Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Fantasia Daily 2014.21: Preservation, Outer Limits of Animation, Killers

Wednesday was the second last day of Fantasia - that is, the final day announced with the full schedule, though it takes place after the "closing night" film. It winds up a group of second screenings and things that couldn't fit.

Including, this year, the "Outer Limits of Animation" show. As per usual, there were a fair number of local animators included, and Marc LaMothe introduced them before the screening:


It was all in French, so these identifications are the best I can do, from left to right: Yoshino Aoki, who directed "Unordinary Journey in an Ordinary Day"; Duy Hoang, who directed "Mise à jour"; Jean-Philippe Malouin, who directed "Lachose qui m'a suivi"; Marie-Josée Saint-Pierre, who directed "Flocons"; and Marie-Christine Lévesque, who directed "Battlements". I think it's accurate, though.

Killers came after that, my last "official" show of the festival. I was invited to hit the Irish Embassy - the official post-screening place, more or less - while being told to fill out a ballot because I'd seen a lot more movies than many of the folks who would be turning in a ballot, which didn't give me a lot of time to say that I was sorry, but I was already wiped out, don't drink, can barely hear in crowded rooms, and had an 8:15am appointment at the consulate the next morning.

On top of that, I left the ballot in the auditorium. I just completely suck.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 6 August 2014 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Wilderness survival movies don't get much more basic than Preservation, which takes this budget-friendly premise and builds a passable movie out of it. It's not going to change the genre, or even necessarily stand out as particularly innovative among that sub-category, but it delivers what it promises, so it's not a bad choice when you're looking for this sort of movie.

It starts with Sean Neary (Pablo Schreiber) and his brother Mike (Aaron Staton) heading out on a camping trip like the sort they used to go on as kids, reminiscing about all the trouble that they used to get into before Sean went to the army and Mike became attached to his cell phone. It's not just a couple of brothers (and Sean's dog) getting away, though - Mike's wife Wit (Wrenn Schmidt) is there too. And maybe that's not all - when Mike and Wit wake up, their tent has been cut away and Xes are marked on their heads. Sean says he's got a handle on how to find the ones who did it, but Mike can't help but wonder if Sean is all there, what with the discharge even though he says he is just on leave.

Writer/director Christopher Denham doesn't leave this ambiguous for particularly long, which is fine in and of itself; there's actually something kind of refreshing in how Preservation plows ahead more or less without detours: Get to know the characters, put them in danger, and then keep at it until the bleeding's done. Part of the trouble is that sometimes one gets the impression that Denham wants to get a little more ambitious than that - that he wants to comment on the motivation behind the violence - but he doesn't get beyond showing it with an implicit "that's messed up, right?" There's a scene where Wit asks Sean why he was discharged , and the rambling, metaphoric speech he gives in response only gets halfway back to the question.

Full review at eFilmCritic.

Au-delà de l'animation 2014 (The Outer Limits of Animation)

Seen 6 August 2014 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia Festival: AXIS, HD)

As usual, there's a lot of good stuff packed into Fantasia's annual animation block, which has previously been a big enough deal and which has enough local interest that I was kind of surprised that it was scheduled for de Seve on the last official day of the festival, potentially after some folks have gone home or what have you because the originally announced dates only went through the fifth. Maybe the "local interest" part explains it At any rate, though, this year's program had about twenty animated shorts, most pretty good:

The first was one I'd seen before, "The Missing Scarf", but it has lost nothing in the past six months since playing in the "Oscar Shorts" program as an honorable mention. It's still a funny cartoon with cute graphics, George Takei narration, and woodland animals voicing deep fears of the inevitable doom that awaits us all in seven odd minutes.

"Battlements" is considerably shorter but shows how a nifty visual concept and a simply told story can carry this sort of short, with skeletal creatures fighting because one envies the bird resting in the other's ribcage. It's striking, memorable, and knows just what point it's trying to make.

I must admit, I didn't quite get the political commentary that the online listing mentions for "Big Hands Oh Big Hands,Let It Be Bigger and Bigger", although there was certainly something going on with the one guy who, because his head had been inflated rather than his hands, can't stop talking to the annoyance of the authority figures. Clearly, I'd be a lousy censor, only seeing the trippy Yellow Submarine-like visuals, cute and catchy song sung by a preschool class, and general charm.

Like that film's director, "Cargo Cult" director Bastien Dubois has other material in the block, and this is a bit unweildy by comparison to the others: Its twelve minutes tell the story of Papuan natives who, as occasionally happened, formed a cargo cult around material scavenged from a crashed plane out of context, but some parts feel elongated and others truncated. Still, the animation that has been motion captured is rendered with a nifty pencil-like look, and the music that goes along with it sets the mood very well indeed.

Because I didn't understand that the title to "Épouventable Épouvantail" means something like "scared scarecrow", I thought it was a cute little movie about a woman inventing the scarecrow rather than a scarecrow afraid of crows who nevertheless faces her fears. It's an adorable little short with just the right amount of scary in it, two minutes that would fit nicely it any Halloween animation block.

"Mise à jour" is another short, cute one from a young local animator, this one dramatizing a robot antivirus program fighting gremlins on a motherboard. It's zippy and enough fun to look at that I thought it was bigger than its one or two minute running time.

On the other hand, "La chose qui m'a suivi" (which also appeared in one of the local blocks during Le Week-end Fantastique) is odd but just kind of hangs there as a guy encounters a weird gremlin in his kitchen. It gets a laugh, but seems even smaller than its minute.

Compared to those, "Escarface" seemed luxurious in its six-minute length, in which a couple of old ladies rob a bank and have a crazy chase afterward. The computer graphics are rounded and slick - I kind of wonder if it was produced with 3D in mind - and it manages the neat trick of being able to tell jokes where these grannies are new to crime one second and seasoned pros the next.

While most of the shorts coming before it basically used style as a way to give themselves a different look, Tess Martin shifts between styles, including live action shot in time lapse, as unseen people discuss their pets and whether they really feel anything for human beings. The anecdotes don't much overlap, but they're interesting, and the way Martin often draws the animals in outline, as if to emphasize their otherness.

Though rendered in a style similar to that of "Cargo Cult", Bastien Dubois's three Portraits de Voyages are quick but well-packed vignettes filled with nifty characters and information, whether it's the meanings of the colorful fabrics worn in Ivory Coast, how everybody breaks the rules in Pakistan's Basant festival of kites, or how Americans come on moose-hunting safaris in Quebec (fun fact: "Office" is often a euphemism for "mistress" in Ivory Coast). The subjects of various interviews are lovingly rotoscoped, and Dubois manages to capture the feel of locations without being photorealistic.

Even not knowing the backstory, "Flocons" is a nifty bit of animation, an old-school piece where a person interacts with animated objects (snowflakes) drawn directly on the film, with footage of the animator doing the work. It's a fun throwback to the early days of the medium, even more so considering that it's not built on new footage, but test material from a 1957 short, which aside from helping to celebrate the 100th birthday of "The Chairy Tale"'s director also makes it a more authentic experience.

"Gloria Victoria", meanwhile, is beautifully abstracted for long stretches, with Theodore Ushev synching a number of striking images to Dmitri Shostakovich's "Invasion". Sometimes unrecognizable as human figures and other times all-too-specific scenes of warfare, with plowshares being beaten into swords in between. It's a stirring short whose martial themes still generate a very strong anti-war sentiment.

"Lady and the Tooth" is the second one in the program I'd seen before, and I must admit to being no more fond of it and its look at a horrifying tooth-based status system than I was a BUFF.

"Leviathan Ages" is another that seems bigger than its quick 4-minute runtime, with the memorable image of an octopus in a robe and images of ancient stone monuments combined with steampunk elements converging. As great as it looks, the sound mix could maybe use a little work, with the narration garbled enough that the plot listed in the synopsis was difficult to extract.

The next one ("Theory of Color")has striking images of pigments diffusing and mixing in water as voiceover narration talks about Red and Blue falling in love but their families having issues with their children Light Red and Dark Red, deciding that they must be various shades of blue. A switch to live action scenes of a model in layered body paint makes the metaphor of society arbitrarily defining people's identity a little clearer, but it still gets away from director Ilana Coleman just a bit.

One of the longer pieces in the package, "The Master's Voice: Caveirão" is a mix of animation and live action that shows animated madness occurring in São Paulo as the clocks stop at 3:33 am and various phantasmagorical creatures come out to play - at least until a skull-faced cop arrives to break it up. It's a charming if meandering short that still delivers some memorable moments.

This is the biggest, though, both in length (17 minutes) and scale, as "The Looking Planet" depicts the construction of our universe - and solar system within - from the perspective of Lufo, a young entity in the family business. It's got a look that is both grand and whimsical, and a bunch of science-minded jokes from a subtitle that describes it as a tale from the cosmic background radiation and numbers in scientific notation, although Eric Law Anderson's movie would be even better if it got its ideas into the film in context as opposed to mostly relating them as part of the introduction.

Another from Lei Lei, the director of "Big Hands...", "This Is Not a Time to Lie" almost feels like a warm-up, testing the style, although it seems to have been made later. It's another charming short which has a character traversing a trippy, geometric world that is apparently made from highly-stylized book covers.

The block finishes with "Unordinary Journey in an Ordinary Day", which also played in one of the "Mon Premiere Fantasia" programs, and is a spiffy bit of stop-motion animation that starts out with a violinist serenading a blind old lady before going off on a number of tangents, with numbers themselves often featured as part of the picture. It's a nifty little short, and a great old-school way to end the show.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 6 August 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Antisocial Media, DCP)

Advertising and crediting Killers as being directed by "The Mo Brothers" may do it a bit of a disservice in terms of drawing an audience, as it doesn't indicate that one of the Mos is Timo Tjahjanto, who in another collaboration (with Gareth Huw Evans) made the best part of V/H/S/2. His work with Kimo Stamboel isn't bad either, with this one being a darn good thriller that does much better with a split story than is typical.

Half of the story is in Japan, where we're introduced to Yumi just long enough for her to make love, get chased, and be killed on camera, with masked Nomura Shuhei (Kazuki Kitamura) posting the results on-line. It's eventually seen in Thailand by Bayu Aditya (Oka Antara), a journalist whose pursuit of criminal-turned-politician Dharma (Ray Sahetapy) was thwarted, reducing him to working as a cameraman and alienated from wife Dina (Luna Maya) and daughter Elly. When he has occasion to post his own video, Nomura contacts him, while being drawn to florist Hisae Kawanawa (Rin Takanashi) and her brother Soichi as something other than victims.

In part, though, that may be because the Mo Brothers and Tjahjanto's co-writer Takuji Ushiyama portray the urge and willingness to kill as a stain upon humanity that spreads and connects in every way possible. At times, the story seems like one of violent media begetting violence - would Bayu do what he does without Nomura's example? - but it's also a story of like being called to like, with Nomura being drawn to Bayu, Hisae, and Soichi in a different way than his victims in part because he sees potential in them. Bayu may think he is doing right, but he is contributing to a cycle that could consume more than himself.

Full review at eFilmCritic.

No comments: