Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Fantasia 2019.16: Night God, Human Lost, and Koko-di Koko-da

Another day with no guests, and a break taken for dinner because it looked like Jessica Forever would bump right up against Human Lost, and when you're here for the duration, you can choose which time you watch certain movies in DeSeve. Not that there wasn't anybody around - I put one thing with guests off for some anime and I'd seen Tone-Deaf at BUFF

Anyway, I'm hoping to spend Wednesday afternoon a wee bit outside the festival bubble before evening shows of The Fable and The Lodge. Depending on when this gets posted, I can recommend all of the afternoon shows in DeSeve - Day and Night, Extreme Job, and Les Particules.

Nochnoy Bog (Night God)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

As fusions of post-apocalyptic devastation and bureaucratic intransigence go, Night God is certainly arresting to look at, but it's also a reminder that, for however much truth there may be in this sort of vision of the future, it can be monotonous and ineffective once a viewer realizes that the cynicism is relatively unshakeable. At a certain point, you don't add much by saying everything is a mess in the way that it has always been a mess and always will be.

So it is for this one, which offers up a world without sunlight but has familiar sorts of authoritarian types in charge of the town our narrator returns to, still asking for forms and proof of identity even if they must be hand-written. An absurd situation develops involving live explosives and a TV game show, but it just redirects things back to the bureaucracy, and the stonewalling before anybody attempts to solve it is perfunctory. It's perhaps fitting that this sort of entrenched administration doesn't really change, but it comes across as a sort of default position. The film has its greatest spark of life when the daughter who had been silent through much of the film finally has words for her father about how he and his generation's obedience and timidity wrecked the world, but the filmmakers don't really seem to have any desire to run with that in any interesting direction - indeed, they see nothing but Icarus in that sort of attitude.

It's a striking vision of this at least. It's the sort of world that exists easily on a soundstage, and the details of it can be hypnotic, from the snow that sparkles as it falls through a hole in seemingly every roof to the daughter's yellow jacket, which seems to change shade as more or less light is cast in a scene. The film is fully committed to its pessimistic metaphors, and it's impossible to miss the thought and craft used to place them on-screen, even if you'd like to see the characters do something involved rather than just talk about how thinking is resistance.

Full review on EFilmCritic

HUMAN LOST Ningen Shikkaku

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, DCP)

Human Lost is one of those anime productions that are something like 60% world-building, 30% action, and 10% trying to find a story in all that. The fact that it has no shortage of interesting ideas - many stemming from how reckless and violent protest can become when everybody has all-but-magical health technology, even if using it can be a frustrating customer-service call - keeps it moving at an impressive clip, and it certainly hooks the audience with a great centerpiece action scene early on. It's fun to watch and explore, enough that anticipation of it all coming together can carry the viewer to the end.

The story, unfortunately, is awfully basic, in large part boiling down to a chosen-one narrative and pushing a lot of what matters into briefly-reference backstory. Screenwriter Tow Ubukata sketches the world out well enough that you can follow the story well enough, and they don't mess around in the details: Between the nice character animation and the voice work from Takahiro Sakurai, Masao Horiki is a thoroughly enjoyable villain, although you kind of wonder how anybody is trusting him. It leaves the end of the movie moving a little fast and heavy-handed, like the characters are racing against the running time of the movie rather than any actual crunch in their own world.

It's exciting enough sci-fi action to be worth checking out, but sometimes feels like it's trying to fit sci-fi anime structures more than following the story and world where it leads. There's a loyal audience for that, and they'll probably get a kick out of this.

Koko-di Koko-da

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

As a person who writes about film, I admit that there was a moment when I thought "aw, man, I hate doing this" as one of the three main characters introduced at the start of the film was eliminated in a fashion that was intended to be both horrifying and surprising and how do you write about what makes the rest of the movie work (and occasionally not) when you can't talk about what happens ten minutes in?

Ah, well, so it goes. By and large, Johannes Nyholm has made an intriguing film that plunges into the despair of grief on multiple fronts, and the combination of the contrast with "before", the Groundhog Day-style time loop that traps you in a fearful place, and the perversion of something mostly-unrelated into something you can no longer abide is something that rings true even as it also feels like too much. The movie can be a grim sit, and for some the repeated violence is going to be too extreme even as a representation of traumatic emotions. It is, by the end, clear where the film is going, but it certainly can seem like overkill.

And then, at other times, it doesn't, and there's this weird ethereal beauty to the horror it represents, an exquisite pain or a fleeting glimpse of something better. The extended shadow-puppet sequences, for instance, are dark as can be but also feel like people struggling and healing. There's humanity to the film's monsters, if not too much, and something sad but real about the characters trying to readjust to something normal. For all that this movie can occasionally be too much, it doesn't leap straight over being effective on its way there.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Fantasia 2019.15: Shooting the Mafia, Lake Michigan Monster, Miss & Mrs. Cops, and DJ XL5's Nine Lives Zappin Party

The Zappin Party is usually a couple days earlier, but putting it at roughly the two-thirds mark isn't a bad idea. You've made it more than halfway! And got to one of the few documentaries in the festival. Looking at the program, apparently there weren't enough non-fiction films this year for a full "Documentaries from the Edge" section - aside from Shooting the Mafia, it's mostly stuff about pop culture, but since there have been a bunch of nifty science-oriented and weird-culture things in previous years (I'm mildly surprised they didn't play Cold Case Hammerskjold), I hope that's just a one-year blip in the submissions, not a program that will be effectively retired like "Square Jaw Theater".

My first guests of the day were the Lake Michigan Monster guys, writer/director/producer/star Ryland Brickson Cole Tews, Chris Ryan (who worked on the music), Mike Cheslik (visual effects), and co-star Daniel Long. In a lot of ways, their movie was Not My Thing, and I kind of knew I'd made a horrible mistake when Tews decided to introduce the film more or less in character and lead the audience in a sing-along, but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate the heck out of their decision to make a feature-length movie in Milwaukee before heading in new directions, though Tews moving to Los Angeles certainly helped with getting effects and post-production done.

Anyway, make movies, get them in front of people's eyes at festivals and elsewhere, and don't worry too much about what folks like me who probably weren't really ever going to be on your wavelength anyway think.

Speaking of, here's the French-Canadian folks who got bits into DJ XL5's Nine Lives Zappin' Party, the comedy/fandom block edited to resemble a guy flipping through some weird channels for two hours, always one of the highlights of the festival. I won't try and run down all 22 shorts included, as some are extremely short, others are kind of pure mash-ups, and most didn't have notes taken, but I'll try and highlight the ones I really liked.

Also, this was shown as part of the pre-show, and I'm somewhere between "everyone I know would like this" and "if I have to see it, you have to see it":

As I start writing this on Tuesday (a mere five days later), my plans are And Your Bird Can Sing, Dare to Stop Us, Jessica Forever, Tokyo Ghoul S, and Dachra. Neither The Crow on 35mm nor the super-sized five-hour Le Marathon Zappin' Party de DJ XL5 is likely a bad way to spend the evening.

Shooting the Mafia

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

This is an intriguing but odd documentary, in that it seems like it could be more focused or detailed or illustrative, but instead the filmmakers just let it take them where it would, and if that wasn't where they expected, so be it.

As a result, the film never seems to have as much of Letizia Battalagia's photography as it seems like it really "should", although that could be more an artifact of the film seldom stopping to comment on her work as art and/or journalism and thus calling attention to this image being hers and what it represents as such. There are also noticeable gaps likely based upon what she was interested in talking about, and that means they have to work around it. For instance, there's not much about her time in politics, or when she wasn't active in either politics or photography, so she takes a step back during the big Mafia trials, letting those major events play out without her. It sometimes makes her feel like a convenient way to look at Sicily in general, rather than the subject of the film.

That's not quite the case, because she is so interesting, even if she never fits the confines of a conventional documentary easily. The people in her life talk about her with great affection, including a sometimes eyebrow-raising parade of younger photographers she took as lovers. Because she didn't pick up a camera until the age of 40, there's relatively little documentation of her early life, leading the filmmakers to fill in the gaps with film clips, which helps elevate her to a larger-than-life figure, confusing the heightened reality of the movie's with the often dramatic life she would lead. It's intriguing and informative, but also show you can't avoid myth-making.

Full review on EFilmCritic

"Picnic" (2019)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Fantasia Underground, digital)

Mike Pinkney has made one of those shorts that maybe wasn't necessarily influenced more by the idea of what an art film is like than actual films of that ilk or just having the same impulses lead him in a similar direction, but I suspect that's the mindset receiving it in most cases. Lord knows I haven't seen enough to really identify where it lands on the spectrum.

It's often fun to watch, at least, nailing a gauzy film look even as it seems to overdo the random slow-motion and extreme close-ups without a lot of clear purpose, playing cute charm and a weird ghost against each other before introducing "death cake", which if nothing else can certainly rush a five-minute film to its conclusion. And maybe it's more sincere than it looks, and just plays spoofy by being put next to Lake Michigan Monster. It's certainly an interesting choice to put one movie lampooning colorful highbrow works in front of the one going for black-and-white cheese.

Lake Michigan Monster

* * (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Fantasia Underground, digital)

Deliberate camp is awful most of the time, which is a fair description of Lake Michigan Monster, a tough slog for as long as the joke is looking at it and laughing at how low-rent it feels, but kind of fun once it finds itself more in the realm of the weird. Despite it only being 78 minutes long, it seems to take forever to make that jump, and I can't say that I found it worth the investment.

Writing that, I can't help but think back to One Cut of the Dead, which was similarly painful for at least a third of its running time before breaking out a last act that more than made up for the weak start, but the trick there was to really make use of absolutely everything that had been planted beforehand, while the bits that are awkwardly sprinkled into this movie's first half are obvious and surrounded by things that aren't ever going to be more than "hey, isn't this dumb?" So it looks cheap and hammy, and isn't going to be more.

Fortunately, it finds various ways to dispense of its less necessary characters (as movies with "monster" in the title do), and eventually just pares itself down to one man on a mission and between the no longer screwing around milking the same set of jokes on the one hand and a commitment to throwing a bunch of effects creative enough to not need every computational cycle a whole server farm can give on the other, the last stretch of the movie becomes a whole lot more fun. It's full of action, the randomness suddenly feels like its pushing in fun new directions, and Captain Seafield actually seems to give a damn about what's going on rather than just making the occasional arch-but-stupid remark.

It's still pretty dumb and campy by the end, but at least by that point it's asking is viewers to laugh at what it does well rather than what it's deliberately doing poorly, and that's a massive improvement.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Miss & Mrs. Cops (aka Girl Cops)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

This movie opens with an impressive bit of action and then, immediately, informs the audience that it's not going to be getting any more of that for a while, and I'm not going to lie, that's pretty disappointing. It's also got a different sense of where the line between hostile and abrasive is than American buddy-cop movies, and while it should - it is South Korean, after all - It's got trouble maintaining a time that works in other ways. The mean streak you often find in even Korean crime comedies doesn't serve this one very well.

It's frustrating, because you can see everything set up so well - a pair of sisters-in-law becoming reluctant partners to solve a case that the men on the force don't necessarily see as a big deal, backed up by a hacker who, between the sexism the film is targeting and cop movie-cliches, is actually extremely overqualified for the job she has - and the three top actresses are all a lot of fun to watch. The action at either end is pretty impressive, in part because Ra Mi-Ran never looks like the usual image of an action heroine (she's short and neither pretty nor aloof) and seems to be having so much fun just diving into it.

Jung Da-won's script makes a few leaps and bogs down in other places, and the contrast between its nasty crime story and slapstick comedy is almost always awkward. The film changes direction in the last act like a car backing up seven times to make a relatively small turn, to the point where one almost wants it to just switch things up and not worry about how. Of course, I suspect that some jokes get lost in translation - "grate!" just feels off as the characters try to cut the ropes they're tied up with, and a cameo appearance toward the end is likely much funnier to Korean audiences.

It's the second Korean action-comedy this year that I wouldn't mind seeing remade in English (and with a different name, as "Miss & Mrs. Cops" is awkward and "Girl Cops" is dumb), as there's good material here but it doesn't always connect as well as it could.

Full review on EFilmCritic

"Simon's Cat: Armchair Fan, Staircase, Spooked"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: DJ XL5's Nine Lives Zappin; Party, digital)

The three latest "Simon's Cat" cartoons are just what you'd expect - Simon's cat is in the way and walks all over him, basically acting like a cat - but the designs are still great, Simon Tofield still knows just how much repetition is the optimum about to be really funny, etc. It's a cartoon cat being a cat, pushed just enough to be even funnier.

The "Spooked" one is a bit different, hinting just a bit at Halloween-style antics without really going for inappropriately scary. I'd almost kind of like to see Tofield go for something like this the next time he does a big color special, although this is probably just enough.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: DJ XL5's Nine Lives Zappin; Party, digital)

Half of my notes for this program: "Just why with all the shit, 'Occupé'? Just why?"

As you may guess, "Occupé" is an unrepentant gross-out comedy that I'm pretty sure I would have navigated away from if I found it on YouTube during the first minute, as it fills the porta-potty where her heroine drops her keys in order to make retrieving them really unappealing. It's still a pretty darn impressive bit of comic timing and built-up frustration after this starts. Messy as it is, it's pretty unlikely one won't laugh during this short.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: DJ XL5's Nine Lives Zappin; Party, digital)

Filmmaker Evan Powers and his cast & crew do a much better job than usual of pivoting from straight-up horror stuff to spoofy stuff, in large part I think because the opening looks like a pretty fun home-invasion thriller - they're mixing it up a bit rather than just trying to make it as generic as possible - and the shift in perspective to the villains as buddies trying to prop up the guy who apparently has to wear the pig mask because he's carrying extra pounds isn't necessarily that much of a change. It's a funny crew on both sides, and doesn't stretch the joke out past what it can take.

"Shower Party"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: DJ XL5's Nine Lives Zappin; Party, digital)

"Shower Party" is the sort of three-minute fight scene that probably took days to weeks to film and is a damn delight. It's a ton of high-quality Hong Kong-style fight choreography made all the more entertaining because the audience is already laughing at what a hair-trigger response it all is to a social faux pas, although you totally get just how good it must feel to totally let loose after this sort of thing. I'd kind of love for filmmakers David Gagné and Pierre-Luc Gosselin to figure out a way to make a feature-length comedy about the couple played by Marc-Andre Brisebois & Flavie Groleau just having this sort of melee regularly erupt around them, maybe learning to choose their words more carefully in the future.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Fantasia 2019.14: Daniel Isn't Real, House of Hummingbird, and Hard-Core

The fact that I'm writing about Fantasia's two-week mark four days later and the dang thing still isn't over is kind of crazy. Remember this when the lightweights in Texas start talking about Fantastic Fest being a lot after three days in September.

First guest of the day was Adam Egypt Mortimer, who made a movie I wanted to like a lot more than I did, because I really liked Some Kind of Hate a lot when it played the festival and his graphic novel Ballistic. It just really didn't hit for me, and in a way I could pretty much see coming early on. Horror where the supernatural explanation is less interesting than the real-world one that can't be avoided just doesn't do much for me.

He is, nevertheless, a fun guest, in this case talking about how it was kind of weird making a movie with the sons of Tim Robbins & Susan Sarandon and Arnold Schwarzeneggar & Maria Shriver, mentioning that both of them had parents break up very public ways. Patrick Schwarzeneggar is apparently very popular with Just Jared and the like, while the thing with Miles Robbins was trying not to get into how certain parts of the movie were inspired by Jacob's Ladder and being relieved when Miles said it was his favorite of his father's movies too.

Next up was Kim Bora, here with House of Hummingbird and eschewing a translator, as she went to grad school in an English-speaking country. She made a pretty great little movie, with the best story being about how young star Park Ji-Hoo was just the right mix of shy and confident in her audition, saying something about how she'd be better the next day. I also noticed that she had the copyright on the film at the end, and I wonder if that's unusual for Korean indies or not; it's something I seldom see on a film this size as opposed to some partnership or LLC.

Then came Hard-Core, which I didn't realize until creating Amazon links for people to ignore was the director of Linda Linda Linda adapting a manga by the creator of Oldboy, which is kind of dead on target, and now I want to watch it again with that in mind.

Monday's plans: Depraved, "Twilight", Son of the White Mare, and Day and Night

"Right Place Wrong Tim"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

The joke in "Right Place Wrong Tim" seems to be that everyone involved is kind of confused and freaked out by the whole thing, which is probably what makes a film that is kind of "inside" - written and directed by a guy not long removed from being a child actor, taking place on the set of a sitcom or sketch comedy - a wee bit more relatable. The whole thing, where multiple copies of an actor (Asa Butterfield) show up on stage, adding a level of surrealism to what had been a series of clock puns, feels like just the sort of thing that might (somehow) be sprung on the cast by surprise, even as it's deeply unnerving.

