Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Fantasia Daily 2015.23 (5 August 2015): A Christmas Horror Story and Escape from Titan

Bonus Day! It's something that's rapidly becoming a Fantasia tradition that few other festivals can match, if only because they take place in regular theaters that probably have other things booked for the days after the festival and can't just bump them. A festival that mostly takes place on a college campus, though? It's not like there's an introductory physics lecture in Hall the next day.

I did kind of screw things up a bit, though - after finishing up my morning work, I put on my lanyard and went down to le Vieux-Porte, where I tend to gravitate when I've got a few hours mid-festival, saw some sights, ate some pulled-turkey poutine from the Dindon, which was pretty good. I tend to keep my lanyard under my shirt when I'm out and about, and sometime during the day, my press badge came right off.

So, I would have to hit up the box office for the second-chance screenings of the two movies playing that day that I hadn't seen, though I'm not going to complain about it - given that I mainly offer bulk (as in, "I will see a whole bunch of movies and do my level best to review all of them, including shorts and weird obscurities that the larger outlets might not see as worth the effort") versus a lot of hits for any one article, I'm actually kind of surprised that I've received a press pass for ten years running as the festival has grown like crazy. My goal is not to jeopardize that by being the least bit ungrateful, and $20 is not much of a price to pay.

(I do regret that it sets my long-term "recursive badge photo" project, where the picture has me holding up the previous badge which hopefully has a picture of me holding up the previous badge and so on, back a year, though. I may ask someone to scan their badge so I can recreate mine before taking my picture for next year.)

My first film of the evening was A Christmas Horror Story, which I had skipped for Gangnam Blues a couple weeks earlier, a defensible decision that felt a lot better once the stuff for the extra day started getting announced. I gather there were more guests that first time, but co-director/editor Brett Sullivan (l) and producer Mark Smith (r) came back up from Toronto to host this screening, and even brought the head of Krampus, which sat by the snack counter before the show. Thanks for making the trip, guys!

I hope the whole crew does a commentary track on the video release, because these guys answered a few questions about how they came up with something like ten potential stories and then narrowed it down to the ones that would work together the best, especially once they got to editing. I'm not sure I've ever seen a multi-director anthology handled this way before - Trick R Treat was one guy - and it really shouldn't have worked.

The improv question was asked about William Shatner as the DJ, and got the now-familiar "guys, we're shooting way too fast to screw around with that" response, with amplification that they basically had Shatner for part one day between other jobs/events in different cities. So, no, it was done pretty much as it was written - although, to be fair, it was written for Shatner.

They also did a poll of how many people saw the surprise at the end coming and when, with one guy saying he knew it from the start. It was funny - it worked just as planned for most of us, but that one guy had them visibly wondering whether they gave too much away.

(Aside: Update your IMDB page, guys; being able to find all the actors' names except the black ones isn't a good look!)

They skipped the short film that played before it at the previous screening, pretty much entirely so that we could get a short Q&A and then run across the street to hopefully purchase tickets to Attack on Titan. I managed it, and even found a decent seat because I was just one guy, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's got some problems, but you just don't see this combination of insane Japanese violence and big-budget special effects that often (although it appears somebody has given Takashi Miike a large budget and great cast to shoot Terra Formars, and as that's one of the most ludicrous and violent manga I've read, I kind of can't wait to see how he one-ups this).

The introduction for the film was in French, and mostly seemed to talk about how director Shinji Higuchi would be co-directing Godzilla's return to Toho/Japan.

So, there's Fantasia finished for another eleven months. Well, sort of - I've got links to four screeners to watch and about 40 reviews on the blog to be filled out for eFilmCritic. It's an exhausting festival, but easily my favorite of its type. I think I saw 90 features and shorts programs this year, which is insane, and had others I regret missing. As I say every year, it's one I urge everyone who can to attend, even if the full three-plus weeks is really only for locals and crazy people like myself.

A Christmas Horror Story

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 5 August 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Planning and constructing A Christmas Horror Story must have been a heck of a thing, because despite the indefinite article in the title, it's actually several stories, each handled by different directors and intercut rather than presented one after another anthology-style. It's begging to wind up a mess, but instead becomes a solidly-entertaining piece of work. Maybe not a holiday classic outside of very specific circles, but great for a break if the barrage of enforced good cheer becomes too much.

Our host for this Christmas Eve is DJ "Dangerous" Dan (William Shatner), pulling a double shift and loading up the egg nog to make the day a little more festive for the town of Bailey Downs, which aside from the werewolf issues it had during the Ginger Snaps films is also facing the one-year anniversary of two students killed in grisly fashion, their murders still unsolved. Molly Simon (Zoe De Grand Maison) thinks combining that with the spooky history of the former convent where it took place would make a great Media Arts project, so she breaks in with her classmates Dylan (Shannon Kook) operating the camera and Ben (Alex Ozerov) recording sound. Dylan's sticky-fingered girlfriend Caprice (Amy Forsyth) got them the keys, but she's off on a surprise family trip with her parents (Jeff Clarke & Michelle Nolden) and little brother Duncan (Percy Hynes-Whyte) to see their wealthy but reclusive great-aunt Etta, who kicks them out after Duncan breaks a porcelain Krampus figurine. Elsewhere in Bailey Downs, the policeman on the scene at last year's murder (Adrian Holmes) is ignoring some "No Trespassing" signs to cut down the perfect Christmas tree when his son runs off for a second and doesn't seem right afterward.

Meanwhile, at the North Pole, one of the elves attacks Santa (George Buza) before hacking his own hand off with a hatchet and dying. Everyone is horrified because elves are almost never violent, and they can't die. But maybe they can become undead.

That last one is a clear outlier, but in a way, it's what makes all the others work. The Bailey Downs-set stories are not necessarily slow burns - the one in the school basement keeps pretty active whereas the car broken down on the way back from Aunt Etta's kind of disappears as it has little to do for a while - but in broad strokes, they're sort of following the same arc, and seeing the same stage of the story repeated in rapid succession would be boring. Any time that threatens to happen, though, they cut to the North Pole or the radio station, where the absurd elf-slaying action or the DJ seeming a bit more off as the liquor in his nog varies the atmosphere a bit.

Full review on EFC.

Shingeki no kyojin: Attack on Titan (Attack on Titan)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 5 August 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival: Action!, DCP)

At some point during the conception of Attack on Titan as a manga, I feel like creator Hajime Isayama must have been playing blockbuster bingo: It is, effectively, a young-adult adventure set in a dystopian future with steampunk technology where the heroes fight kaiju zombies. Massively popular in Japan and around the world, it's been given a multi-part live-action adaptation, and while fans of the source material may quibble about what's been changed or streamlined, they'll have to admit that it's a pretty amazing spectacle, and I wouldn't be surprised if this first film has new fans waiting impatiently for the conclusion.

As the film starts, it's been over a hundred years since the titans - naked, sexless humanoids with a craving for human flesh up to a hundred meters tall - appeared and attacked, causing the survivors to retreat to a city behind three massive, concentric walls. Young people like Eren (Haruma Miura) who are generations removed from seeing a titan - they may not exist! - crave to explore the outside world, though his friends Armin (Kanata Hongo) and Mikasa (Kiko Mizuhara) worry about him. That's before a titan larger than any recorded breaks a hole in the wall, and only a few residents of the outer farming district are able to retreat to the next ring. Two years later, the city is on the brink of starvation, and Eren and Armin are part of a unit on a dangerous mission - enter the overrun outer ring, capture the last known explosives and use them to seal the hole in the wall. Director-General Kubal (Jun Kunimura) is leading overseeing the mission himself, and legendary titan-killer Shikishima (Hiroki Hasegawa) will be joining up with them. But when do these missions ever go as planned?

For something based upon a large work and broken into multiple parts for theatrical release, this first episode is surprisingly short, a mere 90 minutes including credits and the preview for Attack on Titan: End of the World; if the second (due in Japan mid-September) winds up being a similar length, one would almost think that releasing it that was rather than as a single epic-length picture were an entirely commercial decision. Truth be told, this first part could use some extra length to let the audience get to know the other members of the Scout division and maybe explore the world they're in a little; there seems to be some Hunger Games-esque hierarchy between the various rings that the film doesn't have much chance to explore. There's admittedly not much room for that in the middle of an urgent extinction-level-threat situation, but the film does wind up feeling like it's rushing from one battle to the next rather than building up to them at times.

Full review on EFC.

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