Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Fantasia 2017.12: Junk Head, The Laplace's Demon, Love and Other Cults, and The Mole Song: Hong Kong Capriccio

Monday was scheduled insanely tight, and I half-suspect that someone in the Fantasia offices read the running time of The Laplace's Demon as "1:09" instead of "109 minutes", because there's no way you schedule something that runs an hour fifty in a two hour slot (first screening) or five minutes shorter, especially if you have guests coming and want to have a Q&A. It just doesn't fit, and I know a couple of people who left it early last week to see Lowlife and then today it started a chain reaction that had a lot of us worried about getting to The Mole Song after Love and Other Cults.

(That and it's actually listed as 69 minutes in one spot on the website.)

It played a little heck with my schedule, and if I'd paid for both Love and Mole, I'd be annoyed.

But, you know, let's not even think of coming close to holding it against the folks who made The Laplace's Demon, several of whom came over from Italy for this: Director Giordano Giulivi, co-star Silvano Bertolin, co-star/composer Duccio Giulivi, and co-star/director of photography Ferdinando D'Urbano, all of whom also collaborated on the screenplay and had other jobs besides. This was a very tight-knit group that worked together for seven years to make this movie, another one that, like Lowlife, the programmers found in the submissions without having a whiff of it at all until then, which seems to genuinely thrill them.

The reason it took so long is that they shot it in a bizarre reverse-Sky Captain manner, rendering a good chunk of the effects and almost all of the backgrounds before shooting in what they described as a 4-meter-square room with rear projection, then rendering any other visual effects they needed. Basically, anything that the characters didn't touch was created digitally, which is kind of a crazy way to do it. The rear-projection did, in some spots, help create a vintage-style look for the movie.

I've honestly got no idea whether that would work for something that had a more conventional look, but I guess it does kind of explain how the DP can have an actual role in the movie, since most of the shots are kind of static. Of course, it's not surprising that he's one of the first to be killed off, either.

Sadly, the 7:15pm show of Love and Other Cults not starting until 7:45pm meant that I only got this snap of Hanae Kan before the film started rather than seeing any Q&A. That is a genuine bummer, as a supporting actress traveling from Japan to Montreal to support a movie at a festival is kind of odd, making me wonder if she's shooting something else in North America or has family here or something. On top of that, she started her career as a child actress, appearing in Seijun Suzuki's Pistol Opera at the age of ten and then playing one of the kids in Nobody Knows for Hirokazu Kore-eda a couple years later. That's a heck of a start, and I wonder if she has stories from that.

For Tuesday: The Tokyo Night Sky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue; Almost Coming, Almost Dying; Death Note: Light Up the New World, and Atomic Blonde (though if I'm shut out of that, I'll happily go see Town in a Lake). Money's Money is worth checking out.

Junk Head

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Axis, ProRes)

If nothing else, you've got to respect the independently-made stop-motion animated sci-fi film that runs almost two hours. That thing is a labor of love that had one person exercising both amazing creativity and incredible patience. In this case, it looks like he started from an initial short, but that takes little away from the finished product.

You can sort of see the episodic structure, and how director Takahide Hori may have occasionally used it to recharge his creative batteries, as his (mostly) human explorer occasionally falls down to a lower level of the clone-occupied subterranean world, with each new group to find him building him a new robot body and placing him in a new sub-adventure. It never feels like the stop-and-go sort of episodic, though, with his new form and adventures being a refresh rather than a restart and the flashbacks that emerge from his jumbled memories helping to tie things together even though the focus is often on the here and now.

And while this isn't the sort of animated film you'd call "gorgeous" or the like - it's a post-apocalyptic world whose clones are often mutated and where various forms of worm-like monsters can leap out at any second - the detail is impressive, and the use of CGI to augment the physical puppetry is excellent.

As far as the adventure goes, it does sometimes seem like Hori could have tightened things up a lot - there's a long and often entertaining detour where "Junkers" (as the hero is known at that point) is fetching "mashrooms" for his current group that doesn't really move things forward, and while Hori is good enough that you don't feel it at the time, when the film ends and it seems the remaining characters are just about to start on their true journey, it's hard not to feel that he could have shown THIS if he hasn't spent so much tone on THAT.

Maybe he's already working on the next episodes of what will become JUNK HEAD 2, and if so, I'll see that. Despite not really having an ending, the first is the sort of movie that turns heads and is still satisfying when you look a bit closer.

Full review on EFC.

The Laplace's Demon

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Camera Lucida, DCP)

The Laplace's Demon is the sort of movie that feels like a throwback until you try and remember just what it's throwing back to, because when movies had this sort of look, not many people were actually making this sort of sci-fi/horror. Like the films made by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, these films are speculative fiction in terms of style, though this film is contemporary in its setting.

It's a kick to watch, though, as the grainy black-and-white photography, slightly heightened performances, and effects that are not shy about being visual effects rather than real things plunge the audience into a world where what the characters are fighting makes some sort of sense - not just an upright coffin that snatches people up, but a philosophical determinism that implies that every step a person makes is predictable. The music by Duccio Giulivi announces the film's genre and influences, and that's fine - even if style weren't half of what makes this movie what it is, the score makes a good jump from atmospheric to frantic the same way the movie does.

And as just a "people get picked off in an old dark house" movie, The Laplace's Demon is a lot of fun - it's Ten Little Indians with something outright paranormal at its center, and the filmmakers do a lot of nifty things with the actual winnowing, coming up with an extremely cool way to show something while keeping the monster in the shadows (although, arguably, one that is more expensive than just showing the thing, although that's kind of in line with the way they shot the movie) and genuinely terrific use of said monster, which is powerful in its simplicity rather than having a bunch of noodly details.

It's one for horror fans who appreciate the old school, and I don't know how well it does when off the festival circuit, but it's small enough that it can afford to just be for those fans and not worry about anything else.

Full review on EFC.

Kemonomichi (Love and Other Cults)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Camera Lucida, DCP)

Despite being one of those Japanese films that not only never actually seems to circle back around to the flash forward where it starts but has no spot where that scene would fit - with a more pointed opening than most films that do that - Love and Other Cults works in large part because, even with the jumps and changes it features, there's a sad inevitability of things getting to that point, that there no way for Ai to avoid the situation she finds herself in at the start.

In some ways, this feels more like a Sion Sono movie than the actual Sono film that played the festival, plunging its too-young characters into desperate and bizarre situations that they sometimes are too inexperienced to understand is wrong and then having to push through because, well, what else is a kid to do? Things get weird, sometimes jaw-droppingly so, but with just the sort of earnest energy that propels things, making one want to see how they handle things. It's even more the case with the characters who are either strangely casual or built up as broadly comic.

And then, around it, you finally get to see the bits that are kind of familiar sad stories in new guise: Ai's particular backstory, with the mother always looking for some higher truth rather than tending to what's there, is unique, but there's always some desperate need for acceptance that gets pushed too far, and the lack of obvious transitions from one state to the other makes the changes more meaningful in some ways; it's not one thing putting her on an often-unfortunate path, and you can't pin a mistake to her.

It's kind of a messy ending, which could perhaps be a bit sharper, but what leads up to the last act is well worth it.

Full review on EFC.

Mogura no Uta Hong Kong Kyousoukyoku (The Mole Song: Hong Kong Capriccio)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2017 in Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU/Théâtre Hall (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017, DCP)

I honestly remember very little from seeing the first The Mole Song movie Takashi Miike did from when I saw it at the festival a couple years back, and the "previously" reel suggests my brain may have been overwhelmed more than it being a case of it not being memorable; a metric ton of stuff happened, and I have vague memories of musical numbers on top of that. Hong Kong Capriccio benefits from being relatively simple - undercover cop rising in the yakuza uncomfortably quickly must save the boss's daughter from human traffickers and try to take him (and the Chinese mafia) down.

This plot isn't exactly focused, but it gives Miike and the writers a lot of room to do genuinely nutty things - pun fully intended, as the hero takes it in the crotch a lot. It's got one of the craziest opening bits I've seen in a while, something which doesn't happen on film until the whole idea of giving Miike accrual money to adapt popular comics becomes an actual thing, and the tacky, ridiculous jokes continue through the end, a showdown in Hong Kong that doubles down on the villains being comic-book crazy and pumps the action up to downright ridiculous levels.

This manga blockbuster portion of Miike's cater is weird, because in a lot of ways it has softened him, giving us fewer moments where the initial impulse is to recoil before saying something is kind of brilliant. But when he clicks with something, it brings the weirdness of a manga out like few others are able to do.

Full review on EFC.

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