Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Fantasia Daily, 2013.13 (30 July 2013): "Slipstreams and Eclectic Sheep" and Library Wars

I barely arrived at the theater in time for "Eclectic Sheep", it turned out, getting there as the line-up was introduced, and I didn't take a picture because I figured I could afterward. Woops.

"Library Wars" director Shinsuke Sato photo IMAG0434_zps73eb10b4.jpg

I did get to see Shinsuke Sato's Q&A, which was friendly, though not particularly informative. There's not a whole lot to say about this movie, and once he'd mentioned that they played down the action because too much hurt the romance (which, honestly, was barely there), it kind of started to look like an ill-conceived demographics-chasing studio film. Which I suppose it is, and that can be kind of surprising, since we don't generally import those from foreign countries. I am curious what my librarian friends would think of it, though.

Yeah, I bailed on Vegetarian Cannibal. It was already nearly 10:30pm by the time Library Wars got out, and hard-selling "this will disturb you", it turns out, just doesn't get me into a movie. And I wanted a slice of pizza. Funny thing: I was looking forward to hitting the sack early and stayed up late following baseball news. How it works, right?

Today's plan: Ip Man: The Final Fight at the Imperial, and then heading down Maisonneuve for Ritual and Antisocial.

"Slipstreams and Eclectic Sheep"

Seen 30 July 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival, HD)

Hey, world, could you stop showing me "Death of a Shadow"? This is the third shorts program I've seen it in, and it's just not going to happen with us. It's always going to be pretty but its concept isn't going to make a lick of sense, and it's never really going to earn the sense of tragic romnace its going for.

That Oscar-winning short was the centerpiece of "Slipstreams and Eclectic Sheep", and it was fairly representative of a fair chunk of the group. Not really bad, but often seemingly made by people who think they're above fantasy and science fiction - that using this canvas means you don't have to acutally make sense, either in the way people act (what the hell, mother in "Restitution"?) or the world they inhabit (c'mon, "Hibernation"). "Reset" has the germ of a good idea, but it bugs out by the time it can really explore it rather than just throw weirdness at the screen.

I don't mind the ones where the concepts exceed the filmmakers' resources ("Temma" or "113 Degrees", though the latter has other problems). But I get very frustrated when something is sold to me as science fiction but doesn't live up to my hopes.

Toshokan Senso (Library Wars)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival, HD)

Not having read any of the books in Hiro Arikawa's Toshokan Sensô series, I readily admit that this film adaptation of the first may give its fans exactly what they want (the manga adaptation looks as "shojo" as it possibly can). Still, that seems a bit of a shame: If you've got a concept as pointed as open warfare between heavily-armed librarians and the government censorship bureau, you might as well make Battle Royale, and this movie is only on par with The Hunger Games.

And, yes, "heavily-armed librarians". In this story's parallel universe, Japan passed the "Media Betterment Act" in 1989, a censorship law whose enforcement bureau eventually became militarized. This led to the opposing creation of the Library Defense Force in 2004. Now, in 2019, Iku Kasahara (Nana Eikura) and Satoshi Tezuka (Sota Fukushi) are Musashiro Library #1's newest recruits, although Kasahara confesses to her roommate Asako Shibasaki (Chiaki Kuriyama) that she joined in part due to a crush on an unknown Task Force officer. She and Tezuka are being trained by demanding squad leader Atsushi Dojo (Junichi Okada), who really seems to have it in for Kasahara. Meanwhile, the owner of the Museum of Information History lingers near death with instructions to hand its contents over to the Musashiro Library - although the Betterment Bureau has good reason to want that handover stopped.

The high concept is ludicrous, of course, but it's the kind of ludicrous that's useful because a writer can do interesting things with it. Maybe not particularly subtle, but illustrative, and if dressing the forces advocating censorship as the SS while librarians are the soldiers handing out humanitarian aid after the battle puts an image in the viewers' minds, well, mission accomplished. But while screenwriter Akiko Nogi occasionally uses the setting to make a comment of some sort, there's not much in the way of sharp satire; the main focus, actually, is on office romance.
Full review at EFC.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Fantasia Daily, 2013.12 (29 July 2013): Saving General Yang, Helter Skelter, and The Dirties

Another day of just getting to the Imperial in time for my first movie, barely any time to grab some snacks before going into Saving General Yang. On the plus side, the Gourmais Popcorn they've got at the concession stand is really good (and the $3 price isn't bad for a reasonably-sized portion for a single person). They also started having Pepsi Max in the cooler this weekend, and I'm grateful. Not only has Pepsi Max and an Oh Henry bar become my go-to Fantasia snack over the past few years, but 24 ounces of regular Pepsi just doesn't taste right to me any more.

I did a fair amount of note-taking for Saving General Yang - it's something I do during a lot of foreign films that might not have fleshed out IMDB entries for either the movie or the cast anyway, but with seven brothers named Yang and alliterative names at that? If you want to review that, you have to write down "#5 ... doctor... Yundai?" and hope you can piece stuff together.

Helter Skelter was only the second movie I've seen at the festival in 35mm, the other being Rurouni Kenshin. That one was fairly random, but it made sense for this; it seemed (to me) to very much be calling back to the aesthetics of previous decades, and the film was a big part of it. I was actually all set to put something in the actual review review about how it was an important part of the presentation because you needed to be able to see skin tones and detail... And then I saw that the movie was filmed on a Red and was reduced to a 2K digital intermediate at one point. Still, it was really nice for round things to actually be round.

I had to run across town quickly to see my last film of the day (I'd already seen Willow Creek), and got close to the last seat in the house for The Dirties. Check out this angle:

Matthew Johnson, Curt Lobb, Andrew Appelle of "The Dirties" photo IMAG0432_zps0e540028.jpg

That's writer/director/star Matthew Johnson and camera operators Curt Lobb & Andrew Appelle, and they talked a lot about how more or less nothing was planned, and that a great deal of the movie evolved because his co-star just wasn't as interested in improvising being a crazy person as he was. They also mentioned that the found-footage conceit evolved during editing - that there was originally a whole backstory behind the cameramen, but it was not needed and that by actually cutting it out, it pulled the audience in more. And, perhaps more amusingly, they apparently got turned away from festivals because there wasn't enough blood & violence in their finale; what happened didn't actually raise to the level of being controversial enough to program.

Today's plan: Sci-Fi shorts, Library Wars, and Vegetarian Cannibal at the Imperial, maybe skipping the last one because it starts late and I have to work for a few hours tomorrow (plus, I am squeamish). Wearing the Red Sox/Ellsbury t-shirt, because I have apparently become superstitious from looking at how the team's won/loss record tracks my sartorial choices on this vacation.

Saving General Yang

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival: Action!, DCP)

The tale of the Yang Clan is something special, even in a culture already packed full of martial legends. Its combined simplicity and grandeur makes it an excellent source for Ronny Yu's latest, and apparent labor of love that does the legend proud, even for those who have never heard it before.

General Yang Ye (Adam Cheng siu-Chow) is one of the greatest warriors of the Song Dynasty and the proud father of seven sons. Well, mostly proud - there was the recent mess where sixth son Yang Yanzhou (Wu Chan) defeated the favored suitor for the hand of his beloved Princess Chai (Ady Ang Yi-Xuan) and youngest son Yansi (Fu Xinbo) accidentally killed the man when he attacked Yanzhou afterward. Now, though, the empire is under attack by the Khitan, whose general Ye Luyuan (Shao Bing) lost his own father at Yang Ye's hand. The emperor makes Yang Ye the front-line general, but he is soon trapped at Wolf Mountain, and it is up to his sons - pike-fighter Yanping (Ekin Cheng), ax-wielder Yanding (Yu Bo), archer Yan-an (Vic Chou), betel nut-loving swordsman Yanhui (Jerry Li), doctor Yande (Raymond Lam), Yanzhou, and Yansi - to rescue him.

The crawl before the closing credits of Saving General Yang informs the viewer that the Yangs are still venerated today as paragons of filial loyalty, but in the hands of Yu and co-writers Edmond Wong and Scarlett Liu, it is a fine story of how the love and loyalty can become twisted into something tragic, as not only are the sins of the father visited upon the son, but vice versa. It's a simple theme that shows up in every facet of the story throughout the film, but simple is good here: Many martial epics will be filled with minutia and various vaguely distinct factions, but there's not a single character in this movie whose motives aren't crystal clear and don't resonate with the audience, hero and villain alike. The way they act on this emotions is grand and operatic, but Yu and company engage the audience fully.

Full review at EFC.

Helter Skelter

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival, 35mm)

What a curious but exciting beast Helter Skelter turns out to be - a movie about beauty and its prices that evokes films from a very different time and place (1960s/70s Italy, perhaps) but is undeniably of and about contemporary Japan. I suspect that it works anywhere, though, at least for audiences that don't mind their movies about pretty people doing ugly things being a little on the arty side.

"LiLiCo" (Erika Sawajiri) is Japan's top model, especially popular among youth. She's on the cover of every magazine, does the occasional TV show, and is starting to film her first movie. What the adoring fans don't realize, though, is that she is a complete construct; "Mama" Hiroko Tada (Kaori Momoi) has paid cutting-edge cosmetic surgeons to shape every part of her, but without regular maintenance and treatments, it's up to her make-up artist (Hirofumi Arai) to prevent ugly blemishes from being visible all over her skin. Prosecutor Makoto Asada (Nao Omori) aims to shut down the clinic that does her work, but she's feeling besieged already with the appearance of next big thing Kozue Yoshikawa (Kiko Izuhara).

Well, that and the body that makes up nearly her entire identity rebelling. For the central character of a movie, LiLiCo is a vague, sort of inhuman thing, not so much for being a spoiled monster as someone who doesn't seem to have a true self. It's rare for her to have an opinion, and even when she acts on her own behalf, it seems to come more as a threat to the power of her beauty than an earnest desire. She's a symbol of manufactured attractiveness - Asada notes that her musculature doesn't match her bone structure, and it makes her look especially empty. She's never shown in casual clothing; even alone in her apartment, it's exaggerated glamour and practiced movements.

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 movie itself is sort of annoying in the same way as it starts, all self-conscious film fan recreating other scenes and not a whole lot of the characters as themselves. It picks up once we start to see Matt and Owen Williams as individuals, and Owen finding a way to ground himself starts to separate him from Matt. It does a kind of nifty thing with the found/repurposed-footage gimmick, too; there are times when it almost seemed as if the cameraman was something Matt was imagining, and his editing of the footage a kind of delusion. Not intended, but it works.

The end... Well, it's okay. We were reminded before the screening that Columbine was almost fifteen years ago, and given (a) what most bullies do and (b) how quickly teen life evolves and mutates, trading on its imagery seems to be a less-than-inspired choice, and I sort of get the impression that the ending was the one they started with, even though this highly-improvised movie evolved into something else by the time they got there.

Full review at EFC.

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.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Fantasia Daily, 2013.10 (27 July 2013): Zero Charisma, Bushido Man, Machi Action, and L'autre monde

Fun day, and picture-intensive! Might have been more fun if I got out of the apartment in time for After School Midnighters rather than Zero Charisma, but after that (and a good burger marred by carmelized onions at Le Gourmet Burger), things got cool:

Bushido Man's Mitsuki Koga & Kensuke Sonomura photo IMAG0420_zpsf37bbc72.jpg

Two things I've missed a bit this year are martial arts movies - there is very little of that stripe from Hong Kong and Thailand this year - and the batty Japanese goofiness. When you have guests for either, there are some fun demonstrations. Apparently Sushi Typhoon isn't a thing any more, but Bushido Man fills the bill nicely, especially since star Mitsuki Koga & action choreographer Kensuke Sonomura wasted no time in jumping on stage after the movie began to show off.

Bushido Man cast & crew photo IMAG0424_zps3d3d5345.jpg

After, they were joined on stage by Marc Walkow and writer/director Takanori Tsujimoto for a lively Q&A where they talked about how this was a no-budget feature shot on prosumer cameras between other projects - to the extent that there were just four people on location for the first action scene - Tsujimoto, Koga, Sonomura doing double duty as Koga's opponent, and a cameraman - which they then used as a demo to try and raise money to make the rest. For something on that sort of shoestring, it makes for a pretty darn entertaining movie, and I was glad to hear that Tsujimoto has something relatively big-budget coming up next - this is fun and Hard Revenge Milly was great; he deserves to make it to the next level.

No cell phones! photo IMAG0425_zpsc7fb4038.jpg

Just a bit of silliness before Machi Action, as King notices that Paul has his cell-phone out and kills him with his mind.

L'Autre Monde composer Simon Boswell photo IMAG0426_zps2ab5c6b5.jpg

L'Autre Monde was late seating and getting started so that they could set something up for composer Simon Boswell to give a little unplugged performance of his previous work, music from Dust Devil and one of Jodorowsky's movies. Never played live before. Fun.

L'Autre Monde crew photo IMAG0428_zps21e920cf.jpg

Yay for panorama mode not doing anything funkier than cutting off a bit of director Richard Stanley's head this time! From left to right, that's editor Patrick Tremblay, cinematographer Karim Hussain, Stanley, Boswell, and producer Caroline Piras. It was such a fun Q&A that I really wished I had stayed awake through the movie, but, man, I got hit with the tired hammer about ten minutes in. I got a second wind toward the end, but I missed roughly half of it. Which sucks doubly, because the show was sold out and there's a good chance my sleeping self kept someone who likely wanted to see it much more than I from doing so.

I'll definitely try and find it once it hits VOD platforms, though. As much as I may tend to think it's a movie about very suggestible people, it's a darn well-told one.

Today's plan: Lady Assassin and "Far-East Fragments" at the Imperial, dinner, and then Vessel, See You Tomorrow, Everyone, and Doomsdays at de Seve. I'll Follow You Down is a decent movie, too.

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.

Still, this movie is so aggressively unpleasant that it's fair to wonder what the point of it is. With few exceptions - most notably Brock England's passive best friend - everyone seems to be nasty and disagreeable. Some of that's meant to show what sort of crap nerds take from the world at large, some's to show that it doesn't make them immune from cliques and pettiness themselves, but it adds up to an ugly scene with no promise of escape, and no time to build things back up after bottoming out.

Sure, that's in many ways honest, and it's worth puncturing some of the happy-nerd stereotypes that have been floating around for a while, but there's got to be a way to do that where the result is engrossing rather than such a turn-off.

Full review at EFC

Bushido Man

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

As I said above: A ton of fun for its minuscule budget, especially during the action scenes, which skip all over Japan (and into the unreal) and all have their own style. It starts out kind of eccentrically goofy and makes that feeling even bigger as it goes along.

Plus, I squealed just a little when Miki Mizuno from Tsujimoto's Hard Revenge Milly films showed up. Fans of this kind of Japanese action are in for quite a treat.

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 nostalgia from the audience but is not something I feel particular love for. And yet, here I am laughing my tail off and finding that I love everything it represents.

I've got a few guesses as to why: Writer Giddens Ko navigated similar sentimental waters with You Are the Apple of My Eye, for instance. The cast is thoroughly genuine, with even the antagnoists and grumpy ones having something likable and/or very funny underneath. And without dwelling on it, it makes a few swipes at the darkening of pop culture, pointing out that there's real value in what sophisticated palates may look down upon.

Full review at EFC

L'autre monde (The Other World)

N/A (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2013 in Salle de Sève (Fantasia Festival, HD)

Again, I am terribly sorry to all the cast and crew of this one; I just hit the wall about fifteen minutes in. I really liked what I saw and hope to catch up with the rest later.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Fantasia Daily, 2013.09 (26 July 2013): The Complex, How to Use Guys with Secret Tips, Big Bad Wolves, and Zombie Hunter

You know what stinks? When you do some laundry and the dryer doesn't quite get everything dry, and the damp blue jeans that were in the middle of the basket sort of sit while you see movies all day. Yeah, that did wind up rather literal. I'll have to remember this for next week.

Mitch Davis, Aharon Keshales, and Navot Papushado photo IMAG0418_zps1dd5ad0f.jpg

Say hi to Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, the directors of Big Bad Wolves, along with Mitch Davis, who gave them the sort of patented enthusiastic introduction that seemed to make them worry about letting the audience down. Not likely, but they were very excited to be here, even pulling out a video camera to document that, yeah, there are festival audiences that really go nuts for this sort of movie. They joked that it was going to play on the 8pm news in Israel, and, man, I hope not - I'm not the most enthusiastic applauder most of the time and I was in the center of the second row - and the guy in front of me had left his seat to take pictures. So, uh, hi, Tel Aviv. I really did like these guys' movie.

Also - I don't know if it's a rule of thumb that you can tell the good movies by which one the other filmmakers are excited to see, but I spotted Bobcat Goldthwait and Buddy Gravaziano in the audience for Big Bad Wolves. Sure, it's pretty close to their type of movie anyway, and they both seem like guys who don't just go to film festivals to hawk their wares, but the support was really cool to see.

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That's Zombie Hunter producer (and guy who had a half-dozen credits in the visual effects part of this movie) Chris Le, and though I didn't really go for his movie, I loved the genuine happiness he felt at having this sort of audience - he said that as he walked down St. Catherine Street, he saw the line and asked what it was sure, surprised that it was to get into his movie. It sounded like there were a lot of first-timers working on it, and while I'll get into issues when full-review time comes around, you do have to love people who love making movies.

Today's plan looks like a lot of crisscrossing: Zero Charisma (if I can get in) at de Seve, Bushido Man & Machi Action at the Imperial, back to de Seve for L'Autre Monde, and then (maybe) The Demon's Rook at the Imperial for midnight. OXV: The Manual is highly recommended. I'm the guy in the Red Sox shirt that says "Wily Mo" on the back.

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. It's the sort of thing that, if movies were filmed in sequence, would tell a story of a talented filmmaker who started out enthusiastic but just lost interest by the time he had to move things to a climax and wrap them up.

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 this sort of candy-colored Korean romantic comedy can be little more than silly, How to Use Guys with Secret Tips is a little gem. It reminded me a bit of 200 Pounds Beauty in how a thoroughly winning lead performance can help avoid some of the questionable thinking in its premise, but is better in almost every way: 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.

And, most of all, Lee Si-young is fantastic: She's cute as anything, genuinely funny, and gets across the slight disgust Choi Bona feels resorting to these sort of feminin wiles to get ahead. She's a heroine that it's very easy to root for even when she's doing something kind of awful.

Mi mefahed mezeev hara (Big Bad Wolves)

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

Even if Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado were just one filmmaking team out of many people making this sort of movie in Israel, Big Bad Wolves would be a pretty terrific movie, a step up from their already impressive Rabies. But they're not; this kind of movie doesn't show up homegrown on Israeli screens much at all, and maybe that's why they seem like such a clear and unique voice, and their movies events not to miss.

The story itself doesn't seem like much new: A little girl goes missing during a game of hide-and-seek, only to be found horrifically mutilated. The police have soon pinned their hopes on a suspect - mild-mannered schoolteacher Dror (Rotem Keinan) - but when they are caught trying to beat a confession out of him, the case is assigned to by-the-book detective Rami (Menashe Noy) while instigator Mickey (Lior Ashkenzai) is reassigned to traffic. Well, technically; their boss Zvika (Dvir Benedek) has suggested he do everything possible off-the-books to solve the case. Unbeknownst to him, the victim's father Gidin'ka (Tzahi Grad) is also looking to get answers out of Dror.

