Thursday, December 19, 2019

Fantasia 2019.21: The Fable and The Lodge

The penultimate day of the festival, and a short one, because I'd seen most of what came earlier on previous days (and in the case of Extreme Job, when it played theatrically in Boston). The evening shows started kind of early at 6:35, which means I may have been able to get into bed at a reasonable time. It left me with plenty of time to spend the afternoon at the archeological museum, which had exhibits on cuisine and a cabinet-of-curiosity-inspired room of randomness. So, from the last one, here are some pigs and swords from what I imagine were two separate collections:

Za faburu (The Fable)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 31 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: Action!, DCP)

I suspect that in real life, hitmen are seldom eccentric or preternaturally skilled or possessed of any sort of code; they're just boringly anonymous people who are okay with murdering people for money and haven't gotten caught yet. Those guys don't make for particularly entertaining movies, of course; you want the weirdos, hired by and targeting flamboyant gangsters. They are, at least in this movie, a lot more fun.

Take "The Fable" (Jun'ichi Okada), introduced putting bullets through the heads of a whole lot of yakuza while being fed information by a partner (Fumino Kimura) who has the good looks, charm, and capacity to drink any man under the table to extract a lot of intel from some poor schmuck at a bar. After this sort of carnage, it's time to lie low, so they are given the identities of siblings Akira and Yoko Sato and packed off to Osaka, where underboss Ebihara (Ken Yasuda) is responsible for putting them up. They're told no killing, but "Akira" isn't really good at much else. Plus, one of those old-school guys who don't like how corporate gangs have gotten (Yuya Yagira) just got out on parole and is looking to start trouble, and a couple of guys looking to make a name for themselves have a lead on where The Fable has gone after his last massacre. And the there Misaki (Mizuki Yamamoto), a sweet girl whose path keeps crossing Akira's, and whose harassers could really benefit from a few bullets to the head.

This whole movie rests upon Jun'ichi Okada's comic performance, with screenwriter Watanabe Yusuke and director Kan Eguchi canny in how they initially deploy it, starting off with a nifty action scene and then revealing that the apparent stoic cool that the assassin shows is more about being socially stunted rather than above the petty concerns of normal people. What makes it funny is that he's not just stupid or numb - there is a personality there, and it explains why he can be cool under pressure but incapable of dealing with people, although he laughs uproariously at what is, even for Japan, an incredibly basic vaudvillian and reacts in comic agony when even the most slightly warned soup panicks his heightened senses. Okada's deadpan ability to pivot or lurch between those facets is roughly five times as funny as it seems like it should be for what he appears to be doing.

Full review at EFilmCritic

The Lodge

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 31 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

It may seem like a narrow niche to explore, but filmmakers Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz could probably make a few more movies about a couple of kids and their guardian circling each other warily but with increasing paranoia before it starts to become repetitive. After all, while The Lodge superficially has a lot of similarities to Goodnight Mommy, it's dealing with different sorts of trauma, albeit in a way that is no less nastily compelling.

As it begins, a family is falling apart, with mother Laura (Alicia Silverstone) crumbling even faster. It's no surprise, then, that when we rejoin children Aidan (Jaeden Lieberher) and Mia (Lia McHugh) a few months later, they're spending Christmas at the vacation home on a frozen lake with their father Richard (Richard Armitage) and his new fiancée Grace (Riley Keough). It's a kind of questionable relationship; not only is she younger, but they met because she was the sole survivor of a cult Richard had been studying. He's called away for an emergency just before a snowstorm isolates the lodge, and when they wake up the next morning, things are even worse: The power's out, their phones are dead, and the entire contents of the house have vanished - food, warm clothes, and the eyebrow-raising variety of pills Grace takes for various mental health issues.

The actual opening shot of the film involves a creepy little dollhouse that will naturally figure into the film later, which is a bit of a signal. Dollhouses are imperfect replicas of the real world, simplified and seldom under the control of those inside in any meaningful way. As the parts of the lodge that actually function vanish, it becomes more of a dollhouse itself, a sort of purgatory that the characters are certain they don't deserve, one that eventually includes figures that could themselves be dolls, for their inanimate nature and hint that they have been placed by an unseen hand.

Full review on EFilmCritic

No comments: