Sunday, August 02, 2015

The Fantasia Daily 2015.19 (1 August 2015): Battles Without Honor or Humanity, Sunrise, Poison Berry in My Brain, and Nina Forever

I'm generally a pretty good planner with this festival, so days like Saturday where I wind up seeing pretty much the opposite of what I laid out at the start are rare. But, last-minute-ish, I decided that 90+ minutes of "experimental" shorts was more than I can handle, and besides, one of the hosts entered a plea for more people to see Battles Without Honor or Humanity, so I did that even though I suspect it will play the Brattle sometime this fall. Sunrise got the nod over Manson Family Vacation, because even though I suspect it's got less Manson stuff than the name implies, I'm not big on "bonding over shared darkness", either. I actually stood between theaters hemming and hawing before choosing Poison Berry in My Brain over Orion, but a goofy Japanese romantic comedy sounded better than "post-apocalyptic but also its own kind of fantasy".

Nina Forever, at least, was going to be in the last slot of the night. Festival programmer Mitch Davis, who waxed extremely effusive, is on the left; co-writer/co-director Ben Blaine on the right. You know something is a small independent movie when the filmmakers are talking about how expensive it is to fly from the UK to Montreal, which is why only one of the team of brothers is there. Kind of a pity, because while it sounds like the original idea was Ben's, it also sounds like his brother Chris was the one to help him refine it into something that works as a movie, and it might have been really interesting to hear how that collaborative process worked from both participants.

Ben did talk about how the movie sprang more from one of the supporting characters' stories than the main thread, and wound up being revised into what it was as other ideas aggregated to it, including thoughts on female characters who exist mainly to help the main character deal with his issues. He also joked about how Cian Barry did an impressive job of making his character eventually boring, because that's how it kind of works - the "fixed" guy isn't quite the draw as the original version.

Today's plan: My whims could change, but I'm thinking Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet, The "Outer Limits of Animation" package, Experimenter, Ninja the Monster, and They Look Like People. Minuscule is fantastic, and folks I know from back home have their pretty good short "Postpartum" attached to the Lady Psycho Killer screening.

Jingi naki tatakai (Battles Without Honor or Humanity)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 1 August 2015 in the Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival: Retro & Restorations, DCP)

There's a pretty good mob movie in the middle of Battles Without Honor or Humanity, but it is with the ends that make it brilliant: It starts with images of the mushroom cloud and Hiroshima in the immediate aftermath of the war, but then jumps into images so frantic that it's almost impossible to absorb them fully - even when they're freeze-framed, it's on a blur. Director Kinji Fukasaku is making introductions, but most characters will need a second appearance to be recognized.

It finishes with a funeral, as it must with all the violence being handed out, but one where the disgust at all the violence can't overcome how it is the only thing some of these guys, including the one making the statement, know.

In between, Fukasaku and the writers tell a story that plays like a rapid fire recitation of events - dates appear on-screen, narration fills in gaps, and the main character is sidelined as the film follows the events of the yakuza wars in Kure City, Hiroshima, and only the highlights. As that does on, though, the film starts making that a statement about how, despite whatever romantic notions Shozo Hirono (Bunta Sugawara) may have had about the yakuza before, the modern version is about little more than self-perpetuation and protection. Any of the historical tendencies of the yakuza to be part of the community, and any forays into legitimate business, are in the background. Fukasaku keeps things exciting, sure, but also makes sure that the hollowness of the action is never far behind.

It's almost having your cake and eating it too, and the ability to pull that off makes Battles perhaps one of the greatest crime films ever made.

Full review on EFC.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 1 August 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Writer/director Partho Sen-Gupta takes certain things very literally in Sunrise, but it's kind of a delight when he does, because the effect is nifty and exhilarating in the midst of a film that can use a bit of that as it tries to sap the audience's hope. Even with the obvious flourishes, he's still made a tight film that may obviously trumpet its cause but is engrossing nevertheless.

Child abductions are frighteningly common in India; Inspector Lakshum Joshi (Adil Hussain) of the Mumbai Police Social Services Division foils one on his way home from work one night, although he is unable to catch the perpetrator, seemingly losing his trail at Paradise, a fancy-looking nightclub out of place in this run-down neighborhood. the next day at work, another missing girl is reported, and we soon see Naina (Esha Amlani), about seven, brought into a "dorm" with mostly teenage girls with one, Komal (Gulnaaz Ansari), told to look after her. It's one of many such cases the under-staffed, under-funded department has to investigate, and Joshi is still reeling from his own daughter Aruna (Komal Gupta) being taken from in front of her school - made worse by coming home to his wife Leela (Tannishta Chatterjee), whose mind seems to have completely rejected that Aruna is gone.

