Sunday, September 23, 2012

Fantasia Catch-up: Young Gun in the Time and more

If you're in Austin for Fantastic Fest this week, you could do a bit worse than to check out Young Gun in the Time today or Thursday (eFilmCritic has a rundown of the other films playing that festival that I and the site's other writers have seen here, though I was rather more fond of Graceland than Peter). It's a fun little movie, but don't forget the emphasis on "little"; though more ambitious than Invasion of Alien Bikini, it's still kind of makeshift. It's actually kind of interesting to see Oh Young-doo and company improving over the course of several movies, even if you are used to seeing movies where they are already "there", so to speak.

Some year or other, I'll probably go to Fantastic Fest, but it's tough for me to jump in - though it might have saved me from watching a fair amount of aggravation the past two years, there's usually exciting Red Sox baseball this week, and as you can see, if I want to review every movie I see in Montreal, it takes me right up to the start of the Austin-based festival, and I kind of like the idea of flushing the system a bit. Also, I'm a boring, uptight New Englander who would probably bristle at the circus aspect of FF, and I've only got so much vacation to use.

I'm not quite done with Fantasia, of course - Young Gun in the Time was a DVD screener (with an obnoxious little watermark to prevent it from just being slipped into one's collection afterward), and I've got three more of those to get through (Ronal the Barbarian, Sleep Tight, and Revenge: A Love Story, which knocked me out at midnight). Still, it is quite a relief to get to the end of the ones I saw a month and a half ago before I wind up looking at the capsules I wrote at the time and not recognizing them at all: Love Fiction, Hidden in the Woods, The Fourth Dimension, and Sunflower Hour.

Now to finish those last three. Does anybody know where you can find Oh Henry bars in the Boston area? I think I had about twenty of those during Fantasia screenings this year (the selection at the snack bar was somewhat limited and Kit Kats got awful melty) ad would like to make watching these last few screeners as authentic an possible without having someone introduce them in French.

Young Gun in the Time

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 September 2012 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia 2012, DVD screener)

I must admit that I wasn't a fan of Oh Young-doo's first feature, Invasion of Alien Bikini, but it showed enough promise to make me curious about what he came up with next; it also won a bit of prize money and got the attention of investors that he had a somewhat larger shoestring budget for this follow-up. It's a lot better, though still pretty small-scale and rough.

Young-gun (Hong Young-geun) is a small-time private detective in Seoul, and business is not great; landlord/secretary Ha Sa-jang (Ha Eun-jeong) is threatening to kick him out when Choi Song-hyun (Choi Song-hyeon) shows up, asking him to kill someone for her. Well, that's not what he does, but as soon as she leaves the office, she's kidnapped. Tracking down the photo she gave him puts Young-gun on the radar of assassin Tik Taek-to (Bae Yong-geun), and leads him to... Song-hyun? Who doesn't know him, but says her recently-murdered boss was researching some sort of ancient time machine - that either makes things much more or much less confusing.

Really good time travel stories are tough nuts to crack, and when Oh's screenplay gets right down to it toward the end, it's kind of a sloppy mess, switching from paradoxes to predestination almost randomly depending on what would be most dramatic or cool at a given moment. It's not especially lazy, just rushed and ad-hoc - this movie was made fast and cheap, maybe not to the extent of its predecessor, but without much opportunity for polish. Oh mostly knows his limitations and how to work around them, and has a good core team both in front of and behind the camera that he can count on.

Full review at EFC.

Leobeu Pikseon (Love Fiction)

* * (out of four)
Seen 6 August 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012, HD)

Love Fiction is a romantic comedy that never quite gels, despite a pair of fairly likable leads and Jeon Kye-soo's script having a quirky, individual voice. The trouble is that said voice is often using unusual words to say the same old thing: Guy meets girl, they fall in love despite their own baggage, guy selfishly does something she has specifically asked him not to do, and then must try to pick up the pieces.

The couple in question is Joo-wol (Ha Jung-woo), a writer racking his brain over his second novel who also tends bar and plays bass for a band called "Romantic Chimpanzee", and Hee-jin (Kong Hyo-jin), a film buyer who grew up in Alaska. They actually meet in Berlin, where Joo-wol's publisher (Jo Hie-bong) has dragged the German-speaking Joo-wol along to translate, and reconnect in Seoul. They've both got their share of quirks, but some of Hee-jin's make it into Joo-wol's pulp serial.

Ha Jung-woo and Kong Hyo-jin give Love Fiction what should be a fairly solid base; they're attractive folks with good chemistry on-screen and they are both able to take the eccentric characters that writer/director Jeon Kye-soo gives them and show quirk without making them the sort of weird or off-putting that makes the audience wonder how they function in society (at least, not for their basic personalities as opposed to some of their later actions). Especially early on, Ha does a nice job of communicating just how frustrating it is to not be making any progress on something you need and want to do, and how that connects with and reinforces every other bit of self-doubt in one's life.

Full review at EFC.

En las afueras de la ciudad (Hidden in the Woods)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 6 August 2012 in Concordia University Cinema de Seve (Fantasia 2012, HD)

The original Chilean version of Hidden in the Woods (an English-language remake featuring Michael Biehn from the same director is already in pre-production) certainly lives up to its introduction as a nasty, violent piece of work, and filmmaker Patricio Valladares often does an impressive job of making it into more than just sleazy exploitation. Not always, though, and while the film is very impressive at its best, it's often enough less than that as to leave me relatively cold.

The movie doesn't waste much time making the audience uncomfortable - it opens on a woman dying in childbirth in 1987, bearing a second daughter to Felipe (Daniel Antivilio), a backwoods hermit whose primary source of income seems to be watching over the drug stash of "Uncle" Costelo (Serge François). Not much to do out in the woods, so it's not surprising when older sister Anny gives birth to her own half-brother in 1998. It's in 2010 that everything comes to a head, and Anny (Carolina Escobar), sister Ana (Siboney Lo), and sister/brother Manuel (José Hernandez) wind up fleeing to an outside world they've had little if any contact with while Felipe and Costelo both wind up seeking their "property".

Valladares does not mess around with establishing this as a bad situation, spending the opening act going through every ugly image that comes to mind when you say "backwoods hermit" just rapidly enough for the audience to understand that this is just the set-up while lingering for enough time for the nastiness to sink in. There's a genuine sense of panicked desperation as things go from known hell to unpredictable hell. And while Daniel Antivilio is a big, imposing guy to start with, he becomes absolutely monstrous when one thinks back on his performance as the father.

Full review at EFC.

The Fourth Dimension

* * * (out of four)
Seen 7 August 2012 in Concordia University Cinema de Seve (Fantasia 2012, HD)

The makers of this anthology were given dozens of instructions that ranged from restrictive to twee, or so the legend goes, although ultimately they had a fair amount of leeway so long as they made a movie on the subject of "the fourth dimension". And while Harmony Korine's piece with Val Kilmer is likely the one that will jump out to English-speaking audiences in most listings, it's the other two pieces, by Silent Souls director Aleksei Fedorchenko and Polish newcomer Jan Kwiecinski, that take simple sci-fi-ish concepts and turning them into stories which resonate surprisingly well.

Things do start off with Korine and Kilmer, though, and "The Lotus Community Workshop" is kind of amusing. In large part, that's because Kilmer has reached the point of his career where there are no expectations but he still has just enough big-movie-star residue left on him to make presenting himself as very silly seem doubly amusing. He's clearly having a blast as "Val Kilmer", an inspirational speaker who mentions that you might remember him from the movies but is here to tell "awesome secrets" about the fourth dimension, although it mostly amounts to singing a goofy little song before roller-skating home to play video games with his girl Rachel (Rachel Korine).

It's all very silly, and director Korine pushes everything to within sight of being just obnoxious: The image is matted down to a ridiculously wide aspect ratio (three or four times as wide as it is tall), Kilmer babbles the sort of incoherent nonsense that makes one wonder if he's confused stoner philosophy with alien abductions, and there's certainly a hint of disdain for everyone playing along with this silliness under the surface. If Kilmer didn't play his avatar as so cheery and sincere, it could get really annoying (and likely will for many, anyway), but somehow, actor-Kilmer's awareness of character-Kilmer's childlike innocence twists the short into something featherweight but amusing.

Full review at EFC.

Sunflower Hour

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 7 August 2012 in Concordia University Cinema de Seve (Fantasia 2012, HD)

Even as mock-documentary movies go, Sunflower Hour looks kind of bare-bones, but partly by design. Of course, even when cheapness is part of the aesthetic, that doesn't mean a filmmaker knows how to use it - despite the number of people who say limited resources make one more creative, that's definitely not always the case! Writer/director Aaron Houston has a good handle on it that even when it doesn't work for him, it doesn't take much away from the times when things are utterly hilarious.

Sunflower Hour is a children's puppet show in Vancouver produced on the cheap by Donald Dirk (Peter New), whose background is mostly in porn, though his wife Melissa (Johannah Newmarch) is handling the initial stages of the search. They've announced that they want to add a new character and will document the process. The documentary follows four hopefuls: Leslie Handover (Patrick Gilmore), who sees the show as a great platform to preach against the evils of homosexuality; Satan's Spawn (Kacey Rohl), a goth teenage girl; Shamus O'Reilly (Ben Cotton), who speaks with a thick Irish accent despite his family not having been near the Emerald Isle in generations; and David Spencer (Amatai Marmorstein), a fan of the show and puppetry in general who gets bullied by his older brothers.

Melissa may have chosen this group just to torment her husband.

There are two important things to remember about puppets: First, everything is funnier when done by a puppet. Everything. Second, they can provide an intriguing glimpse into their makers' and performers' psyches - the puppets tend to be half who the puppeteer is and who the puppeteer wants to be. That's not particularly deep, but a broad, raunchy comedy doesn't have to be - it just has to be enough to make the characters feel a little more well-rounded without having to get overly confessional in between the jokes.
Full review at EFC.

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