It becomes a horror movie more overtly, and I'm not sure whether or not I really like that there's no sense of why it goes in this direction. To a certain extent, that's just horror; it doesn't need a reason and having your reality dangerously disrupted without explanation is kind of the essence of horror, but on the other hand, it comes off as sort of weird and janky, and if the viewer doesn't get thrown, they might just think it's kind of silly.

Daniel Isn't Real

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The trouble with using supernatural horror as a way to examine real-world issues is that, inevitably, someone has to bring up the thing you're trying to talk about on its own, usually before committing to one direction or the other, and for some in the audience, that makes the direction you go a disappointment. Like, dealing with schizophrenia is scary, but demonic possession is just silly made-up shit in comparison. I suppose it can go the other way, too.

That's the big issue with Daniel Isn't Real; every indication that the title might not be the case makes the film seem a little less consequential, a story about arbitrary mythology rather than a troubled kid trying to deal with more than he's able to handle. It's not bad as long as it's in grounded territory - Miles Robbins is quite good as a self-doubting college student, and it hurts not a whit that Mary Stuart Masterson provides a scary but sympathetic preview of what his future may hold - even if its college life stories tend toward just being an environment that's convenient to ignore when not moving the horror story forward.

And for as annoying as Patrick Schwarzenegger can be as Daniel - it may not be on him, but there's nothing about this "imaginary friend" that feels seductive or tempting enough to push Luke in a bad direction- things get much worse in scenes where Daniel fully takes control. Those feel like Robbins doing an imitation of Schwarzeneggar's performance rather than the character being possessed, highlighting that much more how the material that is supposed to be chilling can just play as goofy and fake.

Beol-sae (House of Hummingbird)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

It's a testimony to just how good young actress Park Ji-hu is - and how carefully filmmaker Kim Bora has inserted potentially upbeat moments - that House of Hummingbird doesn't just become a parade of misery, confirmation that adolescence is nothing but cruel torment. Eunhee is a middle-school heroine that the audience can get behind even as her troubles get piled high.

She's never alone in her troubles, which helps quite a bit; it's clear from the start that her mother and best friend know where she's coming from, even if they often seem powerless to help each other break away for more than a few minutes at a time. It's part of being a girl in that time and place, and while the very first scene captures how close a kid can be to boiling over in this situation, the movie as a whole trends toward Eunhee getting more able to handle herself, even if it's sometimes a sort of youthful not knowing any better.

Adolescence is tough but survivable, and House of Hummingbird nails that vibe impressively well.

Full review on EFilmCritic


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Having a couple of misfits discover a discarded robot and treat it as one of their own has probably been done more than a few times, but Hard-Core seems to take it a bit farther than is typical. The creators seem a little more aware of the fire they're playing with, that many outsiders aren't just misfits who will just be lonely when left to their own devices.

No, there's folks ready to exploit them, a nationalist group that certainly can come off as comical in its leader's obsession with finding buried treasure, but which certainly has its darker side to examine. It's not much of a leap from there to a character's brother trying to exploit "Robo-o" (as he was subtitled in this presentation), although the film kind of tails away from that. It's never not driven by people being willing to put the likes of Ukon, Ushiyama, and Robo to work, but has a habit of shrugging it off.

In fact, for Ukon being at the center of the movie, it's never really about what he's doing at any point; he's a part of what other people are doing, and even his thing for the boss's daughter winds up subsumed into what's going on at the edges. Fortunately, everything involving Robo-o is quite enjoyable fantasy, from the goofy ways the boys dress the nicely-designed robot up as a person to how he looks silly but authentic when flying comic-book style. The filmmakers also have a neat way of making Robo-o feel more active once he actually has a voice. It's sneaky clever there and in other places, even if all those clever pieces have a hard time coming together throughout.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Fantasia 2019.13: A Good Man Is Hard to Find, Black Magic for White Boys, The Father's Shadow, and Door Lock

Moviewatching started at noon on Tuesday, meaning this seemingly innocuous day in the middle of the festival could have been one of the busiest if not for the two houses having staggered times and leaving me with a big chunk of time to get groceries and try the Ka'ek place that had moved into the spot where I used to be able to just run across the street for a slice of pizza. It's a nice addition.

(Which is to say - I felt culinarily adventurous trying a new kind of grilled cheese sandwich.)

Only guests today were Onur Tukel (second from left) and Black Magic for White Boys co-producer William George-Louis and co-star Eva Dorrepaal. They had kind of a crazy story for this film, which played Tribeca in one 80-minute form in 2017, and when they got comments about it feeling like a TV show it got broken up into four 20-minute episodes as a sitcom pilot, but that didn't get picked up to series, so they shot more, and there's apparently 40 minutes of original footage and 65 that's new. There were originally plans for the series to explore contrasting types of magic - literal, pharmaceutical, technological - but it didn't really shake out that way, becoming more about gentrification and sort of contrasting how power enables corruption with the pull of the ordinary. It's a bit of a mess and Tukel talks about the themes behind the movie from an odd place - he's both the first white guy to move into his building in Brooklyn and now getting priced, so he feels like both the cause and victim if this problem.

Anyway, I'm making this post about Tuesday on Saturday, which is going to be a longish day - White Snake, the sci-fi shorts, Kingdom, Why Don't You Just Die?, and Les Particules - with Sunday being even longer: Full Contact on 35mm, Homewrecker, The Island of Cats, Circo Animato, Freaks, and American Fighter.

"Woman in Stall"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

"Woman in Stall" is a near-ideal example of this type of short thriller - an exceptionally hemmed-in location, a vague potential threat that there's no easy escape from, a simple ratcheting up of tension that doesn't really require anything that couldn't also be viewed as innocent. And which may actually be such - the film puts just enough hints that this may be a misunderstanding compounded by how the average guy doesn't recognize how a woman feels in this situation to give it multiple bad ways it can end.

That the guy in question is almost entirely unseen other than as feet or what you can see looking through the cracks in a restroom stall both lets the audience imagine the worst and also sets some bounds that make one think, while star and co-director/producer Madeleine Sims-Fewer is showing the audience every bit of suspicion and fear that passes through her mind, while also making sure that she's quick and sharp, determined to push back. It's a terrific performance that of necessity has her using words relatively little, as this is the sort of situation where her character doesn't want to give the guy anything he can use, at least not until she can try to take charge of the situation. Dialogue isn't always about trying to get something, but there's no escaping that it certainly can be.

Anyway - don't talk in bathrooms more than the absolute minimum, and, geez, guys, don't ever do this.

A Good Woman Is Hard to Find

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

This starts as one sort of crime movie and evolves into another, and truth be told, it's the first half that seems to have the greater potential, but the right casing and some willingness to crank up the pressure can do wonders for even the most threadbare thriller plots, and this one's got some really good work.

The nifty casting turns out to be Sarah Bolger, who invests a young working-class widow with plenty of nerve when appropriate, a hard-earned variety that's convincing enough that the film has no need to open with or flash back to the events that put the family in its current position. The script seldom makes her overconfident or timid, and she's got the right mix at all times, someone who knows her capability but recognizes real danger. Bolger always seems to recognize that she's in a crime movie even when being placed in relatively ordinary situations, always looking over her shoulder or otherwise paying extra attention.

The plotting is, Intriguingly, neither intricate nor chaotic; it relies on a certain sort of dangerous serendipity that can seem like randomness or cheating in the wrong hands. In those of writer Ronan Blaney and director Abner Pastoll, there's something that seems right about how most crime here seems opportunistic, the result of someone choosing to act when in the right (or wrong) place at the right time. It's not a natural thing, and the only characters far enough down the rabbit hole to treat it as one are psychopaths. The question is whether Sarah and her grounded sanity can be enough in those situations, and how she's right on the border of being out of her depth and able to assert control even when things get messy in the last act.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Black Magic for White Boys

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Fantasia Underground, DCP)

I'm not particularly curious to see the previous iteration(s) of this movie, which got a fairly thorough retooling after its initial screenings, just a bit surprised that this work still left it with obvious gaps and issues. It's still frequently funny in a charmingly homemade way; its seemingly effect-less effects and unrefined characters have the nice effect of Onur Tukel's film just laying what it wants out there.

