Monday, August 31, 2015

Fantasia Catch-Up #03: Wonderful World End, He Never Died, Some Kind of Hate, Ryuzo and the Seven Henchmen, The Interior, Robbery, Fatal Frame, Minuscule, La La La at Rock Bottom, and Big Match

Wait, have I really gotten ten reviews (plus two more that were actually in theaters last week posted in five days? That's absurd efficiency on my part, even considering that these are second-pass reviews, where I'm basically taking the two to four paragraphs I wrote during the festival and adding three or four more to fill it out. Maybe this won't stretch on forever!

Part of the thing about doing these second-pass ones, though, is that there's not a whole lot to comment on it this "experiential" part of the blog entry - that pretty much got handled at the time. But a few things did occur to me:

First: He Never Died is a better, more interesting movie about this sort of immortality than the much-praised Only Lovers Left Alive. Now, granted, a large part of this is personal preference - you show me one movie where these immortal blood-suckers are annoyed at being shot in the head because they get migraines when their skull heals around the bullet and one where they talk about their favorite music, and I will always choose the first one. Even putting that aside, I think Jason Krawczyk digs into the sense of isolation that long, parasitic life would create than Jim Jarmusch did, and creates interesting situations.

Second: Though I saw them back-to-back, I didn't really catch that both Ryuzo and the Seven Henchmen and The Interior were both movies about people who chose to go out on their own terms. It's not a perfect comparison - the guy in The Interior seems to be trying to hide his decline more than affirmatively showing who he is - but it makes for an interesting double feature,in retrospect.

Third: I joked about starting a contest on eFilmCritic about who could put more swipes at Olivier Megaton into seemingly unrelated reviews, and there's one in the review for Robbery. Sometimes, it comes esy.

Fourth: In the time between writing the original capsule review for Minuscule and the full one, I went from "I'm going to give this to one of my nieces" to "I gave it to one of my nieces for her birthday." No word, yet, on whether or not she and her sister liked it, although I've yet to have Dan & Lara tell me to stop giving their daughters French animated films as presents.

Next up: The big Sion Sono triple play!

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)

As soon as I saw this one, I figured that it 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 mostly - and fairly - indifferent to me. Wonderful World End gets outright weird in its last act, although I'm sure that a fair number of adults will find it difficult to relate to well before that. It's at least interesting for that and gets the bulk of its ideas across, which isn't always the case.

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 on the entire trio.

The phenomenon of "idol stars" is hardly unique to Japan - variations of the term have been used around the world from the earliest matinee idols to Pop Idol and its American spinoff - but that sort of obsessive fandom seems to be most codified and accepted there. Stories about would-be stars getting tangled up with individuals from their small fandoms aren't new either, but writer/director Daigo Matsui does a fine job here of taking advantage of how twenty-first century social media heightens those real and imagined bonds by encouraging interactivity where before there was a buffer, or encouraging people to think of each other as "friends" and "followers". He's not the first to do so, but he does much better than usual at examining the concept without stating this as a goal or treating it as shocking or unusual.

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. Or perhaps it's not "a deadpan comedy", but a supernatural noir that happens to be full of the stuff. It's the rare movie that is both what you would and would not expect.

The big draw is Henry Rollins playing Jack, 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. He has one vegetarian meal at the local diner a day, kind of oblivious to how waitress Cara (Kate Greenhouse) looks at him, and gets his blood from a hospital intern (Booboo Stewart). Today, though, a former lover that he vaguely remembers hating has called to say that he has a daughter, Andrea (Jordan Todosey), and she's gone looking for him. He's not sure why this is his problem, but pulling her out of whatever trouble she's in seems like the shortest path back to being left alone.

Though there are a great many other things about this film that are nicely done, Rollins's performance as Jack is easily the best, and writer/director Jason Krawczyk seems to have caught him at just the right time: Muscular but middle-aged, Rollins gives off the impression of being world-weary despite it being impossible for him to actually be worn down, with a voice that is kind of rough but also clear and authoritative. Rollins has a great handle on how Jack has made himself passive in order to keep people safe but has lost any connection with those people in doing so. This could play as somber, but when Jack is 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. Rollins gets big laughs for not flinching, using the bare minimum number of words, or just ending a conversation when it no longer interests Jack, and when he does get stirred to action, there's danger to it both from how casual he is and how there is rage to him, both at his long life and how this violence is a natural instinct.

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.

She's not the focus of the prologue - that's Lincoln Taggert (Ronen Rubinstein), bullied at home and school, and finally snapping in a way that leaves his tormentor maimed. That's why he's the one who gets shipped to a camp in the middle of the desert where troubled kids can work out their issues. His roommate Isaac (Spencer Breslin) lashed out via hacking, while former cheerleader Kaitlin (Grace Phipps) attempted suicide. Of course, there are a fair number of bullies at the camp not about to let Lincoln get too comfortable, no matter what leader Jack Iverson (Michael Polish) and graduate-cum-staffer Christine (Lexi Atkins) say, most notably Willie (Maestro Harrell). Oh, and there's Moira (Sierra McCormick), killed at the camp a few years back but still haunting the place. She wants to help Lincoln with his problems.

