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.

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