Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Fantasia Daily 2014.13: To Be Takei, At the Devil's Door, The Search for Weng Weng, The Snow White Murder Case

Not going to lie: Most days in the office I'm barely getting up to speed by 1pm or so, when I knock off during these half-days. It also doesn't help that I never found the time to make a supermarket run so that I've got pop-tarts or something in my room for the mornings.

But, hey, got my tablet back yesterday! Paid $120 (Canadian) to fix something I bought as a refurb for $180 or so, which means I've pretty much paid retail for it by now, but it's surprising how much I've missed the thing I didn't have a whole lot of use for when I first got it. Knocked most of the To Be Takei review out on it, for instance.

After that, the day was spent in de Seve; predictions of not being able to get to the Cinematheque proved to be the case, but I liked The Search for Weng Weng well enough anyway. A bought a "Mighty Protein Poutine" across the street from the Hall building between Weng Weng and The Snow White Murder Case, and, yikes, the "small" was like a pie made out of french fries, cheese curds, gravy, hot dog slices, bacon, and grilled chicken. Actually one of the better poutines I've had - didn't have the squeaking on my teeth - but, yikes.

Snow White was great, probably my favorite of the festival thus far. It did mean keeping my ears shut to all the raving from the people coming out of Guardians of the Galaxy, which everybody seems to really enjoy. Looking forward to it either after I get home or maybe next Friday night.

So, off to The One I Love, "Slipstreams and Eclectic Sheep", Ju-on: The Beginning of the End, and Four Corners

To Be Takei

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2014 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia Festival: Documentaries from the Edge, DCP)

For a while, I found George Takei's twenty-first century career little more than tacky, an old man who was one a minor part of a pop culture phenomenon becoming a parody of himself in an effort to hang on to what fan he had. I'm still probably going to think that when I see him doing some of his broader bits, but this documentary should at least give some perspective of why being able to be that larger-than-life figure must be wonderful for him.

Takei has lived an eventful life. He's best known for playing Lieutenant Sulu on Star Trek, at least to a certain generation; for others, that role is mainly the hook that led to him being a frequent guest on Howard Stern's radio program and then a cheerful advocate for gay rights and integration after coming out of the closet. Perhaps less well-known is how his family was placed in an internment camp during World War II (as were most Japanese-Americans in California), or his career in politics and public service during the 1970s and 1980s.

Or maybe those parts of his life are better-known than one might think. He's been a regular public speaker on certain subjects, enough so that there are a couple of points in the film when director Jennifer M. Kroot can stitch together a scene of Takei telling the same story at different speaking engagements without missing a beat. That does not lessen their effect; Takei is a fine speaker and you can't really blame an actor for honing his performance over time. Still, this works best when Kroot finds other material to drop in, such as some stock photos of mid-Century Americans proudly displaying their racism for all to see.

Full review at EFC

"The Gas Man"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2014 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia Festival, HD)

"The Gas Man" feels like the opening act to another horror movie - the "someone's in the house" bit that emotionally scars the heroine, sends the villain off to lick his wounds, or establishes his lethality (possibly in combination) before the main story kicks in and and a few more girls get menaced by the meter-reader. I don't know if writer/director Matt Palmer ever thought of it that way - especially since this doesn't really seem like a premise that expands much further than a fifteen-minute short - but that is the bounds and general pace of it.

It's pretty good, though! It's got an attractive heroine in Birgitte Hjort Sørensen (also attention-grabbing in her small In Order of Disappearance role) who makes Mia just the right combination of assertive and rightly frightened, a premise that is simple and scary in how it zeroes in on a ubiquitous sort of trust that can easily be taken advantage of, and a nicely paced and shot struggle in an average home. Its ending is a bit "okay, then what?", but otherwise it's a nice warm-up, either for more with the Gas Man or whatever feature work Palmer can get.

At the Devil's Door (aka Home)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2014 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

A common issue I have with horror movies is that their scary events seldom seem to be parts of the same story, but just a collection of things that the filmmakers will get a jump. That is not an issue with At the Devil's Door, which is impressively focused on connecting its supernatural and human stories, although it could do with playing them out a little more.

After we see a girl (Ashley Rickards) go with her boyfriend to see a strange "uncle" for a "game", we're introduced to Leigh Montero (Catalina Sandino Moreno), a hardworking 29-year-old realtor whose business is picking up in an unfortunate way, with wave upon wave of foreclosures. She dotes on her younger sister Vera (Naya Rivera), all the family she has left. The latest house Leigh has for sale should look familiar, with owners who want it on the market right away and some rather unnerving fire damage and disclosure notices.

