Friday, July 25, 2014

The Fantasia Daily 2014.08: Faults, Predestination

Short day - short enough that I could make the annual trip to see what was new at the Pointe-a-Calliere museum. This year it featured an exhibit on Montreal's "Plateau" neighborhood and a two-part exhibit retracing the steps of Marco Polo. Both pretty nifty, although I worry that I'm starting to take the excavation downstairs for granted.

They've also got a new permanent "Pirates ou Corsairs?" exhibit geared toward kids, with this at the center:

I want to see my nieces running around it in their pirate costumes, although they might not dig that the corsair in question attacked ships off the coast of Maine.

In other news, I actually sat down and ate real food yesterday - some ice cream and a cupcake at Les Glaceurs early on, and supper at Le Gourmet Burger at around 6:30. That had me toward the end of a pretty long line-up for Faults, even considering that it was the second screening. I did get in, albeit in the front row, and liked it. Afterward, it was kind of surprising to cross the street and see that there was already a healthy VIP/press line-up for Predestination almost an hour before the film was scheduled to start. No trouble getting in, but it looks like they underestimated interest in a movie by the always-interesting Spierig Brothers; hopefully that translates into the film getting a release and doing well.

They at least make a good thematic pairing because I liked both of them but can't wait until they're out in the world, because there are details I want to talk about, for good and ill, but can't yet without being a spoilerific jerk.

Today's plan: Laundry, doing a bit more tourist stuff, and then the sports triple feature in Hall: Mr. Go, Yasmine, and Goal of the Dead


* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2014 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Faults feels like it should be something along the lines of The Last Exorcism, not so much in plot (although there are some similarities there) as it's a chance for an often-overlooked character actor to shine playing the lead. When it's that, it shines; if the story were just a bit better, the movie would be something really special, though as it is, it's pretty good.

The character actor is Leland Orser, playing Dr. Ansel Roth. Once a big name on the subjects of cults who even had his own talk show, he's now washed up, stealing towels from hotels that book him to read from his book to small, disinterested audiences. The latest was a special disaster, but two in the audience (Chris Ellis & Beth Grant) approach him, saying that their daughter has joined a strange group and they don't know what to do. He suggests the risky "deprogramming" option, which is unpleasant and will cost them - Roth has bills that desperately need paying. They agree, and Roth has Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) kidnapped and brought to a motel. Claire looks to be a tough nut to crack, though, and there's something a bit off about the family dynamic he'd be returning her to. And then...

Well, I'll say little more, except that writer/director Riley Stearns has concocted a script with the ability to surprise, even as it regularly entices the audience to pay close attention to what's going on. It's not quite as tight as it could possibly be; there's a thread that seems fairly extraneous, although saying which one it is wouldn't be right. A larger issue, I think, is that the whole movie, from the start to the end, would benefit greatly if there were more evidence that Roth was actually an authority worthy of respect. It's not a hole in the plot as it is, but it would just make everything work better.

Full review at EFC

"The Pale Moonlight"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

The programmers paired "The Pale Moonlight" with another bit of Australian sci-fi (Predestination), and they worked well together. Like the Spierig's feature, Tin Pang's short is a fairly strong character-driven piece that makes up for a modest budget with good production design and a story that hits its marks emotionally and physically.

I kind of dig the design details. The basic premise - world ravaged by disease, ramshackle warehouse settings where two men come looking to take the cure they think is there by force if necessary - is familiar, but the future signifier is nifty; the holographic news report (in vertical-tablet shape) has a sense of newsreels to it, and I like the sleek but chunky look of the future tech. The story itself is simple, but it's got room for fear, betrayal, and redemption in its sixteen minutes, and the cast of Matt Boesneberg, Lauren Orrell, and Peter McAllum is strong.

Simple story, but well-told. Just what one wants from a short.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Paradigm Shifters, DCP)

If they have any ambition at all, both good and bad time-travel movies make the viewer's head hurt a little bit thinking about how the plot fits together; the good ones make the us like it. By that reckoning, I'm putting Predestination in the "good" category - good enough, in fact, that I'm loath to try to explain why I like it to anyone who hasn't seen it.

It starts out in a way that is obviously setting things up - a "temporal agent" badly burned in an attempt to capture "The Fizzle Bomber" in 1975 New York before an explosion that kills thousands; when he emerges from reconstructive surgery, he has a new face and is sent back for one final mission by his boss (Noah Taylor). It initially involves tending bar when a man comes in with a hell of a story about an orphan girl (Sarah Snook) who applied for a corporate space program in 1963 only to have her heart broken. The bartender (Ethan Hawke) says to wait, because it's about to get stranger.

The film is written and directed by Michael & Peter Spierig from a short story by Robert A. Heinlein (renamed because modern audiences would be disappointed by the lack of the living dead), and part of what makes it an interesting surprise, if initially a little difficult to get used to, is that it retains more of the feel of a "Golden Age of Science Fiction" story than most. Think of all the Philip K. Dick stories that have had one very basic idea plucked from them and then "adapted" into loud action movies. That doesn't happen here; the bar story being related becomes the spine and heart of the film, with a bit of action at either end, rather than an explanatory flashback. It feels like a Heinlein story, not just the events from one.

Full review at EFC

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