And it is, although it gets a couple layers deep in the meta-narrative at one point, as the film stops and kind of hammers away that, yes, while you were laughing at all the white-person drama, black and poor people have been literally disappearing from Brooklyn so that more of these people can be moved in. It's brought up in just short of clumsy fashion and would maybe sink a movie trying to be more polished, but here, the filmmakers are kind of like the guys at the tiny theater revitalized by its owner demonstrating that he knows real magic - more resources than most, but pretty much still scraping things together to put on their show, so it mostly fits.

It fits especially well when they can just go with general goofiness, whether it be the Greek chorus of people waiting for the bus spouting what's occasionally nonsense and what's occasionally unwanted sanity, or the back and forth between a bunch of people with fine comic chops. It is, admittedly, kind of disconcerting to recognize that Tukel has given himself one of the more unabashedly selfish characters in the film - as much as the guy is supposed to be pretty much awful, having the whining about how tough it is for white guys come out of the filmmaker's mouth is a bit uncomfortable.

I suppose that the particular variety of tone-deafness is just another thing that makes it feel oddly authentic, though - like its characters, the film itself sometimes has trouble realizing when it's gone from hip or cool to over a line.

Full review on EFilmCritic

"Le Blizzard"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

Hey, I don't think I've ever seen a movie of any length from Andorra before. That's neat.

Intriguingly, it's director Alvaro Rodriguez Areny's second short set during World War II, and has the feeling of a pilot for a larger project. If it is, it's an interesting enough one, showing that he's got a good knack for tension and action as a desperate flight becomes more immediate as a mother (Aida Folch) looking for her daughter sees the members of the group she's with getting picked off. It's all solid enough, although it illustrates technique better than it tells a story, especially once a bit of unreality asserts itself toward the end. It gives the film some striking final images, communicating the idea that there was just nothing Marie could do, but still feels like it's a piece of something larger rather than a film built to accomplish this goal itself.

A Sombra do Pai (The Father's Shadow)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The young actress in this movie, Nina Medeiros, is genuinely amazing, and even if it's just a matter of casing the girl who could best give the movie what it needs most of the time - a skinny body seemingly about to collapse under the weight on the family stress put upon her hiding eyes that indicate almost frightening intensity - getting the right amount and focus in any given scene is no small thing. She's great and delivers exactly what the movie needs. It's a tense little performance that convinces the audience that anything is possible for Dalva, from collapse to genuine sorcery.

It's kind of a slow burn otherwise, the daughter kind of waiting and watching while the father spirals deeper into despair, seeing a lousy world claim everyone around him and feeling powerless to do anything about it. There are other characters floating around them, with intersecting issues of their own, helping make her problems uniquely her own even as they also reflect a greater malaise. Writer/director Gabriela Amaral lets important things happen off-screen in a way that's actually quite useful - it is, for instance, genuinely tricky to know if Dalva's aunt Cristina and her boyfriend Elton are really stable enough to take her in, even as her father Jorge seems to be falling apart.

It's nicely spooky, as well, though that's not exactly the prime focus. The bits which indicate something in this world isn't quite right are suitably unnerving, though, especially one where a kid thinking she can do magic reveals as much as anything actually supernatural. And if the end is a bit more pure fantasy than the rest, it certainly does not feel unearned.

Full review on EFilmCritic

"Miedos" ("Fears")

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

It feels like tremendous nitpicking to say that "Fears" is a few seconds off in terms of how long it shows some things or keeps going after revealing something, but at nine minutes long, those seconds are a lot. Germán Sancho is starting from a simple premise (girl afraid to go to sleep because of the scary old lady she claims lives in her closet), so he's got to be either very precise or very creative to stand out.

Happily, he's doing well on both sides; "Fears" has been hiding something genuinely unnerving and mostly unexpected when he does pull back the curtain, and he's done a nice job of keeping what's threatening this little girl (an impressive Claudia Placer) simple and elemental enough for it all to fit together. There's a little extra at the end that very slightly diminishes the "you got me and I've got to sit with that a bit" feeling, but mostly it just feels nicely done.

Door Lock

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

I may or may not have seen the movie which inspired this film, but it's not like the case of another Korean remake of a Spanish thriller a couple years ago when I realized that I knew what's going to happen next about ten minutes in. It certainly feels like its own movie, and a thriller that doesn't mess around much to boot.

The focus on security is kind of intriguing, in that it's often presented as futile and/or making someone a prisoner of their own fears, and there's a bit of that for Gyeung-min; for there to be a movie, all of her preparations must eventually fall (although I'm not entirely certain how her regular pass-code changes get tripped up), but she seldom seems foolishly vigilant. Situations that turn out harmless still feel dangerous enough for caution to be sensible, and there are just enough incidents where men don't understand the sort of intimidation that women are subject to to make it clear that Gyeung-min is more or less on her own without making them competent callous. There's care to parallel other aspects of a young person's life, too, such as the uncertainty of employment and rent seem to put all the risk on the person who can least bear it.

And, surface-level, it's a fine thriller. It has a chance to get cute with how what the audience sees isn't what's going on, but dispenses with that quickly, in a way that ties one's stomach in a knot with a real sustained urgency of what has to be done without getting too explicit too early. The film stumbles a bit in how it handles partner-in-crime-solving Hyo-ju, in that she can be a little too good at lightening the mood at times or seemingly dismissing what getting sucked into all of this mess as Gyeung-min's support means for her, but the actresses mostly play well off each other, and the filmmakers are not afraid to push hard to get the film into dark, suspenseful territory as it winds down. There's an undiluted nastiness that's often the case with Korean thrillers in particular, but writer/director Lee Kwon does good work on staying on just the right side of the line between "intense" and "repulsive".

Full review on EFilmCritic

Friday, July 26, 2019

Fantasia 2019.12: Ode to Nothing, Fly Me to the Saitama, and L'Intervention

You know what's in no way awesome? When your phone doesn't charge overnight or while you're working despite being plugged in, so it's not ready for duty when you head out for the festival. Luckily, there were no guests, or you'd be seeing how good the camera is on my five-year-old tablet, and I would look like a tool holding it up to get pictures. On the other hand, having that in hand rather than a device that could hook into a cell network reminded me how much I liked writing on it in distraction-free manner before getting the Chromebook. Maybe it's time to shake my routine up a bit.

Anyway, repeating from the last post, I'll be hitting Night God, Human Lost, and Koko-di Koko-da for sure, which seems light for a festival Friday, but maybe I'll reconfigure. Tone-Deaf is recommended.

Oda sa wala (Ode to Nothing)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

It is kind of hard to grasp the level of loneliness on display in Ode to Nothing at first. It's right out front, and is kind of clear that this is what the film will be about from the start, but people have to sink deep into a genuinely frightening desperation before the full extent of how it's eating at Sonya becomes completely clear, and that's when the filmmakers know that they can push the film somewhere else. They often course not to, but the audience still knows that a line has been crossed.

It's hard work at times, because this has to be a quiet film, spending enough time on isolation and scenes where little actually happens to show how you can be isolated even with someone else in the room, or how something else can skew your perception. The filmmakers build eccentricity into delusion in expected ways and then veer into other directions. It's surprising but not. Lead actress Pokwang pulls everything inside without seeming blank, and even her eruptions seem precise, as far as she can go without driving someone away.

Interestingly, the film never seems particularly interested in why Sonya is lonely; it doesn't necessarily matter, and giving a reason might just frustrate the audience for how the isn't being solved. Is just about being in that situation and seeing how it can drag a person down.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Tonde Saitama (Fly Me to the Saitama)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

This may not be the most shojo movie possible (assuming I'm not being my manga categories mixed up), but it's right up there, probably only held back because it is so darn self-parodying that it has to get even more absurd lest it become mean.

Or maybe it is mean already and my Japanophilia is just not quite strong enough to recognize just how hard the movie is coming for what seems like any city or region anywhere near Tokyo. It's a non-stop barrage of jokes that seem like they should by and large be too specific to translate, but the filmmakers are good at doing the thing where such extreme specificity can get twisted into absurdity. I may not recognize the source of a particular gag, but I can certainly see how broad it is and how well executed.

And since these gags come roughly every fifteen seconds, there's a good chance that enough will land and make sense that most will laugh out loud a lot. The cast and crew are great at putting a kernel of humanity into their live-action cartoon characters (especially Fumi Nikaido as Momomi, whose decency surprises herself as much as anyone), and at the climax, such an all-out assault is mounted that is hard not to laugh at something, so long as the brain doesn't just shut down from overload.

Overload can be a problem, and I suspect that there's a certain amount you need to know even with how many jokes work regardless ("the name is written in hiragana!" not only doesn't translate at all, it's probably actively off-putting if you don't get it). But if you've swallowed enough Japanese pop culture, this is a real kick.

Full review on EFilmCritic

L'Intervention (15 Minutes of War)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

From the subtitles, the English title for this film is "15 Minutes of War", which naturally leads to the question of what's going to happen for the other 80. The answer is a lot of simple competence, making for a very French take on the sort of military action film that, in American hands, often seems to be more likely to overflow with testosterone even when trying to be modest and self-deprecating.

On the one hand, that's pretty pleasant, at least as military action movies go. This film is procedural, spending a fair amount of time on working out tactics, arguing with other groups on the scene and command back home in Paris, just in a somewhat less shouty manner. Another thread plants an American schoolteacher in the middle of the hostage situation, giving the filmmakers plenty of chances to check in and make sure that the audience knows what the stakes are. It doesn't do much to illuminate what is going on with the hostage-takers, for better or worse; there's no need to make them sympathetic, but it wouldn't be unusual to dig a little deeper into what the issues around the situation are in what is ultimately going to be a bunch of European soldiers aiming to kill black people in Africa, though there doesn't seem to be a lot of moral ambiguity here.

The action is plenty strong, though, even with laying out what the plan is early on. It's concentrated in the last act (those fifteen minutes) and delivers a very satisfying combination of special-forces excellence and frightening chaos. The filmmakers know how to keep the adrenaline drip flowing, getting the audience caught up enough in what's going on that it's easy enough to dismiss that, yeah, the French seem to be scoring a bunch of head shots while the Somalis hit the ground near people's feet a lot.

It is this sort of movie, even after all, if it seems less gung-ho than usual. It's what it says on the box without a lot else, but a pretty good version of it.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Fantasia 2019.11: Cencoroll Connect, Boxer's Omen, Purity of Vengeance, Dance with Me, and Satanic Panic

Not a whole lot of guests in the movies I went to on Sunday, but as the halfway mark, it's another good chance to do some counting: 35 features, 26 shorts, 9 attached and 17 as part of two programs. That actually gets my feature pace down a bit, to 70 features, but that's probably just reasonable rather than the stupidly busy pace I often set.

Writer/director Shinobu Yaguchi was on-hand for Dance with Me, which is pretty darn charming, although, as a musical celebrating musicals while also commenting on their goofiness, I feel like it could have gone a bit further. He a good-sized build-up, as some of his previous films had been big hits at the festival in previous years, but I think the only one I've actually seen was Happy Flight, which was one of the odder screenings I went to, as the airline featured in the film rented out the Coolidge, showed the movie for free, and pitched their product, which was not really what I'd been expecting.

It was a fun screening, though, both for how he opened up with a statement that described his film as "... like I think you say in English, 'batshit crazy'" and for how some of the questioning showed how narrow and skewed our fandom can render our view of pop culture. One of the songs had apparently been used in an anime, and the questioner wanted to know what sort of influence that was, and Mr. Yaguchi just had absolutely no idea what he was talking about, as these were all pop songs from the 1970s and early 1980s. The anime was probably trying to tap into the same vein of nostalgia, but Yaguchi's experience of Japanese pop culture is obviously very different from the twentysomething who attends this festival

So, that was Sunday. It's now Friday, and I'll be hitting Night God, Human Lost, and Koko-di Koko-da, maybe with Jessica Forever in there, but it's much less tight on Tuesday, and based on the amount of caffeine I've already had to down to get through the morning, I'm guessing I won't be up for Decoder at midnight. Tone-Deaf is a bunch of fun

Cencoroll Connect ("Cencoroll" & "Cencoroll 2")

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, digital)

There's a shift in the animation style somewhere in the middle of this film, but that's natural; there's ten years between the releases of "Cencoroll" and "Cencoroll 2", and you can't help but see the spot where they are fused into a short feature. The thing is, it becomes a bit more of a different sort of amine at that point, introducing more characters who have clear purpose and sense of urgency, piling more action on, losing a bit of what made the opening feel unique even if it isn't necessarily anything completely new.

The fun of that first act was the apparent reluctance to be a sci-fi action amine; hero Tetsu may be bonded to a giant shapeshifting creature, but he doesn't really have any interest in fighting others, or satisfying some girl's curiosity, or investigating where the likes of Cenco come from. Even villain Shuu seems to be more or less attacking because it's as good a time as any, and the fights have a sort of slow ramp-up until they're suddenly quite lethal. It's a good fit for the muted color scheme and simple, amorphous designs, an impressive bit of work in creating a certain sort of mood and not overloading the audience.

There's still a lot of that going on in the second half, but now there's a secret agency, titanic "kites", connections between characters, and more action. It's not a bad example of this sort of amine, even if it's no longer quite the slacker version of it, but the brighter, more solid colors jar a bit and the action becomes a bit much. It almost seems to be holding a moment, extending the transition between the seemingly simple, laid-back "Cencoroll" started as and the blockbuster that the entire saga will become a little too long, and never fully arriving at that final destination; even the tease during the credits just suggests a bit more rather than a big, climactic shift. Maybe it will all fit together when and if the filmmakers can do part 3.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Mo (The Boxer's Omen)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Fantasia Retro, 35mm)

I think I've seen this whacko bit of Hong Kong horror before, but probably as part of a late show where it couldn't fully lodge in my head. Which is kind of incredible, because this thing is the sort of insane that one would seemingly not forget.

It is, after all, full of weird sequences that leave the viewers' mouths open in pure shock (or covered to keep from puking), and on top of that, seem like they're just not going to end. A thing where the vengeance-seeking students set about creating some sort of female martial-arts golem involves just an immense amount of crocodile guts even before they start shoving gross things in their mouths, masticating it, and then spitting it out so that the next guy can add some ingredients and do the same, and it just goes on and on and on, like the filmmakers knew it needed to drag it out forever for at least one person in the audience to hurl sympathetically. And that's at least got a sort of pure authenticity to it, compared to the other stretches of mystic battles where Shaw Brothers surely spent dozens of dollars on effects.

That's all kind of fun, for certain definitions of fun, but it can be a little frustrating to see just how little the filmmakers care about anything else, from the bits of sport and triad stories glued into the start to get things going to how explanations and transitions are mere obligations to be wedged in as necessary. It's not really a good movie even though it is able to draw a visceral reaction, but by the time is over, there's no denying that it has done that and (in this case) done so in the middle of a festival of movies that have had 35 years to figure out how to do it better. I am, at the very least, reasonably sure I will not forget whether or not I've seen it again.

Review from 2014

Journal 64 (aka The Purity of Vengeance)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

"Department Q" has, as a series, reached the point where it's got to deal with characters staying in the same place rather than having some sort of shift in their job or life - and where a character is compelled to mention that they really didn't have this many perverse cold cases before the department existed. It's not quite a breaking point, but it's a spot where I suspect everyone involved is thinking about how to avoid inertia even if not much actually gets reconfigured.

And it does okay. This case touches on an uglier bit of Danish history that can't be entirely consigned to the past (don't they all), and the filmmakers do a nice job of rolling it around, letting the audience struggle with how the pieces never seem to fit until the brilliant but temperamental detective sees the twist that's obvious in retrospect. This time around, the more personal narrative revolves around Carl's partner Assad (a first-billed Fares Fares), who is given a rare chance to move up while confronting the issues with being an Arab in Copenhagen more directly. It's nicely and sympathetically laid out (down to the way emphasis is placed in the phrase "non-ethnic Danes" to make it sound reluctant and avoid positioning Assad and his friends as outsiders), and seems more genuinely repulsed by the violence against women inherent in its story than usual.

It is, as with the others, a quality production, knowing how to squeeze every cent out of its budget without being too slick all over or slacking on the seedy and cramped corners. The snowy background of the present stays constant even as the flashbacks track the seasons, plunging young Nete from a hopeful summer to the darkest winter.

