Saturday, July 30, 2016

Fantasia 2016.08 (21 July 2016): Aloys, Kaiju Mono, and She's Allergic to Cats

Sometimes, you know just from looking at the schedule that you're making a bad decision, but you figure, hey, do I want to see a likely-good movie that seems like a bit of a downer or the fun movie with a crowd that's into it? That's the logic that had me choosing Kaijyu Mono over Fourth Place, and, no, it wasn't really satisfying. I probably would have also chosen Train to Busan over She's Allergic to Cats if the former was only playing once, since some of the praise I was hearing is the kind that film the first couple times.

Best picture I could get of Cats director Michael Reich, who is, in fact, just this animated on stage. It's the kind of Q&A that convinces you that the guy is just as out-there as his film because he almost seems to jump each time he's got to say something, whether it be answering a question or describing what he's done and how he hopes we'll react.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2016 in the J.A. de Seve Theatre (Fantasia 2016: Camera Lucida, DCP)

Filmmaker Tobias Nölle initially entices viewers with a version of Aloys that is not quite so internal, with a mystery to sole and perhaps an unnerving way of things playing out, before settling into something that better matches its withdrawn title character, and it's the mark of how well he handles the film that this never feels like a bait-and-switch; it smoothly moves into more reflective territory while still being more interesting to watch than just a man lost in self-contemplation.

Not that Aloys Adorn (Georg Friedrich) really spends much time considering his feelings or place in the world. A private investigator by trade, he works to be hidden as he follows cheating husbands, although he'll often put something small in his pocket and shoot video of what he sees unrelated to any case - the daughter of a neighbor (Yufei Li) claims he got his cat this way. He ignores her and most everyone else, from Julie (Agnes Lampkin), the old classmate at the funeral home where his father will be cremated, to his next-door neighbor Vera (Tilde von Overbeck). One day, he falls asleep on the bus and awakens in the garage, his camera and several tapes stolen. When the thief calls, she says that he is now the one being watched and they're going to try "phone-walking", an unusual therapeutic technique involving guided visualization. Oh, and that his cat is dying and needs magnesium supplements.

Aloys could probably use some help, there's little doubt about that. What makes him an unusual case is that he doesn't seem to be introverted so much as absent, with no sense of self at all. He seems to eat nothing but plain white rice and his home and office, to the extent that they betray any sense of individual personality at all, would seem to reflect that of his late father Harald; the decor and equipment seems about a generation out of date (at least). It may just be a quirk of the subtitles, but Aloys never refers to himself in the first-person singular, always saying "we". He's been an extension of his father/employer all of his life, it seems, and in some ways it's like he's trying to create an independent self by stealing little tokens or moments, even if he does initially resist the voice's attempts to mold him, at least until he knows who he is dealing with.

Full review on EFC.

Daikaiju Mono (Kaijyu Mono)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2016 in the J.A. de Seve Theatre (Fantasia 2016, DCP)

There are a lot of things that are fun to mash up for a couple of minutes or a still image but whose appeal starts to flag as the joke plays out and the folks who like one thing have their fill of the other over the length of even a short feature. On the other hand, I'm guessing that there's a big overlap between the admirer sides of giant monster movies and professional wrestling, enough that there's more of an audience for something like Daikaiju Mono than might first appear. Those folks will have a fair amount of fun with this one, while the rest will most likely nod and say that looks about like what they expected.

As is de riguer when giant monsters are about to appear, Japan is besieged by calamitous weather and seismic activity, on top of plants that haven't been seen for millions of years reappearing. Disgraced Doctor Totaro Saigo (Ryu Manatsu), his daughter Miwa (Miki Kawanishi), and their research assistant Hideo Nitto (Syuusuke Saito) were on the right track but lost funding for their experiments, at least until the monster "Mono" starts tunneling from Monster Pass to Tokyo. Then, they have the chance to put "SETUP X" into action, injecting Nitto with a formula that scales him up to full kaiju size to fight Mono - and makes him more muscular and sexy, much to Miwa's delight! But don't worry, moviegoers - he's also perfected a fabric that allows Nitto's underpants to grow with him.

Director Minoru Kawasaki is an old hand at this sort of thing, even considering that having people dress up in goofy costumes and grapple is kind of a specialized line (he is, after all, perhaps best known for a movie by the name of "Calamari Wrestler"). More generally, he's built a career on skewed but fond takes on the pop culture of his youth, and here he takes giant monsters, pro wrestling, and sentai superhero adventures and sews them together in pretty much the exact way one would expect, but the shared DNA makes it work pretty smoothly, without distracting gear-shifts. He's canny enough to know when to go with decent effects and when cheap is funny, because while there's a giggle or two to be had from pulling out the obvious toy tanks from Mothra for a quick scene or two, Mono looking bad would get old fast.

Full review on EFC.

"Fuck Buddies" (2016)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2016 in the J.A. de Seve Theatre (Fantasia 2016, digital)

This particular short by the name of "Fuck Buddies" (there are a lot of them, and a lot of other movies that had the name at one point but changed it because there are a lot of festivals that will happily play something that uses the term constantly but won't print it in their program) has moments when it feels like a real shotgun approach to short filmmaking, as writer/director Nate Wilson takes a simple premise - two roommates/best friends (Sharon Belle & Alexander Plouffe) find that a lot of seemingly innocuous things are triggering the urge to hook up, and as the reason makes itself known, Joseph finds himself growing more attached than Ellie.

Wilson is young - around nineteen - so he's likely still learning what works, so I'm inclined to applaud his ambition in taking what starts out as a goofy gag and running in three orthogonal directions, playing out the comedy that goes with this too-casual compulsive sex, revealing a weird horror plot behind it, and trying to get into what it means for the emotionally all at once. It's kind of a mess, as Plouffe's attempts at sincerity and lovesickness just don't wind up complementing Belle's terrific glibness, and both have problems trying to play against the horror elements, which most clearly betray how little margin there is in terms of production values here.

Still, when the group is going straight at funny, whether in terms of witty narrative banter are gleefully raunchy cartoon sex, they are really good at it, blowing past chuckles and getting the big, guffaw-level laughs, amping up the ridiculousness with ease. So maybe they can't also increase the pathos at the same time; everybody is young enough that it seems likely to come with time.

She's Allergic to Cats

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2016 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia 2016: FantasiaUnderground, DCP)

The main character of She's Allergic to Cats spends his time making lo-fi video art and dreams of remaking Carrie with cats, and while it doesn't always work out this way, there's probably a decent correlation between how much a potential viewer finds this a reasonable use of one's time and how much he or she will be into the movie. It aims to be peculiar, so it is probably fortunate that its particular flavor of weird is not exactly hidden away.

Mike Pinkney came to Los Angeles to make movies, but that's a pretty competitive field, especially considering his fairly esoteric ideas, so instead he's barely scraping by grooming dogs and making plaintive entreaties about the ray infestation to his landlord (Honey Davis), who is not particularly inclined to let responsibilities to his tenant distract him from his music career, such as it is. It could be worse, though - he may not be a particularly good pet groomer and most people think his ideas are crap, but Mickey Rourke's daughter's assistant Cora (Sonja Kinski), who takes their dogs to the ship where he works, seems to like him. Maybe a date wouldn't be a disaster.

If writer/director Michael Reich were interested in making a more mainstream film, it's not something that would be terribly far out of reach. Though the details will occasionally emphasize the grimy elements of the life where Mike has landed and his artistic ideas are eccentric at best, he actually approaches the film as a very grounded comedy much of the time - the audience isn't going to spend a lot of time wondering whether or not something really happened or having to work their heads around impossibly surreal sequences of events. The folks Mike encounters may be weird or selfish, but they're kind of familiar comic types at heart - Honey Davis (as himself) and Flula Borg, as Mike's bluntly skeptical German agent, could drop into a more conventional Hollywood story without much issue.

Full review on EFC.

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