Monday, July 18, 2016

Fantasia 2016.03 (16 July 2016): Parasyte: Part 1, Outer Limits of Animation, Terra Formars, The Master Cleanse, and Bed of the Dead

Fun day Saturday, though the type that causes delays in postings because there's a lot playing the next day as well and because I saw a lot of shorts, which kind of need to be written up pretty quick.

So let's start with that:



Sorry about that; the weird angle just wouldn't give me a good view where the lighting didn't wash out everything. It was kind of an unusual "Outer Limits of Animation" show, though, in that there usually seem to be a fair number of local people just out of college (or maybe still there) filling the roster out and showing up on stage. I wonder if more of those were folded into the local part of the festival ("Fantastique Week-end") than before.

Anyway, that guy on the left is Diego Maclean, talking about how working with composer Luigi Allemano really helped shape his animated short. Sorry about the #HorriblePhotography.

Normally, Saturday would probably be a five-movie day, but this spanned two across the street and while they might have lined up later (or earlier), I was down for both Parasyte and the big Takashi Miike presentation:





You kind of know that Takashi Miike would be a guy who wears sunglasses indoors, right?

He made the usual jokes about getting lifetime achievement awards when he figures he's still got a lot of "lifetime" in him, saying he hopes to come back for Fantasia #40 for his second. It is a little surprising to see that, for a guy who has made about a hundred movies, he's really not that old (born in 1960), and is still pumping out two per year. One of the main things he talks about is not really seeing genre as a director, which I think can be a double-edged sword: He makes exciting movies that often go into unexpected places because he's not especially hung up on classification, but given that I love some genres for what they are specifically (science fiction, especially), I do worry about them getting a bit flattened.

Also: Someone told him that there are no cockroaches in Montreal, so maybe the effect of Terra Formars would be lessoned. Is that true? I had never heard it before!

Yesterday's plan (because I'm a slave to a format): Parasyte Part 2, The Bacchus Lady, Bad Cat, In the Valley of Violence, and As the Gods Will.

Kiseijuu (Parasyte: Part 1)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2016 in the SGWU Alumni Aditorium (Fantasia 2016, DCP)

When I was mentioning Parasyte to a friend as something I was kind of considering skipping because these multi-part manga adaptations that are Japan's biggest blockbusters these days can eat a big chunk of the schedule. He quickly piped up that the manga was one of his favorites, so I penciled it in, not needing that hard a sale where "teenager whose right hand is a shapeshifting monster seeks to combat the monsters who control whole people" is concerned. That it's kind of a blast isn't necessarily surprising; that it's an impressive enough combination of teen angst, man-eating monsters, and cartoon slapstick to recommend it to those not necessarily enamored of that combination (depending on how good Part 2 turns out) kind of is.

The parasites don't know what they are as they hatch in the bay and come ashore in Tokyo; they're just following instincts to enter human bodies through the ear canal and, having consumed the brain and bonded with the body, feed, mainly on human beings. Shinichia Izumi (Shota Sometani) is relatively fortunate to be sleeping with earbuds in; but he can't do much aside improvise a tourniquet when the thing burrows into his hand. Soon that hand is stretching, acting on its own, manifesting eyes and a mouth, and calling itself "Migi". The fiercely pragmatic Migi (voice of Sadao Abe) isn't going to risk any harm coming to the bloodstream that brings it nutrients, but hiding it from his mother (Kimiko Yo) and lifelong friend Satomi Murano (Ai Hashimoto) is awkward, and that's before Migi starts detecting others like him, including the school's new chemistry teacher Ryoko Tamiya (Eri Fukatsu). Seeing everything as an experiment, she introduces Shinichi/Migi to two others in her network, "student" Hideo Shimada (Masahiro Higashide) and a cop who would rather Shinichi not no the name of the life he's taken over, going by "Mr. A" (Mansaku Ikeuchi) - the latter of which decides to treat Shinichi as a threat. And then--

Well, there's a lot of "and then". Though the original Parasyte was described to me as a relatively short manga, running eight volumes and not heading off on tangents like other popular Japanese comics, you can still see the serial structure in the movie, with what would have been big cliffhangers having to be resolved almost immediately and new characters and situations introduced throughout. It gives the movie an unusual ebb and flow not unlike binge-watching a TV series without episode breaks, so after about 80 minutes I found myself wondering if this was the big movie-ending cliffhanger. Screenwriter Ryota Kosawa does do a fair job of compacting it, with the only real issue being that certain things that were supposedly going on already are kind of casually introduced when the plot needs them.

