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.

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