Friday, July 31, 2015

The Fantasia Daily 2015.16 (29 July 2015): Minuscule, La La La at Rock Bottom, Big Match, and DJ XL5's Hurly Burly Zappin Party

Another tight day, with very little time to get from working to Minuscule, although it was absolutely worth it. Turned right around for La La La at Rock Bottom, which was recommended by friends who saw it at New York Asian, although I would have seen the new one from the maker of Linda Linda Linda anyway.

Had a relatively short window for a burger and poutine at the Burger Bar before hitting Big Match, which seems to have been advertised with Big Game posters in the Hall lobby. Different things, although I can see someone throwing the other poster in or up in honest confusion.

After that, I opted the hang around Hall for the Zappin Party for the first time in a few years. As usual, the shorts themselves were fun, although the goofy clips around them are things I can take or leave (although, man, being reminded that Milli Vanilli and Vanilla Ice were actual things my generation paid money for at the time should keep us from ever mocking the next generation's favorites).

DJ XL5 Marc Lamothe apologized for accidentally starting the meowing thing by including "Simon's Cat" shorts in the Zappin Party bits, and well he should - some Boston friends and I were joking about when, if this 23-day festival were held in the Somerville Theatre, the projectionist and management would start to consider throwing someone off of the balcony as a warning to the rest of the audience. No good comes of antagonizing the projectionist over a few seconds of black screen.

The weird thing is that the audience was meowing all through the four Simon's Cat shorts, too, and... I just don't get that. Simon Tofield uses the curious mew with purpose, and if you enjoy a thing, why screw with it like that? I just don't get folks who don't seem to understand the line between the audience and the entertainment, I really don't.

Today's plan: Synchronicity, Port of Call, Antisocial 2, Scherzo Diabolico, and Dark Places. Things might be too tight at some sports, and I'm tempted to his the "Méliès et Magie" presentation instead of the last one, as it will probably be released theatrically, even if I have seen another Méliès show relatively recently.

Minuscule - La vallée des fourmis perdues

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, DCP with Xpand 3D)

One of the most enjoyable parts of this festival (and movie-going in general) over the past few years has been finding kid-friendly movies that brothers and sisters-in-law would deem okay for their girls despite never having heard of the things. Today was a big success on that account - some niece or other is getting this as a present later this year, and I can't see how the whole group of cousins don't love it.

It's apparently a spin-off of a set of shorts by Hélène Giraud (who dedicates the film to her famous father Jean) & Thomas Szabo, although it is very easy to go in cold - the hero is actually a newborn at the start of the film. That it is originally French is no problem either - the version screened had one card's worth of text at the start, and after that the insect characters all communicate in whistles, kazoo noises, and other sounds. The American DVD apparently adds narration from Richard Dreyfuss, which I can't see adding much; hopefully a music-only soundtrack is an option there.

And, man, this thing is delightful, from the moment it introduces its ladybug hero who can't fly as well as his/her siblings and falls in with some black ants swiping a whole box of sugar from an abandoned picnic to the delightfully absurd final battle between the black ants and red ants who also want the sugar, which involves fireworks and slingshots and all manner of things that I hope ants can't really do. It's sweet and funny and includes some brilliantly executed chases on land, sea, and air. The animation - which looks like it's either primarily stop-motion or CGI with that sort of feel, composited on top of real-world backdrops - is fantastic, and the use of 3D is exceptionally good.

I'll be getting one for my nieces and a copy for myself, that's for certain.

Full review on EFC.

Misono Universe (La La La at Rock Bottom)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The latest from the director of Linda Linda Linda is another charmer about someone finding friends and himself (this time) through music, with "Pooch" (Subaru Shibutani) starting off close to a blank slate, bursting into a wedding with retrograde amnesia and grabbing the mike to sing a song before his concussion makes him lose consciousness again. The band's manager and mixer Kasumi (Fumi Nikaido) winds up taking him in, although she'll later learn that this stray isn't necessarily entirely tame.

Director Nobuhiro Yamashita and writer Tomoe Kanno have fun with the amnesia trope - nobody really believed it was a real thing before - and Shibutani is kind of great as Pooch. He can sing, as he was apparently a member of a boy band at some point, but there's an unpracticed sound to it, like he's realistically unsure of his talents rather than secretly perfect and embarrassed. Fumi Nikaido is fun opposite him, bringing out how Kasumi is really hard-working and determined as opposed to the youthful energy behind a large band composed of mostly older people. It's fun to watch them become genuinely fond of each other with any romance kind of at arm's length.

The music is catchy as well, and there's a fair amount of it without ever derailing the story. The whole thing is good enough to end on one character saying "it's so dumb" and the other giving a goofy grin. The premise is silly, but the characters and filmmakers own it and make something pretty spiffy.

Full review on EFC.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

Today in potentially-phoned-in parts in short films: Paul Giamatti, who does a great little bit of voice work here that's kind of crucial but also doesn't steal the spotlight from Ricky Mabe and Marcel Sabourin, the main live-action cast who, thankfully, do neat work themselves, playing their characters as kind of annoying in their own individual ways even when the film could have opted to emphasize their sadness more.

The premise of the initially self-referential film has Mabe's Greg filming a sort of documentary short that involves asking people what they would do if they had a magic wish-granting goldfish, and Sabourin's Serge seeming like an ideal subject (the producer wants to include many demographics but older men are hard to get), although his persistence and his desire to be left alone aren't exactly compatible. It leads up to an obvious twist but a surprisingly heartfelt couple of moments built around the power of loneliness.

Nice job for first-time filmmaker Michael Konyves, who has written a number of less than amazing looking scripts alongside Barney's Version, which I guess explains how Giamatti ends up part of this Montreal set/shot short film.

Bigmaechi (Big Match)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival: Action!, DCP)

Big Match is really a mess, the sort of movie which starts from a decent premise - athlete framed for murder and forced to undertake various tasks for the amusement of rich gamblers who will bet on his success while on the run - and sort of has the right idea about what to do with it, but could use a lot more commitment. Yes, this is mainly a way to get the hero from one action scene to another without a lot of fuss, but imagine how much more exciting it could be if it was tightened up?

Maybe in that case the action wouldn't seem to kind of fall off over the course of the movie. The early bits of MMA fighter Choi Iko (Lee Jung-jae) trying to escape from rooms full of cops without actually hurting anyone not only have a sort of Jackie Chan feeling to how nimble and whimsical they are, but they're shot clearly and cleverly and give Lee a chance to display a lot of personality in the middle of a fight. What comes after gets bigger but is seldom as well-shot as those, and the need for action and increasing desperation overwhelms Lee's not inconsiderable charm.

Fortunately, pop star BoA (playing a driver with a bad attitude and skills of her own) starts to come to life around that point and the filmmakers never lose sight of how they want things to be fun, with Lee Sung-min doing a good job to make a hostage role funny and the music on the soundtrack always sounding like the theme of a sports highlight show. It makes the movie good enough to enjoy, even if it's not a great action movie.

Full review on EFC.

DJ XL5's Hurly Burly Zappin' Party

Seen 28 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, HD)

A lot of short films in the annual hour and a half of wackiness, so I'll just kind of bullet them:

* "Bad Guy #2" - A bit too self-aware as gags about the pecking order in comic book gangs were the big boss tends to execute those who failed him, but pretty funny in spots such as when the title character really doesn't want to step on the tarp. There are a couple others, and if you manage to fit three or four good bits into a ten-minute short like Chris McInroy does here, you're doing all right.

* "Carpark" - A zippy, funny bit about a guy taunting the dog in the next car over that kind of jumps out of being funny because people and dogs act like that into something else but also has a pretty great low-key visual gag or two in there as well.

* "Cool Unicorn Bruv" - Mostly tries to get by on absurdity and banter, and does okay there. It kind of feels like they could have done more with the premise than they did.

* "Crow Hand!" - Honestly, found this stupid with unfunny gore at BUFF, and didn't like it more here.

* "Day 40" - Another repeat from BUFF, and while I really liked this one there, I wasn't quite so fond of it the second time around. Maybe transgressive only works at full power once?

* "The Day the Earth Stopped Masturbating" - Thankfully, the premise of this short from France was laid out in English (apparently someone dies every time you masturbate) at the start, because otherwise I don't know that it would have been obvious at the speed it ran. Funny, although I must admit to never having really felt the urgent need that fuels this gag whenever it appears.

* "Dirty Dancing 48" - I get it, but it might have been funnier with Step Up or some other youth-based dance movie that actually is being run into the ground.

* "Fool's Day" - The longest thing in the program, and one of the funniest once you sort of run with the idea that, yeah, these kids really do need to dispose of their teacher's body after an April Fool's prank gone horribly wrong. Amusingly wrong, but the best parts come from how well-thought-out it seems to be and how there are a bunch of distinct and funny kid characters in a little under twenty minutes.

* "Frozen - Blood Test Scene" - I laughed at this mash-up of Disney's Frozen and John Carpenter's The Thing, done in stop-motion. I don't know that there's actually a joke beyond putting that soundtrack in those characters' mouths, but the animation is at least good enough to make it work for a couple minutes.

* "Gummi" - Blow-up sex dolls have sex, and there's not much joke beyond that. Even if there were, I'm the guy who watches it and wonders why a world populated entirely by these things would have so much fire and glass around.

* "Simon's Cat: Butterflies, Catnip, Hot Water, and Let Me Out!" - These shorts are a staple of the Zappin' Parties for good reason - they're great cartoons with a central character that is easily identifiable as every cat as well as entirely himself, and an art style that is not just cute, but looks hurried - "look what my cat did today!" Of course, it's actually carefully planned and rendered, since making animation feel spontaneous is no small trick. And, of course, they're very, very funny!

* "Tarim le Brave contre les Mille et un Effets" - A short which gives the heroes of a clear knockoff of Ray Harryhausen's Sinbad films self-awareness, although they soon find themselves fighting their medium. Which is sort of fair, as this particular take on it kind of becomes a battle for the filmmakers to get every joke they want in before the idea wears out its welcome. It's a close one, but I think they eventually get in under the wire.

* "Telekommando" - Erik Schmitt's faux news segment starts with a funny premise - that every automatic mechanism in the city is triggered by a team of people with remote controls, and works on a meta level because while watching it, there's the fun implication that the people he interacts with don't know there's a movie being shot. It goes a little bit off the rails when a villain and conflict and potential disaster are introduced, but the main joke works well enough.

* "Trust" - A nifty little bit of short-short filmmaking with director Jerry Pyle introducing a premise without exposition, getting a few gags out of it, and wrapping things up in satisfactory fashion within two minutes. You've got to respect that sort of compact, effective comedy.

* "Vaudoo Montreal" - Star Richardso Zephir did an introduction before the Party started, and I basically picked up sentence fragments because going to Montreal and Paris and having most everyone I meet speak decent English has made my high-school French even worse. Even understanding maybe a quarter of the dialogue, though, I dig this voodoo master character and love Zephir's delivery. I hope this becomes a regular thing.

* "Younglings" - I've got issues with things like "Younglings"; I think I once called The Big Bang Theory minstrelry because it's basically asking people to be excited about being represented in the mainstream despite being made fun of. This is another thing where if you get the jokes, you're probably the butt of them. Having this particular cast of nerds played by older gentlemen is a fun twist on it, and the jokes work, although I think it's entirely defensible to rate Star Wars over Annie Hall.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Fantasia Daily 2015.15 (28 July 2015): Catch Me Daddy, Robbery, Cop Car, and Fatal Frame

Falling a day behind, because I want to get a review of Cop Car up before its theatrical release, and that's not happening otherwise.

Pretty impressive day, though - things got off to a pretty good start with Catch Me Daddy and Robbery, both of which were moved from de Seve to the larger room across the street, and while I don't know what motivated that, it was pretty cool. There was talk coming out of that one about how the next couple hours had to be attacked strategically for passholders, because if you saw Cub, odds were that when you got out the screening the line for Cop Car would be hopelessly long. Fortunately, I'd already seen that (at Fantastic Fest last fall), so I wandered around, knowing I should eat but not quite hungry, eventually settling for popcorn and a soda before getting back into line, wondering where some of these folks were for the movies where Kevin Bacon wouldn't be on-hand.

Before that, though, there was a short film that featured one of the kids from Cop Car. Not the girl above - Elena Lazorishak plays the other kid in director Rick Spears's pretty likable "Black Eyes" - but seeing the young actors show up to support their movies on a festival that features a lot of blood and guts is kind of weird but fun. How many movies do they wind up seeing with their Cast & Crew passes? Do they come to appear with a movie in which they're covered in fake blood only to have their parents look at the schedule and say "well, okay, I guess we can go see Minuscule tomorrow"?

That is Cop Car director Jon Watts and star Kevin Bacon, who seemed genuinely excited about this kind of weird little indie movie he did in the area where Watts grew up, talking about how it was great fun as an actor because the character was all on the page despite not having many actual lines, which gave him something very solid but with a lot of room to work. One fun anecdote from the Q&A was how Kyra Sedgwick was brought in as the voice of the police dispatcher - Watts phoned Bacon asking if he knew any actresses with the right kind of voice, sweet but authoritative, maybe a bit of a southern accent, knowing full well who he was married to, although Bacon initially thought he was asking totally sincerely.

Thankfully, the questions about other movies were kept more or less to a minimum; Watts basically shrugged when asked what lessons from small independent movies he could take to doing Spider-Man for Marvel ("more kids in peril, I guess"), and Bacon very kindly said that his character from Tremors is the one guy he's played that he'd like to check back in on twenty-five years later, but of course he can't comment on anything that may or may not be in the works at Universal.

And finally, Lee Hyunsoo, who I suspect is at least somewhat North America-based despite his short being listed as from South Korea - not only was the title in English, but it's a heck of a long way to come for a single screening of a 5-minute short otherwise. Then again, I'd be tempted to do so as well if I made a short screening in Seoul.

Kind of feel a bit sorry for him, as his short played before Fatal Frame which, for some reason, seemed to bring out the folks who wanted to respond in real-time, yelling something out during his short for a laugh at a moment that was mostly going for suspense.

Today's plan: Minuscule, La La La at Rock Bottom, dinner, Big Match, and Bite. I may opt for the Zappin' Party instead of the latter, and kind of wish I could fit the German Boy 7 in (though I kind of like having the Danish one be this singular weird experience anyway).

Catch Me Daddy

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2015 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Catch Me Daddy opens with a poem/folk tale about its Yorkshire setting, fitting enough but a bit surprising, as the story is driven by people and traditions that arrived in the UK from elsewhere. On the other hand, it's a movie where the heroine is at least second-generation and fairly well-assimilated, probably feeling that present location is more important that old customs herself.

One might not necessarily peg Leila (Sameena Jabeen Ahmed) as being of Pakistani descent right away - she's dyed her hair dirty blonde, dresses the same as the other girls working at the salon, and looks more tan than dark-skinned. She is, though, and her life in this small town with her handsome but unemployed boyfriend Aaron (Connor McCarron) is actually one in hiding. Her father wants his 20-year-old daughter back home and under his thumb, and probably not with a white guy. He's had people looking, and now that they think they know the right town, two teams have been sent. One is middle-eastern and includes seasoned hunter Junaid (Anwar Hussain) and Leila's brother Zaheer (Ali Ahmad); the other Caucasian duo Barry (Barry Nunney) and Tony (Gary Lewis).

Filmmakers Daniel & Matthew Wolfe don't spend a whole lot of time explaining about honor killings or other nasty traditions that can maintain roots in an immigrant community. Instead, they tend to present the pursuit of Leila as just an ugly fact of life in that social and economic class, roughly equivalent to Aaron's stubborn unemployment or Tony's drug addiction. For the most part, things are on the move too much for this film to concentrate on day-to-day life in working-class England, but there are bits where they seem intent on blending the life-or-death struggles with the everyday ones. Leila and Aaron seem to have fled before, will again (if they survive this night), and that is their lot.

Full review on EFC.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Robbery is one of several movies in the festival that I didn't expect to be nearly as funny as it wound up being, and unlike He Never Died, this is full-out anything goes material, going for the big laugh at every opportunity and mostly getting them, even if this is a very crude, violent Hong Kong comedy and some bits are in questionable taste. Well, actually, no, not questionable - this film is tacky through and through.

It's also pretty darn slick, though - writer/director "Fire" Lee Ka-wing not only uses the space of the "Exceed" convenience store where most of the action takes place very well, but everything leading Lau Kin-ping (Derek Tsang Kwok-cheung) there is a niftily designed location built to look neat but also box Ping in. He upends situations gleefully, keeping what's going on in a constant state of flux, but despite all the blood flying and people turning on each other, the audience only briefly gets lost, and while there maybe isn't quite a heart of gold underneath, there are plenty of bits that keep the film from being the completely-vicious environment that some of its characters would consider the entire world.

There was a bit of grumbling about the very end - it's a twist that requires the rest of the movie to actually be a lot more carefully planned than the anarchy it seems to be - but I'd be willing to sit through it again to see how it all connects. I laughed pretty hard, and if the film is as clever as it is funny, it would be one of the festival's real stand-outs.

Full review on EFC.

"Black Eyes"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

Just out of curiosity, is the Rick Spears who wrote and directed this the same as the comic book writer? The name seemed familiar and this is the sort of thing that might overlap, but who knows?

It's a pretty entertaining little short, regardless. It offers a boy (Hays Wellford) coming upon a girl (Elena Lazorishak) trying to slit her wrists with safety scissors, and when she asks if he's got a razor blade, he says yes but shows an alternate use for it - creating special effects makeup, which lets them pretend to go through death and zombiehood, although that doesn't mean their problems are solved by a long shot.

I liked this little movie; it starts out with a bit of what seems like kids being overly adult but drifts into honestly cute territory, and is able to give the kids a plain-spoken couple of lines to end the movie that work a whole heck of a lot more than one might have expected.

Cop Car

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Cop Car opens by dropping enough swearwords that even parents who missed the R rating might consider pulling their kids out, which is both necessary and a bit of a pity. A family-friendly take on the story could have been fun, although staying true to where writer/director Jon Watts sees the story creates something just as entertaining and probably more thrilling.

The cussing comes from Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) and Harrison (Hays Wellford), two kids of about eight or nine sort of running away from home but mostly out exploring; at probably much less than the fifty miles they estimate that they've walked, they find a police car in the middle of nowhere with no-one around, and soon find that the front door is not only unlocked, but the keys fall right into their laps. Figuring they're expert Mario Kart players, they decide to take it for a spin.

How did it get there? The film rewinds a bit and shows Sheriff Mitch Kretzler (Kevin Bacon) pulling a body out of the trunk to dispose of. He lugs it a fair distance, so when he gets back to his parking spot he's got to figure out a way to cover up both his corruption and his screw-up, especially since that trunk wasn't completely empty.

Full review on EFC.

"Torment" (2015)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, HD)

Not a complicated movie - it's a man (John Kim) mourning the very recent loss of his wife (Lee Yuha), only to find out that she's not completely gone, and the bits of her that are still around are pretty angry. The key to it is the visual effects, which never look completely real but create pretty amusing images even as they're intent on murder.

Director Lee Hyunsoo gets in and out rather than lingering, which keeps the perhaps slightly campy execution from wearing out its welcome and keeps things from getting over-complicated. It's a good gag and a fine calling card for someone looking to show he can use effects in service of a story.

Gekijô-ban: Zero (Fatal Frame)

* * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, HD)

The festival program indicates that this film and the game Fatal Frame were based upon the same book, although the credits indicate that the book was based upon the game before being adapted into this film, although those specifics don't really matter. What's important is that screenwriter/director Mari Sato doesn't really make a good film, but does make something that's a little more striking than the usual product getting churned out.

I kind of suspect that a lot of the film's problems could be fixed by ripping about a half hour out to get it down to 75-80 minutes, and you could do it right up front, as there's a merry-go-round where it seems like three girls at a convent school who will never actually be important declare their love for classmate Aya Tsukimori (Ayami Nakajo), kiss her photograph at midnight, and vanish; there are also a pair of psychic invetigators that could go. You wouldn't lose much atmosphere getting things down to Aya and Michi Kazato (Aoi Morikawa) investigating the curse that only affects girls, and fewer might lose patience with the story.

The atmosphere, at least, is good stuff. Asato shoots this movie on 16mm film, giving it a very distinctive look that hearkens back to Italian chillers. It's genuinely spooky at points, and the weird mixture of Catholic imagery, a Hamlet translation turned into a hymn, spirit photography and anything else the writers could think of proves more potent than expected. Heck, just seeing characters in civilian dress after having been in dark, extra-modest school uniforms for the whole film seems a bit off-kilter.

I heard people griping the next day that this apparently has very little to do with the game, and this seemed to draw a fair amount of laughter and derision during the screening. It's not undeserved, but also not entirely fair; there are enough impressive bits to this movie that it doesn't deserve to be dismissed out of hand.

Full review on EFC.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Fantasia Daily 2015.14 (27 July 2015): The Blue Hour, The Visit, Ryuzo and the Seven Henchmen, and The Interior

Busy start Monday, with a run directly from work to the just-starting The Blue Hour and then right back into the same theater for The Visit. I then walked a few blocks for a burger with pulled pork at m:brgr, and it's weird, but distances in Montreal seem much shorter this year, which is really odd. I don't think I'm walking particularly faster, but that's a place I remember taking a little effort to reach and instead I felt like I was getting there earlier. I'm reasonably sure that I've stayed fairly close to where I am now and not been able to get to the festival in ten minutes before as well.

(Anyway, good burger, but that place is pricey without really separating itself from, say, Le Gourmet Burger.)

After that, I hung out in line with some folks I know from Boston who would be going home the next day and agreed to help me recover from a stupid thing I did/that happened, where I couldn't find which box had the stamps before leaving for Montreal, and since that trip was on a Sunday, I couldn't stop in a post office. The trouble with that is that I hadn't mailed my rent for August yet, and I'll be here until the eighth. I was afraid I'd have to pay international rates and not know when it would arrive, but they said they'd drop it in the mail when they got back. Whew.

Ryuzo and the Seven Henchmen was good, and then I wandered back and forth like a dummy, going to the Yuk Yuk club for "Tales from Beyond the Pale: Live", seeing everyone already had tickets, going back to the ticket office, being told it was sold out, and then opting for The Interior. Note that it was raining and I'd left my umbrella at the apartment at the start of the day, though not the downpour it was at some points.

Say hi to the cast and crew of The Interior, many of whom I don't have full names for because I didn't take a snapshot of the credits and the IMDB entry for this tiny independent film which just had its world premiere is, as one might expect, incomplete. My notes say (l-r) Director of Photography Othello Ubalde; Ryan, a non-professional actor who played the small part of Roland; Patrick McFadden, who played the main character James; Jake Beczala, who played the nameless man in the red jacket; producer Peter Kuplowsky (I think), and writer/director Kevin Juras.

