Monday, October 28, 2019

Fantasia 2019.19: Depraved, The Odd Family: Zombie On Sale, and Day and Night

Was Lary Fessenden in town the previous night to host Depraved the previous night? I don't recall, although I was a bit sad that I didn't get to see something in the museum.

Not a whole lot of exciting stories from this day - no guests at my screenings, which were spread out just enough to allow a little time for depanneur and food runs but not to really go far and have a sit-down meal. A pretty relaxing day, all told, and one bookended by a couple of my favorite movies of the festival: Depraved, as Larry Fessenden's take on Frankenstein, was pretty much aiming for me personally anyway, while Day and Night was a quality crime drama that never put a foot wrong. The Odd Family: Zombie On Sale between them wasn't quite a favorite, but it's enjoyably goofy at points, and any movie that at some point gets me to say it reminds me of Tremors is generally doing all right.

Not sure how long Day 20 will take; it's a long Tuesday and I don't have a lot pre-written, but it's smoother sailing afterward.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève(Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Depraved is "Larry Fessenden's Frankenstein" and he knows it, announcing his intentions from the start, when artsy colors and a do-it-yourself laboratory are punctuated by a bolt of lightning. That may not necessarily appeal to a large audience - as both producer and director of fright flicks, Fessenden has always leaned toward New York art-house stuff rather than buying blood by the barrel or Jason Blum's canny commercial instincts - but it makes even his take on one of the genre's foundational tales feel like something new.

The very start of the film introduces Alex (Owen Campbell) and Lucy (Choe Levine), a young couple barely scraping by in New York who fall into a stupid fight when she connects the way he looks after his grandmother to maybe being a good dad someday. He takes a walk to blow off some steam, only to get mugged. His life flashes before his eyes and there's a flash in the sky, and soon a stitched-together giant (Alex Beaux) is coming to in a laboratory. Former army medic Henry (David Call) then begins to see to educating "Adam" on walking, talking, and playing ping-pong in the small world that is this loft, but they won't be alone forever: Henry's girlfriend Liz (Ana Kayne) still has a key and drops by unexpectedly, and the pharma-company heir funding this work, Polidori (Joshua Leonard), thinks Henry is moving too slowly. Both men have also been a little lax about storing hints as to where Adam's various pieces - including the brain - have come from.

Fessenden grounds this story thoroughly in the present day, which allows him to play to his own strengths while also staying as faithful to the text as humanly possible. One of the clever things he does is recognize that none of these characters can help being aware of Mary Shelley's creation, to the point where Polidori makes a comment that his scientist being named Henry is "like in the movie"; even if they existed in a world without that book and the many movies, there is no way that what they were doing would be a new idea in 2019. Something that filled that niche by now, and that awareness shades the movie a bit differently - Mary Shelley could write about a scientist becoming obsessed and carried away, but in the twenty-first century, these people know what they're doing crosses lines from the start, and the compromises as such have a different character.

Full review at EFilmCritic


* * * (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

I have questions about every single silly detail about this short and its premise but I'm pretty sure that having them answered would just ruin everything.

Well, maybe not ruin, but "Cured" is fun in large part due to its randomness, with the elements not necessarily fitting together or holding up beyond its fifteen minutes. Writer/director Gabriel Villanueva Lamas plays with how a short can be anything from the start, letting the bouncy opening of Marcos (Phillip Garcia) salsa-dancing down the street with his machete and cooler and his wife Alma (Gemma Marin) dancing as she cooks the meat inside make the movie feel like it's going to be a musical of sorts, and the sudden change to something else as they stop dancing is a neat signal that this isn't entirely a fun fantasy.

It's still pretty funny, though - Garcia and Martin do the traditional horror thing where he's a gruff survivor trying just to look out for his own while she wants to help everybody, and they do it well enough that it works as intended despite the silly nature of this movie's plague. Villanueva Lamas and his cast manage a bunch of nifty tricks with tone, bridging the gap between things being ridiculous but also kind of awful, and allowing the finale to leave the audience in the same sort of "well, hell, I'm not sure what to do with this" place that the characters are. It's in some ways a frustrating way to end the movie - it highlights how things don't entirely hold together and doesn't offer a way out - but that's the sort of world it's creating, where life is strange and even funny but also unfair, with no easy answers to how to handle a situation like this.

