Tuesday, August 09, 2016

The Fantasia Daily 2016.10 (23 July 2016): Pychonauts, Phantom Detective, Assassination Classroom: Graduation Day, Tank 432, and Red Christmas

Lots of guests today, and there could have been more, but there was some weird scheduling, with two animated films overlapping. Not sure why you do that. It looked like I was going to be able to - Nova Seed at 12:45pm and 65 minutes long, with Psychonauts starting at 1:50pm. Would be a quick run underground, but Nova Seed had a 29 minute short ahead of it. So, because I didn't bother with the first part of Chihayafuru (since I wasn't going to see the second), I was able to get a reasonably late start, which isn't a bad thing when the night before wiped me out and I was staring down the barrel of another midnight.

First up: Psychhonauts co-director Pedro Rivero (c) being interviewed by Rupert Bottenberg (r), who has been programming the animation section for years though I don't recall him being quite so visible as he was this year.

I didn't make the connection that his co-director was actually the creator of the Psiconautas graphic novel, who also collaborated with Rivero on a "Birdboy" short. Rivero commented on it not being for kids, although he asked the parents of some of the ones who did stick around how they liked it. They seemed okay with it.

Next up - well, actually, much later that evening - it was time for Tank 432, with programmer Simon Lapierre, director Nick Gillespie, and producer Finn Bruce. Surprisingly, not a whole lot of talk about executive producer Ben Wheatley, even though things can often go that direction.

Lots of talk about the tank, including how they're getting a little more difficult to get hold of, and you can't just cut them apart in order to get better angles. There was also a little bit of conversation on what I considered sort of an unsatisfying ending - SPOILERS! I don't care how evil an organization you're running overall (or how maybe the population is kind of high), HR can't be pleased with a training plan that involves killing so many of your own people. !SRELIOPS

And, finally, we have Mitch Davis and the Red Christmas crew: star Dee Wallace, filmmaker Craig Anderson, and co-star Janis McGavin. The latter two came all the way from Australia, while Ms. Wallace was already in town because the series she's on for Amazon, Just Add Magic, shoots in Montreal. That's still a large amount of travel for one midnight screening, but Frontieres was going on, and this looks like something that could get distribution, even with the controversial subject matter.

A bunch of questions about this being an Australian Christmas movie, with a couple fun tidbits: It was apparently actually kind of difficult to find this sort of American-style house to use, as Aussie homes tend to favor building out rather than a second floor, since there's a ton of unused land. Christmas, meanwhile, is a big day - since Australia is in the southern hemisphere, seasons are reversed and it's summer and actually kind of a big beach day, but so many of their pop-cultural images of Christmas come from North America and Europe, there's a lot of winter imagery and fake snow around (even where you don't really get much snow even during a chilly August winter).

Dee Wallace was kind of the star of the Q&A, as she's been in a lot of great stuff, and is pretty cool with much of it being horror. As she points out, at a certain age the answer to "what makes a project appealing" is "the chance to work", but she sure seems pleased with being able to do this sort of material.

Psiconautas, los niños olvidados (Psychonauts)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2016 in the SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Fantasia 2016: Axis, DCP)

I'm not sure what "psychonauts" ("psiconautas" in the original Spanish) means as far as this title; if the original graphic novels involved an Inception-style trip inside someone's mind, it doesn't appear in the film, although I guess the "happy pills" some characters take might qualify as psychonautics. What does show up is a story of fed-up teenagers in a slightly post-apocalyptic future, and that's without mentioning they are talking animals.

Dinky is probably the most sick of everything; a clever mouse who wants to know more of the world than her island home, she's ready to run away, but not without her beloved Birdboy. She has accomplices in Sandra, a rabbit who hears voices, and the friendly Little Fox, but Birdboy is proving elusive, as is a boat that they can use to to the city. The only place they can buy one of those is amid the island's vast piles of trash, where rats quarrel over scraps.

There's a tremendous uncertainty to the world of Psychonauts; though the film opens with the rats chanting a mantra that would not be out of place in a Mad Max-style film, and a flashback shows what appears to be nuclear war, but when Dinky is introduced, she and her friends seem to exist in a world with a comfortable middle class, compete with school uniforms and alarm clocks. It is a reminder, perhaps, that what is a devastating apocalypse for one class or group can go almost unnoticed by another. What would normally be inanimate objects talk and plastic is rare, creating a situation that often seems unreal even by the standards of a talking-animal picture.

Full review on EFC.

Tamjung Hong Gil-dong: Sarajin Ma-eul (Phantom Detective)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2016 in the SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Fantasia 2016, DCP)

The first impression that Jo Sung-hee's Phantom Detective creates is that pulp is kind of the same the world over; the film may be based upon a series of Korean novels, but the look and though-guy attitude isn't far off from Sin City, which was itself an attempt to distill the American pulp tradition to is essence. And yet, as it goes on, it becomes undeniably South Korean, and the way that it reflects that place's fears and bravado makes a frequently clumsy movie intriguing even when it's at its most absurd.

It is October 1983, and Hong Gil-dong (Lee Je-hoon) is the top operative of the HDB Agency, a private concern that specializes in smashing human trafficking rings, something he's been raised to do since childhood. His only memories from before that are his mother being murdered and the face of her killer, and now he thinks he's finally talked the former down in the person of Kim Byung-duk (Park Geun-hyung). The trouble is, someone else has too, looking for his secret ledger of the "GU Group", and when Hong arrives at Kim's place, all he fonds are granddaughters Mal-soon (Kim Ha-na) and Dong-yi (Roh Jeong-eui) , and it is a bit unusual to allow ten- and six-year-old kids to tag along on your mission of vengeance.

For a guy with little memory, Hong Gil-dong narrates an awful lot, and that is something that can wear on a viewer pretty quickly, especially early on when he's not learning things particularly quickly. The same goes for the strongly-stylized look which seems like it belongs a few decades before the 1980s setting, at least where the costumes are concerned, and often veers into characters being superhuman brawlers with little notice; the first time villain Kang Sung-il (Kim Sung-kyun) did something like punching through a wall raises an eyebrow because, because for as much as it's clear from the start that Jo is going for something heightened, the film does take a while finding its level.

Full review on EFC.

Ansatsu kyôshitsu: sotsugyô hen (Assassination Classroom: Graduation)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2016 in the SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Fantasia 2016, DCP)

The first Assassination Classroom is a decent enough movie hurt in a big way by needing to reset at the end so that this one could be made, so it's fairly good news that the filmmakers stick to the two-film plan and let Graduation play out to to a fairly conclusive finale rather than try and find ways to extend the series indefinitely. Though more plot-oriented than the opener, it's a satisfying conclusion an entertaining series.

As in most classrooms, things aren't that much different for Kunugigaoka Junior High School class 3-E; they're still considered the dregs of the school; their teacher is still a bizarre yellow creature with tentacles, beady eyes, and the ability to move at Mach 20 (voice of Kanna Hashimoto); and they are still expected to find a way to kill him before he destroys the world like he did the moon come graduation day. After the events of the fall semester, Nagisa Shiota (Ryosuke Yamada) has emerged as the class leader, though Karuma Akabane (Masaki Suda) is probably smarter though undisciplined. Other students include Nagisa's crush Kaede Kayano (Maika Yamamoto), science genius Manami Okuda (Miku Uehara), genetically-augmented Itona Horibe (Seishiro Kato), a military robot with the AI of a schoolgirl, and more. One of them, though, is harboring a secret connection to a secret government program involving captured master assassin Shinigami (Kazunari Ninomiya), egomaniacal scientist Kotaro Yanagisawa (Hiroki Narimiya), and his prue-hearted fiancée Aguri Yukimura (Mirei Kiritani).

Unlike a great many of Japan's recent multi-part manga adaptations, there was a full year between episodes here, and it while they may just be following the source material, it seems as though director Eiichiro Hasumi and screenwriter Tatsuya Kanazawa took note of some of the first half's flaws and made some adjustments. Detours that take the kids away from the business at hand are reduced fairly drastically this time around, and the larger story about where "U.T." (for "unkillable teacher") came from and why he is so dedicated to teaching this class fills the gap. Truth be told, this one tells a complete enough story to make the first not strictly necessary, and is a better movie for it.

Full review on EFC.

Tank 432 (aka Belly of the Bulldog)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2016 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia 2016: Camera Lucida, DCP)

The man behind Tank 432, Nick Gillespie, often runs a camera on Ben Wheatley's films, and I worry a bit that he's picked up a bit too much of Wheatley's "let the audience put things together on the fly" style, which only really works when what's going on emerges a bit earlier. He still makes a nifty little movie, though one that's more great bits than great whole.

In an unknown war zone sometime in the future, a small group is bringing two hooded prisoners back to headquarters, but they've come under fire: Capper (Michael Smiley) is injured, commanding officer Smith (Gordon Kennedy) is losing patience, scouts Gantz (Steve Garry) and Evans (Tom Meeten) are looking down at Reeves (Rupert Evans), and corspwoman Karlsson (Deirdre Mullins) is dispensing drugs to keep people leveled as much as dealing with injuries. There's biological weapons in play, a young girl (Alex Rose March) found in a cargo container, and the only escape route leads to an open field with a broken-down Bulldog tank in the middle. That gets the survivors cover, but unless they can get the thing moving...

Well, then they'll be stuck in an enclosed space, getting on each other's nerves and barking at each other but kind of in a holding pattern until something either happens outside or the situation inside comes to a boil, and while at least one of the two eventually happens, it's a tough downshift - the movie goes from being on the run, poking at this scenario where all manner of things could happen, and being at each other's throats to just being at each other's throats, and for a certain chunk of the audience, that's not necessarily the most interesting part of the film. A good deal of that other stuff gets pushed aside until a climax that is not necessarily the most satisfying way to resolve them.

Full review on EFC.

Red Christmas

* * * ¾ out of four

Seen 23 July 2016 in the SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Fantasia 2016, DCP)

Some movies and filmmakers try and sneak their controversial subject matter in quietly or spring it on the audience later, distracting the audience with blood and guts (or the hallmarks of another genre) with the hope that the other ideas will sink in a little deeper that way. Craig Anderson is having none of that with Red Christmas, rubbing the audience's face in a touchy subject from the start, backing off just enough so that what comes next seems like even more of a minefield, and what comes after that is not just impressively vicious but perhaps worth a moment or two's consideration between the uses of sharp objects.

It's not looking like a great Christmas before that, though the last one at the old family home, with Diane (Dee Wallace) selling it to spend her golden years traveling with second husband Joe (Geoff Morrell). Maybe that's what brought all the children together, even if Virginia (Janis McGavin) and her husband Scott (Bjorn Steward) expecting seems very unfair to sister Suzy (Sarah Bishop) and her pastor spouse Peter (David Collins). Already there are Jerry (Gerald Odwyer), loud but fairly functional for a 23-year-old with Down's Syndrome, and Hope (Deelia Meriel), Diane's only child with Joe, set to start art school the next year. Then there's Cletus (Sam Campbell), who shows up with his face behind a shroud and drops a bombshell. And when he's not accepted...

The audience doesn't quite forget the prologue while this family drama is going on, but it's a relatively bold one, opening with a look at just how charged emotions were around abortion about twenty years ago - as contentious as it is now, there seems to be less outright violence than the attack on a clinic caps the montage in truly queasy fashion. Cletus's origins give the film a charge on two levels, the first being that it plugs into something that has real-world resonance, impressively doing it without overtly falling on one side or another (Cletus represents both the righteous and indiscriminate rage of anti-abortion activists). Anderson has also built his cast of characters so that Cletus's injection into the party reinforces the existing family tensions, ratcheting up the tension in a scene whether or not Cletus is a direct threat at that moment, planting mines that can explode in any manner even if Anderson were to do a fake-out that had Cletus exiting early.

Full review on EFC.

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