Friday, July 31, 2015

The Fantasia Daily 2015.16 (29 July 2015): Minuscule, La La La at Rock Bottom, Big Match, and DJ XL5's Hurly Burly Zappin Party

Another tight day, with very little time to get from working to Minuscule, although it was absolutely worth it. Turned right around for La La La at Rock Bottom, which was recommended by friends who saw it at New York Asian, although I would have seen the new one from the maker of Linda Linda Linda anyway.

Had a relatively short window for a burger and poutine at the Burger Bar before hitting Big Match, which seems to have been advertised with Big Game posters in the Hall lobby. Different things, although I can see someone throwing the other poster in or up in honest confusion.

After that, I opted the hang around Hall for the Zappin Party for the first time in a few years. As usual, the shorts themselves were fun, although the goofy clips around them are things I can take or leave (although, man, being reminded that Milli Vanilli and Vanilla Ice were actual things my generation paid money for at the time should keep us from ever mocking the next generation's favorites).

DJ XL5 Marc Lamothe apologized for accidentally starting the meowing thing by including "Simon's Cat" shorts in the Zappin Party bits, and well he should - some Boston friends and I were joking about when, if this 23-day festival were held in the Somerville Theatre, the projectionist and management would start to consider throwing someone off of the balcony as a warning to the rest of the audience. No good comes of antagonizing the projectionist over a few seconds of black screen.

The weird thing is that the audience was meowing all through the four Simon's Cat shorts, too, and... I just don't get that. Simon Tofield uses the curious mew with purpose, and if you enjoy a thing, why screw with it like that? I just don't get folks who don't seem to understand the line between the audience and the entertainment, I really don't.

Today's plan: Synchronicity, Port of Call, Antisocial 2, Scherzo Diabolico, and Dark Places. Things might be too tight at some sports, and I'm tempted to his the "Méliès et Magie" presentation instead of the last one, as it will probably be released theatrically, even if I have seen another Méliès show relatively recently.

Minuscule - La vallée des fourmis perdues

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, DCP with Xpand 3D)

One of the most enjoyable parts of this festival (and movie-going in general) over the past few years has been finding kid-friendly movies that brothers and sisters-in-law would deem okay for their girls despite never having heard of the things. Today was a big success on that account - some niece or other is getting this as a present later this year, and I can't see how the whole group of cousins don't love it.

It's apparently a spin-off of a set of shorts by Hélène Giraud (who dedicates the film to her famous father Jean) & Thomas Szabo, although it is very easy to go in cold - the hero is actually a newborn at the start of the film. That it is originally French is no problem either - the version screened had one card's worth of text at the start, and after that the insect characters all communicate in whistles, kazoo noises, and other sounds. The American DVD apparently adds narration from Richard Dreyfuss, which I can't see adding much; hopefully a music-only soundtrack is an option there.

And, man, this thing is delightful, from the moment it introduces its ladybug hero who can't fly as well as his/her siblings and falls in with some black ants swiping a whole box of sugar from an abandoned picnic to the delightfully absurd final battle between the black ants and red ants who also want the sugar, which involves fireworks and slingshots and all manner of things that I hope ants can't really do. It's sweet and funny and includes some brilliantly executed chases on land, sea, and air. The animation - which looks like it's either primarily stop-motion or CGI with that sort of feel, composited on top of real-world backdrops - is fantastic, and the use of 3D is exceptionally good.

I'll be getting one for my nieces and a copy for myself, that's for certain.

Full review on EFC.

Misono Universe (La La La at Rock Bottom)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The latest from the director of Linda Linda Linda is another charmer about someone finding friends and himself (this time) through music, with "Pooch" (Subaru Shibutani) starting off close to a blank slate, bursting into a wedding with retrograde amnesia and grabbing the mike to sing a song before his concussion makes him lose consciousness again. The band's manager and mixer Kasumi (Fumi Nikaido) winds up taking him in, although she'll later learn that this stray isn't necessarily entirely tame.

Director Nobuhiro Yamashita and writer Tomoe Kanno have fun with the amnesia trope - nobody really believed it was a real thing before - and Shibutani is kind of great as Pooch. He can sing, as he was apparently a member of a boy band at some point, but there's an unpracticed sound to it, like he's realistically unsure of his talents rather than secretly perfect and embarrassed. Fumi Nikaido is fun opposite him, bringing out how Kasumi is really hard-working and determined as opposed to the youthful energy behind a large band composed of mostly older people. It's fun to watch them become genuinely fond of each other with any romance kind of at arm's length.

The music is catchy as well, and there's a fair amount of it without ever derailing the story. The whole thing is good enough to end on one character saying "it's so dumb" and the other giving a goofy grin. The premise is silly, but the characters and filmmakers own it and make something pretty spiffy.

Full review on EFC.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

Today in potentially-phoned-in parts in short films: Paul Giamatti, who does a great little bit of voice work here that's kind of crucial but also doesn't steal the spotlight from Ricky Mabe and Marcel Sabourin, the main live-action cast who, thankfully, do neat work themselves, playing their characters as kind of annoying in their own individual ways even when the film could have opted to emphasize their sadness more.

The premise of the initially self-referential film has Mabe's Greg filming a sort of documentary short that involves asking people what they would do if they had a magic wish-granting goldfish, and Sabourin's Serge seeming like an ideal subject (the producer wants to include many demographics but older men are hard to get), although his persistence and his desire to be left alone aren't exactly compatible. It leads up to an obvious twist but a surprisingly heartfelt couple of moments built around the power of loneliness.

Nice job for first-time filmmaker Michael Konyves, who has written a number of less than amazing looking scripts alongside Barney's Version, which I guess explains how Giamatti ends up part of this Montreal set/shot short film.

Bigmaechi (Big Match)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival: Action!, DCP)

Big Match is really a mess, the sort of movie which starts from a decent premise - athlete framed for murder and forced to undertake various tasks for the amusement of rich gamblers who will bet on his success while on the run - and sort of has the right idea about what to do with it, but could use a lot more commitment. Yes, this is mainly a way to get the hero from one action scene to another without a lot of fuss, but imagine how much more exciting it could be if it was tightened up?

Maybe in that case the action wouldn't seem to kind of fall off over the course of the movie. The early bits of MMA fighter Choi Iko (Lee Jung-jae) trying to escape from rooms full of cops without actually hurting anyone not only have a sort of Jackie Chan feeling to how nimble and whimsical they are, but they're shot clearly and cleverly and give Lee a chance to display a lot of personality in the middle of a fight. What comes after gets bigger but is seldom as well-shot as those, and the need for action and increasing desperation overwhelms Lee's not inconsiderable charm.

Fortunately, pop star BoA (playing a driver with a bad attitude and skills of her own) starts to come to life around that point and the filmmakers never lose sight of how they want things to be fun, with Lee Sung-min doing a good job to make a hostage role funny and the music on the soundtrack always sounding like the theme of a sports highlight show. It makes the movie good enough to enjoy, even if it's not a great action movie.

Full review on EFC.

DJ XL5's Hurly Burly Zappin' Party

Seen 28 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, HD)

A lot of short films in the annual hour and a half of wackiness, so I'll just kind of bullet them:

* "Bad Guy #2" - A bit too self-aware as gags about the pecking order in comic book gangs were the big boss tends to execute those who failed him, but pretty funny in spots such as when the title character really doesn't want to step on the tarp. There are a couple others, and if you manage to fit three or four good bits into a ten-minute short like Chris McInroy does here, you're doing all right.

* "Carpark" - A zippy, funny bit about a guy taunting the dog in the next car over that kind of jumps out of being funny because people and dogs act like that into something else but also has a pretty great low-key visual gag or two in there as well.

* "Cool Unicorn Bruv" - Mostly tries to get by on absurdity and banter, and does okay there. It kind of feels like they could have done more with the premise than they did.

* "Crow Hand!" - Honestly, found this stupid with unfunny gore at BUFF, and didn't like it more here.

* "Day 40" - Another repeat from BUFF, and while I really liked this one there, I wasn't quite so fond of it the second time around. Maybe transgressive only works at full power once?

* "The Day the Earth Stopped Masturbating" - Thankfully, the premise of this short from France was laid out in English (apparently someone dies every time you masturbate) at the start, because otherwise I don't know that it would have been obvious at the speed it ran. Funny, although I must admit to never having really felt the urgent need that fuels this gag whenever it appears.

* "Dirty Dancing 48" - I get it, but it might have been funnier with Step Up or some other youth-based dance movie that actually is being run into the ground.

* "Fool's Day" - The longest thing in the program, and one of the funniest once you sort of run with the idea that, yeah, these kids really do need to dispose of their teacher's body after an April Fool's prank gone horribly wrong. Amusingly wrong, but the best parts come from how well-thought-out it seems to be and how there are a bunch of distinct and funny kid characters in a little under twenty minutes.

* "Frozen - Blood Test Scene" - I laughed at this mash-up of Disney's Frozen and John Carpenter's The Thing, done in stop-motion. I don't know that there's actually a joke beyond putting that soundtrack in those characters' mouths, but the animation is at least good enough to make it work for a couple minutes.

* "Gummi" - Blow-up sex dolls have sex, and there's not much joke beyond that. Even if there were, I'm the guy who watches it and wonders why a world populated entirely by these things would have so much fire and glass around.

* "Simon's Cat: Butterflies, Catnip, Hot Water, and Let Me Out!" - These shorts are a staple of the Zappin' Parties for good reason - they're great cartoons with a central character that is easily identifiable as every cat as well as entirely himself, and an art style that is not just cute, but looks hurried - "look what my cat did today!" Of course, it's actually carefully planned and rendered, since making animation feel spontaneous is no small trick. And, of course, they're very, very funny!

* "Tarim le Brave contre les Mille et un Effets" - A short which gives the heroes of a clear knockoff of Ray Harryhausen's Sinbad films self-awareness, although they soon find themselves fighting their medium. Which is sort of fair, as this particular take on it kind of becomes a battle for the filmmakers to get every joke they want in before the idea wears out its welcome. It's a close one, but I think they eventually get in under the wire.

* "Telekommando" - Erik Schmitt's faux news segment starts with a funny premise - that every automatic mechanism in the city is triggered by a team of people with remote controls, and works on a meta level because while watching it, there's the fun implication that the people he interacts with don't know there's a movie being shot. It goes a little bit off the rails when a villain and conflict and potential disaster are introduced, but the main joke works well enough.

* "Trust" - A nifty little bit of short-short filmmaking with director Jerry Pyle introducing a premise without exposition, getting a few gags out of it, and wrapping things up in satisfactory fashion within two minutes. You've got to respect that sort of compact, effective comedy.

* "Vaudoo Montreal" - Star Richardso Zephir did an introduction before the Party started, and I basically picked up sentence fragments because going to Montreal and Paris and having most everyone I meet speak decent English has made my high-school French even worse. Even understanding maybe a quarter of the dialogue, though, I dig this voodoo master character and love Zephir's delivery. I hope this becomes a regular thing.

* "Younglings" - I've got issues with things like "Younglings"; I think I once called The Big Bang Theory minstrelry because it's basically asking people to be excited about being represented in the mainstream despite being made fun of. This is another thing where if you get the jokes, you're probably the butt of them. Having this particular cast of nerds played by older gentlemen is a fun twist on it, and the jokes work, although I think it's entirely defensible to rate Star Wars over Annie Hall.

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