Full review on EFC.

"Accidents, Bluders, and Calamities"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2016 in the J.A. de Sève Theatre (Fantasia 2016: Outer Limits of Animation, video)

The first short in the festival's annual "Au-delà de l'animation" presentation was, as we were told at the top, both a good bookend and the start of a number of themes that would carry through the block. Pop it out, though, and it's still a lot of fun, even if it does make one feel just a bit awful for laughing.

It's presented as a cautionary storybook read by a possum to his two kids, presented to us as live action with 26 CGI animals who all meet a tragic fate at the hand of the most dangerous thing in the world: Human beings. The mayhem is creative and kind of horrible, even if it does eventually lean heavily on insects enough that, by the end of the alphabet, the viewer isn't feeling too bad. Director James Cunningham does something kind of neat in that he often seems to be just shooting everyday scenes and adding the beasties in, which makes the ones where the action is a bit more elaborate even funnier because we're not really expecting the animals that have been more or less beneath human notice to have an effect on the action.

There's also some nice voice acting; Phillip Greeves has a soothing, pleasant voice that puts the audience in mind of a bedtime story despite the mayhem, while what I presume are the director's children (Drew & Eleanor Cunningham) occasionally interrupt, reminding us that, yeah, kids can enjoy nasty stuff even while still being sweet themselves. It's a bunch of funny juxtapositions, realized fairly well.

"Way of Giants"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2016 in the J.A. de Sève Theatre (Fantasia 2016: Outer Limits of Animation, video)

A big part of the credits for this short involve thanks to those who crowdfunded the musical score, and it's a good thing to point out; there's a handmade wooden flute at the center of the story, and it makes a beautiful soundtrack as crucial to the final work as the striking imagery. It feels complete, even if the silent storytelling can sometimes have the audience working a bit to tell what's going on as well as what it means to the characters.

Still, it does work when all is said and done. While it's initially a little confusing that the grandfather of a little girl who runs into the forest during her tribe's lumber harvest shares a lot of characteristics with a giant forest spirit, it also helps tie her learning about death and renewal, and how taking from the natural world can be a violent act and thus should be done with respect.

"Junction"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2016 in the J.A. de Sève Theatre (Fantasia 2016: Outer Limits of Animation, video)

A bright, candy-colored fantasy that plied audience members with temporary tattoos before the start of the block, "Junction" has writer/director Nathan Jurevicius adapting his own storybook about a family of face-changers who, by inserting a token into a slot in a mountain, see their visage changed into something else every year.

"Junction" is unapologetic digital animation, reveling in its objects' unnatural smoothness and lack of weight, often defying gravity or making something too flimsy to exist in the real world, and all the better for it; it comes across as a world of pure imagination, bolstered by sweet, enthusiastic narration. There's new imagination in every frame and a cute moment after the credits. What I particularly love is how Jurevicius plays with the human tendency to see faces in everything, making a circle of it as not only do these face-changers get heads that are shaped into other things that suggest faces, but there are plenty of faces to be found in the background. It's something we do, and it slides the idea that these illusions influence us in een while telling a fun story where those faces are very real.

"Le Bruit de Gris"

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2016 in the J.A. de Sève Theatre (Fantasia 2016: Outer Limits of Animation, video)

Guys, it's a new "A Town Called Panic" short! Celebrate!

Those who are familiar with this stop-motion series likely don't need much more introduction than that; this one may be even more anarchic than usual, though, as Horse, Indian, Cowboy, and their friends go crazy creating in a plain gray lobby, only to be thwarted by a neighbor who likes things quiet and boring. They write, draw, and play music without much care - always a fun contrast to the painstaking work that goes into making it.

It's packed full of fun, and I'm now reminded that it's quite likely my nieces need to be introduced to these guys, because they're a chaotic delight.

"Journal Animé"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2016 in the J.A. de Sève Theatre (Fantasia 2016: Outer Limits of Animation, video)

More delightful chaos from France as the doodles filmmaker Donato Sansone does on top of the photos in his daily newspaper at the café take on a life of their own, giving a satirical edge to the stories within (most from late 2013) and generating general madness. It's a nifty format, and probably technically trickier than it looks giving the turning pages that aren't quite flat on the table.

I suspect that some of the gags are going to be lost on me because we only seem to hear news from France when it's a horrible tragedy, but there's something universal about taking the piss out of the official-seeming photographs that often define the news, and the quick jokes piled one on top of another, whether topical or just absurd cartooning, keep the laughs coming.

"Clouds"

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2016 in the J.A. de Sève Theatre (Fantasia 2016: Outer Limits of Animation, video)

There's an early image in Diego Maclean's "Clouds" that strikes me, in which the village's priests wear headgear that looks like fountain pens at first sight, both because it looks kind of strange and because it hints at the themes in a couple of larger ways: We see shapes that aren't necessarily there, and those elders are writing their own rules as a means of control.

They're approaching an old man whose job is to look at the clouds and draw what he sees, which will guide the sacrificial ritual performed later. It's uncomfortable as soon as the audience realizes what's going on, more so as the characters do, and Maclean subtly reinforces that what he sees is influenced in large part by what's on his mind, whether it be an obvious shape, how he's interacting with others, or his own crumbling faith.

It's quiet but pointed, and Maclean's simple linework sketches the characters quickly while making the fluffy, borderless clouds in the sky something else entirely. There's a little bit of a hiccup in the climax, but overall it's quite a beautiful little work.

"Stems"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2016 in the J.A. de Sève Theatre (Fantasia 2016: Outer Limits of Animation, video)

It's hard to believe that "Stems" is just two minutes long; writer/director Ainslie Henderson seems to look at materials for that long while talking about how he likes to make his stop-motion puppets out of found objects that had a life before he got to them, before he starts actually making them and having them come to brief life as he talks about how there's an innate sadness in stop-motion because the characters are so ephemeral.

That's fitting, though. As the film shows, these things stop living when he stops moving them bit by bit, but they create something that stakes out a place in a viewer's mind.

"Dernière Porte au Sud" ("Last Door South")

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2016 in the J.A. de Sève Theatre (Fantasia 2016: Outer Limits of Animation, video)

The conception of "The World" is one of the most immediately striking things in a short where the narrator describing it is a little boy with a second head, "Toto". It's a collection of rooms connected by corridors connected by staircases, and he's yet to explore to the end of it, though he tries, despite his similarly two-headed mother's misgivings. It's an eerie, black-and-white world where people have multiple heads, but we know right off that this boy isn't seeing the whole story.

There's tragedy to "Last Door South", born of exceptionally good intentions that never take into account that curiosity will quickly outstrip the limits necessary for a deception to take, although writer/director Sacha Frenier does a fine job of building that up, using the stop-motion animation to craft characters and situations that tell us we don't know some of the rules of how this story's world works while making sure that all the character work is crystal clear.

"Un Plan d'Enfer"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2016 in the J.A. de Sève Theatre (Fantasia 2016: Outer Limits of Animation, video)

Huh, I didn't realize that this film was from the guys that did A Cat in Paris. It, too, involves cats, following two criminals with a master plan to use catnip to lure all the cats in the neighborhood to follow them, where they will distract the guard dog allowing them to steal a fortune in gold easily.

Naturally, you don't need to speak French to see that things aren't going to go according to plan (which is good, because it ran without subtitles), but even with relatively simple art, the characters are expressive and the slapstick very funny. Filmmakers Alain Gagnol & Jean-Loup Felicioli stage a goofy robbery that moves quick and gets good laughs.

"The Loneliest Stoplight"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2016 in the J.A. de Sève Theatre (Fantasia 2016: Outer Limits of Animation, video)

This one isn't quite as good as I remembered it being when I saw it as part of the Oscar shorts package last year. It felt a little more like Bill Plympton the second time around, knowing it was his, and is still quite charming.

Maybe this sort of sentimentality isn't quite in his wheelhouse, but there are worse things to get good at if he wants to make more with this tone.

"The Animal Book"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2016 in the J.A. de Sève Theatre (Fantasia 2016: Outer Limits of Animation, video)

Initially seeming like a too-close bookend with the first in the program ("Accidents, Bluders, and Calamities") in how it bizarrely features a lot of animal death, it quickly takes a different tone, as the bloody slapstick walks a fine line between absurd and horrifying, especially since the situation causing it (a driver falling asleep at the wheel) is dangerous in its own right. Directors Cho Hyun-a and Kim Su-jeong have a simple cartooning style that also has a bit of fussiness to it offsetting the cute rounded shapes.

The final pullback is very clever, though, as Cho & Kim show that the imaginative parts were, in fact, imaginary, although representing something very real (and almost adding a bit of horror to the whole set-up as an aside). It does momentarily make for a bit of an odd situation in that it's practically screaming that it is a metaphor, but there's not much denying that it works.

Terra Formars

* * (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2016 in the SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Fantasia 2016, DCP)

As much as I've been enjoying the Terra Formars manga, I readily admit that a great part of its appeal is its utter ridiculousness and over-the-top action, which is crazy enough that recent volumes have had a hard time balancing the big action with a plot, as right now the story actually has enough going on that seeing it stretch out over multiple volumes because there's so much fighting can be really frustrating. Maybe, I thought, a movie might streamline that a bit, but as much as I love Takashi Miike, he's not exactly the guy who is going to get a conventional narrative out of a sprawling manga.

He tries, though; he and screenwriter Kazuki Nakashima mainly adapt the first, most accessible volume, which is pretty much a tale of survival as opposed to one with a lot of international intrigue, and it lets him play the movie a fairly straight horror movie at times, aside from the criminals and outcasts being on a terraformed Mars and fighting giant intelligent cockroaches with bug powers of their own to call upon. It's gross and messy, but kind of enjoyably weird. For better or worse, it often feels like the sort of thing that the Sushi Typhoon guys (Noboru Iguchi, Yoshihiro Nishimura, et al) would have made if they got their hands on some real money - unrepentant in its pulpiness but kind of sloppy as well.

Part of it, I think, is that Terra Formars isn't really built around characters; it's built around fights, with a new insect form (later volumes get into other animals as well) introduced for each fight and, once we've seen it, really not needed later, so you might as well off that guy and put the focus on someone new. It gives a movie plenty of eye-popping moments, but not a lot of cohesion, and even big dumb action movies about fighting humanoid cockroaches on Mars need some of that.

The Master Cleanse

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2016 in the SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Fantasia 2016, DCP)

Bobby Miller has a pretty nifty idea here, and I suspect my biggest issues with it are along the lines of "I might have done that differently" rather than actually finding fault with what he did. Maybe that means the metaphor is working and I've just got some stuff to work on.

It is a movie, after all, about a group of people who go to a retreat to cleanse and find that what they've purged has become something living. The characters come to love the beasties, but it was expelled for a reason, so... It's one of those ideas where, yeah, you can absolutely see what's going on and how it all reflects our own inner turmoil, but when the characters are played so naturally and other bits of the plot are turning on in-universe technicalities, it's tough to overcome the desire to treat these as real things rather than metaphorical ones.

Still, that Johny Galecki and Anna Friel are so believable and easy to connect with as two individuals doing the cleanse for different reasons is not exactly a bad thing. The kind-of-nebbishy-guy/sexy-but-hurting-girl combination is a bit overused for the wrong reasons (wish fulfillment by filmmakers much closer to the first than the second), but I like the vibe they give off, with Friel's Maggie knowing that guys like Galecki's Paul often punch above their weight and really just not looking for that sort of connection at this time and place. They come together very naturally, and getting them working together like this excuses a few other issues.

"Roadside Assistance"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2016 in the J.A. de Sève Theatre (Fantasia 2016, digital)

It's the old, old story - man picks up incredibly attractive hitchhiker (Kelsey Deanne), there's implications and innuendo, and then it turns violent, and by now the idea that the lady could be the dangerous one isn't even necessarily flipping the script.

It works out pretty well in this case, though - writer/director Bears Fonté gives the pair fun dialogue that has them recognizing something is up, and the revelations are just the right blend of expected and twisted. Plus, Kelsey Deanne is pretty great as the hitchhiker - she gives the character this great combination of knowing she's going to provoke a reaction with how she looks and sarcastically not putting up with it going too far. She's dangerous, and sexual, but the doesn't make the two intrinsically linked.

Bed of the Dead

N/A (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2016 in the J.A. de Sève Theatre (Fantasia 2016, DCP)

Ah, nuts - just couldn't make it through this one without a ton of five-minute micro-naps, although I don't think I was keeping anyone out of the sold-out show. The big problem is that the parts I saw were pretty good, and I really can't fit the other screening in.

It's a goofy high-concept (a bed made from a cursed tree that has found its way into a hotel of sorts) stretched out to a kind of ridiculous extent, but there's always a feeling of genuine tension and terror to it, which is not usually the case with something this weird.

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