Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Fantasia Catch-Up: Zero Charisma, Bushido Man, Machi Action, The Lady Assassin, Doomsdays, The Dirties, Ritual: A Psychomagic Story, The Dead Experiment, Curse of Chucky, Raze, Discopath, The Rooftop, Hentai Kamen: Forbidden Super Hero, Imaginaerum, 24 Exposures, When a Wolf Falls in Love with a Sheep, The Night that Panicked America, and Go Down Death

I was not meaning to go this long before posting an entry on the various Fantasia Festival films I saw but had to push full eFilmCritic reviews until later for. There just never seemed to be another post where it seemed to make sense to tak stuff onto the end until, finally, this 16-post beast happens, including roughly a quarter of all the movies I saw and reviewed there. I think I promised reviews of about sixty movies when I applied for my press pass, so it's good that I was able to deliver. I hope I didn't say seventy, but in my defense, I don't think that was actually possible this year, what with the reduced number of matinees.

I'm not quite done - I did watch seven screeners during the first week of August, and if I can get full reviews of those up, I should hit seventy exactly. Plus, I really had the best of intentions of writing up the various shorts I saw...

... And that, folks, is half of why I've never felt particularly bad about not attending Fantastic Fest in Austin, even though everyone I've ever talked to who has gone has said it's just the absolute best genre film festival, nay, best festival, nay, best experience in the world. I'm not done with what I saw at my three-week binge up north by the time it starts - heck, by the time it finishes, this year - and barring someone being willing to pay me, say, sixty percent of what I pay to write SQL code to review movies, I can't see how that's going to happen.

Besides, Fantastic Fest happens when there's important baseball going on! Maybe someday, if I can see the Red Sox will be out of it in September, I'll consider it, but I'm kind of hoping that I missed my window l last year.

Anyway: 16 reviews. They've already been linked via the pages for individual days at Fantasia - fitting, as they were often expanded versions of the capsules I wrote on the day - and I've tweeted some of them, but it's kind of fun to do this big dump to show just how crazy-broad the Fantasia experience can be. Hope to get more folks up there with me next year!

Zero Charisma

* * (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2013 in Salle de Sève (Fantasia Festival, HD)

If I were the type of person to walk out of movies (and could have done it without disturbing the rest of the audience), I would have bolted Zero Charisma. That's not to say it's a terrible movie; it's actually perhaps too effective. Its main character is an awful person, and this movie gets across quite perfectly just what a chore it is to be in his company. You can't really fault the job writer Andrew Matthews and co-director Katie Graham do, and Sam Eidson is dead on as self-centered, obsessive game master Scott.

Scott has been running a Dungeons and Dragons-like game of his own invention from his kitchen table for years, though he suddenly finds a hole in it when one of the players quits, as the game is taking too much time from his troubled marriage. A replacement player is found in Miles (Garrett Graham), and while he looks like the rest of the nerdy gamers on the surface, he's a confident and successful pop-culture blogger and an immediate threat to Scott's dominance of his circle. Oh, and the kitchen table where they play isn't Scott's so much as his grandmother's, and when Wanda (Anne Gee Byrd) falls ill, that brings his mother Barbara (Cyndi Williams) back into the picture, which is a whole new set of issues.

There has been something of a transformation in how "nerds" are perceived in pop culture over the past decade or two, as high-tech success stories accumulate and the campy sci-fi and fantasy that earned its fans mockery has become something more sleek, professional, and mainstream Teens and twenty-somethings with refined senses of irony subvert traditional conceptions of what is hip for fun. Say "nerd" or "geek" and many will have an image much more like Martin jump into their heads than the negative stereotypes. And sometimes, that can make things worse for the genuine outcasts, as they feel patronized as well as ostracized, or like the one thing that's theirs is being taken away by the folks who don't need it.

Full review at EFC

Bushido Man

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival, HD)

I didn't see Bushido Man quite at the midway point of the festival, but far enough in that it was clear some things were missing: Martial arts seemed to be in relatively short supply, for instance, as were the low-budget but joyously insane action/horror/exploitation movies from Japan. Bushido Man isn't the only thing filling either category, but I was plenty glad it was there, and also happy that it is enough fun to do more than fill a slot.

