Sunday, July 15, 2018

Fantasia 2018.03: Hanagatami, Unity of Heroes, True Fiction, Buffalo Boys, and Summer of '84

This was not a great day to have a cold, folks. Not only was it a five-film day, but almost all of them seemed to be dragged out in one way or another. Just got myself a whole bunch of cold medicine, so I'll probably be in better shape over the next few days, but it's probably going to be better for me to circle around later.

We did get a couple fun groups of guests, though!



That's "Action!" programmer Eric S. Boisvert on the left kicking off his section with folks from Indonesian western Buffalo Boys: Director Mike Wiluan, co-star Pevita Pearce, co-writer Rayya Makarim, and producer Eric Khoo. They led a pretty interesting Q&A that touched on how peculiar making a western in Indonesia seemed to be, how the animal wranglers initially got a cow when a buffalo was called for, and a lot about really thinking about what they wanted to do with their action. Most Indonesian action films, Wiluan pointed out, are heavy on the silat, but that's a really complicated, formal martial art, not fully developed in this picture's time period. They were looking more at barroom brawling, plus some seriously over-the top gunplay. Speaking of that, they also had to fabricate most of their weapons, because you don't find a lot of even the more realistic nineteenth-century firearms lying around Java.

This was their world premiere, but they're already looking at the film as a franchise: There are comics, and a planned spin-off for HBO Asia.

The most feted guests, though, were probably these guys:



Most of the introductions were in French, so there are gaps: Jean-Nicolas Leupi & Jean-Philippe Bernier of Le Matos (with someone else hanging back behind them), directors François Simard & Anouk Whissell, star Graham Verchere, director Yoann-Karl Whissell, and producer Jameson Parker. Local folks, leading to a bilingual Q&A, with a lot of calling out how great their production design crew was.

I did feel kind of disappointed when they said that how far the script went was part of what they liked about it; my mind may change when I get a chance to think about these movies individually, but at the time, it felt like one more instance of a film packing too much onto the end, just a bit of extra sadism after the movie was basically done.

Feeling better today, though, with plans for Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura, Aragne: Sign of Vermillion, L'Inferno with live score, and The Scythian.

Hanagatami

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 14 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Friends, do not watch long movies on an empty stomach - it may not be as bad as needing to hit the restroom, but bringing that sort of impatience with you doesn't help things.

Which is a shame in the case of Hanagatami, which is every bit as gorgeous as you might expect from the director of not just House but a number of less-obviously insane but painterly productions he has made since - most notably, Bound for the Fields, the Mountains, and the Seacoast, another WWII-set nostalgia piece. There's not a shot in this picture that isn't exquisite, and he's not content to let the grass grow under his feet. The teenage characters are busy, right up to the point of being frantic. There's no chance of complaining that nothing is really happening, but it becomes a sort of blur, not quite exhausting, but with no time to consider what's going on.

Also, I kind of hate the bulk of the cast. Main character Toshihiko Sakaiyama in particular seems especially clueless, with star Shunsuke Kubozuka way too old for the part and feeling like a parody of youthful innocence rather than anything sincere. The way the who group plays off each other in the lead-up to Pearl Harbor is random at best, downright abusive at worst. It leads up to an ending that doesn't pull much out of its surreal nature to make the audience feel anything beyond the most obligatory tragedy.

Unity of Heores

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 14 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

This is the second movie in a row this day that feels like it could have been much improved by the vampires that were clearly hinted at (the Evil White Guy is even named "Vlad"!) and the exploding heads that were teased. Step up your game, filmmakers!

Take that out, and it's a fairly decent movie when you consider that it's the Chinese equivalent of a Netflix picture, pretty good for half your attention most of the time and with some good work done on the set-pieces at either end. It could have used more of Vincent Zhao returning to his role of Wong Fei-hung, as he's good when he's there and missed when the film focuses on his students. He does show up for the wire-fu, at least, and it certainly looks decent on the big screen, even if it might be a little more at home on a smaller one.

"The Great Hand and the Bulgasari"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 14 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

A pretty delightful animated short which starts out in "Duck Amuck" territory, with a sort of hand-of-god picking characters up and placing them where it wants, only to have them rebel, looking for a chance to escape and eventually growing a caterpillar to massive size, feeding it orion so that it can defeat anything the Hand throws at it.

The animation itself is delightful, looking like cardboard cut-outs with nifty parallax in how it's set-up, and I also love the snarling, bitter characters. The physical comedy become cartoonishly gruesome, but always remains funny enough to balance its nastiness. There's something kind of wonderful about how The Great Hand doesn't really make sense, looking right as part of the moon and reaching down from the heavens, but trying to make this into a real three-dimensional thing will break your head.

Sal-in-so-seol (True Fiction)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 14 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The hardest part of writing this sort of thriller must be hitting the point where you feel like there's enough, the point where playing attention has been rewarded but where the audience has not yet said "screw this latest reversal, it doesn't matter, because none of what we've been told matters!" True Fiction unfortunately blows way past that second point in its last act, although by then it's established strength enough that it can avoid losing some.

Which sucks, because the first half of the movie is delightful, a rapid-fire series of selfish decisions blowing up combined with the delight of someone having got one over on people who really deserve a comeuppance, which is just as fun as it is suspenseful. The soundtrack is playful, the audience feels like things are on their level, and what happens next could be anything for human reasons; you can see people trying to figure out how to get up on the other guy..

Unfortunately, by the end, it's just a puzzle with too many pieces and no way to wrap it up in a satisfying way. There's a certain impressive fatalism to that, but it's not just a downer, it's draining after the rest of the movie has shown such energy. An improvised caper is often much more fun than a meticulously-planned one.

Buffalo Boys

* * * (out of four)
Seen 14 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: Action!, DCP)

As loud and action-packed as you would hope for an Indonesian western to be, going big on the martial arts, gunfighting, and melodrama. It's close to exactly what you would expect from that particular fusion.

There are, admittedly, times when it could probably do to move it along; once the returning heroes arrive in town, they seem to spend a lot of time waiting for an opportunity to get colonial monster Van Trach to present itself rather than really doing anything. There's a mean, cutthroat period before the final big action sequence that seems to be killing time rather than moving the story along.

Still, it leads up to a pretty darn great finale, where its two leads take on much greater numbers with big guns, small guns, knives, their bare hands, and anything else that may be of use. It's delightfully grandiose, a really cathartic bit of anti-colonialist fantasy that's also just amazingly choreographed and stitched-together action for a first-time director.

"Fauve"

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 14 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Seventeen minutes, this short is, of two young boys being obnoxious enough that I couldn't really feel upset when they started sinking into quicksand. I guess there's something there about them playing at making up rules and seeing how far they can push things until they find themselves in a situation where they see true implacable and unthinking destruction, but it's a tough sit to get to that.

Summer of '84

* * * (out of four)
Seen 14 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Give the Roadkill Superstar guys their due: This is the second time in a row where I've gone into one of their video-store-inspired movies skeptical but had them win me over. The initially clumsy nostalgia and self-seriousness builds to a genuinely suspenseful back half.

I think what impressed me the most, though, is the way that the filmmakers peek at the fragile environments where the kids live around the whole serial-killer plot. The moments where these kids seem to have much more universal concerns are little gems amid their attempt to root out a serial killer in their neighborhood, contributing to its idea that pretty suburban tranquility may hide something less perfect with sadness as much as fear.

Full review at EFC.

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