Sunday, August 25, 2013

Chennai Express (and some Fantasia catch-up)

I tell you, sometimes I just don't understand why one thing is popular and another isn't. I didn't get around to seeing Chennai Express until its third week in release - and that's its third week at Regal Fenway as opposed to Apple Cinemas, and they never play foreign-language stuff. Boston Common will, but with a mere thirteen screens Fenway sticks to what's safe. And yet, here it is, and while it's probably on its last week with the matinee screening I went to not particularly full, that's a heck of a lot more staying power than a number of pretty good foreign-language films have had, if they even opened. I guess it's a testament to how Bollywood studios have a good thing going opening on the same day world-wide, especially now that they've got their audience expecting it - the occasional Chinese/Korean/Japanese movie that pops up in America day-and-date is not regular enough to be habit-forming.

I'm somewhat curious to see just how often Fenway picks up Indian movies. The trailer package before Chennai Express was all Hindi stuff, including Krrish 3 (no, there wasn't a Krrish 2, but apparently they're using the "Rambo" numbering system). I'm not going to lie: Even though I had issues with both Koi... Mil Gaya and Krrish, I'm totally down for this - the preview looks like goofy fun (and like something that's probably in 3D as well), and seeing Koi... Mil Gaya at the old Bombay Cinema - it ran for about two months, by the end of which Clinton McClung and the rest of the guys who occasionally did "Allston Cinema Underground" shows there were admitting that it was just as completely nuts as the stuff they were programming.

Anyway, it's not great Bollywood, but I've seen worse, and at the very least, Deepika Padukone is really pretty. Scroll down underneath to catch some of the reviews I've finished for eFilmCritic for stuff I saw at Fantasia about a month ago - Confession of Murder, It's Me, It's Me; Hello, My Dolly Girlfriend; The Last Tycoon; The Complex; How to Use Guys with Secret Tips; and Zombie Hunter.

Chennai Express

* * (out of four)
Seen 24 August 2013 in Regal Fenway #4 (first-run, 4K DCP)

I'm not sure quite how far we are into Chennai Express when the indicator of where the intermission would be comes up (the movie just kept going in Boston but likely paused in India), but the realization that the movie was roughly only half-way done was kind of deflating. It didn't seem to have gotten very far and I didn't want a whole lot more. There's a decent romantic comedy to be made out of this story, but I don't think it's almost two and a half hours long.

It starts with Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan), who lost his parents as a child and was raised by his grandparents, who loved him but have a way of shutting down any chance he has at romance. His grandfather dying just short of his hundredth birthday has Rahul taking the train south to scatter the old man's ashes, although his plans change a bit when he sees a pretty girl (Deepika Padukone) rushing to catch the train. He helps her on, but he also does the same for the four goons behind her, and it turns out that this Meena Lochini Azhaddgu Sundaram (Meenamma for short) is the daughter of a southern crime boss (Satyaraj), fleeing an arranged marriage. This, naturally, leads to her claiming Rahul is her fiancé, which does not go over so well with her massive, muscular betrothed Tangaballi (Nikitin Dheer).

Of course, it's not so straightforward as all that; there's a lot of flab on this movie, such as an opening act that takes the most indirect route to getting Rahul on the train with "Meenamma" possible, and the one quality gag that comes out of it isn't close to being worth how unpleasant it makes Rahul. There is a great deal of running around in circles, and while the various writers set up some potentially fun farcical situations, it's often with characters who just seem to be there to fill out scenes and will not make any impact on the movie otherwise. A lot of gags are set up by Rahul ignoring what Meenamma just said for no good reason at all.

Full review at EFC.

Naega Salinbeomida (Confession of Murder)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

If movies were graded on a strict plus-minus system, Confession of Murder would grade out as average; it's packed full of silly and unbelievable plotting and twists along with a feeling of missed opportunities with its media satire, and a few good action scenes don't necessarily make up for that. What that doesn't necessarily take into account is that this movie is most fun when it's at its most insane.