The first parts of Big Bad Wolves crackle and move: The opening credits seem to tell a nifty, stylized story on their own before ending on the cliffhanger that gets the rest of the story going, and what comes after doesn't sell out the high expectations it creates. Keshales & Papushado create a set of pointed scenes that aren't rushed through individually but tell their portions of the story with no waste. Unimportant bits are skipped so that each major event leads directly to the next, but also sneakily fine-tuning how that second half is going to play.

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 without him? Maybe - it's 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. The script is ridiculously amateurish, the acting is poor, the mythology silly.

But... Danny Trejo. Having him there doesn't make it worse, but it did mess around with expectations a bit- instead of being a movie by beginning filmmakers where you say "hey, good job, build on that", it's a disappointment. Although, still, I hope they build on it. Their movie's a mess, but there is potential.

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:

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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.

Missionary

* * * (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.

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 26 July - 1 August 2013

Again, not in Boston, so let's make this quick-ish. It should be fairly short anyway.

  • Just the one really wide release this week, as The Wolverine hits theaters with Hugh Jackman taking Marvel's most popular mutant out for another spin, this time in Japan in a story partially inspired by the Claremont/Miller miniseries. James Mangold directs, so it's got some potential, and it's had a 3D post-conversion job. It plays Capital (2D only, apparently), Apple, Boston Common, and Fenway.

    There are a couple of limited release movies popping up in Boston multiplexes: Fruitvale Station, much lauded at Sundance for its portrayal of a young man whose decision to turn over a new leaf is tragically cut short at the start of 2009. Single screens at Fenway and Boston Common, two and Kendall Square. And surprise, surprise, Boston Common also picks up Secretly Greatly, which has a seriously split personality but was a huge hit in South Korea. Just two shows a day, though. They've also got a single screening of doumentary American Made Movie on Saturday evening and $3 screenings of Oz The Great and Powerful at 10pm from Monday to Wednesday (not sure whether that's 2D or 3D).

    Oh, and The Smurfs 2 shows up on Wednesday. Fenway, Boston Common, and Apple (at least).
  • In addition to Fruitvale Station, Kendall Square picks up a pair of IFFBoston alums: Blackfish, a documentary on how orcas in captivity have attacked and sometimes killed their trainers, even though they generally give humans a wide berth in the wild, is as expected getting a lot of flack from SeaWorld but a lot of love from everyone else. Computer Chess is the latest from Andrew Bujalski (who will attend the Friday and Saturday evening showings with star/film critic Gerald Peary); it's a highly-mannered faux-documentary about the people who built chess-playing machines in the early 1980s (not a particular fan). They also finish their "Spectacular Classics" series on Tuesday with a screening of The Breakfast Club.
  • The Coolidge's Monday "Big Screen Classic" is Mean Streets, one of the movies that put Martin Scorcese, Robert De Niro, and Harvey Keitel on the map, in 35mm. The weekend midnights are Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy and Cannibal Ferox (Make Them Die Slowly), both in 35mm, and probably only one of them among the nastiest movies ever made. They also open up The Hunt and Museum Hours in the video rooms.
  • If you don't have your tickets to the Sunday screening of the Wright/Pegg/Frost "Cornetto Trilogy" at the Brattle Theatre which includes a preview of The World's End and an appearance by the director, co-writers, and stars... Well, it's not happening. But you can still see a double feature of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead on Friday; an "alternate realtiy" trilogy of inspirations in Dead Alive (35mm), Bad Boys II (35mm), and Invasion of the Body Snatchers on Saturday; and a Sunday matinee of The Big Chill (35mm). Most are DCP.

    Documentary Educational Resources director Alie Apley will be the guest on Monday to screen and discuss the 1978 featurette If It Fits as part of the DocYard series, which once again means the Burt Lancaster Centennial presentation of Gunfight at the OK Corral only plays a matinee that day, though it has an evening show on Tuesday as a double-bill with Seven Days in May, both in 35mm. Wednesday's Recent Rave is Carlos Reygadas's Post Tenebras Lux, and Thursday's Shintoho double feature is Revenge of the Pearl Queen and Vampire Bride, with free popcorn if you wear your Brattle T-shirt.
  • The Harvard Film Archive keeps up the Burt Lancaster Centennial with The Crimson Pirate Friday at 7pm, Ulzana's Raid Saturday at 9pm, and Conversation Piece Monday at 7pm. The rest of the schedule is The Complete Alfred Hitchcock, with Psycho Friday at 9:15pm, The Manxman with live accompaniment by Robert Humphreville Saturday at 7pm, Topaz Sunday at 4pm, a double-feature of the 1934 The Man Who Knew Too Much and The Skin Game at 7pm the same day, and Champagne with Jeff Rapsis on the piano at 7pm on thursday.
  • Cinema Slumber Party at The Somerville Theatre is doubling up again this week, with a 35mm print of The Big Lebowski on the big screen Friday & Saturday nights and Resolution elsewhere in the building on Saturday only. I saw that one at Fantasia last year, and it's pretty slick, a "finding-footage" horror movie that is genuinely jump-worthy. Their final DisneyNature movie, Chimpanzee, is also playing at 11am on Saturday for $2.

    The "Summer Rewind" movies at The Capitol are the same for kids and adults this weekend, with The Goonies playing both Friday & Saturday nights and Saturday & Sunday mornings.

    This week, Apple Cinemas has How to Train Your Dragon on the front page as a free summer movie on the 27th, but doesn't say whether it's all week, 3D, or any other details.
  • The MFA's film program finishes their 18th Annual Boston French Film Festival on Sunday, with Berthe Morisot, You Ain't See Nothin' Yet, Thérèse (sold out), Of Women and Horses, Looking for Hortense, Day of the Crows, the Dandelions, and Fly Me to the Moon (sold out) playing at various times over the weekend. Come Thursday, they start a new calendar, with documentary André Gregory: Before and After Dinner starting a short run (Gregory and director Cindy Kleine will discuss the movie after the August 1st screening); that's also when they will begin a month-long retrospective of The Films of Wong Kar-Wai with As Tears Go By.
  • iMovieCafe opens Bajatey Raho, in which the victims of a con artist plot comedic revenge, in Hindi with English subtitles at Apple Cinemas, splitting a screen with Bhaag Milkha Bhaag.
  • Free and outside: The Sting at the Boston Harbor Hotel's Music & Movie Fridays, Here Comes the Boom at the Hatch Shell's Free Friday Flicks (also Tuesday at Hyde Park and Wednesday at Cambridge's Glacken Park and Thursday at Dorhester's Pope John Paul II Park), Brave at the Prudential Center on Saturday night, Romancing the Stone at Christopher Columbus Park on Sunday. (All from Joe's Boston Free Films


My plans? Still in Montreal, so sucking movies from Fantasia up with a straw.

