Sunday, August 28, 2022

Fantasia 2022.17: Island of Lost Girls, The Pass: Last Days of the Samurai, Circo Animato, "The Cradle", Sadako DX, and Missing

I'm mildly surprised that the Schmidt family didn't make it to Montreal for Island of Lost Girls on Saturday morning. I imagine that Covid throws a wrench in that sort of thing, but I also suspect that if I'd somehow made a film with my family like this - I don't know that I'd quite call it backyard filmmaking because it's an awful big backyard - that got accepted into a major festival like Fantasia, a week in Montreal would absolutely be that year's summer vacation. I think of the Adams family with The Deeper You Dig three years ago - ike the Adamses, the Schmidts have been making movies as a hobby for a while, occasionally getting one into a festival even though it will almost certainly not get picked up for distribution or get much talked about aside from the dozens who see it in such situations. It isn't tagged with the "Fantasia Underground" label in the program, but it's underground as heck even if it's not the same tone and aesthetic as most stuff in that section. It might be a fun thing to have in the next BUFF, reaching out to family audiences.

Anyway, I would really have enjoyed the explanations of just how insane the making of this must have been, especially if they included a five-year-old shrugging off panicked questions from the audience by saying she is actually a much better swimmer than her character in the movie.

Tough-ish choice later in the day, as Heaven: To the Land of Happiness looks really good and has a heck of a cast and crew, but it might also quietly get a Blu-ray release or show up on Prime in the next few months, and the thing a block away at the Museum is kind of a tradition.

Hello, fifteen-film animation program, the thing that usually grinds these reviews to a halt even when work isn't busy! I love festival animation programs, because they often seem to be the purest expression of what people are imagining in the most concentrated forms. These things average six minutes or so and some are done by the time you've even got yourself prepared for what you're going to see.

Anyway, the guests, mostly directors, left to right: Grace An of "Baek-il", Karla Monterrosa of "Lo 100to", Omorose Osagie of "Glass Doll", Florentina Gonzalez" of "El After del Mudo", Shengwei Zhou of "Perfect City: The Mother", Sam Chou of "VRDLK: Family of Vurdulak", and "Deshabitada" producer Amanda Puga.

Many, but not all, were student films - An and Monterrosa both talked about drawing on something personal, while others wanted to make something that was far more a flight of fantasy. Chou said that he tried to make a very different film with each short, so apparently the rest aren't banter-y horror stories. Zhou mentioned that he actually really disliked doing "3D"/computer generated stuff, so it was apparently something satisfying to make that extra plastic.

After that, it was kind of an evening of avoiding things. I didn't really care about seeing the new Lena Dunham movie, Sharp Stick, so I went back to Hall for Sadako DX, even though I've never seen any Ring movie from any continent, and Dark Glasses was Dario & Asia Argento, whom I've never had any particular interest in (with the daughter kind of in the category of people whose work you don't really need to support if you don't have to), so I went with Missing, even though there was nothing else blocking its second screening.

Next up: Sunday, which may have wound up the longest day, with My Broken Mariko, One for the Road, Confession, Dobaaraa, and Seire.

Island of Lost Girls

Seen 30 July 2022 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Island of Lost Girls is quite possibly the most insane movie I'll see at Fantasia this year, because, for the life of me, I can't see how the Schmidt family makes this thing safely without much more and better CGI than seems likely for this sort of backyard production. It's like Open Water except with pre-teen girls and elephant seals at various points, and then it somehow gets crazier on land.

The three girls are sisters Avila, Autumn, and Scarlet, orphans in a foster home, with Avila a fairly responsible tween while her sisters are mischievous (autumn) and pure chaos (Scarlet), with the latter two seeming to torpedo an interview with prospective adopters when they show up late. They convince Avila to sneak out to the beach, but while there, Scarlet gets pulled out in a current. Avila swims out on a surfboard to get her, with Autumn along because she's scared to be left alone, but the current takes them, and hours later, they find themselves approaching an island with a sea cave. From what they can see, it seems to be sheer cliffs on all sides, and getting to the lighthouse at the top looks like it would be daunting for fully-grown adventurers.

This family has done this sort of thing before - The Incredible Adventure of Jojo (and His Annoying Little Sister Avila) played the festival in 2015 and there's at least one other short listed on IMDB - so they presumably know what they're doing with their tools and what the kids can handle. There are a couple scenes where one or the other of the girls appears doubled, but for the most part, it's clearly them on the surfboard floating in open water or in caves tight enough that many in the audience may find themselves tense at the very thought of what a sudden surge of water could do. The work of cinematographer Heatha McGrath is not often fancy but it doesn't have to be, although going from one shot to another can get shaky and the filmmakers have a tendency to lose track of whichever girls aren't on screen when they get separated.

