Monday, July 29, 2013

The Fantasia Daily, 2013.11 (28 July 2013): The Lady Assassin, "Far-East Fragments", Vessel, See You Tomorrow, Everyone, and Doomsdays

Okay, not a lot of time to type all this in at first, but let's go with some pictures, since I tested the "can get to the Imperial in five minutes" thing pretty strongly on Sunday and Monday:

Le Thai Hoa of "The Lady Assassin" photo IMAG0429_zps2c324da0.jpg

That there is Thai-Hoa Le (or, as credited, Le Thai Hoa) talking to "Action!" programmer Eric S.Boisvert after The Lady Assassin. Though he plays the villain in this Vietnamese production, he's a Montreal native back in town shooting X-Men: Days of Future Past, which made for an effortlessly bilingual Q&A, which I must admit impresses the heck out of me and makes things easier on everyone. He seemed to have a lot of enthusiasm for the Vietnamese film industry, pointing out how they shot this in native 3D and how a lot of folks who had managed some level of success in North America had come (back) to their homeland to help build it up.

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Didn't catch the name of the host this time around - he was from the New York Friars' Club, which runs a comedy film festival - and he had Doomsdays director Eddie Mullins there for interrogation. I think there was other cast & crew there as well - I could have sworn that someone who was hanging around the line before the movie turned up dead midway through - but he faced it himself.

Some play was made of him having been a film critic, which made sending screeners around to friends kind of nerve-wracking, apparently. Some of the discussion reminded me just how self-taught I am here, as he talked about wanting to avoid continuity cutting whenever possible, and I just had the vaguest impression of what he was talking about. He also wrote the music for the movie himself, with the plan that co-star Justin Rice (who I keep hearing referred to as a musician rather than an actor when he appears in tiny indie films, although I don't know him as one) would backstop him, but Rice eventually got busy and folks liked what he did. And while I must admit that I can't remember much about the music a day later - it apparently has to be very sticky to make a big impression on me - I do recall thinking it was kind of fun at the time.

Today's plan: Saving General Yang and Helter Skelter at the Imperial, then The Dirties at de Seve, if I can make it in time. Willow Creek is highly recommended. I'm in the Boston Underground Film Festival shirt

My Nhan Ke (The Lady Assassin)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival, HD)

The Lady Assassin is a so-so movie, but it does an admirable job of giving the audience what it shows on the poster: Pretty girls with weapons, but not a whole lot of hard-edged sex and violence that would ever make someone feel particularly uncomfortable. They play beach volleyball (twice!) to train, for crying out loud. Oh, and it was shot in 3D, and the opening scenes don't let you miss that.

It's fun, though. The story is as simple as can be and the characters are thin - it's the kind of movie where the various characters are thankfully color-coded - but it is very easy on the eyes, funny at spots, and has moments of pretty entertaining action even if they do hit some bad CGI at times. I wouldn't mind a local theater opening this for a weekend and seeing if they could get the local Vietnamese community (or anyone who enjoys good-looking women punching and kicking men in 3D) to come out.

Full review at EFC.

"Far East Fragments"

Seen 27 July 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival, HD)

This is a crazy-strong selection of short films, featuring impressive animated works by Katsuhito Otomo, Yeon Sang-ho, and Masaaki Yuasa - plus a good gag from Singapore, another segment of the upcoming Otomo-led anthology, and... Well, there's one that's sort of a dud. But the good stuff is kind of great.

Vessel

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2013 in Salle de Sève (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Is there a name for the genre that includes films like Happy Accidents, Safety Not Guaranteed, and now Australian independent Vessel yet? There should be, as "maybe science fiction, maybe mental illness" is rather unwieldy. This one does its thing nicely enough, but could greatly benefit from choosing one of those maybes and sticking to it.

Ash (Mark Diaco) is an "Interfacer", one of a rare group of people on Earth who regularly has data dumped into his head by extra-dimensional beings, which the government insists he passes on. And while his handler (Christopher Bunworth) is pressuring him for an important formula set to be sent soon, the transmissions make him feel hollow and numb enough that he's visiting a therapist (Georgina Naidu) and living like he's homeless despite that likely not being the case. Today, he's desperate enough to feel human again that he's calling in favors from various friends to track down rumors of a miracle cure.

To say whether Ash's problems are caused by aliens is beside the point; viewers can play "real or delusion" with Bunworth's Operative character, the contents of what look like seizures, and maybe some of what happens in the last act all they want without it necessarily becoming significant one way or the other. There are titles at the start describing the history of these Interfacers, but since the whole movie is from Ash's perspective, there's no guarantee that they're the work of an omniscient narrator. What's important is the push-and-pull between Ash and his gift/handicap. Director Adam Ciancio alternates scenes of him wandering like a vagabond with him reconnecting with friends and loved ones, and there's something quite sad and telling about how he seems sincere and interested but is constantly asking for favors and leaving pieces of himself behind. It's an easy analog to, say, addiction, but not less effective for it.

Full review at EFC.

Minasan, Sayanora (See You Tomorrow, Everyone)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2013 in Salle de Sève (Fantasia Festival, HD)

I feel vaguely like we've been taking Yoshihiro Nakamura for granted. Though he got his start writing horror movies for the likes of Hideo Nakata, he's spent the last few years on a string of off-beat but surprisingly affecting movies that people have raved about at festivals - Fish Story, Golden Slumber, A Boy and His Samurai, and Potechi - but which just don't seem to get the attention (or legal release) that they deserve in North America. Even the description of this movie in the festival program focused more on frequent star Gaku Hamada. And yet, here Nakamura is again, taking another seemingly absurd premise and delivering something downright surprising.

In 1981, at the age of twelve, Satoru Watari (Gaku Hamada) refused to continue on to junior high - or, indeed, even leave the housing project where he'd spent all his life. It was, after all, designed to be self-contained, with shops and play areas and the elementary school. He set himself a schedule that includes regular patrols of the building and a plan to begin work at the cake shop on the ground floor when he turned sixteen. As the years go on, his 106 classmates start to move away and foreign workers displace hopeful families, but he stubbornly stays put even as things change around him.

Ah, but "stubborn" doesn't tell the whole story. Nakamura and co-writer Tamio Hayashi (adapting Takehiko Kubodera's novel Minasang, Sayanora) have something in their back pockets that makes this more than a fairy tale about an eccentric young man who is in line for a simple moral lesson, and they spring it on the audience seemingly out of nowhere just when the movie seems to have settled into a rhythm. It's a move that suddenly connects a great many pieces of what has come before, but also does not overly upset the tenor of the picture. This is a picture that reveals, rather than changes, and to excellent effect.

Full review at EFC.

Doomsdays

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2013 in Salle de Sève (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Doomsdays has gags. Lots and lots of gags about a pair of guys who, figuring that the world is going to hell anyway, just walk around taking what they want as they go through a vacation town in upstate New York during March, camping and breaking into houses as opportunity arises. And most of them are darn funny, a crazy blend of nihilistic and innocent glee from characters that stars Justin Rice and Leo Fitzpatrick solidify almost instantaneously.

And then it gets better. Not so much deeper, but how many films like that can pick up a couple of new characters (kid Brian Charles Johnson and lady friend Laura Campbell) and have them fit into the ensemble almost perfectly with so little effort? Then a sort of story develops, but it never seems out of place for this lightweight slacker comedy that can play more like a sketch anthology than something with a beginning, middle, and end?

That sounds simple - and it is. Damnably hard to do well, though, and first-time filmmaker (and former critic) Eddie Mullins manages it exceptionally. It's a funny, funny movie that is going to delight some folks.

Full review at EFC.

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