Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Fantasia 2018.19: Number 37, Cinderella the Cat, Heavy Trip, and Tokyo Vampire Hotel

Going to have to circle back around for Sunday, because it was shorts day, and there's twenty of those things which probably take a half-hour each to write up even if they only lasted five minutes. Remember that the next time you say critics are paid to watch movies - they're paid to write about them. Or not paid but given press passes, as the case may be here.

No guests - the last week of the festival really slows down on that count before a few people on the last couple days. It's almost kind of relaxing - just hanging out, watching good movies - at least to the extent that a film festival can be.

Will today be the same? We'll see - I'm at The Brink, River's Edge, Arizona, and trying to get into what is sure to be a huge crowd for Monteral Dead End. Amiko is pretty darn good, and I wouldn't be opposed to trying to stay awake through a non-midnight screening of Rokuroku, even if it is a big mess.

Nommer 37 (Number 37)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Basically an uncredited remake of Rear Window set in an unsavory Cape Town neighborhood, but that's not exactly a bad place to start if the goal is to make a decent thriller, and Number 37 is that. It's not as inventive as the things that inspired it, and there's really not a beat that you can't predict once the basics have been put into place.

It goes through those motions well, though, and its James Stewart and Grace Kelly substitutes, Irshaad Ally and Monique Rockman, are well-chosen for this particular production. It's got one really nice villain in Danny Ross's loan shark, and once the finale gets where it's been going, it is undeniably satisfying.

Gatta Cenerentola (Cinderella the Cat)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Axis, digital)

This modern/futuristic retelling of Cinderella has a bunch of wonderfully loopy pieces to it, from a yacht seemingly designed to be a ghost ship, a tragic wicked stepmother, a transvestite stepsister, glass slippers used to smuggle cocaine, and a spunky take on the title character who is anything but passive in the last few minutes. That it never really seems to go off the rails is at least partially a product of its Italian DNA: It's got songs that are equal parts cheery and mournful, casual sexiness, a certain fatalism and loyalty where the characters' hometown is concerned.

Of course, it still is Cinderella, which means that Mia doesn't actually do much until the end - indeed, she's a fairly minor part of the story for much of the movie. And though the motion-captured animation is probably wise not to attempt too much detail, it does tend to feel a bit stiff at times (visually, a proper DCP would probably be a huge help as well). And given how adult some of the movie is, I'm not sure who it's for - its too much this for some, not enough that for others, in practically every facet.

I'll probably watch it again given a chance, though - the thrilling promise of the opening and the moments when it shines make up for its failings.

"Backstore"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

A cute little short that kind of just messes around for ten minutes as a mall Santa and the "star fairy" working with him take a ten-minute break, planning to get it on in the back room, but kind of getting derailed by Christmas-y puns, foreplay, and the logistical difficulties imposed by their costumes get in the way. There's really not much to it other than hanging out, but there doesn't really need to be; the two main cast members are likable and able to hit some pretty specific beats when need be. They and filmmaker Valérie Leclair make them pretty believably two people you might catch working at the mall, not secretly brilliant folks slumming it.

It's got a decent enough end, although I think the goal is more to just get the audience out without things getting too sappy. Which isn't a bad way to go about it at all.

Hevi reissu (Heavy Trip)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Though the "trip" part of the movie only includes a fiercely funny last act, that's no disappointment; this Finnish heavy-metal comedy is pretty much a delight throughout, mostly because our never feels like its characters being both big metalheads and lovable dorks is any sort of conflict that has to be resolved. It's well aware that some parts of this type of music are kind of ridiculous even if very serious, but doesn't disrespect that.

It's also filled with funny people, playing deadpan with enthusiasm, straight-faced when called for and full of joy otherwise. It's got big, ridiculous slapstick, body fluid jokes that make sense and involve giving a damn, and never sells or what makes one le a character for a cheap laugh.

And, again, that last act is some concentrated funny. It's utterly ridiculous in a bigger way than the rest of the film, but it earns that and executes perfectly. Sometimes, it seems, being metal as heck means rolling with the insanity that comes your way.

Full review at EFC.

Tokyo Vampire Hotel (film version)

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

So, maybe this thing has saved me a little time, because how do you commit to six hours of this mess, even if it is basically free on Prime? And you have, in fact, been waiting impatiently for Amazon to bring it over from Japan for the better part of a year. I mean, there's still a non-trivial chance that I will go for the full version, because this thing cut down to half that size is just such an obvious editing disaster that you kind of have to see what Sion Sono doing a TV series with this premise is like.

Still, there's a lot about Tokyo Vampire Hotel that is just generally Not Good. The character dumped in what counts for the protagonist slot, Manami (Ami Tomite), is abused so constantly that it's hard to really care beyond wanting her to just stop crying, and the potentially interesting anti-heroes of K (Kaho) and Nao (Ami Fukuda, I think) feel like side characters whose history is a distraction here. Maybe as an ensemble, they work a whole lot better.

As a film, Tokyo Vampire Hotel becomes a loud, obnoxious thing that gets into the exaggerated violence too early and never has a point to its vampire mythology other than "vampires are cool". But they're really not, and complicated mythology of warring families may make for a good RPG but it makes them hollow, not meaning anything. The one time this seems kind of interesting is when a Rumanian vampire sucking the blood of a woman on an underground ferris wheel makes one recoil because Sono has set it up to feel an awful lot like a rape, and beyond the disgust, there's potentially a metaphor to that, but the movie just doesn't have time for it at all. Sono may also be aging past the point where him doing stuff that is primarily about girls this young dressed sexy is kind of creepy - they definitely get a lot more weird outfits than their less-numerous male counterparts.

I'll probably want the show, because I like Sono for the most part and I'm weak. But it's way on the backburner now.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Fantasia 2018.17: Bleach, Laughing Under the Clouds, Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings, Punk Samurai Slash Down, and Terrified

The rare long all-Hall day, although that's in part because I could feel myself winding down during Terrified and wasn't going to swipe a seat from somebody who wouldn't fall asleep during The Oily Maniac. Enjoyably crowded all day, although with a few things seeming to run longer than expected, it was a real into the movie, out to the line, into the movie, repeat, day.



Not a lot of guests today, and this was kind of an accident - as Marc "DJ XL5" Lamothe explained, David Burrowes's "Granny" has a 5.1 mix, but the Zappin Party was mixed in 2.0, which meant that when the first was edited into the second, the music came over fine but the dialogue didn't. He said that a lot of people thought that this was meant to play into the granny being hearing-impaired or the like, but, not, this wasn't that sort of experimental thing, they just fucked it up, and he was really glad that they had a chance to reschedule it to play before Terrified. They even gave away 25 tickets to the film to folks who had been to the Zappin Party.

Burrowes (right) was still there to thank the audience, because the Australian filmmaker is attending the entire festival. I half-wonder if "Granny" is playing at other North American and European festivals and a long tour is easier than going home, or if he figured that if he was going to travel to one festival, it would be the one where his filmmaker badge could get him into 80 movies.

Or more, depending how you count shorts. Today's shorts day for me, with Penguin Highway followed by both the International Science Fiction Shorts and Circo Animato programs, then back to features for One Cut of the Dead and Five Fingers for Marseilles. Five Fingers of Death is a nice 35mm print and a bunch of fun.

Bleach

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

This high-energy manga adaptation plays best early on, when "buddy comedy" is showing more than some of the other genres that have been put in its blender - the chemistry between its two superpowered teens is sharp but thankfully non-romantic, making the movie sing. It's got a delightfully casual way of adding all the fantasy elements here, too.

Eventually it succumbs a bit to manga and film being paced differently, drawing things out while being cryptic and not having a lot of time for supporting characters. We've got an idea of where this is going to go, so either get on with it or distract us with some more of the comedic stuff.

The action is a lot of fun, at least, even if it involves a lot of swinging plastic swords at special effects. The movie benefits a lot from nifty creature design - the "Hollows" all look great - and certainly has makes it exciting enough that I do hope the studio adapts more arcs (and from what I've seen at the comic shop, there's a lot of them!).

Donten ni warau (Laughing Under the Clouds)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

Though Laughing Under the Clouds tends to get kind of muddled at times, not always entirely sure what it wants to be about or how much weight to give ies supernatural and modern elements, it's got a core involving its three brothers that always works emotionally, even when the rest of the story is a little less aligned. Other bits of the story may not quite work, but Soramaru's sibling rivalry with older brother Tenka always feels right on target.

It's got an emotionally sunny attitude from the colorful, modern-feeling opening to how oldest brother Tenka tries to maintain a happy life for his brothers and town. Maybe the horrific prison is a sign that he's ignoring reality; maybe it's just tonal imbalance. However it shakes out, there's always the feel that something is going on, even as the film darkens (though never too much).

It's kind of a mess, but always an interesting one, and it's got a great Indiana Jones feel when it goes full occult adventure in the end. This might be frustrating if it weren't so polished, but it's not really bad at all as it is.

"No One Will Ever Believe You"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

A fun bit of Halloween that occasionally looks like it might be stretching what its makers can do a bit (a scary face is apparently easier than scary arms), but still works because filmmaker Frédéric Chalté is very good at doling little bits of escalation out over the course of the short that crank the tension up without having to have a whole lot of action until the end. That's when he manages to put three pretty good exclamation points on the short, each a different sort of knife-twist. There's something in the climax for whatever scares somebody the most, which is something few people telling horror stories really manage.

Di Renjie zhi Sidatianwang (Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The Four Heavenly Kings is Tsui Hark's best Detective Dee movie yet. He starts with big, colorful fantasy that it seems like he'll have a hard time topping, but in this case it's better than saving this particular good stuff for later. This is the first time Dee feels like he's in the middle of an outrageous world from the start, and the frantic political machinations play off the madness well.

But it builds, though - the finale is both a greatest hits reprise of every bit of effects that Hark used in the rest of the movie and some even bigger bits of insanity. It's a crying shame that the film is only being released 2D in North America, because the credits indicate Hark shot in stereo and he loves throwing crap at the audience. It may be one of the best big action scenes of the summer, though overshadowed here by Tom Cruise risking life and limb.

It finishes promising more, maybe even the time travel story starring both Mark Chao and Andy Lau that has been teased for a while. I hope so, because this is one of the most thoroughly entertaining Chinese blockbusters in a while.

Full review at EFC.

Panku-zamurai, kirarete sôrô (Punk Samurai Slash Down)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Well, that's something. Several somethings, in fact, starting out as a winking con-game movie set in samurai times and eventually becoming five kinds of absurd before a jaw-droppingly insane finale. Somewhere along the way, even the cheery parts get cynical and the biggest hucksters seem to have things right.

And though it stretches out a ways, it manages to be pretty consistently funny, spreading things out between a bunch of characters, going for arch narration when things start to a get too straightforward, lingering when it's more bizarre than usual. I was admittedly ready for it to be done well before it actually finished (and I suspect that absolutely everybody in the audience saw the final "twist" coming), but wasn't annoyed by this in the way I usually am with too-long movies, which certainly means that the filmmakers are doing something right.

"Granny"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: Zappin Party, digital)
Seen 28 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

A fun little short that's got just enough of a believable motivation to give it some genuine sting rather even though the bloody sight gags are very silly indeed. It works in large part because it's not just old-person jokes - it's got some well-executed thriller moments in it, even if they often do take a comic turn. The two main actors are also both spot-on: Tel Benjamin has just enough incredulity on his face to go with his character's fear, and Maggie Dence balances the horrifying blankness of a slasher villain with some genuine rage and just a little bit of a senior who isn't quite where she was mentally. The last stretch is a bit wobbly, but gets saved by the very silliness of its final bits.

This was the second time the short played in the festival, after a bit of technical trouble including it in a package. Very glad I got to see it properly, although it's interesting to note just how well it played with the dialogue extremely muffled. That's some good visual storytelling, even if it wasn't the intention!

Aterrados (Terrified)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

Give Terrified a lot of credit for not screwing around on the way to the good stuff. A lot of haunted house movies will do a slow build, hint at things that could have a rational explanation, or otherwise play things coy. Writer/director Demián Rugna says to hell with that, going all in on the paranormal barely ten minutes into the movie, and rather than having nowhere to go from there, he builds a contained but still grand mythology, finding ways to make things bigger while still placing them within the corners of our world.

There are a ton of good jump scares, and an enjoyable amount of time playing with how, though these people may be right about there being monsters, that doesn't mean that they are not themselves crazy. Some of the design and effects can seem a bit familiar or low-budget, but there's something weirdly effective about how the first big scare moment plays out - it looks crude, like something anybody could do, but it's staged in a shockingly vicious way and never gets near the uncanny valley. There's a sort of credibility to how the film goes about its business that a lot of other ones doing the same thing lack, but without the tendency to undercut just how unknowable and rule-less these things can seem.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Fantasia 2018.16: A Rough Draft, Fleuve Noir, and Ajin: Demi-Human

Enough free time in the schedule today that I wonder if there were originally guests expected for Fleuve Noir, only to have something come up after the schedule was set. Weird schedule that kept me from seeing 1987: When the Day Comes, which wound up having both of its shows during the 5pm hour, which is odd itself.

Never look the opportunity to sit down and have a good meal mid-festival in the mouth, though. The steak at Thursday's is pretty good.

Saturday's plan is Bleach, Laughing Under the Clouds, Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings, Punk Samurai Slash Down, Terrified, and seeing if I'm up for Oily Maniac after that.

Chernovik (A Rough Draft)

* * (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

What is this "to be continued" garbage? That wasn't in the festival program!

Leaving that aside, this is a tremendously frustrating movie. It's filled with neat ideas and fun visuals, but the filmmakers are kind of terrible at introducing them and letting them play out in a way that seems in any way natural. They use the opening act to introduce things that really don't matter (and skimp on the bits that do), ditch it all with a big "wait, what?" moment, and continually jerk the viewer back and forth with things that are needlessly cryptic or just shrugged off like they should be obvious. There's not even a promise of a story until the movie is almost over.

Despite that, it's got like than its share of entertaining moments. Lead Nikita Volkov is charming enough to get past not really having any sort of script to work with. The ideas it has about alternate timelines and a sort of decadent bureaucracy managing it tingle. And every once in a while it goes all-in showing them, from an enjoyably believable steampunk world to killer robots in the shape of Russian dolls (which, admittedly, do not have smaller killer robots inside them).

You could put together a heck of a trailer for A Rough Draft, that's for sure. It's too bad everything that would be in between the trailer's scenes didn't get enough attention.

Fleuve Noir (Black Tide)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Fleuve Noir (Black Tide in English) feels like the sort of grimy, thoroughly compromised police movie that stopped showing up in America with any great frequency back in the 1990s, perhaps for good reason - it's dark and sometimes feels like it reinforces humanity's lesser impulses rather than shining a light on them. There's still an undeniable fascination to imperfect men trying to travel down the truth, though, and this one's got a story that gets under one's skin, the sort of mystery that gets solved by just picking at it until it bleeds, and the filmmakers a fair job of keeping that going until it's done.

16-year-old Dany Arnault is missing, but when mother Solange (Sandrine Kiberlain) first reports it, police Commander François Visconti (Vincent Cassel) tells her to hold tight, saying kids that age often run off for their own reasons, which is true enough, although Visconti is probably also distracted by his own son's involvement in drug-dealing. When the boy doesn't return, it becomes an official case, and Visconti finds himself pulled in, discounting his colleagues' theories about ISIS recruitment at the boy's school or him running away after meeting the boy's neighbor and former tutor Yann Bellaile (Romain Duris), who seems to be following the investigation a little too closely.

Give this sort of movie a dedicated, professional investigator and it's an episode of Without a Trace; build it around an alcoholic wreck and you've got a movie. With Vincent Cassel in the lead, it's definitely not just some episodic crime drama. He's tasked with playing his detective as a sweaty, semi-toxic mess, just gross enough to disdain and dogged enough to kind of admire. He's kind of fascinating when François is at his worst, less so when he's the sort of disreputable one kind of expects, but always giving the impression of someone who may once have been impressive before alcohol and disillusionment broke him. Romain Duris gives him an odd performance to play off, almost comically suspicious and a bit of a stereotype besides, but enjoyably slippery. He's good at slipping from a stuttering nervous wreck to something decidedly more sinister when the time comes.

