Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Fantasia Daily 2014.02: Kite, Live, Zombeavers

One guest today, festival regular Noboro Iguchi:

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Yes, he's in costume from the movie, with the joke being he ran here from Japan. As always, he was plenty enthusiastic, although I could kind of do without him encouraging the audience to yell "danger!" or "ochigi!" at the appropriate moments. Sure, his movies are the sort of B-movie things where a little audience participation probably makes them a little better, but this behavior can spread. Plus, the acknowledgment that he's making movies in part as an excuse to point cameras at girls' butts is honest, but creepy.

I'll probably have to save the full review for later in the festival or afterward, but suffice it to say that his movie wasn't nearly as much fun as Zombeavers, which gives the audience exactly what it wants.

Anyway, got to run quickly. Todays plans are tentatively The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow, Cold Eyes, Late Phases, Han Gong-ju, Suburban Gothic, and maybe Zombie TV if I'm still going by then.

"Raging Balls of Steel Justice"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

"Raging Balls of Steel Justice" is exactly the action-movie parody it sounds like, but done via stop-motion animation. That lets writer/director/guy doing all the voices Mike Mort do pretty much anything he wants so long as he has the time, and while sometimes that's riffs that seem overly familiar with crudity that is not deployed quite as precisely as you might hope, it's also a lot of big, bloody slapstick that gets genuinely peculiar at times.

To a certain extent, the animation is the star of the show - the base is stop-motion using the same sort of plasticene models as the Wallace & Gromit shorts, although smoother and slicker, and in a style that looks like three-dimensional caricature drawings than anything else. Mort fills the screen but keeps everything smooth, with CGI assistance for things like flames, muzzle flashes, and presumably wire removal and other effects, so there's none of the stuttering or sense of the mechanical or rubbery floppiness that you often see. It's often bloody and gross, but it's gorgeous.

Plus, it's pretty funny. Guys who are more into "spot-the-reference" than I will probably have a ball with this, but while Mort spends a lot of time pushing easy parody and bad taste, there are a lot of bits that are genuinely funny, well-executed jokes, from the way the movie keeps time to a guy being kicked in the crotch dozens of times to maverick cop Chuck Steel's robot partner (a sex fiend). The laughs aren't always something to be proud of, but they're big when they come, and that's a good match for the excellent animation.

Kite

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Action!, DCP)

This live-action adaptation of Yasuomi Umetsu’s animated film has apparently been in development for fifteen years, and the end result is one to make you wonder why certain projects persist and eventually get made in some form while others just fall apart. The idea isn't bad, but by the time all the necessary compromises have been made, is what's left worthwhile, or even good enough to stand out among other sci-fi/action movies of its type?

This one follows Sawa (India Eisley), whose mother and farther (an honest cop) were killed about ten years ago, and who now uses herself as bait to catch the flesh-smugglers who did it. She takes the edge off with "Amp", a drug designed to combat PTSD but which winds up erasing long-term memory if you abuse it the way she has. She's aided by her father's old partner, Karl Aker (Samuel L. Jackson), although as she gets closer to The Emir, a new potential ally enters the great, a bit about her own age by the name of Oburi (Callan McAuliffe).

The world she lives in is the near-ish future, after the economic collapse that has become the fashionable way to create a grimy environment where criminals run the show in genre films these days. The place is South Africa - not specified, but Jackson is the only one without the accent of the region - but it hardly matters; though the filmmakers were able to shoot in some impressively run-down neighborhoods, it's a generic sort of dark future where the setting contributes very little personality to the story. The string of foes that Sawa must go through (or whom she goes through even though she'd be much better off keeping a low profile) are fairly uninspired as well, leaving the story feeling like a warmed over mess of sci-fi pieces, with the really weird versions left in the anime.

Full review at EFC

Live

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Aside from the stuff mentioned above (and how such audience participation often threatens to turn into a competition), you know what really bugs me about Live? Noboru Iguchi only seems able to direct action sporadically. It's at its worst when he's got girls capable of doing some gymnastics on the payroll; he'll often just show them flipping around like that's supposed to be exciting, even though there really isn't any tension to the scene. Something's happening but it's not accomplishing anything.

A lot of the movie is like that, full of silly material that doesn't make much sense, but does well enough in having activity fill the screen that the audience might be tricked into thinking something is happening. The fact that Iguchi is so guileless and cheerful in his exploitation - he seems to get the same joy from pretty girls and fake blood as his target audience - helps some, as you can see that he's having fun making the sort of movie that he wants to see, especially if you like those things too. It's just not enough sometimes, and this is one of those times.

Full review on EFC.

"Waterborne"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

"Waterborne" is eight minutes long, but it feels like something you could build a pretty decent creature feature around. As it is, it's a two-character piece, with Martin Blum as a government employee montioring the water in Victoria and Don Bridges as a farmer who feels this monitoring does little but make a bad situation feel worse, and the way co-writer/director Ryan Coonan has them play it out feels genuine, with Bridges dry and caustically funny but the tension seemig real.

Then the zombie kangaroo shows up, and it's a pretty fantastic zombie kangaroo - a big chunk of the movie's crowdfunded budget went to it, so it looks great on screen. Plus, Coonan and cinematographer Chris Bland shoot the heck out of the one set piece (and then piece it together well with editor Chris Tomkins) so that it's just as tense as it is absurd, a great demonstration of how a zombieroo (actual word in the credits!) feature could be a lot of fun.

I hope they get a chance to make one. I mean, hey, the beavers worked out all right!

Zombeavers

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Zombeavers gives the audience what they want from a movie with that title, pretty much the way they want it, and that way involves puppets. Puppets and blood.

Director Jordan Rubin and co-writers Al & Jon Kaplan are smart about getting the audience there, spending about two or three minutes on an opening scene that explains why there might be zombie beavers in the area before introducing Jenn (Lexi Atkins), Mary (Rachel Melvin), and Zoe (Cortney Palm), three sorority sisters planning on a boyfriend-free weekend at Mary's cousin's house on a lake where there's no cell phone service. Of course, boyfriends Sam (Hutch Dano), Buck (Peter Gilroy), and Tommy (Jake Weary) do show up, despite the fact that the whole thing was specifically about not seeing Sam, but they're not nearly as much trouble as the beaver dam covered in green gunk.

From the start, this thing is going to be a sort of light goof on monster movies, but it's not nearly as easy as just putting some girls in bikinis on the screen with some puppets of limited mobility and letting the yuks happen. As much as Rubin & the Kaplans absolutely know they're making a silly movie, they don't seem to feel the need to spend much time congratulating themselves on how clever they are or winking at the audience. They trust the situation to be funny, give their cast actual characters to play that won't slow things down, and while the beaver puppets are just handmade enough to let the audience laugh a bit at the lower budget, the film is built around their capabilities enough that it never takes the viewer out. This is a funny horror movie built around a goofy premise, yes, but it is decidedly not a spoof, but funny characters playing it straight.

The young cast doing that is one of the movie's most valuable assets. Lexi Atikins, Cortney Palm, and Rachel Melvin aren't given complicated characters to play at the start - they're easy to peg the sad one, the bratty one, and the sensible one right off - but they play off each other nicely, and when the boys are added to the mix, they're similarly quickly sketched but easy to grab onto; there aren't any boring non-entities there to get the body count up. Even Hutch Dano's Sam isn't the completely unlikable guy we're cheering to become zombie food; he's a funny jackass.

Full review at EFC

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