Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Films at the Gate (and Brattle): Fearless Hyena, Come Drink with Me, and The Boxer's Omen

Have I mentioned before that I love Films at the Gate? I do, unreservedly. I missed Saturday's screening, but I think it was raining that day anyway.

Films at the Gate

I don't know if the lanterns are there year-round, or if that was part of the decoration, but it's a nifty look. I didn't get any pictures of the opening presentations, alas, which is a shame because while I didn't make it for the lion dancing, there was some nifty things. Including an videotaped greeting from Donnie Yen, who stopped by an ACDC event early this year. But did Iceman open in the Boston area the next week? No. It did not. This continuing to happen boggles my mind.

I was also glad to see that Come Drink with Me was one of the selections; I think it was the only one from the Harvard Film Archive's King Hu series from last year that I missed, and while the Blu-ray (or even DVD) wasn't exactly up to the level's of the HFA's 35mm prints, it's still a pretty great movie.

Speaking of great 35mm prints, I got to the second leg of the Brattle's "Reel Weird Brattle" program this week; all of the movies are on 35mm from the American Genre Film Archive, and if they all look as nice as this one, it's a pretty good reason to stay up late. They'll be handing out pins with each one, and I'd say "collect them all", but it's a bit late for that (hey, I can't either; I'm missing at least two by being out of town). I think this is the only Chinese one, but if they're all this nuts...

Xiao quan guai zhao (The Fearless Hyena)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 12 September 2014 in Chinatown Park on the Greenway (Films at the Gate, video)

The Fearless Hyena is noteworthy in large part because it is Jackie Chan's first credited movie as writer and director as well as star, and given that "screenplay by Jackie Chan" never exactly became something that drew people to movies, it's not surprising that the story is fairly perfunctory. On the other hand, Chan's greatest skill as a director - getting out of the way of his own fight choreography - is visible from the start.

In this one, he plays Shing Lung, a lazy young man who would rather gamble that practice the kung fu of his grandfather Peng-fei (James Tien Jun), especially since said grandfather has said not to use it in public. He doesn't quite think he's doing that by running a scam with Ti Cha (Lee Kwan), head of a bogus kung fu school. Still, it attracts the attention of both Yen Chuen-wong (Yen Shi-kwan), the warlord determined to eradicate all practitioners of this style, and beggar "Unicorn" (Chan Wai-lau), secretly a master himself.

There are a lot of movies with the basic template of The Fearless Hyena - establish the villain, establish the student, make it personal, train under an unyielding master, and then build up a big fight for the finale. A lot of kung fu movies from the 1970s look like this - not studio-bound like Shaw Brothers films, but often taking place in big empty spaces, or likely-reused town sets - and have the same rhythms. Jackie Chan being in charge means that this is done with slapstick bits, even when things take the inevitably more serious turn.

Full review at EFC

Da zui xia (Come Drink with Me)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 14 September 2014 in Chinatown Park on the Greenway (Films at the Gate, video)

Cheng Pei-pei was cast in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon because Ang Lee remembered her fondly from the films she made as a young woman, with several articles specifically mentioning this one, also a signature film of King Hu. It would be Hu's last for Shaw Brothers before moving to Taiwan, regarded as both a pivotal moment in the wuxia genre and a great film in its own right. It is not an undeserved reputation.

It starts out with a caravan being ambushed, with government official Zhang Buqing (Wong Chung) taken prisoner by rebels including "Smiling Tiger" Tsu Kan (Lee Wan-chung). In response the their demands, his father sends his other child, the Golden Swallow (Cheng Pei-pei), to negotiate his release - that is to say, rescue him. She takes up residence in the local inn, although the other non-bandit guest - "Drunken Cat" Fan Tai-pei (Yueh Hua) - may prove ally or hindrance.

Hu made a number of films set in inns - most notably, Dragon Inn - and sometimes entirely constrained to them, although Come Drink with Me is rather open. It still has some of the moments that Hu (and others) would return to off and on, generally playing more as straight-up action with relatively little intrigue, including not making a big deal out of folks initially thinking Golden Swallow is a man. In some ways, Hu is doing what the greats often do in influential movies, presenting things with a casual confidence that later imitators don't quite have.

Full review at EFC

Mo (The Boxer's Omen)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 September 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (Reel Weird Brattle, 35mm)

The Boxer's Omen seems like two extremely different movies made into one, much as one character is... No, that metaphor is not quite right, and I am not going to spoil one of the more jaw-dropping moments of complete insanity that this movie offers up, even though that would likely still leave several dozen for the viewer to discover. It is a downright strange movie wrapped in something conventional and almost unrelated, a fine midnight movie if there ever was one.

The boxer is Chan Hung (Phillip Ko Fei), who challenges Thai kickboxer Bu Bo (Bolo Yeung Sze) after the latter's dirty and illegal moves seriously injure Chan's brother. That will be in three months, which is good: Both before and after coming to Thailand to issue the challenge, Chan Hung has had visions which lead him to a Buddhist temple where the monks tell him that their abbot was his twin in a former life, which means that he must become a monk and fight the black magician who cast a killing spell on the abbot for slaying the magician's student...

To say this makes no sense is more than a bit unfair; there is actually a pretty simple "you killed someone close to me and I shall have retribution!" logic going on with all the back and forth, so all the motivations are easy enough to buy into. As to all the reincarnation, transformation, and the evil wizard who seems to be hanging out in the same room as his arch-nemesis... Hey, I don't know that much about Buddhism; this could make at least as much sense as the exorcisms in western horror movies! In all seriousness, On Szeto's screenplay seems to run on completely arbitrary rules, seeming less the result of one or two writers than something handed off between four or five each instructed to the nuttiest thing he or she could come up with. Somehow, he and director Kuei Chih-hung make this flow better than it has any right to.

Full review at EFC

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Fantastic Fest Daily 2014.08: I Am Here, I Am Trash, Waste Land, and The Treatment

I didn't have much time to talk about Fantastic Fest while it was going on - midnights every day before an 11am show the next doesn't leave a whole lot of writing time for anything but a few reviews - but one of the things I sort of committed to enjoying (because if I didn't it would likely drive me nuts) was the lottery aspect: Every day at 10am, you can start ranking which film you want to see in each "slot"; it closes at 6pm and then badge-holders are chosen in random order, given their first available choice. I decided early on not to get too riled about getting my first choice or not - heck, when people would ask how many of my first choices I got, I usually couldn't say; I made my choices quickly, went for the independent stuff over the bigger names as much as I could (while also prioritizing the Japanese Big Three of Miike, Sono, and Nakashima), and by and large not including stuff I didn't want to see or had already seen just to fill the list and be guaranteed something, lest I block someone genuinely enthusiastic about seeing that movie.

It's fun, but it also means that by the end of the festival, with some stuff having been knocked out by Fantasia as well, I'm not sure who is more to blame for my Day Eight schedule: Me, the random number generator, or whoever built the day's schedule as a whole. But, man, this was not the sort of thing that sends you away happy: Grim movie about a woman dealing with a horrific miscarriage, story about an entire family of sex criminals, dark crime thing about a detective drowning himself in a case, and finally a thriller about a detective hunting down a pedophile. Suffice it to say, that last one was the most fun, even though when I pointed out my schedule and that it was ending with that, at least one person grunted and said it was a pretty rough draw.

