Monday, July 28, 2014

The Fantasia Daily 2014.10: The Zero Theorem, Uzumasa Limelight, Heavenly Sword, Puzzle, Let Us Prey, Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead

I accidentally saw Terry Gilliam's new movie yesterday. My plan was to start the afternoon with Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder (go ahead an laugh, but I liked the director's Fatso a few years back and have greatly enjoyed the crime movies based on Jo Nesbo's books) in the Hall theater, but somehow never noted that the second screening they added of The Zero Theorem meant that Doctor Proctor would be bounced to another screen. I arrived just in time for that movie, and since I was kind of expecting something colorful and offbeat, the English was initially confusing, although I figured maybe they were going for an international audience. Then, after about five or ten minutes. I realized what was up and settled in. By no means a bad movie, but I'm genuinely disappointed to miss the one I did. I'll try and scare up a screener, but that won't be the same.

Working the schedule was a bit of a theme for the rest of the day - I had a hunch that I wanted to see Uzumasa Limelight (a good hunch, for what it's worth; I liked that a lot) and Puzzle, and the only thing that fit between them was Heavenly Sword, which was just terrible. I'd wanted to see the 35mm screening of Demon of the Lute, but that would have overlapped Puzzle by five minutes even without taking the previews and introduction King-wei gives these screenings into account.

After that, there was a pretty big gap between Let Us Prey and Dead Snow 2 in the Hall theater, likely because the latter was the night's only midnight and you want to wait for the other two screens to let out before kicking it off. It meant that there was time to get some pizza, but it also gave me time to start winding down, and I feel like not all of it stuck.

There's some of that no time/long time scheduling today - a good-sized gap between Hal and Giovanni's Island, a sprint from The White Storm to The Midnight Swim, and then a semi-normal length of time before the "two short features" pairing of The Man in the Orange Jacket

The Zero Theorem

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Paradigm Shifters, DCP)

I wonder if writer Pat Rushin ever thought something along the lines of "this script is so screwed if we don't get Terry Gilliam" when writing The Zero Theorem. There are other directors who would dive into the weirdness of its world, but the material seems so perfectly matched that Gilliam passing on it or expressing interest and getting bogged down in development hell seems like it would have killed any chances to see this.

That would have been unfortunate; for all that it has a couple of stumbles, particularly in the final scenes, it's a clever movie, filled with life even if it's about a character who initially tries to retreat from it, handling what are superficially big questions with the sort of wink that says they're not important at all in favor of a middle path between spirituality and pure economics that says to just have a good life.

It's also made up of a number of tremendously entertaining performances - Christoph Waltz is excellent in the lead, while Melanie Thierry, Lucas Hedges, David Thewlis, and Matt Damon are all excellent support. It also seems like a while since Gilliam has been this lively, visually - for all that it's there, the director seems less obsessed with showing decay than usual, imagining a future that's fun in its colorful garishness.

Full review on EFC

Uzumasa Limelight

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2014 in Salle D.B. Clarke (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Uzumasa Limelight wears its inspiration on its sleeve, opening with a quote from Charles Chaplin's original film before giving some background on where this contemporary Japanese version is coming from. That's absolutely fine, though - after all, what is this film (or, indeed, Chaplin's) about if not paying homage to old masters.

In this particular case, it's Seiichi Kumiyama (Seizo Fukumoto), who has been playing bit parts at a studio in the Kyoto suburb of Uzumasa, mostly as a kirare yaku - an actor whose job it is to fill out sword fights and die on the hero's blade - for decades, including almost the entire length of a samurai TV drama that has been running for forty years. But now that show is cancelled, an arrogant director on another program has had him blackballed, and Kumi is left doing theme-park work. Still, he has the respect of his longtime colleagues and some of the younger generation like shidashi (bit-role player) Nonmura (Kazuaki Tai) and his friend Satsuki Iga (Chihiro Yamamoto), who asks him to train her in screen fighting and doesn't take no for an answer.

As I write this, I don't know if star Seizo Fukumoto is a guy that everyone in Japan knows, someone from the stage, or a genuine kirare yaku that the filmmakers decided to build their movie around (apparently, he's more the latter). It doesn't much matter, because he's a treasure, with an exquisitely creased face and skin that has slackened a bit on his lean frame. He inhabits the role likehe's known little else, carrying himself with a cheerful dignity - even the moments of hurt have a streak of acceptance. He doesn't oversell the gravitas, but he makes Kumiyama into just enough of a showman in his deaths to tie the character together: He's an avatar of Japanese dedication and dignity, but also an entertainer at heart.