The first insane part, perhaps, is that South Korea has a statute of limitations on murder. Why would you have that? It does, though, fifteen years as of 2005, when the case of a serial killer of ten women - one that particularly tormented detective Choi Hyung-goo (Jung Jae-young), leaving him with scars literal and physical - was dropped. Two years later, Lee Doo-suk (Park Si-hoo) publishes I Am the Murderer, confessing to his crimes in great detail. Handsome, telegenic, and superficially sincere in his desire to make amends, Doo-suk is an instant celebrity, which maddens Choi no end, especially since the book doesn't reveal the location of the last body. Also livid - the families of the victims. And there's no time limit on wanting revenge.

There's a smart, subversive satire of a movie about celebrity culture, equal protection under the law, and the reality of the modern media to be made from that premise. Occasionally, writer/director Jung Byoung-gil decides that he's going to be the one to make it, and whenever he does, Confession of Murder sinks like a stone. It's just strange to have a movie that plays on how screwy people get about celebrities set five years ago - did it get less ridiculous in the Republic of Korea between 2007 and 2012? Jung is also too happy to play into cop-movie tropes to be credible in talking about law enforcement's role in society but also a little too dry when dealing with the media. That part is absurd enough in its way, but far too restrained.

Full review at EFC.

Ore, Ore (It's Me, It's Me)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival Camera Lucida, HD)

There's clear intent to make a clever movie in It's Me, It's Me, from the opening shots of identical buildings, insistent posters about a rat infestation, and other bits that tie into the high concept of a young man multiplying across the city which seem to have started with some form of identity theft. Unfortunately, screenwriter/director Satoshi Miki stumbles putting the strange concepts together, and the movie has a hard time becoming more than a set of well-executed moments.

The young man in question is Hitoshi Nagano (Kazuya Kamenashi), one of those anonymous protagonists who starts out pondering a jump from a bridge because there doesn't seem to be much chance of life offering a better alternative. Instead, he goes to a restaurant and takes off with the phone of one Daiki Hiyama - a salaryman about his age who placed it on Hitoshi's tray because he didn't notice Hitoshi was there - eventually running a scam on the man's mother, but when he feels guilty and attempts to return the money, Daiki's mother (Keiko Takahashi) recognizes him as her son. Then, when he goes to see his mother (Midoriko Kimura), there's someone visiting who looks exactly like him! Hitoshi and Daiki find another guy with their face, student Nao Motoyama, and soon it seems like other people are becoming Hitoshi as well. As he starts spending more time with Daiki and Nao, he also finds himself flirting with Sayaka (Yuki Uchida), a married customer at the store where he sells cameras.

Throughout the movie, Miki seem to be poking at the idea of urban anonymity and/or how having a group of friends that are just like oneself is seductive but ultimately unrewarding He and original novelist Tomoyuki Hoshino have certainly found an interesting way to make these concepts literal, but I'm not sure it's much more than a clever idea. What is Miki really saying about swarms of people becoming effectively interchangeable? That eventually the delight of finding someone who gets you can be diluted to the point where a person can suddenly feel anonymous again? That (perhaps as a result) it's a thing that leads to cutthroat competition? Is it all a reference for him giving up his dream of being a photographer and working in a big-box store (it's worth noting that the best thing to happen in his life comes from Sayaka wanting him to take pictures)? Maybe, although the presentation of it is so fantastical and fuzzy that it's hard for the metaphor to really shine through.

Full review at EFC.

Figyua na Anata (Hello, My Dolly Girlfriend)

* * (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival, HD)

Hello, My Dolly Girlfriend (Figyua na Anata in the original Japanese) is just as bizarre a movie as its name makes it sound, and it gets a little stranger if you start following hyperlinks on the online movie database of your choice and discover that star Tasuku Emoto had a bit part in Air Doll. The latter may not have been a great movie, though it has its partisans, but how do you look at the script for this one and see it as a much more crass version of that? It's got the potential to be something, sure, but filmmaker Takashi Ishii seldom gets far enough out of the gutter to even start to realize that potential.