This film played other festivals earlier this year under the name of "Home", and that may be a better title for it in some ways. Writer/director Nicholas McCarthy doesn't have his characters talk about what the concept means to them very often, but it's interesting that while there is a voice-over about the number of the beast in the beginning, the greater atmosphere of impending doom comes from the talk of people losing those homes, whether or the radio or in Leigh's office (Dan Roebuck is perfectly defensive and embarrassed about being behind on the mortgage in one scene before it moves in another direction). Leigh has a family home but no family, and it plays into the tension between her and Vera.

Full review at EFC

The Search for Weng Weng

* * * (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2014 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia Festival: Documentaries from the Edge, DCP)

Going in, I felt like I had seen The Search for Weng Weng before, what with IMDB showing a date of 2007 on it and there being at least some time spent on the 2'9" Filipino action hero in Machete Maidens Unleashed, another Aussie doc about the Philippine movie industry. If there was a 2007 version, though, director Andrew Leavold has added a great deal to it to make something quite memorable on its own.

It's not without bumps, as Leavold, something of an underground filmmaker, is filming his own quest and finds himself going around in circles a bit, often returning to the same point, letting information that will be contradicted stand, and ultimately allowing a lot of the uncertainty of making the film overshadow what he's learning during the making of it. Not that I'd want much of this material removed - the side trip to see Imelda Marcos goes on a bit long and doesn't come across as quite so surreal as his narration builds it up to be, but it is still just kind of eye-popping; there is probably another great documentary to be made about the apparent affection many Filipinos seem to still have for their long-time first lady even though westerners probably assumed that she and her husband were strung up decades ago.

He also makes great use of his documentary's subject. Out of the public eye since the early 1980s, the archive material Leavold has is striking, both for how great a physical actor he was and how his always-looking-up eyes in the middle of a Peter Lorre face just grab a viewer. Leavold is also pretty good at using film clips meant to indicate something else entirely to illustrate his story.

Full review on EFC

Shiro Yuki Hime Satsujin Jiken (The Snow White Murder Case)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Antisocial Media, DCP)

Some of the best murder mysteries aren't really about figuring out who did it, or even about the reason; they're about stirring things up and seeing what happens. That's the deal with The Snow White Murder Case, a movie whose use of multiple perspectives means that can't avoid comparisons to Rashomon even though it is very much a thing of its era. It's a slick, Twitter-era mystery with a satirical kick from one of the best filmmakers working in Japan today.

"Snow White" refers to both a brand of soap and the victim, Noriko Miki (Nanao), a tall, beautiful employee of the cosmetics company that makes the soap who was stabbed rather a lot and then burned in a national park. When she's questioned by the police, Noriko's teammate Risako Kano (Misako Renbutsu) excitedly calls her ex-boyfriend Yuji Akahoshi (Go Ayano), who works for a TV news station and takes a break from blogging about local noodle shops to live-tweet their conversation, although he mostly leaves out the names of office gossip Mi-chan (Erena Ono), manager and possible boyfriend Satoshi Shinoyama (Nobuaki Kaneko), and his ex-girlfriend Miki Shirono (Mao Inoue), last seen fleeing to Tokyo the night of the murder. It doesn't take long for both online speculation and television news reports to annoint "Ms. S" the prime suspect - or for people who know her like neighbor Yuko Tanimura (Shihori Kanjiya) and college classmate Minori Maetani (Mitsuki Tanimura) to leap to her defense - especially as Akahoshi heads to the scene to interview everyone who knew Noriko and Shirono.

Yoshihiro Nakamura directs with screenwriter Tamio Hayashi adapting Kanae Minato's novel, and I'm actually somewhat surprised this started out as a book. One of the things Nakamura and company are doing (and doing well) here is looking at the modern media landscape, which means that parts of the movie will feature a scrolling Twitter feed, while others will run through things the audience has just seen through the filter of a television news report that obscures faces and disguises voices but also strips context and goes in for sensational headlines; yet others will pop up helpful captions to describe the latest narrator. The intention isn't to overwhelm - although adding subtitles to the Twitter feed does push it close - so much as to show what's going on in a way that the audience recognizes as modern while commenting on the distortion that such an approach offers. There's some sting to it, and some moments when the repetition seems a bit unnecessary, but it's also good storytelling, keeping details from being buried in an otherwise quick-paced story.

Full review at EFC

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