Friday, August 28, 2020

Fantasia 2020.07: Bleed with Me, Kriya, and Kakegurui

Been a while since I had one of those "can't write during the day but let's keep going until 2am" days, but that's where I was with Wednesday's movies, which had me behind anyway because I didn't get the Kakegurui link until late fairly late. Ah, well, there are some short days coming up, and maybe I won't overlap with NYAFF quite so much.

On the other hand, this does kind of get me back on the planned "watch movies during the day, write while watching baseball at night" schedule!

Bleed with Me

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 August 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival, Vimeo via Roku)

I reevaluate movies between watch and review all the time, often finding something that makes it at least a little more interesting with a little thought. For Bleed with Me, it got me from frustration with the ending to "yeah, well, I guess", which is good, because for most of the running time, I was pretty fond of this tight little thriller. I still am, actually, and I suspect those less bothered by certain plot devices will like it a whole lot.

It opens with Rowan (Lee Marshall) asleep in the back seat of a station wagon. She's not actually still a teenager, but kind of looks young and vulnerable. She's traveling to a cabin belonging to the family of co-worker Emily (Lauren Beatty) along with Emily's boyfriend Brendan (Aris Tyros). Brendan is initially none too thrilled about having a third wheel along, but Emily insisted, and he's been a pretty good boyfriend, helping out a lot as Emily recovered from an accident six months ago that still has her walking with a limp. It's looking like the under-the-weather Rowan might be spending a lot of the time in bed, and she's starting to suspect that Emily may be to blame, using the leftover painkillers she casually mentioned to keep her sedated.

Why? Well, more and more cuts keep appearing on her arm, and Rowan has spotted Emily with containers of blood when she thought Rowan couldn't see. Though Rowan doesn't have anyone she can confide it without sounding insane, there's a certain strange logic to it - Emily has a sort of strange, detached way about her, and Rowan had the first couple scars before she got there, so even if a body was found, it would be pretty easy to say there was no foul play. Writer/director Amelia Moses does a nice job of giving the audience time to construct this alongside Rowan without the customary need to stop and say things out loud, go back and forth about how it sounds silly, and the like. She just trusts the viewer to get in and go with it, rather than stepping forward and back to make sure one understands just exactly how unlikely it is.

Full review at eFilmCritic


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 26 August 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival, Vimeo via Roku)

As I watched Kriya, I was somewhat reassured that the main character spends much of the movie in the same place I was as an audience member - extremely uncertain whether he was in the middle of something weird and creepy or just culturally outside his own experience. It's the sort of movie where that could very easily be misinterpreted, especially for someone for whom it is much further from the usual, but instead it's especially effective (although it does make me wonder how all the movies with various bits of Christian weirdness play to members of other cultures).

It opens in a club, where Neel (Noble Luke) and Sitara (Navjot Randhawa) catch each other's eyes. As they make out in Neel's car after his gig as DJ is done, Sitara feels uncomfortable about going further there, so they drive to her place - an unexpectedly large mansion - only to find that Sitara's father is laid out in the living room, apparently breathing his last, surrounded by her younger sister Sara (Kanak Bhardwaj), their mother Tara Devi (Avantika Akerkar), and a Panditji or wise man (Sudhanva Deshpande), nurse Magdali (Anuradha Majumder) off to the side. Neel isn't sure he should be there, and the mother agrees, but he also doesn't want to leave the distraught Sitara. Something feels badly off to him - shouldn't a family with this grand house have more friends and family here - but maybe that's just the unsettled feelings he has regarding the deaths of his own parents.

As is often the case with films this steeped in the specifics of another's culture, I'd be genuinely interested to hear from Hindus just how fast and loose this film plays with various traditions, although writer/director Sidharth Srinivasan has seemingly taken pains to note where this this "black funeral" diverges from the norm in order to invoke dark magic and attempts to break a curse through unholy means. Whatever the case may be, it does a really terrific job of placing the audience in Neel's place without making him a complete everyman placeholder. He's not in every scene, but it's close, and Noble Luke does an impressive slow-burn freakout as the film goes on. For a large chunk of the movie, there's almost an awareness that his situation could be darkly funny under slightly different circumstances, which Srinivasan and Luke are able to make things creepier - every time Neel tries to use the social awkwardness to escape, he gets pulled in a little deeper and finds himself a little more disturbed.

Full review at eFilmCritic

Eiga: Kakegurui

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 27 August 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival, Vimeo via Roku)

You do not actually need to have seen the 13 episodes of the Kakegurui television series to follow this film, which stars the same cast and appears to pick up where they leave off - there's a character whose primary purpose seems to be to get a new viewer up to speed - but it's probably useful to know that this is not a completely stand-alone film in order to temper one's expectations. There is some fairly inspired material here, but the audience can't get the entire picture.

As journalism club member Kyu Nitobe (Akira Onodera) informs us latecomers over the first fifteen minutes, Hyakkoah Academy is an elite school for children of the super-rich, but instead of focusing on academics or athletics, it is dedicated to gambling, under the premise that knowing when and how to bet and win big is the most important skill in business. Yumeka Jabami (Minami Hamabe) is a recent transfer student but one who has quickly risen through the ranks to become one of the school's most skilled and compulsive gamblers, quite possibly a rival to Student Council President Kiari Momobami (Elaiza Ikeda) herself. There are other threats to the Council's power - a group of students who have renounced gambling has formed The Village in an abandoned school building, with Jueri Arukibi (Haruka Fukuhara) its most public officer and Amane Murasame (Hio Miyazawa), said to have once bested Momobami herself, the mysterious leader; less high-minded vandals led by Tomo Inuhachi (Mariko Ito) destroying gaming tables - so she decides to hold a special election, in which students must gamble to vote and candidates play in pairs. Super-rich brat Itsuki Sumeragi (Ruka Matsuda) tries to recruit Yumeko to her team, but she decides to work with high-strung boyfriend Ryota Suzui (Mahiro Takasugi), while her friend Meari Saotome (Aoi Morikawa) teams with a Villager who still likes gambling a lot, Jun Kiwatari (Yuma Yamoto), while Jueri and Tomo form another team - and Murasame chooses to sit the election out.

That is a lot of characters, and it's pretty clear that there could have been even more, with the student council having some pretty colorful folks on the bench, a bunch of people Yumeko has defeated name-checked, and Nitobe kind of hanging around on the sidelines once his fifteen minutes or so of intense exposition at the start is done. On the other side, fans of the show can probably look through that description and spot the "guest star" pretty quickly. It makes that first stretch frantic and maybe dizzying for the newbies while likely being something the fans will fast-forward through, one of the busiest "previously on…" packages ever assembled. It's fairly effective for establishing the players, but leaves the whole set-up as something one definitely shouldn't examine too closely - is there any sort of faculty at this school, or classes, or is it all kind of self-directed, like Nitobe doing a sort of school paper thing? Why do the kids in The Village care about being expelled if they've got no interest in participating in the activity that is the school's reason for being? Just what sort of power do the "Life Plan" documents being thrown around have outside the academy's gates? There are some genuinely clever ideas at work here - the idea that captains of industry are being trained to treat the economy like a game rather than learn practical skills is both sociopathic and bitingly on-point satire, and there's a sort of lesson to how the game which takes up most of the film's second half requires a balance of skill and personal charisma - but, wow, does the premise as presented here have some big gaps to be filled in!

Full review at eFilmCritic

No comments: