Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Fantasia Daily 2014.12: The Creeping Garden, Hana-Dama: The Origin, Guardian, Creep

Every year, I spend one week of Fantasia working mornings to make sure stuff from the office doesn't fall too far behind. This is that week, and it started great with my work laptop's password having expired and my phone opting to drain rather than charge overnight. Plus, it was raining, and I still haven't gotten around to getting a new umbrella since leaving my last one on the bus, so not the ideal start to the day.

Started okay, though, with these guys presenting a documentary on slime molds:


I'll replace it with a better one as soon as I can hook my non-phone camera up to the computer, but that's Jasper Sharp and Tim Grabham, two guys who normally do other things entirely - Sharp is well-known as a programmer of Japanese films - but sometimes you get an idea like slime molds into your head and that's the movie you've got to make. One thing I really liked was the great fondness they seemed to have for people doing research on these weird life-forms, many amateurs. They also talked about how difficult it can be to make this sort of movie, as the people who fund science docs tend to want something identifiable and anthropomorphic, leading to "endless bloody films about penguins and meerkats". Another fun bit of trivia: The first person to do their Ph.D thesis on slime molds was Japan's Emperor Hirohito.

After that, I stuck around de Seve for Hana-Dama, and let me tell you, that is an uncomfortable movie. When it's just about bullying, it's okay if somewhat over the top, but when it gets straight-up rapey midway through... Yeesh. There's something to be said for this sort of material and how it should make the audience wince, but it's worse when the lady next to me is doing the wincing and the movie follows it up with little but bizarre cruelty, even if it is directed toward villains.

Pretty much no time between that and Guardian, where I once again got seated just as a short film was starting. Who do I ask to find out if they matched a short starring Missy Peregrym with a movie featuring Sarah Carter because somebody on the festival staff like Black Sash back in the day?

GUARDIAN director Helfi Kardit

Director Helfi Kardit was there for The Guardian, and he mentioned Tony Scott as an influence when asked that question, which was kind of unusual - most of the time, filmmakers answer with guys really known for their inventive action rather than ones known for making a slick commercial product. The choppy editing kind of matched latter-day Scott, though.

After that, Creep, one of my favorites of the festival so far. So a couple of not very good movies that didn't have "Creep" in the title surrounded by two good ones that are practically on back-to-back pages of the program.

Today's plan: A lot of "well, I guess..." followed by what I really want to see: I'm not terribly excited by To Be Takei, do kind of want to see At the Devil's Door, but that's balanced by how the short film in front of it will make it all but impossible to get to Boss at the Cinematheque and, since I've already seen Starry Eyes (good!) and am not getting into Guardians of the Galaxy, that leave me seeing The Search for Weng Weng. The night ends with The Snow White Murder Case, though, so that's pretty good shape.

The Creeping Garden

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2014 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia Festival: Documentaries from the Edge, HD)

I take a certain amount of pride in seeing/reviewing movies like this at festivals, and I half think it's why some give me press passes - a lot of folks will be trying to get into the big Marvel movie, but he is down for the weird science doc.

And this is a particularly good one, full of the expected information and striking photography, and then some. I appreciate that, while they put an unnerving score by Jim O'Rourke underneath, they didn't seem to lean into the horror movie vibe that they could, considering that these things are neither plant, animal, or fungus, move (albeit very slowly, about an inch per day) and pulsate when seen on time lapse. They seem so far out of our experience as to be scary as heck, but directors Tim Grabham & Jasper Sharp instead see them as fascinating.

They also go off in some interesting directions, like 19th-century magic lantern shows, some of the first nature documentaries, and how slime molds are fascinating for simulating network connections, with a very nifty segment on how if you set oats (their favorite food) out on a map in the place of major population centers, they'll expand toward them in a close representation of how the roads are laid out in the real world. It's a sort of intelligence, but very different from how we frequently use the term.

At any rate, this is some very cool science that doesn't come off as gross so much as engrossing.

