Monday, August 04, 2014

The Fantasia Daily 2014.18: Hunter X Hunter: The Last Mission, Real, Fuku-chan of Fuku-Fuku Flats, Ejecta, Housebound

A day to roll out of bed, shower, and basically head for the movies right away. As I said when describing Saturday, midnights and then matinees will do a number on you, and the concession stands have run out of Pepsi Max.

Japan-heavy day, as I settled in for the second Hunter X Hunter movie, followed it up wtih my second Kiyoshi Kurasawa movie of the festival, and then had a break before Fuku-Chan. I had choice paralysis, though - not really enough time to sit down and eat, and by the time I decided what I wanted, the only thing I had time for was a panini from the Swiss chocolate place. A good one, but maybe I should have made time for the burger or poutine. I also hope I didn't screw anyone up, since I initially thought it was in de Seve, lined up there, told someone that, yes, this was the line for Fuku-Chan but you need to buy tickets across the street, before checking and realizing that the movie was in Clarke. Oops.

Stuck around Clarke for Ejecta, which had these guys there:

EJECTA folks Chad Archibald, Matt Wiele, Tony Burgess, and Julian Richings

Left to right, that's directors Chad Archibald & Matt Wiele, writer Tony Burgess and star Julian Richings. They're a pretty great group, with Burgess especially a lively guy to have as part of your Q&A, calling this the best movie ever and talking about how it wasn't just guerrilla filmmaking but black-ops filmmaking.

After that, it was upstairs for Housebound, one of my favorites of the fest. Don't miss it if it winds up playing in theaters.

Today, I plan on Once Upon a Time in Shanghai, Thermae Romae II, and then I am really completely undecided at 9:30. Closer to God and Ugly both have things to recommend them, while Wetlands looks like it might hit regular theaters, so I'll likely pass on that tonight despite the good word of mouth.

Gekijouban HUNTERxHUNTER: The Last Mission (Hunter X Hunter: The Last Mission )

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 3 August 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: AXIS, HD)

I'm guessing there was a season of TV between the two Hunter X Hunter films released in Japan last year, because the status quo as this one picks up is somewhat different even beyond how it picks up a few supporting characters who weren't in the first one. Some characters have been powered-up, one has a new job and seems to be on speaking terms with a villain he wanted dead before. Interestingly, that villain is more or less on the sidelines in both films, like he's too popular to keep out entirely but too important to the larger story to actually do something in a diversion such as these movies.

This is a fun little animated action-adventure picture, though, basically Die Hard with super-powered 12-year-olds in a kilometer-high building, with the Hunter Association's dark secrets threatening to come out. The simple-enough plot keeps all the crazy mythology stuff from making it impenetrable, and the action and emotion is big and over the top enough to be a blast.

One thing I couldn't help but notice is how, at this point of a long-running manga/anime, the characters have become so ridiculously powered-up that what might be an exciting action scene in most movies - Gon and Killua dispatching an army of mercenaries - is basically skipped over. You've basically got to skip right to the boss battles with them now.

Full review on EFC

Riaru: Kanzen naru kubinagaryû no hi (Real)

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

Kiyoshi Kurosawa has gotten even more interesting in the past few years, after stepping away from horror to do 2008's drama Tokyo Sonata, then immersing himself in teaching before doing a television series, a short feature that's probably as much record promo as stand-alone project, and this bit of science fiction. The interesting thing here is that this is still very much the work of a guy who knows how to scare you, making a pretty straight line between slick futurism and a contemporary world becoming more and more strange.

The material itself isn't necessarily the most creative - technology to get inside the heads of coma patients is a classic bit of sci-fi - but Kurosawa and his co-writers (and original novelist Rokuro Inui) come up with neat details, such as "philosophical zombies" and jumbled-up dreams. The main cast of Takeru Sato and Haruka Ayase (who used to show up in every Japanese movie I saw for a while) is decent, and there is an impressively constructed "how'd they do that" scene where they walk into fog in one location and out in another despite it being a single tracking shot

On a couple levels, though, I kind of wish Kurosawa & company had quite while they were ahead. One plot twist seems almost obligatory by now, and in a movie where you're often learning about characters through symbols and analogs, it's disruptive to diminishing returns. Speaking of symbols, I love that we're at a spot in moviemaking right now where Kurosawa can use a plesiosaur rampaging as a big, destructive metaphor, and I wouldn't want it gone, but given that the scene is taking place inside a character's head, I'm not sure it represents exactly what it's used for.

Full review on EFC

Fukufuku-so no Fuku-chan (Fuku-chan of FukuFuku Flats)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 3 August 2014 in Salle D.B. Clarke (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Huh. I missed something about this movie when reading the program description, although on a certain level it doesn't really matter. What does matter is that this is a big-hearted, charming movie that pays off in some unexpected ways. It also has one of the single funniest sequences I've seen in a movie this year, which never hurts.

The "Fuku-chan" of the title is Fukuda Tatsuo (Miyuki Oshima), a 32-year-old house painter who is fairly well-liked both at work and the cheap apartment block he calls home, where he winds up making peace between his neighbors Nonoshita (Asato Iida) and Mabuchi (Tateto Serizawa) over the matter of the gigantic snake the latter is keeping as a pet. He isn't quite rude in how he rebuffs his supervisor and friend Shimacchi's attempts to set him up with women, but is even more standoffish than one might expect given how he's overweight and not exactly handsome. Meanwhile, on the other side of town, pretty businesswoman Chiho Sigiura (Asami Mizukawa) quits her job after winning a photography prize, only to be put off that when her mentor (Toshiyuki Kitami) proves more interested in her body than her eye.

Where this is going is kind of obvious, but just as the audience is starting to wonder just how writer/director Yosuke Fujita is going to arrange the meet-cute, he throws the audience a curve that makes Fuku's and Chiho's story a bit more complicated than a girl who is, by her own admission, kind of focused on surface-level things realizing that Fuku has a big heart underneath a face that, while expressive, is not conventionally attractive. What's more impressive is that he doesn't waste much time in doing so after starting to hint that the audience is looking in the wrong direction. And while the events of the story are more or less the ones you might expect, Fujita doesn't just acknowledge how these two would likely view each other in real life, but deflects the film from the romantic comedy path fairly explicitly.

Full review at EFC

"Flesh Computer"

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 3 August 2014 in Salle D.B. Clarke (Fantasia Festival, HD)

As much as "Flesh Computer" has an impressive sort of visual ambition - it's the sort of sci-fi movie that takes place in a run-down, likely "post-collapse" future but has some nifty digital augmentation - it kind of feels a bit disappointing to me. That world's template is one we've seen before, even if the CGI is new, and the philosophy meant to give it a little heft is literally regurgitated, coming via a David Chalmers interview that the neighbors are watching on their old tube TV.

Meanwhile, the actual characters doing things just never get that interesting. There's a couple of rednecks getting violent, a handyman tending to a Cronenbergian lump of protoplasm and circuitry sitting on his shelf (and one of the rednecks deciding that it looks enough like a vagina to need fingering should seem more daring), and a little girl with a prosthetic eye and a sleeping grandfather, but none were able to grab my interest. Only the angrier redneck seems like more than a half-formed idea, and he's just unpleasant.

It's got some nifty visuals when they get broken out, and the sort of imperfect rendering that doesn't really get held against a movie. It just doesn't quite have the spark it needs to be more than an unusually grimy demo


* * (out of four)
Seen 3 August 2014 in Salle D.B. Clarke (Fantasia Festival: Action!, DCP)

In the Q&A after the movie, the filmmakers described how this movie sort of came together as a sort of chimera, the minimalist prisoner/interrogator parts and the found-footage ones being shot well apart and stitched together like a Frankenstein's monster. It's not necessarily a bad idea - I don't really think I'd like to see either stretched to a full ninety minutes - but it doesn't quite come together as a greater whole.

Each half has its flaws. The one with Julian Richings as a UFO abductee and Adam Seybold as the guy who comes out to do an interview on the night the aliens come back has the action, but it's also a lot of hand-held stuff at night that's difficult to see and just eventually frustrating to watch; the scene with Richings being interrogated by Lisa Houle's Dr. Tobin tends to have its action happen remotely but also has Houle playing a sort of girl-next-door black-project-sadist that I can't recall ever seeing before, a unique take on the trope that certainly isn't hurt by having Richings to play off. He's a big plus on both ends of the story.

It's certainly got its moments, and maybe with a clearer plan at the beginning and a little more budget to keep from having to hide all the good stuff in the dark, it would really be something.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 3 August 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Most of the time, you don't really want haunted house movies to get too clever - a twist here and there (although those have become kind of predictable), a particularly horrific backstory - lest they diminish the simple, almost folkloric appeal of the genre. And they definitely shouldn't be funny, lest the already precarious premise collapses completely. That's only most of the time, though, because sometimes someone gets an idea that upends everything and makes it work as brilliantly as Housebound.

This time around, Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O'Reilly) can't leave the run-down house she grew up in because she's under house arrest, stuck with an ankle bracelet for eight months after her latest ill-fated run-in with the law. Eight months with her annoying mother Miriam (Rima Te Wiata) and Miriam's unassuming second husband Graeme (Ross Harper), and regular visits from the court-appointed shrink (Cameron Rhodes). Oh, and all the weird sounds the house makes, until one trip down to the basement in the middle of the night shakes her skepticism.

That's when writer/director Gerard Johnstone takes what was already a clever way to enforce the genre's rule of not just leaving the house does something funny and unanticipated that opens up new possibilities, and he doesn't stop doing that until the movie's over. There's one moment that feels like it maybe comes out of nowhere, but for the most part the movie earns each of those turns by setting up ways they can fit beforehand and by managing to keep the tone of the movie consistent beyond cranking up the tension. The movie twists, but not into something totally unrecognizable (and, let's face it, not what the viewer paid for).

Full review at EFC

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