Monday, August 04, 2014

The Fantasia Daily 2014.17: Hunter X Hunter: Phantom Rouge, From Vegas to Macau, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared, Black Butler, Time Lapse, Naked Ambition

Crazy-long seeming day, and that film's title just makes it seem longer.

I almost had a bit of a break to get some writing done or something, as I opted to use the longish wait between the end of Black Butler and the beginning of Time Lapse to stop at Mr. Steer for some actual sit-down food. I suspect that this place can serve as sort of a metaphor for St. Catherine Street in general - in the years since I've started coming, they've remodeled a fair amount and while I wouldn't necessarily call it upscale now, it's a little glossier and neater. It's still basically a diner at heart, though, and if you're seated toward the front and looking out the window, you're still looking at the sign for the strip club next door.

They still serve one of the tastiest burgers in Montreal, and not just because they'll cook it medium rare for you. I was briefly worried that I shouldn't have dallied, though, as Time Lapse was officially full by the time I got there. There turned out to be enough seats for the passholders, though, even if I wound up down in front.

TIME LAPSE filmmakers Bradley King and BP Cooper

Actual note taken: "Bradley is the one wearing glasses", so that I can say director Bradley king is on the left and co-writer BP Cooper is on the right. I'll replace the photo with one that looks less demonic once I get back home and have a mini-USB cable to connect my camera to my computer.

Fun Q&A; as they talked about how they had to do a lot of weird things with the photographs from the future that drive the plot: They were taken with a Canon digital camera while the movie was being shot, manipulated in Photoshop to get a Polaroid look, printed and placed into those plastic Polaroid sleeves that they purchased on Ebay. The shooting schedule for several scenes had to be built around this process, so they wound up shooting a good chunk of the film backwards.

They also talked about how it kind of gutted them to cut John Rhys-Davies out of the film. You can see him in some of the photos as the inventor of the future-camera, but the characters never meet him alive in the movie and a flashback sequence had to be cut out because it was slowing the movie down and repeating information. There wasn't even a letter he could narrate.

At any rate, good movie and a fun Q&A, although I was checking the clock toward the end so that I could rush across the street for Naked Ambition. I got there just in time to see half a vintage trailer before the movie started, and was ready to drop by the end. Funny movie, but I think it was the first time I felt much of an "I'm in no mood for glasses" strain by the end when seeing one in 3D.

Gekijouban HUNTERxHUNTER Hiiro no Genei (Hunter X Hunter: Phantom Rouge)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: AXIS, HD)

Well, that was certainly an animated movie based upon a manga I have never read that was as a result kind of difficult to wrap my head around. Kudos to those involved for keeping it from becoming incomprehensible, though - along with the trés kawaii bit that opened the movie to explain everything, the last-act pile-up of characters is shockingly manageable, even if all the talk of "nen" does sort of become gobbledegook to an outsider such as me.

One thing that kind of struck me about it, and I wonder if it's generally true for similar manga & anime, is that while Gon is the protagonist, the more interesting character is his friend Killua, struggling with the very idea of having friends. As much as it makes one kind of want the movie to be about that 12-year-old "hunter" in training, it wouldn't work the other way around; Gon would become kind of extraneous.

Anyway, enough fun for me to go see the next one, even with the weird freeze-frame montages and overstuffed plot.

(Dead) link to full review on EFC

Ao Men feng yun (From Vegas to Macau)

* * (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

It's been a while since I've seen any of the original God of Gamblers movies, so it's quite possible that they were a great deal sillier than I remember them being. The thing was, even when they were kind of comedic, Chow Yun-fat was cool in them. In this quasi-sequel, he's something else, a guy everyone talks about being awesome even though it no longer seems the case.

Things start of with another guy called Cool (Nicolas Tse), who along with his father Benz (Hui Shiu-hung) and cousin Karl (Chapman To) steal from loan sharks Robin Hood-style to help those who have been extorted and pay Benz's wife's medical bills. It turns out that Benz is an old friend of the world-famous gambler Ken (Chow), who has been working as a security consultant in Las Vegas for the past few years, but whom Chinese detective Lok Chi-man (Jing Tian) is trying to recruit to bring down Mr. Ko (Gao Hu), an international money launderer.

There's more - good lord, there's more. Writer/director Wong Jing seems eager to keep busy, filling every available minute of the movie with comic relief plots, fast-paced back-and-forth in the dialogue, and absolutely any excuse for special effects he can come up with. A tour of Ken's mansion becomes something out of a movie for much younger viewers as CGI effects have things pop in and out of the floor. It's madcap, and caps things of with an ending that's in the same exaggerated spirit but naturally a last-minute addition.

It's frenetic, and doesn't really give any of the characters a chance to aspire to anything but paper-thinness, but that doesn't mean there's no fun to be had. Jokes that often seem juvenile are still kind of universal, so it's hard not to giggle at broad slapstick or visual gags like Ko turning over an 11 because he's somehow able to change the number on a card, and the sheer amount of silliness on display has to impress and occasionally hit if only by random unless one is a complete sourpuss. It can be a low count and still get the job done. It can be a tough balance with the meaner aspects, like how Ko winds up torturing one of the characters, but likely something will work for everyone.

