Friday, July 26, 2013

The Fantasia Daily, 2013.08 (25 July 2013): I'll Follow You Down, The Last Tycoon, Missionary, and The Machine

Long but fruitful day, in that it involved getting up early enough to see a 10am movie (hey, I'm on vacation - it's not supposed to work like that), since they were having a press screening of I'll Follow You Down at Ex Centris and I figured this would let me cram another movie in and give me a little more flexibility for Sunday evening. I met of with Kurt Halfyard there, doing much the same thing except that he was heading back to Toronto on the 5pm train, so this would be his last screening. He wound up digging it much more than I did, although his excitement as we walked to get a burger at The Burger Bar on Crescent was somewhat contagious.

After that, I killed a little time by walking to the waterfront to do some writing, thinking I'd be able to use the free WiFi there to upload what I did. Not the case! I did have a nice time looking at the city, though, and kind of love this photo, where the trees lining the sidewalk cast colored shadows because of the tinted glass on the building opposite. I have no idea whether that was deliberate or a happy accident, but it's cool.

Speaking of so-so photography:

That would be Missionary director Anthony DiBlasi and the husband & wife producing team Scott and Mary Lankford Poiley (with Scott one of the movie's writers). They gave a nice Q&A for their pretty decent movie, fun both because Scott was cajoled into tap-dancing and because they had fun stories on set, like how it can actually be cheaper to SPOILERS! raise a floor and have an actor stick his head through a hole rather than build a severed head !SRELIOPS. They also spent some time talking about how missionary work goes with the LDS people who do it, information that I think could have helped going in the movie.

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After that came Caradog James of The Machine, talking about how when he moved to Wales, people told him he was pronouncing his Welsh name wrong. It was a fun Q&A as well, in part because he seemed genuinely enthused about the science behind his science fiction, and because I wouldn't be shocked if this wound up being my favorite movie of the festival and I wanted to know more. It's apparently got distribution all over the place and will be playing later this year, and it will get my money.

Not much time to get to the Imperial, where I'll be until late, seeing The Complex, How to Use Guys with Secret Tips, Big Bad Wolves, and Zombie Hunter

I'll Follow You Down

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2013 in the Ex Centris Cinema (Fantasia Festival, HD)

Science fiction writers have come up with dozens of ways for time travel to be a terrible idea, from rifts that can collapse the entire structure of the Universe to far-future AIs who will eradicate anything that might prevent their creation to a deterministic model of time in which there's no free will. Richie Mehta doesn't go with anything that elaborate, deciding that good old-fashioned emotional scarring will do the trick.

Not that anybody suspects that at first, when Gabe (Rufus Sewell) leaves Toronto for a conference on particle physics at Princeton. When he doesn't return, his wife Marika (Gillian Anderson) calls her father Sal (Victor Garber) - the professor Gabe studied under - only to have him find Gabe's hotel room empty and a strange, nonfunctional apparatus in his temporary workspace. Twelve years later, Marika is still devastated and their son Erol (Haley Joel Osment) is perhaps only superficially better, always late for class (which he can afford to be, instinctively brilliant as he is), spending all his time with his girlfriend Grace (Susanna Fournier), and passing on grad school at MIT. Sal, though, has finally cracked what Gabe was working on, and thinks he can make it work with Erol's help. They can fix things - although Grace isn't sure that can be done without side effects.

The choices at the center of I'll Follow You Down aren't terribly technical - Erol and Sal spend a lot of time writing on blackboards and building something, sure, but just doing math that the audience can't understand is not what holds them back. Butterfly-effect convolutions are there, as is the occasional talk of destiny and "how it should be", but in general, Mehta is using his science-fictional setting to create a metaphor for dealing with loss and uncertainty, along with knowing that one's life would be different or happier under other circumstances.

Full review at EFC.

Da Shanghai (The Last Tycoon)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Somehow, during the last few years of not doing movies that neither get picked up for theatrical distribution in the US nor look interesting enough to come off my "too-watch" pile, Chow Yun-fat got old. Not infirm or having lines on his face that give him gravitas, but now there's someone playing a younger version of his character in movies, and he's doing a better job of looking cool firing guns than he is. Happens to all of us, I guess, but it's sad to see when it happens to the great ones.

