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.

Full review at EFC.

"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.

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