Monday, August 11, 2014

The Fantasia Daily 2014.22: Guardians of the Galaxy, Ruroni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno, I Am a Knife with Legs

Okay, I didn't actually see Guardians as part of the festival, but it played there and I saw it before the festival ended, so it counts.

Before that, though, it was a busy day, involving getting down to the US Consulate early in the morning to get an emergency passport to replace the one I misplaced at some point in the festival. Friends: Do not lose your passport. Ever. Even if I can rationalize it as basically renewing it a year or two early, it means getting up at 7am on a vacation day (a thing to avoid), a rigmarole that involves passing through a security cordon, then being told to fill out a form that includes contact information that I generally don't remember because it's in my phone, which is down at security, being sent back down 19 floors to get your picture taken in a photo booth that costs $10, being called to three windows in succession with a wait between them, one of which has two lines whose separate purposes aren't clear...

I could probably think of a half-dozen ways to streamline this process, but I strongly suspect that the State Department wants it inconvenient because that serves as an incentive to not lose your friggin' passport again.

Anyway, after that it was still only ten thirty or so, which meant breakfast at Eggspectation and then a trip to the Vieux-Porte, where I went to the science museum to see the Lascaux Caverns exhibition. It's an odd thing going to a science museum as an adult, because a large chunk of what you see is aimed at nine-year-olds, which while fun and still including things you didn't know, means you're surrounded by a bunch of loud nine-year-olds, probably skipping parts of the exhibit, and a little bit patronized by what you do see. But, in the middle of all of that, there's this:

Cave painting reproduction

Obviously, not the real Lescaux. It's still an impressive as heck recreation done with technology that is impressive itself. This section of the exhibit is darkened and muted, not just kid stuff.

After that, I still had plenty of day left, so I went up the street to the back side of Notre Dame de Montreal, where they had an exhibit on the treasures of Napoleon. I didn't take any pictures, but it was worth a look, especially since I didn't know that much about the guy, having taken less history (and French) in high school than I could have. Then it was a hike to McGill's Redpath Museum, which I'd only heard about from some fellow Boston-based attendees a week earlier. It's kind of a curiosity cabinet expanded to three floors, small and crowded with everything crammed together, but it does have this:


A cast rather than an original, if I read the signage correctly, though one that has been in the museum long enough to have become an artifact in its own right. Plus: It's a dinosaur skeleton. I defy you to think of any better way to end a day that starts with trying to explain one's absent-mindedness to bureaucracy than dinosaurs.

It started to rain as I was in there, which is why I decided to jump into a movie, and since Guardians was playing in Imax-branded 3D at the right time, in I went. Afterward, I got another Coke Zero with my take-out "Mighty Protein Poutine" and hit Ruroni Kenshin 2 before crossing the street for I Am a Knife with Legs.

You'd think all that caffeine would have ben still going strong, but I guess the walking did me in, because I nodded off during Knife, enough that I can't even really fake reviewing it. I figure I'm doing pretty good, though - I cleared 80 movies in three weeks this year and I didn't hit the wall until the very last one

Bennett Jones of I AM A KNIFE WITH LEGS

It was a shame, because Bennett Jones either came back or was still hanging around despite the movie's first screening being a couple weeks ago, which can be unusual filmmaker behavior; I was disappointed a couple of times this year to see no Q&As for movies getting a matinee show the day after it screened in the evening. He's an entertaining guy, too, making the Q&A a lot of fun and then doing part in character as Bene, including songs and an argument that Quebec's official language should be English with a French accent.

This doesn't quite close the book for me on Fantasia; I've got four or five online screeners that I'd like to watch and write up and about 40 reviews to flesh out to full length. Hopefully, it won't actually take me until Fantastic Fest (which I hope to attend this year) and the process starting again right away. My other hobbies need attention, too!

Guardians of the Galaxy

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 7 August 2014 in Cinema Banque Scotia Montreal #13 (first-run, Imax-branded 3D)

I wouldn't dream of spoiling the post-credit stinger of Guardians of the Galaxy, but I love what it and the movie itself represents: A willingness to own and use every part of a Marvel Universe that has expanded in every possible direction over the last fifty to seventy-five years, no matter how obscure, weird, convoluted, silly, or downright embarrassing (for one reason or another) it might be. Get the right people involved, and any of it can be a complete blast.

James Gunn turns out to be one of right people, a guy who will take a cast of characters that includes a talking raccoon and a walking tree and on the one hand take them seriously enough to build a story around them that matters even without a villain who threatens the entire galaxy, and on the other have them be very funny people. One of the things that has made Marvel's movies interesting is that while conventional wisdom has always said that superhero movies are only as good as their villains, ten movies have only produced one really memorable bad guy (though they have leaned hard on him thus far). Guardians doesn't change this; rebel Kree general Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) means business but will not be missed once the movie is over like Loki or Heath Ledger's Joker; he's there to inspire and focus how five misfits come together.

Those five are a great group, too. Chris Pratt plays Peter Jason "Star-Lord" Quill as the anti-Batman, a goof who has run and hidden from his tragic past to an impossible extent but is still with a decent heart underneath and a childishness that comes through in ways both silly and noble. Zoe Saldana is the more serious-minded pairing with him as green-skinned assassin Gamora, and the pair have great chemistry even as potential romance is pushed toward the back. Dave Bautista's Drax the Destroyer is a dry bruiser carrying the sadness of his family's murder, seeming to genuinely enjoy a scrap. The two animated members of the crew, Rocket Raccoon and Groot, are full of personality whether bantering with each other or the rest of the cast, with Rocket an especially terrific creation - it's no small thing to take Sean Gunn's on-set/motion capture performance (the one that the rest of the cast played off), hand it off to a brace of visual effects artists, and then put that together with Bradley Cooper's voice work to get something you can put in the center of a movie.

Full review at eFilmCritic.

Rurouni Kenshin Kyoto Taika Hen (Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 7 August 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Action!, DCP)

The first Rurouni Kenshin movie had the look of a franchise starter in the best sort of way, an introduction to an appealing setting and group of characters that leaves the door open for new adventures. The second follows through on that promise, delivering a bigger adventure with even higher stakes, and its a fine place to start on its own.

In November 1878, a maniac murders dozens inside a Hyogo mine. He is Makoto Shishio (Tatsuya Fujiwara), a samurai who took on the role of assassin when "Battosai" laid down his sword ten years ago, until the new Meiji government found him a liability, though the attempt to eliminate him only resulted in his being badly burned. Now that he has re-emerged as a terrorist, the government calls upon the former Battosai, Kenshin Himura (Takeru Sota), despite his pledge not to kill that extends to carrying a "back-bladed" sword with a blunt leading edge. But with a monster like Shishio...

This isn't just a one-on-one match between Himura and Shishio, of course - Shishio has a fair number of mercenaries working for him and other followers, including the ominously named Ten Swords. When Himura makes a couple of new friends on the road to Kyoto, including Misao Makimachi (Tao Tsuchiya), it looks for a while like the series is going to go full wandering-ronin and leave the last movie's supporting cast behind after a relatively brief reprise at the start, but that's not the case, and as a result things are actually fairly crowded by the end. It feels a bit like director Keishi Otomo and his co-writers Kiyomi Fujii & Nobuhiro Watsuki are trying to fit a lot of Nobuhiro Watsuki's manga (published as "Samurai X" in the United States) into three movies that can't quite expand and contract or give the audience time to pause and process the way that comics can.

Full review at eFilmCritic.

I Am a Knife With Legs

Seen 7 August 2014 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia Festival: Fantasia Underground, DCP)

I am genuinely disappointed in myself for not making it all the way through this one, both because a three-week festival that I hit aggressively without any "can't remember this well enough to review" would be great, but also because everyone I talked to who saw this movie absolutely loved it, and it got an introduction that built it up pretty high, even by enthusiastic Mitch Davis standards.

And true to expectations, at least the first half-hour or so is quite funny, with Bennett Jones - a veritable Swiss Army Knife with legs for all the jobs he did on this movie - spitting out deadpan absurdity at an impressive clip that still never feels rushed. The songs are funny and catchy, the narration amusingly dim, and the bizarre plot always going off in some weird new direction.

And then I started losing the thing. It was two parts being tired after a long day, one part not seeing a tiny budget as a virtue in and of itself. Eighty minutes is a lot of eccentricity and hoping that the good material is balancing out the low production values or that it adds some extra intensity, and I just wasn't in the right place for it to work that way.

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