As you might expect, some of these folks were just really pleased to be there; others waxed rhapsodic about the beauty and poetry of the location or talked about what didn't influence the movie. The Dreaded Improv Question actually yielded a good variation on the usual answer, that when you're making such a tightly-budgeted (both in terms of money and time) independent movie, you really can't afford to waste time going off-script... But on the other hand, when the location gives you snow, you work with it and be glad you were shooting in sequence. They said this was doubly true of the Toronto-set scenes, where they had roughly three days to shoot about 25 minutes in a number of locations. It may seem like the cast is being loose and riffing, but the reality is that the script was good and the cast well-chosen.

Today's plan: Catch Me Daddy, Robbery, dinner, Cop Car, and Fatal Frame. The Visit is recommended, and note that those first two are playing in Hall rather than de Seve now.

Onthakan (The Blue Hour)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

When making a film meant to be eerie and still, greatness is almost the baseline requirement for the cinematography. Fortunately, Thailand seems to be unusually well-stocked with both great shooters and things for them to point a camera at, so The Blue Hour is off to a good start, and builds into something unnerving as well.

It begins by showing Tam (Atthaphan Poonsawas), a middle-class teenager, making his way to a disused public pool for a rendezvous with Phum (Oabnithi Wiwattanawarang),a slightly older, more confident guy he met online. It's an ideal meeting place for these sorts of assignations - free as opposed to a hotel, away from parents, empty because of rumors of past drownings and subsequent hauntings. But while Phum seems unlikely to add to Tam's collection of mostly-discreet bruises, he may be dangerous in other ways.

Not that Tam is entirely a sweet kid who is bullied for being gay. That's the bulk of the character, sure, but it's rare for anybody to be that entirely passive, and it's not long before his complaints about being unfairly blamed for everything have caveats that, yeah, he did steal that Buddha statuette. Atthaphan Poonsawas handles adding that sort of nuance to Tam nicely; the core of the character is still an easy guy to empathize with, but he's also very much a teenager that is going to find trouble and may in fact be looking for it, if not quite to the level he eventually finds.

Full review on EFC.

"Témoinage de l'indicible" ("Tales of the Unspeakble")

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

Director Simon Pernollet tells a nifty tale of his childhood in Tepoztlan, Mexico here, with the family all living in a spooky house that was surrounded by nahual. Those would be sorcerers and shapeshifters (generally up to no good) of Mexican and Central American myth. As Pernollet tells the story, nearly every member of his family had some sort of encounter with them, though they escaped unscathed.

He tells the story in an interesting way, moving his camera around an empty house and grounds that may not be the one in the stories, but gives the right impression, while Pernollet describes events in narration. The fully-made beds and otherwise intact house imply that it was abandoned in place when the family got too freaked out, adding to a sense of unease that rumbling bass helps to create. The filmmaker winds up playing with fear nicely, as there's no big horror-movie sting to the story, but the environment and atmosphere is built to the point where one can comprehend fright itself doing all the work.

Nifty little campfire tale, well presented.

The Visit (2015, doc)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: Documentaries from the Edge, DCP)

The Visit is apparently meant to be the second in a thematic trilogy of documentaries by Danish filmmaker Michael Madsen, and I'm curious what grand-scaled idea will round them out. I hope it's something a little more like Into Eternity, where the consideration of long-term storage of nuclear waste felt practical as well as too big to truly understand, as this film's topic of first contact with alien life, while fascinating, winds up both too specific and too vague.

After a bit of discussion about how, for the past 100 years, humanity has been sending a great deal of radio into space, which will inevitably attract the attention of any intelligent life out there. Madsen posits a single alien spacecraft arriving on Earth and landing, and then interviews a fair number of people on how that situation would likely play out. Many are connected with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, headquartered in Vienna, but there are scientists from a number of countries, an expert in space law, and military and political spokespeople from the UK added to the discussion.

As with Into Eternity, Madsen and his interviewees often speak in the second person, addressing the alien visitors rather than the actual audience, and it's not always as natural as it was in the former movie. That's in part because a good deal of the documentary is about how actual communication with extraterrestrials may be impossible, and in part because the subjects only occasionally seem to be let in on the premise, which isn't necessarily compatible with the sort of simulation and explanation they are doing. Madsen also seems to find himself trapped between the general and the specific, like he wants to present the framework of how the world would respond to this sort of encounter but ultimately realizes that it is impossible; there are too many contradictory paths that can play out.

Full review on EFC.

Ryûzô to 7 nin no kobun tachi (Ryuzo and the Seven Henchmen)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Takeshi Kitano's name is well-enough known in American boutique-house circles for certain things - mournful cop movies, violent yakuza fare, self-referential and deconstructive comedies - that Ryuzo and the Seven Henchmen almost throws one for a loop. It's a small, silly comedy that in some ways plays as a mixture of those things by puncturing yakuza film stereotypes and pushing them into the past, but it's also very mainstream, positioned less as artistic satire than a goofy old people movie.

And it actually does that fairly well. Kitano gives himselves a lot of characters to deal with, but he and his elderly cast (including himself as a detective who maybe harbors a certain fondness for these old-school retirees) happily dive into the indignities of aging and trying to be both intimidating and honorable as life removes that option. Everybody in the cast gets something funny to do, and it builds nicely, starting with an embarrassed son asking his title character "Ryuzo the Demon" to please where long-sleeved shirts so that his tattoo doesn't embarrass the family and ending with a fight and chase that is equal parts absurd and effective, just clever enough to suggest that a finale that traditionally means defeat might be these characters getting to finish their lives as the noble outlaws as which they see themselves, rather than shameful issues their kids don't know what to do with.

Full review on EFC.

The Interior

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

The Interior seemingly starts as an off-kilter comedy and stays that way for roughly the first third, when the title comes up, the scene shifts, and the main character re-appears with a beard and a backpack as if to say that now the movie begins after the backstory. It is, really, a clever way to split the film up, even if it's going to be a bit of time before the film gets where it's going.

That place is a middle-of-the-woods horror movie, although with the twist being that Patrick McFadden's James is apparently craving isolation in this phase of his life, and it's the possibility of human contact that has him jumpy, and not necessarily because it's dangerous. There's obviously something going on in his head that may or may not explain why he's so motivated, and which may explain the inexplicable things going on around him, and writer/director Trevor Juras deserves credit for how tightly this all fits together. The first scene starts a chain of events that leads directly to the last, even if that chain will take James to the other side of Canada and occasionally seem like just wandering in the woods.

I dig it. This is a small movie that would seem to hit my fear of being lost in the woods but actually inverts it, and gives the audience a surprisingly broad number of moods on the way to an inevitable, but still thrilling, conclusion.

Full review on EFC.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Fantasia Daily 2015.13 (26 July 2015): Tazza: The Hidden Card, Wonderful World End, He Never Died, Some Kind of Hate, and Love & Peace

What started out as a kind of unpromising day - Tazza: The Hidden Card was mediocre and Wonderful World End needs a bit of consideration but probably won't become a favorite - became one of the festival's best by the end, with some answers to "what's your favorite movie of the fest" and fun Q&As.

First up, He Never Died, which had (left to right) sound designer Daniel Pellerin, writer/director Jason Krawczyk, composer James Mark Stewart, and producer Zach Hagen in attendance. Mr. Pellerin gets first billing not just for standing on that side of the stage, but as a reminder that his work in the movie was fantastic, especially how a sleeping or dormant Jack would trigger a flood of old-time radio and other sounds, piling on just how much history the guy has and how it weighs on him, though he can't look like it.