Moira is the best supernatural slasher to come around in years, in part because she is brilliantly conceived visually - pink kitty t-shirt combined with a necklace of razor blades, inflicting damage by cutting herself and making others feel her own pain. You could see that popping up again and again in a number of sequels. 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 (often) speak with a distorted voice, and Sierra McCormick is going to grow out of this role, so good luck matching that. She is fantastic, tinging Moira's madness with something deserving of empathy. 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.

Full review on EFC.

Ryûzô to 7 nin no kobun tachi (Ryuzo and the Seven Henchmen)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Takeshi Kitano's name is well-enough known in American boutique-house circles for certain things - mournful cop movies, violent yakuza fare, self-referential and deconstructive comedies - that Ryuzo and the Seven Henchmen almost throws one for a loop. It's a small, silly comedy that in some ways plays as a mixture of those things by puncturing yakuza film stereotypes and pushing them into the past, but it's also very mainstream, positioned less as artistic satire than a movie about goofy old people.

The goofy old person of the title used to be known as "Ryuzo the Demon" (Tatsuya Fuji), though he's a senior citizen now, reduced to housesitting for his son Ryuhei (Masanobu Katsumura), a salaryman who insists his father wear long-sleeved shirts even in the warmest weather so that he won't embarrass them in front of the neighbors with his gang tattoos. Bored, he and his longtime friend Masa (Masaomi Kondo), a gambler, decide to get into contact with other old compatriots - con artist mokichi (Akira Nakao), gunslinger "Mac" (Toru Shinagawa), Taka "The Razor Slasher" (Ken Yoshizawa), Hide "The 6-Inch Nail" (Kojun Ito), swordsman Ichizio (Ben Hiura), and later Yasu "The Kamikaze" (Akira Onodera), now an activist - to form a new gang. Not that anyone, from the city's other criminal organizations to the businesses they're trying to shake down for protection money.

Kitano is getting up there himself, so while this is not exactly the inward-looking satire of Takeshis' and Glory to the Filmmaker!, there is probably more of this movie than he'd like to admit that comes from his own experience of growing older and no longer being cool and dangerous like you used to be. He and his elderly cast (including himself as a detective who maybe harbors a certain fondness for these old-school retirees) happily dive into the indignities of aging and trying to be both intimidating and honorable as life removes them as options; the jokes about the elderly are not exactly new material, but Kitano still has a few surprises in store, and is good at minding the line between being amused by an elderly person's foibles and outright mocking them - Kitano is mostly making a movie about yakuza who have become old men rather than old men trying to be yakuza, so when the jokes feel natural rather than like broad satire.

Full review on EFC.

The Interior

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

The Interior seemingly starts as an one thing and stays that way for roughly the first third, when the title comes up, the scene shifts, and the main character re-appears with a new look and direction, as if to say that now the movie begins after the backstory. It is, really, a clever way to split the film up, even if it's going to be a bit of time before the film gets where it's going.

As it starts, James (Patrick McFadden) is an office drone and hates it. It's funny at first - he responds to the idiotic situations with the kind of sarcasm that is career-limiting in real life, and when he eventually moves to something a little more honest and less soul-destroying, the audience is inclined to root for him a bit even if it's also alarming. Eventually, though, he finds out just how much worse it can be, and that's when opts to leave Toronto behind and go for an extended camping trip in British Columbia, even if he's never been one for nature before.

And so The Interior becomes a middle-of-the-woods horror movie, with the twist being that James is apparently craving isolation in this phase of his life, and it's the possibility of human contact that has him jumpy, and not necessarily because it's dangerous. It's not quite an inversion of the usual set-up, but the difference in motivation and a set-up that doesn't leave much room for the supernatural gets the audience to react a bit differently to scenes which offer jumps or mysteries differently, making things both more engrossing and uneasy. Writer/director Trevor Juras seems more determined than usual to earn a viewer's reaction, so that even the moments where he's pushing buttons aren't just getting programmed responses.

Full review on EFC.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Robbery is one of several movies in the festival that I didn't expect to be nearly as funny as it wound up being, and unlike He Never Died, this is full-out anything goes material, going for the big laugh at every opportunity and mostly getting them, even if this is a very crude, violent Hong Kong comedy and some bits are in questionable taste. Well, actually, no, not questionable - this film is tacky through and through.

The place being robbed is a convenience store where lifelong loser Lau Kin-ping (Derek Tsang Kwok-cheung) has just started working, though neither he nor his co-worker Mabel (J. Arie) is exactly a model employee - though to be fair, their boss (Lam Suet) is more than a bit of a tool. It's the latter's crappy service that leads to a cranky, homeless-seeming old guy (Stanley Fung Sui-fan) holding up the store, leading to a hostage situation that is only exacerbated by the arrival of a corrupt cop and his team, a nervous woman who looks like she just ended a shift at the strip club (Anita Cui Pik-ka), her gangster boyfriend, and more, with the whole situation becoming even more absurd and explosive as the night goes on.

Writer/director Lee Ka-wing is credited as "Fire" Lee, and he does more to earn that kind of appellation than, say, Olivier Megaton. He is not the kind of filmmaker who believes in standing quietly back so that the audience can view the film like a real thing unfolding before their eyes, but one who is going to take detours into fantasy, flashbacks, and fourth-wall breaking. From the opening credits forward, he's making sure that if, for some reason, the actual events of the film aren't grabbing the audience's attention, the style will, from how lighting a cigarette will take a scene from noir to garish neon to hitting rewind.

Full review on EFC.

Gekijô-ban: Zero (Fatal Frame)

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

The festival program indicates that this film and the game Fatal Frame were based upon the same book, although the credits indicate that the book was based upon the game before being adapted into this film, but those specifics don't really matter. What's important is that screenwriter/director Mari Asato doesn't really make a good film, but does make something that's a little more striking than the usual product getting churned out.

I kind of suspect that a lot of the film's problems could be fixed by ripping about a half hour out to get it down to 75-80 minutes, and you could do it right up front, as there's a merry-go-round where it seems like three girls at a convent school who will never actually be important declare their love for classmate Aya Tsukimori (Ayami Nakajo), kiss her photograph at midnight, and vanish. Aya has been hiding in her dorm room since having a prophetic dream of her own death, though she eventually comes out to help Michi Kazato (Aoi Morikawa) investigate the curse that only affects girls. This school seems to have a lot of secrets, both spooky and conventional.

Aside from the opening sequence, there are also a pair of psychic investigators that could go later on, they're the sort of characters that appear in films that have been translated from other media, especially games, that have strong followings willing to make noise if something has been left out. If that's the case, it at least works in a way once things have started moving; Asato builds her film as a supernatural mystery, and these extraneous elements serve tolerably as red herrings. It's far from a perfect compromise - indeed, the script often seems to go in completely random, laughable directions.

Full review on EFC.

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. Minuscule was, hopefully, a big success on that account - I just gave one niece a copy for her fifth birthday, 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 late father Jean aka Moebius) & Thomas Szabo, although it is very easy to go in cold - the hero is actually a newborn at the start of the film, a just-hatched ladybug that gets left behind, unable to fly as fast as his/her siblings(*). Speaking of birth, a pair of humans leave an entire picnic behind as the pregnant wife goes into labor, and among the insects that quickly come to scavenge it are a troop of black ants who find a whole basket full of sugar that they mean to take back to their formicary. The ladybug tags along, but it's a long way over uneven terrain and a stream, with a group of red ants determined to to take the prize for themselves.

(*) It's worth noting that none of the characters in this movie are specifically gendered beyond the egg-laying ant queens, so if you tell kids that their favorite character is a boy or girl, they'd have to do some research on insect behavior to tell you otherwise.

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, although its appeal won't be limited to the too-small audiences who have seen the former. It's a different sort of movie, after all, more focused upon redemption than coming of age, but still a very appealing comedy.

"Pooch" (Subaru Shibutani) starts 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 Sato (Fumi Nikaido) winds up taking him in, although she'll later learn that this stray isn't necessarily entirely tame - his current state is the result of the folks who picked him up upon his release from jail knocking him out and tossing him out of the car.

Director Nobuhiro Yamashita and writer Tomoe Kanno have fun with the amnesia trope - none of the characters seem to believe that it's a thing that actually happens in real life, and are actually excited to see it. Little things like that make it seem like the filmmakers are well aware that their story is more than a bit unlikely, both in the broad strokes and the details, and they have a very firm handle on that - there's room for some very goofy material, but there's always a sense that this situation weighs heavily on Pooch. The movie is funny throughout, but doesn't trivialize anything.

Full review on EFC.

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 action-movie premise 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 and really thrilling?

It starts out by introducing Choi Iko (Lee Jung-jae), who started his athletic career as a soccer player but wound up becoming a mixed-martial arts fighter known as "zombie" for after being booted from the league, trained by his big brother Yeong-ho (Lee Sung-min). Iko's next match is postponed when his opponent tests positive for drugs, but he's going to be busy: His promoter is killed with Yeong-ho the prime suspect, although there's enough suggesting Iko's involvement for the police to bring him in. That's where he's given a headset and told to escape by "Ace" (Sin Ha-kyun), who operates a top-secret gambling cartel where the elite can bet on how well folks like Iko can evade capture.

Here's a funny thing about action movies that aren't actually built around their stars' screen-fighting capabilities: The quality of the action can often drop off over the course of the movie as it ramps up in scale. For instance, the early bits of Iko 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 - the bigger action scenes have more moving parts, whether it be waves of goons or special effects, and the bigger set-pieces threaten to swallow Iko. They're still plenty fun - director Choi Ho and his co-writers do escalate well and come up with some creative ideas - but each one is a little less exciting than the last, making them feel a little bit more disappointing than they are.

Full review on EFC.

No comments: