Friday, August 07, 2015

The Fantasia Daily 2015.21 (3 August 2015): A Hard Day, Crumbs, Marshland, The Invitation, and Tag

No visitors? No visitors. Just a full day that had me really scrambling out of "the office" early enough that I feel like I'm going to have to make some of this week up somehow and just enough time between Crumbs and Marshland to grab dinner with Gabriella, who suffers from much less option-paralysis as I do in this situation.

Not a whole lot to say, otherwise. It was a very solid day - even the kind of disappointing film, The Invitation, had things it did very well, and Tag deserves a little more mulling over.

One thing that didn't make it into a review because it really doesn't matter, but "Javier Gutierrez" felt like it was Spanish for "Michael Keaton" in a way that was almost distracting while watching to movie; they not only look similar, but Juan is this charming/funny character with the potential for darkness that is right in Keaton's warehouse. If they were going to do an English-language remake, he would kill in that role. Of course, taking this movie out of post-Franco Spain would gut it, but I'm almost willing to accept that with this hypothetical casting.

Kkeut-kka-ji-gan-da (A Hard Day)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 3 August 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

"Chekhov's _____" is an extremely easy joke to make when watching and reviewing thrillers and the like, and like most trope-related comments, folks often say that in terms of "don't do this" as opposed to "make sure you do it well". I mention this because A Hard Day has a fake-out/play-out that delighted me, and making sure that people who know movies knew something was coming was a big part of why it worked. Writer/director Kim Seong-hun does a lot of that, setting things up in plain sight but creating delight from how the situations he's created evolve.

Just look at how this begins: Detective Ko Gun-su (Lee Sun-kyun), speeding away from his mother's funeral (much to the disdain of his sister) because his fellow corrupt cops need him to help out with hiding evidence with Internal Affairs on the way. But wouldn't you know it, he hits a man with his car while swerving to avoid a dog. Covering everything up is a real pain, and that's before it turns out that the man he hit was not some anonymous vagrant - and that someone knows he's hiding something.

Kim piles a whole lot on the audience from the word go, but in doing so he allows the rest of the film to switch into problem-solving mode, and for all that Gun-su is a character who is not going to immediately endear himself to the audience for his pure heart and good intentions, there is a real delight in watching him, faced with a high-stakes puzzle, come up with a clever way to use what's available and still sweat because he's pressed for time. The film has a number of scenes like that, and while it doesn't always prefer them to a straight-up fight, turning a fight into a situation where the audience is keeping track of stuff tends to work better than Gun-su just slugging away.

Full review on EFC.

"Fish Out of Water"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 3 August 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, HD)

Someday, someone should curate a post-apocalyptic anthology film where each segment is something like "Fish Out of Water", showing how the same end-of-the-world scenario plays out around the globe, even in such unconventional locations as Northern Canada, where this short has a scarred hunter and ice-fisher (Mira Hall) struggling to make ends meet when the ice is endless and the fish are mutated before finding another survivor (Ella Bertelsen).

It's an impressively atmospheric piece, leaving out all the irrelevant backstory about this world and woman but making the everyday details of it specific and intriguing. Indeed, much of the short's ten minutes seems to be about getting the feel of the place, making the actual horror of the piece quick and, while a bit out of left field, particularly tragic for that. Throw in some nice creature and make-up work, and "Fish Out of Water" becomes quite the impressive and unique story of life after the fall.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 3 August 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

Science fiction films about a man on a quest in a post-collapse wasteland are so far from uncommon that entries in the subgenre need something truly special in order to stand out from a low-budget haze of deserts, abandoned buildings, and pessimistic philosophy. Well, Crumbs comes from Ethiopia, and it's a comedy of sorts. It may not be to everyone's taste, but writer/director Miguel Llansó certainly made something that audience have seen a thousand times into something of which they've seldom seen the like.

According to the "History Written for No-One" at the start, humanity is more or less dying out of its own accord,no longer interested in creating new life as its creations fail. That means hunchbacked scavenger Candy (Daniel Tadesse) has relatively little competition as he picks over the scraps of fallen civilizations. It not just his latest finds that send him on a rater quest, though - the spaceship that has been hovering over the land since the last war has become more active, throwing off magnetic pulses that briefly activate the electricity in the bowling alley and his beloved, Sayat (Selam Tesfaye), call home. He consults with a witch (Shitay Abreha), who tells him to let the train guide him to the city, where he will find Santa Claus (Tsegaye Abegaz).

It is actually stranger than that: As Candy heads toward the city, Sayat finds the alley's ball return turning on and mostly spewing out bowling balls, although the occasional variation is disturbing. A thrift-store owner (Mengistu Berhanu) may lowball scavengers on the pieces of 20th/21st-Century pop culture detritus they find even while spinning tales of how they were valued by the possibly-mythical Molegon Warriors, and it's not hard to see the thrust of that, at least - the effort our civilization has put into promoting its frequently silly and hollow pop culture and exporting it around the world means that it's what will last and be treated as having significance. It gives the film a world where Michael Jordan is still worshiped as an idol and Michael Jackson LPs can be a nest egg despite a lack of context for them, and where the myth of Superman is badly misinterpreted.

Full review on EFC.

La isla mínima (Marshland)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 3 August 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

While, to a certain extent, murder is murder, a story that could be easily set in any era becomes much more fascinating when placed in a specific time, and not just because cell phones, GPS, and security cameras make things "too easy". Marshland, for instance, could easily be done in the present day, but setting it in 1980, a time when Spain was very much in transition, makes it even more thrilling.

The period is most visible in the detectives sent to a small town to investigate a pair of missing sisters - Juan (Javier Gutierrez) has had a long career under the Franco regime, and tends to think in terms of having dictatorially-backed authority; Pedro (Raul Arevalo) is younger and has seen his career stall as a result of writing a liberal-leaning letter to the editor he wrote. It's soon clear that mother Rocio (Nerea Barros) has something to share and father Rodrigo (Antonio de la Torre) has something to hide, but even more importantly, the father of another girl who went missing a year earlier convinces them that this may be the work of a serial killer. They soon have a suspect (Jesus Castro), though forensics seem to imply it wasn't him, and a potential next victim (Ana Tomeno) - but can they uncover the truth while still acting within the law?

That, arguably, is the real story that director & co-writer Alberto Rodriguez is telling, and it's one that never truly gets old: The very nature and importance of police work lends itself to abuse of authority that creates mistrust, and those who would attempt reform and the old guard are never going to see eye to eye. Rodriguez seldom has Juan and Pedro actively opposing each other - indeed, Juan seems to support Pedro in principle even if he tends toward the pragmatic - but there's a tension underneath that he constantly fans, and the difficulty of having police with different values and histories working together is the idea that the film ends on and wants the audience to ponder afterward.

Full review on EFC.

The Invitation

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 3 August 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

That I was asking myself when the stabbing was going to start fairly early on in The Invitation implies bad things, either about my character or the filmmakers' performance in terms of telling a story that, in fact, need not have that sort of violence at all. So which is it? Well, I'm fairly sure that I'm not a terrible person, enough so that I'll at least entertain the idea that this was a sign of building tension.

Tension is certainly understandable; it starts with Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) on the way to a dinner party with a fancy invitation and a reason to be uncomfortable: It's being hosted by Will's alarmingly cheerful ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband David (Michiel Huisman) in the house where Will and Eden lost their son - and Eden had more or less dropped off the radar for the previous two years. Five out of six long-time friends of Will and Eden are already there, as is Sadie (Lindsay Burdge), a houseguest they met while spending time in Mexico. Another acquaintance from that time with "The Invited", Pruitt (John Carroll Lynch), also joins them, and they show an video which throws the already edgy mood even further off.

The reasonably clever thing about the script by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi (against whom director Karyn Kusama apparently holds no feelings from their also writing Aeon Flux) is that it does not, necessarily, need to develop into a thriller. In fact, for the first good chunk of the movie, the drama is all driven by conventional things - Will is still obviously a wreck years after his son's death while Eden's deciding not to bother with negative emotions seems obviously unhealthy (if also practical) and a contrast to how the house seems to be locked down like a fortress, and the tension between Will and David is obvious. Even the obviously heavy foreshadowing of Will having to put down a coyote he hit on the drive up may perhaps only be reflected in that video of an assisted suicide. There's meaty material there, although the sort of movie where people simply confront each other about their past and emotions could probably be done with roughly half as many characters.

Full review on EFC.

Real Oni Gokko (Tag)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 3 August 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Tag is the most recent of three films at the festival by Sion Sono, who is having an absurdly productive year, and there are points where it seems like this frantic pace is overtaking him, like you can't expect him to crank this much out and still expect all of it to have some sort of plot that makes sense. He almost seems to be asking us to just take the often jaw-dropping scenes, accept that the weird ways they're being strung together have some weight, and accept that such an assembly is more entertaining than most movies. If that were the case, he wouldn't be wrong.

After all, he does start the movie with one of the bloodiest school outings ever before immediately slipping into upending everything for main character Mitsuko (Reina Triendl) on a regular basis, right down to her situation and name, swapping in a new actress with each of those major changes. Nothing seems off-limits, and the over-the-top absurdity initially seems to have no pattern other than the complete lack of men on-screen, and just as soon as that seems firmly established, it's time to change things up again. These scenes seem impossible to link up even though Sono has them run right into each other; it's a contradiction that says amazing things about what a filmmaker of Sono's innovation and energy can do.

And yet, even as Sono establishes an even stranger sci-fi premise, things click into place, and what initially seems like a gentle satire about the male gaze snaps into sharper focus. Video games seem to be the biggest target, specifically referenced in the dialog while also building a sort of demure fantasy woman who can kick ass but only with the gamer's guidance. Not that the medium has any sort of monopoly on this, but the last act certainly cries out for breaking out of the control of men and stereotypes, even if Sono's not going to give Mitsuko/Keiko/Izumi any sort of speech about it. The audience is expected to unpack this on its own, and I suspect it may take a few more viewings before I truly manage that.

Which is fine, because Sono has made an immensely entertaining movie that will be a blast to revisit (though comparing it to The Chasing World, he seems to have retained very little beyond the idea of analogs on multiple worlds from the source material). This got the best of festival award, as did Triendl - I do kind of wonder if the judges realized she shared the role with two other actresses - and while I don't necessarily see that right away, I wouldn't be shocked if I could be convinced.

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