But, presuming this family wasn't actually putting their daughters in incredible danger, you really have to respect some of the bigger set pieces. There is one involving a tractor, a cave, a cliff, two of the girls, a starfish, and a crab that is legitimately jaw-dropping in its scale even as it has something straight out of a cartoon gag in the middle of it. There are people making $200M movies who could do with studying the stakes, clarity, and sense of danger of that centerpiece. A number aren't quite to that scale but are still genuinely impressive for how they obviously aren't hugely elaborate set-ups and serve to remind just how dangerous situations that the makers of big action movies frequently feel need to goosed can be.

You don't give a movie like this a star rating, because it is clearly the work of amateurs who are going to look bad when graded on the same scale as professionals: The filmmakers are often unable to manage what seems like basic shot-to-shot continuity, for instance, while the young cast is often in that zone where they're not really performers and don't have good lines to recite, but feel enough like real kids who aren't polished in any way to be authentic. Similarly, I can't imagine putting this movie in a multiplex and selling tickets, but it's a kind of amazing thing to stumble upon by accident with no idea what one is in for.

Tōge saigo no samurai (The Pass: Last Days of the Samurai)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2022 in Auditorium des Diplõmés de la SGWU (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

A samurai film from one of Akira Kurosawa's assistant directors with the great Tatsuya Nakadai in a supporting role is not a thing one passes up, even if it does unintentionally serve as a reflection of the old ways and legends fading into history in a way that is perhaps not ignominious, but quiet. As with their subjects, this film's makers do not fear the new but perhaps are not quite up to cementing their legacy in grand fashion.

The year is 1867, and as it opens, shogun Tokugawa (Masahiro Higashide), recognizing the coming external threats to Japan, opts to cede power to the Emperor to create a stronger nation, although his allies are not so fast to do so, leading to civil war. Between the two powers lies Nagaoka, a small prefecture led by Tadayuki Makino (Tatsuya Nakadai), containing the crucial Enoki Pass. Though both Makino and chief retainer Tsugunosuke Kawai (Koji Yakusho) favor imperial rule personal, their allegiances lead them to attempt neutrality, a stance that likely will not work out nearly as well for Nagaoka as it does for Switzerland, whom "Tsugi" sees as an aspirational model.

Indeed, it is perhaps unusual in that the build-up to the final battle is perhaps its most exciting part, a lengthy middle where one gets to watch star Koji Yakusho inhabit his noble samurai, bathe in the respect and loyalty he earns, and see that his warrior's soul does not crave battle the way some other such figures seem to. He exemplifies the best of the samurai, and without a lot of posturing or stiff rectitude - or a particularly obvious monster for contrast - makes one understand that the system could have survived and thrive if more were like him. It's a performance from Yakusho that can appear effortless, with Kawai often coming across as modern and superlatively reasonable, but it's also one where the audience can see him thinking and striving to present himself as more calm and assured than he perhaps is.

As Kawai prepares for the inevitable battle, writer/director Takashi Koizumi gives Yakusho and his cast-mates small episodes to play out - encouraging a samurai who is a talented draftsman to explore his art, a visit to the geisha that Tsugi perhaps doesn't realize is awkward for wife Suga (Takako Matsu), an attempt to reason with their former allies where patience and reasonability meet their limits. They are, by and large, quiet moments, with Kawai and those around him recognizing that they stand at a crucial point in history and pondering that without a lot of pretension. Tsugi and Suga have no children, which seems a shame, although fitting, if they see themselves as a last remnant of the old Japan. There are lots of nifty little performances her, with Takoko Matsu's Suga perhaps the most interesting - she is clearly still trying to puzzle her husband out in some ways, such that after decades, they do not necessarily understand the details of their own love for one another. This may wind up being Tatsuya Nakadai's last credit - the 89-year-old legend slowed down but never stopped working before Covid-19, but that might understandably have kept him off film sets - and it's a dignified farewell if so, projecting dignity even as Makino yields the making of decisions to his retainers.

The final battle is perhaps, deliberately anticlimactic: For all Tsugi's intelligence and honor, and willingness to invest in Western weapons like a Gatling Gun, he cannot overcome an opponent that outnumbers him by this much, and in 1867, a relatively random wound is going to sideline him badly. Koizumi marshals the familiar elements of the grand battle - the maps that make clear what the combatants will need to do when the camera finally arrives on scene, the tense where each soldier knows that their war can quite easily end with one shot or slash, the stoic commanders swelling with pride and admiration for their soldiers - and plays them out, but also drains much of the tension. There is not much suspense in this last stand; just the feeling that it had to be made.

