Saturday, August 01, 2015

The Fantasia Daily 2015.17 (30 July 2015): Synchronicity, Port of Call, Antisocial 2, and Dark Places

Here's the folks from Antisocial 2:

Left to right, that's director Cody Calahan and cast members Samuel Faraci, Michelle Mylett, and Josette Halpert. Another picture has a bunch of producers and behind-the-scenes people joining them, and I know (from the people who sat around me) that there were even more who didn't come up to the front. I would not be surprised if they booked this one in Hall entirely because they came awful close to selling out de Seve two years ago just off cast & crew, meaning almost no press/VIPs got in. Don't cry for us, but I suspect it meant they left money/audience on the table in other ways.

It's cool to see folks so enthusiastic about making movies and playing a festival, but seeing it was a mistake on my part; it's really not very good (I was very frustrated by the stupid stuff), was chosen over Traders, which could be better, and ran long enough that I couldn't get into Scherzo Diabolico. Fortunately, I had that slated as an open slot today, so I'll just close it up. On the other hand, I had time to go have a steak, so that was nice.

That there's an Antisocial 2 at all is kind of surprising; it's not like the first got a wide release and was some sort of sleeper hit. I joked with some folks that apparently making $10 off a $5 budget is the sort of profit that yields a second picture, but I wouldn't be surprised if the first did okay on VOD and the like; it's pretty good and has a cable-box-menu-friendly title. The other thing, though, is that based on the Q&A, Black Fawn Films seems to be making a ton of movies for Breakthrough Entertainment; this was probably a reasonably safe bet. I've got no idea whether the bulk is part of a problem with this film, but maybe it not being such a factory could have helped.

Today's plan: Cherry Tree, Scherzo Diabolico, Ava's Possessions, The Golden Cane Warrior, and Shinjuku Swan. Maybe I'll try for the Turbo Kid rush line, although I'm not sure how that works.


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

There's not really a glut of movies like this one out there, although if you spend enough time watching modestly-budgeted science fiction you'll see a fair number of people try to make something that needs the T axis to handle all of its twist, even if few of them are clever or dedicated enough to the details to make the result great. Jacob Gentry is the latest to give the knotty time-travel story a shot with Synchronicity, and he does a fair job of building a complex structure fast enough that it doesn't collapse from its shaky foundation until the end.

It starts out actually requiring a paradox - physicist Jim Beale (Chad McKnight) is building a time machine, but only has the resources to open one end of a wormhole right now. He and colleagues Chuck (AJ Bowen) and Matty (Scott Poythress) will need to demonstrate that works to investor Klaus Meisner (Michael Ironside) in order to get what they need to later open the other end and send something through in order for the first demo to be a success. At first it looks bad, but then they find something new in the lab, and fortuitous passerby Abby (Brianne Davis) helps to sell Klaus on the project. It's obvious that something is fishy, and as Jim is falling for Abby, the effects of opening the wormhole are doing a number on his health.

The opening need for effect to precede cause indicates early on that Gentry intends to tell the sort of time-travel story that will stand up to a whiteboard test, telling a story where you can list events, draw lines, annotate, and potentially erase in a logical manner. It's a bit fuzzy at points, built on assumptions that time has different rules for people than non-sentient matter on the one hand and offering up an alternate theory that sounds an awful lot like an escape hatch on the other. It's a rickety enough construct, but one that plays reasonably fair by the rules it establishes.

Full review on EFC.

Port of Call

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Port of Call looks like it's going to be a police procedural, and certainly acts like one during the early going. But then the answer to "who killed Wang Jiamei?" presents itself, though Aaron Kwok's Inspector Chong keeps investigating. At first it seems like he thinks Ting Tsz-chung (Nichael Ning) may not have done it, or maybe this is another girl, but, no, he just wants to know why.

As that happens, the movie transforms, becoming a film about loneliness and isolation. Language, appearance, or obsession can be the source, but the emotion looks similar on all three characters. All three cast memebers are impressive in their roles, earning empathy if not always sympathy for how overwhelmed they feel.

Writer/director Philip Yung is impressive with his architecture, dividing his film into chapters but still giving himself room to jump back and forth in time. He fills in blanks as he goes, but not all of them, as there are many case is where it's not needed. It makes for a sad experience, but one that suggests that, at least in some cases, loneliness is not necessary and may be overcome.

Full review on EFC.

"What Doesn't Kill You"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, HD)

Saw this at BUFF in March, and my opinion on it is more or less the same: It's a pretty slick, well-executed short with a central conceit that resonates. Seeing it a second time, I was surprised that it didn't quite seem to follow through; I seemed to remember a finale scene that was much more definitive than what we get here.

Antisocial 2

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

When you see something like Antisocial at a festival with the filmmakers there, someone always asks about a sequel, and the response is usually a description of something bigger and different, although everyone there knows that it's not actually going to happen. Sometimes it does, though, even though it may be a bad idea.

In this case, it's a bad idea because there's just not really a level on which this thing makes any sort of sense. As neat an idea as a social network which swallows its users might have been, following through to a post-apocalyptic setting raiss the question of just who is keeping the infrastructure running. Are there power plants and server rooms whose zombies are doing something productive? On the other side of tings, the story rests precariously on nobody every even trying to share information and a mad scientist (Stephen Bogaert) who thinks torture and stress will reveal everything better than asking questions. It's just frustratingly dumb, especially as the people who could see connections just never happen to be anywhere near each other.

It just gets more disappointing toward the end, when there's a chance for a clever revelation or two - what if the feared "upgrade" (who's coding that?) will actually lead to more user autonomy, because what good is a social network whose users aren't creating original exploitable content? It's also the sort of movie which tries to get you to fist-pump for how the first film's survivor now being a badass chick with an axe for fifteen minutes, but then has her cuffed to things and tortured for half the movie. Shame, because Michelle Mylett is still impressive, as is young Josette Halpert as the girl who falls in with her. A few good pieces doesn't make up for the rest, though.

Full review on EFC.

Dark Places

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

I'm mildly curious how big a part a secondary character had in the original book; after an amusing introduction (and fairly high billing), he gets streamlined right in the background. It's the right choice - this is a story about people involved in a crime rather than those investigating it, and while that material can be a bit uneven, but when it hits, the results are fairly impressive.

Thirty years ago, Libby Day's mother Patty (Christina Hendricks) and her older sisters Michelle (Natalie Precht) and Debby (Madison McGuire) were killed in one night, with Libby (Sterling Jerins) barely escaping. Her brother Ben (Tye Sheridan) was convicted in large part based on eight-year-old Libby's testimony, and an outpouring of support from across the country gave her a trust fund to live on. Now it's about to run out, and Libby (Charlize Theron), who has never held a job, is approached by Lyle Wirth (Nicholas Hoult) with a chance to earn some money. He's part of a local "Kill Club", which among other things investigates old cases where there has been a miscarriage of justice, and Ben's has a lot of holes even considering how unreliable kids' eyewitness testimony is now considered to be. Time is of the essence, though - as part of budget cuts and consolidation, the records of closed cases that old will be destroyed in three weeks' time, so Libby will have to take an active role in the investigation, despite never having learned much about that part of her life or having any contact with her brother (Corey Stoll).

Libby's ignorance makes an interesting, if sometimes confusing, way to pick up the case. She's the film's narrator, but the film will often flash back to the weeks and days before the murders with details that Libby has not learned in the main timeline. The story has to be told that way - the audience doesn't need that information well before Libby discovers it, though it's better than spending a lot of time in the past toward the end of the movie - but it does create a bit of a disconnect between sleuth and viewer at points. It's a bit surprising that Lyle and the rest of his team sort of fade to the background; one would think they'd be kind of useful in terms of doing legwork or maybe being with her in situations that may turn threatening. There's also something mentioned early on that quickly seems too relevant to not be connected that viewers will be waiting for that to happen.

Full review on EFC.

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