I actually considered trying to move some stuff around, but there wasn't much happier stuff to be found. I heard a theory that this was to make the closing night party seem even more celebratory by comparison. I didn't go - not a big fan of loud crowds of people smoking and drinking - so I can't attest to how much that might have been the case.

Anyway, not exactly the way to be sent off. I'll have a few more general thoughts of the festival as a whole when I write up the "This Week in Tickets" for these dates, but it's at least something I'm glad to have done once.

I Am Here

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #4 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

I Am Here is heart-and-gut-wrenching in its first act, taking horrific events and making them hurt more with things that would at first glance have the opposite effect. It's not quite so sure-handed when it starts to actually tell a story around the situation it has set up, but is built on such a strong base that this hardly matters.

Maria (Kim Basinger) and Peter (Sebastian Schipper) are a wealthy, successful couple living in Copenhagen, but the one thing that they - especially Maria - feel would make their life complete is a child. It's no easy thing to conceive at their age, and their most recent attempt has ended catastrophically. With Peter realistically giving up any hope, Maria latches onto a comment at work and embarks on an extremely ill-advised quest.

Writer/director Anders Morgenthaler has his roots in animation and cartooning, and while one would likely not guess this from looking at this extremely grounded film, there are moments which certainly indicate a different way of looking at the material. The scene which introduces Christian (Jordan Prentice) to the film certainly qualifies in retrospect, and there are a couple others from before that which drop the jaw, with one becoming all the more heartbreaking because it briefly gives the audience a sense of wonder and joy before not just leading to one of the film's most horrifying moments, but setting something up which will carry through the rest of the movie, either as a narrative conceit or an indication of just how broken Maria may be.

Full review at EFC

I Am Trash

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #7 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

"Just jerk off when your brother tells you to" isn't quite the first line of I Am Trash, but it's close and gets the audience's attention. It also turns out to be one of the less horrific moments in this movie about a family of sex offenders. If that description puts you off, you're probably well-served trusting those instincts.

Writer/director Lee Sang-woo delivers that line as a character of the same name, a street cleaner and de facto head of his family. He wants his brother Sang-tae (Yang Myung-hun) to masturbate because he is prone to acts of sexual violence otherwise, and it seems to run in the family: Third brother Sang-gu (Park Hyung-bin) is molesting his barracks-mate while on his military service, and their pedophile father has just been released from prison after a ten-year sentence for raping an eight-year-old girl. The still-traumatized girl's father, Yong-suk, has casually informed Sang-woo that he will castrate the father if he shows up in town.

Signs posted in their neighborhood suggest that the mother went missing twelve years ago, so it appears that the brothers never had much in the way of sensible guidance. Sang-woo may try, but he's established as weak early on, getting attacked kids on the street as he does his job in the first scene. It's a theme that continues through the film, as he's blackmailed by someone who knows of his family's crimes and stymied in his attempts to get Sang-tae to actually take a job. It seems like a rather pessimistic view - men are slaves to their urges, while the women presented are all helpless victims - although it does serve to highlight the jam Sang-woo is in trying to exist with one foot in the civilized world and one in his family's. Perhaps that's what life is like for the sort of man his father and brothers are: Aggression is normal, women (and weaker men) are targets, and those who would impose some sort of order deserve contempt.

Full review at EFC

Waste Land

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 25 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #7 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

One of the best sorts of mysteries plunges its detective into a world not his own, such that figuring out how this other culture works is an important part of finding the killer. Some sort of personal growth is nice too. The trouble with Waste Land is that it never offers much more than the plunge, and that never with the sort of depth that makes the lack of a compelling mystery or fleshed-out character arc less keenly felt.

It's got the making of all three: Brussels homicide detective Leo Woeste (Jérémie Renier) pulls the case of Lukengo, a 19-year-old Congolese man who is pulled out of the river with a couple of Nkonde statutes. The trail leads Leo and partner Johnny Rimbaud (Peter Van den Begin) to a collector and businessman named Géant who still has a mine in the former colony. In fact, all records indicate that Géant is still in the Congo at the time Leo meet with him. The investigation is affecting him in other ways, too - though he has promised his pregnant wife Kathleen (Natali Broods) that he would leave the force after this case, he's been feeling a strange pull towards Congolese mysticism from the start, and has been more attentive than usual to the victim's sister Aysha (Babetida Sadjo).

Leo sits squarely at the intersection of all that's going on here, and in the movie's favor, he is always interesting. The intense detective who is perhaps only able to weather what he sees on the job because he himself is a little off is a familiar character type, but in this case he is put together fairly well. There's a bit of paranoia to his depression, while scenes with his father quickly illustrate where his fear of admitting weakness comes from. Jérémie Renier plays Leo as seeming much more secure than he actually is, although it's a clear, well-essayed part to what he becomes as the case swallows him whole. It's a superior example of this sort of character, and Renier does him justice.

Full review at EFC

De Behandeling (The Treatment)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #7 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

Film festivals, or the other ways that film lovers cram more movies than their friends watch in a month into a much shorter span of time, can really warp one's perception of a given picture via context. On its own, I might consider The Treatment to be a dark, pessimistic movie about especially horrible crimes; after three screenings that plunged me into that sort of dark water without any sort of lifeline, this movie's police procedural approach made it seem much more an exciting thriller.

It follows Nick Cafmeyer (Geert van Rampelberg), a detective for the Belgian federal police who has just been called in to take the lead on an ugly case - a couple found chained up in their home, their captor fleeing with their nine-year-old son upon being discovered. The whole department scrambles, but it's more personal for Nick than most: When he was nine, his brother Bjorn was abducted and never found. Neighbor Ivan Plettinckx (Johan van Assche) was the prime suspect, but nothing could be proven, and he has spent the last twenty-five years slipping Nick taunting notes containing conflicting accounts of what happened to Bjorn, stepping it up in recent months. Plettinckx almost certainly has nothing to do with this new case, although what looks like his most honest note yet may be the only thing that can break Nick's focus on what some of the kids he talks to call "the troll".

The Treatment is a detective story if not necessarily a mystery; it points its fingers in roughly the right direction early on on and then spends most of the next couple of hours having the police piece together the path necessary to get there. In fact, it lets the audience get far enough ahead of Nick and his colleagues that it can get a bit frustrating toward the end; viewers may find themselves frantically rewinding the picture in their heads, trying to remember if Nick has all the crucial bits of information they have our not. That's not necessarily ideal - not every detective story needs to be a fair-play whodunit, but it helps to know what everyone knows - but director Hans Herbots and screenwriter Carl Joos (adapting a novel by Mo Hayder) mostly have a good juggling act going, keeping plenty of balls in the air even as new ones are thrown in.

Full review at EFC

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Fantastic Fest Daily 2014.07: Man from Reno, The Absent One, Haemoo, Local God, and It Follows

You know the drill - 11:05 am movie I'll probably be late for. More another time.

Today's (finale) schedule - I Am Here, I Am Trash, Waste Land, The Treatment, and blessed sleep after what looks like kind of a downer of a day.

Man from Reno

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #9 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

There's a moment at the end of a lot of the really good "Coen-like" movies (a description unfair to everyone involved, but one people use) where someone sits down, has a long sigh, and considers just what all this insanity means, inviting the audience to do the same. I don't know if Man from Reno quite has that moment, and it's kind of missed. There's still quite a bit to like about this little mystery even without that moment, and maybe it works well enough without it.

We approach the mystery from two directions. First, Paul Del Moral (Pepe Serna), the sheriff of a county just outside San Francisco, finds an abandoned car on an extremely foggy night - and then finds the driver when an Asian man jumps out in front of the officer's car. In the city itself, Japanese mystery writer Aki (Ayako Fujitani) has bailed on a book junket back home to visit friends, also meeting fellow tourist Akira Suzuki (Kazuki Kitamura) in the hotel lobby. But what about the other people lurking in the background?

There are a lot of characters beyond that, from Aki's college friends to Paul's daughter, and their investigations wind up leading to some peculiar areas, although it's often the sort of situation that seems innocently baffling on its face rather than kinky or threatening. Given that there isn't much initial indication of where things are going, it's hard to say that the movie drifts particularly far from its initial destination, but it certainly feels like it does.

Full review at EFC

Fasandræberne (The Absent One)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 24 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #8 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

I swear I've heard of the Department Q books from somewhere, even though I haven't really been keeping up on detective fiction as much as I'd like. If they're going to keep cranking out movies this good in adapting them, I hope they make it over here as well as the Dragon Tattoo books did.

It is kind of a familiar sort of detective set-up - the too-intense sleuth with the partner who grounds him, the case that leads into decadence among the elite going all the way back to boarding school, the finale that, let's face it, involves a lot of things that would get these guys fired from the police force. It's got folks involved who are pretty good at it, though, and a secondary protagonist in Danica Curcic's Kimmie who is downright fascinating and haunting. It's second of a series (the first came out last year), and I wouldn't mind seeing both get US distribution soon-ish.

Full review on EFC


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 24 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #6 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

This one has received a lot of notice in part because of Bong Joon-ho's involvement as a prodcer and co-writer for long-time collaborator Shim Sung-bo, and if that helps it out, that's great. It's a nifty little movie, the sort of thriller that South Korea seems to do better than anyone else right now - the type that plunges the audience into much darker than expected territory and still keeps one on the edge of his or her seat out of genuine excitement.

It looks great - I joked a couple weeks ago that someone in South Korea built a tank for shooting maritime movies and intends to get their money's worth, but I can't complain about the results, especially with how Shim handles the sea fog of the title, letting it really set the scene when the movie gets into murky territory. I do wonder a bit about the characterization, especially in the second half of the film - a lot of people seem to go way off the deep end, and although they're in a situation where I can't blame anyone for being messed up, I wonder if it's as much a sign of the film's roots as a stage play as anything else.

Full review on EFC

Dios Local (Local God)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 24 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #6 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

I really liked this one from Uruguay, much more than I expected. It's easy to read the description and come in expecting something from like The Descent or As Above, So Below - friends in a spooky cave have to survive and get out - but what we get is a lot of genuinely eerie stuff, and just when it seems like the movie is about to disappear up its own tail, the filmmakers will drop a pretty great jolt on the audience.

It's a bit unorthodox in structure, and that causes a few problems - I don't know that the story which is supposed to set the stage really does the job, and the filmmakers have trouble avoiding "doing the same thing three times" with the set-up they have - but it's a horror movie with some truly memorable moments, and you have to respect that.

It Follows

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 24 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #5 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

It Follows is genuinely weird in a few places, and there are moments when I think writer/director David Robert Mitchell had a great idea for a horror movie without any idea of how he would finish it. This thing is pure distilled "stalker who won't stop and whom nobody will believe exists" without much worry about mythology, and that's okay - it lets Mitchell really get at the emotion of never feeling safe again, and the ending he comes up with certainly works on that level.

The pretty great cast is a big help, too - Maika Monroe is kind of transfixing as Jamie "Jay" Height, described by another character as "annoyingly pretty", and the audience goes for her easily. The group of supportive friends around her is interesting because in some ways they're as much her plainer (by movie standards) sister's friends as hers, but they work as a solid unit while also giving Keir Gilchrist a chance to stand out.

Ultimately, it's a movie about sharing weight even when you can't necessarily see a friend's problem yourself, and that's a pretty great thing to pile on top of a thriller that's already full of inventive, exciting material.

Full review on EFC

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Fantastic Fest Daily 2014.06: The Stranger, Everly, Automata, The Guest, and Dead Snow 2


Everly director Joe Lynch!

Automata director Gabe Ibáñez, with Harry Knowles leading the Q&A.

Scott Weinberg (l) questioning The Guest writer Simon Barrett.

Funny Q&As today; I'll fill in when I'm not running off to movies.

Which are: The Man from Reno, The Absent One, Haemoo, Local God, and a second shot at Necrofobia unless I can get my hands on a ticket for It Follows

The Stranger

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #1 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

The Stranger is the intersection of two trends in genre filmmaking that aren't bad in and of themselves, but can be kind of limiting: Sacrificing a sense of place to make your movie palatable for an English-speaking audience and taking genre concepts that are basically absurd very, very seriously. You can make a decent movie this way, as filmmaker Guillermo Amoedo and his team do, but it's tough to make a great one.

The stranger in question (Cristobal Tapia Montt) knocks on 16-year-old Peter's door one night, looking for someone who used to live there, only to be sent to the cemetery. That would be the end outings, especially since this guy runs afoul of three punks led by Caleb (Ariel Levy), who would have beaten him to death if Peter (Nicolas Duran) hadn't happened by on his bike. He flags down lieutenant De Luca (Luis Gnecco), which seems like a good idea, but turns into a bigger mess than any of them - or Peter's mother Monica (Alessandra Guerzoni), a nurse - is prepared for.

That's actually a pretty strong noir-thriller setup, and if Amoedo and his team would have gone with that, it would likely still have been a movie with a lot of potential, especially as the route he chooses does involve never saying a certain word (it's the sort of movie that uses euphemisms like "contagious"). It puts the movie into a bit of a no-win situation at times - it's dependent on mythology that it won't directly acknowledge, either as commentary on the genre or to really dig into what weighs on the stranger. Going for that sort of restraint also means that the admittedly sort of melodramatic themes and parallels get buried fairly deep; they could have been a lot more involving closer to the surface.

Full review at EFC


* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #6 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

I kind of wonder why folks like Salma Hayek take jobs like Everly; is there some movie-star calculus where the lead role in an English-language action movie almost certain to go straight to video on demand is worth more than a Spanish-language drama or an ensemble part on television, either in terms of money or ego? I'm not complaining about her and others whose careers are at the same spot taking these jobs, you understand, I like these movies and like them even more when the star is someone who can do a little more than look good on the cover. And, hey, if she's willing to do something this nuts, so much the better.

She plays the title character, who was kidnapped four years ago and kept for yakuza boss Taiko's pleasure, presumably via threats to kill her mother and now five-year-old daughter if she got out of line. As the movie starts, it looks like Taiko (Hiroyuki Watanabe) has learned that she's been contacted by the Feds and sent a bunch of men to rape and kill her, unaware she's got a phone and gun stashed in the bathroom. And while that may be enough for this group of thugs, Takio owns the building and the cops, so what was planned as an escape is looking an awful lot like a last stand.

