Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Fantasia Daily 2015.07 (20 July 2015): International Science-Fiction Short Film Showcase, Børning, and Gangnam Blues

Well, time to break out the "Horrible Photograpy" tag, because this is the only shot I had time to get from the sci-fi shorts block:

Festival programmer Mitch Davis and "Time Capsule" director Trinity Shi, who just got up there for long enough to say hello. No Q&A afterward for this group.

Went across the street for Børning after that, and then hemmed and hawed for a bit about whether to go with Gangnam Blues or A Christmas Horror Story, eventually going with the Korean gangster movie, which didn't get out until nearly midnight, making for a late night for a Monday. Got home to see the Red Sox were crushed in a double header, which was a mite frustrating after getting to see so much winning before the all-star break.

Today's plans: The 35mm print of Buddha's Palm, a free spot, Ojuju, Nowhere Girl, and Anguish. (T)error is recommended, Singham Returns is not, and, hey, guys, why'd you advertise The Incredible Adventure of Jojo (And His Annoying Sister Avila) all week if it was going to be impossibly tight to get to it from the other festival venues?

"Welcome to Forever"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: International Science-Fiction Short Film Showcase, DCP)

It wasn't until well after noting that Laddie Ervin's short film had a couple of "That Guy" actors in it (Richard Riehle & Mike Starr) that I realized they could both have literally phoned their roles in, as they only appear on screens. I kind of want to grasp and find some sort of meta-meaning to that, although it doesn't quite fit in with Ervin's story of post-human uploaded personalities being shut down after a cloud-storage issue.

It's a nifty movie, although it bounces around in format a bit for a short film - infomercial first, then news story, then narrative - in order to both get its exposition out and a bit of story. It winds up dancing around the central idea a bit - what kind of rights should these uploaded minds have if they're not making concrete contributions to society or become buggy? - but gets nice performances out of Riehle and newcomer Clive Hawkins on the way.

"The Rat's Dilemma"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: International Science-Fiction Short Film Showcase, DCP)

In this short film from Israel, a Jewish prisoner in a Nazi camp works on a teleportation device while playing chess with his jailor; is he holding back or is there something to his willingness to sacrifice the queen in the game?

It's a nifty premise that, like a lot of short films, could probably stand with some filling-out on either end (if there's a bigger plan, it doesn't become clear). What's kind of impressive to see is how writer/director Naor Meningher is very obviously working with tight resources in terms of location and cast but manages to make that isolation work as part of the story without over-explaining it. There's also a nice central performance by Mendy Cahan as the scientist, crushed with remorse.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: International Science-Fiction Short Film Showcase, DCP)

"Legacy" feels very compressed, like filmmaker Josh Mawer and screenwriter Michael Richardson had a lot of ideas of how their story of a dying scientist who places his consciousness into a device implanted in his son could get creepy and dramatic. It goes everywhere it can in under fifteen minutes, although it's a little disappointing that one of those places is not just Lawrence taking advantage of Edward's girlfriend (it says something about entrenched attitudes in sf that this sort of thing is seldom treated as a rape), but that it's apparently the straw that breaks the camel's back, when I think the really powerful bit of this story is how Edward must confront how people seem to treat his worth as deriving from Lawrence.

That said, Drew Wilson is kind of great as Edward, capturing the character's feelings of inferiority and obligation, and also giving a glimpse at the father's arrogance when we see Lawrence in control. Transitions between the two are a little more confusing than they perhaps need to be visually, but Wilson is a solid, relatively understated center that the rest of the cast can use to make their larger characterizations seem a bit bullying.


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: International Science-Fiction Short Film Showcase, DCP)

Of all the shorts in the block, this one was probably the only real disappointment, because at its center, it really doesn't make a lot of sense - without a bit more context, the big revelation at the center seems like the sort of thing that would only be done if you wanted this movie to happen, not as the logical response to what we're later told. Even at the micro level, actions seem to be based on keeping secrets from the audience rather than building a world - kind of ironic for a VR-based story.

Nice cast, at least, and I think there's a way you could get a good story out of this if you pushed hard enough in slightly different directions. As it is, though, it seems like a pretty severe case of bracing a twist rather than building something around it.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: International Science-Fiction Short Film Showcase, DCP)

Nobody does satirical science fantasy quite like the French, and "Maxiplace" is yet another fine example of that. Its premise of apartment buildings where the wealthy can literally expand their space and squeeze the poor out is absurd, but also gets at something that we as an audience can recognize as true on a certain level, even when it is populated with ridiculous caricatures doing silly things.

Indeed, that's what much of the short is once it has established the idea; Monsieur Leduc (Dominique Langlais) is pathetic on top of being an entitled weirdo and Clara (Giedre Barauskaite), the pretty animal-loving ditz he takes in after she winds up homeless in the hallway, is kind of a blank, in part because like a lot of French satirists, director Vincent Diderot and co-writer Leila Deroux are quite willing to paint everyone, rich/poor/otherwise, as basically selfish and awful. In some ways, the short kind of treads water so that Diderot and production designer Fabien Moreau can get the concept to sink in. There's a lot of nasty whimsy to it, from a bed being pushed to vertical to how Leduc's bloated apartment has vertical striations from how it has expanded into other spaces.

As satire, it's lightweight in one sense, but it's also a fine conceptual virus, throwing an idea we tend to resignedly accept into sharp relief.

"Time Capsule"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: International Science-Fiction Short Film Showcase, DCP)

By far the shortest of the block, but tight - Trinity Shi's story of an astronaut dropping out of the sky after some sort of disaster is the kind of short film with zero fat that one doesn't want to say anything about because there's almost no way to do so without spoiling everything. It's not the right tone for a "Probability Zero" story, but it's kind of that length and careful packing and squaring away every corner.

So give Shi a lot of credit for that, as well as a visual effects crew that delivers exactly what the story needs and no more. And while Kyla Garcia is mostly sitting in an escape pod and looking panicked, the film ultimately belongs to her as her Claire Rodriguez pieces together what's going on and what she must do as a result.

"The Future Perfect"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: International Science-Fiction Short Film Showcase, DCP)

Another short with a kind of tortured set-up, showing a time traveler (Robert Baker) stuck in one of those "would you do something horrible for the greater good" scenarios, but generally on his return and departure as he argues with an unseen supervisor (voice of Zachary Quinto). Nick Citton kind of hangs a lantern on it during the epilogue, but is that ever actually enough?

On the plus side, Baker is darn solid as Hardesty, doing a pretty fantastic crumble in about ten minutes despite not having a lot besides a spacesuit and a fairly empty set to work with. He impresses. And while Quinto is off-screen, it's the sort of performance that makes me wish that he was going to get as much of a chance as Leonard Nimoy to put his mark on Spock - kind of arch and distant sounding on the surface but able to strip that away to create a solid emotional resonance.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: International Science-Fiction Short Film Showcase, DCP)

I must admit to sometimes treating time-travel movies like "ReStart" as puzzles to solve rather than stories, so I wound up a bit disappointed that this one's main character didn't stumble upon my "solution": Abducted by some group doing time travel experiments, she is repeatedly thrown back in time to the location of her kidnapping but unable to thwart it; I figured her way out would be to switch places with her original self, letting her escape and creating a looping paradox. Maybe in later iterations.

Putting that aside, Marta Larralde is kind of great as Andrea, the victim of this situation. She kind of gets to be Linda Hamilton in both The Terminator and Terminator 2 here, although she probably accomplishes the transformation more with attitude and body language than workouts. It's impressively jarring to see early/late Andrea contrasted with each other as their paths cross later. And while writer/director Olga Osorio sticks a bit of unnecessary and maybe contradictory info-dumping at the beginning, she handles her story's cyclical nature very well, doing what she can to disconnect the audience from time in the way that Andrea is.

"Dark Was the Night"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: International Science-Fiction Short Film Showcase, DCP)

There's a twist or two to "Dark was The Night", although the film would have been fine without them or one which was more/less conventional. Maybe even better - there's a nasty custody-battle metaphor that seems to be playing out through Chris Cornwell's script which features a girl (Disy Waterstone) and her father (Daniel O'Meara) trapped in sealed compartments of a spaceship after a disaster which the mother apparently fled in an escape pod. Or is that what's going on?

Director Sam McMullen (who also worked on the story) gives hints that all is not as it seems, but he and his crew also do an impressive job of building a world for Vik and Wyatt that's solid but not overly-reliant on details, emphasizing and downplaying what's important to the story. Watersone and O'Meara are also pretty great as the family in crisis, with Waterstone showing equal measures of intelligence and nervousness while O'Meara gets the father whose desperation may not necessarily be toward a good end across very well indeed.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival: Action!, DCP)

As you might expect for a film about a cross-country road race, Børning opens with a dedication to legendary stunt driver Hal Needham and shows an immediate affection for American car culture; that's not surprising even if the country being crossed is Norway. Is that love for high speeds enough? It's close; the movie could use a stronger story or a broader sense of humor, but it's sure got a lot of moments that work.

We meet Roy (Anders Baasmo Christiansen) in a prologue that involves drag racing, a speed trap, and his wife's water breaking, and then flash forward "14 years, 2 divorces, and 120 speeding tickets" to the present day, when he's plowed his love of American muscle cars, specifically Ford Mustangs, into his "Stallion Parts" auto shop, but isn't quite so enthusiastic about his daughter Nina (Ida Husøy) staying for two weeks rather than the expected long weekend, especially since he is utterly oblivious to what a chip off the old block she is. Long story short(er), he winds up losing the annual Street Legal competition because he won't pay her attention, and this leads to long-time rival TT (Trond Halbo) challenging him to a race. It winds up being a 2170-kilometer affair from Oslo to the North Cape, and in addition to Roy and TT, practically every gearhead in town joins in - and Philip Mork (Henrik Mestad), possibly the world's most dedicated traffic cop, gets called in from his fly-fishing vacation.

The trouble here is the story and its structure; this sort of race keeps the groups you want in conflict separate but can't allow them to get too far apart lest a winner be too obvious. That's not crippling; you can create little dramas or comedies inside the cars, and that's what screenwriter Linn-Jeanethe Kyed tries to do, although maybe not enough. There's not a whole lot to actually do with Roy and Nina, even when Chekhov's Nut Allergy goes off, although there's a fair amount of dry comedy from the car with Roy's best friends Doffen (Sven Nordin), Nybakken (Otto Jespersen), and Doffen's teenage son Jimmy (Oskar Sandven Lundevold). TT becomes almost a non-entity with nobody to talk to, and the script really finds little to do with Roy's girlfriend Sylvia (Jenny Skavlan) and her co-pilot Linda (Camilla Frey).

Full review on EFC.

Gangnam 1970 (Gangnam Blues)

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

Gangnam 1970 (or Gangnam Blues, the name under which it's traveling the festival circuit) is the sort of movie where I tend to spend the first ten or fifteen minutes frantically trying to remember the seemingly dozens of characters being introduced in rapid succession, only to relax a bit more upon realizing that, really, only these two and the guys in their immediate orbit are going to really matter - and given that this is a mob movie, maybe they'll be the only ones introduced early who are left when all is said and done.

Those two guys are Kim Jong-Dae (Lee Min-ho) and Baek Yong-ki (Kim Rae-won), orphans living in a shantytown outside Seoul in the early 1970s. Gangnam may be a poor area now with unproductive fields now, but developers, politicians, and gangsters see its position on the road to the capital and intend to develop it after swindling its owners out of their deeds and destroying any opposition they may have in the government. Jong-dae and Yong-ki are dragooned into doing thug work to break up a political meeting, but get separated. Yong-ki winds up joining the mob and moving up quickly, while Jong-dae is taken in by Kang Gil-su (Jung Jin-young), a boss in a rival gang who semi-retires to run a laundry business after being stabbed. It will be three years before their paths cross again, and they form a secret alliance.

There are a lot of other players and side-plots to the story, which is built on (mostly) fictional characters, though against a real-life backdrop. It is a dizzying combination of politics and crime when the two were harder to separate, bringing the intelligence services in as well. If you're not versed in the background, trying to reduce it to the stories of Jong-dae and Yong-ki is almost self-defense. Fortunately, writer/director Yu Ha will reward the patient viewer; his story of corruption and gang warfare never becomes truly simple, but does have a sort of inevitable forward motion, even as the people at the top are knocking each other off and forcing each other out of power. At times, I almost wish it were a book with references and the ability to flip back, but it is eventually merely a dense movie, not an impenetrable one.

Full review on EFC.

1 comment:

נאור מנינגר said...

Hey Jay!
Thank you so much for reviewing my film, "The Rat's Dilemma". I will cherish that review!
You're invited to Israel!
Naor Meningher