Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Fantasia Daily 2015.08 (21 July 2015): Buddha's Palm, Ojuju, Nowhere Girl, and Anguish

Doing laundry while on vacation day is kind of a drag. Less of one when it's kind of rainy and you can write in the meantime (and it's not like you've been completely away from regular life, what with working three mornings a week), but it just doesn't feel like getting away?

Kept me busy until it was time for movies, where I arrived at de Seve right in time for what I think is the festival's only English-friendly 35mm screening, a nifty presentation of Shaw Brothers oddity Buddha's Palm. Then, with time to kill but not really wanting to walk around in the rain, I headed across the street to hit Le Gourmet Burger since I'd already seen (T)error and Montreal has many good burgers near Concordia. From there, it was back in line to see Ojuju, which is the sort of thing you don't want to say bad things about because it's from a developing country and the effort is there, but it's just not that great in an objective sense. Then across the street for the new Oshii and bumping into folks I see every once in a while in Boston - aside from seeing them, I've answered a survey while in line and seen a couple other folks I know hail from the Hub doing so, and I wonder if we're giving a skewed idea of how many people come up here from New England.

Then, back to de Seve where Mitch and Anguish director Sonny Ballhi introduced the latter's movie. A pretty darn nifty directorial debut and an interesting Q&A; he talked about being inspired by a spirit expulsion therapy which supposedly has had some good results in treating people with disassociative identity disorder, but which I must admit sounded kind of pseudo-science-y to me. His genuine enthusiasm for the town where he set and shot the movie was nifty, though - he first went there at the age of ten and loved how, for as flat as Illinois and the rest of the Midwest can be, this place had hills to give it some topography.

That was yesterday; today's plan is 100 Yen Love, The Royal Tailor, Momentum, and The Master Plan. Observance is recommended.

Ru lai shen zhang (Buddha's Palm)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2015 in the J.A. de Sève Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: Retro & Restorations, 35mm)

Even by Shaw Brothers standards, Buddha's Palm is kind of nuts, piling new crazy action and more martial arts masters on whenever things start to slow down the slightest bit. That's not necessarily an unusual way to build these movies, although the frantic redirection and one-more-thing here is enhanced with superpowers and friendly monsters.

The first creator of the Buddha's Palm technique, we're told, "over-practiced with fatal results", but passed the knowledge on to his disciple Ku Han-hun (Alex Man Chi-leung), who fought many devils, made many enemies, and disappeared years ago. Lung Chien-fei (Derek Yee Tung-shing) is not much like him, a scarred nobody pining after his master's daughter Liu Ming-ying (Candice Yu On-on) and getting his ass handed to him so thoroughly when attacking her betrothed (Ku Kuan-Chang) that he goes over a cliff. But, as the narrator notes, "a monster saves him" and he winds up studying at the feet of the blinded Ku. He sets off to find a magical pearl that will cure Ku's blindness, meeting sisters Chu Yu-chan (Kara Hui Ying-hung) and Yu-hua (also Candice Yu), who seek the same pearl for their master Sun Pi-ling (Susan Shaw Yin-yin)...

...Look, that's something like the first half hour of this ninety-minute movie, and by the time Ming-ying and her now-husband pops up again, the viewer will likely react along the lines of "oh, yeah, them!"; over-stuffing doesn't begin to describe what's going on here. The screenwriters (including On Szeto, Manfred Wong, and director Taylor Wong Tai-loi) in some ways don't seem terribly worried about things making what you'd call any sort of sense, especially when an angry mob more or less agrees to put off getting retribution for a slaughter to have a reunion party despite all the bodies being right there in front of them. It's at the suggestion of Pi Ku (Lo Lieh), a martial arts master who just pops up every time the plot could use him despite him always talking about arriving too late. It's a ridiculously random story.

Full review on EFC.


* * (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2015 in the J.A. de Sève Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: Fantasia Underground, DCP)

Ojuju is a zombie film from Nigeria, and there can be very little doubt that its place of origin is the most notable thing about it. Horror fans have seen this sort of movie a lot, usually done much better, and only in part because filmmakers in Lagos don't necessarily have a lot to work with. That said, curiosity is a valid reason to watch this, and in some ways this sort of genre film may be a way to soften expectations when dipping one's toe into an incredibly fast-growing cinematic scene.

It starts with a couple of weed dealers (Chidozie Nzeribe & Brutus Richard) shooting the breeze, at least until some guy looking really sick comes stumbling toward them and... Well, guess. After that, we meet Romero (Gabriel Afolayan), trying to be a better man now that his girlfriend-he-doesn't-wear-a-condom-with Alero (Meg Otanwa) is pregnant, although Aisha (Yvonne Enakhena) still flirts with him, Alero's friend Peju (Omowunmi Dada) doesn't trust him, and buddy Emeka (Kelechi Udegbe) still talks to him like he's a stoner. Today, the subject is how something really weird seemed to be going on at Fela's house - Fela being one of the two from earlier.

Lots of people make zombie movies when working on tight budgets and with limited resources; if you want to make a film that people will watch, it's an achievable goal and the basics are known to work. Give writer/director/editor/producer C.J. "Fiery" Obasi some credit for seeing it as a great fit for this setting and working to make it be a bit more than the undead in Nigeria, though: He explicitly connects his plague with the dismal supplies of clean water in his country, and sets the film in a slum whose one entrance/exit and barbed wire walls makes for both practical containment and symbolic import. Not only is food and clean water in short supply, but meat is specifically mentioned as something very hard to come by, an ironic early request by many characters early on. There's meaning to this take on a familiar situation.

Full review on EFC.

Tokyo Mukokuseki Shoujo (Nowhere Girl)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, HD)

I enjoyed Nowhere Girl, but I must admit to a sneaking suspicion that the filmmakers wind up saying less than they mean to even as they do so in singular, intriguing ways. Or is that simply criticizing the film for being unconventional? Whichever is the case, the eerie slow build to an exceptional finale is likely to stick in a viewer's head for a while, and that's probably worth noting on its own.

It follows Ai (Nana Seino), a student at an art school for girls who, because of her extraordinary talent and the post-traumatic stress disorder from an undescribed incident, is basically given the run of the place by the headmaster (Hirotaro Honda) in hopes that she will improve. The school nurse (Saeko "Lily" Kamada) does her best to treat Ai, although without much visible progress. There's no missing the resentment her special treatment draws, either from her teacher (Nobuaki Kaneko) or fellow students (Hinako Tanaka, Ayuri Yoshinaga, Kanon Hanakage).

On top of that, the school seems to literally be standing on unstable ground, and the auditorium where Ai is building a large sculpture project is slated for demolition. There is almost no way that this is not symbolic, and it's the sort of thing where director Mamoru Oshii and screenwriter Kei Yamamura (adapting a short film by Kentaro Yamagishi) may ultimately try to get a little too clever, especially as the film nears its conclusion: There is pointed mention made that Ai is having hallucinations, but these things also happen in scenes where she is not present. It can be fit together, although for a movie that is constantly encouraging the audience to look closer and try and fit the parts of a troubled mind together, it's not the tight construction one might hope for.

Full review on EFC.

Anguish (2015)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2015 in the J.A. de Sève Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Anguish lives up to its title and spreads it around, doing an impressive job of mixing jump shocks and genuine human discomfort. Despite placing that sort of emotion front and center, though, it has a much broader range of empathy for its characters, creating an even better connection with the audience it's looking to scare.

It starts out by introducing the audience to Lucinda (Amberley Gridley) and her mother Sarah (Karina Logue), arguing about the daughter spending a weekend at a cabin with friends. It escalates in a way both would regret if it didn't end in the worst possible way. Some time later, another mother/daughter pair arrives in town: Tess (Ryan Simpkins), a withdrawn girl of fifteen who has been showing signs of mental disorders since she was five, and her fairly young mother Jessica (Annika Marks); father Robert (Cliff Chamberlain) is deployed to the Middle East. Despite it being November, Tess will not be starting school until after winter break, so she has time on her hands to explore and discover that perhaps the voices she hears are not entirely in her head.

Tess seems like a heck of a tricky character to play, so introverted that her mother has to remind her about making eye contact and as such not necessarily getting many chances to really interact with others; it's the sort of character that can come across as a bit of a lump. Fortunately, not only does writer/director Sonny Mallhi give her habits that seem to fit, but Ryan Simpkins digs into them and finds a nice balance between having a natural tendency to retreat from the world around her and a strong sense of curiosity. Tess seems like a complete person from the start rather than one who needs to find a missing piece, and that's important, because it gives the audience a strong sense of her when her brain chemistry goes off or the story's possession elements kick in and she may not be entirely herself any more. Even then, Simpkins is not given exaggerated, broad material to play; rather than going all-out with cackling demons, she's got to give the audience reason to believe but the skeptical other characters reason to disbelieve.

Full review on EFC.

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