Sunday, July 29, 2018

Fantasia 2018.17: Bleach, Laughing Under the Clouds, Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings, Punk Samurai Slash Down, and Terrified

The rare long all-Hall day, although that's in part because I could feel myself winding down during Terrified and wasn't going to swipe a seat from somebody who wouldn't fall asleep during The Oily Maniac. Enjoyably crowded all day, although with a few things seeming to run longer than expected, it was a real into the movie, out to the line, into the movie, repeat, day.



Not a lot of guests today, and this was kind of an accident - as Marc "DJ XL5" Lamothe explained, David Burrowes's "Granny" has a 5.1 mix, but the Zappin Party was mixed in 2.0, which meant that when the first was edited into the second, the music came over fine but the dialogue didn't. He said that a lot of people thought that this was meant to play into the granny being hearing-impaired or the like, but, not, this wasn't that sort of experimental thing, they just fucked it up, and he was really glad that they had a chance to reschedule it to play before Terrified. They even gave away 25 tickets to the film to folks who had been to the Zappin Party.

Burrowes (right) was still there to thank the audience, because the Australian filmmaker is attending the entire festival. I half-wonder if "Granny" is playing at other North American and European festivals and a long tour is easier than going home, or if he figured that if he was going to travel to one festival, it would be the one where his filmmaker badge could get him into 80 movies.

Or more, depending how you count shorts. Today's shorts day for me, with Penguin Highway followed by both the International Science Fiction Shorts and Circo Animato programs, then back to features for One Cut of the Dead and Five Fingers for Marseilles. Five Fingers of Death is a nice 35mm print and a bunch of fun.

Bleach

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

This high-energy manga adaptation plays best early on, when "buddy comedy" is showing more than some of the other genres that have been put in its blender - the chemistry between its two superpowered teens is sharp but thankfully non-romantic, making the movie sing. It's got a delightfully casual way of adding all the fantasy elements here, too.

Eventually it succumbs a bit to manga and film being paced differently, drawing things out while being cryptic and not having a lot of time for supporting characters. We've got an idea of where this is going to go, so either get on with it or distract us with some more of the comedic stuff.

The action is a lot of fun, at least, even if it involves a lot of swinging plastic swords at special effects. The movie benefits a lot from nifty creature design - the "Hollows" all look great - and certainly has makes it exciting enough that I do hope the studio adapts more arcs (and from what I've seen at the comic shop, there's a lot of them!).

Donten ni warau (Laughing Under the Clouds)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

Though Laughing Under the Clouds tends to get kind of muddled at times, not always entirely sure what it wants to be about or how much weight to give ies supernatural and modern elements, it's got a core involving its three brothers that always works emotionally, even when the rest of the story is a little less aligned. Other bits of the story may not quite work, but Soramaru's sibling rivalry with older brother Tenka always feels right on target.

It's got an emotionally sunny attitude from the colorful, modern-feeling opening to how oldest brother Tenka tries to maintain a happy life for his brothers and town. Maybe the horrific prison is a sign that he's ignoring reality; maybe it's just tonal imbalance. However it shakes out, there's always the feel that something is going on, even as the film darkens (though never too much).

It's kind of a mess, but always an interesting one, and it's got a great Indiana Jones feel when it goes full occult adventure in the end. This might be frustrating if it weren't so polished, but it's not really bad at all as it is.

"No One Will Ever Believe You"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

A fun bit of Halloween that occasionally looks like it might be stretching what its makers can do a bit (a scary face is apparently easier than scary arms), but still works because filmmaker Frédéric Chalté is very good at doling little bits of escalation out over the course of the short that crank the tension up without having to have a whole lot of action until the end. That's when he manages to put three pretty good exclamation points on the short, each a different sort of knife-twist. There's something in the climax for whatever scares somebody the most, which is something few people telling horror stories really manage.

Di Renjie zhi Sidatianwang (Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The Four Heavenly Kings is Tsui Hark's best Detective Dee movie yet. He starts with big, colorful fantasy that it seems like he'll have a hard time topping, but in this case it's better than saving this particular good stuff for later. This is the first time Dee feels like he's in the middle of an outrageous world from the start, and the frantic political machinations play off the madness well.

But it builds, though - the finale is both a greatest hits reprise of every bit of effects that Hark used in the rest of the movie and some even bigger bits of insanity. It's a crying shame that the film is only being released 2D in North America, because the credits indicate Hark shot in stereo and he loves throwing crap at the audience. It may be one of the best big action scenes of the summer, though overshadowed here by Tom Cruise risking life and limb.

It finishes promising more, maybe even the time travel story starring both Mark Chao and Andy Lau that has been teased for a while. I hope so, because this is one of the most thoroughly entertaining Chinese blockbusters in a while.

Full review at EFC.

Panku-zamurai, kirarete sôrô (Punk Samurai Slash Down)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Well, that's something. Several somethings, in fact, starting out as a winking con-game movie set in samurai times and eventually becoming five kinds of absurd before a jaw-droppingly insane finale. Somewhere along the way, even the cheery parts get cynical and the biggest hucksters seem to have things right.

And though it stretches out a ways, it manages to be pretty consistently funny, spreading things out between a bunch of characters, going for arch narration when things start to a get too straightforward, lingering when it's more bizarre than usual. I was admittedly ready for it to be done well before it actually finished (and I suspect that absolutely everybody in the audience saw the final "twist" coming), but wasn't annoyed by this in the way I usually am with too-long movies, which certainly means that the filmmakers are doing something right.

"Granny"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: Zappin Party, digital)
Seen 28 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

A fun little short that's got just enough of a believable motivation to give it some genuine sting rather even though the bloody sight gags are very silly indeed. It works in large part because it's not just old-person jokes - it's got some well-executed thriller moments in it, even if they often do take a comic turn. The two main actors are also both spot-on: Tel Benjamin has just enough incredulity on his face to go with his character's fear, and Maggie Dence balances the horrifying blankness of a slasher villain with some genuine rage and just a little bit of a senior who isn't quite where she was mentally. The last stretch is a bit wobbly, but gets saved by the very silliness of its final bits.

This was the second time the short played in the festival, after a bit of technical trouble including it in a package. Very glad I got to see it properly, although it's interesting to note just how well it played with the dialogue extremely muffled. That's some good visual storytelling, even if it wasn't the intention!

Aterrados (Terrified)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

Give Terrified a lot of credit for not screwing around on the way to the good stuff. A lot of haunted house movies will do a slow build, hint at things that could have a rational explanation, or otherwise play things coy. Writer/director Demián Rugna says to hell with that, going all in on the paranormal barely ten minutes into the movie, and rather than having nowhere to go from there, he builds a contained but still grand mythology, finding ways to make things bigger while still placing them within the corners of our world.

There are a ton of good jump scares, and an enjoyable amount of time playing with how, though these people may be right about there being monsters, that doesn't mean that they are not themselves crazy. Some of the design and effects can seem a bit familiar or low-budget, but there's something weirdly effective about how the first big scare moment plays out - it looks crude, like something anybody could do, but it's staged in a shockingly vicious way and never gets near the uncanny valley. There's a sort of credibility to how the film goes about its business that a lot of other ones doing the same thing lack, but without the tendency to undercut just how unknowable and rule-less these things can seem.

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