Monday, July 31, 2017

Fantasia 2017.18: Geek Girls, Mumon: The Land of Stealth, Bushwick, and Mayhem

It's always nice when Sunday gives you a little extra time because you've seen the films that start right around noon earlier in the festival or elsewhere, although what time I gained to write more was eaten up by laundry and breakfast at Cacao 70. The waffles and black sesame hot chocolate was different so I regret nothing.

Actually went to the wrong theater for Geek Girls initially, thinking it was in de Seve rather than Clarke, so I arrived just before the start and took a seat off to the side because there were a ton of camera folks capturing stuff for behind-the-scenes material leaning in over those seats. Plus, it would be weird if the person most front-and-center for this movie was a guy. That said, when the film was introduced, it was producer Michael Massicotte doing the talking. Not the case during the Q&A afterward:

Front to back, five of the film's subjects who were local - Mariko, writer/director Gina Hara, Elizabeth, Rebecca, and Stephanie - and the Fantasia event host. A great, friendly, often-funny group that talked a great deal about how, even in the time since they shot the movie, things have gotten a bit better in terms of not having to come across as a tomboy or otherwise avoid being feminine, since that's a thing that many had a hard time reconciling when younger or when entering the workplace. Also a fair amount of reminding the guys in the audience that if we're not helping, we're making things worse, so call out your friends when they're giving women trouble, along with some side-talk on how a lot of trouble can come from women.

It would have been nice to stay for the whole Q&A, but I had to duck out because, even though festivals don't always announce the Yoshihiro Nakamura film of the year as a centerpiece they way they do with Takashi Miike/Sion Sono/other prolific and off-beat Japanese directors (his work is more mainstream in many ways), they're always pretty terrific and often uplifting in a way that few at the festival manage, so you build your festival schedule around them even if you miss the "Pieces of Asia" short package and the neat-looking Tiger Girl. It didn't disappoint as a movie, although there were a lot of glitches in projection, as the studio apparently sent an "HD Cam" tape rather than a DCP. I've accepted that an actual 35mm print of new films is too much to ask, but, c'mon, this is a Toho/TBS film; those guys can afford to send something that won't break midway through.

It got people talking, though I had to argue a bit with some about what the movie was going for:


There's a moment toward the end, when pragmatic but resentful samurai Daizen points out that razing Iga has not destroyed the inhuman nature of its residents but dispersed them into Japan as a whole, when the picture briefly half-dissolves into a present-day street scene that someone in the audience yelled about those damn millennials, and I think that he missed the point that it's not necessarily the newest generation Nakamura and writer Ryo Wada are scolding, but the society that has come before them which has prized the individual over the community.

I talked with a couple of others about how community was a major theme in Nakamura's films, and Mumon was in many ways about how aligned self-interest is not a real substitute for the real thing. One agreed, but wished Mumon's wife could have survived the end, and I wanted that, too, but I was kind of glad that Nakamura and Wada didn't pull that punch. It might have felt good, but I don't know that there was a better way to show that Mumon had grown into a full person than to show that he was still human even without her immediate influence. It's a tough case to make, because she makes such a great impression in relatively little time, but I do feel it was the right call.


After that, it was a quick dash downstairs for Bushwick, which was better than expected but even more obviously politically charged than Mumon, enough that I wonder if it's even releasable in much of America, though it's a pretty great action film. Makes me glad I got to see it here. After that, a burger and poutine from another one of the new burger places that have popped up around Concordia (though I miss Buns something fierce, and apparently m:brgr is gone now too), and into Hall for Mayhem.

Director Joe Lynch (center) is a real hoot if you see him doing a Q&A for one of his films, with festival programmer Mitch Davis (left), as usual, pretty terrific both serving as hype man before the film started and letting Lynch use him as something of a straight man in a long (almost an hour!), funny discussion afterward, with composer Steve Moore a great, dry addition as midnight approached.

I've got to dock his movie half a star for his encouraging the meowing, though. A man must have his principles.

Monday's plan: Night Is Short, Walk on Girl; Deliver Us; Lu Over the Wall; and Blade of the Immortal. Fashionista and Mon Mon Mon Monsters! are both pretty good, and if there's a crazy line for Blade I could easily convince myself to do "Sherlock Holmes vs Charlie Chan", because the CineClub event is always a ton of fun and I love Sherlock Holmes, even if Basil Rathbone is far from my favorite.

Geek Grils

* * ¾(out of four)
Seen 30 July 2017 in Théâtre D.B. Clarke (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017: Documentaries from the Edge, DCP)

Generally upbeat documentary about a topic that my own perspective has generally allowed me to either take for granted or only hear about when things turn ugly; director Gina Hara admits that there a filter involved in that - she mentions that many people refused to be interviewed - but it works for what she wants to present, in terms of making something aspirational rather than downcast.

Shinobi no kuni (Mumon: The Land of Stealth)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2017 in Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU/Théâtre Hall (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017, HD Cam)

As per usual, the movie by Yoshihiro Nakamura is relatively unheralded at the festival, because he's not as outrageous as some of his fellow very productive Japanese auteurs, but it's one of the best. It looks every bit the silly bit of ninja action from the start, but there's a biting criticism of capitalism lurking underneath, so that when it comes to the fore at the end, the audience shouldn't be surprised, but it still hits a bit harder than expected.

That doesn't completely undercut how light-hearted much of the movie is, with a particularly entertaining title character who is so cocky (with reason) about his skill as Iga's best ninja that he can be absurdly laid-back and push aside any concerns about actually hurting anyone for missions that don't require it. Nakamura and the effects crew create action scenes that match the personality, with wire work that makes Mumon feel lighter than air, and just slightly less whimsical action for the rest. A fun disco-pop soundtrack adds to the feeling.

It seems like a bigger, more fantastic movie than I remember Nakamura doing before, but he handles that material well, sneaking more serious elements in smoothly, and while he absolutely goes for bluntness at one spot at the end, there's no harm in it, and he's got a wink or two left. It is, then, the sort of brilliance we really should expect of Nakamura by now, oddball genre martial with a solidly humane core.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2017 in Théâtre D.B. Clarke (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017, DCP)

I don't recall seeing it mentioned in the movie's description, but after a while, someone watching Bushwick will notice they can't remember the last cut, and it's about then that the degree to which is not going to let up sinks in, and what seemed like an interesting what-if about Brooklyn being attacked by domestic terrorists becomes a grueling survival thriller.

It's a heck of a well-executed one, too, with even some cuts that aren't as hidden as the filmmakers were trying for not diminishing just how much they've often got going on in a sequence, action that can be surprising both for its relentless and for how it never seems escapist; the tension comes from just how ugly things sometimes seem.

It's got a nice cast, too, between an understated Dave Batista and Brittany Snow, who sells what her character grows into over an hour and a half of real time very well. The filmmakers also supply a highly entertaining supporting cast for them to play off. It's pretty important that this sort of on-the-move picture come up with characterizations one instantly grasps and then has life breathed into them, and this one does that extremely well, giving a whole lot of spark to what could be a dry exercise in hitting marks so that the action works.

"In the Dark, Dark Woods..."

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2017 in Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU/Théâtre Hall (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017, DCP)

I suspect that many in the audience initially took "In the Dark, Dark Woods..." to be a coming attraction for a feature; it not only looks much too polished to be something made by a fairly small crew with just these five minutes as the intended end result, but filmmaker Jason Bognacki (with Aline Bognacki as co-writer/producer) paces it like one: It teases the audience with the promise of more as it jumps forward, not exactly hiding its big climactic revelations, but being casual enough with them that it's not unreasonable to think there's something bigger coming up.

But, near as I can tell, this is a stand-alone work, and it absolutely functions that way - the Bognackis use this style to tell their story quickly, using the narrator to make it feel like a fairy tale whose details most of us already know, jumping over details that seem familiar so that the viewers get a whole, compressed story that nevertheless contains striking details. It's impressive, compact narrative work that leverages every way movies can deliver information without overwhelming.

And if the Bognackis want to do a feature-length version of this period story of a woman whose soul is so dark she becomes invisible and thus has to steal another's skin, I'm down with that. Even more than with features, short films are best when they leave the audience wanting more just because what they deliver is so good, but this one looks like it could literally give us more without the stretching many other shorts would have to do.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2017 in Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU/Théâtre Hall (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017, DCP)

Mayhem is, if nothing else, up-front about how it's going to appeal to the id and allow things that even the most violent stories will disapprove of in some way, and that the filmmakers mostly manage to get away with that is as much a testament to the charisma of Steven Yeun and Samara Weaving as anything else. It's hardly the first movie whose appeal is in large part based upon enjoying well-done violence that might otherwise be found unacceptable; it just does a better job of directly selling that to the audience.

The mechanism for that is "ID-7", a virus that pours jet fuel on the emotional impulses of anyone who contracts it (along with giving them a distinct red eye). Attorney Derek Cho (Yeun) helped formulate the defense that got murder charges against a "redder" dismissed, and as a result he's been promoted to a corner office on the fifth floor of Towers & Smythe Consulting, although that's far enough from the penthouse that Kara "The Siren" Powell (Caroline Chikezie) can still use him as a fall guy, and his attempt to take it up with boss John Towers (Steven Brand) gets him fired. As luck and irony would have it, though, ID-7 has been detected in the T&S ventilation system, leading the Center for Disease Control to lock him up in the basement rather than throwing him out on the streets, along with Melanie Cross (Weaving), whose attempts to dispute the details of her mortgage he dismissed earlier. Now, though, they see each other as potential allies, since they've got about an eight-hour window during which they won't be charged for any crimes they commit on their way to getting satisfaction from the people who screwed them over.

I suspect that if Derek's and Melanie's rampage actually went to court, the previous decision would not be an automatic get-out-of-jail-free card, and that's akin to the central nut that the filmmakers have to crack - what's the balance between T&S karmically deserving what's coming, the clear premeditation on the part of Derek and Melanie, and how their thinking is being influenced by the virus? Few in the audience will probably find the way these factors interact perfectly done all the time, although writer Matias Caruso and director Joe Lynch are mostly able to set things up so that the audience is willing to negotiate - like, a viewer would be okay having them get to Kara or John and then holding back until they made the first move and were mutilated in self-defense. Things don't necessarily play out that way, naturally, and maybe if the film gave the audience a little more of the pair consumed by their immediate impulses rather than making plans, it would work a little better for more people. Sure, folks going to see something called "Mayhem" with this description are likely okay with what they're getting, and there is a nice irony to the set-up, even if the film isn't as much about T&C being hoisted by their own petard or even about a virus that heightens emotions showing Derek what he really wants.

Full review on EFC.

No comments: