Monday, July 27, 2015

The Fantasia Daily 2015.13 (26 July 2015): Tazza: The Hidden Card, Wonderful World End, He Never Died, Some Kind of Hate, and Love & Peace

What started out as a kind of unpromising day - Tazza: The Hidden Card was mediocre and Wonderful World End needs a bit of consideration but probably won't become a favorite - became one of the festival's best by the end, with some answers to "what's your favorite movie of the fest" and fun Q&As.

First up, He Never Died, which had (left to right) sound designer Daniel Pellerin, writer/director Jason Krawczyk, composer James Mark Stewart, and producer Zach Hagen in attendance. Mr. Pellerin gets first billing not just for standing on that side of the stage, but as a reminder that his work in the movie was fantastic, especially how a sleeping or dormant Jack would trigger a flood of old-time radio and other sounds, piling on just how much history the guy has and how it weighs on him, though he can't look like it.

I get the impression that star Henry Rollins was the guy a lot of people in the audience wanted to be there, but he wasn't available, although contrary to his reputation he's apparently not just a total pro but a really pleasant guy; Krawczyk joked about him coming into the production office with cookies to talk about the violent horror movie they were going to make.

He also mentioned that they had ideas about a sequel miniseries that, I'm guessing, would incorporate a lot more flashbacks into Jack's life, and that's something I can really get behind.

The next movie, Some Kind of Hate, also featured guests: Writer/director Adam Egypt Mortimer, co-writer Brian DeLeeuw, stars Ronen Rubenstein and Sierra McCormick, and producer Amanda Mortimer. This turned out to be one of the most enjoyable Q&As, especially as the younger stars told their stories: Rubenstein said that it was an important movie for him to make because he lost a good friend to suicide after she was bullied, but also talked about how shooting a smoking scene for the better part of a day left him with some pretty nasty nicotene poisoning. McCormick was a delight, talking about loving horror and not having done one in a long time and then getting razzed for being a seventeen-year-old talking about stuff way back in her life. There were also some funny stories about how they shot on half a summer camp, with the other half filled with nine-year-old fans of her Disney Channel show, and she had a great time meeting them but seeing her in her Moira get-up may have scarred the little guys.

The thing I really liked, though, was how everyone, especially the director, talked about how they really didn't want this to be referential. A lot of genre film can get into "spot the reference", and they really wanted this to be contemporary and its own thing. They also talked about how that own thing was a tough sell at times, because Moira is a much more human character with things to say than your typical supernatural slasher-movie villain, which scared some producers off, even if it is what makes the movie great.

After that: Love & Peace, which was fantastic. For all the talk in line about how nothing was really grabbing people yet (lots of good stuff, not a lot bowling us over), we'd forgotten that there were still three Sion Sono movies to come.

Today's plan: The Blue Hour, The Visit, dinner, Ryuzo and the Seven Henchmen, and then deciding between The Interior and "Tales from Beyond the Pale" live. Shrew's Nest and Haemoo are both recommended.

Tajja: sineui son (Tazza: The Hidden Card)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

I appear to have really liked the first Tazza movie (alternately called War of Flowers and Tazza: The High Rollers) when it played this festival eight years ago, although I don't remember it well enough to remember whether an early scene from this sequel was there or is being retroactively inserted. Whichever is the case, The Hidden Card starts with a clean enough slate to tell a similar story about a guy being really good at cheating at cards, at least until he meets people who are better and more ruthless at it than he is, albeit apparently not as well.

This time, the gambler is Ham Dae-gil (Choi Seung-hyun, aka "T.O.P."), nephew of the previous film's Go-ni and a natural hustler himself. Gambling runs in the family enough that his grandfather winds up in debt to local operator "Ghost" (Kim Joon-ho), and when Dae-gil tries to protect his family he winds up fleeing to Gangnam just a day after meeting Huh Mina (Sin Se-kyung), the extremely cute sister of gambling buddy Gwang-chul (Kim In-kwon). In Seoul, he joins a childhood friend (Lee Dong-hwi) at in an underground casino's crew, although a series of reversals will inevitably lead to games where far more than money is on the line.

Tazza is a long-running comic series in South Korea, and there's a tendency to repeat the same stories as those hang around, whether it's villains committing similarly-themed crimes, warriors having to master new and more devastating fighting techniques, or a next generation going through the same things as their predecessors. To be fair to The Hidden Card, it only mirrors The High Rollers in the broad strokes and dispenses with its multiple narrators and pseudo-documentary inserts. Those broad strokes are fairly universal, but the trouble with this sort of sequel is that it's trying to both be back-to-basics and create something bigger and more complex for existing fans, and the result is often a script that alternates between going through the motions and emotionally and heaping so many events into the story that the audience has no time to react to them.

Full review on EFC.

Wandafuru warudo endo (Wonderful World End)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, HD)

This one, I think, may need some mulling over, although more for its downright peculiar ending than the occasional sense that as someone who is not a teenage Japanese girl, this film is most fairly indifferent to me. This picture gets outright weird at the end, although I'm sure that a fair number of adults will find it difficult to relate to well before that.

It is, after all, the story of two teenage girls, Shiori (Ai Hashimoto) extremely confident in her appearance and trying to be a model/actress/idol and Ayumi (Jun Aonami) a 13-year-old fan who runs away from home to meet up with the older girl. A weird sort of jealousy develops when Ayumi is taken in by Shiori's boyfriend Kohei (Yu Inaba), but as things progress, the obsessive fandom has interesting effects.

This sort of fandom has traditionally been fairly particular to Japan, although with young people able to become YouTube stars, it's potentially more of a global phenomenon. I wasn't quite certain about Shiori's deal - it often seems like she's in her early 20s and playing a teenager online, especially since she's living with her boyfriend and apparently has nowhere else to go otherwise, but other moments indicate she's just what she says she is despite referencing being "out of character". Either way, Hashimoto makes her intriguing, while Aonami makes Ayumi's quiet sincerity kind of scary at times, because it is not directed in a healthy direction at all.

That end, though, with a bunch of new elements and sharp hints that someone is nuts and this is playing out in her mind... I wonder if it's supposed to be a call-out to the music videos the cast (and director Diago Matsui, perhaps) did for Seiko Oomori, whose songs make up a big chunk of the soundtrack. It really seems like a big break from the rest, and I don't know how much it works.

Full review on EFC.

He Never Died

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Somehow, when I was looking at this movie's description, the idea that it was a deadpan comedy (although the blackest you can imagine) never came through, which made it an extremely pleasant surprise. It's the rare movie that is both what you would and would not expect.

The big draw is Henry Rollins, playing a blood-drinking immortal who doesn't quite fit in with traditional v-word lore, but who has been trying to keep it on the straight and narrow, although that is accomplished in large part by doing nothing. When he's forced to deal with the world around him because his relatively recent past catches up with him, his social atrophy and utter lack of reaction to what would be threatening situations for normal humans is terrifically funny, apparently even more so for those used to Rollins as a loud, forceful heavy metal musician. It's a fun contrast to everyone around him, whether a sweet diner waitress, an appealing screw-up of a daughter, or a low-level criminal who has seen enough to know that messing with this Jack fellow is a bad idea.

The really clever bit, though, is that as funny as those scenes are, they also feed directly into into the bits that make He Never Died both a nifty crime flick and a horror story. There's a street-level, dark alley feel to those elements that works very nicely indeed, and lends itself to some great action that may frequently be one-sided, but is a gas to watch anyway, because Rollins and writer/director Jason Krawczyk have a solid picture of how this would go down, and nail it every time. It makes calling the movie a comedy a bit inaccurate, even if this is one of most honestly funny movies of its type in recent memory, earning both its laughs, thrills, and darker moments.

Full review on EFC.

Some Kind of Hate

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Is it wrong to kind of hope that a pretty great horror movie perhaps stalls out at cult favorite? Some Kind of Hate is a strong, smart, bloody example of what the genre can do when its aims are greater than just churning out product, and it introduces what could be an iconic horror villain as great as the ones spawned in the 1980s. That's the rub, though - I really, really don't want to see Moira Karp reduced to what the likes of Freddy Kruger, Jason Vorhees, and Michael Myers became in pop culture.

Of course, for that to happen, they'd have to recast, because part of what makes Moira so great is that she is very clearly a teenager who doesn't wear a mask or (seldom) speak with a distorted voice, and Sierra McCormick is going to grow out of this role, and good luck matching that. She and filmmaker Adam Egypt Mortimer make Moira a monster whose motivation is all too easy to understand - that is to say, the best kind. She's paired up with an impressive Ronen Rubinstein (as the bullied camper who summons her) and Grace Phipps (his potential girlfriend) and a slew of obvious targets.

It's a great little horror movie, with kills that are maybe all of a type but which work as storytelling. The filmmaking is sharp and carefully considered, likely enough to strike a chord rather than just seem exploitative. It's the horror genre at its best, and I hope it becomes a springboard for more great things rather than a franchise which dilutes its greatness.

Full review on EFC.

Rabu&Pisu (Love & Peace)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

The first of three Sion Sono films being shown at this year's festival is a joyous, crazy delight, piling whimsy ever-higher even while Sono reveals a darkness behind it. the great bit, though, is that the pieces that may make an audience uneasy never poison the joy surrounding it, even as Sono finds himself springing imagery on the audience that could horrify if handled differently.

That's doubly impressive, because the film really starts out feeling really loose, as Sono follows loser former musician Ryoichi Suzuki (Hiroki Hasegawa) through a series of embarrassments, including missing out on connecting with the girl at the office who might kind of like him (Kumiko Aso), until he buys a turtle, involves it in some weird fantasies, and then flushes him down the toilet, only for "Pikadon" to have his own adventures in the sewer. What he finds there is almost unbelievable, but amazing, and draws so much attention that it's easy to miss that there's important stuff going on topside.

Sono makes a great story of ambition and desire for something out of reach corrupting pure instincts, of extreme self-confidence and self-doubt being equally destructive, but the way he tells it is going to be what makes an immediate impression, as he not only creates the closest thing I can imagine to a Sion Sono children's movie, but does so with earnest joy, culminating in a finale that is both incredibly cute and hilariously destructive, without ever getting smirky or superior. He almost dares the audience to be cynical, because it's easy to see some of what he does being revisionist and "adult", but pulls back in a delightful way.

I'm being vague here, because this is a film that really deserves to surprise people. I can see it becoming a staple at the Brattle's "Alt X-Mas" series, and it plays just as well in July.

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