as part of Fantasia's new "Frontieres" market that is trying to connect filmmakers and financiers for projects the festival hopes to show in coming years.

It's a very cool exhibit, with fun pastiches of both poster style and movie descritions from the various eras, with the tongue planted firmly in cheek. The music composed to accompany the gallery show is also very nice indeed, although it would have been nice if there were a few more "found objects" in the center, as the ones that were there were nifty. And I also like that I really don't know whether the last item, supposedly films that were at one time in the works at the companies that eventually became Lionsgate, is for real or part of the joke.

I just went for that, but wound up sticking around to check out another couple of exhibitions that were on display - there was a nifty collection of old televisions, going all the way back to the mechanical sets of the 1920s, as well as a nice animation display. It was, I must admit, a little disappointing to see kids looking at the computer stuff when there were cool mechanical praxinoscopes and thumatropes and the like that you could touch and make move. I've dropped some pictures from that, as well as a couple other things seen around town, in a Facebook gallery.

Only one set of filmmakers on-hand today, but they made a good movie and one of the most entertaining presentations:

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, "Resolution" directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead

You want to get the good side of the Fantasia crowd? Do your introduction in French. Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead clearly have retained their high-school French much better than I have, but their bouncing between French and English was a lot of fun and certainly seemed to have the audience eating out of their hands. They later did a lively, entertaining Q&A, though said it would take a few beers later to get them to actually explain the details of the movie's ending.

Now, on to Day Eight. My plans are the Samurai exhibit at Pointe-a-Calliere, 11/25 The Day Mishima Chose His Own Fate, The Mechanical Bride, The King of Pigs, and the late Muppet show at Just Pour Rire.

Black Pond

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2012 in Concordia University Cinema de Seve (Fantasia 2012, HD)

Black Pond starts out as one thing (a thriller), becomes another (a kitchen-sink drama), with a great deal of dark comedy mixed into both, and then by the time it's over, seems to be both and neither. It's a strange result, not just ambiguous, but ambiguous int he most unusual of ways.

The scandal of the Thompson family at Black Pond has gained some notoriety, it seems, and one track taken by the film shows interviews with the participants trying to explain their roles. Alongside that, the affair plays out, beginning when Tom Thomposon (Chris Langham) has a chance encounter with another man while searching for his dog Boy, who has slipped his leash. The man, Blake (Colin Hurley), is peculiarly open in his way, and soon Tom has invited him back to his house for tea. Tom's wife Sophie (Amanda Hadingue), will later say that it was the first real conversation that she and Tom had shared for months, although Blake's lack of boundaries does later seem odd, at the very least. An unexpected event brings daughters Jess (Helen Cripps) and Katie (Anna O'Grady) back from London, along with roommate Tim Tanaka (Will Sharpe), and by the time the weekend is over, a series of events will take place that undermines the group's relationships and has the police investigating the lot.

Though one should not overlook the fine work of this film's actresses, it's the men in this film that make the strongest impression out of the cast. Take Colin Hurley, for example, whose first job in the movie is to make Blake seem peculiar in a way that both puts the audience off and still draws them in as certainly as he does the Thompsons. It's the sort of role Zach Galifianakis has made a career of playing for laughs made more real and ambiguous, with an amazing undercurrent of desperation. Then there's Chris Langham as Tom; he elevates a well-meaning lack of awareness past being funny or horrible (though frequently both) to something almost tragic. He's a fool, and probably not very bright, but there are moments when his good intentions are remarkably clear and affecting. On the other end of the spectrum is Simon Amstell, whose Eric Sacks is a comedic character so broad he almost doesn't seem to fit, but his lack of subtlety works - it's the brutally judgmental way that the outside world reacts to a family's internal complications, and other people in general.

Full review at EFC.

Jianyu (Reign of Assassins)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012, DCP)

Huh, I didn't realize that writer/primary director Su Chao-bin also directed Silk, a ghost story with sci-fi attitude that I quite liked when I saw it at Fantasia five years ago. Now I'm even more curious to know how much of this movie is his and how much is John Woo's. Woo is credited as "co-director", but not only much of the action reflect his gunplay aesthetics despite the film's period, but there seems to be a bit of Face/Off in the plot.

Whoever is responsible for what, it makes for a very entertaining wuxia flick, with some awesomely grand/absurd ideas and emotions that are as heightened as the action is. Though while that action is pretty good - Michelle Yeoh still seems to have some skills despite not doing a whole lot of kung fu movies in recent years - I did find myself wishing that Woo and Su would pull the camera back a little. A great deal of the action is swordfighting, and while the close-ups show how flexible the Water-Shedding Sword is, it's best when the characters have a little screen real estate to move around in.

Full review at EFC.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012, HD)

I'm sure I've seen plenty of films that gave me this kind of shivers in the dozen or so years since The Blair Witch Project came out, but that's the one that best exemplifies why Resolution works so well for me: It's a creeping slow burn that heightens the sense of something being Not Right as things go on.

Of course, it's a very different movie - it's funnier, for instance, with enjoyable not-quite-banter between Peter Ciella and Vinny Curran as the characters in the lead roles, and more open; as much as the film is about a specific narrow place and focus, the characters don't feel artificially restricted. And though there's a sort of awkward "because the script needs this" feel to a few decisions toward the end, it's very impressive how directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead don't let the meta run away with the movie, even though that's what it's about.

Full review at EFC.

La Chispa de la Vida (As Luck Would Have It)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012, 35mm)

Is Álex de la Iglesia getting a little soft as he ages? Though he's not credited with the screenplay here (nor is frequent collaborator Jorge Guerricaechevarría), it still seems a bit surprising that de la Iglesia, given material that so clearly riffs on Ace in the Hole, wouldn't have his knives be a little sharper. Today's media world seems even more set for vicious satire than it was in Billy Wilder's day, and yet the main emotions here are sadness and regret.

Maybe that's fitting; maybe we're so used to living in the world where such things are routinely exploited that this sort of sincerity is more surprising than cynicism. Still, there's enough leans toward satire here that the movie seems to wind up in-between, and in many ways becomes most enjoyable as a fly-on-the-wall thing, with the mechanics of dealing with a man who can't be moved because of the iron rod in his head as interesting as the implications of it.

The cast is at least nice, though - José Mota has to be excellent, projecting panic even if he can't move, from very early on, and he doesn't disappoint. Salma Hayek is pretty darn good as his wife, and there's a whole raft of fine supporting work going on as well. It's an ensemble for satire, even if the movie's real strength is one man facing his end, figuratively and literally.

Full review at EFC.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Fantasia Daily, 2012.06 (24 July 2012): Punch, Hemorrhage, Alter Egos, and Jackpot

Does anybody know how to actually get offline maps to cache on an HTC Rezound? Blasted thing has been saying "Queued for Download" for days, and as great as Google's free applications are, you get what you pay for, support-wise.

But, that's today's problem (and will likely be solved by me buying a laminated paper map). Time for yesterday's highlights!

I wound up missing Headshot - just didn't get down to Concordia in time. A shame, as it was the second and last screening, but given that it's directed by noted Thai auteur Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, I've got a feeling that it will eventually play Boston. It left time for fish & chips at Sir Winston Churchill's and a trip to the drugstore to get shaving supplies, as well as the thing a writer needs most after a pencil and paper - an eraser!

That made Punch the first movie of the day, and it's kind of not the greatest name - the main character's kickboxing plays a relatively small part in the picture, and it's much more comedic - but it was a surprisingly fun movie. It kind of joins Starry Starry Night in the category of stuff that I wouldn't mind recommending to certain younger viewers (there's a lot of subtitled profanity), and there were a few kids there, which made that ZombiU trailer ahead of it even more uncomfortable. Niftily put together, but I think I've seen it enough, especially ahead of things that aren't hard-R-type movies.

Mitch Davis, Braden Croft, Benjamin Mallin, Fantasia's Mitch Davis with questions for "Hemorrhage" director Braden Croft and producer Benjamin Mallin (?)

Hemorrhage wound up being the second film of the day, and a good one. I'm not usually a fan of serial killer movies, but this one was well-executed, creepy, and oddly compelling. It was made for a song with a small cast in Edmonton, Alberta, which isn't one of the big filmmaking centers of Canada, but the cast they put together was very good.

Especially noteworthy: The film's leading actress, Brittney Grabill, was apparently just sixteen at the time of filming, despite playing an adult part. It is pretty darn unusual to see it work that way, but she was actually quite good.

Short film directors, The directors of "Superegos" and "Alchemy and Other Imperfections" (Zachary Rothman)

It was a noteworthy day for short films, with two pretty decent ones before Alter Egos and one great one before Jackpot. Unfortunately, I didn't catch the name of the gentleman on the left, who is part of a Montreal filmmaking group called Kino that created "Superegos" specifically to play before Alter Egos at its world premiere. It's a funny little thing about superheros on blind dates with a girl who is not hugely impressed with their powers, getting plenty of laughs. The other one before Alter Egos was "Alchemy and Other Imperfections", an amusingly steampunkycreation that seemed a little puffed up, but was nicely put together for an $800-in-eight-days contest shoot.

The short before Jackpot was "Zakariassen Must Die", an amusingly mean-spirited slow burn from Norway that builds a lot of black comedy before hitting the audience with a sentimental stinger. Its makers should try to convince whoever gets the US rights to Jackpot to make them a pair, because they combine well and Jackpot is on the short side.

Jordan Galland, Brooke Nevin, Joey Kern, Kris Lemche, Danny Masterson, "Alter Egos" director Jordan Galland with stars Brooke Nevin, Joey Kern, Kris Lemche and Danny Masterson

Apparently this was the world premiere of Alter Egos, and one of the toughest tickets for the festival. I was literally the last person in; the festival crew not only had the usual throng of press and VIPs to deal with, but promotional passes as well. I wound up sticking the line out because I was sort of blocked in (the VIP/guest/media line at Hall isn't so much a line as a throng), and wound up moving toward the front as others bailed to try their luck with Amok. I only got in because one person who was on the guest list failed to show and the people ahead of me were a pair.

Anyway, funny movie, and it's unfortunate that the Q&A couldn't last longer - getting everybody in and the extra short meant that the tail-end of the movie was starting to press up against the start time of Jackpot - because it's a fun one. Left to right, you see director Jordan Galland with stars Brooke Nevin, Joey Kern, Kris Lemche and Danny Masterson, and they're a bunch of funny people. Kern, Lemche, and Masterson more or less had their parts written with them in mind, and that was pretty evident when you saw them just being themselves. Of course, that unfairly leaves out Brooke Nevin, who described making the film as like "movie camp", since they were shooting more or less in one location for the most part and staying in a house together.

So, on to Day Seven. My plans are Black Pond, Reign of Assassins, Resolution, and As Luck Would Have It.

Wandeuki (Punch)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2012 in Concordia University Cinema J.A. de Seve (Fantasia 2012, DCP)

What a pleasant surprise this turned out to be - a movie that looks for all the world like standard "neglected student/inspirational teacher" fluff but turns out to be quite funny and self-aware from start to finish without ever becoming too sappy. The closest thing its got to a fault is its length - it has a lot of episodes to its episodic structure - but it never seemed to go on too long.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2012 in Concordia University Cinema de Seve (Fantasia 2012, HD)

Very interesting little movie here, as it seems very rare for this sort of serial-killer movie to be so carefully framed in terms of mental illness, to the point where the main character seems sympathetic long past what would logically be the point of no return. It's the sort of movie where you know that there's going to be some sort of realigning of perspective toward the end, and you hope it's of the "horrible misunderstanding" variety as opposed to something else.

It's got a very nice fly-on-the-wall perspective, too - occasional bits that seem like documentary footage create an extra bit of urgency without forcing it into that structure and its limitations.

Alter Egos

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012, HD)

It would have been really easy to make Alter Egos little more than a feature-length series of jokes made at the expense of comic book clichés loosely connected by a standard story template. And there's a lot of that going on here, but there's also an actual story that doesn't suffer despite the silliness around it.

In a world much like ours, except with superheroes who work together as part of the government-supported Super Corps - though there's a movement to de-fund the organization - Brendan (Kris Lemche) is having a bit of an identity crisis, in that his superhero alter ego Fridge is having an affair with his girlfriend Emily (Christine Evangelista). So when friend and colleague C-Thru (Joey Kern) calls him to participate in a mission to help transport notorious supervillain The Shrink (John Ventimglia), he's in. However, when he arrives at the deserted motel in the Hamptons where C-Thru and Shrink are located, its soon clear that there's more going on than meets the eye, even before you consider Claudel (Brooke Nevin), the cute girl at the front desk, and Jimmy (Danny Masterson), the local cop who holds a grudge against the Corps for rejecting him.

The screenplay for a movie like this doesn't have to do a lot - in practical terms, it's got to find a way to keep the concept cost-effective without necessarily feeling cheap, while also delivering some jokes and ideally a through-line that keeps a bad joke from stopping it dead. So, it's kind of impressive that Jordan Galland's story both does that and goes for more; the story with Shrink sets itself up to be potentially twisty and suspenseful early on, and delivers on that, while the parallel romantic comedy/farce story with Claudel and Emily has a lot of funny material. What's impressive is how well C-Thru fits a different purpose in both without it being a seeming contradiction, and that the serious story has comic relief of its own while the funny one builds to a climax with a bit of tension, and the intersections don't feel forced.

Full review at EFC.

Arme Riddere (Jackpot)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012 Spotlight Denmark/Norway, HD)

So, it looks like I'm going to have to start putting Jo Nesbø stuff in my Amazon basket, as any guy who comes up with the raw material for both this and Headhunters is my kind of darkly funny. Proper credit must also go to Magnus Martens, though, who took the original story and made a fast-paced, very funny movie out of it. At some point, someone could have seen it running short and asked to bulk it up, but I don't see how making this longer would have helped it any.

The cast is also pretty great across the board, especially the scene-stealing investigating detective (Henrik Mestad), who is just as incredulous as the audience at what's going on but has just enough smarm to him to make sure that suspect Oscar Svendson (Kyrre Hellum) is the guy the audience identifies with.

Also, I dig that Martens kept the important hint toward the finale visible enough throughout that he didn't have to do a late flashback. If you don't get what happened, that's your own problem.

Full review at EFC.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Fantasia Daily, 2012.05 (23 July 2012): Mitsuko Delivers, Funeral Kings, The Sword Identity, and The Victim

Tomorrow, I will definitely see some mroe of Montreal than just the roads between the apartment and Concordia. But for now, here's the dailies:

Cast and crew of "Funeral Kings", Writer/directors The Brothers McManus, Fantasia's King-wei Chu, star Dylan Hartigan
I didn't catch many names during this Q&A, unfortunately, so I can just tell you that the first two going from left to wring are the McManus brothers, Kevin and Matthew, but not in which order. Then comes the festival's King-wei Chu, star Dylan Hartigan, and I think producer Andrew van den Houten, but don't quote me on that.

Nice folks from Rhode Island who made a pretty good movie. I maybe bumped it up a quarter star because there's no reason not to be generous to festival films, but it's worth saying it's above average.

Being late was a theme of the day, to a certain extent - I came into Mitsuko Delivers a few minutes late (so I don't know if I'll give it a full review), and even going straight from Hall (where I saw The Sword Identity) to de Seve left me just outside when all the seats for Memory of the Dead were full. Pity, as it looked like a nifty movie and I've heard there aren't screeners, so I'll have to hope for a second show to be added (even though there are far fewer spots left open in the schedule).

Even after hitting Altaib for some pizza and Crush Creme Soda, though, it wasn't hard to get into The Victim, despite some star power being on hand:

Michael Biehn & Jennifer Blanc, "The Victim"'s Michael Biehn and Jennifer Blanc
Michael Biehn and his wife/co-star/co-producer Jennifer Blanc

Give Michael Biehn some credit - he genuinely appreciates the love genre fans show him, even if, as he says, he's all talked out where Aliens is concerned. He's got a pretty healthy-seeming attitude where this movie is concerned, too - he's gracious when talking about the original screenwriter, proud of his work, but also acknowledges that they really made it quick and dirty: 12 days of shooting when he's never done a movie just as an actor that ran less than 24, which translated to so many set-ups per day that as a director he mostly had to go by feel rather than watching his performance as an actor very much.

Of course, when introducing it, he said "if you've got cell phones - leave 'em on; it could be someone important calling - more important than this!" Not quite as damning as Steven King calling Maximum Overdrive "a moron movie" in publicity interviews but, yeah, he knew what he made.

So, on to Day Six. My plans are Headshot, Punch, Hemorrage, Alter Egos, and Jackpot.

Hara ga kore nande (Mitsuko Delivers)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2012 in Concordia University Cinema J.A. de Seve (Fantasia 2012, HD)

I remember quite liking director Yuya Ishii's previous film, Sawako Decides, but I must admit that Mitsuko Delivers doesn't hold up quite so well for me. Its characters have an odd sort of passivity to them, so that even when they do start doing things, it's hard to see it as in character.

That said, it still has a nice lead performance by Riisa Naka, and a big heart that not just more films, but more people should show. It's slight, but feels pretty good.

Full review at EFC.

Funeral Kings

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2012 in Concordia University Cinema J.A. de Seve (Fantasia 2012, HD)

You don't really need that much of a hook for a coming-of-age film - they're more or less going to cover the same territory, albeit in different ways - but it doesn't hurt to have one. That way, a person who likes it can recommend something like Funeral Kings as "a pretty good coming-of-age flick about kids who serve as altar boys at funerals", rather than something generic that sounds like something the person being given the recommendation has already seen before.

14-year-olds Andy (Dylan Hartigan) and Charlie (Alex Maizus) have already been reaping the benefits of working funerals for a while - mainly getting called out of class at the school near their church and chances to sneak sacramental wine - but 13-year-old David (Jordan Puzzo) is new, given the job after 16-year-old Bobby (Brandon Waltz) is sent to juvie. Before he was shipped off, though, he hid a trunk in Andy's room, telling Andy not to open it or tell Charlie. Yeah, that's going to happen, even if not going back to class after a funeral means they have to include David, who may be a goody-goody but is treated like a big deal in this Rhode Island town because he was in a horror movie the year before.

The funeral aspect actually isn't that big a deal - it's used to show a bit of contrast between intended solemnity and crude reality toward the start, but falls away after a while (although there is the possibility that it could resurface in a way that makes the boys take the job more seriously). What's left is the classic elements of the genre - kids swearing, acting like horndogs but not actually getting very far with girls, looking for trouble and finding more than expected. In short, it's junior high schoolers beign treated like little kids, thinking they should be more.

Full review at EFC.

Wo Kou De Zong Ji (The Sword Identity)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012, DCP)

It might not be obvious from the opening, which is a fine action sequence, but The Sword Identity perhaps works best as the straightest-faced spoof of martial arts films imaginable. It's more than that, of course, but its sincere demolition of certain things that the form holds dear might be what sticks in the viewer's memory.

