Thursday, July 19, 2018

Fantasia 2018.07: Boiled Angels: The Trial of Mike Diana, I Have a Date with Spring, The Vanished, and BuyBust

Huh, I could have sworn that folks from Boiled Angels were here as guests, but I guess that's just for the first show. I'd take the excuse to stay in Montreal for four days and maybe use my cast & crew pass to see a bunch of free movies, but what do I know?



I Have a Date with Spring director Baek Seung-bin stuck around for a second screening on Wednesday after his movie played Monday, though. Sure, getting on a plane to go back to South Korea immediately probably isn't what you'd want to do after a day talking about your fim, but we appreciated him hanging around, even if a fair amount of the "questions" he got were people explaining his own movie to him. I wonder how much of the questions he got at the first screening were about his own mental health, because he mentioned he was a very happy person now several times.

He also mentioned being an English literature major, which explains why there was a fair amount of John Donne in this Korean movie.



Also in town from South Korea: Vanished director Lee Chang-hee (left), as well as his cinematographer (silly me, not writing it down because I assumed it would be on one of the usual sites). They made a nifty little movie, but, wow, I just looked up my review of the Spanish original from five years ago and I apparently had exactly the same first impression from both versions. I guess that makes it a good remake in some ways, or at least a faithful one. I do rather like both, but I'm curious to revisit the original, since I believe it was mentioned that they changed the ending during the Q&A, and I can't see how it could go another way.

After that, it was time for BuyBust, which Well Go will be releasing in theaters in a few weeks (though they had no logo on this DCP). It meant there were giveaways of one of their latest Asian action releases, Paradox, and Eric Boisvert seemed genuinely surprised to hear that Paradox was actually SPL 3 when King-wei Chu told him (to be fair, that's what you call a very loose series). This led to the contest briefly being "who wants to fight King-wei for the movie?", but things were resolved without violence.

Which you can't say for BuyBust itself, which is more or less all about the violence. It might actually be too much, but I won't lie and say that some of the action choreography didn't impress the heck out of me.

Saw some of Thursday's films earlier in the festival and one late last year, so it could be a short day if I either miss the press screening of Hurt or if Blue My Mind runs late enough to make getting into Under the Silver Lake impossible. Either way, the day's ending with Laplace's Witch. The Scythian is recommended, The Fortress isn't bad, and I wouldn't tell anyone who wanted to see Hanagatami to skip it.

Boiled Angels: The Trial of Mike Diana

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Documentaries from the Edge, DCP)

Boiled Angels: The Trial of Mike Diana is the sort of documentary that, in its home stretch, casually reveals how it could have been a much more interesting movie had it changed its focus a bit rather than mostly serving as an overview of a broader issue. Yes, the history of underground comics and censorship is important, but most of this film's audience will know that; it's the details beyond Mike Diana being the only artist to be convicted of obscenity in America that make this a good story and would make it into an interesting movie.

For those not familiar with the case, Diana was in his early twenties when police arrested him for producing and distributing issues #7 and #8 of his "Boiled Angels" zine, publications with print runs of maybe 300 copies packed full of grotesque material, often involving sexual violence against children (though, it should be noted, in stories shown in the film as displaying his rage against the perpetrators rather than implying any sort of personal desire for such gratification). He got on the radar of the Pinellas County, Florida police and prosecutors during their investigation of a 1990 serial killer, and though found to have no connection, his work was considered so objectionable that they felt they had to do something.

There is, I suspect, a great docudrama to be made out of this material, and maybe even a good documentary, but Frank Henenlotter is probably not the right guy to do it; his own gross-out tendencies are close enough to Diana's that he may not be able to examine them closely, he lost a lot of credibility as a voice of the artist by making the tremendously ill-advised Chasing Banksy, and he's just not a very good storyteller in general. Take what comes across as a shocking climax, when the judge interrupts the defense's closing arguments for a recess - highly unusual and prejudicial, but until that very moment, you wouldn't know the judge was any sort of factor in the story at all. Henenlotter spends a huge amount of time on the history of the medium and the sorts of freedoms at stake, which is a vital part of the story, but as a film about the trial itself, and even what came before and after, it's undramatic and inert, an intriguing story merely hinted at.

Full review at EFC.

Na-wa-bom-nal-eui-yak-sok (I Have a Date with Spring)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Despite I Have a Date with Spring being a jumble of dark wishes from depressed people as the world is about to end, or at least stories of such things, it's interesting that the connecting thread is just people being left alone: The rest of the world being evacuated or raptured away is a common thread so basic it doesn't seem to merit comment.

The individual stories work as variations on a theme, and mostly still do so even as it slowly becomes clear that there's not really a mystery to be revealed here, that the characters are mostly just grasping in the dark. It makes the stories a little stretched at times, without a single clearest point of convergence, but focuses well on their individual introspection.

I'm not sure that's quite enough, as the end comes; it's a movie that uses grand, fantastic ideas to intimate ends, but maybe doesn't quite make its scales meet.

Sarajin Bam (The Vanished)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The Vanished almost seems too simple, with all the conclusions to be drawn from the available evidence made quickly, and most of the time used to hopefully shake some new information loose. The trick is seeing how long the filmmakers can tease that out, since it would seem everything will fall together as soon as the last puzzle piece shows up.

It works, partly because there's a fun cast, especially the messy but brilliant detective - as soon as he starts noticing details, the audience smiles, because this is going to be fun. There's lots of pure fun slime on the villains, a delightfully straightforward way to play off the expectations of caginess.

It leads up top a great list act that takes just enough time to sink in. The film may be a little flashback-heavy, but that's better than not having things connect well enough.

"Urchin"

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: Action!, digital)

I'm not going to lie - a large part of my reaction to this short is just straight "nope, do not need or want this", the moment I realized it was gritty dystopian Peter Pan. You've got to be careful allowing ideas like that out into the wild; someone might see this and throw money at a feature version, and is it really necessary to push that whole idea farther than Hook? At some point, you're just slapping familiar names on generic kids-rebel material.

As bad an idea as I tend to think this is, director Anna Mastro and her crew put it together well enough. The choreography makes it look like a small kid is doing some of the fighting, and the Tinkerbell effect is kind of neat. It looks and sounds like a bigger production than it likely is, doing a solid build-up.

But let's just leave it at that, okay?

BuyBust

* * * (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: Action!, DCP)

Erik Matti's war-on-drugs action piece fits squarely in the category of Films That Do Not Mess Around, marrying the non-stop combat of Dante Lam's Operation Mekong series with a harsh cynicism about the use of force on display. It makes for the sort of orgy of violence that challenges the viewer to be horrified by what's going on even if decades of watching action movies has conditioned us to primarily be impressed at just how well Matti and his crew stage the second half.

First, though, it's time to introduce the players: First, Rudy Dela Cruz, an officer in the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, and his superior have captured and turned Teban, who will lead them to drug lord Biggie Chen. Then there's the new squad of grunts who will be providing backup: Lacson has just been promoted to team leader, and he's already worried about Nani Manigan (Anne Curtis), who was the only one to survive her last team being betrayed and massacred, and who, during training, points out that sometimes following orders can get a cop killed. She's part of a tight unit with Rico Yatco (Brandon Vera), a confident mountain of a man, and Elia, the most hesitant. When Biggie and his lieutenants move the deal that the PDEA intends to bust to the poor neighborhood of Gracia ni Maria at the last minute, Manigan worries it's a trap, and she's not wrong: Biggie's lieutenant Chungki has the whole area sealed off, executes an old man to set the population to riot, and declares open season on the cops.

And, oh, yeah, it's a downpopur, which means the isolated neighborhood is going to flood, adding yet another layer of hellishness to the whole thing. Though Matti primarily has the film take the perspective of law enforcement, its three acts in many ways are an escalating demonstration of how using the police as a blunt, militaristic tool becomes more disastrous at every step: It seems easy enough during training, and they initially seem like a well-oiled machine while executing the initial plan in what seems like a fairly middle-class quarter. This middle section is almost boring, with a lot of hurry-up-and-wait, although it starts to hint at what will soon be the film's greatest source of tension, with heavily-armed cops placed in the middle of unsuspecting crowds, certainly inviting one to imagine what could go wrong.

Full review at EFC.

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