Monday, July 20, 2015

The Fantasia Daily 2015.06 (19 July 2015): The Arti: The Adventure Begins, Possessed, The Case of Hana & Alice, and Observance

Fun day yesterday - arriving at Hall just in time for the Chinese wuxia puppet movie, I was surprised to find that it was playing in 3D! I must admit, I sometimes feel a little odd when I read movie Twitter or internet or dead trees, because it sometimes seems nobody else actually enjoys 3D; it's all about gimmicks and added expense and reduced light, never about the coolness of it as an optical illusion or how some guys use it really well. Anyway, they handed me the fancy 3D glasses and I was a little more stoked for what was already going to be a unique experience. Not disappointed, either; like Teana: 10000 Years Later the day before, China does not screw around with 3D, throwing stuff into the audience's lap and doing everything the filmmakers can to create space.

It wound up being an all-animation afternoon in Hall, with the exception of a live-action short before The Case of Hana & Alice, though with distinctly different styles - puppets from Taiwan, stop-motion from Spain, mostly-conventional from Japan. Fun, especially since it seldom lines up that way.

After that, there was a rare spot on the Fantasia schedule where I had seen the movies playing on both screens at other festivals - (T)ERROR at IFFBoston and We Are Still Here at BUFF, which means I had the chance to actually sit down and eat without missing anything! Take those moments when you can get them, festival-goers; they can be rare! Naturally, it started to rain as soon as I stepped outside the theaters, so I only got as far as Dundee's on Crescent Street before ducking in and deciding this would do. Not bad ribs for that sort of place, at least.

After that, I spent some time writing and then headed across the street to de Seve for Observance. Short line for a world premiere; a lot of the other media guys were across the street for I Am Thor, all but guaranteed to be the bigger, crazier event.

OBSERVANCE filmmakers at Fantasia Festival 2015

Fortunately, the rest of the audience will have a chance to catch it on Wednesday afternoon, and I think most of the folks above - writer/director Joseph Sims-Dennett and cast members Lindsay Farris, Stephanie King, and Tom O'Sullivan - will probably still be hanging around; you likely don't fly here from Australia for just one day. It's worth checking out, especially if the ambiguous half-in-the-mind thriller is your sort of thing.

They give good Q&A, too, good enough that writing the review is tough for someone who mostly wants to talk about what he actually got from the film rather than the discussion afterwards which others might not necessarily be privy to. It was full of "crazy shoot" stories - they shot it in roughly 11 seventeen-hour days, and if that doesn't sound extreme enough to you, it was during that week in 2012 when Australia was setting all sorts of crazy temperature records - 46 Celsius at one point (about 115 degrees Farenheit), which I recall reading was brutal enough that weather forecasters were adding new colors to the map.

One thing I found interesting and odd was when someone asked them about the characters speaking with North American accents rather than Australia, they didn't really hem and haw much about indie movies selling better that way, but instead Sims-Dennett talked about how it made the film less specific in terms of setting, and I wonder if that's a bit of confirmation bias on his part: Being from there, he sees the location as obviously Sydney, but I don't know that anybody not from the city would, especially as close-in as it was shot. Then again, Australia is such a relatively small place in terms of population and history that there's maybe not a lot of room to drop a conspiracy into it. On the other hand, star Lindsay Farris mentioned that the Australian accent can be fairly harsh, and not necessarily the most nuanced tool for an actor. Which seems like a really weird thing to say about your own manner of speaking, honestly, almost defeatist.

As an aside: They got the accents and the money right, but didn't disguise the power outlets on the walls. Oh, and Americans seldom buy milk in that sort of round plastic bottle. But, then, I suppose those mismatches just increased the ambiguity of location.

So, that was yesterday. Today I'll be hitting the International Sci-Fi Short Film Showcase, Børning, and then flipping a coin between Gangnam Blues and A Christmas Horror Story. Oh, and trying to find out from my Airbnb host just where the heck the laundry is in this 25-story building

Qi Ren Mi Ma: Gu Luo Bu Zhi Mi (The Arti: The Adventure Begins)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP with XPand 3D)

To say one doesn't see many movies like The Arti may understate the case; there is one family in Taiwan not only carrying on a tradition of glove puppetry but using it to make fantastic adventure films like this. Enhanced with impressive visual effects, the end result is an incredible treat which only comes around once in a while, especially if you like this sort of steampunk martial-arts adventure anyway.

ARTI-C is a wooden robot built some sixteen years before the main action and powered by a mysterious core called "The Origin"; after frightened people killed its creator while chasing him from his home, his children have been wanderers. Older brother Mo tends to the automaton and searches for more information about The Origin, though his sister Tong spends much of her time fighting. Their next stop is the Kingdom of Lou-lan along the Silk Road, though there are perils: Sandworms are attacking villages along the river, and Prince Angelo has invited Mo and ARTI-C to participate in a martial-arts tournament as a way to earn his assistance in retrieving more of The Origin from the mysterious Lop people.

There's a fair amount of digital work used in creating The Arti, although the making-of bits shown over the final credits may surprise in terms of there not being as much as one might think; the guys at PiLi Puppetry have built some sets of impressive scale and appear to have built the puppets ingeniously enough that there's not even that much need for wire removal. The craftsmanship all around is detailed, especially in the costumes, although it seldom extends to articulated mouths. In many cases, that would give the characters a sort of dehumanizing formality - compare how much the Muppets are built around their mouths relative to Japanese puppetry with the same sort of complex, multi-layered costumes seen here - although that is far from the case with this movie.

Full review on EFC.

Pos Eso (Possessed)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, DCP)

There are some spoofs that cast such a broad net for their targets that they maybe slip out of the category of parody altogether, and then there are things like Possessed, which is clearly one-third The Exorcist, one-third The Omen, and one-third everything else. Lucky for those watching it, that "everything else" includes a lot of funny, funny stuff, and the whole thing gets a lot crazier when sculpted out of clay.

It starts with a priest with the unlikely name of Lenin (voice of Josema Yuste) retrieving a holy artifact from a booby-trapped crypt, and don't think his staunchly communist mother isn't disappointed with his career choices on top of feeling neglected. Elsewhere in Spain, we're introduced to Trini (voice of Anabel Alonso), a world-famous flamenco dancer who has retired to take care of her son Damian after the death of her bullfighter husband Georgio - though her manager Manolo (voice of Alex Angulo) would really like her to get back to work. Of course, to say Damian is the sort of kid who causes trouble is a bit of an understatement, and the Bishop (voice of Santiago Segura) is far too corrupt to have the faith necessary to conduct an actual exorcism.

Basic building blocks for a demonic possession movie, only this one is a riot. Director Samuel Ortí Martí (credited as "Sam") has a fondness for slapstick which is in terrible taste, but presents it in bright primary colors that make its gross-out bits far more the stuff of cartoons than horror movies. Sam and co-writer Ruben Ontiveros also have a good sense of where their movie's line between a bit of awfulness that is horrifyingly funny off-screen but just cruel as a visual, making for a movie where anything goes but where the jokes all find their level.

Full review on EFC.

"La Pepperette"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

You've got to like seeing shorts like "La Pepperette" before a film at a festival - five minutes or less, but establishes a dynamic between its characters quickly and packs a few really funny moments in there before hitting the audience with a punchline. This is a short movie that does not mess around, even if it does have a relaxed feel.

That starts behind the camera, where co-writer/director/producer/cinematographer/editor Jerome Hof and co-writer/producer/casting director Joëlle Agathe build a movie that is very efficient - there's not a wasted moment in it, and Hof knows when a cut is funnier than watching something play out. In front of the camera, Jean-Carl Boucher and Pier-Luc Funk play off each other very well as eponymous characters Carl and Pierre-Luc, one a nervous would-be convenience store robber and the other an enthusiastic getaway driver. They're both playing characters who aren't necessarily thinking things through but aren't bumbling, coming across as more sympathetic than you might expect without making the short cutesy.

Anyway, I hope they keep making good, quick movies even if they move up to longer lengths. This one got in and out and is all the more enjoyable for it.

Hana to Alice Satsujin Jiken (The Case of Hana and Alice)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, HD)

Eleven years ago, Shunji Iwai made Hana & Alice, a well-received movie about two high-school best friends smitten with the same boy, praised in large part for the performances by Anne Suzuki and Yu Aoi as the title characters. Now, he's decided to to tell the story of how these two girls met ten years later despite the actresses having aged a decade in the meantime, and rather than recast, he's made his first animated film. It's a charmer.

Tetsuko Arisugawa (voice of Yu Aoi) and her mother Kayo (voice of Shoko Aida) have just moved to a small town after Kayo's divorce, which not only means a new school for Tetsuko but a new nickname - taking her mother's surname rather than that of father Kenji Kuroyanagi means she'll be "Alice" rather than "Kuro" from now on. It's kind of a weird place - the shut-in girl in the overgrown house next door seems to be spying on her, and the other students are adamant she not sit in a certain seat because of a story about how "Judas" sat there and was murdered by one of his four wives. It's ridiculous for a middle-school student, but one of the other kids went into convulsions as if possessed when she sat there before. The curious Alice winds up investigating, and the trail leads in short order to her weird next-door neighbor, Hana Arai (voice of Anne Suzuki), who has her own reasons to find out what actually happened a year ago.

I've not seen the original Hana & Alice, but that's going to have to be remedied because I found myself tremendously fond of these characters. Alice, in particular, is a pip; she's introduced with the sort of red flags that could mark her as the surly new girl - embarrassed by her flirty mother, resigned to giving up ballet because money's tight and she's the practical one - but Yu Aoi gives her this great, spunky personality. She's naturally funny and though she takes no crap, it's not hard to see how she makes friends quickly enough. Hana stays in the background for the first half-hour or so of the movie, but once introduced, she's got a sardonic tone that matches Alice's. It's easy to see how the two will become friends even as they start off somewhat antagonistic, there's a natural banter to their first conversations and their tones match. In some ways, Anne Suzuki's got the harder part; Hana has to be dramatic in a way that's really worrisome when you think about it - going near-hikikomori like that isn't a good sign on top of the events that led there - but it also can't be hugely surprising when she's out and about and more than a bit likable and capable.

Full review on EFC.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

Writer/director Joseph Sims-Dennett initially seems to start out with a private eye story with the background redacted before quickly evolving into something more sinister. It's an intense stakeout thriller, if one that leans more toward how this sort of activity messes with a detective's mind than what he learns.

Not that Parker (Lindsay Farris) is necessarily a licensed private detective; he may just be a guy who is in desperate need of money to pay his late son's outstanding hospital bills. Whatever the case may be, he's been offered to pay five figures to sit in an apartment across the street from that of a beautiful woman (Stephanie King), surveil it, and report what he has observed when an employer who demands complete anonymity calls. When the assignment drags on for days longer than expected without "Subject One" leaving her apartment, everything he learns seems to be a dead end, and her fiancé starts to seem dangerous... Well, he starts getting more than antsy.

For two buildings just about right next to each other, the two apartments in question certainly give the opposite impression: The woman's is cozy but nice, while Parker's squat bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the one I had to clean with a snow shovel when moving out, ankle-deep in scrap paper and with newspaper covering the walls and windows. It's a pit that obviously corresponds to Parker's shredded life, and then some, and manages to get more grotesque as the film goes along, with dead rats and a container of unknown black liquid. It also feels like a feedback loop - a place takes on the personality of the person staying there, whether actively or passively (when Parker doesn't use his spare time to clean the place), but also influences the outlook of the person in the space.

Full review on EFC.

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