Full review on EFC


* ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2014 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia Festival: Fantasia Underground, DCP)

I don't know if I'd necessarily say I liked this movie for most of its running time, or if I'd call it "good", but I kind of admired its frankness about bullying, both among peer groups and institutionally. It's not the best-acted or most inventively written take on the idea, but I bought into it and sympathized with the characters, even when things were a little over-the-top. It had a moment I really liked. And even when the bullying becomes full-fledged sexual assault, I wanted to see how the characters either dug themselves out or served as a horrible object lesson.

And then the weird crap kicked in, with a corpse flower blooming out of the main character's head (something the movie had been leading up to), and it just becomes awful. There's no satisfaction in the revenge fantasies that play out afterward, but no engagement, either. It just gets weirder and nastier and although some of what's going on is clearly meant to be symbolic, it seems both ham-fisted and off the mark much of the time.

Full review on EFC

"The Proposal"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2014 in Salle D.B. Clarke (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Fun concept here - first date as martial arts/gun battle, and Geordie Sabbagh executes it with no small amount of style. That includes some nice fight choreography which seems a bit slowed down but that also did a nice job of exaggerating the clarity and giving the audience a hint that this is metaphoric rather than two assassins set up for whatever reason. Some fun gags, too, including a good punchline.

The two-person cast of Missy Peregrym and Peter Mooney - co-stars on Rookie Blue, although I don't know if they're paired up often on that show - is pretty good, too, a little more polished than you necessarily see in this sort of short film, and it shows; aside from doing the physical parts pretty well, there's a zip to how they play off each other that doesn't seem to have come completely through editing. That's a big part of what this sort of short needs, and this one works

Pengawal (Guardian)

* * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2014 in Salle D.B. Clarke (Fantasia Festival: Action!, DCP)

Keep your eye on Dominique Agisca Diyose. She's a looker from Indonesia, a good enough actress for the sort of material she's given here, and she certainly looks like she can throw down when the movie gives her a clear shot. Hook her up with a better movie and maybe a better director - maybe the next one from The Raid's team - and she can be a real star.

Guardian isn't the movie that gets her there, though - it's the one where you hope she stands out amid the godawful mess that is the rest of the movie, including a script that is just full to bursting of stupid: Nobody ever seems to do anything for any sort of reason that makes sense, whether it be Diyose's mother or her surly daughter, including a truly frustrating number of times when the former could just tell the latter what is going on and save what seems like a lot of trouble later on. The action is also both kind of excessive - long stretches of the movie are just the constant din of machine guns - and poorly shot, often in low light that the shaky handheld cameras can't really handle and cut in a way that does a terrible job of establishing the geography.

I've seen worse - it's at least got Diyose and Sarah Sanguin Carter, who's often better in things like this than her appearance might suggest. But the action is quantity over quality, and the folks involved deserve better.

Full review on EFC

"The Flames of My Love"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2014 in Salle D.B. Clarke (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

This is an interesting idea for a short that could maybe use a little polish, with Sarah Scott as a girl admitting all her outrageous lies to her boyfriend, only to have things back up over the course of the relationship and the face of her boyfriend change within the scene.

Scott gives a pretty winning performance as Kelly, but it's kind of hampered by how filmmaker Jonathan V. Hludzinski seems to have about three different ideas for this short - the rewind, the lies, the stalker - and they don't necessarily add to each other. Sometimes, they even seem to be fighting for supremacy. Ten minutes is not a lot of movie, and I think this one could use a little streamlining to give the best parts all the time they need.


* * * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2014 in Salle D.B. Clakre (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

My only issues with Creep come from the generic title - it's only been ten years since the movie by that name with Franka Potente and word that two sequels are already planned. This movie is self-contained and works in a way that I don't think is repeatable. Maybe I'm wrong and the folks involved knew where they were going for a trilogy before shooting the first bit of footage, but...

That stuff doesn't matter, though - what does is that this is a very entertaining movie, with Patrick Brice and Mark Duplass coming up with a good reason for a found-footage style movie to be generating footage and then piling every joke that they can on and selling the heck out of it. Creep is a tremendously funny movie - one of Duplass's best comedic performances - and even when it starts getting into more unsettling territory, the jokes are perfectly executed. It's "wait, what?" humor executed more or less perfectly.

Full review on EFC

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