The Fantasia Daily, 2013.07 (24 July 2013): Uzumasa Jacopetti, OXV: The Manual, and Black Out

Not much touristy stuff yesterday - I think it's really going to be backloaded this vacation. And, actually, I wasn't too distressed about it - the temperature had dropped 30 degrees (Fahrenheit, 17-ish Celcius) in the past couple of days and I hadn't brought anything with long sleeves.

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Say hi to Darren Paul Fisher, who figured out a way to promote his movie OXV: The Manual and still look kind of slick. Nice guy who made a good movie, and spent a lot of time talking about his composer's good work.

Today's plan is already well underway (I caught a 10am press screening of I'll Follow You Down), with the regular screenings starting with The Last Tycoon at the Imperial and ending with The Machine at de Seve; and I'm not sure yet whether I go with Missionary or The Weight in between. Ugh, thought I'd find some way to upload this between lunch and the start of the first movie. Really, Old Port of Montreal, what is the point of WiFi without internet access?

Uzumasa Jaccopetti

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2013 in in Salle de Sève (Fantasia Festival, HD)

There are any number of different types of weird movies, from the merely off-beat to eccentric to bizarre and beyond. Uzumasa Jacopetti certainly tends toward the stranger end of the spectrum, and like a lot of movies there, it can be as off-putting as it is intriguing. The way its parts add up isn't obvious - that add up to any specific thing is debatable - but they are at least interesting components.

The first piece is Shoji Hyakkan (Shinji Wada), a man of few practical skills but a big idea: Build a house whose floors are magnets floating above each other. It would certainly provide room for his son Shigeo (Shishimaru Ozawa) and his wife Sana (Kiki Hanaka), who would like another child although she shows some odd, unnerving behaviors when out with Shigeo. Another piece is Police Office Kobayakawa (Masaki Kitahara), who catches Shoji obtaining some extremely fresh leather to serve as his new house's wall, and instead of arresting him decides to hire him on for a special project.

Things get a bit violent as well as strange after that, sometimes going so far in unusual directions that trying to figure out just what Uzumasa Jacopetti is trying to do can leave a viewer scratching his or her head. Me, I think that co-writer/director Moriro Miyamoto is saying that there's a kernel of madness in every person, and while it is obvious in some like Shoji, seeing it in one person can activate it in another, resulting in great achievement or folly. All of the characters here are what they are from the very start, and all of them have strange dreams, but sometimes it takes a particular intersection to act on them.

Full review at EFC.

OXV: The Manual

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2013 in in Salle de Sève (Fantasia Festival: Camera Lucida, HD)

It is not necessarily difficult for an alternate-reality sci-fi film to hook an audience; it just needs a clever premise and the chance to present it in a familiar setting before playing out how strange it makes the world. The trick is coming up with a story that's more than "hey, this world's weird!" and playing it out so that the audience can relate to it. That's hard, and by making it work with OXV: The Manual, Darren Paul Fisher and company have made an extremely impressive little movie.

That hook? A bunch of young children taking a written test blindfolded to determine their "frequency" - how lucky or in sync with the world they are. The standard scale runs from 0 to 100, but Marie-Curie Fortune (Lily Laight) scores a 127 and Isaac-Newton Midgley (Charlie Rixon) scores a -7, so far off that the universe tries to separate them when they stand near each other for even a minute. As teens (Georgina Minter-Brown & Dylan Llewelllyn), they try to test that phenomenon for different reasons - though both are geniuses, Marie is extremely high-functioning but emotionally detached, while Zak is empathetic and utterly smitten. With the help of friend Theodore-Adorno Strauss (Owen Pugh), the adult Zak (Daniel Fraser) finds a way to connect to Marie (Eleanor Wyld), but for as happy as it makes them, the idea behind it may tear the world apart.

Quantifiable luck has been used in science fiction for a long time, for the exact same reason that it's a tricky thing to do well: It digs into philosophically juicy concepts of free will and determinism, and while that's heady stuff to think about, it can get the story either running on rails or utterly random until it dissatisfyingly breaks its own rules (Larry Niven once described his bred-to-be-lucky character Teela Brown as having the ultimate superpower, author control). Fisher for the most part avoids that by building his universe very precisely, on the one hand having this tendency toward good or bad luck determine its characters' destinies as much through human prejudice as making the environment bend to their will and on the other hand by eventually hinting at a parallel history that has enough recognizable ideas to have a certain ring of truth.

Full review at EFC.

Black Out

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival: Action!, HD)

I think I nodded off for about twenty minutes of Black Out, so go ahead and make your jokes about the title being apt; I certainly did. I don't particularly blame the movie for this, though, as it kept its end up, tossing plenty of new twists and nifty bits of action at the audience with regularity. It is, as promised, reminiscent of early Guy Ritchie, with big characters and a script where one thing leads to another leads to another which triggers this memory which explains that, so heaven help you if you lose the thread.

Interestingly, though, losing that thread maybe gives one a better look at the details in some cases, and those showed a story with perhaps too many moving parts, diluting the focus on soon-to-wed reformed criminal Jos Vreeswijk (Raymond Thirty), who should be driving the movie. Characters comment on amnesia not being believable, and the movie doesn't make it interesting enough to refute them. Things work a bit better when pared down to essentials at the end, and there's enough life throughout to make it interesting, but I feel like it's really going to need a second look to really give it a fair appraisal.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Fantasia Daily, 2013.06 (23 July 2013): Bounty Killer & Son of Sardaar

Remember how I said the other day how glad I was to be seeing more shorts this year? I skipped the "Small Gauge Trauma" program even though it was the only thing playing at the time. What can I say, I can be squeamish when something is specifically promising trauma. Instead, I took advantage of a long(ish) afternoon to head down to the old port and make the annual visit to Pointe-à-Callière and see the new exhibits, which this year included features on tea and the Beatles, centered around the band's one (extremelly brief) visit to Montreal. It also gave me time to stop into Future Shop and buy a spare power supply for my work laptop next week, and grab a couple slices of pizza before settling in for a couple of movies.

Bounty Killer's Christian Pitre and Barak Hardley photo IMAG0412_zps478c0fc8.jpg

Say hi to Christian Pitre and Barak Hardley of Bounty Killer; they seemed to be having a great time up there, which I get the impression carries over from the making of the film. Well, I hope so, anyway. I kind of wish I'd had the presence of mind to pull my phone out while waiting in line, as I don't know if anything illustrates a good festival's lack of put-on-airs than the stars of the next movie screening getting out of a cab and taking pictures with their own phones rather than some elaborate red-carpet ceremony.

I considered going home after that, but I figured why not stay for Son of Sandaar, and I'm glad I did; it had me from the sheer exaggerated manliness of the opening shot. Granted, I really didn't recognize that it was basically Our Hospitality until they went through the "Do you have a gun I could borrow" bit, and I do have to admit it had me a little annoyed from that point. If you're remaking something, say so in the program or something, because feeling like someone is trying to put one over you can make you feel a little hostile. The really crazy part is that this isn't the first or last time Our Hospitality is being remade in India - this article shows one for each of the subcontinent's major languages (about five in all) in a four-year period. Doesn't mention Buster Keaton at all, though.

Anyway, that got me home late and maybe had me feeling lazy today. The plan is Uzumasa Jacopetti and OXV: The Manual at de Seve and Black Out at the Imperial. I'm tempting fate with the "SCIENCE!" t-shirt even though the Red Sox play the Rays again tonight.

Bounty Killer

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival: Action!, DCP)

The world may be a ruined desert in Bounty Killer, complete with the usual settlements built entirely out of wreckage, elaborately made-up bands of wandering savages, and the like, but it's also one where the one percent have jetpacks. That's a fair way to describe this movie, I think - built around a Mad Max template but with a bit of The Rocketeer at its center.

The world is a wasteland in the aftermath of the Corporate Wars, and the Council of Nine is looking to clear the slate by taking out all white-collar criminals. These "bounty killers" are celebrities, most notably Drifter (Matthew Marsden) and frequent partner Mary Death (Christian Pitre). But just after they've brought in an office party's worth of execs, new bounties are sent out - one for Drifter's source, and one for Drifter himself. And if having Mary chase him while trying to clear his name isn't bad enough, Drifter and new "gun caddy" Jack LeMans (Barak Hardley) run afoul of a band of "gypsies" led by Mocha Sujata (Eve).

As you can see, there's some fun twists on the standard post-apocalyptic set-up there, and that doesn't even get into how Drifter and Mary are celebrities in this world (which, even more than usual, seems to have a weird economy, in that beer is rare compared to bullets and gasoline and there are glossy fan magazines for Mary to autograph). It's not anything close to great satire and we've seen businessmen with guns before, but it does let the filmmakers give the movie a laid-back, humorous vibe without it really seeming like a parody of its often-grim genre.

Full review at EFC.

Son Of Sardaar

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival, HD)

I've got to admit, I felt like I had let someone down when it took me until Son of Sandaar repeated a fairly specific gag to recognize that it is much more than less an uncredited remake of Buster Keaton's silent classic Our Hospitality; even not being big on "spot the reference", that's one I've seen fairly recently. If you're going to steal, though, you might as well steal from the best, and this particular version has plenty of laughs of its own.

Jassi Randhawa (Ajay Devgn), born in Punjab but raised in London, where he's a bit of a troublemaker, receives a notice that he has inherited some land back in India, so he resolves to fly there and sell it, only then learning that his family has a long-standing feud with another, and Billoo Singh (Sanjay Dutt) was especially keen to avenge the death of his brother at the hands of Jassi's father before his mother left the country with her son. A genial optimist, Jassi figures that this must be completely forgotten by now, and things are looking up when he meets a cute girl on the train. Of course Sukhmit (Sonakshi Sinha) is going to be from the Singh family, and Jassi will wind up in the Singh house before anybody realizes what's up. Fortunately, no host would murder a guest in his house - a fact Jassi is determined to use to his advantage.

This is almost exactly the plot of Our Hospitality, right down to the train and the friendly-seeming guide who stops in various houses along the street to ask if they have a spare weapon. To the credit of writer/director Ashwani Dhir, he doesn't attempt to re-stage any Keaton gags with Devgn (how close things are to immediate predecessor Maryada Ramanna, a Telugu-language take on the material from 2010, I can't say), although I wonder how much Jassi's constant grin and imperatives to the rest of the characters to try smiling more is meant to be a twist on Keaton's great stone face. One of the more entertaining characters, Billoo's long-suffering fiancée (he has pledged to delay his wedding until the Randhawas are stomped out, you see), is new to the story and the ending tilts more to romantic declarations than daring stuntwork.

Full review at EFC.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Fantasia Daily, 2013.05 (22 July 2013): "The Garden of Words", "New Neighbor", The Burning Buddha Man & Secretly Greatly

I have to say, after spending even more of yesterday writing than I was planning on, I was a bit worried about not catching "The Garden of Words" - both of its screenings in de Sève were listed as sold out, and I didn't arrive quite as early as I was planning. Got in, though, and it turned out that pretty much the whole front row was empty. I don't know if that means they'd reserved more seats for badge-holders than needed, but does it matter? I can now fit The Last Tycoon in on Thursday!

The screening itself was a little rough, though - the nearly-as-long short meant to precede it, "New Neighbor", turned out to be a terrible match, a pretty adult story with lots of sex toys and phalluses being thrown around compared to how all-ages "Garden" is. So they switched the order, making sure to give warnings in English and French (and what looked like some free tickets) before the second featurette started. The first time the projectionist hit Play, the Blu-ray/hard drive was set to English dialogue, which continued for about five minutes before it was fixed. I wouldn't say the dub was bad, but it sure did feel totally different from the Japanese soundtrack.

Stuck around de Sève for The Burning Buddha Man, which was... interesting. There was a guy somewhere behind me who was yelling stuff out on occasion, and really seemed to be crossing the line from "enthusiastic response" to "thinking he's part of the entertainment". See also: People who mew like cats before the movie starts (which strangely happens a lot more in the "main" screen, whether it be the Hall or Imperial Theatre, than de Sève). They're not even waiting for the lights to go down anymore, and maybe this makes me a cranky curmudgeon, but is waiting a minute or so for the movie to start really so unbearable? I like that quiet moment of anticipation and don't see what folks get out of filling it.

Anyway, short night tonight, as I'll likely skip the annual "Small Gauge Trauma" show and go for Bounty Killer and Son of Sardaar at the Imperial. Plain gray t-shirt with "Red Sox Boston" on the front with block letters, and not because I've noted that the baseball has not gone well on days when I haven't worn a Sox tee while up here this year.

"Kotonoha no Niwa" ("The Garden of Words")

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2013 in Salle de Sève (Fantasia Festival AXIS, HD)

A new animated film from Makoto Shinkai at this point necessitates my going back and re-reading what I have written about the rest of his productions, as it can look somewhat lazy to praise him the same way every time. Fortunately, he's done critics the favor of mixing his output up somewhat, so this forty-six-minute featurette in a contemporary, realistic setting is quite distinct from his genre-tinged works. But, yeah, it's great.

This particular story tells the tale of Takao (voice of Miyu Irino), a high-school freshman who cuts class on rainy mornings to go to the park and sketch designs for shoes; he would like to be a cobbler when he graduates, even if there is not much demand for that sort of artisan in today's world. There he meets a woman in her mid-twenties (voice of Kana Hanazawa) who sits on a nearby bench, drinking beer and eating chocolate, not talking about why she's skipping work to do so. He starts to open up; she doesn't to the same extent, but her story will come out.

Though Shinkai has thus far worked exclusively in the realm of animation, part of what makes him such a fascinating director is that so many of the things he does well are things more closely associated with live-action: The editing of his films, for example, is extraordinarily good; he compresses time, flashes back to multiple points, and creates montages in a way that just isn't done in the medium very often. And while lighting and "cinematography" gets much more attention now than it used to, Shinkai's careful (re)creation of locations and attention to how the world looks based on the time of day, year, and weather is on a different level.

Full review at EFC.

"New Neighbor"

* * (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2013 in Salle de Sève (Fantasia Festival, HD)

I know I mentioned it above, but... Good lord, was this the wrong "long short" to pair with "The Garden of Words". But on its own merits...

Well, it's still pretty bad. That's not to say it doesn't do some things quite well; star Ayano Oami may not be the greatest actress, but she and co-writer/director Norman England seem to really nail just how uncomfortable and oppressive the porn and harassment a woman faces can be, with even her mother pushing the idea that her body and how it can be used to attract and entrap men is the sum of her resources. Whether the new neighbor (Asami Sugiura) - who appears to either be some sort of prostitute or just extremely promiscuous - is the last straw or the key to the unnamed protagonist being able to deal with sex in healthy manner, there's something there.

Unfortunately, once England has made his point of just how besieged this young woman is, he keeps making it, repeating the exact same situation twice, practically down to the exact same shot, presumably so he can use a line that the character really isn't ready for at the time. And then he seems to lose whatever plot he had toward the end for the sake of a shocking finish. This is a story that's too simple for surprise reversals that don't serve the basic point being made or repetitive flab, so it just leaves the viewer wondering what the point was.

The Burning Buddha Man

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2013 in Salle de Sève (Fantasia Festival AXIS, HD)

The Burning Buddha Man is almost certainly unlike any feature film that will show up this year, animated or not. In fact, the style of this movie is so singular that it might be the rare movie that is more enjoyable on video than at the theater. Someone in the audience is going to hate it, and hate it at the top of his or her lungs. That's perfectly all right - even those who love the movie will admit that it's rough in spots - but it might make it hard to appreciate it for being interesting, if not great.

Something strange is happening in the shrines around Kyoto - large Buddha statues are being stolen in seemingly impossible ways. The latest shrine to be attacked is the one operated by high-school girl Beniko's parents, with the theft accomplished with a sort of Matter Transfer Device that left the upper halves of their bodies sheared away with the statue. With her only family a long-comatose grandmother, Beniko is taken in by Enju, an old friend of her parents with a shrine of his own. Enju's shrine is filled with strange, deformed children, and while his sculptor nephew Enji is nice... Well, this is the sort of place that has a door not meant for curious kids to open.

And then things get really weird.

The bulk of this movie is created with a Japanese animation style called "gekimation", in which backgrounds, characters, and objects are cut out, mounted, and then manipulated in front of a running camera. In many ways, it resembles puppet theater more than traditional animation, and given that Japan has a rich tradition of puppetry to draw from, it's surprising that this doesn't show up a little more often, even if only as a specialty item (the festival program has the last mainstream production in the 1970s). The director, Ujicha, is able to use this technique to give every part of the movie a shared aesthetic that is as lushly painted as it is frequently grotesque, and while the motion and static expressions don't look real, they work in the same way as any puppet show, especially since there's an immediate bond between the artist and the audience.

Full review at EFC.

Eunmilhage Widaehage (Secretly Greatly)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

It happens all the time: An action-comedy starts out funny, but when building to a climax, the action so completely takes over that the thing that got the audience hooked at the beginning is almost completely lost. Secretly Greatly is one of the most extreme examples of this tendency, as the filmmakers take enjoyable slapstick and morph it into something much uglier than it needs to be.

Won Ryu-hwan (Kim Soo-hyun) was recruited for North Korea's 5446 unit as a child, trained to become the ultimate killing machine, and then smuggled into the outskirts of Seoul, where he poses as Bang Dong-gu, the poor neighborhood's village idiot. Only the local postman (Ko Chang-seok), a fellow sleeper agent who has been there for sixteen years, knows his true identity. After two years, a new pair of agents show up: Lee Hae-rang (Park Ki-woong), a general's son given a blond dye job and told to take a TV talent competition by storm, and Ri Hae-jin (Lee Hyun-woo), a diminutive high-school kid. And then orders finally come...

Well, at that point things become a mess. Suddenly, what had been a pleasantly aimless story is given an injection of high-level politics, a whole bunch of new characters are injected into the story and the various townsfolk the movie has spent the past hour making into a fun ensemble is pushed to the side. It becomes just a matter of people trying to kill each other, with the core group of sleepers trying to help each other survive. It's a massive, jarring tone shift that feels like a bait-and-switch, and what's worse is, this second part doesn't even seem to carry over the themes that the movie had been building for the first hour-plus: Won becoming a part of this community versus the one he left is given pretty perfunctory treatment so that he can go off and get into gunfights.

Full review at EFC.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Fantasia Daily, 2013.04 (21 July 2013): Key of Life, The Outer Limits of Animation, Sweetwater & Hello, My Dolly Girlfriend

Didn't quite get a late start yesterday, just fought with this machine all morning. I hope like heck that getting home fixes its issues finding WiFi. I'd hate to replace it after less than two years. I eventually wound up giving up and walking to Concordia for my first visit to de Seve of the year, where I saw the pretty darn good Key of Life and the "Outer Limits of Animation" program.

