Monday, July 27, 2015

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.

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