Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Fantasia 2019.06: Porno, Mystery of the Night, Idol, and We Are Little Zombies

The original plan was to start Tuesday later, but I opted to actually get some sleep on Saturday. Fortunately, the gang from Porno stuck around:



That's director Keola Racela, writers Matt Black & Laurence Vannicelli, producer Chris Cole, and co-star Bill Phillips, who seemed to be having a really great time in the Q&A, seeming absolutely delighted when they discovered that some in the audience took their characters' mantra "CBTL" (for "Christ Bears the Load") as a reference to "CBT", which, we were told, has a specific meaning in BDSM which kind of fits with some of the gore that goes on in their movie. They had absolutely no idea, but going forward, they said, they will absolutely claim that this is intentional. It goes with how the mantra for making this movie was "someone will stop us if we go too far" and nobody actually stopped them.

If that film plays anywhere in Boston, it will be a couple of midnight shows in theater #2 at the Coolidge, and that is absolutely where you should see it, as it is the closest approximation of the seasonal theater where they shot it.

After that, it was all films from the other side of the Pacific where even the filmmakers who were in town for the premieres have headed back home, and a hole in the schedule created from moving from DeSeve to Hall that I initially tried to fill finding a cheap HDMI cable only to discover a crazy construction-zone maze on the way to Best Buy and then filled with choice paralysis in terms of supper on the way back, solved by going to Brit & Chips. I see they have a loyalty card (10th visit is free) now, and I suspect that I could fill one of those before returning home.

Today's plans are short - after getting back from work, I'll be seeing SHe, Stare, and Dreadout. This is almost certainly posted after anyone reading it will be able to act on a recommendation to see Swallow

"Peopling"

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

Well, this is not my thing. There's something satirically crude about it - the premise of these enlarged sperm somehow maturing on their own feels like a nightmare borne out of incel insecurity given twisted life, and the weird but enjoyably primitive-seeming practical effects are kind of a kick. It's just, well, everything else: I'm just never going to like things where the performance seems to deliberately stink, and it lurches from gag to gag based on what would be most outrageous, rather than most fitting (or funny)

Porno

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Porno - in which a bunch of small-town movie theater employers face a resurrect succubus while trapped in the building after horus - is the sort of movie that feels like someone should have thought of it and done it before, but I can't think of anything particularly similar, and I bet those with better catalogs in their brains won't think of one better. Inspiration usually seems obvious in retrospect, and thus is inspired even before the nice cast and quality, fearless execution shows up.

I think that what makes the film works the most is the kids, who aren't what you'd expect in either direction. There's not a quote-spewing know-it-all among them, and that they're all sincere Christians is played as just part of the environment, something which the rest of their personalities maps onto but which doesn't make them look like fools. They're good kids who like movies the same way that most people do, just a little bit more, although this particular situation is trouble.

Of course, it doesn't really make sense to make fun of them for being prudish during what turns out to be an impressively explicit horror movie, where everything is on the table and then some. The escalation is impressive, and the filmmakers push things so that there's a reason to laugh, wince, and thrill in every scene. It's not messing around, and should be a huge hit in the sort of rep houses that look like they might have been around in the 1990s, with bonus points if it spent some time as an adult theater in the 1970s/1980s.

Misterio de la noche (Mystery of the Night)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Everybody's folklore is kind of messed up, but this movie makes it feel like a competition that the Philippines could win. It's simple but impressively nasty, giving the audience what they've come for, something traditional but also infused with a sort of B-movie atmosphere.

But, then, that's what mythology often is - didactic, straightforward, and far more packed with sex and violence than you remember from grade school, driving simple lessons of morality home in ways that leave no room for argument. Here, the forest spirits themselves appear to be a little shocked at the mayhem that they are part of, with a final scene that suggests they might warn the next foundling about boys. They're not really opposed to it, but it's kind of a lot.