I must admit, I kept forgetting why I had this movie circled on my schedule before checking and realizing that it was the new Department Q movie, which is how it goes with this series, I guess. It's almost always worth diving in, but I won't exactly be eagerly anticipating the next until it's in front of me.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Dance With Me

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The thing that mostly makes Dance With Me work is the thing that basically goes the game away; there are large chunks that the audience will not believe unless, at some point, the movie's heroine learned how to do all the singing and dancing, even if the trail of destruction she leaves as the result of her compulsion to make any song she hears into a musical number suggests that maybe she didn't, and once you've put that in her backstory, there's little doubt what she has to confront. How this will end is never in doubt, and is just a matter of making the path leading there crooked.

Fortunately, the first leg of the path is tremendously funny, with the first couple of songs utterly fantastic and Ayaka Miyoshi's pitch-perfect reaction to her character's predicament able to keep the laughs coming. Once she hits the road, it's a little rougher; there are fewer opportunities for big numbers, and the buddy-comedy thing that gets in the way is bumpy. I feel like I missed a scene that sets up her private investigator also being her rival, and another character's final appearance is especially random - the audience liked her, but maybe not that much, and she seems to be tidying up bits that don't really need it.

But, wow, is lead actress Miyoshi great. It's not just that she's cute as heck and can sing and dance, but she's terrific at finding the yin and yang of her character, where she can put herself above her friends' superficiality while still crushing on the same handsome executive given the chance, or finding terror in her actions feeling out of control even as she truly loves what her hypnotized brain is giving her permission to indulge in. There's another movie, perhaps, where maybe she comes to grips with the idea of being stuck like this, and the resolution doesn't completely fall on the casual whims of the hypnotist that put her in this situation (although Akira Takarada is a smooth charmer in the part).

Full review on EFilmCritic

"Helsinki Mansplaining Massacre"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

As much as I appreciate the sentiment here, there's something a wee bit more ham-handed to this short than it needs to be, like writer/director Ilja Rautsi (a guy, for those of us who don't know Finnish names that well) is able to recognize the blatant sexism well enough but maybe not the more insidious bits that chip away at a woman, though that's obviously not exactly for me to say either.

There's no denying that eventual shutting bros up with a shotgun is cathartic as heck, though, or that Anna Paavilainen is ever less than a complete kick as Essi, the horror-loving lady who has been pushed far enough and knows how you blast your way out of the horror movie she's found herself in quite well, thank you. The gore is plentiful and enthusiastic, and it's undeniable that the film's heart is in the right place, which is all over the wall behind these lunatics.

Satanic Panic

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Satanic Panic is horror comedy for people who know the genre and can poke fun without being entirely flip about it - it doesn't work if everybody involved is taking it for granted, but does when the right people are.

Indeed, it's at its best when it becomes a sort of buddy comedy between an innocent who is nevertheless nobody's fool and a girl who knows the score but is, maybe, not as corrupt as she thinks. Seeing it evolve into that is probably the movie's best surprise: Genuine friendship isn't exactly what movies like this are usually made of, but it happens almost before the viewer is aware of what's going on, and the pairing of Hayley Griffith and Jordan Ladd becomes a surprisingly solid core.

That gives the movie a lot of room for crazy, absurdist slapstick, and a whole crew of actors dive into the chance to indulge in their cultists' gleeful lack of morality. A lot are the sort of character actors one almost recognizes, seeming to have a blast pushing their personae just a bit further than usual, all the way up to Rebecca Romijn clearly having a blast suffering no fools, with a special guest appearance by Jerry O'Connell, who makes his suburban satanist the final evolution of the guy who never thought he could or should be held accountable. It's great fun and it sneaks a little bit of sting in there as well, though not enough to kill the mood.

Full review on eFilmCritic

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 26 July 2019 - 1 August 2019

Another week in Montreal, another week that the studios are obliging by not really throwing too much new out there.

  • This week's sole wide release is Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, the latest epic from Quentin Tarantino, with Leonardo DiCaprio as a fading actor and Brad Pitt as his stuntman, whose paths cross with Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and the Manson Family. The Coolidge and the Somerville have it on 35mm film, with digital screenings at the Somerville, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, West Newton, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, the Embassy, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    The monthly GKids/Fathom Studio Ghibli film is Kiki's Delivery Service, which plays Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, and Revere on Sunday (dubbed), Monday (subtitled), and Wednesday (dubbed, not at Revere), with afternoon and evening shows of The Muppet Movie filling the gap at Fenway, South Bay, and Revere on Tuesday.
  • Kendall Square and Boston Common open Sea of Shadows, a National Geographic film that follows the quest to save one of the most endangered cetaceans in the world as their ecosystem is over-fished by a group tied to Chinese smugglers and Mexican drug cartels; the trailer looks as much like a thriller as a documentary. The Kendall also has Three Peaks opening with limited showtimes; that one features Berenice Bejo as a mother whose son has not yet accepted her boyfriend, leading to a dangerous situation during a vacation in Italian mountain country. There's also a free GlobeDocs preview of One Child Nation, which I rather liked at IFFBoston, with director Jialing Zhang, author Susan Greenhalgh, and Boston Globe film critic Loren King on hand.
  • The Brattle Theatre is playing Asako I & II, a nifty little film about a young woman who, after her boyfriend ghosts her, meets another man with the same face but a completely different personality, Friday to Sunday, with Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits playing 11:30am and 9:30pm screenings.

    They haven't left themselves a lot of time for the traditional vertical rep calendar this summer, but we start to see that this week. Monday has a free Elements of Cinema screening of Modern Times early in the evening, and a special presentation of Ugandan "Wakaliwood" action picture Bad Black later. On Tuesday, they kick off a "Noirversary!" program with a 35mm print of Double Indemnity, while Wednesday is a Boston Jewish Film Summer Cinematheque show of Give Me Liberty. Thursday is the start of the "Reel Music" series, with separate-admission screenings of Chet's Last Call: A Story of Rock & Redemption and Rock'n'Roll High School.
  • Apple Fresh Pond opens Bollywood comedy Judgementall Hai Kya, which stars Kangana Ranaut and Rajkumar Rao as a couple who each have difficulty differentiating between reality and illusion. They also get Dear Comrade, with Vijay Deverakonda as a student union leader getting mixed up in some sort of action/adventure, and Hindi crime comedy Arjun Patiala. Bengali film Girlfriend plays Saturday afternoon, and Super 30 continues to hang around.

    The Chinese movie at Boston Common this week is Dancing Elephant, which is apparently about a girl who fell into a coma while studying ballet at the age of 13 and wakes up 15 years later, not only entering the adult world with the mind of a junior-high student but weighing 270 pounds due to all that inactivity, though she still intends to become a dancer with the help of her old friends. Yikes.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre has more of the living dead at midnight this weekend, with 28 Days Later on Friday and the remake of Dawn of the Dead on Saturday, both on 35mm film. They also continue their Summer of '69 series with Midnight Cowboy on Thursday night.
  • There's more of The Complete Howard Hawks on 35mm at The Harvard Film Archive this weekend, with Rio Bravo on Friday, the contrasting High Noon (on DCP) at 7pm Saturday, Ceiling Zero at 9pm Saturday, The Dawn Patrol at 5pm Sunday, El Dorado at 7pm Sunday, and Fig Leaves with accompaniment by Robert Humphreville on Monday.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts finishes their French Film Festival with A Man in a Hurry (Friday), A Faithful Man (Friday), Coincoin and the Extra-Humans (Friday), In Safe Hands (Saturday), An Impossible Love (Saturday), Wild (Saturday), Last Year at Marienbad (Sunday), Naked Normandy (Sunday), and I Feel Good (Sunday). On Thursday they kick off the August calendar (and "Space Exploration on Film" series) with a matinee of Forbidden Planet, and a special free screening of Dawnland (RSVP required) featuring both the filmmaker and two participants to help illuminate its story of Maine's Truth and Reconciliation Commission on how their child welfare programs have hurt native people there.
  • The ICA will let you see Solange Knowles's "When I Get Home" on Sunday afternoon if you have a ticket to the museum.
  • The Somerville Theatre mostly uses the big 35mm screen for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but they have a Saturday midnight special of Galaxy Quest on film.
  • Aeronaut Brewery has apparently been having a "Summer Concert Film Series"; you can catch Stop Making Sense there at 8pm or 10pm on Saturday.
  • The Museum of Science has a super-abbreviated movie portion of "Summer Thursdays" this year, with just two Summer Slashers, with Friday the 13th (apparently the original) playing on the 1st. They've also recently added "Great Bear Rainforest" to their rotation of Imax films, with the New England Aquarium adding "Australia's Great Wild North: The Wildest Place You've Never Seen" to theirs.
  • Cinema Salem has IFFBoston alum Sword of Trust in their screening room this week, with special showings of indie horror Trespassers at 9pm Friday & Saturday. The Luna Theater shows Late Night on Friday,Saturday, and Tuesday evenings, documentaries Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am and The Quiet One Saturday afternoon, and Scream on Sunday, along with the usual Sunday morning and Wednesday night surprises.
  • Bumblebee seems to be the most popular outdoor showing per Joe's Free Films this week.

In Montreal, plenty of things to see, and I am trying not to be tempted by the German movie about people trying to escape the DDR via hot-air balloon that apparently is only playing Canada.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Fantasia 2019.10: Ride Your Wave, The Prey, Born of Woman '19, The Incredible Shrinking Wknd, and 8

Is there a place near Concordia that does a nice, simple omurice? It was all that the little girl in It Comes wanted and apparently the comfort food of choice for the couple in Ride Your Wave. A dish shows up twice in less than 48 hours at a film festival, that's a message, I guess.

Anyway, Ride Your Wave and The Prey were the early-afternoon shows in Hall, guest-free, leaving me some time to poke around the comic shops on Sainte Catherine to fill in holes to no avail. I'm beginning to suspect that Marvel just didn't print a few relatively recent issues. Plenty of time for a burrito before heading into DeSeve for the rest of the day.

First up there was the annual "Born of Woman" shorts block, which I missed the first couple of years because it always seems to get scheduled in such a way as to span two films on the other screen, one of which I want to see badly. This year, the stuff in Hall was stuff I could take or leave, meaning it was little issue getting into this 9-short block, with filmmakers Valerie Barnhart, Michelle Garza Cervera, Erica Scoggins, and Yfke Van Berckelaer on-hand.

It's a pretty great block of short films, where even the least exciting entry was pretty decent and the best were fantastic. It's worth noting that Ms. Barnhart (whom I think I've seen around the festival in previous years, perhaps as a volunteer) basically taught herself animation while making "Girl in the Hallway", grumbling later that she didn't realize that she'd chosen one of the most demanding forms of animation to work with. She seems to have mastered it, though, as several people are talking it up as not just their favorite short in the program, but one of their favorite shorts in the festival.

Later in the evening, I decided to switch from my planned selection of Killerman to 8, and I'm pretty glad I did; as much as I liked Cash Only a few years back. Harold Holscher made a pretty nifty little film that I'm glad I had a chance to see on the big screen. Holscher sounded like he was not necessarily optimistic about people in its native South Africa getting to do so. Distribution and exhibition are pretty hard there, and there isn't a lot of support for local genre film (something I remember hearing from a South African genre director at this festival something like ten years ago, claiming all the funding was for apartheid dramas).

Kind of a shame, since he made a great-looking movie, and it sounds like they had fun - the young lady playing the monster was a ballerina, and while they were initially worried about her freaking out the young co-star while in full make-up, they were apparently great friends by the end.

It's been a busy enough weekend that this post about Saturday is going up on Thursday, when I'll be at Shooting the Mafia, Lake Michigan Monster, Miss and Mrs. Cops, and the Zappin Party. Shadow is playing during my late-lunch-break, and well worth checking out on the big screen.

Kimi to, nami ni noretara (Ride Your Wave, aka Riding a Wave with You)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, DCP)

As Masaki Yuasa's output increases, he seems to be moving away from the strange and trippy films that gained him attention and toward the conventional, though if the result is something like this sweet animated romance, that's not a bad thing. It's still distinctive and occasionally eccentric, and winds up being something fairly unique once the bits of fantasy there are kick in.

Part of that's his character design; there's not much mistaking the jangly limbs, pointy noses, and skinny necks his characters have. There's also the sheer playful abandon in how, when the thing that does give this a certain amount of fantasy emerges, there's a whimsical acceptance, that what might mark a person as crazy can somehow happen, especially since it fits the personalities of everyone involved so well. Yuasa's movies have always had a bit of the fantastic amid the everyday, and here he slides into more carefully than usual, keeping it in Hinako's head until it absolutely must come out.

And then there's the delightful animation, where once again Yuasa is using water to craft a fluid reality while also filling the world the characters live in with nifty detail. It's maybe not always the ones people might consider important or universal, but things like a particular coffee shop, firefighting techniques, and smooth surfing pull the audience in even when they might look at the very simple story with side-eye. It's a very nice combination of down-to-Earth and fantastical that does a fantastic job of getting at just how powerful young love and be and how unreal the fallout is.

Full review on EFilmCritic

"Bar Fight"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: ACTION!, digital)

"Bar Fight" is the result of filmmaker Benjamin R. Moody finishing up a horror movie and deciding he wanted to hit something, and what he delivers here is a pretty darn good fight sequence with a minimum amount of filler around it. Some guys show up in the middle of a bar that's closing and find that the bartender is no pushover, and that's that.

With any luck, it will serve as a nice calling-card for star Aaron D. Alexander, who has enough screen presence to sell the tired, put-upon bartender before the action starts getting crazy and then surprises when the man is eminently capable of dealing with anything thrown at him. The film is five minutes long, but between them, Moody and Alexander imply the entire "guy has been through some things and doesn't think he's up to the challenge any more" story in body language and reaction shots, and the fight choreography doesn't entirely take precedence over showing who this guy is. He's reluctant and doubts himself all the way through the end, and even good action movies sometimes have trouble putting that amount of characterization into their action. The best use that action in part to reveal character, and it's great that the film found time for that without a lot of room to spare.

The Prey

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: ACTION!, DCP)

As "The Most Dangerous Game" riffs go, this certainly is one. You know the story, and the makers of this one don't have any particular twist or hook to add to it too make this stand out in a sea of them. Or at least, not an obvious one from this side of the Pacific; maybe it touches on something topical in Cambodia, but I'd be surprised, as it seems fairly generic.

The big disappointment is not so much that the story is familiar, but that the execution is kind of lackluster. This is the team that made the fairly impressive Jailbreak, but having a more open environment doesn't necessarily do a lot of good. There's some decent gunplay, but it's seldom as good as the previous film's martial arts and inventive camerawork, mostly just a lot of sharp running and tumbling and pointing guns with purpose. There are a few striking shots - filmmaker Jimmy Henderson knows exactly what he's doing when the characters burst out of the woods and into a beautiful, bright open space on a riverbank - but mostly it's just a decent example of Action Movie Plot #8.

Full review on EFilmCritic

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Born of Woman, digital)

"Lili" is as clear and concise a story about how men use power positions to coerce women, and how even in situations like film where sexuality can be part of the job description, it is, at the bare minimum, a pretty crappy thing to do. Filmmaker Yfke Van Berckelaer lays it out step by step, showing how "strength" is often twisted as a route to intimidation. I don't know how many people seeing this will need the lesson, but it's an impressively clear one.

There's also no small amount of fun in watching Lisa Smit act as the title character. Some may feel that audition scenes, like the one that make up this movie, or other things where you can see the performers going about their business, ruin the magic, but it comes across here as somebody doing a thing well, and I've always enjoyed skill on display. Smit's good at her job, giving Lili a character even as Lili is donning other personae, and that's fun to watch.

"Sometimes, I Think About Dying"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Born of Woman, digital)

Stefanie Abel Horowitz does a nice job of digging right into self-doubt in "Sometimes, I Think About Dying"; I have no idea how much she and playwright Kevin Armento compressed his original work to get it down to 11 minutes, but it does fine work cutting down everything extraneous, never needing to offer an origin story or specific counter-arguments for how its narrator feels, just letting her show how navigating these feelings can seem almost impossible.

To do so, she chooses a lot of visually quiet locations where Fran can be overwhelmed by her thoughts, whether her house, a somewhat sparse office, or empty streets, or space outside the city. Katy Wright-Mead does a nifty job of making her seem more outwardly put-together than she feels most of the time without it conflicting with her narration, so that when one collides with the other, it feels a bit more wrenching, with Jim Sarbh making the guy who is genuinely interested in Fran maybe a little nervous on his own but not a matching-misfit sort.

"The Hitchhiker" (2018)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Born of Woman, digital)

Adele Vuko puts a couple of familiar short-film subjects together - 'hitchhiker leaving a corpse behind" meets "hiding something from concerned friends" - with a twist that unites them in maybe slightly-too-easy fashion in order to create a women-helping-women narrative. There should, it seems, be more of an explored downside to the deal offered, although there's not really room for it in a film this relatively short.

Vuko's put a nice cast together and given them plenty of room to play off each other, with Isaro Kayitesi especially fun as the group's worrywart, obsessively jumping immediately to Google to find whatever freaks her out, playing well off a group that are, for different reasons, more likely to let things go. It's a group that doesn't always seem to belong together but which makes you think they want to be, which is enough and important as things get more tense and the idea that things might not work out well becomes clearer.

"Wakey Wakey"

* * (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Born of Woman, digital)

Mary Dauterman has made a nice-enough looking short, although I kind of got thrown by how I viewed it: My brain had the characters in a spaceship because the compositing which put an ocean outside their window made me think it was a screen rather than a look at what was right outside, and I'm still kind of not sure whether they were meant to be in a seaside house or on a boat, with the otherwise-unseen motion meant partly explain the twist ending. I kind of think there's a nifty sci-fi plot about dream machines or what have you possible, but there's also not enough there to presume it.

The result's certainly got intriguing potential, but plays like a short that just doesn't have enough to it to make a solid impression one way or another, and not having that definitive push toward a conclusion makes me less interested than having one and winding up as a bad idea.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Born of Woman, digital)

Hweiling Ow builds the sort of horror short hear that is originally weird and gross, but seemingly not about that much - or at least, not about that much in ways that particularly work for me. It offers an offbeat horror take on pregnancy stress and cravings being amplified by already having a five-year-old doing what he does, but it sort of feels like we've seen that connection before and the toy wasp making its heroine have somewhat more wasp-like tendencies which she dismisses doesn't quite seem special enough. It's an eccentric take on a classic, but one that's so eccentric that it doesn't quite hit so hard.

"Maggie May"

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Born of Woman, digital)

It's kind of interesting that what are likely the two best shorts in this program both find their horror in not so much violence but inaction and dismissal. Filmmaker Mia Kate Russell offers up a villain that is fearsomely sociopathic in her idleness, and Lulu McClatchy is unnervingly great in the role: She has the sort of blankness that implies some sort of cognitive disability where she is genuinely paralyzed by not knowing what she should do, but also the sort of sneer that implies she knows just exactly what she's allowing to happen. She's thoroughly awful, but Russell and McClatchy invite you to feel bad about hating her.

Meanwhile, Katrina Mathers is making her sister a little more than generically nice; Russell gives her a bit of personal dissatisfaction to work with, and once she finds herself injured by a freak accident, she does a fantastic job of channelling the viewers' horror and confusion without telling them what to feel. Russell keeps certain dangers off the screen in a way that allows her to strike at the heart of someone's worst fears without feeling exploitative. It's the sort of horror that leaves a nice, hard lump in one's stomach even before you start wondering how much it applies to broader situations.

"The Boogeywoman"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Born of Woman, digital)

Would I probably get more out of "The Boogeywoman" if I had, at some point, been a teenage girl? Almost certainly. Even without being able to personally identify with what Sam (Amélie Hoeferle) is going through as she gets her first period well after her friends at an inopportune time, I loved watching the way these kids played off each other, for good and ill, as well as how things like a power failure at the roller rink and empty small-town streets are nervous-making without being overbearingly so.

When it gets the the supernatural part, it kind of loses me; I kind of feel like I should be making some greater connection between all the talk of Sam never knowing her mother and what else is going on, but it's never quite there for me, although it's acted and presented well enough that I can see that something is going on. Which may just mean that this short is made with other people in mind who will see how it fits together, which is fine. There's certainly enough there for me to give whatever I couldn't catch the benefit of the doubt.

"The Original"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Born of Woman, digital)

"The Original" is the rare short film where the finale is a kind of perfect knife to the gut, where I both want to see the fallout of it while also appreciating that the stabbing pain of it is undiluted. It's a nifty concept explored just enough to be a big emotional mess but not fall apart through being over-detailed.

Director Michelle Garza does a lot of nifty things to make writer Andrew Fleming's script seem more personal than topical, mostly by not setting it in something that clearly feels like the near future, but rather by shooting in black-and-white and creating a world that seems half British and half Mexican, making it hard to "yeah, but…" at any point. There's also an impressive division of labor between the actresses - Ariana Lebrón gets what at some points seems like most of the heavy lifting, as her character visibly grapples with all the hard decisions and loops the hospital makes her jump through to get her girlfriend's consciousness transferred into a healthy clone body, but Rebecca Layoo is doing amazing work in the background, so unsettlingly convincing as the victim of what appears to be a stroke that seeing the new her well feel genuinely mind-boggling.

There's a catch, though, and it's a delicious one, and I'm still pondering how it seemingly must have played out days later. You could make a feature out of this story, but it's still pretty great at 13 minutes.

"The Girl in the Hallway"

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Born of Woman, digital)

I'm not sure whether director Valerie Barnhart animated directly to a spoken-word performance by Jamie DeWolf here, or whether she had him record a new version for this film, but that's just nitpicking in how the great work she did was split between direction, animation, and editing. The full result is immensely impressive for a first-time filmmaker.

She's got a fine base to build on - DeWolf's story of how he can't read "Red Riding Hood" to his daughter because it's associated with something awful in his mind is exceptionally well-told without ornamentation; he's a raconteur who builds up and spaces out without it seeming obvious while also making it clear that he has to do it this way, because confronting these memories is hard. It's a lurid-sounding bit of true-crime, shot through with how hard many work to avoid confronting this sort of thing, and you can feel both the guilt and not having done more and the need for self-preservation that prevents it.

Barnhart layers impressive animation on top of it, and the result is something that is very conspicuously not beautiful - even the sweet-seeming missing girl who deserved better is not fully idealized - but is full of the little details that help put those who have lived a comfortable life into a scary situation and transitions which keep the story moving even as it stretches out in time. Barnhart enhances mood and storytelling without ever straying from or undercutting DeWolf's base.

El increíble finde menguante (The Incredible Shrinking Wknd)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The big question after this screening was "when did you see it", referring to the aspect ratio changes going on through the film, which maybe speaks to how it's more of a visual gimmick than something that got across what the movie was going for. Which is a shame, because as flawed as it was, it plays into how the film is about someone not doing much with her youth, only to suddenly get hit with the idea that there's less she can do and less time to do it than she thought.

It's a strong idea but one that didn't necessarily get translated into events that well; unlike most time-loop movies, this one never has a period where Alba is trying to figure out what's happening or do something about it before getting to acceptance. In a way, that's just her character, but it leaves a chunk of time in the middle when the film seems to be running out the clock as surely as she is, and while there must be some waste to realize that time is precious, it's not the audience's time that should be wasted. Director Jon Mikel Caballero really doesn't seem to have a great idea of how to fill the time before the resets get tighter (the loop tightens by an hour every time through), and that's a frustrating issue at times.

It's still put together well, and there's some really nice work by cinematographer Tânia da Fonseca. It's a great-looking movie all around, especially with the camera often pointed at pretty locations, but the way she had to reframe for different shapes throughout seems deceptively tricky, and her knack for shooting with depth comes in handy as the screen becomes a window the audience is peering through. There may be tricks here, but everybody rises to the challenge to make an impressive film.

Full review on EFilmCritic


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The "demon" at the center of 8 is a sad, guilty one, something which makes for a different sort of thriller than the fairly traditional opening implies; it's as much the story of someone bound to something supernatural as those facing it, even if it has the look of something a bit more conventional.

Small things give it a distinct, South African identity; the very time it takes place, in 1977, seems too late for this kind of story, like the rest of the world is more settled, but here these sort of old family mansions are just starting to become obsolete. It makes "Lazarus" feel even more like a lingering remnant of something else, which the white family doesn't understand but the locals do, enhanced by Tsamano Sebe's fine performance, which seems a bit out of time itself. There is lingering mistrust that needs little explanation but forms a real barrier.

The film doesn't coast on its particular setting, though. It's a great little scary story, with dangerous gentility serving a more plainly monstrous entity from the start. The tension is built on nervous hope that some sort of basic decency will counter the need for a fight that many of the characters don't seem like they can win. It's shot on great-looking locations, with a striking change of scenery and style at the end, and plenty of chances to enjoy the way of the more traditional ghost story bits play out in handsome style.

Full review on EFilmCritic