Gimyohan Gajok (The Odd Family: Zombie On Sale)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Zombie movies are especially prone to running together as you see enough of them; like the undead creatures themselves, they've mostly got the same symptoms and eventually wind up breaking through as they arrive in a horde. I've probably seen dozens in the past couple decades just at genre festivals like this, and many of the ones that stick out come from South Korea. That's not necessarily surprising; lots of good genre film comes out of the Korean Peninsula, and the emphasis on black comedy is just the thing to send these movies in weird directions. The Odd Family may not be in the category of Train to Busan or The Neighbor Zombie, but it's at least different enough to remember.

The pharma company that created the zombie virus seems to have done a pretty good job of covering it up as things start, but one barrel containing a victim/vector (Jung Ga-ram) falls out near the town of Poongsan and starts wandering around. He crosses paths with one family in particular, the one that lives above the gas station but mostly runs tow truck scams because they can't afford to pay their suppliers. That mostly falls on older brother Joon-Gul (Jung Jae-Young), who runs the place with pregnant wife Nam-Joo (Uhm Ji-Won); brother Min-Gul (Kim Nam-Gill) is returning from the city where he has failed to make anything of himself, while kid sister Hae-Gul (Lee Soo-Kyung) is burying another rabbit because she has the absolute worst luck with pets. The siblings' widower father, Man-Deok (Park In-Hwan) lives in a trailer out back and dreams of visiting Hawaii. He's the one that gets bit, but contrary to what usually happens, he seems to become energized and healthy. Once the family figures out how that happened, the see a way to make enough money to open the station back up, since all of Man-Deok's friends notice the spring in his step.

Writer/director Lee Min-Jae often seems to be trying to do too much and not really going all-in on any of it for much of the movie; every character has an angle and things going on but not necessarily much room to do anything. It's the sort of horror-comedy that would maybe be much better served by narrowing down the one thing it wants to lampoon and concentrating on that, but it's got to be tough to throw any of your zombie comedy ideas out when you'll probably only ever get to make one. Lee spends most of the movie on eccentric gags that play into the family members' mercenary impulses, mostly pretty good, and seldom wearing out their welcome

Full review at EFilmCritic

Day and Night (Dei ando naito)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Day and Night opens like a mystery, its hero coming home to find a mess that he can't untangle and which nobody will talk about, but it's more practical than that, more interested in the truth of the present than that of the past. It's hardly the first movie to take this tack, but it's rare that one does such a fine job of letting a person sink into his dark side, convincing himself that he may still get out.

Koji Akashi (Shinnosuke Abe) is the man returning home for his father's funeral; mechanic Kazuyuki Aakashi (Hiroyuki Watanabe) committed suicide afer the town turned on him for reporting a defect in the cars made by Kotomochi Motors, the area's largest employer, and now it looks like the family will have to sell the garage just to give the employees back pay (Koji is, if anything, a cook, not a mechanic). The only person who seems to be particularly sorry for the family's loss is Kenichi Kitamura (Masanobu Ando), who runs the Windmill Orphanage and says Akashi senior was always good to them, building robot sculptures and helping out around the place. He offers Koji a job, and it's not long before Koji learns what keeps the place solvent: Kitamura runs a car-theft ring, and if Koji is going to be part of one venture, he is going to be part of the other.

The film doesn't quite start with comfortable absolutes, although there's a certain comfort in the dynamic between the honorable whistleblower and the self-interested corporation, even if the town doesn't see it that way, in part because the company led a fairly successful smear on Akashi. Soon, though, the filmmakers have gone in on how the good and bad are often found in the same person as Kitamura introduces himself and does not take long to show both sides, presenting Koji, something of a blank slate, with something of a dilemma: His father played by the rules and was hounded to suicide while Kitamura can at least present himself as a convincing Robin Hood. Would Nana (Kaya Kiyohara), the orphaned girl that Koji soon finds himself identifying with, be cared for without this place kept afloat by crime?

Full review on EFilmCritic

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