As it opens, martial-artist Toramaru (Mitsuki Koga) is returning to his master Gensai (Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi) reporting that he has, as instructed, gone out in the world to challenge a half-dozen martial-arts masters: Yuan Jian (Kensuke Sonomura), the Kobe kung-fu master; Mokunen (Naohiro Kawamoto), the stick-fighter, in Kyoto; Rinryu (Masaki Suzumura), who wields nunchucks in Okinawa; blind Hokkaido samurai Muso (Kazuki Tsujimoto); yakuza knife artist Eiji Mimoto (Masanori Mimoto); and gun-toting Billy Shimabukuro (Kentaro Shimazu), who (like Eiji) hails from Osaka. As he relates these confrontations, he connects them to the food he and his opponents ate to prepare, as this detail naturally reflects their fighting styles.

Folks for whom one action movie is much like any other may not find themselves overly excited by that description of Toramaru's itinerary, but enthusiasts of the genre will note that it includes six very different types of combat. The food, in a way, is something of a hook to get the audience thinking about different flavors of action, so that when the see what director Takanori Tsujimoto and fight choreographer Kensuke Sonomura have cooked up, they'll appreciate not just how good each fight is, but how individual they are, with a little something for everyone.

Full review at EFC

Machi Action

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

This movie seems like it has no business being as good as it is - it's a sweet, goofy thing that makes occasional ventures into crude adult territory, and the world of sentai action it's set in demands either a love of camp or nostalgia from the audience, and those aren't particularly my things. And yet, here I am laughing my tail off and finding that I love everything it represents.

It introduces us to TieNan ("Wilson" Chen Bo-lin), the star of Space Hero Fly!, a once-popular kid's program on Taiwanese TV that always ends with the hero yelling "Transform!", growing to huge size, and battling a guy in a rubber suit while knocking over a scale model of Taipei. The creature is always played by TieNan's best friend, the aptly-nicknamed "Monster" (Chiu Yang-Shiang), who runs a noodle shop on the side. It's not a bad gig, and maybe someday TieNan will ask make-up girl Jingfen (Chen Ting-hsuan) out. Before he can, though, disaster strikes - Chairman Su, who has kept the show on the air despite poor ratings, passes away, and while his daughter Ying Ying ("Puff" Kuo Xue-fu) won't outright cancel the show, she will call in consultants from Japan to refresh it, including killing off Fly and bringing in pop star FACE ("Owodog" Zhuang Ao-quan) as the new star.

While all that's going on, there's a band of criminals robbing events and shops frequented by children, and you don't even have to hear TieNan's narration about how he always took pride in doing his own stunts to know where that's going to lead. But that's okay; it gives the filmmakers room to let TieNan and company engage in some funny misadventures as he tries to apply the one thing he knows how to do well to other fields of endeavor. An accidental foray into porn or a surprisingly successful stint on a home-shopping channel doesn't have to result in TieNan accidentally creating his worst enemy or putting himself into a hole that he must rise out of - they can just be very funny, because the climax is waiting.

Full review at EFC

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 doing martial arts in a way that highlights their physicality, but not a whole lot of hard-edged sex and violence that would ever make someone feel particularly uncomfortable (or incur the wrath of the Vietnamese censors). It's exactly as lightweight as it looks, but simple pleasures are no less real.

The Duong Son tavern is an inn on a river, off the main roads, owned by the Kieu Thi (Thanh Hang) and staffed by women who were just as beautiful - sharp-tongued Dao Thi (Ngoc Quyen), former circus performer Lieu Thi (Kim Dung), and discarded mistress Mai Thi (Diem My) - but who are also deadly, although they mostly kill and rob bandits and the forces of warlord Quan Du (Le Thai Hoa). The latest haul includes a surprising cargo - a kidnapped girl of noble blood, Linh Lan Thi (Tang Than Ha), who is put into training and to work so that she may eventually take revenge. But there are secrets in Duong Son bigger than Mai Thi's trysts with local goatherd Duong Linh (Anh Khoa).

It would be stretching things to call The Lady Assassin a remake of King Hu's The Fate of Lee Khan, although it would be hard for anyone who has seen both to not associate the two: Both have spies and other folks who aren't as they seem meeting up at an inn staffed by pretty girls who can fight - and whose outfits are always helpfully color-coded for when writer Ngo Quan Dung and director Quang Dung Nugyen don't do a whole lot in the way of filling in names and backgrounds. The actual plot goes off in a different direction, though, without as many pieces but involving most of the characters' own interests.

Full review at EFC.


* * * 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 necessarily much deeper right away, even though the movie starts out as something of a series of sketches; A date appears on screen, and then Dirty Fred (Rice) and his friend Bruho (Leo Fitzpatrick) break into someone's house, or make themselves at home afterward, or camp in between stops, a pair of thoroughly mismatched anarchists. They never mention why they're doing this until they bump into a couple new folks - Jaidon (Brian Charles Johnson), a teenager whose brother ditched him passed out and drawn on in the basement of a place the guys break into, and Reyna (Laura Campbell), a girl Dirty Fred hits it off with when they crash a party.

A sort of story does eventually develop, but writer/director never Eddie Mullins never particularly changes the way he goes about his business, making sure that even as he's getting the audience into his characters' heads, it's via weird, chaotic events played relatively deadpan. It's kind of a neat trick, actually, as the shift from rebellious absurdity to actions that have consequences comes quickly, and there's a definite change to the tenor of the movie, but the rhythms stay close enough to the same , as do the attitudes, that it works without feeling like it's sold what came before out.

Full review at EFC.

The Dirties

* * * (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2013 in Salle de Sève (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Idle question: When seeing a film about bullying - whether or not it leads to school shootings or not - is it considered a success on the part of the filmmakers or evidence that I'm a horrible person if I initially have violent thoughts toward the victims? I mean, look, bullying is wrong, but writer/director/star Matthew Johnson's character is really, really annoying.

The kids getting picked on here are Matt (Matthew Johnson) and Owen (Owen Williams), Toronto-area high school students who love movies and are throwing a ton of effort into a project for their media studies class. It's called "The Dirties", and has the pair as cops investigating a gang of bullies by that name, and they're not shy about integrating footage where the subjects either don't know they are being filmed. This leads to escalation on the part of the real-life bullies, and as Matt starts to talk in hypothetical terms about real-life retribution, he's also trying to help Owen get closer to Chrissy (Krista Madison).

The movie itself is sort of annoying in the same way the characters are as it starts, all self-conscious film fans recreating other scenes and not a whole lot of the characters as themselves. It picks up once we start to see Matt and Owen as individuals, with Matt's occasionally misplaced enthusiasm becoming more likable (if still a little overbearing) as opposed to just being fandom while Owen in finding a way to make other friends starts to separate himself from Matt. It's an interesting dynamic to watch, as it's encouraging to see where Owen is going, but the increasing distance friction between the pair that results certainly seems to be feeding into Matt's behavior.

Full review at EFC.

Ritual: A Psychomagic Story

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 31 July 2013 in Salle de Sève (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Ritual: A Psychomagic Story is explicitly inspired by the work and philosophy of Alejandro Jodorowsky, and many may find themselves disappointed that, after a very stylish opening, it is never in the same category of strangeness as Jodorowsky's films (or comics, though those are bizarre in different ways). Oh, it's certainly odd, and goes in and out of states of madness, but it never gets near the "what the heck did I just see?" territory where Jodorowsky often lives.

Jordorowsky's "psychomagic" is roughly what you'd expect from its root words, and Lia (Désirée Giorgetti) could probably use both miracles and analysis in her life. She is already seeing Dr. Guerrieri (Cosimo Cinieri), and her issues don't entirely relate to her extremely domineering boyfriend Viktor (Ivan Franek). The doctor recommends she return to Mason, the village where she spent summers as a child, to visit her aunt Agata (Anna Bonasso). Agata has her own way of helping people to cope with their demons, although when Viktor joins her, it looks like little more than witchcraft to him.

And maybe it is, but there's a long history of stories relating how traditional or shamanistic practices sometimes being more effective than conventional medicine. Psychomagic seems to be about tailoring the ritual directly to the mental malady, although it's not specifically defined within the story (a book by Jodorowsky appears at one point, and the man himself makes a cameo appearance as Agata's late husband). The film's espousal of Jodorowsky's theories are done by example rather than lecture, and while they are a sort of low-key oddity, it's interesting to see them work. It gives the audience something to think about in terms of the power of symbolic language.

Full review at EFC.

The Dead Experiment

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 1 August 2013 in Salle de Sève (Fantasia Festival, HD)

"The Dead Experiment" is going to get abused as a title. There's the way it's probably meant to be taken, as a sinister-sounding article-adjective-noun combination, but it also turns out to be a true sentence describing the plot of the movie. It's also, unfortunately, kind of a disparaging description of the movie that's not entirely inaccurate.

Things start out with Chris (Ryan Brownlee) stumbling home after what looks like a late night, except that his girlfriend Maddie (Jenna Jade Rain) completely freaks out. It turns out that Chris died two weeks ago - funeral, burial, whole nine yards. However, he was a grad student doing research on tissue regeneration and the like, and his best friend and research partner Jacob (Jamie Abrams) took the liberty of engaging in some human testing. Initial experiments, of course, tend to fall short of ideal results.

Writer/director/producer Anthony Dixon has a science background, and I admire what he is trying to do here, making this sort of sci-fi movie which at least tries to ground itself in realistic science while working up some tension and maybe giving the audience something to think about, and all things being equal, I'm glad there is some sense to his technobabble; it never takes me out with "no! wrong!" He also does quite well in finding ways for the story to twist and move forward despite working under very tight constraints (three actors, one house, and very little budget for anything beyond that).

Full review at EFC.

Curse Of Chucky

* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

If Universal had known a few months earlier that Paramount wouldn't have the latest Paranormal Activity movie ready in time for Halloween, I'd like to think they might have put Curse of Chucky in theaters rather than send it straight to video in early October. There's no denying that its not as spiffy as it might have been if it had been made with the big screen in mind, but it's a pretty new-viewer-friendly entry in the franchise with some solid scares.

Indeed, it's so committed to the audience being able to start here that it doesn't tip its hand when a Good Guys doll arrives in the mail, addressed to widowed artist Sarah (Chantal Quesnelle), who lives alone in a large spooky house with her daughter Nica (Fiona Dourif). Fans of the franchise will not be particularly surprised that Sarah isn't long for the picture, bringing her older daughter Barb (Danielle Bisutti), her husband Ian (Brennan Elliott), their daughter Alice (Summer H. Howell), and her nanny Jill (Maitland McConnell) to settle the estate. Unfortunately, Alice soon becomes fond of "Chucky" (voice of Brad Dourif), even saying she has conversations with the doll. This wouldn't end well even if the house wasn't isolated, with questionable wireless coverage and electricity, especially since the most sensible person there, Nica, is in a wheelchair.

Writer/director Don Mancini has been with the Child's Play franchise since writing the original twenty-five years ago, and while there may have been some temptation on the studio's part to reboot the series, Mancini instead delivers something along the lines of a soft reset, not directly picking up from what had come before but not invalidating it either, putting everything a newcomer (like, say, myself) would need in the script and not relying too much on anything in particular from the previous five installments, though having some awareness of them doesn't hurt. It's a nice balancing act, producing something that won't leave new audiences confused or old ones feeling like they've been abandoned.

Full review at EFC.


* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival: Action!, DCP)

The problem with Raze, ultimately, is that it's boring. It's got a good cast that executes some good action, but this is a movie that lacks one single moment of surprise in its stupid story. And when a movie has already drained all the fun out of its action in the name of realism and non-exploitation, that just leaves violence. And violence, in and of itself, isn't a particularly fun way to spend an hour and a half at the movies.

That basic story has a number of young women kidnapped, imprisoned, shown that their loved ones are being watched and forced to fight to the death. Sabrina (Zoe Bell), Jamie (Rachel Nichols), and Teresa (Tracie Thoms) seem like tough but otherwise-decent folks; Cody (Bailey Anne Borders) is younger and more scared compared to the rest and Phoebe (Rebecca Marshall) is psychopath enough to enjoy it. There's forty-odd more, plus the likes of Joseph (Doug Jones) and Elizabeth (Sherilyn Fenn) as the leaders of the secret society that's doing this for some damn reason.

"Arena" movies like Raze require a lot of suspension of disbelief - it's one thing when this is going down in a woman's prison or some lawless third-world hole, but kidnapping fifty women, holding them, hiring people to watch and potentially execute their families, getting the presumably-wealthy people who want to watch and wager on the spectacle either on-site or via a secure internet connection... Forget the difficulty of doing all this in secret and just consider the kind of resources it would take. How can it be profitable? Plus, if there's a purpose to it besides amusement, killing 98% of the people you're interested in is not very efficient!

Full review at EFC.


* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 3 August 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival, HD)

What is there to say about Discopath that matters to anybody outside its relatively narrow target audience? It's a slasher movie with a simple but absurd concept and some impressive effects work to show the mayhem, and both quite unabashedly French-Canadian and period-fetishist on top of that. If you've been looking for a movie where disco makes someone kill with authentic grindhouse feel, this is for you; if you're not, well, writer/director Renaud Gauthier was.

Things actually start out in 1976 New York, where Duane Lewis (Jeremie Earp-Lavergne) works at a diner but really seems to stress out when certain music comes on the radio. He loses his job, but meets a girl, though heading to the disco for a first date turns out to be a really bad idea. Not seeming to remember what happened, he flees to Montreal, and four years later he's working at Collëge Sainte-Lucie, a Catholic girls' school, under the name Martin. He's clever enough to have built something akin to noise-cancelling headphones, but when a couple students who have stayed behind put something on the record player... Well, soon one teacher has gone missing, her good-girl friend and co-worker Mireille Gervais (Sandrine Bisson) is searching for her, and Manhattan detective Jack Stephens (Ivan Freud) thinks there's something very familiar about the case when he reads about it in the papers, though his Montreal counterpart Inspector Sirois (François Aubin) finds the American interloper a pest.

If nothing else, Discopath is a note-perfect recreation of the grindhouse movies of the time in which it's set: Dirty-looking, luridly violent, and not blessed with the greatest acting. It's actually got some good music on the soundtrack (for certain 1970s-centric values of "good"), although it repeats the few songs it was able to license a lot. The result is so close to the "real thing" that there's not much point in trying to work out whether this is affectionate recreation, the sort of parody that works by pushing everything just a little bit further, or a case of similar resources bringing similar results. And it doesn't really matter; the result has all the blood, wooden performances, and the like needed to fill half of a double feature.

Full review at EFC.

Tian Tai Ai Qing (The Rooftop)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 3 August 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

The Rooftop is overstuffed, like Jay Chou had a half-dozen ideas for his 1960s Taiwanese musical project and couldn't decide exactly which ones he wanted to use. So he threw in all of them, even if they don't always do much for the main story of Wax and Starling, two lovebirds from different sides of the tracks. But better that than saving good stuff for a second chance that may never come, especially since it gives this movie a chance to make the audience smile in every minute.

Heck, it doesn't even look like Wax is the main character of the movie to start with; it seems to focus on his handsome pal Tempura (Oh Yau-lun), who lives in the poor "rooftop district" but has a job collecting rent for local landlord "Rango" (Wang Xue-qi) that his friends Wax (who knows kung fu but prefers to use his switchblade comb to make an impression), Egg (Song Jian-zhang), and and A-Lang (Huang Jun-lang) help him out with; they also work for Dr. Bo (Eric Tsang Chi-wai), who has a floor show at the shop where he sells patent medicines. But while Wax is earning the enmity of rival rent collector Big Red (Huang Huai-chen), Wax is falling for the lovely Starling (Li Xin-ai), who seems to have everything but has to work hard to climb out of the debt that her father (Kenny Bee) has gambled them into, even though she doesn't particularly like her co-star William (Darren Chiu).

And there's more, to the point where it's kind of a mercy that Egg and A-Lang don't have prominent subplots, because that's a thing that very easily could have happened. For all that there are a whole ton of characters all sort of doing their own thing, writer/director/star/composer Chou does a remarkably good job at keeping things from flying off in every direction than you'd think. It's not even that everything folds back into a main storyline; every scene just seems very well-linked, whether it be by running jokes, plots which intersect, or just minor bits that show the rooftop residents as a community, so that what happens with one naturally draws the others in. The story does take a hard turn or two to get to the big action sequence in the end with a somewhat extreme tone shift, but it doesn't quite go off the deep end like it could.

Full review at EFC.

HK: Hentai Kamen (HK/Forbidden Super Hero)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 3 August 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival, HD)

Look, I'm not going to make Hentai Kamen out to be anything other than it is: It is a deeply silly, tacky, crude spoof of the superhero genre that takes Warren Ellis's description of their outfits as "underwear pervert suits" to its illogical extreme. It's got roughly one joke in it and hits that gag relentlessly. But, man, does it do that well.

A while back, Det. Hario Shikjio ran a gangster visiting his favorite dominatrix to ground. The gangster's, that is, although when Maki (Nana Katase) responded to the cops busting in on her business by slapping Hario around... Well, it was love at first sight. Sixteen years later, their son Kyosuke (Ryohei Suzuki) is part of his high-school martial arts team, but though he's inherited his father's sense of justice, he's kind of a wimp. Still, when new student Aiko Himeno (Fumika Shimizu) gets in trouble, he races to her rescue but the only mask he can find to conceal his identity is a pair of women's panties. Good thing wearing them on his face stirs the kinky blood of his mother that flows in his veins, and from then forward, he fights crime as Hentai Kamen, the masked pervert!

There's a way of telling this story that would make it about not denying who you are and embracing the totality of your heritage, even if it's kind of embarrassing. And while that's there, it's buried deep underneath a ton of crude jokes based on Kyosuke having the most embarrassing secret identity ever and fight scenes whose choreography is built around making evildoers (and audiences) kind of uncomfortable with all the raw beefcake on display and how every finishing move seems to involve pushing the contents of improvised g-string right up into somebody's face. There are plenty of jokes at the superhero genre's expense as well, with Spider-Man getting hit the hardest from the spoof of Marvel's familiar logo animation to the distinctive eye-holes that appear on the "mask" for no discernible reason.

Full review at EFC.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 4 August 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival, HD)

This fantasy movie is kind of a peculiar thing: Based on the band Nightwish's concept album of the same name but not seeming to have that many songs from it - I think two are performed and another two or three show up on the soundtrack - it's targeted to a specific audience who isn't necessarily getting a whole lot of what it wants. On the other hand, it's too probably weird and specific to grab the attention of a general audience. The goal, then, is the set of folks who enjoy odd, visually inventive films on the Tim Burton-Terry Gilliam axis, and hoping that has a sizable intersection with the other groups.

Today, Tom Whitman (Francis-Xavier McCarthy) is an old man in a hospice, starting to lose his faculties. Case in point - in his current dream, he's his ten-year-old self (Quinn Lord) and at an orphanage, when the strange snowman he once built (voice of Ilkka Villi) beckons for him. While "Mr. White" takes him on a sinister tour of his life, his daughter Gem (Marianne Farley) has an unwelcome visitor - Ann (Joanna Noyes), his lifelong friend and former bandmate, someone Gem has never forgiven for the mess that was her childhood. Of course, now she's there to convince Gem to reconnect with her father before he's gone, mentally or physically.

Though they're played by Tuomas Holopainen and Anette Olzon, the band Tom & Ann belonged to is probably not exactly Nightwish unless the film and the album that inspired it are confessional to an uncomfortable degree. The music itself is not particularly my cup of tea - I'm no metalhead and found it kind of odd that a Finnish group apparently records and performs in English - but it seems to complement the imagery well enough, and both the songs and score are good enough that one can see where their fanbase comes from. Holopainen and Olzon both fare well enough as actors, for that matter; the scenes set at that point in the characters' lives aren't a step down from the rest of the movie.

Full review at EFC.

24 Expsures (The Rooftop)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 4 August 2013 in Salle de Sève (Fantasia Festival: Camera Lucida, HD)

How prolific is independent filmmaker Joe Swanberg? His latest movie (as a director) started showing up on the festival circuit before his prior one hit theaters, and Drinking Buddies wasn't nearly as slow in moving through the system as one he appears in, You're Next, was. The latter movie is likely to be linked to this one for some, as its director and writer are in front of the camera here, playing characters that they themselves inspired. It makes 24 Exposures a curiosity, although it's not bad for those not exactly familiar with all the off-screen connections.

Billy (Wingard) and Michael (Barrett) both deal with dead bodies in their course of work, making them and cleaning them up, respectively. Billy's probably not a serial killer, though - he's a photographer who specializes in creating images designed to look like murders and suicides. It's the murder of a model that causes their paths to cross, where the detective going through a tough divorce encounters not just Michael, but his girlfriend and collaborator Alex (Caroline White), model Callie (Sophia Takal), and Rebecca (Helen Rogers), a waitress he's trying to get to pose for him, albeit one with a very possessive boyfriend (Mike Brune).

Swanberg plays with the line between reality and art quite a bit in this movie, as the audience is never quite sure whether the camera lingering on a dead young woman is going to pan over to Michael and some other cops arriving on the scene or pull back to show Billy and his crew making sure everything is just right for the photograph. It's an interesting sort of comment on how we as an audience react to violence in our entertainment, with the exact same images producing horror or cheers depending on context. It's a neat trick that thankfully doesn't get overused enough that the implicit accusation makes Billy into a monster.

Full review at EFC.

Nan fang xiao yang mu chang (When a Wolf Falls in Love With a Sheep

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 5 August 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival, HD)

One thing that struck me while watching this movie is that you don't see many Hollywood romantic comedies with young characters - it's always bankable stars who are by their nature at least in their thirties. The sort of just-out-of-school adults who play out When a Wolf Falls in Love with a Sheep seem to be a relative rarity. Which is sort of a shame, because this is a charming as heck little thing that doesn't have a whole lot of anger or bitterness to it at all, and it would be fun to see more like it.

Things open up with Tung (Kai Ko) being dumped by his girlfriend Ying ("Nikki" Hsieh Hsin-ying) via a post-it note on his forehead which says nothing aside from that she is going to a cram school on Nanyang Street. Apparently that's where a lot of those test-prep places are in Taipei City, though, so Tung goes there, gets a job in a photocopy shop that has a bed in the back and waits for their paths to cross. She never comes into the shop, but Hsiao Yang (Jian Man-shu) does, copying tests for the "Sure Win" school. She takes to drawing cartoon sheep on them; one day he draws a wolf in response.

Other stuff goes on - there's a lost dog, and when Tung is asked to clean out a bunch of storage lockers, he endeavors to return their contents to their owners. Yang dreams of being a cartoonist but is also waiting for her boyfriend to return from college in America. There are, in retrospect, a lot of stories about knowing when to hold and and when to move on, and writer/director Hou Chi-jan manages to be plenty clear about this without the movie feeling like it's trying to impart any sort of lesson or rule about the subject. There's a nice combination of randomness and synchronicity to how the various side-stories come together.

Full review at EFC.

The Night that Panicked America)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 4 August 2013 in Salle de Sève (Fantasia Festival: Welles & Wells, 16mm)

I don't know whether I'd call The Night That Panicked America a buried treasure, but it's an interesting reminder that the entertainment industry has produced a lot of content over the years, and some of it, while pretty good and containing some recognizable people, is just seldom going to reach the top of anyone's to-watch list. It's a nifty little movie produced for television in 1975, and benefits from its modest goals.

Most know the story behind it - on 30 October 1938, Orson Welles (Paul Shenar) produced a version of War of the Worlds for CBS radio that many in America took for reality, resulting in them acting accordingly. The film follows both the scene in the studio and a number of people taken in by the show: A father (Michael Constantine) who objects to his son (John Ritter) enlisting in Canada; a separating husband (Vic Morrow) and wife (Eileen Brennan); a preacher's daughter (Meredith Baxter), her father (Will Geer), and the boy who wants to marry her (Cliff De Young); and a swanky party in California who won't listen to the servants (Byron Webster & Hanna Hertelendy) that realize it's just a show.

One thing that the movie does very well that often gets overlooked when talking about the Orson Welles War of the Worlds broadcast is to give the context of the time, showing the world headed to war and America already on pins and needles. So often, the story of this broadcast treats it as a hoax or the audience as extraordinarily credulous or unsophisticated. The script by Nicholas Meyer and Anthony Wilson transforms the story from one about gullibility to one where what people were hearing a variation on what they've been expecting anyway. Welles didn't just use the medium in a new way; as each individual storyline shows, he tapped into something that was already there.

Full review at EFC.

Go Down Death

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 5 August 2013 in Salle de Sève (Fantasia Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

Sometimes, it just doesn't pay to get your facts straight. I saw Go Down Death late in the evening toward the end of Fantasia, and was wiped enough to have spaced out at points during even a fun, off-beat-to-the-point-of-strange movie. Fortunately, I had a chance to watch it again to fill in the gaps and make notes of some names. The take-away from that: This is maybe not a movie to watch when alert and clear-headed.

Nothing wrong with that; the strange, unusual, and downright random can be a lot of fun, and Go Down Death has a full complement of characters and situations that are quite peculiar even for their seemingly post-apocalyptic setting. Writer/director Aaron Schimberg conceives a world with enough details to hold it together and enough large gaps to keep it from seeming wholly logical. The black-and-white photography adds a further dream-like layer to the whole thing.

It may not, however, be the sort of dream that reveals something telling or interesting when analyzed. Schimberg shifts focus from one set of characters to another with minimal feeling of overlap, but a homogeneously dreary atmosphere, which leads to a feeling that little is moving forward, story-wise. Other elements are just utterly random, from the completely disconnected sequence toward the end back to the claim at the beginning that the film is based upon the works of Jonathan Mallory Sinus (who may have created this world or reside within it) - which runs six pages, including annotations.

Full review at EFC.

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