Friday, July 13, 2018

Fantasia 2018.01: Tremble All You Want and Nightmare Cinema

It's mid-July and getting a little too hot in Boston, so…

Yes, it's time for another three weeks (and one day) at Montreal's massive Fantasia International Film Festival, taking place as usual on the campus of Concordia University, which has a spiffy new statue on the left but whose two main theaters feel like a second home by now. I actually felt grateful to have my first screening be in DeSève, because walking into that cozy room just concentrates the feeling of returning to a good place.

(Even if the meowing has spread there and goes right into the company logos now.)

I started there because the main opening night movie was right out - the press screening was during the afternoon, during which time I was on a bus that left Boston a half hour late (after I made it to South Station 45 minutes early!), got held up at the border and in traffic, and therefore had me keeping the nice folks renting me my apartment waiting an hour and a half. No tickets left for that one. But that's okay! Tremble All You Want is a pretty great romantic comedy, and I kind of love its star Mayu Matsuoka now. It's a weird thing to connect it with, but last weekend I was on a bus to my nieces' birthday party, and The Intern was the movie. I wasn't watching it and had no sound, but every once in a while I'd look up, and Anne Hathaway was being really delightfully expressive without overacting, enough to get my attention for a minute or three. That's the sort of vibe Matsuoka gives off, and why I say I could enjoy it without sound or subtitles.

I did make it back across the street for the back half of the opening night festivities and this:

That's Joe Dante! Receiving a great-looking lifetime achievement award from Tony Timpone! Like everyone who gets that trophy, Dante seems a little worried that people are giving it to him now like he doesn't have more good work in him, but he certainly comes across as exactly the guy you imagine him to be - down-to-earth, friendly, quietly knowing what he's talking about and in love with his medium.

It's unfortunate that I really don't think much of this latest project, but…

… Good lord, I didn't expect that Alejandro Brugués and Ryuhei Kitamura would be around to support Mick Garris and Dante too! That's cool, and supposedly the only reason David Slade wasn't there was because he was shooting a Black Mirror in London.

It's a shame, because I like the original genesis of the project - after Masters of Horror, Garris wanted to make a new series that was more international in nature, with the irony being that while this movie features Cuban, Japanese, British, and American directors, it all wound up shooting in Los Angeles. He answered the Inevitable Sequel Question interestingly, though, saying that he hopes this can be a springboard to either a new TV series or a series of short features, with more anthologies like this sort of in third position. I hope he gets a chance at that, because even if Slade's segment was the only one that didn't have me running to the thesaurus to find different ways of saying "familiar", I really like the idea of the world tour.

So, that's Day 1. My plans for Day 2 include Last Child, Microhabitat, and King Boxer, basically bypassing the horror on Friday the 13th.

Katte ni furuetero (Tremble All You Want)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 12 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

There are a lot of things that impressed me in Tremble All You Want, well worth breaking down and pointing out, but since it's a movie centering on one character who is in almost every scene, she had better be good. Fortunately, I get the feeling that I could watch this movie with no sound or subtitles and still get a real kick out of watching star Mayu Matsuoka work. She's terrific and a huge part of how Akiko Ohku's movie is not just better than most romantic comedies, but also better at deconstructing the genre and putting it back together than most going that direction.

Matsuoka plays Yoshika Eto, who has a tiny apartment, a job in a toy company's accounting department, and a tendency to stay up late reading Wikipedia articles on extinct animals. She's been nursing a crush on a boy from middle school, Ichi (Takumi Kitamura), for ten years, and is a bit surprised when another employee (Daichi Watanabe) - whom she calls "Ni" for how he scribbles the number two - is smitten and asks her out. She doesn't say no, but she also dives head-first into arranging a reunion with her old classmates to reconnect with Ichi.

There's some wordplay to the names that gets a bit tripped up in the subtitling - Ichi is a fairly common nickname in Japan and also the Japanese word for the number one. Ohku taps into the idea that Yoshika thinks he's "the one" and establishes in the very first scene that Ni is very clearly Yoshika's second choice, but there are moments when the characters seem well-aware that her habit of giving people nicknames is an affectation that doesn't quite fit. It often needs to carry a little more metaphorical heft than it should as a way for her to distance herself and feel like she knows people when she doesn't. It extends into an alias and some social-media considerations, so it's useful, and plays with some interesting ideas, but can be a little much.

Full review on EFC

Nightmare Cinema

* * (out of four)
Seen 12 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The very conceit of Nightmare Cinema is maybe a little too close to the hearts of all involved to truly bring forth the thrills it promises Five directors with obvious affection for horror movies making horror stories that play out inside a cursed theater is too on the nose, too much inside their comfort zone to actually lead to something truly scary and unsettling. In fact the one that seems most like a nightmare is the one that seems to fit the anthology least.

The first part, "The Thing in the Woods" by Alejandro Brugués, fits it best - after an introduction where Samantha Smith (Sarah Elizabeth Withers) stumbling upon a theater with her name on the marquee and entering to watch it, it picks up in the final act of a slasher movie, where she's running from an insane welder (Eric Nelsen), covered in blood as final girls are wont to be, eventually running into boyfriend Jason (Kevin Fonteyne) and learning just what caused this lunatic to pick up a blowtorch.

Brugués is as aware of how this genre of movies works as you might expect, and while his fondness for it isn't quite a hinderance, it keeps the movie from ever actually being scary, as even the jump scares are familiar and played with a sort of ironic exaggeration, playing to bros who think knowing the formula and laughing because they're ahead of it is the best way to experience a horror movie. He does do some interesting things in the telling - watch how Jason changes as a different character flashes back - and Withers fits the role like a glove, but the twist is ridiculous enough to overwhelm how it's fun, leaving the segment an energetic but predictable parody.

Joe Dante directs the next segment, in which a couple making out in the balcony sees themselves talking, with David (Mark Grossman) mentioning that his mother has offered to pay for Anna (Zarah Mahler) to have the scar on her cheek removed in "Mirari". Doctor Mirari (Richard Chamberlain) upsells a little, and when a bandaged Anna wakes up afterward, something seems amiss even beyond Mirari saying that they will need to operate again to clear some nasal obstructions.

"Mirari" is a punchline short, as they say, and the punchline itself is okay, although there's not a whole lot to this story aside from some impressive make-up work by KNB. Excessive cosmetic surgery is kind of dark-comedy fish in a barrel by now, and there's really not a whole lot in this short that suggests a new angle or satire sharp enough to be familiar. It's kind of fun to see the still-spry Chamberlain ham in up in the most charming way possible, even if the rest of the cast can't quite keep up.

Full review on EFC

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