Full review at EFC.

Ajin: Demi-Human

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: Action!, digital)

Ajin: Demi-Human is a better-than-usual attempt to cram a lot of comic book into a two-hour movie; you can see the filmmakers making compromises between character depth and world-building, action and explanation. They generally do okay; there's a fair chunk to absorb but it moves fast and puts the characters in position for sometimes gruesomely creative action.

In the film's world, an "Ajin" or "Demi-Human" is a sort of mutant who doesn't stay dead; kill them and they "reset" a minute later, recovering from any injury, illness, or mayhem. 46 are known to exist in the world, and Kei Nagai (Takeru Satoh) is one of them, having stood back up after being hit by a bus. The bad news: Japan's Ajin bureau is less interested in protecting them than studying them and using them as human guinea pigs. The good news: Japan's other two known Ajin, Koji Tanaka (Yu Shirota) and Sato (Go Ayano), have come to rescue him. Or, wait, maybe it's bad news: Having suffered the same torture at the hands of Yu Tozaki (Tetsuji Tamayama) over years rather than months, they don't much care what humans they kill, and Nagai has yet to become that hardened.

There's more to the mythology than that but less enumerated than you might expect; the filmmakers catch the audience up with some opening text and then get to the good stuff quickly. It's impressively efficient without slowing the movie down much, or bogging it down with too much information that really doesn't matter to folks who have bought a ticket to see people who can't be killed for very long fight. In some cases, that's necessity; there is a fair amount of manga to cram into the movie, and that means getting it down to the essentials, although by the same token that often means jumping from one situation to another quickly. There are characters who are brought in and out with little time to be fleshed out, and the finale has characters becoming uneasy allies without really digging into the unease. It's mentioned, but then there's violence to do.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Fantasia 2018.15: Violence Voyager, Pledge, and DJ XL5's Outtasight Zappin' Party

There was someone with a kid behind me during Violence Voyager, and though I don't recall hearing them book it out of there when things started getting horrific, I kind of hope they did. The Burning Buddha Man got nasty when it showed five years ago, but this seemed next-level. I'm mildly worried about where the filmmaker's next movie will land.



After that, practically everybody for Pledge showed up for a Q&A. From left to right, cast members Jesse Pimentel, Aaron Dalla Villa, Zachery Byrd, Jean-Louis Droulers, Joe Gallagher, and Erica Boozer; director of photography William Babcock, cast members Natalie Marie Walsh and Zack Weiner (who also wrote the film), director Daniel Robbins, and producer Mark Rapaport. Had to figure out how to do panorama on this phone for that!

Nice enough folks, even if I don't really love their movie, and it was interesting to hear them talking about how they were trying to find the ending throughout making the movie, and that at one point there was some crazy supernatural stuff in the finale, and how they had a lot of variations of the final shot.

After that, I planned on Blood and Black Lace, but miscalculated the walk to the Cinematheque Quebecoise, and wound up just after the cut-off for passholders. Which, honestly, is fine with me; I am not a huge giallo fan at all and chose that because it fit the schedule best, and if I'd made it in but someone who was really enthused didn't, I'd feel bad about it. Instead, I walked down to the part of Ste. Catherine's where Just For Laughs was set up, got some pulled pork poutine from Le Smoking Barbecue, and was able to be close to the front of the line for DJ XL5's show and watch that with a nice full belly.

As usual, that was a fun show, and although I try to not get tense and angry during the meowing before shows (it extends into the opening logos and sometimes credits on occasion and I'm like, guys, the filmmakers left that silent for a reason), I really don't get it during the "Simon's Cat" segments. The cat meowing is a punchline and you're just walking all over it. Why would you do that?

A bunch of funny shorts in there, though, with "Fire in Cardboard City" probably an all-timer, and I hope they find another spot to play "Granny", a funny Australian horror-comedy that unfortunately had the sound mix messed up when made part of the program. I think they will, because Marc seemed genuinely horrified when he came out to apologize after the screening.

Maybe today, when I'll be catching A Rough Draft, Fleuve Noir, and Ajin: Demi-Human. We'll see how tired/up for gross-outs I am after that when Body Melt plays at midnight. This will almost certainly be posted after it starts, but The Witch in the Window is good stuff.

Violence Voyager

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, DCP)

You can't exactly claim that Violence Voyager doesn't tell the audience what it's in for - "violence" is right there in the title, and it's not like the audience was going to go in expecting something straightforward in either story or medium from the maker of The Burning Buddha Man. Still, it's a profoundly bizarre movie, the sort one can admire for being iconoclastic while still feeling sorry for people who go in unprepared.

It's a little off-kilter, storywise, from the start, introducing Bobby Pearson (voice of Aoi Yuki), a young American boy living in Japan, and his friend Akkun. Akkun has found a secret path through the woods where they can visit their friend Takaaki, who recently moved to another village. When they do follow it - despite warnings from Old Man Lucky-Monkey - they find a seemingly empty amusement park, "Violence Voyager", in the middle of nowhere, that offers kids the chance to play through a secret mission, blasting robots with squirt guns. But when they meet a girl, Tokiko, who claims to have been there for days and lost her boyfriend, thing seem a lot more sinister.

There's your standard "What the heck, Japan?" movie - bizarrely designed monsters, sudden tone shifts, kids casually put in the center of questionable situations - and then there's this thing. Director Ujicha works in the peculiar medium of "gekimation" - static paper cutouts mixed and manipulated in front of the camera, enhanced by the occasional bit of water, fire, or viscous liquid - with one of the more outright twisted horror stories at the festival. It's kind of odd by its nature, as one has to get used to mouths not moving and motion not aligning with either regular experience or typical animation. The detailed backgrounds and foreground characters are both drawn with enough shading to have a little three-dimensionality to them, but the way they're put together negates that. Over the course of an 80-minute movie, one gets used to it, but it's never not odd or obvious.

Full review at EFC.

"Third Wheel"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

"Third Wheel" is a brief punchline short, so you can't really talk about it too much, but I like it. It plays a simple scenario just well enough to set expectations, doesn't get too cute, and then quickly demolishes them in strange, entertaining fashion. Nothing up until the last few seconds is overdoing it, and the punchline is in and out fast enough to keep you from picking holes in it.

Plus, that last bit is a really wonderful bit of practical effects, just the absolute opposite of the rest of the film's tone but still done really well. It's kind of a small delight, but a genuine one.

Pledge

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

College fraternities and secret societies are in a weird place now, and have been for years - when you hear about them, it's for something ridiculous and/or awful, but that you never really hear a guy mention a concrete way one has opened a door for him (just that they have) makes them sort of sinister as well. There's probably a good movie to be made from this dichotomy, and Pledge probably has the right idea, but never finds the great hook that would lift it above average.

It opens with three freshmen - David (Zack Weiner), Justin (Zachery Byrd), and Ethan (Phillip Andre Botello) - going to various fraternity rush events and, as they're far closer to awkward nerds than confident athletes, having the doors shut in their face. At least, that is, until one girl tells them about a party going on the next night, and while it seems like an obvious prank - the house of the Krypteia "social club" is well off-campus - they're welcomed in, and told to pack a bag for a weekend stay with two other candidates. It soon turns out that this group's hazing is pretty extreme; off-campus, one of the girls from the party (Erica Boozer) is getting very worried that she hasn't heard from a friend who accidentally opened the wrong door since.

There's a twist to this movie eventually, but is it worth investing the time to get there? I'm not certain. It's a good twist, which actually gives the audience more to chew on when it appears rather than just adding complication onto what had come before, but the lead-up to it never really manages to play with the parts that maybe aren't right to be really intriguing. Even before they upend things, it seems like the filmmakers could be taking a closer look at fraternities as an institution that plays off young men's crudest desires, or doing more with Rachel (it seems like there's a real missed opportunity to play with her going from eye candy to active participant, but the story treats her as much as a thing to be used as the fraternity does). David's desire to be part of this cool kids' club is taken as a given, but as the thing that makes the story go for the first chunk of the movie, it's pretty thin.