Emoto plays Kentaro, an office worker who gets fired in part for surfing to porn sites on the company's internet connection, and when he gets home... Well, you know those figures of busty anime characters that make you shake your head and say "oh, Japan!" when you encounter one in a pop-culture shop? An apartment full of them isn't just kind of tacky, but downright icky. Soon, Kentaro is drunk in a scuzzy part of the city, skipping out on his bill and being chased by various toughs. He eventually ends up in a storeroom full of various mannequins, and when he's cornered, an unusually realistic one comes to life and fights his assailants off. He takes it home, and soon enough his worlds seems to have shrunk to just himself and Kokone (Kokone Sasaki), who is sometimes real and sometimes plastic.

I don't necessarily want to have this in my head, but when a character spends a lot of time talking about whether the extremely lifelike mannequin he's pawing has a vagina (or, really, any sort of hole down there), it's kind of weird to have the area in question blurred out when it is in the camera's view, right? Okay, forget I just wrote that. But there's no denying that for a movie that is pretty constantly shoving sex in the audience's face, backing off the question relatively visibly is kind of distracting. And there's a lot of sex in this movie; remove the blurring out of the actual penetration and maybe cut it down some (I get the impression 112 minutes is pretty long for an adult movie), and it would be easy to suggest that that's all it is.

Full review at EFC.

Da Shanghai (The Last Tycoon)

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

Introducing this film, Fantasia programmer King-wei Chu promised us that it was the return of "Chow Yun-fat the way you like him: shooting guns." It does deliver, although there's a fair amount of "Chow Yun-fat looking regal" and "younger actor shooting guns" before getting to the main attraction. The lead-up is often quite good, though, and the latter half of the movie is so gloriously over-the-top as to blot out a number of faults.

In 1913, Cheng Daqi (Huang Xiao-ming) and Ye Zhiqiu (Feng Wunjuan) were teenagers in love whom fate took along different paths: Zhiqiu to Beijing to follow her dreams of starring in the opera and Daqi to Shanghai, where he soon becomes apprentice to Hong Shouting (Sammo Hung), who conveniently controls both crime and law enforcement in the city's biggest port. Zhiqiu visits only to be horrified by the violence of Daqi's lifestyle and leaves him. They won't meet until twenty-odd years later, when Daqi (now played by Chow Yun-fat) is Hong's second-in-command and Zhiqiu (yuan Quan) arrives with her husband Cheng Zhaimei (Xin Bai-qing). It's a dangerous time, as the Japanese are moving toward the city and a former ally, Zao Zai (Francis Ng Chun-yu) has sold out to the invaders, who would like Daqi to serve as a figurehead mayor - although, barring that, Mao will settle for Daqi's wife Bao (Monica Mok Siu-kei).

There's more going on, as well - for a movie that clocks in at under two hours, this thing is riddled with subplots and supporting characters - and it all seems to be happening at once, since co-writer/director Wong Jing not only tells the 1913-1915 and 1937-1938 stories in parallel, but actually starts things out with a flash-forward to the end of the latter to which the film will eventually catch up. To his credit, it's not particularly confusing at any time, although sometimes the structure is a bit frustrating: There's a point where, in extremely rapid succession, Daqi nobly allows someone else to escape to Hong Kong in his place, somehow gets himself there anyway off-screen, and then immediately returns to Shanghai - which may have happened, but seems really pointless in the film.

Full review at EFC.

Kuroyuri Danchi (The Complex)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival, HD)

Hideo Nakata's new one seems to start out with such promise - creepy visuals, a likable lead, the possibility of a whole apartment complex haunted with ghosts, and a knack for building tension out of small, real things - that it's disappointing to see just how bland it becomes by the end. It doesn't quite descend into the "random creepy things" school of lazy horror, but just becomes the sort of ghost story whose twists are all too familiar.

The new family moving into this apartment building is the Ninomiyas - father Isao (Masanobu Katsumara), mother Sachiko (Naomi Nishida), daughter Asuka (Atsuko Maeda), and son Satoshi. Asuka, attending vocational school to become a nurse, is awakened every morning by noise from the apartment next door - whom neighborhood kid Minoru (Sosei Tanaka) calls "grandfather" - and the noises don't stop when she finds him dead. Fortunately, one of the guys who comes to pack away his things has experienced something similar, and this Shinobu Sasahara (Hiroki Narimiya) can recommend a good exorcist or two. Which is good, because there seems to be a lot of weird stuff going on.

From the name of the movie and the hushed way some of the kids at Asuka's school reference the building being haunted, one might expect The Complex to be almost an anthology of sorts, or for the building's history to be interesting. That's not really the case, though; Nakata and co-writers Junya Kato & Ryuta Miyake instead hew more to the idea that people are haunted more than places. All well and good, except that the ghost story being told is one that the audience has seen before - quite possibly quite a bit - and even the things meant to pull the rug out from under the audience seem well-worn. It's a ghost story that seems inspired by other ghost stories, and while the angle they seem to be pursuing early on (a twist on the occasional story of elderly folks dying in their apartments and not being discovered for months or years) isn't complicated, it would have meant something, rather than being so mechanical.

Full review at EFC.

Namja Sayongseolmyungseo (How to Use Guys with Secret Tips)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival, HD)

As much as the sort of candy-colored romantic comedies that make it into this sort of festival can be little more than silly, they're some of my favorite parts, a nice break from darkness and violence while sill being fun things that Hollywood just doesn't produce. They aren't always good, but this one, How to Use Guys with Secret Tips, is a little gem: The jokes are darn funny, the cast of characters is enjoyably eccentric, and the bright colors and tangent-filled storytelling give it a great screwball energy.

It follows Choi Bo-na (Lee Si-young), a hard-working assistant director for a company that produces television commercials, the sort putting in so many hours for director director Yook Bong-a (Lee Won-jong) as to be both essential and constantly overlooked. That she tends to dress in shapeless hooded sweatshirts doesn't help. After getting left behind on a shoot with demanding actor Lee Seung-jae (Oh Jung-se) because she's getting stuff done, she comes upon a man selling old videotapes at a newsstand, including a multi-tape set called "How to Use Guys with Secret Tips". The things Dr. Suwalski (Park Young-gyu) suggests strike her as silly and kind of sexist, but when trying one gets her out of hot water, she decides to see just how far they can take her.

The first thing this movie reminded me of was 200 Pounds Beauty, another Korean comedy where a thoroughly winning lead performance did a great deal to counter some of the questionable thinking in the premise (in that case, finding success through extreme cosmetic surgery), but this one is better in almost every way. It uses the fourth-wall breaking goofiness of its dated self-help tapes to playfully mock the idea that men can be so easily manipulated, but staying just grounded enough to also have fun with the reality of how sometimes these small, superficial behaviors actually can have a big effect on people. When properly balanced - which is most of the time - it's an empowerment fantasy with some barbs on it.

Full review at EFC.

Zombie Hunter

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Good news, independent filmmakers: Recognizable character actor Danny Trejo will be in your movie. He may not do a whole lot to elevate it, but does this thing get into festival midnight showings and a much higher-profile home video release than many better movies without him? Maybe - it's also got an actress with some potential and some decent gore & CGI effects - but it's very much the sort of thing you watch to laugh at, rather than love.

This particular zombie apocalypse is the result of a new street drug gone wrong, but the important thing is that a year or so later, Hunter (Martin Copping) is driving across the American southwest, scavenging what he can, especially liquor, and putting down the undead. A trap laid along the road has him brought in by a group of surviovrs, more or less led by priest Jesus (Trejo) and including jackass Lyle (Jake Suazo), ex-stripper Debbie (Jade Regier), nice girl Alison (Clare Niederpruem), and her kid brother Ricky (Jason Wixom), although circumstances will have them on the run again.

By now, zombie movies don't need much in the way of explanation - in fact, this movie's backstory of some sort of weird drug is probably more than typical. Co-writer/director Kevin King still handles it in a weird way, though: The opening prologue is long enough and pointed in a different enough direction - grimy drug-den nasty rather than the sort of escapist post-apocalyptic scenario where the characters' lives are in constant danger but they get to be free and kick butt that dominates the rest of the movie. Even beyond that, though, the writing is pretty bad, even by no-budget zombie movie standards, the sort of thing where new dangers aren't mentioned until moments before the characters are going to have to deal with them, and the dialogue... It isn't good.

Full review at EFC.

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