I get the impression that star Henry Rollins was the guy a lot of people in the audience wanted to be there, but he wasn't available, although contrary to his reputation he's apparently not just a total pro but a really pleasant guy; Krawczyk joked about him coming into the production office with cookies to talk about the violent horror movie they were going to make.

He also mentioned that they had ideas about a sequel miniseries that, I'm guessing, would incorporate a lot more flashbacks into Jack's life, and that's something I can really get behind.

The next movie, Some Kind of Hate, also featured guests: Writer/director Adam Egypt Mortimer, co-writer Brian DeLeeuw, stars Ronen Rubenstein and Sierra McCormick, and producer Amanda Mortimer. This turned out to be one of the most enjoyable Q&As, especially as the younger stars told their stories: Rubenstein said that it was an important movie for him to make because he lost a good friend to suicide after she was bullied, but also talked about how shooting a smoking scene for the better part of a day left him with some pretty nasty nicotene poisoning. McCormick was a delight, talking about loving horror and not having done one in a long time and then getting razzed for being a seventeen-year-old talking about stuff way back in her life. There were also some funny stories about how they shot on half a summer camp, with the other half filled with nine-year-old fans of her Disney Channel show, and she had a great time meeting them but seeing her in her Moira get-up may have scarred the little guys.

The thing I really liked, though, was how everyone, especially the director, talked about how they really didn't want this to be referential. A lot of genre film can get into "spot the reference", and they really wanted this to be contemporary and its own thing. They also talked about how that own thing was a tough sell at times, because Moira is a much more human character with things to say than your typical supernatural slasher-movie villain, which scared some producers off, even if it is what makes the movie great.

After that: Love & Peace, which was fantastic. For all the talk in line about how nothing was really grabbing people yet (lots of good stuff, not a lot bowling us over), we'd forgotten that there were still three Sion Sono movies to come.

Today's plan: The Blue Hour, The Visit, dinner, Ryuzo and the Seven Henchmen, and then deciding between The Interior and "Tales from Beyond the Pale" live. Shrew's Nest and Haemoo are both recommended.

Tajja: sineui son (Tazza: The Hidden Card)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

I appear to have really liked the first Tazza movie (alternately called War of Flowers and Tazza: The High Rollers) when it played this festival eight years ago, although I don't remember it well enough to remember whether an early scene from this sequel was there or is being retroactively inserted. Whichever is the case, The Hidden Card starts with a clean enough slate to tell a similar story about a guy being really good at cheating at cards, at least until he meets people who are better and more ruthless at it than he is, albeit apparently not as well.

This time, the gambler is Ham Dae-gil (Choi Seung-hyun, aka "T.O.P."), nephew of the previous film's Go-ni and a natural hustler himself. Gambling runs in the family enough that his grandfather winds up in debt to local operator "Ghost" (Kim Joon-ho), and when Dae-gil tries to protect his family he winds up fleeing to Gangnam just a day after meeting Huh Mina (Sin Se-kyung), the extremely cute sister of gambling buddy Gwang-chul (Kim In-kwon). In Seoul, he joins a childhood friend (Lee Dong-hwi) at in an underground casino's crew, although a series of reversals will inevitably lead to games where far more than money is on the line.

Tazza is a long-running comic series in South Korea, and there's a tendency to repeat the same stories as those hang around, whether it's villains committing similarly-themed crimes, warriors having to master new and more devastating fighting techniques, or a next generation going through the same things as their predecessors. To be fair to The Hidden Card, it only mirrors The High Rollers in the broad strokes and dispenses with its multiple narrators and pseudo-documentary inserts. Those broad strokes are fairly universal, but the trouble with this sort of sequel is that it's trying to both be back-to-basics and create something bigger and more complex for existing fans, and the result is often a script that alternates between going through the motions and emotionally and heaping so many events into the story that the audience has no time to react to them.

Full review on EFC.

Wandafuru warudo endo (Wonderful World End)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, HD)

This one, I think, may need some mulling over, although more for its downright peculiar ending than the occasional sense that as someone who is not a teenage Japanese girl, this film is most fairly indifferent to me. This picture gets outright weird at the end, although I'm sure that a fair number of adults will find it difficult to relate to well before that.

It is, after all, the story of two teenage girls, Shiori (Ai Hashimoto) extremely confident in her appearance and trying to be a model/actress/idol and Ayumi (Jun Aonami) a 13-year-old fan who runs away from home to meet up with the older girl. A weird sort of jealousy develops when Ayumi is taken in by Shiori's boyfriend Kohei (Yu Inaba), but as things progress, the obsessive fandom has interesting effects.

This sort of fandom has traditionally been fairly particular to Japan, although with young people able to become YouTube stars, it's potentially more of a global phenomenon. I wasn't quite certain about Shiori's deal - it often seems like she's in her early 20s and playing a teenager online, especially since she's living with her boyfriend and apparently has nowhere else to go otherwise, but other moments indicate she's just what she says she is despite referencing being "out of character". Either way, Hashimoto makes her intriguing, while Aonami makes Ayumi's quiet sincerity kind of scary at times, because it is not directed in a healthy direction at all.

That end, though, with a bunch of new elements and sharp hints that someone is nuts and this is playing out in her mind... I wonder if it's supposed to be a call-out to the music videos the cast (and director Diago Matsui, perhaps) did for Seiko Oomori, whose songs make up a big chunk of the soundtrack. It really seems like a big break from the rest, and I don't know how much it works.

Full review on EFC.

He Never Died

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Somehow, when I was looking at this movie's description, the idea that it was a deadpan comedy (although the blackest you can imagine) never came through, which made it an extremely pleasant surprise. It's the rare movie that is both what you would and would not expect.

The big draw is Henry Rollins, playing a blood-drinking immortal who doesn't quite fit in with traditional v-word lore, but who has been trying to keep it on the straight and narrow, although that is accomplished in large part by doing nothing. When he's forced to deal with the world around him because his relatively recent past catches up with him, his social atrophy and utter lack of reaction to what would be threatening situations for normal humans is terrifically funny, apparently even more so for those used to Rollins as a loud, forceful heavy metal musician. It's a fun contrast to everyone around him, whether a sweet diner waitress, an appealing screw-up of a daughter, or a low-level criminal who has seen enough to know that messing with this Jack fellow is a bad idea.

The really clever bit, though, is that as funny as those scenes are, they also feed directly into into the bits that make He Never Died both a nifty crime flick and a horror story. There's a street-level, dark alley feel to those elements that works very nicely indeed, and lends itself to some great action that may frequently be one-sided, but is a gas to watch anyway, because Rollins and writer/director Jason Krawczyk have a solid picture of how this would go down, and nail it every time. It makes calling the movie a comedy a bit inaccurate, even if this is one of most honestly funny movies of its type in recent memory, earning both its laughs, thrills, and darker moments.

Full review on EFC.

Some Kind of Hate

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Is it wrong to kind of hope that a pretty great horror movie perhaps stalls out at cult favorite? Some Kind of Hate is a strong, smart, bloody example of what the genre can do when its aims are greater than just churning out product, and it introduces what could be an iconic horror villain as great as the ones spawned in the 1980s. That's the rub, though - I really, really don't want to see Moira Karp reduced to what the likes of Freddy Kruger, Jason Vorhees, and Michael Myers became in pop culture.

Of course, for that to happen, they'd have to recast, because part of what makes Moira so great is that she is very clearly a teenager who doesn't wear a mask or (seldom) speak with a distorted voice, and Sierra McCormick is going to grow out of this role, and good luck matching that. She and filmmaker Adam Egypt Mortimer make Moira a monster whose motivation is all too easy to understand - that is to say, the best kind. She's paired up with an impressive Ronen Rubinstein (as the bullied camper who summons her) and Grace Phipps (his potential girlfriend) and a slew of obvious targets.

It's a great little horror movie, with kills that are maybe all of a type but which work as storytelling. The filmmaking is sharp and carefully considered, likely enough to strike a chord rather than just seem exploitative. It's the horror genre at its best, and I hope it becomes a springboard for more great things rather than a franchise which dilutes its greatness.

Full review on EFC.

Rabu&Pisu (Love & Peace)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

The first of three Sion Sono films being shown at this year's festival is a joyous, crazy delight, piling whimsy ever-higher even while Sono reveals a darkness behind it. the great bit, though, is that the pieces that may make an audience uneasy never poison the joy surrounding it, even as Sono finds himself springing imagery on the audience that could horrify if handled differently.

That's doubly impressive, because the film really starts out feeling really loose, as Sono follows loser former musician Ryoichi Suzuki (Hiroki Hasegawa) through a series of embarrassments, including missing out on connecting with the girl at the office who might kind of like him (Kumiko Aso), until he buys a turtle, involves it in some weird fantasies, and then flushes him down the toilet, only for "Pikadon" to have his own adventures in the sewer. What he finds there is almost unbelievable, but amazing, and draws so much attention that it's easy to miss that there's important stuff going on topside.

Sono makes a great story of ambition and desire for something out of reach corrupting pure instincts, of extreme self-confidence and self-doubt being equally destructive, but the way he tells it is going to be what makes an immediate impression, as he not only creates the closest thing I can imagine to a Sion Sono children's movie, but does so with earnest joy, culminating in a finale that is both incredibly cute and hilariously destructive, without ever getting smirky or superior. He almost dares the audience to be cynical, because it's easy to see some of what he does being revisionist and "adult", but pulls back in a delightful way.

I'm being vague here, because this is a film that really deserves to surprise people. I can see it becoming a staple at the Brattle's "Alt X-Mas" series, and it plays just as well in July.

The Fantasia Daily 2015.12 (25 July 2015): Mortadelo & Filemon: Mission Implausible, Princess Jellyfish, Deadman Inferno, Wild City, Bunny the Killer Thing, and more

With the first movie I hadn't seen not starting until two, I decided to give the VR Experience another shot, this time with the Oculus Rift and "Body/Mind/Change Redux", a Cronenberg-inspired (and hosted) short that fuses bits from his movies (mostly Videodrome and The Fly) into an odd little thing that shows off new technology by building a story about how new technology will sap the humanity from eager volunteers.

That said, it was a much niftier experience than the previous day's, mostly because the material was more exciting and built around something that seemed active rather than entirely passive. The Oculus Rift also seemed a bit better designed than the Gear, but that may hinge on personal preference. It was also being driven by a laptop rather than a phone, which may have helped. At any rate, I'm not sure that the technology is really ready for prime time yet, but this was a much more interesting demo than yesterday's.

After that, I donned different headgear to see Mortadelo & Filemon in 3D, a bit surprised that it was an English dub despite being listed as subtitled in the program. I don't know what a huge difference that would have made; the English-language cast was anonymous but mostly capable.

(Note: A 3D movie is not necessarily the best choice when also eating lunch, in this case a protein poutine from across the street. Surprisingly, I did not make a mess!)

The first feature visitor of the day was Deadman Inferno writer/director Hiroshi Shinagawa, who made a surprisingly entertaining zombie movie, albeit one that's a bit self-referential. One of the more amusing answers to a question was that star Sho Aikawa is actually a Harley Davidson enthusiast, so he jumped at the chance to do some motorcycle stunts

I was sitting higher up than usual, so you'll pardon the horrible photography of Tony Timpone (l) talking with Bunny the Killer Thing writer/director Joonas Makkonen (c) and co-star Enni Ojutkangas (r). As you might expect from reading a synopsis, there were a lot of genital-related questions and "hey, how offensive do people think this is" stuff, because the movie has that right out there. Makkonen seemed to enjoy that more pointedly while Ojutkangas was a lot more casual about it, also interjecting about how shooting in -30 Celsius weather was kind of hellish - when you're making a zombie movie in those conditions, you have trouble because the tubing full of fake blood gets frozen.

I'm not entirely sure what I think of it to be honest. A rowdy midnight screening is not really the place to discuss whether horror movies using explicitly sexual violence is a good idea, especially in one that is modeled more on over-the-top slashers than thrillers: That's the sort of movie where people cheer the kills, which is weird to begin with, more so when the kill tends to explicitly include a rape, and there's some really uncomfortable other moments. Sure, it also includes an assault victim beating the monster across the face with his own severed unit, but is that enough to make ?

ANYWAY, today's plan: Tazza: The Hidden Card, Wonderful World End, He Never Died, Some Kind of Hate, and Love & Peace. Will definitely try and watch a screener of The Dark Below eventually.

(When this was going to be posted at 11am Sunday, before I ran out of time, that was relevant.)

Mortadelo y Filemón contra Jimmy el Cachondo (Mortadelo & Filemon: Mission Implausible)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, DCP w/Xpand 3D)

Two films at this year's festival had directors returning to projects they had done in live action a decade earlier with animated films. For The Case of Hana and Alice, it was a matter of creating a prequel using the same talent; Mortadelo & Filemon: Mission Implausible seems to be aimed at creating something as close to the style of the original comics as possible. It certainly appears that Javier Fesser managed that, including a great deal of anarchic slapstick.

A new safe has just been installed in TIA headquarters, with the Superintendent placing one piece of top-secret information inside. That makes it target enough for Jimmy the Joker, who has been burgling this agency for years with the help of his conjoined-twin henchmen Billy & Bob. Fortunately, top agent Filemon, cheerfully assisted by his loyal valet Mortadelo, is ready to fly in with his jetpack and assortment of high-tech gadgets that James Bond and Ethan Hunt together can't match. Piece of cake.

Despite never having read Francisco Ibáñez's comic (first published in 1968), I'm guessing that longtime fans might be raising an eyebrow or two at that description, but I'd suggest they not worry. Things will soon be back in wacky screw-up territory, and it's actually pretty clever how Fesser makes that fake-out work whether one knows what's going on or not. He and his co-writers also do what seems like a fairly impressive job of fitting a dozen or two characters, presumably all from the original comics based upon how familiar the core people seem to be with them, and both find them something to do and introduce them casually. There are a lot of potential pitfalls here - aside from pleasing new and old fans, they're also juggling what feels like three or four shorter stories instead of one main plot - but the film sidesteps them adroitly.

Full review on EFC.

Kuragehime (Princess Jellyfish)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

As much as I found this movie super-cute and highly enjoyable, I'm kind of glad that it was distilled down to a couple of hours from what certainly seems like the sort of manga that can go on and on, and there are certainly moments when an even less literal translation could help: The "petrification" gags and some of the designs for the other otaku girls at the Amamizukan apartment building besides Tsukimi could be toned down.

Still, that's mostly surface stuff. The main event, which has Tsukimi, an aspiring manga artist who loves jellyfish but has some pretty crippling self-image issues, befriended by a tall model-type that typically terrifies her only to discover that this girl is actually a cross-dressing boy, is a lot of fun. It starts with two tremendously appealing leads in Rena Nounen and Masaki Suda who give Tuskimi and Kuranosuke perfectly complementary reserved and brash natures with an easy common ground. There's great chemistry there for both romance and best friends (with Suda's looking pretty passable in a dress helping out), and a low-key rather than melodramatic love triangle when Kuranosuke's uptight older brother enters the mix. Mokomichi Hayam is a secret weapon as the Koibuchi family chauffeur who makes every scene he's in funnier - and who, like every likable character in the movie, is a bit of a nerd where something is concerned himself, though he owns it with confidence.

The plot that develops - a monolithic developer with a bitchy representative who plans to tear the girls' building down and Kuranosuke's plans to fight them by creating a line of jellyfish-inspired dresses - is silly but committed to with genuine sincerity, and while it has its ridiculous moments, it also has great ones, and the filmmakers never forget that it's there as a way to make Tuskimi and Kuranosuke a team than just its own thing. It gets the movie to a pretty nice ending point, too, where there's room for more but the important work seems to be done.

(Although, is it just me, or is it weird that they spend the whole moving fighting against gentrifying their neighborhood but then talk about outsourcing the manufacturing to India at the end? That's kind of inconsistent, right?)

Full review on EFC.

"A Tricky Treat"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

Arguably the only reason one can't see the punchline of "A Tricky Treat" coming a mile away is that at under five minutes, it's not exactly a mile long. The weird framing gives the game away fast, although it's not like the filmmakers could have done it any other way.

Without spoiling anything, it may be an obvious punchline, but it's one that lends to some decent gross-out gags in the lead up to it. The special effects crew does pretty good work giving director Patricia Chica a severed head she can do all the nasty things needed to lead up to the pull-back in the last few seconds. She and writer Kamal John Iskander at least seem to know that even if it's built around a big reveal, the short can't rest entirely on it. It's a good joke told reasonably well, something that might be fun to stick in front of a horror movie or use as part of a marathon come Halloween.

Z Airando (Deadman Inferno)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, HD)

A little subtitling or famliarity with a setting can make a big difference - I did not initially realize that the [former] yakuza were on the Japanese mainland while other characters were on an island until the two groups of gangsters actually got on a boat. It's an example of how I think writer/director Hiroshi Shinagawa maybe wanted to do a little more story-wise with this movie than he really had room for: There are a lot of characters and subplots to keep track of, although he sort of handwaves the zombies with "well, that's how it happens in the movies".

Still, it's better to be ambitious than lazy, and Deadman Inferno (or "Z Island") creates genuine affection for its large cast of characters, enough so that it can deliver a genuine gut punch in the middle of fairly comedic action. On top of that, Shinagawa's background as half of a comedy team has him a bit more attuned to giving characters back-and-forth banter to work with rather than just quips. He also builds some spiffy action sequences that play to his cast's strengths, whether it's a couple of karate-kicking schoolgirls or Sho Aikawa weaving a motorcycle through a pretty crowded set.

It's not perfect - there are some dumb and unnecessary detours, and having a few kick-ass ladies in the cast unfortunately seems to be balancing out some rather unnecessarily sexist bits. When it's on, though, Deadman Inferno is one of the more energetic zombie movies you'll see, and it's on more often than not.

Full review on EFC.

Mai Sing (Wild City)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Welcome back Ringo Lam, a director who has been absent from the Hong Kong movie scene for too long, but who doesn't really seem to have missed a beat with this neon-noir. In many ways, Hong Kong cinemas is a new world since he made his last feature in 2003, from digital shooting to having a close eye on the Mainland audience, but he's still capable of coming out with crime and action that is smart even as it's operatic.

This one starts by flashing back to detective T-Man (Louis Koo) handing in his badge, saying he's a bad cop. A few years later, he owns a bar, and that's where the trouble is coming from: A pretty lady from Qingdao, Yun (Tong Liya), is in no condition to get herself back to her hotel, so T-Man brings her back to the home of his stepmother Mona (Yuen Qiu). She encounters T-Man's half-brother Chung (Shawn Yue Man-lok) upon waking, and when they go to return her to her car, not only has she lost her keys, but a group of Taiwanese gangsters snatch her. It turns out that she has something her lawyer boyfriend George (Joseph Chang Hsiau-chuen) wants back, and even though T-Man can see the disaster that's coming, he and Chung are no the types to just stand aside.

Wild City may not be as incisive as some of Lam's other film's - "money is the root of all evil" is not a particularly new and cutting observation - but there may be more going on than there appears to be. T-Man (short for "Tin-man", so you can see why the English subtitles went for that abbreviation) and Chung are Hong Kong through and through, and this mainland girl who drops into their life is both everything that is alluring about the larger China and everything that is dangerous - she's beautiful, has a bunch of money, is in over her head in a new world and needs you but is also kind of indifferent. She's going to wreck them without actually being evil and they can't turn away.

Full review on EFC.

"El Gigante"

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

I can't sugar coat this much - I kind of hated this short, because it feels like horror filmmaking at its worst: Emptily sadistic, built backwards from wanting to depict people mutilating and killing each other in nasty ways, and expecting audiences to cheer its viciousness (which they disappointingly do). It's a grimy, nasty appeal to its viewers' worst instincts, and after it has exhausted its kind-of-clever idea ("hey, I came up with the word lucha-gore!"), it serves up a played-out extra stinger.

And, of course, it's being developed as a feature. Maybe that will work; maybe it will give director Gigi Saul Guerrero and writer Shane McKenzie a chance to actually say something about desperate, hard-working people crossing the Mexico/US border and being put through hell and ultimately eaten alive, or maybe it will actually be thrilling rather than utterly one-sided. They'll have room; I just hope they've got more than cruelty and half an idea.

Bunny the Killer Thing

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

After sleeping on it, I'm still not really sure where I stand with Bunny the Killer Thing. The sexual violence aspect to it is a tough nut to swallow, right on the line between being a legitimate extension of horror movie violence and something that is really uncomfortable considering the tone that they were going for. I mean, there's a rape scene right in the middle of this movie that involves running from a guy in a bunny suit with a giant prosthetic penis.

Don't get me wrong, the film has its moments. There are bits of physical comedy good enough that I want to give the rest of the film the benefit of the doubt, there are a handful of funny characters both in the main and supporting cast, and when it comes time for certain characters to start kicking ass, it's incredibly satisfying. On the other hand, I've got no idea why so much is in English. It makes sense as a common language for an international cast, but it sounds bad in most cases, and when told that some of these characters were supposed to be English, I wasn't swallowing it.

This kept me awake and alert during a midnight screening much better than other movies, so I guess it deserves credit for that. But I felt bad for watching it, and I don't think a horror movie is supposed to create that sort of unease.

Full review on EFC.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Fantasia Daily 2015.11 (24 July 2015): On the White Planet, Full Strike, Tales of Halloween, and The Ninja War of Torakage

There are mornings in this work-from-the-road thing where three non-consecutive hours of non-meeting work just doesn't get it done, especially since your head is already half at the festival.

Anyway, first up was On the White Planet, a pretty darn grim animated film from Korea. I kind of suspect that this one was an art-house presentation if anything over there, but Fantasia has played a number of really bleak animated films from Korea, which sometimes creates a pretty skewed impression of what the medium is like over there.

There was a bit of time between that and my shows at Hall, so I took in the "VR Experience" next to the de Seve theater. Waiting in line wound up taking up a lot of time, even though ten minute caps were set on people using the equipment. That seemed to be in part because that equipment, at least the Samsung Gear I was using, felt glitchy and difficult to use in terms of set-up. Once I actually got things running - a 7-minutes sort-of-documentary on Tibetan yak herders and a 3-minute look at an apatosaur from Jurassic World, it was pretty neat. Not quite there yet in terms of resolution, but the fact that this sort of thing is being driven by a phone rather than a sizable box is kind of crazy.

It left me just enough time to get to Full Strike, where Andrew Ooi of 852 Films did an intro alongside King-wei Chu:

No post-film Q&A, but it was an entertaining introduction, where they mentioned that most Cantonese comedies in the past have had the profanity toned down in the English subtitles, but that the translation here had much more accurate swearing. Including a lot of "fornicate your mammaries", in so many words, which is a funny sort of phrase. He also mentioned that they were working on a take on Jackie Chan's Drunken Master that would be "Stoned Master". Hong Kong comedy is wonderfully non-classy, and a video message from star Josie Ho basically said not to expect anything.

They needed the time in order to fit everyone from Tales of Halloween in the next slot:

Didn't get some names, but left to right, that's director Mike Mendez, producer Patrick Ewald, director Darren Lynn Bousman, someone who I don't think said anything including hs name, director Neil Marshall, and director/producer/creator Axelle Carolyn. Not present: Carolyn's dog Anubis, who did at least make an appearance in her segment, as I said he should.

Things thinned out after that for The Ninja War of Torakage, which was an odd experience: Yoshihiro Nishimura wasn't there, nor, apparently, was Mark Walkow, the usual guy helping to bring this sort of zany Japanese action to the West. Nobody was running around in a diaper before or after the movie. It was weird and not what you usually get from this sort of thing at genre festivals, where previously the people involved have worked pretty hard to push their movies in North America and they were crazy events. This was just another movie, albeit a fun one.

Today's plan: Sticking around Hall for Mortadelo & Filemon, Princess Jellyfish, Deadman Inferno, Wild City, and Bunny the Killer Thing. Miss Hokusai is recommended, but it's too late for that. Sorry.

Chang-baek-han eol-gul-deul (On the White Planet)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, DCP)

Hur burn-wook's movie is told primarily in white with some gray and black highlights, but is dark as all hell, positing a world not just where the one kid who is the only person or even thing on Earth of a non-ashen hue has already become a hardened killer by the time the film starts as he's hunted for being different, but where the whole world seems to have devolved into violence and chaos. The whole movie is populated by monsters, right down to the pedophile rapist who is part of the group he falls in with.

It's kind of too much, numbing despite the fact that one of the two impressive sequences the film opens with is horrific in its brutality. That bit where the kid kills someone and then smears the white blood on his face manages to encapsulate an idea - this kid is willing to go to monstrous lengths to fit in because he sees no other choice and knows nothing but violence. The sixty-odd minutes after that seems more like restatement than development, despite the fact that there is a story there, albeit one that eventually kind of dead-ends.

Amazing-looking, though. Hur makes all of the characters suitably harsh, and kind of simplistic in design, but easily distinguished. It's the backgrounds that really pop: Thick black lines like you seldom see in animation, stark borders rather than shading, techniques mostly used in very flat media that nevertheless give the world enough three dimensionality to have a far-off horizon. It reminds me more of American comic artists like Charles Burns than Korean comics and animation at times, especially when the narrative cuts away to still, comic-style story of a man trapped in a labyrinth, being watched by spectators.

One aside: The kid is generally referred to as "colored" in the subtitles, versus "white", and I wonder how much thought the translator gave to the reactions that language would provoke in the United States. There's really no better way of phrasing it, and it actually plays into what the movie is saying about persecuting those that are different, but it's got an extra jolt, and I'm curious how much that was intended.

Full review on EFC.

Chuen lik kau saat (Full Strike)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

There are plenty of silly things in Full Strike - it is, in fact, ridiculous more or less non-stop - but the filmmakers never really portray badminton as a sport that is, itself, laughable. They could have, and that will likely be the implication when people describe and recommend this movie to each other. That choice, though, makes Full Strike light rather than mean-spirited, a goofy little lark rather than a parody.

It starts in tremendously silly fashion, as former badminton champion "Beast" Ng Kau-sau (Josie Ho Chiu-yee), thrown out of the game ten years ago for her violent outbursts and now fat & lazy, drives off the road when a shuttlecock-shaped meteor crashes to earth and she's chased into an athletic club by what may be a bum or an alien. It winds up owned by her family and currently rented to Lau Dan (Ekin Cheng Yee-kin), an ex-con who claims to be trying to turn over a new leaf as a professional badminton player with confederates Kwan (Wilfred Lau Ho-lung) and Chiu (Edmond Leung Hon-man), along with drunken coach Chik (Andrew Lam Man-chung). Suck Nipple Cheung (Ronald Cheng Chung-kei), the smarmy son of the owner, has Kau-sau and Granny Mui (Susan Shaw Yam-yam) go in as coaches to spy on them, but, well, they wind up forming a team to compete in a televised event against Suck Nipple's group later.

Just describing the plot doesn't really get across how much this movie is willing to go for the wacky joke at every possible second, from the ex-cons' various disabilities earned honestly during a life of crime to Cheung's ridiculous mustache to the bizarre profanity characters will hurl at each other. This thing is full of slapstick and absurdity that seldom fails to land, although often with a surprising grace rather than a thud: Even if the nearly-blind Kwan is oriented so as to be trash-talking his teammate rather than his opponent, he's not really being mocked, and Andrew Lam is funny whether he's a horrifically drunken mess or impossibly graceful for a guy so out of shape. There's shockingly little guilt to be found even as characters are played as absurd.

Full review on EFC.

Tales of Halloween

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The good thing about not being able to write up every movie during the festival: Maybe the IMDB will be filled in a bit when I do get around to talking about each segment individually. One thing that really surprised me was that I thought Lucky McKee's segment may have been the best of the lot; he's a guy I sometimes find paradoxically frustrating both because I tend not to love his work and because he does so little, more or less dropping off the map after The Woods was a lousy experience. "Ding Dong" was funny and had a nasty payoff, but there's something genuinely unnerving underneath it even as it's being played for laughs.

It's fast-moving, which is both a blessing and a curse: Fitting ten segments and an elaborate title sequence (with a spiffy new Lalo Schifrin theme!) into ninety minutes means few have time to breathe and build a deeper sort of fear than jumps - even those that try have to deal with the brain shifting gears from the zanier segments. Others, like Neil Marshall's "Bad Seed", feel not quite like compressed features, but like compressed TV episodes (which makes me think, how much fun would it be for a procedural like Law & Order to just go full horror for the Halloween episode and then return to normal the next week without mentioning it, like NYPD detectives have to deal with the supernatural once per year?). The filmmakers talked about maybe reordering segments before the final release, and I don't know about that - as much as the three trick-or-treating stories to start felt a bit repetitive, I don't know if it would be better elsewise.

It's a fun little movie, though, much more a "Halloween" movie than "horror", if you get the distinction, celebrating the annual chance to enjoy things that go bump in the night and dress up crazy more than looking to disturb its viewers. That's fine, and I don't know if it could be otherwise with the churn, although one should perhaps set expectations accordingly.

Full review on EFC.

Ninja Torakage (The Ninja War of Torakage)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

It's not fair to say one either digs Yoshihiro Nishimura or one doesn't, because his output as a director can vary wildly even if the general style is the same - the awful Zombie TV comes from the same part of his brain as the very fun Helldriver. He often makes movies to give himself a place to put some of the crazier make-up/effects ideas he has and let some crazy action and goofy comedy rip. Ninja Torakage is that sort of thing, but it's on the fun side.

Surprisingly, there's relatively little really strange effects work to it - one weird monster, plenty of way over the top gore in the fights' aftermath - although it gets plenty strange at times. It's got a look that embraces its low-budget artifice, a cast that's having a good time and never really bad but also never subtle (Eihi Shiina does not care about nuance at all), feeling about halfway between a backyard production and something polished enough to play theaters. The action is enthusiastic, but the presense of Nana Seino in a small role kind of highlights the difference between Nishimura's brand of action and the really amazing stuff: You look at what she did with Sion Sono in Tokyo Tribe or Mamoru Oshii in Nowhere Girl, and Nishimura just seems to have his actors hacking at each other with their swords.

But, then, that's what Nishimura does, and this is one of the times when he's got good enough collaborators that the energy comes out as a positive.

Full review on EFC.