Full review at EFC.

DJ XL5's Outtasight Zappin' Party

Seen 25 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

As always, a tremendously funny group of shorts from Marc "DJ XL5" Lamothe, with much of the "zappin" being between movies where Samuel L. Jackson gets killed

Some of the best:

"Fire In Cardboard City" is one of the highlights of the program, a fast-paced, hilarious short that starts with some fantastic animation and builds its premise out in absurd directions, reminiscent of The Lego Movie but more focused on the delightful absurdity of a creation taking on the properties of its medium than pop-culture references. It's got several huge laughs in under ten minutes, and the sort of action filmmaking chops that has me suspect director Phil Brough will get some live-action work sooner than later.

"Eau de Jesus" is a parody perfume ad but it's got a bunch of good jokes in it even if the "sexy Jesus" doesn't quite seem like the sharpest satire, although it's got some good play on how people will project whatever they want on him, often taking him far from being a poor Middle-eastern worker.

"Hypocondriaque" has a few easy jokes that are French-Canadian specific, and the pop-culture reference it ends on is pretty clear from about midway through, but even with that, it's a funny bit of transplanting working-class life to the future that feels a bit more right in its details than is sometimes the case - it feels like a homesteader situation, but with the awareness that that doesn't directly map to the future.

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 27 July 2018 - 2 August 2018

It'd be a good week for the Dolby screen to open at Assembly Row, but apparently not. Maybe by the time I get home, so I can see Mission: Impossible on that.

  • That would be Mission: Impossible - Fallout, once again directed by Christopher McQuarrie and featuring Tom Cruise performing amazing stunts in a labyrinthine plot involving face masks, going rogue, all that good stuff. I think it's the first in the series to get a 3D conversion, too. It's at the Somerville (2D only), Fresh Pond (2D only), Jordan's Furniture (Imax 2D), the Embassy (2D only), Boston Common (including Imax 2D), Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport (including Icon-X), South Bay (including Imax 2D and Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax 2D), Revere (including MX4D and XPlus), and the SuperLux (2D only). And, if you don't mind a drive, the Leicester Drive-In is allegedly one of seven places in the United States to have a 35mm print. Open two days a week (Friday and Saturday), but Paramount, the studio that has abandoned film most completely, ships a print there. I just don't get it.

    The week's other big opening is another TV show making the jump the theaters, with Teen Titans Go! To The Movies featuring Robin and the other members of the slapstick, self-referential Cartoon Network take on DC's youthful super-team angling for a movie of their own. It's apparently goofy enough that Nic Cage finally gets to play Superman in it! That's at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    Eighth Grade expands, adding the Somerville and Embassy to the Coolidge, Kendall, and Boston Common.

    Fenway will be showing Sailor Moon R & S to lead up to next week's Super S showing, with a dub on Saturday and subtitles on Monday (also at Revere). There are also screenings of Across the Universe at Boston Common and Fenway on Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday (also at Revere the latter two dates).
  • Another week, another IFFBoston selection opening at The Coolidge Corner Theatre and around town, with Blindspotting opening there and at the Kendall, Boston Common, Fenway, and Revere. It's the story of a parolee re-evaluating his relationship with his volatile best friend against the backdrop of rapidly-gentrifying Oakland, CA. Co-stars Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal also wrote the film together.

    The Coolidge also wraps up "Truly Killer" midnights with The Boston Strangler on Friday and a 35mm print of Zodiac on Saturday (starting at 11:30, which is still probably not early enough to catch the last 66 bus). Sunday features a special screening of Junun, Paul Thomas Anderson's documentary of Johnny Greenwood, Shye Ben Tzur, and the Rajasthan Express in concert in India, with a 35mm print of PTA's video for Radiohead's "Daydreaming" thrown in as a bonus. The Big Screen Classic on Monday is Spirited Away, with a dub at 7pm and subtitles at 9:45pm; there's also a special 35mm screening of Persepolis on Tuesday with live discussion afterward in collaboration with Brookline Booksmith. The "Early Hitchcock" course in the screening room starts on Wednesday evening.
  • Kendall Square also picks up Custody, a French thriller built around a bitter custody battle.
  • The big Chinese movie opening at Boston Common is Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings, with Mark Chao You-ting returning as Dee Renjie for a second go-round (director Tsui Hark and co-star Carina Lau are on their third), with more courtroom intrigue and supernatural chaos on tap. They also open Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days on Wednesday, the second part of a Korean two-parter about a fireman proving his worth in the afterlife. The first did not play Boston, so we've got a bit of catching up to do.

    Apple Fresh Pond has Dhadak continuing and Hindi crime entry Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster 3 the biggest release of the new Indian movies. There's also drama Happy Wedding (through Sunday) and actioner Saakshyam in Telugu.
  • The Brattle Theatre opens On the Seventh Day, following an immigrant who finds his job and soccer team (and community) in conflict when he reaches the championships of a local league. It plays Friday through Monday, with director Jim McKay on-hand for a Q&A on that last day.

    No late shows for that over the weekend, though, as the Brattle has a Return of the Grindhouse series featuring 35mm prints of One-Armed Boxer (Friday), Demons (Saturday), and The Creeper (Sunday), each of which will be followed by a secret second feature. There's a free 35mm "Elements of Cinema" screening of King Vidor's The Crowd at 6pm on Monday, Rita Hayworth in Blood and Sand on Tuesday, The Oslo Diaries as part of The Boston Jewish Film Festival's Summer Cinematheque on Wednesday, and a double feature of Girlhood and Girls Town (the latter on 35mm) on Thursday.
  • The Somerville Theatre continues both its summer programs, starting with Midnight Specials of Thelma & Louise (Friday) and Too Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (Sunday). The Wednesday "Play It Cool II" double features is The Outsiders and Foxes.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts runs out the July schedule with the end of their Boston French Film Festival, the last weekend featuring Jealous (Friday), Let the Sunshine In (Friday/Saturday), Happy End (Friday), Speak Up (Saturday), Ismael's Ghosts (Saturday), C'est a Vie! (Saturday/Sunday), Mr. And Mrs. Adelman (Sunday) and closing night film Return of the Hero (Sunday). Thursday has them starting their August calendar with Dangerous Liaisons, the first of a "Casanova's Europe" series, and Ava, Sadaf Foroughi's story of coming of age in Tehran.
  • The Regent Theatre is the latest stop for Yellow Submarine on its 50th anniversary tour, with Friday night's show including a pre-screening sing-along and post-film discussion. They also show Nepalese movie Kanchhi on Monday, with star and producer Shweta Khadka there in person.
  • Cinema Salem splits the shows in their 18-seat screening room between The Catcher Was a Spy and horror movie The Devil's Doorway.
  • Plenty of outdoor movies for free, with Joe's Free Films showing that Cars 3 is the most popular this year.


I am still at Fantasia, but I'll be seeing Detective Dee 3 at the festival (which means it won't open here until next week).

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Fantasia 2018.14: Blue My Mind and Anna and the Apocalypse

Remember what I said about patterns being easy to see when you have short schedule days? It was teenage girls having high school go to hell yesterday. I can't say I loved Blue My Mind, but it's not exactly for me in one sense, though I suppose it is in terms of "hey, teenage girls spend a lot of time freaked out over their changing bodies and identities, so cut them more slack than Mia's father does".

It's a reminder that we really need to get more female voices at eFilmCritic and in film criticism in general - I can review this, but don't have the same perspective. It's worth trying to find someone who does.

Because this was a day where Hall and DeSève were about an hour out of sync, I had some time to poke around for food, and wound up at Taboo, which (I think) is in the spot where m:brgr used to be, in part because that's where I was when the rain started coming down good. Not bad at all, although if I go in again, I may go for more sliders and regular fries rather than a big ol' poutine. I'm recommending it to my brother to try the next time his bosses send him to MTL on business; he'd probably really go fo the tartares and cocktails.

After that, back to the fest for Anna and the Apocalypse and one of the more energetic Q&As of the fest so far.



Tony Timpone on the left, joined by director John McPhail in the center and co-star Christopher Leveaux on the right, and on the "pleased to be here and having a blast" scale of festival guests, young Scots who have made a Christmas zombie high-school musical are pretty high. Leveaux, it was mentioned, is actually the grandson of The Wicker Man filmmaker Robin Hardy, and mentioned putting a little wicker man easter egg in the movie somewhere. When asked about influences, McPhail said that he was always a big horror fan, but finding musicals that had this sort of feel to them was a bit trickier, and got a big round of applause when he mentioned The Happiness of the Katakiris. They did put down a hard-and-fast rule that the zombies would not be singing or dancing at any point, because that would be the difference between the movie being a comedy and being a joke. They also mentioned dropping one of the more meta moments because they couldn't fit it in, and the film's probably better that way. There were other things they couldn't do because of budget - they wanted more gore, but felt they had to save the effects money for when people the audience knew went down. They're psyched to see the Orion logo in front of their movie.

One of the more amusing audience questions came from someone who asked if Vertigo comics character John Constantine was an influence on Steph, and that got McPhail laughing - no, but actress (and choreographer!) Sarah Swire would love that, especially since she pretty much made that character her own: Steph originally started out as a sportier, more outgoing athlete, and the bleach-blonde, standoffish activist was how Swire saw her. She kind of steals the movie.

After that, I headed to the Forum for Salyut-7, which I liked a fair amount, although it's not exactly a break from summer movie camp. Probably the only one until the end, though.

Instead, today's a much more full day, with Violence Voyager, Pledge, Blood and Black Lace, and DJ XL5's Outtasight Zappin' Party. Searching and Hurt are both pretty darn good.

Blue My Mind

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, digital)

Blue My Mind is the sort of movie where I find myself kind of impatient, waiting for a certain more active story to kick in, but where I am also fully aware that someone who has actually been a 15-year-old girl might look at it and say "yes, this, exactly - this is an uncannily perfect metaphor for having your body and mind suddenly changing and not feeling like you can talk to anybody about it because you've been made to feel like a monster!" It's not for me, and that's okay.

Does it still sometimes feel like the filmmakers have this big fantastical thing in the middle of their story that they spend an hour and a half trying to avoid? Sometimes, yes, and it can be kind of frustrating. It's fortunate that the more grounded bits still work extremely well - lead actresses Luna Wedler and Zoë Pastelle Holthuizen are great, impressively sympathetic even when not necessarily easy to like.

But, really, don't listen to me; find some young women in her teens or twenties who have seen the movie. They're going to know what they're talking about a heck of a lot better than me.

"Netflix & Chill"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

A quick, entertaining short film that does a pretty nice job of playing out as silent, body-language comedy before taking its twist. Yannick Jozefzoon and Romy Gevers are genuinely funny with alternately hesitant and eager teenagers trying to find the right approach. It takes just long enough a detour into suspense before finding a pretty terrific punchline.

Anna and the Apocalypse

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Anna and the Apocalypse at time plays like an actual high-school musical, which works better than you might expect. It could be done as a big production, but there's something that feels right about how it keeps things at a level that can revel in the silliness of its premise but still has room to treat its teens' concerns with respect rather than as overdone melodrama or metaphor.

It's the day of the Christmas talent show in Little Haven, Scotland, but things get off a bit on the wrong foot for Anna Shephard (Ella Hunt) when her best-friend-with-a-massive-crush John (Malcolm Cumming) mistakenly blabs to her father (Mark Benton) that his daughter is not planning on going straight to University, but has purchased a ticket to Australia to start a gap travel year. For the other students, problems seem a bit more minor - Mr. Savage (Paul Kaye) is already throwing his weight around ahead of his promotion to headmaster, spiking a story on homelessness Steph (Sarah Swire) has been writing for the school blog, leading her to ask A/V maven Chris (Christopher Leveaux) to help her film at the soup kitchen, though that might make him late for the number his girlfriend Lisa (Marli Siu) - also Anna's best gal pal - is doing in the show. Of course, before all this has gone on, Anna has switched off a story on the car radio about a super-bad flu outbreak, so when she and John start making their way to school the next morning, they find that they've got bigger problems than her ex Nick (Ben Wiggins) being kind of a pest.

The "New Day"-type number that Anna and John have at this point is probably the movie's best and funniest; it gets to be cheery with zombie mayhem in the background, playing as a bit of a subversion of the form, but not in a sneering manner - it's sincere and with standing behind Anna & John, not making the jokes at their expense. The songs by Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly are kind of what you might expect from a modern movie musical - there's about five of them, front-loaded so that the latter half of the movie can be more action-based, and on first pass the impression is more that they fit their slot well enough rather than having their lyrics and melodies embedded into one's heads. They sound a little processed, although not so much that they don't sound like they're coming from the characters. Everybody sings for themselves, which is nice.

Full review at EFC.

Salyut-7

Finding yourself with a surprisingly short day at the film festival and deciding to fit another movie in there may be signs that You Have A Problem, but I offer two things in my defense: First, it was a rainy evening but my rented apartment would probably be too hot to stay in. Second, when someone contrives to open a 3D movie about real-life adventure in Earth orbit within walking distance of where I am staying, you'd better believe that I'm going to see it. Quite honestly, Fantasia is lucky that I'd already seen Believer and am not really a "Small Gauge Trauma" person, because otherwise I might skip something on the schedule.

Some time I'm going to get up the guts to propose a 3D film festival to the Frame One Theatres guys - an event for screen #1 at Arlington to complement Somerville's 70mm festival - and this will probably make the list of foreign discoveries to include, maybe as a double-feature with Gravity. I know a lot of people don't care for 3D, but, darn it, this space-based films is one of the reasons why we have it, and why would you want to deny yourself that?

Anyway, if you're in Canada, it's worth checking out - the Cineplex Forum in Montreal appears to have to for another week, at least - and this might be a fine time to actually use the Amazon link on the article if you're in the U.S. (I haven't checked Netflix or any other services because I don't subscribe to them and I'm in Canada right now anyway). I mean, who doesn't like this stuff?

Salyut-7

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2018 in Cineplex Forum #14 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

As someone who was 11 years old and into space in 1985, I feel like I should remember the mission portrayed in this film more clearly (or at all); as someone who likes movies now, I'm grateful that I happened to be in Canada during the right window to catch it on the big screen, as it seems to have gone straight to streaming services in the United States. It's a terrific story and if the movie sometimes seems a bit dry, that's more because astronauts (or, in this case, cosmonauts) tend to be extraordinarily capable people rather than the situation not being dramatic.

Though the film is based upon actual events, it does change characters' surnames, fudge the timeline a bit, and apparently enhance the drama, starting by showing a micrometeorite impact on the Soviet Salyut-7 space station that causes it to shut down and lose contact with Earth while uninhabited in between missions. Simply abandoning it is not an option, as the station would fit neatly in the cargo hold of an American space shuttle (and the latest mission would include a French astronaut who had previously visited Salyut-7), so a mission is hastily prepped with engineer Victor Alekhin (Pavel Derevyanko) and commander Vladimir Fedorov (Vladimir Vdovichenkov), who had been grounded for claiming to see angels on his previous spacewalk, but is probably the only pilot who could manually dock a Soyuz capsule with the station, which is spinning on all three axes at a rate of over 1 degree per second. On the ground, Valery Shudin (Aleksandr Samoylenko) tries to give them the support they need, although many in the military advise shooting the station down before the Americans can recover it.

I am, I admit, a little disappointed to discover after a quick visit to Wikipedia that this film takes plenty of liberties with actual events, although another part of me is willing to accept the story being told because it is great drama and because few individual moments play like something unlikely or simple bad science. The filmmakers present a believable set of cascading disasters, smart solutions, and cold-war concerns that make for a thrilling film. It's a vivid illustration of just how many things must be carefully attended to for manned space exploration to work, and the incredibly thin margins when something goes wrong. It may not have really happened this way, but it certainly could have, so the tension on display is real.

