Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Fantasia Daily 2014.05: Thou Wast Mild and Lovely, Butter on the Latch, Hwayi: A Monster Boy

Things you do when attending a film festival with a press pass: Write emails in the morning asking which movies have screeners of what type available, because that night features two movies only showing once during the festival, both with directors attending, so which one is easier to see later?

Jang Joon-hwan at Fantasia

That's Jang Joon-hwan in the center, so as you can see, I opted for Hwayi over The Harvest (which, being an English-language movie with fairly well-known actors, might pop up elsewhere). Personable guy who made an appreciated stab at Franglais when introducing the movie, handled the inevitable "so, what's the relationship with your father like" question with good humor, and got into fun detail about the conception of the monster in his movie.

It's worth checking out. And if there isn't Korean fanfic out there that introduces its main character to the one from Joe Wright's Hanna - or if it doesn't pop up in English as this plays more festivals/hits video - well, I'll be very disappointed with the pop culture fanatics out there.

Today's plan: White Bird in a Blizzard and Cheatin' in de Sève, cross the street for In Order of Disappearance and No Tears for the Dead. Probably won't have any spare time to find a place showing the Red Sox/Blue Jays game in between.

Thou Wast Mild and Lovely

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2014 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

Before Joesphine Decker's Thou Wast Mild and Lovely starts to be a weird, creepy sort of movie in a way that has real certainty and direction, it's got two scenes that kind of warn the audience what it's getting into. In the first, farmer Jeremiah (Robert Longstreet) and his daughter Sarah (Sophie Traub) are rolling around in the grass, throwing a headless chicken back and forth, getting blood all over their clothes. In the second, Sarah narrates, describing a strange, ethereal, perfect lover while the camera slowly zooms in on her increasingly agitated dog. Decker quickly moves on to other things, and maybe I'm reading things into that latter juxtaposition that aren't meant, but even if that's the case, what the hell is the deal with everything else?

There's also a new farmhand on Jeremiah's spread, Akin (Joe Swanberg), a taciturn young man who has hired on for the season . He has lied and said he was single in order to get the job, but that just leaves him dealing with a beautiful girl his own age starved for male attention and a man whose attitude toward anyone who looks at his daughter a certain way seems to owe more to jealousy than protectiveness - and who seems to disdain Akin even beyond that.

It's a situation with seemingly unlimited range to get creepier even before adding family to it, whether they be Jeremiah's equally icky kin or Akin's wife Drew (Kristin Slaysman). The way Decker (and co-writer David Barker) manages to keep finding ways to push the situation a little further, whether by things that are transparently troublesome or moments that should be innocent but instead seem to fuel the strange erotic atmosphere of this setting, is impressive to behold. There's no easily identifiable moment when things go from a situation that Akin probably would rather not be in but will endure because work is hard to find to something that is messed up beyond toleration, but the movie is clearly there by the end. There's a pervasive, uneasy air of dangerous sexuality.

Full review at EFC

Butter on the Latch

* * (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2014 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

Butter on the Latch was listed in the program as playing before director Josephine Decker's prior film, Thou Wast Mild and Lovely, as if it was a short film rather than a 63-minute feature. The programmers and projectionists mercifully flipped the order; I can only imagine how the audience might have revolted if this had played first. The properties that make it not a very good movie would have made it even more of an endurance test if the audience was sitting through the whole thing to get to the film whose name actually appears on the ticket.

It's an improvised thing, mostly set around two friends (Sarah Small & Isolde Chae-Lawrence) attending a Balkan music and dance seminar in Mendocino, California. Isolde says she's just broken up with her boyfriend for real this time but isn't looking for a replacement, while Sarah is on the lookout, with her gaze eventually landing on a cute banjo player (Charlie Hewson). The event is mostly held outdoors and in tents, which also means that Sarah and Isolde are staying in tents in the middle of the woods, providing ample opportunity to get lost in the dark.

The multiple scenes that take place in near-total blackness, with what available light there is coming from Sarah's headlamp, aren't the most trying visual element of this movie, though. That would be cinematographer Ashley Connor's frequently out-of-focus camera work. Decker and Connor would tone that down a fair amount for Thou Wast Mild and Lovely, but here, it seems as though every scene starts blurry until they figure out what they want the audience to concentrate on, and it's brutal, to the point of being headache-inducing from the strain of one's eyes naturally trying to accomplish what the camera refuses to do. It may be meant to emphasize dreaminess or searching for clarity, but it looks like a problem with projection.

Full review at EFC

Hwayi: Gwimuleul samkin ahyi (Hwayi: A Monster Boy)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

A little over ten years ago, director Jang Joon-hwan made a good-sized splash with a film by the name of Save the Green Planet, but after that, barely a peep. He certainly seems to have come back to the Korean movie scene in style with Hwayi: A Monster Boy, which shows a little rust - but not when the time for action comes.

There's an important time-jump in the movie, too: It kicks off in 1998, when ruthless outlaw gang the Day Breakers have kidnapped a pre-schooler, only to be met with cops instead of a ransom. Rather than killing the boy, though, they raise him as his own. In 2012, Hwayi (Yeo Jin-goo) is seventeen and likes to wear a high school uniform even though he is home-schooled by his "fathers" - planner Jin-sung (Jang Hyun-sung), getaway driver Ki-tae (Cho Jin-woong), martial artist Dong-bum (Kim Sung-kyun), weaponsmith Beom-soo (Park Hae-joon), and killer Suk-tae (Kim Yun-seok). Before Hwayi goes off to art school, the Day Breakers aim to involve him in one simple-enough job - which naturally turns more complicated than it looked.

Five fathers - and one mother, Young-joo (Im Ji-eun), who was also in chains in 1998 - is a rather unweildy number, to the extent that Dong-bum and Beom-soo have relatively little to do. It takes a bit of squinting for the way Park Ju-seok's script pulls everything together in the end to really make sense; as much as it pulls what could be an entirely random story together in a way that gives the final showdowns more emotional resonance than just a lot of people who are good with guns pointing them at each other, it also requires a group of master criminals to not notice what this job entails and whether or not involving their bright, highly-skilled son who has never actually killed before is really the brightest of ideas.

Full review at EFC

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