Sunday, July 22, 2018

Fantasia 2018.10: The Traveling Cat Chronicles, The Outlaws, Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires, Knuckleball, Amiko, and RokuRoku: Promise of the Witch

Sometime I've got to go back over my old Fantasia programs and blogs to see if the makeup of the festival is changing, or at least what I see - this one has been pretty Japan-heavy, but that always seems to have been the case. I tend to think it's got something to do with more top-tier stuff from China and Korea getting regular releases (I've already seen two of this year's Korean movies), but it may just be me.

Anyway - visitors!



First visitors of the day were for Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires. I was kind of surprised to see it was made in the UK, since it's set in America and the accents aren't awful, but Mike Mort (center) is Welsh, and did half the voices, so go figure.

He talked a lot about how, when he does the next one, he's going to need to find a way to automate mouth movements, because it would take days to do it manually. Stop-motion can be a bit of a beast; one 38-second wide shot actually took a month!



Knuckleball is Canadian and therefore got a fair number of guests, including Michael Ironside up front (from my perspective), and, moving back, composer David Arcus, co-star Munro Chambers, star Luca Villacis, and director Michael Peterson. Ironside warned the audience that he would kick our asses if we used our phones during the movie, which was nicely imposing.

Ironside was especially talkative during this Q&A; he saw the film about being the lack of communication in families, and I guess that's a way to look at it. Really proud of it as a Canadian, too, imploring everybody to get their friends to see it when Raven Banner releases it theatrically (it's apparently getting a much smaller U.S. release as well), since it's a Canadian movie made in Canada about Canadians (although it does refer to an "interstate" and the "northwest" in the early going, so it certainly sounds like it's meant to be set in America).

Fun group, although Villacis is one of those kid actors that's kind of unnerving in how they talk about their craft in adult terms. They also mentioned that he watched The Revenant every night to get into things and, man, that's weird for an 8-year-old, right?



Last guest of the night is Amiko director Yoko Yamanaka, who made this movie when she was 19 and was pretty excited about it bringing her halfway around the world, and also about discovering that they had fried oysters in Montreal, joking that those were one of the few things she really liked about living in Japan and that finding them in Canada was a game-changer. It was an interesting thing to say, considering a moment or two in the movie and how she got bored and frustrated at university, eventually dropping out and then lying around home reading manga and watching movies until she finally decided to just up and make Amiko.

It's a strikingly solid work, even if it is a little rough at times, impressive as heck for something this borderline-underground. She sounded like she's got plans for something both a little more high-budget and more independent.

(I also like that she mentioned that Japan, especially, has a lot of underground movies like this made in six or seven days with no breaks for sleeping and eating, and she couldn't work like that, and they mostly filmed three days a week for a month or two. I suspect that might just be a lot of her cast and crew also being in school, but it seems much healthier than burning yourself out!)

After that, I stuck around for RokuRoku: Promise of the Witch, the new one from Yudai Yamaguchi which had a midnight screening added just before the schedule went to press, so it was kind of sparse (but, if you want to see it and Montreal Dead End, not much choice). I'm apparently just not up for midnights this year, as I nodded off at a couple points, and really noticed it when the end credits initially showed all the monsters and I couldn't remember a couple.

Worth noting: It had a 2014 copyright on it, although the program shows it hitting festivals in 2017/2018. I wouldn't be hugely surprised if it was shelved - it's not great, but just decent enough that I could see a studio looking for the right spot rather than just dumping it on VOD or something.

Strangely, after not getting to bed until late after that one, I got up relatively early on Sunday, where the plan is Fireworks, Loi Bao, Our House, and The Witch: Part 1 - The Subversion.

Tabineko ripôto (The Traveling Cat Chronicles, aka Tabineko Report)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Fine, sure, let's get the day's crying done early and have fun with the rest of the movies.

Yes, this is the sort of movie that tries to soften the blow of something sad with cute animals, but since it's cats instead of dogs, it's kind of no-nonsense about it; Nana is smart and not sentimental in her narration (or his; the subtitles use male pronouns despite the female voice), with a default expression of annoyed indignation. It's just enough tartness to cover the fact that, yes, the movie is that sort of thing.

But it's that sort of thing in a good way, telling some funny stories while doing a nice job of misdirecting and holding what it's going to be about in, and even the big revelation is kind of secondary to how the film is generally about taking both animals and people who need it in, even when it's difficult and leads to some heartache.

Beomjoidosi (The Outlaws)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The Outlaws is a basic as heck cop movie, the sort that starts with its cops and hoods on casual terms with each other and doesn't really start getting intense until the very end, even though the outsider invading the territory is constantly bringing the violence. The filmmakers know how these things are shaped, and are willing to give the fans what they like without a whole lot of new ingredients.

That's fine enough; a lot of people are just at a genre film to enjoy the familiar and maybe laugh at something aiming for a happy first, and this supplies it. There are dry-witted cops, frustrated gangsters, fights where getting slashed with a knife seems like it's mostly irritating, and the big one where the big guys let loose, making a mess of everything around them. It's fair D2V material.

And it does have a likable enough lead in Ma Dong-seok (aka Don Lee), the big guy from Train to Busan; he knows how to deliver a wisecrack and make his size work for him so that he's both kind of a big teddy bear and an imposing figure. I suspect he's best deployed as a supporting player, but he's at last got the raw charisma to make this valuable but unambitious but of cops & robbers work for about a couple hours.

Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: Action!, DCP)

Chuck Steel does the thing where it spoofs dumb, tacky movies by being dumb and tacky in the same way only much louder, trying to legitimize a guilty pleasure by slathering a lawyer off irony on it so someone can say they like how it mocks those attitudes. It's not really fooling anyone, if it's trying; if you're inclined to react to the real thing with "not cool", you'll likely have the same reaction here.

If it's the sort of thing that will work for you, though, this movie at least has the benefit of tossing its jokes out in rapid-fire fashion, and it does have a few genuinely good jokes scattered through, when it takes a moment or two to pause for air in its setups and responses. That's not really this movie's personality, though, especially given its voice cast (like a lot of animated movies where the filmmakers do the voices, they're not as practiced as pros).

The animation turns out to be pretty darn slick, though - it may have been excruciatingly slow and manual, but it's smooth, busy, and the caricatured figures are fairly expressive. Those looking for some gross monsters and quality for won't be disappointed either.

Knuckleball

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Knuckleball is a solid little thriller that gets an occasional raised eyebrow for how ruthlessly capable its young main character can be; it makes some thematic sense at the end and has been hinted at, but, still, hmmm. That goes a bit for the plot in general, which has an awful lot of stuff that probably comes as a package more often than you'd like in real life, but seems a bit excessive for a movie.

When it does click, though, it's a good sensation; there's a special tingle to watching people be observant and then act on what you've all seen. It's got a nice main set of performances that reflect each other fairly well and others that add nice detail, along with good use of a house with history in the middle of a chilly plain.

Amiko

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Fantasia Underground, DCP)

Amiko is, as you might expect and hope, as raw and sometimes offbeat as you can get; its 19-year-old director is close to the material and hasn't had much formal training, and as a result the movie sometimes gets shakier as it gets more daring. But that's maybe the only way for a movie to truly get into the head of a teenager; you can't expect those stories to be polished.

Its title character (Aira Sunohara) has had a crush on Aomi (Hiroto Oshita), one of the school's star soccer players, for about a year as things start off, ever since he ducked into the classroom where the girl was biding her time while most of the other kids participated in club activities to change. They walked home, having a long conversation that clearly meant a lot to Amiko, but didn't speak again, and after fourteen months, Amiko is shocked by the revelation that he has not only started dating Mizuki (Ayu Hasegawa), a popular girl who graduated a year earlier, but dropped out of school and moved to Tokyo with her. With some help from her best friend Kanako (Maiko Mineo), Amiko is going to find some answers.

Pointing out how close director Yoko Yamanaka is to her main character is kind of a crutch in terms of analyzing this movie, but it probably shouldn't be minimized, either: There are maybe two people over the age of twenty-one in the movie, and they're not truly characters the way Amiko and her classmates are. More importantly, though, is that there's never the distancing effect of looking at these kids from the outside or from the remove of excess maturity. Amiko and Kanako talk about social media and the way they see boys in a way that may seem opaque to, say, older male film critics, but Yamanaka doesn't show any impulse to explain it, justify it, or apologize for it. There's a feeling of rage that emanates from Amiko when a pimply girl gossips about Aomi and Mizuki, for example, and it's not something that Yamanaka treats as some teenage girl thing, but something totally natural.

Full review at EFC.

Rokuroku (RokuRoku: The Promise of the Witch)

* * (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

Seeing Yudai Yamaguchi's name on a movie reminds me just how long I've been coming to Fantasia, since he was a guy whose movies were staples of the event but who have been fairly absent in recent years. You can sort of put together why, looking at Rokuroku and the movies around it - this is weird but kind of amateurish at times, with the CGI a little unpolished and the acting kind of secondary in casting and/or direction, while there's been a flood of slicker manga adaptations coming out of Japan lately; it's hard for the weird stuff of what I like to call the "Sushi Typhoon" era to get some of the same traction, especially since its patron saint Takashi Miike has spent a lot of time in the mainstream lately. Maybe Yamaghuchi has honed his skills in the past decade but has had that countered by lower budgets for stuff that's now further in a niche.

As to this one, it's kind of a mess, featuring some nifty monster design but a plot that seems really scattered at first and then kind of grinding later. Part of that is just me zonking out for a few minutes at a time after midnight, but part seems to be that Yamaguchi has often been a guy who has a strong visual sense but counts on the story as just a means to get from weird image to weird image, and that's the case here - there's some genuinely remarkable things to look at here, but just the thinnest, most general threads connecting them. It can feel like a long hour and a half despite the frequent moments of impressive invention.

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