Full review at EFC.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Fantasia 2018.13: Chained for Life, Da Hu Fa, and Bodied

Used to be three-film days were not unusual at Fantasia, but the schedule is really packed to the gills now; it's a bit rare to have this short a day, but it's neat, sometimes, to see a theme emerge, even if it's kind of inadvertent. Starting the day with Chained for Life and ending with Bodied is a good bookend of fumbling with the idea that most of us - in particular, most of us going to movies at this festival - want to expose ourselves to more variety, but don't necessarily understand it, and it's very easy to dive into the parts that let us feel like we're being open and magnanimous, even if it can be kind of condescending. Neither really offers easy solutions, which is honest if frustrating.

In between, there was the choice between Da Hu Fan and V.I.P., and while I'd heard that the subtitles on the first made it almost unwatchable, I figured they couldn't be that bad if subsequent screenings weren't yanked (as happened with a movie in one of the first years I came). Plus, there's no guarantee I'd get to see it anywhere else, let alone in 3D, given how spotty Chinese film distribution can get. Stuff sometimes just never comes out on disc, and who knows if it will hit a streaming service outside China. So you take that compromise, kind of struggle with the movie in some ways, and at least have been able to see it.



I might have been able to squeeze another movie in there, but I was kind of worried about getting into Bodied. Didn't need to be - it being at the tail end of a year-long festival run has kind of allowed it to fade into the background a bit. Still a good crowd to see director Joseph Kahn (right, with Tony Timpone), who was here with Detention a few years ago. He points out that he only makes a film once a decade or so because it's his own money, either from music videos he directed or borrowing, and while that means he can make the films the way he wants (to the point of haranguing his screenwriter to not wimp out in the third act), it sounds exhausting.

It was interesting that he still sounded pretty enamored of battle rap even though the movie is in part about its toxicity, although I don't imagine you can make this movie without feeling like there's something worthwhile in there. He talked about having wanted to do a battle-rap movie back when 8 Mile was being made, and dropping the idea because of that, but being drawn back into the idea it worked as a proxy for social media where people were actually doing things rather than typing on phones, and a lot of his comments (like the film's plot) sort of skewed toward "what you think is an open space can come back to bite you", which seems like a less urgent message than "why do you feel comfortable saying that hting in the first place?". Of course, his experiences are closer to the actual culture than mine, so maybe I'm just the guy who is too self-reflective for his own good.

Favorite question: Cats show up in a ton of scenes, but it's not some particular bit of symbolism - apparently a cat just kept walking into the shot, and after a while they just sort of let it be.

Anyway, another short day coming up, with just Blue My Mind and Anna and the Apocalypse on the schedule, though I'll probably head out to see Salyut 7 at the Forum later. By the time this is posted, The Witch: Part 1 will have already started, so not much point recommending it; I wouldn't discourage anyone from seeing Believer later.

Chained for Life

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

You can feel Chained for Life struggling with the legacy of Freaks and similar films throughout, and just the general difficulty of physical differences, and maybe ultimately not sure what else to do but acknowledge the struggle. The filmmakers are determined not to present a simple fairy tale or something which minimizes the reality of living with something that makes people stare, and as a result they wind up going around in circles a bit, making a movie about making a movie and talking about talking about disfigurement and beauty.

Fortunately, it's an appealing cast with Michael Pearson displaying the combination of charisma and well-buried frustration that makes one really want to find him a role that's not so much about his appearance and Jess Weixler giving her pretty but shallow movie star some personal growth. They don't quite come across as friends, but they're still fun to watch together.

Da Hu Fa (aka The Guardian)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Axis, active-shutter 3D/DCP)

The DCP shown at Fantasia had some pretty rough subtitles - the sort that seem machine-translated but haven't had an English speaker proofread them. It doesn't cripple the movie, but does put up a barrier, and I hope a better version shows up on video.

That hypothetical version probably won't be 3D, though, and "just look at this thing" is a big part of its appeal. The environment is like an immense three-dimensional watercolor, just a delight for the eyes, and while the character design is all over the place, it's striking and well-animated, and makes the humans feel a little intrusive and threatening without exaggerating them more than the fantasy creatures. That's great and useful, as writer/director Yang Zhigang seems to rush through the mythology at times, but you can absolutely get the impression of these strange creatures being conquered and exploited by humans just from the design.

The action and gunfire can be a little much, though. It gets the thrill of "ooh, not what I expected" initially, both for how it's staged and how intense it is, but there is a lot of mayhem and turquoise blood spilled by the end, even though the story has moved to a spot where it should probably be less indiscriminate. The filmmakers often don't seem to know how to work at a pace that isn't all-out, either, and it's kind of exhausting when there's shooting and dull in-between. Combine it with the translation issues, and it's harder to get into the story than it should be. Enough storytelling happens during action for it to work out, but it makes a 90-minute movie feel a lot more grueling.

I'd love to get a chance to revisit this, though; hopefully Funimation or maybe Olive's animation line will pick it up.

Bodied

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Bodied is a remarkably entertaining movie that is also frank as heck in its talk about race, the sort of thing that feels like it's got a 10% chance of being a breakthrough and a much larger chance of getting pilloried for moments that have been taken out of context. It isn't quite perfect, but it's funny, built to appeal to a broad audience, and may just get a thing or two to click into place for the people who watch it, and that's definitely worth a bigger-than-usual recommendation.

It opens with a rap battle in an empty warehouse, and one of the most enthusiastic people in the crowd is whitebread-as-heck Adam Merkin (Calum Worthy), eagerly explaining to girlfriend Maya (Rory Uphold) the terminology, mechanics, and history of the medium before running after winner Behn Grymm (Jackie Long) to get some insight on how a certain ubiquitous word starting with "n" is used with different adjectives for use in his graduate thesis at Berkley. An encounter with someone looking to challenge Behn gives Adam the chance to do his own, and he's invited to compete as a result, scoring a win with some more-than-questionable lyrics. Soon he's eagerly diving deeper into that world, not quite understanding exactly how out-of-place he is despite his own enthusiasm.

The film is clearly Adam's story, but he's never truly the hero, and the filmmakers engage in a sort of internal tug of war where they're sort of coy about this right from the start, where Behn tosses off a comment about how Adam is looking for a pass to use the n-word, horrifying Adam. He probably isn't, consciously, and there's never any indication that he considers himself better than people of other ethnicities, but he's got some deep white privilege that plays out in dead-on fashion: Shock at people telling him he's out of line, feeling that he can't be that privileged because his background sometimes works against him, but, still, not really changing, and feeling like he can go to the racist or personal material because he doesn't really grasp consequences. Director Joseph Kahn and actor Calum Worthy attacks this material in impressive fashion, always keeping the wide-eyed, enthusiastic young man up front so the jokes work, but also having a bit of hostility to pull out, so that the aggression of the competition is part of the appeal.

Full review at EFC.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Fantasia 2018.12: The Dark, I Am a Hero, Luz, The Witch in the Window, and Inuyashiki

Monday, apparently, is the day you want to come to Fantasia if you like seeing directors talk about their movies.



That there is The Dark director Justin P. Lange on the right. He made a pretty nifty movie with enough sharp turns that it made my general plan of "see as many movies as possible at the festival without researching unless you need to resolve conflicts" seem pretty clever, because I didn't know what was coming at any point.

He had a pretty dedicated pair of kids working for him, noting that they initially tried to find ways to keep Toby Nichols from having to wear some appliances over his eyes that left him as blind as the character, but the kid kept pushing to do it. Not that the guy was above messing with his director; he would regularly sound not-great during rehearsal and then nail it when filming started, and toward the end of shooting he and co-star Nadia Alexander were practicing one scene with the soapiest possible manner, getting him into a mild panic because they were on a soundstage with with all this elaborate stuff going on before delivering.



Shinsuke Sato (center) had a long day of audience Q&As, with I Am a Hero, Bleach, and Inuyashiki all playing on one screen or another, although it's maybe not hugely taxing - you've got time to have a nice meal while folks watch your movies, probably a nice lounge to read in. Maybe you catch that nifty horror movie that played before yours.

One of the big topics here was something I had kind-of-sort-of noticed but never given a lot of thought to, that a lot of Japanese movies are funded by broadcast television stations, and as a result there are some hard limits on what you can and can't do, so the fact that this was a Toho production without a lot of that sort of thing going on meant he could do a big, violent, gross zombie movie, and he did go kind of all-in.

Much of the climax takes place at a shopping center, so there were inevitable questions about Dawn of the Dead, and he didn't talk about themes so much as pointed out that this took place at an outlet mall, so the action played out differently because much of it was outside, and then pointed out that while you are starting to see more outlet malls in Japan, it was tough to find one in good shape that would let them shoot, so that chunk of the movie was actually shot in South Korea. You probably wouldn't notice in part because of all the English signage, which feels like it could be a metaphor for something (loss of place amid consumer culture?), but it's tough to put one's finger on it.



For Luz, Ariel was joined by director Tilman Singer (center) and production designer Dario Mendez Acosta (right), which isn't just bringing random people up because, as Ariel mentioned at the start, this movie is "very production designed." It's period layered on period, and the whole thing had an incredibly meticulous script, with practically every motion and bit of unsynchronized sound pre-planned. It was Singer's thesis film, so they didn't have a whole lot of money on top of shooting on 16mm, which meant he basically had three takes per shot and that was it. It works out very well; I saw a few folks on Twitter amazed that it was a student film.

Funniest bit: When someone asked if Acosta brought the South American bits to the movie, and he laughed, saying that while he and Singer did a semester abroad in Colombia, he was born and raised in Germany, and this (indicating his face) was lying to you - he's quite German and loses his mind when the train is five minutes late.



Nice crowd for The Witch in the Window, as Mitch Davis welcomed filmmaker Andy MItton, as well as stars Charlie Tacker and Alex Draper and producer Richard King. Shot in Vermont, which explains why a fair number of people came up; Draper is actually a professor at Middlebury College, and they got a lot of people from there working on it. It feels authentically New England in a way that a lot of other haunted house movies don't.

It's interesting to hear how a lot of the movie evolved while making it, with something that's maybe not crucial to the supernatural mythology (whether or not Simon's marriage could be salvaged) but certainly what the movie was about on a thematic level changing midway through, and the important last beat added during sound mixing literally an hour before the film was locked. Which is crazy, but worked.



New screen, same Sato, as he closed out the long day with Inuyashiki. Most of the Q&A was in French, so I didn't catch a lot, but it was kind of interesting to come full-circle and see the Fuji Television logo at the front and notice that, while this film is just about as violent as I Am a Hero was, it was kind of bloodless and held back. Maybe I wouldn't have noticed if he hadn't mentioned this before, but it's hard not to given the context.

Today's plan is kind of up in the air - Chained for Life for sure, and then I'd kind of like to see Da Hu Fa in 3D, but I've heard the subtitles are kind of incomprehensible. The alternative is V.I.P., and then back to Hall to see if I can get into Bodied afterward.

"A/S/L"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

As this sort of short horror movie goes - person demonstrates he's not really a great human being, walks himself into supernatural situation well-suited to punishing it, with violence ensuing - "A/S/L" is pretty good. I don't know that this kind of short is actually scary; it's got too certain a sense of its own righteousness for that, and I suspect that most people watching it know the game well enough that the sudden reversal doesn't provide the relief it's supposed to because the audience is never really that worried.

This one does its job well, though - there's an uncertainty and caution to both Brendan Boogie (as the older man) and Lindsey Taft (as the 13-year-old on the other end of his internet chat) that not only makes them feel less like strawmen but gives the short the feeling that it could go in any direction. It's still always going to end up at the same place, but not knowing the how or the exact feel puts it a notch above many others doing the same sort of thing.

The Dark

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The Dark is good horror-movie stuff that starts with a couple of great bits of misdirection before the story proper begins, good enough that I almost don't want to talk about where it really goes, because discovering it is a lot of nerve-wracking fun and makes the result kind of beautiful. But since a good review tells you why I like it, here goes.

It starts with a tense little bit - twitchy-looking Josef (Karl Markovics) stopping at a gas station, getting an odd assortment of snacks from the convenience store, and ripping open a map before he pays for it. The proprietor doesn't much like him, or any of the tourists who come looking to scare themselves in "Devil's Den". It turns out someone is not what he seems here, and further, when things do get to Devil's Den, there is yet more to be afraid of - although what's there is not, it turns out, as completely inhuman as one might have assumed.

That opening gambit is something that genre audiences have seen rather a lot, but it's still pretty effective; filmmaker Justin P. Lange keeps potential distractions like music to a tense minimum, introduces incongruous bits that pique interest at the time and make a lot more sense later without being clear foreshadowing, and teases the audience with some clear genre knowledge that nevertheless doesn't become a wink and deconstruction. It's well-executed horror material that does a couple of things before the audience is completely ready, giving them both a tingle of excitement and leaving the rest of the film wide open.

Full review at EFC.

I Am a Hero

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

I kind of expected the title if this to be a bit more ironic, both from what I've heard of the manga and the way the opening act played (as well as my increasing unease with zombies and the rules that go with them becoming mainstream). It's not, really, but rather pretty much standard but well-done zombie action.

It's good, at least, with a couple terrific action scenes, with an initial attack on the hero that plays genuinely creepy and a fantastic cab sequence highlights of the first half before things calm down for a little while so they can build up to the finale. There's a lot of kind of action that you've maybe seen a lot, but it's done in slick, bloody fashion.

It's definitely one where I prefer the movie in my head more and don't like how it plays into a lot of the toxic fantasies that often go with zombie movies (the world ends and not only is the hero's gun hobby suddenly useful and necessary, but he winds up with a younger, nicer girlfriend and a teenage cutie admiring him unconditionally), and those can use some shredding. But, just looking at the movie Sato made, it's thrilling, capable fast-zombie material, certainly doing well by its genre.

Luz

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

Luz is a nifty, disorienting sort of horror movie which has the neat idea of combining hypnosis and possession, creating a sense of lack of control and disconnection that many other films like this lack. It's a fascinating way to make what seems very small into something tremendously tense.

It's an unnerving look, too, shot on 16mm in brutalist, run-down locations, with tons of smoke that makes a room both claustrophobic and infinite. The sound is peculiar and synth-y, too loud and out of sync, but it fits, even if it is also often very jarring. Writer/director Tilman Singer seldom lets the audience forget that they're watching a movie - some of the dropouts on the film seem a little too regular to not be a reminder of the film's own artificiality - but that may in part be a way to condition the audience to want order even as it receives something very much out of joint.

The Witch in the Window

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Thumbs up to the 75-minute horror movie, which is the best length for the genre. May filmmakers' increasing recognition of streaming services as their ultimate landing spot keep them from adding fifteen to twenty unneeded minutes going forward.

Despite that brief length, writer/director Andy Mitton doesn't push the scares too hard; his film is mostly quiet and kind of upbeat as it shows the father and son connecting as they repair a haunted house. It gets sweeter and more responsible as it goes on rather than seeming foolish and panicked, and as a result it's scary but not destructive at its heart, which is relatively unique where ghost stories are concerned.

Nice chemistry between the two stars, as well; Charlie Tacker and Alex Draper make for a nice, believable pairing even when Mitton is being a little too writerly with their talk and having them communicate with the audience as much as each other. It's a genuinely impressive father/son story with or without ghosts.

Inuyashiki

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

I was hoping that the feature film version of Inuyashiki would fix up a few problems the manga had, most importantly that the author quickly found himself more interested in the villain than the title character, which leads to a level of violence that is too much by far, but it turns out to be a pretty faithful adaptation, warts and all.

Of course, getting it "right" does mean it winds up with a good take on the title character, maybe not so extremely old and feeble as the manga, but believably beleaguered and with a very nice performance from star Noritake Kinashi, who projects a simple, genuine decency compared to the villain's detached sociopathy. It's a good but not preachy version of the much-retweeted quotation about not knowing how to explain you should care about other people, and also superhero 101, but kind of effective..

The action and effects do a fair job of capturing the manga's imagery, and look pretty good for something likely a bit below blockbuster level. It's kind of antiseptic at times - the combination of excess and worry about appearances that results in a lot of bloodless headshots - but has a nice handle on aerial action, which seems like it would be neat in 3D if movies get released that way in Japan.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Fantasia 2018.11: Fireworks, Loi Bao, Our House, The Witch: Part 1 - The Subversion, and Parallel

The weekend is for starting out in Hall and ending up in DeSève, while the week goes the other way. Thus the expected big crowd for Fireworks (which I'm guessing either didn't play Canada/Quebec earlier in the month or folks just waited for it to play this room) and a fair-sized one for Lôi Báo, an okay superhero movie I believe was Vietnam's sole representation here. Kind of neat, although I was kind of struck by how little of what I usually associate with Vietnam is there visually - the nice-looking town where it takes place could be dropped just about anywhere in the world and not look out of place, which probably says as much about what the media has fed us all about Vietnam over the past decades (it's always going to still be the war in American films) as anything else.

After that, I opted not to go across the street for five hours of boxing drama, which meant Our House, a pretty fair remake of a previous Fantasia film, Phasma Ex Machina, reconfigured enough that I don't have to be afraid of just regurgitating my review for the previous one, although the fact that they are not just re-using the old script makes a bit of the plot device a bit of a head-scratcher (at one point, the characters are recording their experiments in wireless electricity on a phone that charges without wires). Pretty solid, though.



After that was South Korean thriller/superhero origin story The Witch: Part 1 - The Subversion, where Cheval Noir Jury President Tim Matheson (left) came out to announce that lead actress Kim Da-mi won the prize for Best Actress, though the rest of the prizes won't be announced until next week. Not gonna lie - I didn't really see it through much of the movie, but the last act is kind of insane in every way, changing a lot of what one may think of the movie. Writer/director Park Hoon-jung plans it as an open-ended series, but doesn't have any solid sequel plans yet, pointing out that the ball is pretty much still in Warner Brothers' court.

That one started a bit late and ran a bit late, but I fortunately had a good buffer to get across the street for Parallel, though I wound up further back in the press line, meaning I wound up in the front row and thus got some weird angles on the photos:



Left to right, director Isaac Ezban, producer John Zaozirny, and writer Scott Blaszak. Ezban's previous films were done in Mexico, and he'd been looking for an American (or, in this case, American-produced but Canadian-shot) film that was still in his wheelhouse. Everybody seemed to connect really well for this one, even if it felt kind of frantic.

Today's plan: Weirdly, this Monday is one of the earliest starts, and as mentioned above, it's DeSève before Hall, with The Dark, I Am a Hero, Luz, The Witch in the Window, and then Inuyashiki for a double-dose of Shunsuke Sato manga adaptations (not the triple feature, although that was doable). The Ranger is highly recommended

Uchiage hanabi, shita kara miru ka? Yoko kara miru ka? (Fireworks)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, DCP)

Go figure - a couple years ago, we were talking about whether Matoko Shinkai could be the new Miyazaki, and now Fireworks is being promoted in large part by how it's like a Shinkai movie and from a Your Name producer. Time sometimes marches on fast!

And while plenty charming, it's no Your Name. It's a cute, likable tale of young love and potential separation, but its fantasy isn't quite so sharp, and the relaxed pacing often feels like repetition and padding that doesn't reveal quite so much on second glance. The animation is often beautiful, although there's a bit of tension between the digital techniques and the more traditional aesthetics.

On the other hand, it gets a huge leg up for being the rare anime (or manga) about middle-schoolers that actually feels like the kids are 14 or 15 rather than older teens, at least to this guy who is well past those years. Even the pretty, smart girl in a movie mostly filled with boys gets to be very much messed up and uncertain, which is a bit of a change of pace and gives the movie a bit more of an impact.

"Hooligans"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: Action!, digital)

I kind of love the combination of dry absurdity and violent slapstick on display here, from the formal planning of brawling if it were a semi-organized league to flashbacks to why, exactly, everybody wants to expel the captain's cousin. It's all perfectly deadpan with characters who work for the situation presented, funny exaggeration (reading glasses!), and action that doesn't feel overly choreographed but still works as really good storytelling.

Lôi Báo

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: Action!, DCP)

For a movie whose basic premise is goofy enough to include head transplants, this doesn't play as nearly the bit of madness it could have. Granted, you've got to scale expectations down a bit for Vietnam - the effects budget it's not going to be huge - but there's still a feeling of rather mild ambition here, of taking the superhero stuff in stride because you know the beats.

It's for some good action, though, with the stunt team and a couple of the actors showing some nice martial-arts chops and knife work when they get in close enough (guns are iffier). It's a fair amount of fun when it goes for the full pulp experience, not quite so great when trying to be a bit more sincere.

Our House

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

(Very deliberately not going back to see what I wrote about Phasma Ex Machina because I already repeated myself with one remake this festival and I want to see if this happens every time)

A genre movie can get away with a certain amount of wheel-spinning if it sends one out excited, and Our House does a pretty good job there. It's got more than a few moments where you scratch your head, wondering if these guys have ever seen a movie about machines that amplify the spiritual world and a few others that basically say "you know how this goes" as they skip into familiar territory, but the last chunk of this movie is good jump-y fun.

It's got a nice primary cast, too, finding a good spot where one believes they're a family making a valiant effort to sponsor on after tragedy while still operating with a believable amount of friction. It's not necessarily an all-time horror movie cast, but they're good enough to watch for reasons behind seeing them get cut down.

Full review at EFC.

The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Well, okay, this is kind of an okay riff on genetically engineered superhumans, but I kind of feel like I've seen it all before, with the shadowy agencies and people in black suits and the hiding things we can kind of predict--

(Sudden extremely violent action scene)

Oh, that's right, this is a South Korean action movie--

(All hell breaks loose in final act)

Well, okay, that makes up for a lot. Like, yeah, that was kind of derivative and familiar, plot-wise, but South Korea does not do this sort of thing halfway, and the action and plot twists in the back stretch are big and nuts, with that nice performance by Kim Da-mi becoming something even more delightfully crazy.

Fine, bring on Part 2.

"Space/Time Conundrum"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

This is going to sound kind of weird, but I suspect that I would have rated this short a wee bit higher if it was just the opening half, not because what comes after is bad, but because there's something really striking and conceptual about watching the look on actor Danny Bass's face on an emotional roller coaster as the lighting changes and a bunch of kind of nonsense-y bits of his heads-up display twinkle. It's utterly removed from context but the feel of it brings back 2001 and other similar movies in a strong, abstracted way, boiling them down to the elemental horror and wonder.

The back half kind of negates that, but thankfully has a good moment or two to rebuild it at the end; actress Shelby Brunn sells the heck out of a couple lines which imply a sad, strange past to this story. What writer/director Fernando Lopez does with his short is good enough that this doesn't quite deserve categorization as a recovery, but it does get it out of the realm of making fun of the characters.

Parallel

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

Parallel sometimes feels like two or three high-concept sci-fi films sewn together, not always cleanly, and then accelerated with certain bits taken out to increase the suspense in the second half. It's kind of exhausting at times, to be honest, and it's kind of impressive that it doesn't become just frantic. It moves a little too fast to really get all the heft it wants to out of all of its storylines, but director Isaac Ezban can at least get the nuggets of what's interesting out, and the end has a great sort of take-no-prisoners ruthlessness, even if Ezban and writer Scott Blaszak can't resist "one last…" temptation.

It's got a nice cast, too, with the main group all giving the sort of performances where the audience is in good hands no matter how lead/supporting stuff eventually shakes out. It's also one of the better examples of a genre movie taking advantage of the whole internet/mobile start-up culture, and how it's one part absurdly cutthroat capitalism, one part busy hackers, and one part people not really knowing what comes next but certain that "disruption" is good. It's at the core of this movie as it is a lot, but Ezban & Blaszak seem to understand it better than a lot of folks do.