Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Fantasia 2016.04 (17 July 2016): Parasyte: Part 2, The Bacchus Lady, Bad Cat, In a Valley of Violence, and As the Gods Will

Another busy weekend day, although a little more compact than Saturday.

First guest of the night was Will Blank, who made a pretty good short film in "Limbo", although playing before a feature means he basically just got up to say hi and that he's excited to have his movie playing Fantasia; the short-film guy doesn't exactly come out after In a Valley of Violence to answer questions about how he got Sam Elliott to do a voice for a dying dog in your tiny picture or what made him decide to adapt a comic instead of doing an original script. I'm kind of curious on how that works unless he knows Marian Churchland personally. I can't figure short films make a whole lot of cash, so they can't be paying her much, although anything she gets for what was probably an eight-page story in an anthology is probably found money.

Takashi Miike at Fantasia 2016

Hey, it's Takashi Miike again, this time with As the Gods Will. In a lot of ways, the Q&A was kind of a repeat of the one from the night before, as the folks who didn't get tickets to the big awards presentation came to this movie and asked certain questions about genre or whether he'd be interested in doing a film in Hollywood, especially given how specifically Japanese a lot of the iconography in his films are. He said that if he did, it would probably be like the Masters of Horror episode he did, mostly shot in Japan with his usual Japanese crews rather than coming to Los Angeles (or wherever it winds up shooting) and dealing with all the overhead associated with that.

He also mentioned that his next project was going to be a TV movie for three-to-eight-year-old girls, so it probably wouldn't play Fantasia, to which programmer Nicolas Archambault basically said "we'll see about that". This means that it's very possible that, within the next couple of years, I will quite possibly be giving one of my nieces a Miike DVD for her birthday, and I would like to apologize to my brothers/sisters-in-law in advance.

Kiseiju Kanketsu Hen (Parasyte: Part 2)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2016 in the SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Fantasia 2016, DCP)

A mere six months passed between the releases of Parasyte parts 1 & 2 in Japan, and it feels like that's the case within the films as well - something has changed, taking a turn for the darker, and is easy to feel that it isn't for the best. It's natural for this to happen, of course; opening acts are for discovery and finales are for not just using those discoveries but whittling them down. It can make something that originally thrilled with its invention and make for a bit of a drag, although the filmmakers do at least make an exciting chase out of it.

Though the man-eating parasites introduced in the first are merely the subject of urban legends as far as the general public is concerned, the police are taking them seriously, and their newest weapon is Uragami (Hirofumi Arai), a serial killer with an uncanny ability to recognize those whose heads are not human anymore. He doesn't quite know what to make of Shinichi Izumi (Shota Sometani), a teenager who had his hand rather than his head replaced, and who is doing all he can to eliminate all the parasites he can find. Because they can detect each other, including "Migi" (voice of Sadao Abe), parasite leader Ryoko Tamiya (Eri Fukatsu) is using a human journalist (Nao Omori) to keep tabs on Shinichi and Migi. Tokyo mayor Takeshi Hirokawa (Kazuki Kitamura), who leads a City Hall full of parasites, has decided they're better off getting rid of Shinichi, and Mr. Goto (Tadanobu Asano) is more than happy to take on the job; every fiber of his being says to devour them all.

One of the odd things about these movies, noticeable in the first but more pronounced in the second, is how Shinichi is actually much less central to the larger story than one might expect, although there's something eminently reasonable about it. Sure, he's unique in this world, but be honest - is an infestation of murderous shapeshifters with a taste for human flash really going to be thwarted on the larger scale by a kid on his own looking for revenge on the creatures that killed his mother and classmates? No, the are probably going to be trained professionals who know how to think tactically and have the arms to match. It's odd to watch the big story shift away from Shinichi, although in some ways it's stranger to see him brought back to center stage toward the end.

Full review on EFC.

Jug-yeo-ju-neun Yeo-ja (The Bacchus Lady)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2016 in the J.A. de Sève Cinema (Fantasia 2016, DCP)

There's a moment toward the start of The Bacchus Lady where writer/director E J-Yong goes just a bit overboard in making the intentions behind making the movie clear as a character who also makes films spells out how, while South Korea is one of the world's most productive economies, it has one of the worst rates of the elderly living in poverty among developed nations. So, get ready; this is not going to be cheerful story even if it is one heck of a heartfelt one.

How bad is it? Well, Youn So-young (Yoon Yeo-jeong) is going down to the park to turn tricks every afternoon in her mid-sixties, although she'll have to reduce the services offered thanks to the gonorrhea one of her elderly clients saddled her with. While at the clinic getting it diagnosed, she witnesses a panicking Filipino woman stab her doctor and yell at her son Min-ho (Choi Hyun-jun) to run. A kid who can't speak Korean or English is not the sort of extra burden So-yeong needs, but she takes him in anyway, although she'll often ask her neighbors to watch him while she works. Soon, she meets old acquaintance Yong-su (Jeon Moo-song), and his news about many of their contemporaries is not good.

The title of the film refers to how selling a "Bacchus drink" (a local brand) is code for solicitation, and the prostitution angle has been played up some in the descriptions, and it is certainly jarring to not just see someone the age of the ironically named So-young in the world's oldest profession, but relatively casual about it, standing in a line-up of other grannies, seeming more annoyed than frightened in the clinic, calmly telling a john what to do when the police conduct a periodic sweep of the hotel that rents by the hour. At times, the casual way E J-Yong establishes So-young's world gives it the feel of something marginalized but viable, akin to her neighbors (her landlady Tina is trans, another neighbor is disabled, and immigrants abound), and that's likely very deliberate: E is giving the audience a taste of how these people are outsiders but aren't exactly harmful or dangerous.

Full review on EFC.

Kötü Kedi Serafettin (Bad Cat)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2016 in the J.A. de Sève Cinema (Fantasia 2016: Axis, DCP)

It's not like people ask me if I've seen "the Turkish Star Wars" on a regular basis, but I suspect I get it more than most and saying "no" by itself just leads to people trying to sell me on a movie with "being terrible" as one of its selling points. Now, at least, I've got a good redirection - I may not have seen that, but I've seen the Turkish Garfield, and this one at least manages to be kind of funny in its violent, vulgar insanity.

Serafettin (voice of Ugur Yücel) - "Shero" for short - is a big orange cat, but instead of being a lazy curmudgeon, he's more of a thug, stealing liquor, hanging out with vermin, and otherwise making life miserable for his nominal owner "Tank" Tonguç (voice of Ahmet Mümtaz Taylan). Today, he's looking to hit that sexy new Siamese that his buddy has spotted, but let's put that aside for a second, as orphaned kitten Tacettin/"Taco" has shown up claiming to be his son - not that he cares; only human dads care about their litters. Still, Taco is crimping his style with classy white Angora Misscat (voice of Demet Evgar), although that might not be quite so bad as that Siamese's owner coming back as a zombie hell-bent on getting revenge on Shero (I told you that didn't turn out well).

Although I've known many a sweet cat in my time, even the most die-hard cat lover will admit that some of them can be real jerks, and Bülent Üstün's "Kötü Kedi Serafettin" appear to take that as a starting point, with Shero a grouchy, selfish monster who smacks his friends around, probably has many more bastards than Taco, and has a number of other unsavory habits, and a lot of the people and animals around him aren't much nicer. It's the sort of unpleasantness that would probably feel like a little too much even with the movie a mere eighty minutes long, so Üstün and co-writer Levent Kazak do a few things to ameliorate it, making sure to bounce Shero from one situation to another, having his heart not be very big but probably not totally nonexistent, and, when all else fails, giving him a thoroughly unhinged adversary. It keeps the comedy black but not quite to the point where the audience is supposed to pump its fist at Shero being nothing but mean.

Full review on EFC.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2016 in the SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Fantasia 2016, digital)

Like a lot of things, "Limbo" becomes roughly twice as good when Sam Elliott's voice is added. It's not a bad short before that, with a couple funny moments and some enjoyably odd bits, although it's got a sort of whiff of self-pity as we see a man (Raúl Castillo) have a funny but petulant reaction to an unwanted text on his cell phone and then just seemingly walk into the desert for no reason, the implication being that whatever is going on with the wife/girlfriend we see in flashbacks (Anahi Bustillos) is just too awful to bear until he finds the dying dog and is granted a wish for showing a little kindness in its last moments. It's just the sort of thing that is supposed to evoke a young person feeling like the world is going to end because of a setback but, in an attempt to be universal, winds up not being specific enough to get hold of.

Once the dog talks with that great voice, filmmaker Will Blank seems to get to what he wants, cutting between the desert and all of the places where this guy figures a single wish could send things in a different direction. The music speeds up, we get glimpses of things that have been hidden, and, yeah, Elliott's voice add this mournful quality to counter the idea that you can fix everything for free. It's a pretty great cheat code to have at your disposal, really.

In a Valley of Violence

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2016 in the SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Fantasia 2016, DCP)

At some point in Ti West's new film, I wondered if this was an early sign that Ethan Hawke was going to follow the Kevin Costner aging curve, getting lean and squinty and without time for young people's foolishness even if he doesn't exactly look old. That may yet happen, but for the time being, Hawke doesn't really seem like he should be playing the parts that Costner and Clint Eastwood aged into yet, and that's part of what makes In a Valley of Violence kind of an off-kilter kick rather than another dreary, too-somber take on the western.

He plays Paul, who describes himself as a killer but not a thief but recognizes that this doesn't really represent any sort of moral high ground, and is headed to Mexico with his dog Abby. He'd like to avoid other people if he could, but he needs some water and supplies, with tapped-out mining town Denton the best place for it. Once he gets there, the usual things happen - hothead Gilly (James Ransone) picks a fight; Mary Anne (Taissa Farmiga), the sweet girl behind the desk at the hotel, takes a shine to him and Abby - and it naturally leads to the Marshal Martin (John Travolta) suggesting Paul leave town. He does, continues to Mexico, and the movie ends, an enjoyable fifteen minutes long.

At least, that's what would happen if characters in westerns knew when to let things lie, which is not the case here. No, things go pretty much as expected, and to a certain extent, people can see it coming: John Travolta's marshal is described as the sort of corrupt tyrant that often has that job in these movies, but he's smart enough to know where this sort of thing goes and try to put a stop to it. It's initially not quite enough to feel like a parody or a deconstruction, but this sort of sensible behavior at the start gives West openings that he can use to poke at westerns, movies, and genre fiction in general. West loves this stuff and really isn't interested in taking it apart and putting it back together, but if he can have a laugh at characters having derogatory nicknames or how dramatic moments interrupt the action, or maybe just remind the viewers that age differences in prior centuries would make most of them uncomfortable, he will, just so long as he's pushing these things aside and not saying they make things ridiculous. It's the best kind of winking at the audience because it's made up of reactions that make sense even without a fourth wall to break.

Full review on EFC.

Kamisama no iu tôri (As the Gods Will)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2016 in the SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Fantasia 2016, DCP)

There's honesty in the title of As the Gods Will, although sheer caprice is not necessarily the best way to build a movie. Having Takashi Miike at the helm with a bit of a CGI budget doesn't hurt - if nothing else, it will boost the "well, never seen that in a movie before" count - but after a while you'd really better enjoy absurd and arbitrary murder rooms for their own sake, because the movie doesn't have a whole lot else.

We're thrown into the first right away, a lethal game of "red light/green light" controlled by a living daruma dolll at the front of a high school classroom, with friends Takahata (Sota Fukushi) and Sakate (Shota Sometani) apparently the most level-headed and therefore least likely to be exploded by the doll's death beams. That bloodbath leads to another, as the survivors of the other homerooms - including school bully Takeru Amaya (Ryunosuke Kamiki) and Takahata's longtime crush Ichika Akimoto (Hirona Yamazaki) - are thrown together with folks from other schools, such as former classmate Shoko Takase (Mio Yuki) in a sort of lethal tournament run by giant cubes floating over almost every city on the planet.

Say what you want about the lack of any sort of thematic coherence to this movie - and, trust me, I will a couple paragraphs from now - but there's little denying that at least the first two legs of it are a demented sort of work of art. To a certain extent, killing a bunch of teenagers is not necessarily an audacious move in Japanese cinema these days (or at least, not the sort of movies that Miike makes or which make it to North American genre festivals), but Miike plays it as physical comedy with precisely honed timing while also rapidly shifting gears into a tense action sequence or a look of horror as the camera pans over a ton of headless bodies and marbles, and on top of that, he's also flashing back to the kids arriving at school to fill in their characterization a bit. The giant "beckoning cat" sequence that follows it is similarly brilliant, pushing the absurdity even further while showing that just because an action bit is ridiculous does not mean it can't be well-staged. As much as Miike will often be praised for the outrageous, over-the-top content of his movies or how he can actually stage one heck of an action scene, it's somewhat rare to note both of these skill sets in play at once, feeding each other.

Full review on EFC.

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