Outer Limits of Animation photo IMAG0409_zps3e112ca4.jpg

Shorts programs are always a mixed bag, and sometimes it can certainly feel like they're packed with local films. That's a little surprising at Fantasia, in part because they set aside one screen for a whole weekend of local shorts, but it does mean we got a whole lot of filmmakers to show up for the show - and that since they all spoke in French, I didn't understand them almost at all! So, here's my best attempt at assigning names to faces and films, from left to right:

Martine Cartrand, director of "Macpherson"; Jonathan Ng, director of "Requiem pour un Romance"; Pierre M. Trudeau, director of "Raised to be Hero"; Tanya Desjardins-De Libero, director of "L'arc en Ciel"; Audrey Beaulé, director of "Opinion"; Jonathan Martel, director of "Eau Trouble"; Valerie Gadbois, director of "Incident sur la ligne orange"; Ms. Gadbois again, because my phone does weird things in panorama mode; Justine Beaupré, director of "L'Ingénieur du ciel"; Christophe Lalonde Lavergne, director of "À la croisée des chemins"; someone whose name I got nothing of (last two may be reversed); programmer Marc Lamothe.

Enjoyable little program, and I'm glad I'm getting to see more shorts programs this year than I have the past few. You can do a lot of nifty things with shorts that are very cool but wouldn't hold up for a feature.

After dinner (tonight's burger was topped with egg, salami, and monterey jack at m:brgr), I made it to the Imperial where I caught Sweetwater with a lady who found it hilarious that the Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival uses Sci-Fi London as a model (the latter apparently did not impress her), and then Hello, My Dolly Girlfriend with a fairly small crowd. A little much for their Sunday night, I guess.

Anyway, time to run out the door and try to get into the sold-out screening of The Garden of Words. After that, the plan is The Burning Buddha Man and back to the Imperial for Secretly Greatly I am the one in the Science Gangster shirt.

Kagi Dorobo no Mesoddo (Key of Life)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2013 in Salle de Sève (Fantasia Festival, HD)

Imagine a hat containing many pieces of paper. Each one of those slips of paper has written upon it an off-beat comedy trope, and screenwriters start their work by grabbing a handful. Key of Life is an example of what you get when somebody (in this case, writer/director Kenji Uchida) pulls out "hitman", "amnesia", and "must be married by ______". The trick is to move them around until something funny comes up, and Uchida has found a rather entertaining arrangement.

As usual, the hitman doesn't seem to particularly enjoy his grim work, so maybe it's for the best that when Kondo (Toruyuki Kagawa) slips on a bar of soap at a local bathhouse, despondent actor Takeshi Sakurai (Masato Sakai) impulsively switches locker keys with him, mostly so that he can use the other man's money to pay his debts. But when it turns out that the hit to his head has left Kondo unable to remember anything, Sakurai keeps up the deception, only to have crime boss Junichi Kudo (YosiYosi Arakawa) give "Kondo" a new contract while"Sakurai" meets magazine editor Kanae Mizushima (Ryoko Hirosue) outside the hospital where she is visiting her ailing father. So that he can give her away, she intends to marry the second week of December - just a couple months away - even though she isn't currently dating anybody.

That Kanae and Kondo are the pairing is actually a pair of somewhat interesting twists. The template for this sort of story usually involves the screw-up now having to look competent to impress a girl who is a target or otherwise out of his league; Sakurai really doesn't have anything like that going. Plus, the pairing of Kondo and Kanae seems to fly in the face of every romantic comedy convention that exists: Rather than opposites attracting, the pair are both soft-spoken and meticulous without it being a particular sign of repression. They're eccentric, just in the opposite direction as is typical.

Full review at EFC.

"Au-delà de l'animation 2013" ("Outer Limits of Animation 2013")

Seen 21 July 2013 in Salle de Sève (Fantasia Festival AXIS, HD)

I may run down a few more of these in detail for a "Short Stuff" column (which won't necessarily be short itself, as there were twenty items in the program. As much as I talked about filling it with local material earlier, though, it's hard to deny that some of the best items to be found came from Quebec, including perhaps my favorite, "Requiem pour une Romance", which takes the audio from a break-up telephone call and plays it opposite a fantastic kung-fu fight; it's a wonderful juxtaposition of things that seem unrelated but frame each other perfectly. Not technically from Quebec (according to the program) but French-language Canadian short "MacPherson" is a beautifully animated, melancholy relation of the friendship between a Jamaican scientist (who supported himself in many other ways) and a Quebecois folk singer. While the film itself left me a bit cold, I couldn't help but be captivated by the use of the pinboard both as medium and metaphor in "Here and the Great Elsewhere".

Among the ones that were just pure fun were "(Notes On) Biology" and it's flip-book-style creation of Robo-Elephant!, the stick-figure slapstick of "Bon Voyage", and the familiar (but well-executed) joke of "Raised to be Hero". "Planet Utero" had some nifty sci-fi ideas even if it's hard to get past the too-smooth CGI, a look that worked a little better for Switzerland's "Stopover". And while I admired the heck out of "La Casa Triste"... Christ, that's depressing.

Sweetwater (aka Sweet Vengeance)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival: Django Project, DCP)

Ed Harris. Western. There, that should have sold everyone... Oh, you need more? Fine. Sweetwater (also known as Sweet Vengeance) is a dark, bloody Western that is both fairly traditional and over-the-top crazy, with a fairly great cast. Including Ed Harris in a role that really needs to be seen to be believed.

He plays a New Mexico lawman tracking two men across the unforgiving landscape, although they've already had the poor fortune of crossing paths with Josiah (Jason Isaacs), both the largest local property owner and the leader of its local church - he calls himself prophet and his ranch "Holyland". The rest of the community bends to his will, with the exception of farmer Miguel Ramirez (Eduardo Noriega) and his beautiful wife Sarah (January Jones). Well, them and Jackson, who has installed himself as sheriff by literally kicking the old one out of his office.

You've got to sort of feel sorry for January Jones, in a way. She gives a perfectly acceptable performance as Sarah - playful, determined, extremely capable without seeming like she's all skills, cold hate when that's what sustains her character - and it's just going to get blotted out by what Jason Isaacs and Ed Harris are doing. Isaacs rips into his part as the villain with gusto, taking the sort of monster who wraps his viciousness in holy words and somehow squeezing just a bit of extra authority to it, not so much defiantly daring anybody to oppose him as knowing that nobody has the nerve. Harris, meanwhile, is playing a guy who just does not care what anyone else thinks and may very well be insane, and he's got more or less free reign to chew any scenery that happens along. Watching Isaacs and Harris go at it, their characters clearly despising each other and used to getting their own way, is a kick.

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)

Look, 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, 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. Certainly I'd like to talk about something else, and it looks like writer/director/original manga-ka Takashi Ishii has ideas about living within fantasies and objectification he'd like to address, and he seems to be onto something interesting with how Kokone seems to move between woman and doll based on how she's treated, but as with It's Me, It's Me, it feels like the filmmaker came up with something symbolic but wound up more interested in the different things he could do with it than doing one thing really well.

Full review at EFC.