I suspect that most filmmakers in India do everything they can to avoid monsoon season, but Sen-Gupta embraces it here, shooting nearly every exterior scene in a torrential downpour and having it audible on the soundtrack when inside. It's a numbing sound that sometimes seems to keep the squad inside and at their desks, sending out alerts to other departments but often seeming inactive and ineffective. It's reinforced when Joshi will spot something and run after it, getting drenched or running through streets where the water is above his ankles. Attacking the problem seems to get them nowhere and coming out when things have run their course and there's a body to deal with becomes a pain.

Full review on EFC.

Nounai Poison Berry (Poison Berry in My Brain)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 1 August 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

I'm not sure when Inside Out opened in Japan, but I do wonder how many folks there saw it as less incredibly creative and insightful compared to their American counterparts, considering that the Poison Berry in My Brain manga has been running since 2009 and this live-action adaptation came out in May. The similarities are obvious - a female protagonist with a committee of five personality fragments debating over her next actions in her head, and some similar imagery - although I suspect that the romantic comedy plot gives it much less heft than Pixar's movie made for a younger audience.

There are times when being a romantic comedy makes Poison Berry rather frustrating - it keeps what is going on in the head of Ichiko Sakurai (Yoko Maki) too focused on one aspect of her life when there is clearly more going on; for example, that she's writing a novel sometimes seems more like a way to bring an alternate suitor into her life than a major deal on its own. It also obscures that her near-paralysis when it comes time to make decisions is perhaps the root of her problems, which should make the "internal" story focus more on how her various personality traits can work together, and the screenplay by Tomoko Aizawa doesn't have a great grasp on that. It seems even more unhealthy in terms of how it deals with Ichiko's sexuality, although that may come from Setona Mizushiro's source material.

For all its stumbles, though, it's frequently very funny, especially with the rapid-fire debates going on inside her head. Ryunosuke Kamiki and Yo Yoshida are an opposites-attract pair themselves as her optimism and neurosis, and young Hiyori Sakurada is almost always hilarious as her impulsive side, especially when those impulses sound a week bit more adult than the child used to represent them. Yoko Maki may wind up having to play indecision or blurt out things that don't make real-world sense as a result of what's going on with Ichiko's committee, but she's also tremendously charming on her own, though neither Yuki Furukawa as her younger boyfriend or Songha as her smitten editor ever seems like a great pairing.

Indeed, there are a few times I wished Poison Berry in My Brain could have been about everything in Ichiko's life besides dating; it's where Maki is the most magnetic and the film's tendency to avoid sexuality as part of her personality rather than something which occcasionally overwhelms it would be the least troublesome. It's still very entertaining despite that, and maybe there would be room for that in a sequel.

Full review on EFC.

"Teeth" (2015)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 1 August 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, HD)

Well, that's a weird one.

It's impressive what filmmakers Tom Brown & Daniel Gray do in this animated production, making something simple like gaining and losing teeth seem really disturbing thanks to their not-quite-grotesque but certainly unpretty art style, sinister narration by Richard E. Grant, and the peculiar words put in his mouth about seeing ones own teeth as abominations until realizing how that attitude is affecting how one enjoys food. The laughter during that part of the film was about fifty-fifty between sincere and nervous, and I kind of like that; you don't see that reaction too often.

After that, though, it gets downright weird, although a seven-minute short is a good use for that sort of weird; it's the sort of thing that would probably be background creepiness in a typical horror movie given a couple minutes to play out in the foreground here. Then, just as it starts to strain credulity, they end it with a gross but entertainingly absurd gag.

Not for everyone, but I think these guys hit their target, and folks who have the same sort of sense of humor should really like it.

Nina Forever

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 1 August 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Ben & Chris Blaine have a heck of a great idea for a movie here - when a Rob (Cian Barry), who tried to commit suicide after the death of his girlfriend but failed, starts seeing Holly (Abigail Hardingham), there are certain weird things about the relationship, but none more than how the bloody, back-broken, naked Nina (Fiona O'Shaughnessy) starts appearing when they have sex. That is something to get past.

It's a really neat trick, actually - as much as hauntings and sex are often connected in horror movies, it's usually immediately violent either in terms of murder or rape (because she doesn't realize who/what she's actually sleeping with at that moment), while Nina mostly brings hurtful words and major cleaning issues. I've mentioned before that ghosts are best used as the past given form, and Nina fits that description perfectly. O'Shaughnessey's dialogue can sometimes be a little hard to make out, but the words that the Blaines give her really nail how the past can be both tremendously cruel and utterly uncaring at the same time, and the film eventually goes into interesting places with where her presence comes from.

And while I stumbled a bit on O'Shaughnessey's accent, her physicality in the role is kind of incredible - she moves a bit, but it's mostly flopping around, feeling like a dead thing without lurches that seem rather ridiculous after seeing this. Barry handles Rob's self-pity well, never making it obviously overwhelming enough for him to not be appealing, and Abigail Hardingham is terrific as Holly. She does a great job of handling how, despite her obvious sex appeal and heart-covered sweaters, she's pretty dark inside despite also having a core that, in most things, really wants to be helpful.

Full review on EFC.

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