Saturday, July 22, 2017

Fantasia 2017.09: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Bad Genius, Lowlife, and Kodoku Meatball Machine

Man, what a lousy day to have my phone's battery die before the guests show up, because a ton of folks came for Lowlife from L.A., and Yoshihiro Nishimura came in a slick jumpsuit/coverall thing which not only had a great splatter pattern, but assured us that he wouldn't be stripping down to a loincloth.

Still, it was a really fun day; I probably could have gone without Valerian, but wanted to see that while it was on the fancy screens, since I have no idea how it's going to play in the U.S. and if it would still be on the big screen when I got home. After that, I decided to play it safer than a lot of people did, skipping The Laplace's Demon because while some things online showed it was short enough to squeeze in before Lowlife, so I actually say down for supper, which is always cool during a festival.

The film got a big hype push over the past month, and Mitch was super-enthusiastic in his introduction, talking about how most of the films they book are things that they knew were coming, tracking them through production, while this was a blind submission that took them by surprise. The filmmakers seem to really appreciate the faith the festival showed, and will certainly be seeing Fantasia as their home festival for the future.

And then, finally, the Nishimura movie, which I was worn out enough to nap through. He was throwing candy around in the lead-up, though, and I must admit, I'm not sure whether I should trust random candy whose wrapper I can't read thrown by a maniac.

Today's plan - Laundry! Then Napping Princess, Dead Shack, Pork Pie, A Day, and Money's Money. God Of War and Most Beautiful Island are both recommended.

Vaerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2017 in Cineplex Forum #3 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP/AVX)

I forget whether I started buying the new English-language printings of Valerian & Laureline upon hearing that Luc Besson would be doing a movie or if reading the first few of those got me excited to hear Besson was making the film; it was about the same time. I say this not because I'm in the tank for this and you should downgrade my praise accordingly, but because I started out hoping for another fast, colorful sci-fi picture like The Fifth Element and wound up hoping they wouldn't change the comic too much. That's likely not a huge issue for most English-language viewers, who will hopefully embrace what bright, kinetic fun it is even if the script is lacking in spots.

Centuries in the future, the International Space Station has grown to such a massive structure hosting hundreds of species that it was pushed out of Earth's orbit to push into the unknown, now called "Alpha". Two special agents of the Human Federation, Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) have been tasked with bringing a strange creature that can replicate matter to Alpha from the black market, but something seems amiss - not only did Valerian receive a mental "wave" of a planetary disaster on his way to the mission, but there's a mysterious radioactive dead zone at the center of Alpha, and when Valerian and Laureline are tasked with security for a meeting to investigate, terrorists appear and kidnap Commander Arun Flitt (Clive Owen). Valerian pursues, but his ship crashes, leaving Laureline to find him despite feeling that things still don't add up.

Valerian & Laureline first appeared in print about fifty years ago, and that movie technology has just catching up to what writer Pierre Christin & artist Jean-Claude Mézières could do on the page in the past decade or so is a testament to what boundless imagination comics can achieve, although film has arguably strip-mined V&L for visuals for nearly as long as they've been around, from Star Wars to Besson's own The Fifth Element (which at least put Mézières on the payroll as a designer). Despite the fact that some of its more iconic visuals have been used elsewhere, Besson and his team still manage to find or design something spectacular to put on the screen in nearly every scene, creating a bustling sci-fi world that few live-action films have managed. It's a lively blend of design work, CGI, and practical effects, and looks good enough that Besson can spend a good chunk of the opening on an alien world with no humans in sight. It's definitely worth checking out on the biggest, brightest 3D screen one can find (even if some of those properties may occasionally contradict each other).

Full review on EFC.

Chalard Games Goeng (Bad Genius)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017, DCP)

Bad Genius is going to make a fun double feature with Brick at some point in the not-too-distant future. It's a little less obviously eccentric in translating the heist movie to high school than Rian Johnson's film noir was, but it's still kind of brilliant for recognizing that its true story was a caper at heart and going for it.

Rinrada "Lynn" Nilthep (Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying) is not the usual crime-movie anti-heroine, after all; she's introduced as a mousy high-school freshman with excellent grades who worries that her father VIt (Thaneth Warakulnukroh) can't really afford to put her in the sort of expensive private school that would serve as a stepping stone to college abroad. That reticence disappears when she's offered a scholarship and free lunches besides, and she's quickly befriended by Grace (Eisaya Hosuwan), not nearly so smart but gregarious and part of all the cool extracurriculars. It's helping Grace keep her grades up high enough to perform in the school play where Lynn first contrives to slip her friend the answers, and soon it's not just Grace, but her rich boyfriend Pat (Teeradon Supapunpinyo) and his friends that are looking for help from "Mentor Lynn". The school's other scholarship student, "Bank" Thanathon (Chanon Santinatornkul) wants no part in any sort of scam like this, but they will eventually need his help senior year if Pat and Grace are going to pass the Standard Test for International Colleges ("STIC") and go to school in Boston as planned.

This could easily have been a traditional story of a good girl caught up in peer pressure, but instead it recognizes Lynn for the criminal mastermind that she is and lets the audience have a blast as she plans and improvises ways to pass the answers to her school's standardized tests, and Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying does great work in making Lynn somewhat detached without being icy. Though it's never stated, one gets the idea that studying has always been easy for her and pulling this sort of real-world operation off in the moment is the first real challenge she's ever had, and that she seems to relish it even though she seldom breaks a smile. Lynn is kind of a challenging protagonist - she's detached and analytical from the start, so it's impressive that Chuengcharoensukying manages to get the audience with her well before she's in any sort of real danger.

Full review on EFC.

Lowlife

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2017 in Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU/Théâtre Hall (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017, DCP)

Lowlife has been getting a lot of the hype at the festival this year, enough for people to worry before it screened that it can't possibly live up to what the programmers have been saying about it. And yet, somehow, it managed - it's a gritty crime story that can throw a disgraced luchador and a good-hearted guy with a full-faced swastika tattoo into the mix and somehow make it work.

It's got no business doing so - it starts off in a dark, dark place and will find ways to sink lower as the film goes on - but it's also got an eye on which characters deserve better even if they're going to come to a bad end, and that's most of them aside from a genuinely nasty villain. It's the sort of movie that can often be described as ruthless in how it makes the audience love characters just to have them die horribly, but the filmmakers don't really go in for that sort of cruelty. There's tragedy to be found here, and violent absurdity, but it's not a sarcastic, smirking combination of the two.

Conceptually, it's kind of a hard sell, like an eccentric crime movie only weirder, but it works in ways that its more conventional cousins seldom do.

Koduko Meatball Machine

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2017 in Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU/Théâtre Hall (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017, DCP)

Yep, Nishimura is still making movies with truly astounding, elaborate monsters gross-outs but not a huge amount of all the other things that make a great movie. It seems like he's the last one standing from the Sushi Typhoon group, especially as this one is basically remaking a Yudai Yamaguchi movie with Yamaguchi h nowhere to be found, but maybe this is just timing.

I'm not sure whether I've outgrown this sort of movie or midnight in general; it's impressive in its way, but the insane monster designs just don't keep me up with anticipation of the next anymore, and these things just don't have enough aside from that (although, let's make it clear, Nishimura is second to none in that regard).

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