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.

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