For over two hundred years, the tradition has been that if one can defeat the four martial arts houses in Shuangye Town, one could open a school of one's own. A generation ago, General Qi defeated the Japanese pirates by co-opting and improving their sword design, and now his last two surviving bodyguards aim to teach the use of that sword. The establishment has rules against using foreign weapons, though, so they capture the older man and brand the younger one (Song Yang) as a Japanese pirate himself, making him a fugitive trapped on a boat with Sailan, a nomadic dancing girl. Among the masters ready to defeat him is Master Qiu, who years ago retreated to the mountain after being cuckolded by his beautiful young wife.

In structure and also in style, this seems like a very conventional martial arts picture, albeit one with some potential for comic relief - Sailan's early frustration that her well-paying client is keeping her from seeing the martial arts demonstrations is kind of adorably petulant. Eventually, though, words spoken by one of the characters - "martial arts is not military combat" become a major theme of the movie: The strict rules employed by the martial artists turn out to be a major liability when the opponent doesn't go in for honorable combat but instead thinks tactically. A lot of laughs come out of how the martial arts masters and their best students are bested by a humble opponent as a result. It's a funny way to drive the film's central point home - sticking to a rigid definition of what their art should be has made the masters' skills of little practical use.

Full review at EFC.

Sumagurâ: Omae no mirai o hakobe (Smuggler)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012, HD)

I've already seen and reviewed Smuggler (a few months ago at BUFF, but since I didn't get into Memory of the Dead, I figured I might as well see it again, as I liked it well enough the first time and it's the sort of movie you don't necessarily get many chances to see with a big crowd. Besides, I was a little worn out the first time I saw it but was feeling pretty clear last night.

Overall, I think I like the movie pretty much the same, although while watching it, I kind of suspected that my description of the action as just a bit beyond what a normal human is capable of was, well, perhaps factually inaccurate. There were warnings at BUFF that the torture toward the end was not for the squeamish, but maybe the better part of a week at Fantasia has already desensitized me to that sort of thing. I mean, it's not close to as pointlessly nasty as Sushi Girl.

In short: Still good. See it if you can.

Full review at EFC.

The Victim (2012)

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012, HD)

Oh, Michael Biehn, we love you, but maybe you ought to just stick to the front of the camera, because The Victim is not very good. I get that you didn't have a whole lot in the way of resources to work with and were trying to do something that was a deliberate homage to grindhouse pictures, but even taking that into consideration, you still had something that most C-movie directors don't have: Michael Biehn, actor. And even with that at your disposal, you still had a hard time.

Don't get me wrong, I hope Biehn gets another chance with a bit more money, because some of the time spent working with James Cameron and other great directors has clearlly allowed him to absorb some skills, and I've certainly seen this done worse. But take the novelty of a pretty great character actor making this movie away, and it's not much.

Full review at EFC.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Fantasia Daily, 2012.04 (22 July 2012): The Haunting of Julia (aka Full Circle), Dead Sushi, and Starry Starry Night

No time the first time posting, so straight to the horrible photography:

Keir-la Janisse introducing The Haunting of Julia, which was being screened in support of her new book, House of Psychotic Women.

Rina Takeda, about to demonstrate why her first movie was named "High Kick Girl".

Dead Sushi cast and crew: Director Noboru Iguchi, star Rina Takeda, composer (and voice of "Eggy") Yasuhiko Fukuda, and producer Mana Fukui

And that's all the time I have today. I'll be the guy wearing the "Space Bastard" t-shirt at Mitsuko Delivers, Funeral Kings, The Sword Identity, Memory of the Dead, and The Victim, so say hello.


I was rushing out the door yesterday morning, so I missed a couple of things that I really did mean to say.