That disappointment is a tough thing to get over while watching The Last Tycoon, as Chow seems stiff and formal while flashbacks to Huang Xiaoming playing his character Cheng Daqi's younger self are full of life and excitement, and a massive shootout in a church does nothing but remind the viewer of the kind of thing he and John Woo used to do on a regular basis. Why not just let the new guys have the movie, even if one can see what it's setting up. It certainly seems more fun.

Well, the movie gets where it's going eventually, and it's hard to deny that it becomes a lot more fun at that point. The reunion with Daqi's first love pays off with operatic glory, and a sudden return to Japanese-occupied Shanghai after spending so much time getting out spins the head a bit but is worth it for the massive over-the-top confrontation and tragic heroism it sparks. I've got no idea how well it tracks to actual history, but it's suddenly the sort of thing Chow Yun-fat became famous for (in a way, quite literally - he had a supporting part in an early-1980s TV series about Cheng Daqi), and even if he's not moving quite so well as he used to and Sammo Hung isn't even doing much in the way of fighting, it's still an enjoyable throwback with modern gloss.

Full review at EFC.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2013 in in Salle de Sève (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Put its Mormon trappings aside, and Missionary is the sort of basic "woman with a stalker" movie that hits all its marks well enough that the audience doesn't necessarily care that it's working from a standard list. It gets the job done, and does so well enough to stand out from a field of similar movies.

Katherine Kingsmen (Dawn Olivieri) came back to the small town in Florida where she grew up to care for a sick mother, and wound up staying there with her son Kesley (Connor Christie) after her husband Ian (Kip Pardue) cheated on him. He's back in the picture, but frequently absent, and when a pair of Mormon missionaries stop by and toss a football with Kesley, it doesn't seem like much until she spots hunky Kevin Brock (Mitch Ryan) walking by the side of the road and gives him a lift. A connection sparks and an affair begins, but when Ian starts to step back up, Kevin is not willing to step down.

Director Anthony DiBlasi and writers Bruce Wood & Scott Poiley may not stray far from the template, but they do a fine job of not making the characters one-dimensional or the situation absurd. Everybody, even Kevin, does what they do for reasons that seem logical enough from their point of view, and situations escalate to the unreasonable by reasonable means. Only once or twice do things happen just to move the story to the next level of crazy - the rapidly introduced and attacked oncologist who tended to Katherine's mother is obviously a means to an end, but otherwise this core of characters makes a good engine.

Full review at EFC.

The Machine

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2013 in in Salle de Sève (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

The Machine is not the sort of science fiction movie that comes from someone who is, at heart, making a western, or because setting it in the future gives the FX guys a reason to make cool visuals, bigger explosions, and bloodier gore. It's not even entirely the "look at a social issue by putting it in a new context" type, really. Sure, it's got plenty of bloody action and contemporary food for thought, but its ideas are very much tomorrow's.

Deep within a Ministry of Defense base in Wales in a future where the West is locked in a new cold war with China, Vincent (Toby Stephens) works on a team that is not only building prosthetic limbs for veterans, but artificial intelligence and implants to restore brain function even after severe injuries - the latter as much to help his daughter with Rett Syndrome as to build a better soldier. The failures are frequent and bloody. His new research partner, Ava (Caity Lotz) is an idealistic American who has built an artificial intelligence that can come as close to passing the Turing Test as any yet developed. They grow close enough that Vincent uses scans of Ava's brain and features for their prototype android, but his boss (Denis Lawson) may not see the need for a fully independent AI... Plus, the soldiers with brain implants who make up a large chunk of the base personnel seem to be up to something, but who knows what - they stop speaking after a few months.

Writer/director Caradog W. James doesn't have much trouble with throwing the audience into the deep end right away, the very first scene has a soldier missing a distressing volume of his cranium being tested for just how human he is now that he's received his implant and it escalates to violence quickly. That's emblematic of how the whole movie is going to play out - it's not going to spend time out in the regular world (the closest we get is Vincent visiting his daughter Mary (Jade Croot) in a hospital that is as institutional in its way as the base), it's going to be harsh, and it's going to push the audience to consider where the bounds of humanity are. Do these soldiers who have had important parts of their brains replaced with machines count? If they don't, what about Mary, who has the same issues with communication and cognition that they do? And what of The Machine, as the android is generally referred to? As much as its brain is still childlike and soaking up information, it isn't Ava.

Full review at EFC.

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