It's generally a niftily-staged movie, with nice bits of shadow-puppetry bookending it and a fine score. The fact that the story is generational becomes a bit of an issue, in that the first half is necessary but is in many ways doing much more to put things into place for later than for itself. The second is fairly casual, which works well for the dialogue-free stretches but not quite so much when consequential actions seem shrugged off with "that's just how it is/was". It's tough to get both right, though, and this movie does a good job of maintaining a tone while still allowing for shifts.

Woo sang (Idol)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Idol is the sort of grand Korean thriller where you can pinpoint, as it happens, the moment when adding one more thing no longer makes it more exciting but instead has you wondering when the damn thing is going to end. It hits a great twisted finishing point but just keeps going, apparently needing to resolve every little thing, and then resolve the things that were brought up as part of those resolutions, and so on..

It wobbles a bit before then, but not fatally, and up until that point it really does have the viewer leaning forward, curious about just how this detail is going to twist things around. It's also got a compelling take on the traditional David and Goliath story, where the underdog is always kind of shady, and there's almost something relatable about trying to stay one step ahead of him, like the charming politician just has no idea how tenacious the rest of the world can be. Writer-director Lee Su-jin does an excellent job of taking what initially seems like one sort of thriller and poking at it until it's something else without every making those changes feel like a bait-and-switch.

"Gacha Gacha"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

"Gacha Gacha" breaks down a bit in the end, with filmmaker Dave Jackson seemingly undecided on what story he eventually wants to tell despite a solid handle on what he wants it to be about. He kind of nails a certain sort of toxic collector's mindset in this, from the obsession, to the pointless competition, to the enthusiasm for something horrible simply because it's rare, to how it becomes a cycle. It's nuts, and co-stars Mika Toyama and Kana Yoshida dive into that.

The short doesn't have much of a second half - there's a neat stop-motion bit, and the futile feeling that nothing will change, but things also get weird(er) almost by default, rather than to make a point. Which is okay - I laughed at some of it - but not quite up to the moments when the short feels especially clever.

We Are Little Zombies (Wî â Ritoru Zonbîzu)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

We Are Little Zombies is the sort of movie that needs four kids for its story but only has enough attention for a couple of them, with most of that going to the one most designed to get on a person's nerves. That's not always ideal, to be honest, but it is something that a person can get used to over a couple hours, especially when the filmmakers are committed to being the right sort of creative and energetic. Director Makoto Nagahisa attacks grief and the increasingly self-aware people trying to deal with it in a way that may be a lot for people multiple times the age of its 13-year-old heroes, but even they will likely wind up impressed.

It opens with four kids meeting at crematorium, all of them having been orphaned in recent days and unable to summon the tears that their relatives think they should be shedding. Hikari (Keita Ninomiya) is the narrator, a bespectacled video-game maniac whose parents have bought him every new and retro console imaginable and seemed to be on the verge of divorce before a bus accident ended their attempt to reconnect permanently. He invites lollipop-sucking Ita (Satoshi Mizuno), sneak-thief Yuki (Mondo Okumura), and Ikuko (Sena Nakajima), the inevitable girl who is taller and more serious than the boys, back to his apartment, but they are soon running off on their own, coming to a revelation when they hear the homeless singing in a garbage dump.

That's when they decide to become pop stars and the film becomes a musical, and for a while it is at its most solidly entertaining best there. The songs are tremendously catchy, and whether Nagahisa et al are just following pop culture or trying to make the satire incisive to a global audience by having them blend Japanese and English, the effect is the same sort of targeted cynical undercurrent to their poppy beat. The story veers into show-business satire while also having a clear eye on how these aren't just generically exploited children, but ones who are being promoted and monetized specifically on the loss of their parents, with the adults involved trying to split the difference between melancholy and "negative". It seemingly ends almost as quickly and arbitrarily as it begins, and plays all the stronger for having Ikuko play the ringleader rather than Hikari.

Full review on EFilmCritic

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