Full review at EFC

Heavenly Sword

* (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2014 in Salle D.B. Clarke (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

God, that was terrible. It makes me regret my Bayonetta review, because I fear that even though I may not have used all my "how movies from video games are generally terrible" material on that, I'm going to kind of feel like I'm slagging a whole broad category of movies more than I want to, when the actual situation is that the festival booked two real stinkers, probably because they are predictable in terms of decent tickets sales.

This one really is laughable, though, with scenes that seem to exist entirely to reflect game mechanics, a plot that is full of empty reversals entirely because that sort of random redirection is what a game needs even if it is dramatically unsatisfying in a movie, animation that looks like it was rendered in real time by the game's graphics engine, and terrible voice acting, including the absolute worst celebrity job I can remember (hope you got paid, Tom Jane). Avoid.

Full review on EFC


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

This is a "Camera Lucida" selection? Really? OK...

I must say that I really dug this one. I think the fractured narrative makes it much more confusing than it needs to be, in part because it's not initially clear whether the various "X days earlier" are all from a specific zero point or relative to each other and in part because some sequences are unclear (what looked like a successful suicide was a failed one, and I'm not sure how Shigeo hooked up with the other guys), and I wonder if it was that way in the book. Past that, though, I loved what Eisuke Naito did with the material - there's a viciousness to it that is often played for laughs but which doesn't diminish the truly dark bits of cruelty.

It's also kind of great-looking. I don't know if Naito and cinematographer Yoko Itakura shot this on film, but it's got the look of it, with just a little too much light being let in and the whole thing looking slightly washed out, especially in contrast with the stuff that's clearly on video. The style to some of the deathtraps reminds me of baby-care equipment, and the whole thing just does a great job of perverting innocence into nasty revenge. Not for everyone, but kind of nifty if it's for you.

Full review on EFC

Let Us Prey

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

After seeing this, festival-buddy Gabriela suggested that part of the reason this fell flat for her was that we'd just seen another over-the-top revenge piece in Puzzle. I didn't have quite the same reaction; where she was bored, I was actually pretty well sucked in for most of it, from the "Hell is coming" opening titles to much of the standoff at the station, but afterward I sort of shrugged, said it was a movie I had seen, and moved on.

There's good bits. Pollyanna McIntosh owns this movie, for instance, with her hard-ass rookie cop absolutely holding her own against the other characters, all of whom are against her at various moments. Liam Cunningham is great as a sarcastic spirit of retribution. The pace moves.

But it becomes too much at some point, whether from the sheer number of people who have committed horrible crimes in such close proximity to each other to how, apparently, Cunningham's character is pulling from fairly specific Biblical sources that just don't mean that much to the non-Christians in the audience. The film also has a hard time separating the visceral thrill of supernatural vengeance from how it also wants us to have issues with the questionable morality involved, which makes an end that should pack a punch kind of a fizzle.

Full review on EFC

"Goat Witch"

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, HD)

If I were the sort of person that yells things out in theaters because seeing even culty/lowbrow movies should be made about me, I might have said something sarcastic about this being a terribly one-sided friendship. But I didn't, because some folks seemed to enjoy this thing, so I kept it to myself until I got to this blog which is, in fact, about me. You're welcome.

I didn't particularly like writer/director/jack-of-all-trades James Sizemore's The Demon's Rook, but "Goat Witch" at least has the benefit of being contained and focused. It's a textbook example of a movie that exists to show off the filmmaker's make-up and special-effects skills, but those are darn impressive. Sizemore brings the gross as well as anybody. Hire him, if you need that. I'd like to see him building and even directing from someone else's script, as there's nothing really to this, but his execution skills are top-notch.

Død Snø 2 (Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

I was pretty well hitting the wall at this point, so I don't know that I can judge this too fairly, especially since I was not the biggest fan of the first and this was definitely made to give those who liked Dead Snow more of that thing that they liked. It is that, and I give Tommy Wirkola plenty of credit in pushing it into being a "next step" rather than just a repeat.

My issues with this are sort of the same as the first - it's one of the horror-comedy hybrids where there's no real heft to the horror, which leaves the splatstick without the real zing it needs. The movie-geek stuff seems a bit lazier, and we're often given information in a way that is a difficult balance between "how would they know that?" and "yay for getting us to the good stuff quicker!"

And there is good stuff; Wirkola is generally inventive (especially with intestines), has an enjoyable bloody streak, and likes to go big; the movie's finale is the work of someone who has bigger ambitions than "what my budget can do" and seems delightfully practical as well. It's a fun combination, and may be even more of one when I'm fully alert. Folks who liked the first Dead Snow will probably get a kick out of this one, although I must admit that I'm much more interested in a Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters sequel.

Full review on EFC

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