This is not a set-up that makes a tremendous amount of sense at any point, so it's probably for the best that everything that got Everly to this place happens off-screen without anything in the way of flashbacks and only the vaguest sort of explanation; director Joe Lynch and screenwriter Yale Hannon wisely let the audience try and insert their own sense-making version of events if they're so inclined. Even with that out of the way, there's still a lot of really goofy action-movie silliness going on, such as Everly somehow being a crack shot despite likely being four years out of practice while only sustaining one through-and-through wound that doesn't seem to slow her down that much. Or her conveniently having the building's security system connected to her TV. Or her being targeted by waves of colorful assassins rather than what would seem likely to be more effective measures not deployed until later.

Full review at EFC


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 23 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #9 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

For the purposes of Automata, filmmaker Gabe Ibáñez reduces Asimov's traditional three laws of robotics to two: Do not harm a living thing, and do not engage in self-modification. Most movies about rogue machines would concern themselves with the first, so it shows just what sort of movie Ibáñez is trying to make in focusing on the second.

The ROC Pilgrim 7000 robots with those directives installed are ubiquitous in 2044, a generation after increased solar flare activity has drastically reduced the human population and crowded them into a few remaining cities, with walls trying to keep the encroaching desert out. Occasionally things go wrong, and when it does, insurance adjuster Jacq Vaucan (Antonio Banderas) works on behalf of the company to attempt to avoid a payout. In what is hopefully his last case before a transfer to a seaside district with his pregnant wife Rachel (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen), he investigate the claims of a cop (Dylan McDermott) who claims that the unit he shot was repairing itself. He soon finds that something was up, and his search leads him to "clockmaker" Dr. Dupre (Melanie Griffith) - and areas his bosses from old friend Robert Bold (Rober Forster) on up would like kept quiet.

The themes explored in Automata - evolution, personhood, and the like - are potentially fairly heavy material, and Ibáñez treats them with the appropriate weight. The newly ungoverned machines are not suddenly more mature than their human progenitors, exploring their situation gradually and often having halting conversations on the subject rather than giving us straight lectures. That sort of philosophical intelligence isn't always reflected in in the moment-to-moment cogwork of the script - there are times when a walk through the desert seems to be happening in real time, with characters withholding information for no good reason and Rachel dragged along mostly because the film needs her around for the finale. That Ibáñez doesn't want his sci-fi movie to be men and robots shooting each other is admirable, but there are moments when they should be doing a bit more than they are.

Full review at EFC

The Guest

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 23 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #4 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

I didn't necessarily think much of The Guest as it started; it quite frankly seemed like a step back for the team of writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard. It introduced a pleasant enough cast and set up a kind of familiar "stranger in the house is more dangerous than anyone knows" situation which the group is good enough to make go well, but, ho-hum... And then a thoroughly unremarkable scene starts a chain that gets Lance Reddick involved. After that, it's still the same movie in a lot of ways, but it gets bigger and crazier.

And that's a real kick, to be honest, what looked like it was going to be just a typical indie thriller gets just big, nuts, and self-aware enough to drop jaws in a good way. It's already hitting theaters, and shouldn't be missed.

Full review on EFC

Død Snø 2 (Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #6 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

Saw this back at Fantasia, but kind of felt like I was missing ten minutes or so. Turns out I was, but they weren't of huge consequence. I missed a different ten minutes or so this time, so now I've seen the whole thing, more or less.

I liked it a bit more, although I still say I'll be more excited for the Hansel & Gretel sequel.

Full review at EFC

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Fantastic Fest Daily 2014.05: The Tale of Princess Kaguya, Purgatory, Realiti, From the Dark, and I Am a Knife With Legs

Zero time this morning; will update later.

Today's assignments: The Stranger, Everly, Automata, The Guest, and Dead Snow 2

Kaguya-hime no Monogatari (The Tale of Princess Kaguya)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 22 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #5 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

Though Hayao Miyazaki's retirement from directing animated features with The Wind Rises deserved all the attention it got last year, there is somewhat less noise being made about Isao Takahata's swan song, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, though Takahata has made a number of classics at their Studio Ghibli production company that have not gained the same sort of traction in America. As such, is not necessarily a surprise that Takahata says goodbye with a movie that may be a tough sell in the U.S., but is just as brilliant as its companion.

In this one, bamboo cutter Sanuki no Miyatsuko (voice of Takei Chii) observes a strange shoot growing impossibly fast, and is doubly surprised to see the to open to reveal what looks like a tiny princess, inches tall. The sprite becomes a regular-sized baby at the touch of the man's wife (voice of Nobuko Miyamoto), and will continue to be subject to growth spurts that have the village children calling her "Li'l Bamboo" as she surpasses them in age. As she becomes a teenager, the first presents her father with other gifts that would allow him to fulfill what he believes is her destiny to become a princess, though the girl (voiced by Aki Asakura) is not a natural fit for the capital whether the newly christened Kaguya is dealing with tutors or suitors.

It's a charming, episodic little story, breaking out into a number of smaller, often funny tales, each with a rhythm of its own, strung together in a way that the audience doesn't really feel the film's long running time - 137 minutes is highly unusual for an animated picture - at all. There are bits that feel like they could be cut down - does one really need five princes and ministers attempting to woo Kaguya? - but each is small enough that removing it wouldn't tighten things notably and a couple of good moments would be lost. It's a leisurely pace that can encompass an entire life, even if there's some irony in that parts of Kaguya's are accelerated.

Full review at EFC


* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #7 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

I didn't think much of Purgatory for a good chunk of its short running time; as much as Oona Chaplin did a fine job of holding the screen, there didn't seem to be much story, and it just felt like someone doing the best that they could with artificial constraints. It had a few good moments, but was kind of forgettable.

Then it got to its double-barrelled twist action, and while the quick-arriving second one didn't do much for me, the first seemed legitimately shocking and angering, providing a pretty fascinating context for the rest of the movie. I don't know that this elevates it that far, but I was interested by the situation by the end, and can't deny I felt some chills.

Plus, the movie is around 80 minutes, pretty close to the ideal length for a horror movie.


* * (out of four)
Seen 22 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #7 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

Realiti has a couple of entertaining performances in it - I loved every time that Graham McTavish appeared on screen as a sinister corporate lawyer - and Nathan Meister is an amiable enough lead, but for the most part it's very bland. Director Jonathan Kind and Chad Taylor seem to be onto something in their basic concept - a media organization behind the "what is real and what is illusion" mystery - but they don't really have what is necessary to make it really fascinate. I sort of lost track of what was going on for a while, and just didn't care that much when things were coming to a head.

From the Dark

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #9 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

Give Conor McMahon credit for building a reasonably solid horror movie out of almost nothing here, but it really strains against its tiny budget. The premise of it - a light-averse peat bog zombie thing - requires darkness, but there are long stretches of this movie where I felt like I couldn't see anything either because of the dark or because there were lights being shone directly in my eyes, and it was more frustrating than eerie.

On the other hand, Niamh Algar absolutely owns this movie as the heroine, and when McMahon is able to ust show her gutsily and cleverly try to escape, it's a lot of fun. Even if she does have a really frustrating habit of losing light sources.

I Am a Knife with Legs

N/A (out of four)
Seen 22 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #5 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

Hey, would someone in Boston pick this up and show it at 7pm or so? Thanks. It's got some big laughs, but this is the second festival where I've tried to watch it and fallen asleep just as it's getting really weird.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Fantastic Fest Daily 2014.04: "Pandas", Wastelander Panda, Shrew's Nest, The Tribe, Tokyo Tribe, and The Man in the Orange Jacket

Say this for Fantastic Fest: It fills your day from start to finish, even if there is a little more dead space than I might be used to in between. So, one bit of horrible photography and then off:

MOZH filmmakers

Hey, Man in the Orange Jacket director Aik Karapetian and producer Roberts Vinovskis - why no trip to Montreal in July? An enjoyable little Q&A, at least - I hadn't realized just how long this film took to shoot (three years, a few days at a time).

Today's plan: The Tale of Princess Kaguya, Purgatory, Realiti, From the Dark, and another midnight secon chance for I am a Knife with Legs.

"Pandy" ("Pandas")

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #6 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

I half-suspect that "Pandas" is at least partly the result of writer/director Maths Vizar having a few had ideas that could potentially be combined with the panda-specific bits. If that's the case, it works out fairly well; there's a steady stream of funny, frequently gross jokes, both within a funny "evolution of life" sequence, and more pointedly during the bits where the panda seeming like a genuine evolutionary dead end is the gag.

That, though, is what winds up tying the whole thing together: That the panda has survived in such a narrow niche environment, but just barely; its diet doesn't give it the capability to actually do much, and now the ones surviving in captivity can't even be bothered to reproduce, like they know that there's no future for them as a species and they might as well just end it. Contrast that with rats, a tremendously successful species, even if they're not nearly as cute as the panda.

Wastelander Panda

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #6 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

If you're going to do yet another thing movie/series with people wandering through a post-apocalyptic (or otherwise arid and sparsely populated) world, you might as well have some characters be pandas. It at least makes the movie unique to look at, and with any luck, it will mean the people behind the camera a are genuinely inspired rather than just going through the motions.

The journey into the wasteland begins after Isaac accidentally kills kills a fellow resident of Legion, one of the few self-sufficient cities in the world, but he offers an alternative before they stone him to death - he finds another young woman and brings her back to take her place. To keep him from running off, brother Arcayus and mother Hannah are exiled with him. Isaac joins a group of bandits led by Varrick Helm (Chantal Contouri), and spots Rose (Lily Pearl) just as his hitch is winding down. But, of course, lies and double-crosses will lead to a chase through the Obsidian Forest.

Isaac, Arcayus, and Hannah are pandas, although that is mostly a matter of physical appearance; they are not, at any point, portrayed as fat and lazy furballs who can't be torn away from eating bamboo long enough to reproduce. On the plus side, they are portrayed by actors in suits rather than being CGI creations, and while the masks may not be the most articulated, the mouths move well enough to keep scenes where they talk from breaking the illusion. Sometimes the relatively static expressions on their faces make for an odd juxtaposition to the action, but it works better than one might expect much of the time.

It does set the family apart as outsiders, even if other characters terms to treat panda-people more as unusual than bizarre enough to require explanation. If director/co-creator Victoria Cocks and the rest of the team get to make more - the feature version playing festivals is six ten-minute web episodes strung together - there's room to do some interesting things mostly hinted at here, from the various species populating the world to how women of childbearing age are treated as commodities.

The main character is portrayed by actors under masks, although they don't seem to be too physically limited by it when the time for action comes, with the voice work by NAME fairly strong. Lily Pearl is good as Rose, and Chantal Contouri especially memorable as the bandit leader. All involved play things straight, as opposed to some sort of tongue-in-cheek mash-up.

Do I have a lot of interest in Wastelander Panda without the panda angle? To be honest, probably not; this sort of wandering-through-the-desert action movie is kind of dime-a-dozen. So the hook helps, and the thing you find upon watching it isn't bad at all.

Musarañas (Shrew's Nest)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 21 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #1 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

Shrew's Nest is designed to stuff a lot of movie into a small space, and on that count it succeeds quite nicely: Even if it's not as constrained to one location as that apartment's agoraphobic resident, it's got a gravitational force that pulls one back during the brief sojourns away, and enough going on inside to keep it interesting.

The resident of that apartment is Montse (Macarena Gomez), a severely agoraphobic dressmaker who hasn't left in years, serving loyal customer Doña Puri (Gracia Olayo) and having her younger sister (Nadia de Santiago) who just turned eighteen, deliver others. Not that she's totally alone when her sister is at work; she imagines the father who abandoned them fourteen years ago (Luis Tosar), and one day Carlos (Hugo Silva) falls down the stairs from his apartment on the next floor, knocking himself unconscious and breaking his leg. This stirs new feelings in the deeply religious Montse, although with three people in one apartment keeping secrets from each other, a situation that was already becoming stressed is guaranteed to break.

And while things do break in fairly spectacular fashion, the build-up is perhaps even more accomplished, as the filmmakers get us to watch the sisters play out a few days that are maybe not quite normal for them, but which don't quite feel like tipping points. Directors Juanfer Andres and Esteban Roel (working from a screenplay by Andres and Sofia Cuenca) do an excellent job of increasing the tension as they reveal the different sides of Montse's instability while also building a situation that it would be difficult to just leave. It's ace work, telling the audience everything it needs to know while also leaving empty spaces in the structure that can either be filled in during the rest of the film or used to make things collapse.

Full review at EFC

Plemya (The Tribe)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #5 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

Well, that's certainly something I'm glad to have seen, although I'm also sort of thankful that I'll likely never see the like again.

I suspect that what we see in the tribe - a sequestered, young population turning away from their supposed reason for being there but instead wreaking mayhem - happens at a lot of public schools, but seeing it happen at a Ukranian school for the Deaf makes it hit a bit harder. Although no explanations are given, it's not hard to figure out what's going on in these kids' heads: The hearing world finds them a nuisance worthy of only grudging concessions, and this is the first time they they've been able to band together to do what they want, and with that anger it comes out as violence, crime, and sex. There is one classroom scene early on, but after that, academics seem irrelevant - the only time we see the kids doing anything resembling study later, the purpose is immediately undercut.

It's a harrowing ride, with traditional bullying at the start, lawlessness in the middle (which filmmaker Miroslav Slaboshpitsky often uses as a perverse way to show students coming together), and horrors the audience might wish to unsee at the end. It's a bleak movie that often elicits cringes, but to his credit, Slaboshpitsky never seems to just be engaging in exploitation; everything moves the story of new student Sergey forward in some way.

The movie looks striking - the school in Kiev where we spend much of our time isn't quite run down but hasn't been upgraded in a while, and much of the rest of the action takes place in the dark. Sound is also an intriguing part of the film - with no music and no spoken dialogue (no subtitles for the sign language, either), the incidental noises tend to ring out sharp and clear, but Slaboshpitsky and his crew do an excellent job of making sure that they are somewhat inessential. The hearing audience is not going to get any sort of heads-up that the Deaf audience misses, and even incidents where we notice that there's a lot of noise being made that the characters won't hear are kept to a minimum. It's a precisely-made film in that way, even if it does embrace a certain amount of chaos.

Full review on EFC

Tokyo Tribe

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #4 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

Sion Sono has never really been the quiet, contemplative sort of art-house director, but his last few films seem to have been brimming with the sort of constant action that would make genre filmmakers jealous, with Tokyo Tribe an almost non-stop barrage of over-the-top insanity once the fighting starts. The surprising thing is that an audience can be somewhat forgiven for not registering that fact, since the veneer on top of it - a busy manga adaptation told as a hip-hop musical - is crazy enough in its way that it may be what the audience remembers.

And that's not exactly unfair. That style has Tokyo Tribe moving forward at a constant fast pace, with jokes and details packed into every corner, more characters than the audience can possibly process, and moments of jaw-dropping insanity that you can almost imagine Sono giggling as he put them into the script for how silly they are (the beatboxing server in a banquet scene may have been my favorite thing Sono has ever gone for while she was on-screen). It's colorful, bizarre, and sometimes tacky as heck, enough that it may take a bit of time to realize that what the action crew is doing is actually really amazing.

There's a real exhilaration to the film in general, as well, as it is about various factions coming together rather than pulling apart. Like a lot of Sono's best recent films, there's a gigantic heart underneath the frantic violence and chaos, and it's almost sure to send the audience out with a smile on their faces.

Full review on EFC

M.O.Zh. (The Man in the Orange Jacket)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 21 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #6 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

Having already seen all of the midnight selections before, I opted to use this opoprtunity to revisit one I saw at Fantasia but came out of kind of fuzzy. End result: Not quite so fuzzy, but sort of went "huh?" in one of the exact same places, so I don't know whether filmmaker Aik Karapetian was trying for that reaction of if it's just me.

Full review at EFC

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Fantastic Fest Daily 2014.03: The Duke of Burgundy, The Babadook, Tommy, The World of Kanako, and The Editor

Again, not much time in the AM, so just some quick horrible photography before the reviews:

Left to right, that is Adam Brooks, Conor Sweeney, Matthew Kennedy, and Tristan Risk of The Editor. Funny folks who certainly love making movies and the movies that they are spoofing. Sadly, I hit the wall during their movie and am kind of chagrined to see that its only other showtime is another midnight. We're not all night owls, folks.

Today's assignments make for a potentiallly weird day: Wastelander Panda, Shrew's Nest, The Tribe, Tokyo Tribe, and seeing Man in the Orange Jacket to get it fully inside my head after another "hit the wall" situation in Montreal.

The Duke of Burgundy

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #8 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

It's tempting to interpret the characters' behavior in The Duke of Burgundy in terms of closets and shame; it's sort of the default for this period and would probably be a fascinating way to play it. Peter Strickland has other, potentially more striking directions to go instead, and certainly makes it memorable.

Every day, Evelyn (Chiara d'Anna) rides her bicycle to a mansion where she works as a maid for Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen), a demanding mistress who, like many women at the turn off the twentieth century, spends a great deal of her time studying insects. Any slow or substandard work and Evelyn will be punished, subject to Cynthia's strange sexual whims.

Of course, that doesn't tell the whole story; in fact, it is deliberately misleading. Strickland and his characters don't quite hide their true selves under multiple levels of artifice and role-play, but it will take some careful unraveling to reveal just who has what kind of power in the relationship. Strickland repeats scenes and sequences and escalates the situations without necessarily showing immediate cause and effect, and that's potentially important: Relationships and people may have a distinct life cycle just as insects do, and while some of those processes may seem strange to those user to something else, both their state at any point and progression may be completely natural.

Full review at EFC

The Babadook

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #1 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

I love kids, at least from the perspective of being an uncle; I fear that as an actual parent, I would identify far too much with certain parts of The Babadook to be much of a good person, let alone parent. There's no mistaking that this is one of those horror movies where the monster is inspired by specific fears and nightmares, but it's also one where the specificity of its metaphor doesn't hurt it being scary at all.

You'll be forgiven for thinking the film's primary monster is six-year-old Samuel (Noah Wiseman), an incentive kid but one who never stops screaming for attention, doesn't listen, and otherwise makes life difficult for widowed mother Amelia (Essie Davis) - and, yes, he's well aware that his father died the day he was born. He builds wooden weapons to combat the monsters he still believe are hiding under his bed, the latest of which is The Babadook, a dark creature in a top hat with giant weapons for hands, which he learns of in a pop-up book that appeared in the house without explanation. Maybe there's a Babadook, maybe not, but when Samuel gets expelled from school, it's trouble for Essie either way.

A nightmare, really; writer/director Jennifer Kent doesn't have Davis or Wiseman hold back much at all. Samuel just doesn't stop, and while he's not quite shrill, he's written as a very difficult child, the sort where even if he turns out to be right about this monster, it's not going to make Amelia look the fool for doubting him or being frustrated, as is often the case. (Bonus: The other kids are not made to look like little angels in comparison.) Davis, meanwhile, is made to look like Amelia hasn't slept in ages; to look at her from the start is to see someone who is just physically exhausted.

Full review at EFC

"Inherent Noise"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #7 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

Nifty little short by Karol Jurga here, although I've got conflicting feelings on how it could have been made even better. It's built around a cool, creative idea - a young woman who looks after an old man follows his footsteps by the sound of a recorder he dropped - but the structure around it which gives the short its stakes is kind of vague and filled in after the fact. On the other hand, it takes a minute or two to figure out what she's doing (a non-trivial amount of time in a 17-minute short), and I don't know that it's really highlighted.

Still, it's a nifty idea, and I quickly grew fond of the small cast, even if we mostly see them in sequence as opposed to together. Jurga uses the filmmakers' tools to ramp up suspense quite well indeed, so there is a good, creepy feeling throughout. It's not the sort of short that could be expanded into a featuer without burying the thing that makes it interesting, but it's a nifty little piece from a director whose future bears a watch.

Tommy (2014)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #7 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

I wonder if Tommy might get dinged a bit for not necessarily being the expected movie that its premise suggests. You know, the one where the underestimated woman at the center is eventually revealed to always be three steps ahead of everyone around her - or if not quite that far ahead, still the smartest person in the room. This one is more about a gamble, which some may not find quite so satisfying.

I dig it, though. Moa Gammel has a neat trick to accomplish in presenting Estelle as someone who could be that woman, and by the same token is someone the characters she encounters is going to underestimate. She's maybe not quite presented as the underdog she could be seen to be, but that's okay; it's a different feel. I do think that the plot could have been streamlined a bit; there are a lot of characters running around that may be difficult to keep straight.

Full review on EFC

Kawaki. (The World of Kanako)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #7 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

The latest from Tetsuya Nakashima is not quite so sublime as his mid-aughts peak (Kamikaze Girls and Memories of Matsuko is a heck of a one-two punch), and it kind of stretches out too long, padded by some increasingly ugly violence. On the plus side, though, it is energetic as all heck, propelling the audience through the underworld with a protagonist that they're not supposed to like, but who makes it hard to look away. KojiYakusho is pretty great as the title character's terrible father, even if he is playing something of a monster.

