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

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