Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Fantasia Daily 2015.05 (18 July 2015): Teana: 10000 Years Later, Black & White: The Dawn of Justice, The Shamer's Daughter, Extinction, and Deathgasm

Progress: After feeling kind of sluggish to start this morning after Friday's long day and wearing down during Deathgasm, I skipped the midnight. Know your limits.

First guest of the day was The Shamer's Daughter director Kenneth Kainz, pictured here on the right (festival programmer Rupert Bottenberg is on the left). He made a nifty little young adult fantasy picture, although it was an odd Q&A in that it kind of wound up sounding like work-for hire rather than a project he was driving. Like, if there were to be sequels, the studio might very well hire someone else based on availability.

Which isn't to say he wasn't engaged and enthusiastic; he was just very much about making the film and working with people rather than talking about plans.

The screening for Extinction was a bit different; I think they originally planned to have director Miguel Ángel Vivas but wound up with co-star Quinn McColgan, who is something like thirteen, as the film's sole representative. So, not your typical Fantasia Q&A session, although kind of fun; she seems to be one of the child actresses who has it together and can talk about making a movie without sounding like someone being pushed around or a weird miniature adult.

(I hope like heck she's going to a bunch of movies at the festival and having fun, even more than with most cast/crew.)

There were also guests for Deathgasm - author Kier-La Janisse with Satanic Panic and "heavy metal rock god" Thor, whose own documentary would be screening Sunday night - but none for the movie specifically. I kind of ran down during the film, so I didn't stick around for German Angst.

Today's plan: At Hall for The Arti, Possessed, and The Case of Hana & Alice, then maybe a leisurely dinner/writing session since i've seen both We Are Still Here and (T)error (both recommended; I just don't want to steal a seat from someone who hasn't seen them), and wrapping it up with Observance in de Seve.

Yi wan nian yi hou (Teana: 10000 Years Later)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, DCP w/ XPand 3D)

Director Yi Li and his crew worked for seven years on Teana: 10000 Years Later, and its looking kind of rough in spots goes to show how crazy the resources Hollywood has at its disposal are and how developed its tools are. The character animation and motion is a very clear step down from American digitally-animated features, and the story seems all over the place, although that might be less familiarity with Chinese legends on my part and a disappointing dub.

It is, however, 3D as all get-out; if Yi Li's goal was to create a 3D spectacle that would drop jaws in Chinese theaters, especially compared to American productions that are emphasizing the third dimension less, he's certainly succeeded on that count. Teana both leaps off the screen and sinks deep within it, and fills its cube with eye-catching sights from monsters and animal men to strange lands. Even when it's not making a lot of sense, it can still impress on a sheer "just look at this thing!" level.

It is kind of all over the place, though, especially in tone. It's got a mentor character in Arion who spends a lot of time explaining things to granddaughter (and eventual Chosen One) Soma and the audience through her, but is much more violent than you'd expect for a kid's movie - the action is nicely co-ordinated but bloody, and then it will spend a little while going through a landscape of fruits and vegetables. It's also more than a bit weird that the villain's plan - aside from declaring himself a god, as one does - involves restoring a technological world and railing against how mankind has been kept in a primitive state for millennia. It's always weird when someone uses this much computing power to teach audiences that they're better off without all that high-tech stuff.

Full review on EFC.

Pi Zi Ying Xiong 2 (Black & White: The Dawn of Justice)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival: Action!, DCP)

It feels like it's been a while since I've seen an action movie as dedicated to being all-out nuts as Black & White: Dawn of Justice, a sequel that, from what I gather, goes all-out in topping its predecessor by staging one big action scene on top of another, making the stakes as high as possible, and adding a couple extra dashes of personal melodrama into the final act just to make absolutely damn sure that the audience is invested.

It's bonkers, but it's a lot of fun. The cast is a nice group, with Mark Chao and Kenny Lin playing cops from different districts of Harbor City that come off as entertainingly competitive and the villain being a sort of classic of the type with colorful henchpeople. The action is over the top, but well-executed - it's actually kind of rare to see both big chaotic set-pieces and quality hand-to-hand done this well in the same movie. The filmmakers have a sort of gleeful disinterest in making an action extravaganza where the mayhem is contained so as not to affect civilians.

Funny thing - I have not seen the first one, but I got strangely worried about this sequel nullifying what its predecessor did toward the end, which is either a sign that the folks making the movie are doing well or I'm a wee bit too concerned with structure. I'm glad I made the choice to see this one on the big screen, though - it's meant to be larger than life and delivers.

Full review on EFC.

Skammerens Datter (The Shamer's Daughter)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The concept behind the "Shamer Chronicles" book series is an interesting one, positing a woman and her daughter with the ability to look into a person's soul and pull out what they are ashamed of. What kinds of problems can you solve with weaponized guilt? How does that play in a situation where people can do horrible things without feeling shame?

I don't know that The Shamer's Daughter really manages to handle that around its climax, especially in a medieval setting where the Shamers can be easily ignored or executed as traitors - it backs itself into a pretty bad corner. It's a nifty young-adult fantasy lark around that, though, with dragons in the dungeon, heroines who are quite easy to root for even when setting their outcast status aside, and the chance for both swordfights and a bit of mad science.

Swords & sorcery isn't really my genre, and I can mostly take and leave young-adult material. This is executed pretty well with a nice cast, though, so I can at least recommend it for that.

Full review on EFC.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Extinction starts off problematically, with a prologue that involves three people doing what seems like the same dumb thing in a row, leading to nearly everybody getting killed by zombies. It's the sort of thing that has the audience bracing for a tidal wave of stupidity, especially when the bulk of the movie winds up being two people living in their old houses but not talking until nine years later.

Surprisingly, though, the center of the movie works pretty well. Jeffrey Donovan plays a man trying to raise a daughter after the zombie apocalypse (which seems to have triggered a mini-ice age for good measure). Monsters haven't been seen for a while, but he's still naturally worried about keeping Lu (Quinn McColgan) safe, including from the neighbor (Matthew Fox) he considers deeply untrustworthy. There's a nifty sort of tension in this center even though not a lot is really happening; the audience gets to mull over the isolation of the situation and the way others react: Jack seems to have purpose in bringing up Lu while Patrick has unraveled, and Lu is a kid despite her situation. There's a bitter note to her seeming healthy development as the audience wonders about it being pointless, but its not overpowering.

Then snow-adapted zombies appear and all hell breaks loose, and the last act becomes some pretty great horror action. Blind creatures are always great (spiffy make-up here, too), and director Miguel Ángel Vivas builds a really fine siege in Patrick's house, splitting the crew up to keep things manageable but also giving them the ability to play off each other. The action itself is very well-done, and Vivas really does a great job of cranking things up just a little bit more as things go on.

Full review on EFC.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

I skipped Deathgasm at IFFBoston figuring it would play here, and wasn't disappointed. I don't know if the crowd would have been quite so metal in Boston, although who knows; that festival brings out its music fans.

It's a fun little movie playing on parental fears of Satanism, especially back in the 1980s, offering up a situation where heavy metal music really can call forth the Devil's armies, and then having the teenagers who unleashed hell to try and put things right by playing it backwards.

Truth be told, I actually found the bits before and around the horror-movie shenanigans a lot more fun. There's a real charm to Milo Cawthorne's Brodie, a metalhead with a heart of gold trying to find his place in a quiet town, and to Kimberley Crossman's Medina, the local beauty who might just get him more than he expects. There's an earnestness to those scenes despite the fact that there isn't one believable teenager among the cast. The gore is fine and over-the-top in a wonderfully tacky way, but it makes the movie into a cartoon. A good cartoon, but one which can seem arbitrary and mean all the way through after the movie started out kind of sweet underneath.

Full review on EFC.

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