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.

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