First, here's a little extra horrible photography, this time of Jason Gray introducing his short film "Yukuharu", which played before Starry Starry Night:

Jason Gray introduces "Yukuharu", Jason Gray introducing "Yukuharu" at Fantasia 2012

I really don't talk about the shorts I see at Fantasia (or other film festivals) as much as I should, because they're often great little pieces of filmmaking. "Yukuharu" was especially impressive, and its story of a little girl facing some dark things within her family and the boy who likes her serves as a particularly fitting introduction to Starry Starry Night.

I went into that movie sort of blind - I might have read the description of it when looking at stuff for NYAFF, but hadn't really reached it in the Fantasia program, so when the movie started, I actually thought that Xu Jiao was somewhat older - like 19 or 20 - and was kind of surprised when it became a movie about kids. Kind of not what I was expecting at 9:40pm on Sunday, really, especially since this one is not just about kids, but pretty suitable for them as well. As I mention in the EFC review, the one potentially objectionable thing in it is handled maturely in-story.

One other comparison that I wanted to mention here even though I consciously tried hard to avoid it in the review was to recent critical darling Moonrise Kingdom, although maybe I would have gotten a few more hits if I said something semi-inflamatory there. You know, like how there's a great deal of overlap between the movies, only Starry Starry Night had actual kids instead of Wes Anderson quirkbots and adults who seem to be playing their characters rather than being less well-developed gags. An exaggeration, of course, and I did rather like Moonrise Kingdom, but I do think Night is in many ways a lot more human than Anderson's movie, and wish it was getting the same sort of release.

The Haunting of Julia (Full Circle)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre J.A. de Seve (Fantasia 2012: House of Psychotic Women, video)

Once again: Support film preservation, people. There's one print of this left, and while the guys who trasferred it to digital video for this screening specifically likely did their best, it's got the sort of cinematography, especially in terms of dark rooms, that doesn't translate to video that well at all.

The movie itself, at least, is pretty good. A great deal of horror is implied, and while the plot meanders somewhat, Mia Farrow is really just excellent at playing this sort of waif who is almost certain to be overwhelmed by both psychological and supernatural terrors.

Full review at EFC.

Dead Sushi (Deddo Sushi)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012, HD)

Like the previous night's Zombie Ass, Noboru Iguchi delivers pretty much what one expects by now: Lo-fi Japanese weirdness that could seem a bit cynical, as it seems to be made with a western audience in mind, but which is still fun because he so clearly takes quite sincere joy in this sort of movie.

Dead Sushi is a fun diversion, delivering self-aware silliness and quality gore in equal measures, and star Rina Takeda might really be something in a movie where her karate skills were the focus - it's a shame to see her spending so much time running away here!

Full review at EFC.

Xing Kong (Starry Starry Night)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012, 35mm)

Stick around through the end credits of Starry Starry Night, which appear to contain images from Jimmy Liao's original illustrated book. It's not just that they're beautiful (they are) or that they imply that this pretty stunning film was based on a work originally for young readers (it is), but that writer/director Tom Shu-yu Lin is willing to show the audience where he was faithful and where he changed things; a confidence you don't always see, but one which is warranted.

Xiao Mei (Xu Jiao) is in seventh grade, her parents' marriage is falling apart, and it seems obvious enough to her that she plans to run away to her grandfather's cabin in the woods, although she doesn't go through with it. That's maybe a good thing, as she soon discovers she has a new neighbor and classmate, Jay Chou (Lin Hui-ming), and even though her curiosity about what's in his sketchbook gets him in trouble, they soon form a tight bond that Mei is going to need.

Where to start? Well, how about with the kids, because they're wonderful to watch. While Xu Xiao could be considered a veteran child actress by now - western audiences likely remember her as Stephen Chow's son in CJ7 - Lin Hui-ming is a newcomer, but both seem quite natural throughout the movie. What's perhaps most impressive is that kids in a movie like this usually either pick one expression and stick with it or bounce awkwardly between two different moods; Xu and Lin both handle the pressures as well as the utter glee of finding each other very nicely, making them hurt and vulnerable but never quite about to collapse.

Full review at EFC.