Nakashima is still making stylish movies, too - this one takes a lot of cues from 1970s cop films, especially ones from America, but also will make crazy jumps to very modern youth-oriented imagery. There are inserts which poke a little fun at the cartoonish amounts of blood spilled. Generally speaking, he does a great job of keeping the audience in even as this movie comes closer and closer to having a pitch-black heart that might easily push a lot of viewers away.

Full review on EFC

The Editor

N/A (out of four)
Seen 20 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #5 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

Hit the wall pretty good during this one, which is a shame. I wound up having the same issue with it that I did with Manborg - the Astron-6 guys are tremendously talented, and do some amazing things putting their movies together, but they consistently use those skills on parody/homage of movies that aren't very good. At least with Manborg, I could see where they were taking the best of a genre and executing that well, but not having the same attachment to the giallo films this one brings up, I kind of got worn down, even though the silly jokes were often working better than they had any business doing so.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Fantastic Fest Daily 2014.02: Force Majeure, Redeemer, Over Your Dead Body, "Rabbit 105", "The Chaperone", Necrofobia, and Wyrmwood

Again, not much time (there will be a few hours of dead space later, but I won't be uploading then), so let's get straight to some horrible photography:

From Redeemer, Noah Segan, Marko Zaror, director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza, and host Tim League!

Wish I had more to say, other than that Marko gave us all a sampleof his personal energy drink and... Well, it's different!

NECROFOBIA filmmakers

From Necrofobia, director Daniel de la Vega and producer Néstor Sánchez Sotelo!

De la Vega - not a fan of 3D, though he used a lot of it.

From Wyrmwood, producer Tristan Roache-Turner, stars Leon Burchill, Jay Gallagher, Bianca Bradey, director Kiah Roache-Turner, make-up wizard Lisa Cotterill, co-stars Meganne West, Catherine Terracini, and Damian Dyke!

All from Australia, all very funny and excited to be here, and probably quite willing to have taken the Q&A even further into the night.

Again, got to run for The Duke of Burgundy, The Babadook, Tommy, World of Kanako, and The Editor. See you there/later!

Force Majeure

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #1 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

Danger lurks constantly in Force Majeure, although it's seldom the life-and-limb variety as opposed to the family-falling-apart one. Impressive, given the sheer volume of explosions being set off to cause controlled avalanches. The obvious reminder that there is no such thing serves as the basic premise of the film, and you're not going to see it presented on screen much better.

It's one of those controlled avalanches that really sets things off as a Swedish family on a five-day vacation in a French ski resort - father Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke), mother Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), daughter Vera (Clara Wettergren), and son Harry (Vincent Wettergren) - eat lunch in a rooftop restaurant on the second day and see one roll much closer than expected. No harm done, except that Thomas's reaction exposes a potentially much more serious rift in the marriage than the previous talk of how he works all the time or can't turn away from his phone.

That plays into it, of course, but filmmaker Ruben Östlund is not going to reduce the family's issues into something quite that simple. He does key on something rather basic - a fear of abandonment that both spouses and children in a situation like this feel, and while he's not exactly subtle about it at times (after all, subtle isn't necessarily the way it works with kids), the variations are well-chosen, and there are actual counter-examples given on occasion. The idea of the avalanche is well-chosen, too, as one thing has an effect that gets bigger well beyond the immediate and expected radius.

Full review at EFC


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #5 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

Marko Zaror and Ernesto Diaz Espinoza hadn't made a movie together in five years before re-teaming for Redeemer, and it's kind of nice to see that the formula hasn't really changed: Zaror plays a character that is not just an almost unstoppable force, but colorful besides, and the scenes between him dismantling waves of villains are generally more entertaining and stylish that you might expect from this sort of basic martial-arts action movie coming from an unusual spot like Chile. There's not much rust.

This time around, Zaror plays "The Redeemer" - a man once left for dead and who now wanders the country, listening for prayers for justice in the churches and depositing the weapons of the men he kills on their altars. In Pichidangui, though, he's more proactive, coming to the rescue of fisherman Agustin (Mauricio Diocares) when he sees drug smugglers attacking him. This is not going to stop the men working for Piedra (Smirnow Boris) or his American contact Bradock (Noah Segan), but they aren't the worst of it, for wherever The Redeemer goes, the equally-deadly Scorpion (Jose Luis Mosca) follows.

As stories go, it's not much, a western pulp adventure transplanted into the present day, but that's fine; the idea is to put the title character into situations where he's called upon to dispatch a great many people, primarily by his bare hands. On that count, it succeeds, from a bunch of neo-Nazis being taken out at the start to the last one-on-one, and if the material in between seems perfunctory, it's at least making a stab and enjoyable melodrama and a little humor.

Full review at EFC

Kuime (Over Your Dead Body)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #8 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

In addition to his film work, Takashi Miike has directed a few stage productions, experience that he likely dipped into for Over Your Dead Body. At times, I kind of wish that was where the film stayed; it has all the material for an intriguing backstage drama and the diversion into horror is kind of all over the place.

Not that it's ever boring - if there's one thing you can count on from Miike, it's that he will go to weird places and present what he finds in a memorable way. It's just that, as is often the case, he, writer Kikumi Yamagishi, and the film itself go to so many different strange places that the story starts to seem random once the supernatural becomes involved. Strict rules aren't necessary but not having every scare pulling in different directions would probably help. The individual results are certainly disgusting in memorable ways, at least.

Meanwhile, watching how how the cast members of the play Yotsuya Kaiden are coming to resemble their roles is going quite well, with Kou Shibasaki especially excellent in the "Iwa" role even before she startsdescending into genuine madness. One also hopes that this was a real production, because it looks downright amazing, although the well-appointed kitchen of Shibasaki's character rivals it in eye-candy. I would have been happy with either the play itself or the movie built on top of it; the horror, alas, sometimes seems to be one layer too much.

Full review on EFC

"Liebre 105" ("Rabbit 105")

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #6 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

There's a jump in "Rabbit 105", when it goes from being a good idea for a horror movie to actually placing the character in the middle of one, that I'm not sure is quite executed as well as one would hope. It's a little to the film's detriment, because even with a short film's running time, it feels like directors Sebastian & Federico Rotstein could have milked the idea of whether the main character was really in any danger or just jumping at shadows for a while more.

On the plus side, they do manage pretty good work in whatever mode their in at a given time, whether it's a somewhat funny setup of Ana (Gisele Motta) being a vain little brat on the phone or running for her life, hiding in a panic, or trying to push through it. Motta is similarly good with whatever the Rotsteins throw at her as well as game for whatever the make-up guys have for her. It's a basic premise, but one executed fairly well.

"The Cahperone"

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #6 (Fantastic Fest, RealD DCP)

I missed the short program which included this one at Fantasia (probably one of the mostly-French ones during Fantastic Week-End), which is a crying shame. It is a ton of fun, and if it played so well in Austin, I can't imagine the reception it received on its home turf of Montreal.

It's a tremendously fun short that mixes animation and live action, including a few rotoscoped "animated documentary" scenes, to tell the tale of an incident in 1973 when a bunch of bikers tried to ruin some kids' Friday night dance and the seemingly mild-mannered high school teacher there to chaperone who flat-out kicked their asses. The mix of animation styles is fantastic, from stop-motion to hand-drawn to a bunch of crazy live-action, including a short-within-a-short ("The Kneebreakers") that is itself just a great little pastiche.

The jumping between styles works much better here than in many shorts that try it, as it really sells the way narrators Ralph Whims and Stefan Czernatowicz might jump around while telling this story, and it mostly serves to enhance the silliness of already goofy bits. It's a genuine pleasure to watch, even more so in 3D.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #6 (Fantastic Fest, RealD DCP)

I may circle back around to this one later in the week, although I'm not sure a midnight showing will have me any less sluggish and worn down during it. I think a big part of the issue with this one was the subtitling - placed underneath the 3D box, it messed with my depth perception something fierce and proved much more of a barrier than the combination of subs and 3D usually does.

Of course, this thing is also a lot more giallo than I was expecting, and I don't really love that form of thriller the way some do. In some ways, the story seems a little much, playing on twins (one recently passed on) with the same sorts of paralyzing fears. For me, the paranoia gets in the way of really getting into the mystery, which is a shame; both of those elements are done well, and it's just the combination that's not working for me.

Director Daniel de la Vega mentioned not really liking 3D during the Q&A afterward, but for someone with that attitude, he and cinematographer Mariano Suarez sure used a lot of it, right on the border of "cool-looking" and "getting in the way". I think one of the tricks with 3D is to really direct the audience's eye to one thing, with the rest there to provide spatial context (with post-conversion perhaps serving to get everything in focus), and there were a lot of scenes in this one where that really didn't happen as well as it could.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #9 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

It's no bad thing, I say, that Wyrmwood feels like a season's worth of an eventful TV series packed into an hour and a half; it's an exhausting ride at times, but there's not ten or fifteen minutes anywhere in the movie that don't come across as exciting or have at least one really cool thing in them. Though making it over four years surely has brothers Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner ready to take a break for a while, it's one of the rare movies where the audience's inevitable requests for a sequel seems like a great idea.

After all, it is packed with action, starting crazy and not letting up for the first half hour, and the various twists on the zombie genre tend to be both useful to the story and entertainingly nuts. There is a point in the middle where it starts to run down a bit (a little too much "evil government/business eager to kill the remains of an already reduced population" for me), but it picks back up for the finale.

I may double-dip on this one too, either later in the festival or when it (hopefully) gets a bigger release.

Full review on EFC

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Fantastic Fest Daily 2014.01: Hardkor Disco, As Seen by the Rest, and Cub

Not a whole lot of time to relate yesterday's airborne adventures, since FF's lottery system means that there must be consequences for missing a movie beyond actually missing the movie. Maybe come T.W.I.T. time.

Today's line-up: Force Majeure, Redeemer, Over Your Dead Body, Necrofobia, and Wyrmwood.

Hardkor Disco

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 18 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #7 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

Krzysztof Skonieczny seems to want the audience to assume the worst in Hardkor Disco, although he and co-writer Robert Bolesto are very careful not to tip us off completely as to what it all means. Which, combined with the very precise way that Skonieczny goes about putting it together, it's got the potential to be a great "no, this is what's really going on!" movie.

After a few scenes that are most definitely up to the audience to interpret, a good-looking young man (Marcin Kowalczyk) - though one who had been playing with a knife a few scenes earlier - approaches an apartment and seems a little surprised when a young woman (Jasmina Polak) answers the door. He follows her, scares off the guy she's with, and lets her bring him home, thus meeting Aleksander (Janusz Chabior) and Pola (Angieszka Wosinska) at breakfast the next morning.

Interspersed with all of this are old videos of a young girl, possibly Ola and possibly not. Is there something about her that would explain why Marcin (the name he gives) would be coming to Warsaw to kill Aleksander & Pola? Possibly. Skonieczny and his cohorts drop enough hints that the viewer can continue to refine their theories throughout the film without often contradicting whatever is going on in the viewer's head - or, at least, that's how it worked for me. That's a delicate business; too often it can lead to audience frustration as filmmakers seem to go out of their way to give information, but Skonieczny just plays things close to the vest in a way that seems natural and invites the viewer to collaborate.
Full review at EFC

Ulidavaru Kandanthe (As Seen by the Rest)

N/A (out of four)
Seen 18 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #8 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

Whenever I travel, something gets sacrificed to the cruel gods of jet lag made worse by an unusually early wake-up time, and hopefully this will be the only thing I punt review-wise or just plain getting-through-wise for Fantastic Fest. A two and a half hour Indian movie that requires close attention just may not have been a bright idea for this slot, and I don't remember whether it was my first, second, or third choice and thus something I can blame on the festival's random number generator.

That I was in an out is a shame, because I liked a whole lot of what I saw. The Rashomon hook of trying to piece together a crime through the individual and contradictory accounts of those involved never really gets old, and it allows writer/director/star Rakshit Shetty to do a lot of stylistically vey cool things, including some downright nifty-looking shots which seem to be inspired by some combination of comics and video games. Other eye-popping images, like the tiger dancers or the chantin fishermen, are great uses of the local color to dress the movie up. It's not quite a musical with people breaking into song, but it's got the feel without derailing the more realistic aspects.

There were a couple of moments when things got a bit too silly for my taste - the blatant Pulp Fiction reference that didn't serve to do much but reference Pulp Fiction, for instance, and the earnest wrappers with Sheetal Shetty as the reporter putting the story togther were kind of wobbly. I must admit to being curious as to whether this played at Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond earlier this year, because if it did, it's another example of how I know I'm missing out on some good stuff there both because it isn't subtitled and because what I can dig up about many Indian movies that play makes them look far more generic than they possibly can be.

Welp (Cub)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 18 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #5 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

Cub (or Welp, as it is called in its native Belgium) initially seems premised on the sort of attitude that makes those who aren't into horror movies rightfully squeamish: That if killing college kids who go out into the woods doesn't get a rise out of the audience any more, maybe killing cub scouts will. The good news in this case is twofold: One, filmmaker Jonas Govaerts does have more on his mind than cheap exploitation when all is said and done; and two, he and co-writer Roel Mondeaers are coming up with great horror movie bits from minute one.

Speaking of minute one, the newest member of an Antwerp cub count troop, Sam (Maurice Luijten), is running late for the camping trip, which means lots of push-ups and such, as he is far from the favorite of the older troop leaders, Baloo (Sef Aerts) and Chris (Titus De Voogdt), with Baloo and some of the other kids particularly seeming to have it in for him. Only his friend Dries and Baloo's girlfriend Jasmijn (Evelien Bosmans) seem to care for him at all. But when a couple of local punks racing their go-kart around the planned campsite sends the troop deeper into the woods than they had planned... Well, could there actually be something to those stories about werewolf boy Kai that Chris and Baloo were telling to make things more exciting?

Well, there's something; we see Kai in the first shot. The fun thing about that shot is that while it seems to give a lot of the game away - not just that there is a kid who is at the very least feral in the area, but that there are some impressively elaborate mechanics going on as well. It may give too much away - the desire to start the movie off with an action beat (and presumably not build to something most will have already seen on the poster or in the trailer) can under cut a later reveal - but I don't think that's necessarily the case; by the time the film circles around to those images being particularly relevant, the audience should have enough to occupy their minds that they're not just waiting impatiently.

Full review at EFC