This sort of goofy slapstick has never really been Chow Yun-fat's wheelhouse, though, and there's something sad about him hamming it up here, his character actually protesting that he's almost sixty at a couple of points when actually pushed at a much younger woman after a fair amount of leering and flirting. He doesn't have the wildest takes, but this is basically one of the roles that made him an icon of cool, and he's only got a couple of moments where he seems to be acting rather than mugging. He's easily upstaged by Nicholas Tse, who can actually make a character named "Cool" work even behind a pair of horn-rimmed glasses. Jing Tian is a fine enough leading lady that I kind of wish they'd paired her off with Tse; with Kimmy Tong pretty but bland as Ken's daughter, maybe it would have been more fun to have her weird enough to actually go for Chapman To's goofy sidekick.

The action, at least, is pretty good; it's handled by Nicky Li and tends to feature John Zhang Jin as Ko's enforcer "Ghost Eyes". He's not messing around and has good fight scenes with both Nicholas Tse and Philip Ng Wan-Lung, a burst of serious energy in the middle of silliness. Must of the rest is CGI-augmented, including Ken's golden playing cards that cut through the air like throwing stars. The bouncy piano score is also a plus.

It's possible that my lack of enjoyment of this movie is the result of coming at it with unfair expectations, wanting to see a cool Chow Yun-fat in a light but not exactly ridiculous movie, and someone coming in looking for zaniness will enjoy it more. I doubt it somewhat, though; even for slapstick comedy, it's dumb enough to be frustrating.

(Dead) link to review at EFC

Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann (The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Sometimes you see a movie and don't realize what it was missing until decades later, when someone else tries something similar but with an added extra ingredient. Such is the case with The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, which demonstrates how Forrest Gump and Zelig could have been much better movies if their title characters had really liked to blow things up.

Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson) is still at it at 99, when he uses dynamite to deal with the fox who attacked his cat Molotov. That gets him put in a retirement home, although he walks out on his hundredth birthday, and into an accidental adventure that eventually involves a biker gang, bored retiree Julius (Iwar Wiklander), perpetual student Benny (David Wiberg), animal rights stalwart Gunilla (Mia Skäringer), and her elephant. This is not exactly new for him, of course; his long life and love of explosives has taken him to the Spanish Civil War, the Manhattan Project, a Soviet gulag with Herbert Einstein (David Shackleton) - Albert's rather dim brother - and a career in espionage as a double agent.

In some ways, it's two movies about about roughly the same thing - a guy who is kind of detached from the world, loves blowing things up, and sort of stumbles into misadventures as opposed to initiating them deliberately. They do, eventually, tie together, and on reflection, may even all be part of the same elaborate Rube Goldberg machine that leads up to some huge laughs in the end as things spiral into absurdity that is often literally explosive. Director Felix Herngren and co-writer Hans Ingemansson (adapting a novel by Jonas Jonasson) play it with a light enough touch that it feels more like funny coincidence than destiny or master plan that the audience is supposed to be impressed by.

It's not all build-up to a big payoff, though - this is a flat-out hilarious movie throughout, from that fox getting more than what's coming to it to the way a character exits toward the finale. It is very much the sort of comedy where much of the humor comes from people meeting unfortunate ends, albeit generally in a dry, silly way that is absurd without seeming bloodthirsty, but it's also filled with general oddity, sequences where moving the pieces into place generates nearly as many laughs as them finally lined up, and funny exaggerations of history. Karl is often played as a rather passive character, but there's a tremendously funny bit of ongoing banter as he tries to explain an escape plan to the phenomenally stupid Einstein. Plus, just about any funny situation can be made even better with the addition of either high explosives, an elephant, or a man so old that he is just past giving a damn.

It helps to have a pretty great cast selling it. Robert Gustafsson is actually a really impressive comedy chameleon here; he's got good make-up jobs to work with, but he's a little more scattered and out of it to emphasize Allan's age in the present-day segments while still being the same kind of in-his-own-head throughout the movie (side note: the festival DCP had another actor doing English-language narration, and since it was noted in the subtitles rather than the actual credits, I presume the film is localized like that outside of Sweden). While David Shackleton's Einstein is the best scene-stealer in the past - though Manuel Dubra works what is basically one great, mean joke to perfection as a would-be Spanish revolutionary - the whole crew in the present is fairly fantastic: Iwar Wiklander is a progressively more devil-may-care Julius as the movie goes on, David Wiberg is amusingly nervous as Benny with Mia Skäringer a good balance as Gunilla, the whole biker gang is hilarious, and Ralph Carlsson makes an exceptional balance is the ever-more-perplexed cop investigating what at first seems like a trivial case that transmutes into something bizarre.

Really, everybody does their jobs well, and that's important, because it's not just a matter of whether this kind of humor is your thing or not. That just indicates whether you can enjoy it or not. This one made me laugh hard, nearly constantly; it's a legitimately great comedy, going for the huge laugh when getting the audience to crack a smile might have been considered success.

(Dead) link to review at EFC

"You Can't Hear Me, You Can't See Me"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

I'm not sure if that title every shows up in the movie - I certainly don't recall seeing it - but it describes the short well enough. This is an action reel about a pair of brothers (one blind, one mute) trying to defend the woman they both love (also blind) from a group of religious fanatics who kidnap and sacrifice defenseless blind women. Fortunately, she is singing, and when she does that, she is so wrapped up in it that she doesn't hear the melee going on outside.

I see on IMDB that it's a proof-of-concept short, which may make its flaws a bit more forgivable - the goofiness of how director Awi Suryadi and writer Andrew Suleiman introduce their concept would probably be smoothed out in a feature, along with the editing that has a hard time getting the right rhythm jumping between Mary and Mo & Mickey. On the other hand, the absolute absurdity of the concept is appealing, the bits before the action are cute, and the fighting is pretty great. You can't always see the characters' handicaps in it, but it shows up enough for the fight to come across as inventive, and the actual stunt-work is top-notch. I would not mind seeing a feature at all.

Kuroshitsuji (Black Butler)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Action!, DCP)

One of the women in front of me was throwing her hands up roughly every ten minutes or so during this movie, and I wondered off the top of my head whether she was just having a general "what the hell is this thing?" reaction or a more specific "what the hell have they done to my favorite manga it's not supposed to be like this?" one. I gather the film takes some pretty extreme liberties with the source material, and maybe if I'd read more than a few chapters in Yen Press's brief attempt at a weekly Japanese-style manga anthology, I'd be upset too.

But I haven't, and I'm not, because this thing is just gloriously daffy. It features a heroine who cross-dresses as her illegitimate brother so that she can inherit the family fortune and title in an alternate 2020 where there is still a powerful aristocracy - some members of whom serve as secret agents - and the demonic butler who protects her and serves as a partner so that he may someday consume the soul she sold to him as a child, after she completes her mission. Many of the outfits are neo-Victorian frillery with a Matrix-inspired color scheme.

Really, it's the best Tim Burton movie in a couple of decades, even if he had nothing to do with it and probably couldn't pull off the fast-paced, vicious action that directors Kentaro Otani and Keiichi Sato have their stars engage in. This is a surprisingly intense action movie for being so downright weird - even if scenes which would normally have nasty arterial spray seem to skip in in order to avoid getting red on all those pretty clothes - and aimed at what I presume is a tween/teen audience. The story is kind of bonkers, and implies the start of a series. I kind of hope it does, because this really is a fantastically strange, fun little movie.

(Dead) link to full review on EFC

Time Lapse

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2014 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia Festival: Paradigm Shifters, DCP)

Very glad to get into this one, another standout in one of the best sci-fi years I can remember Fantasia having. This one's an enjoyably devilish time-travel story that, as many of the best do, fits together like an exceptionally well-constructed puzzle. I didn't quite figure out the missing piece exactly, but did wind up appreciating that bits were hidden in plain sight without becoming predictable.

I also really liked the cast; I've enjoyed seeing Danielle Panabaker pop up in things since she played James Woods's daughter on Shark, and she's the most familiar face that didn't wind up on the cutting room floor (alas, John Rhys-Davies) and also pretty great in her own right, starting out as the quiet glue that holds the movie together before having a chance to take over. Matt O'Leary and George Finn wind up playing opposite poles, with O'Leary decent but indecisive and Finn making his character risky and more to make sure that the audience never takes what's going on for granted.

I'm really hoping that this can get picked up for something more than VOD; it's both easy enough to grasp and good enough to play in regular theaters.

(Dead) link to full review on EFC

Naked Ambition

* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, Xpand 3D)

I have to wonder a little bit just how many of the folks who regularly make sure to include something along the lines of "don't pay the extra for 3D, there's nothing that merits it" for seemingly every movie released in the format will pause when considering Anri Okita's L-cups. In a shot-in-3D sex comedy that doesn't necessarily merit an hour forty-five with glasses on, it's hard to overlook things that make an impression.

Format aside, this was actually a pretty fun comedy. Heck, scratch the surface just a little bit and it's a good romantic comedy starring Chapman To and Josie Ho, although the filmmakers mostly recognize that they're looking to do madcap and kind of hit the brakes whenever they get near the sort of sincerity required for it to really work that way. Instead, they mostly go for laughs, which are plentiful, both in terms of the weird situations To's Wyman Chan gets himself into and the Adult Video (AV) spoofs that pop up throughout the movie, which pivot on turning the tables on the usual scenarios to have Chan's character playing the "victim" of sexually aggressive women. Apparently they are dead on.

Hong Kong has been putting these 3D sex comedies out for the last couple of years, but this seems to be the first with a legitimately great cast. It made for a late night at Fantasia, but a unique, entertaining experience.

(Dead) link to full review on EFC

No comments: