Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Fantasia Daily 2016.06 (19 July 2016): The Throne, The Lure, and Baaghi

So, I think I'm going to retire the idea of daily run-down of what I saw, at least for this year; the environment just isn't conducive to it and I feel like I've been short-changing things. From here on out, I'll (mostly) just go in order and it takes as long as it takes.

At any rate, Tuesday the 19th was a pretty quiet day; it was one where you more or less course your theater early and went with it, and I went with Hall (good luck getting me to remember "SGWU" when I'm not cutting and pasting) because people both here and at BUFF seemed to be really excited by it. Not exactly a bad decision, but it's not going to be listed as a favorite when all is said and done, though it will be a "thing you should probably see".

On the other hand, it did offer up perhaps the best "can't make it, but here's a video" introduction in some time, as Agnieszka Smoczynska chatted happily about how they didn't have musicals or horror movies in Poland when she was growing up so making her own was a real treat while her children ran around in the background, waving and trying to get on camera.

Sado (The Throne)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2016 in the SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Fantasia 2016, DCP)

There is a line in The Throne about how royal families are unique in that one must think of one's children as enemies far sooner than one would like. That's probably true in other circumstances as well, but it's far from the essential tragedy of this (South Korea's submission for consideration as "Best Foreign Language Film" at the last Academy Awards), where the Crown Prince's greatest weakness may be that he is incapable of being that sort of enemy.

The frame of the film takes place over the course of a week, starting as a furious Crown Prince (Yoo Ah-in) marches toward the palace of his father, King Yeongjo (Song Kang-ho), sword in hand. Recognizing the potential for disaster - by law, a traitor's punishment also falls upon his son- the prince's wife Hyegyeong Hong (Moon Geun-young) alerts Royal Consort Yi (Jeon Hye-jin), the prince's birth mother, in hopes that quick action may save her own son, the "Grand Heir". The prince is caught, stripped of his rank, and locked in a box to die, giving everyone in the royal family the better part of a week to ponder how it got to this point.

The filmmakers throw a lot of specifics about the various complicated relationships and power centers in the Joseon Dynasty, and while it is undoubtedly interesting and important in terms of why certain things happen the way they do, none is more central than the fact that the Crown Prince is an artist at heart. He wants to do little more than read, write, and paint since about the age of ten, and the King simply cannot comprehend that his son is not like him; he grew from a boy who truly loved studying practical things to a man who took to politics naturally, and that his son hasn't just doesn't make sense to him. It is, despite the stakes, a story that a great many people should have no trouble connecting to.

Full review on EFC.

Córki dancingu (The Lure)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2016 in the SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Fantasia 2016: Polish Genre Cinema, DCP)

The Lure includes what is thus far one of my favorite moments of the festival, when a mermaid who is starting to follow the story of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid fairly closely rolls her eyes at her sister's worries about where that leads, saying it's "just a superstition". The movie's at its best when it's able to be as untethered from expectations as something described as a Polish period horror musical should be; it's less exciting when it opts to follow the template.

It starts by happily mashing up mermaid and siren mythology, with sisters Zwota (Michalina Olszanska) and Srebrna (Marta Mazurek) rising up out of the Vistula River, singing to the musicians practicing on shore that they would never eat them, even as the song entrances the men. Fortunately, their singer Krysia (Kinga Preis) snaps them out of it, and soon Zwota (subtitled "Golden") and Srebrna ("Silver") have been added to their band - these mermaids can manifest legs apparently at will, although getting wet brings the tail back - and are bringing a lot of new fans to the kind of scuzzy nightclub where they play, and whlie Zwota saw Warsaw as just a nice stop to maybe eat a few lowlifes on the way to America, Srebrna is developing a huge crush on bass player Mietek (Jakub Gierszal), despite his not being sure about a relationship with some who isn't, well, human, and how dangerous all-around the legends say it is for a mermaid to fall for a man.

There haven't been a lot of movies quite like The Lure; the closest thing that comes to mind is The Phantom of the Paradise, another garish fantasy placing a classic story in a nightclub with a catchy beat to hold it together. The filmmakers infuse it with a thrilling energy, because even if 1980s Poland is not exactly prosperous and performing at this club involves stripping as much as singing, there's still the chance to reinvent oneself, make music, and do whatever you enjoy. The songs can be funny and passionate, and director Agnieszka Smoczynska stages them as bona fide musical numbers happening right there out in the open and in the characters' heads at the same time. Even when the story is looking for a direction early on, it's exciting; anything can happen both in a movie and in a young woman's life.

Full review on EFC.

"Never Tear Us Apart"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2016 in the SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Fantasia 2016: Action!, DCP)

The makers of "Never Tear Us Apart", in their introduction, mentioned that this was a sort of calling card with the intent of making a feature version, which goes along with a conversation I overheard about another short while waiting in line, saying that a short is basically your first act. That's something I disagree with, at least as far as good shorts go. This one, for instance, works because it fits perfectly into five or six minutes, and really doesn't much need to be expanded to fifteen times that size.

At the size it is, it's a lot of fun - a couple of guys (Matt Keyes & Alex Weiner) are kind of out in the middle of nowhere, looking to connect with someone, while a couple of older backwoods types (James Rae & Leigh Ann Taylor) are butchering and cooking the last poor slob to find their house (Mark Anthony Krupa). The young guys arrive at that doorstep, there's a chase, some blood, and... Well, there's a great sting, the sort that's good enough that it's what I take away from the movie despite a bit of gore that is really terrific for this sort of short and some action that makes up for some kind of wobbly performances.

It is, I suppose, also a good place to start another high-concept gore-comedy, but I'm not sure the exploration could outdo the initial surprise. Maybe we'll see.


* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2016 in the SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Fantasia 2016: Action!, DCP)

With any luck, Baaghi will eventually look like the movies Jackie Chan did when he was at the same point in his career as present-day Tiger Shroff: Not very good overall, made from fill-in-the-blanks scripts, filled with people who can't really act, and perhaps best forgotten if not for the fact that, from the very start, this guy could fight when the camera was on. You could cut one heck of an action-oriented trailer for this one, even if there is a fair amount of other filler.

It introduces us to the villain first. Raghav (Sudheer Babu) apparently makes enough money operating underground fight clubs out of Bangkok - around the world that when he kidnaps Sia Khurana (Shraddha Kapoor) after his minions found the object of his obsession - not hard, as she's taken over as the star of a movie her father (Sunil Grover) is shooting - no police force or diplomat is willing to take him on. And so, her father hires Sia's ex-boyfriend Ronny (Shroff), who trained as a martial artist under Raghav's father (Shifuji Shaurya Bharadwaj), though Raghav was the stronger student.

It's a pretty darn simple story, so it's a bit frustrating that writer Sanjeev Dutta and director Sabbir Khan feel the need to stretch it out to 133 minutes, including a plot about getting the mute son of a friend an operation that will allow him to speak that is basically forgotten by the end, and a lot of back-and-forth to explain why they can spend a whole bunch of the first half having Ronny and Sia meet excessively cute and still have him giggly act like he's only rescuing her for the money. It's a messy amount of flashbacks piled on as well; building it like that means that by the time the movie gets to the intermission (or where it would be, since North American venues usually play these straight through), it seems like a lot less has happened than actually has. Instead of feeling like we've seen the full arc of the characters' story, it feels like it took an hour to go from Ronny being hired to go to Bangkok and Ronny going to Bangkok.

Full review on EFC.

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