The age of the samurai almost ends with a whimper here, although Tsugi has at least helped Japan be able to conceive of something else. Similarly, one can see Japan losing its last links to a defining age of cinema as Koizumi and Nakadai wind their careers down, even if what comes next is also inevitable and worth supporting.

"Piece of Solitude"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2022 in Cinéma du Musée (Fantasia Festival: Axis: Circo Animato, digital)

An impressive, wordless memory piece with a man left alone in his book-filled home, seemingly only engaging the rest of the world with the newspaper and, specifically, the crossword, which may not be the greatest habit for someone in that position, as some clue winds up sending him back to memories of how he got there.

The main figure in this stop-motion tale is clay, mostly, but the dominant motif around him is paper - if you want to stretch, even the buckling bookshelves around him may be made of cardboard. It suggests a life closed off inside academic pursuits, perhaps ignoring other things around him until he was that isolated, able to form as needed into a flat, abstract world or a twisted Escher print. Books file information away, contained neatly until someone lets them out, but the crosswords, they contain words that intersect and connect one idea to another, knowledge to memory to experience until there's no way to avoid how, perhaps, he may have been a coward.

Yes, I am probably reading too much into the crossword analogy, but I love them and it's an extra way in to what could seem like a standard, familiar story about an old man with regrets.

"Histoire pour 2 Trompettes" ("A Story for Two Trumpets")

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2022 in Cinéma du Musée (Fantasia Festival: Axis: Circo Animato, digital)

A delightful little film that fits a great deal of transformation and growing up into its five minutes, perhaps in part because, along with bouncy music by Chapelier Fou that pushes forward without seeming rushed, it feels like a lot of things that kids see or process as paths along the way - storybooks with a trail, board games, jigsaw puzzles, all things that a child will look at as things that lead from one thing to another, only the little girl at the center of it, breaking and making things along the way, is changing too.

Director Amandine Meyer apparently creates children's storybooks as well as short films, so it's not surprising that she knows the forms well enough to put them into motion and make them cross over, and knows when a kid watching it might enjoy a detour into some darkness. It's a neat little piece of work where growing up can sometimes be dangerous but still a magical journey.

"The Commute"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2022 in Cinéma du Musée (Fantasia Festival: Axis: Circo Animato, digital)

Dang right I'm going to be fond of a movie that animates a transit map, especially since this one-minute flick is as much about the delight of transit maps as the travel itself, and how it's there whether they are apps on a phone or posters on a wall. I wouldn't be shocked if Toronto (or whichever city this represents) were to use this as a PSA on an animated billboard or the like; it's got that feel of whimsy without being a hard sell.

"Glass Doll"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2022 in Cinéma du Musée (Fantasia Festival: Axis: Circo Animato, digital)

Omorose Osagie builds a nifty little tale here, a combination of storybook fantasy and post-apocalyptic tale, as the titular doll looks after her friends but also tries to find the eye that will make her whole - but what if the price is too steep?

It's a nifty-looking take on its world, something that works as both a literal fantasy and a sort of translation of what being discarded and left behind would be like for toys, with the design feeling like it would fit right into a Cartoon Network lineup. Osagie keeps the story for her short impressively tight despite it being an elaborate creation - for all that it's full of nifty detail and has fun things hiding in every corner, there's nothing wasted in the telling of the story, a perfect little tragedy that gets where it's going without any sort of unnecessary detour.

"BREAK bug"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2022 in Cinéma du Musée (Fantasia Festival: Axis: Circo Animato, digital)

I hope visual effects artist Mchael Ralla used motion capture to animate his dancing robots and insects in "BREAK bug", because the film is, in its way, about a big ol' robot effectively doing motion capture from that little grasshopper, and it would be fun if this were actually that meta.

At any rate, it's fast-paced, has a beat, and while I'm not going to say whether it choreographs its simultaneous dance and action so that it it inevitably leads to a double-splat, the fact that one can see just how well Ralla has laid everything out and made it work together is impressive work as both direction and doing visual effects.

"VRDLK: Family of Vurdulak"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2022 in Cinéma du Musée (Fantasia Festival: Axis: Circo Animato, digital)

This is based on a Tolstoy story from 1839, which is somewhat amusing because it is built to feel very modern and quippy and irreverent, the kind of horror that is so fond of nervous laughter on the one hand and being so dismissive of the supernatural that it's meant to be a bigger shock on the other that it's hard to truly settle into its world. Sam Chou's thriller is fun, don't get me wrong, but somehow shifting into animation exacerbates that unwillingness to simply be horrific just a little more.

It is kind of a ball, though, with a slick Don Bluth quality to the animation that says yes, they have inevitably been influenced by Disney but want to do something a little more intense, with enough of Tod Browning's Dracula in the DNA to feel like it's coming from the same place but not entirety trying to be the same thing. He and screenwriter Ellery Vandooyeweert do the thing where two sorts of genres intersect very well, with this foppish hero suddenly landing in the middle of a horror story while the villagers who know this stuff are annoyed with this noble dilettante, but the point is not necessarily that either is wrong to be who they are and must adjust to survive; they connect and effect each other but neither is ever exactly pulled out of their own milieu.

That's a neat sort of trick, and there's something to it - these sophisticated, devil-may-care aristocrats exist in the same world as the poor, superstitious commoners, but not entirely - although they never let it totally dominate the way that it's going to take a lot of luck and hard work to survive until morning.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2022 in Cinéma du Musée (Fantasia Festival: Axis: Circo Animato, digital)

It's a genuine shock to go back into the program afterward and see that "Baek-il" is just two minutes long; for all that Grace An's twist on a piece of Korean folklore is snappily paced and doesn't particularly waste seconds as one watches it, there's enough going on that it feels broader and busier than that. She starts out with a passage stating that for these animals/spirits to become human, they must quarantine for 105 days - immediately connecting with something most in the audience will recall all too well - and then pops up "Day XX" enough times as Cat drives Bear up the wall in their isolation cave that it feels like it must go on longer. But, no, between her impressively sketched figures and great instincts for knowing when they should move and when they should stay still, she does a great job of underscoring just what a long freaking time that can be without actually making the audience wait it out to the point of being impatient themselves.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2022 in Cinéma du Musée (Fantasia Festival: Axis: Circo Animato, digital)

It initially feels like we're back in the same sort of space as "Piece of Solitude", albeit with a Chilean rather than Irani spin, but it turns out that the audience is in for a darker ride than that. This old woman's hunched figure implies guilt rather than just isolation, and filmmaker Camila Donoso leans on how concrete her sins are rather than making them complete abstractions. There are portions of this film where her deteriorating mind takes her to some seemingly fantastical dystopian settings, but more often than not, her memories are all too clear, playing on the banality of evil that pervaded Chile during the Pinochet years. What she did in her time was stark - and the clay-based animation is suitably gray and grotesque - but now that she's an old woman who cannot entirely function on her own, there's a real tension between what a functional society must do for everyone and what a just one may perhaps demand.

This is, I must admit, the sort of animated short one sees in a lot of programs that exist in part to demonstrate how animation can be used for weighty topics, to the point where it's become a bit of a genre unto itself. It's almost more interesting to look at it next to other similar films in the package and see how it handles the same sort of material as "Piece of Solitude" or others - in this case, impressively straightforward and unblinking, abstracted just enough to make the audience aware of just how deliberately distanced from reality these situations are, but just removed enough that the sort of visceral horror to be somewhat hit-or-miss.

"El After del Mundo" ("The World's After")

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2022 in Cinéma du Musée (Fantasia Festival: Axis: Circo Animato, digital)

Co-writer/director Florentina Gonzalez offers up one of the more compelling intersections of the supernatural and the post-apocalyptic here, presenting its ghosts as hollow sets of clothing who are in some ways continuing what they did in life and in others freed from it. Fluor is still basically still acting like a gig-economy delivery cyclist, but also more or less going where she wants, chasing new music to put on her phone, while Carlix remains at this old marine park, diligently reassembling a whale's skeleton. They meet, seemingly get on, but what comes next?

Gonzalez gives herself and her ghosts time to play with that, poking at the edges of how this world where post-millennials are continuing on in a world that's already gone might work but also teasing out a sort of hope: The world is past gone, and these two women are more or less ghosts adrift without responsibilities or futures to work toward, but they still find things worth continuing to exist for, even without it ever being likely to lead to something being fixed or remembered. There's disaffection and cynicism, but also an understanding that they go on, and do so as well as they can.

The style of the film is nifty, looking like something from the 1980s that maybe started from rotoscoping but didn't have the budget for truly elaborate animation over that; any given frame can sometimes look simple and crude, but Gonzales makes the characters' body language expressive despite the empty space where both faces and other glimpses of skin should be. The way Fluor and Carlix are both wearing tops with long sleeves with prominent cuffs at the end is a really clever bit of design, giving the illusion of hands and fingers so the audience accepts them manipulating things without actually seeing the fine detail. The music is also quite good, and overall, it's just an impressively balanced tale of how, even when nothing can be done, the way one chooses to exist can still mean something.

"Whisper Down the Lane"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2022 in Cinéma du Musée (Fantasia Festival: Axis: Circo Animato, digital)

I didn't entirely see Raghad Al Barqi's short film as a game of telephone at first; the red string connecting characters came across as something more abstract even though the title was right up front while many of the objects floating in the background were means of communication. It's obvious in retrospect, although in the moment, the very concept of connection seemed more powerful to me, not so much how ideas get distorted as they go along. Ah, well.

It resolves into an intriguing short anyways, filling the screen with carefully and realistically rendered human figures and cutouts of various photographs but using the fact that this is animation and semi-abstract art to scatter them, both creating significance in how they are arranged and inviting the audience to mentally put them in some sort of order. The line often connects not phones but coffee cups, which feels like both an homage to how "telephone" is often represented by cups or cans at the end of such strings and how gossip often spreads, idly and over refreshments rather than actively, for a specific purpose. There's intriguing color coding, as if a jump from primarily-red imagery to primarily-blue is implying it's crossed a line.

It's the sort of thing that might be nifty to see in a museum installation; at just five minutes, one could easily sit through it twice, maybe picking up a bit more meaning the second time around.

"Lo 100to"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2022 in Cinéma de Musée (Fantasia Festival: Axis: Circo Animato, digital)

It was vaguely reassuring when director Karla Monterrosa mentioned during the Q&A that this was in many ways constructed out of the secondhand chaos she heard other people talk about vis-a-vis their group texts, saying she doesn't really have something like this. Like, I don't either, but I hear people talk about theirs on social media like it's just an expected part of the world today. How'd we miss it?

That aside, it's a fun little cartoon, using doodles and art to illustrate the connection her avatar feels with everybody else she's linked to this way, even if they are far away and only sending these compacted bits of language and the occasional picture. On the other hand, the story itself and the way it gets buried - she's trying to communicate a broken engagement here! - is a nifty illustration of how, for as effective as this is in many ways, it doesn't always have the weight one wants. There's just no way to push across the importance of something amid the talking over each other and potential flood of far smaller issues. Like a lot of social media, it's something that feels like it should have the capacity for big ideas but can't help but be consumed by trivia, and dwelling on it for more than a couple of minutes isn't going to do any good.

"Perfect City: The Mother"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2022 in Cinéma de Musée (Fantasia Festival: Axis: Circo Animato, digital)

There's some very neat stuff going on in here but the movie having a colon in the title doesn't do it a lot of favors; Shengwei Zhou has an interesting idea or three here and it's no problem that he's not exactly subtle getting them across, but it doesn't exactly feel as though playing in this sandbox more is going to reveal different nuances. It's a bit stretched as is; I don't know that I need more.

I like where his head's at, though, as a stop-motion forest spirit/creature, pregnant, starts taking in a liquid called "Perfect" - bright CGI yellow compared to the rest of the picture - and it eventually reshapes both. There's interesting stuff going on under the surface about parents striving to give their children advantages but as a result making both into something they don't quite recognize, rural people fed a steady diet of the city as aspirational that they get left behind. The visuals and how he uses them are nifty, from how the tree-creatures feel a bit monstrous to start but seem kind of comfortable once Zhou dives deep into the uncanny valley to make the more humanoid forms plastic and unnerving.

There's just a lot of it; this is very much the sort of movie where one can find themselves saying "yeah, I get it" halfway through and sitting around as it gets drawn out.

"The Principle of Sunrise"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2022 in Cinéma de Musée (Fantasia Festival: Axis: Circo Animato, digital)

Every kid's first pet winds up more responsibility than expected, and that's what happens here, as a little girl takes an injured bluebird in and finds it growing to be more than she can handle, certainly within her home in the city, but returning it to nature is tricky, too.

Ye Song's movie has a nifty deadpan sense of humor and a blue color scheme that shows just how much this little creature means to its caretaker, on top of just being a cool-temperature look and emphasizing how much happens at night.

"New Moon"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2022 in Cinéma de Musée (Fantasia Festival: Axis: Circo Animato, digital)

Shorts like "New Moon" that take a monologue developed for the stage and visualize it are odd things - if it's worth adapting, the animation has a great chance of being superfluous, quite possibly detracting from the experience because it substitutes one thing for all the personal associations and such that can exist in the viewer's mind. That I can't say that happened for me here, although I do find that I remember Colman Domingo's voice more than the images that go with it.

It's a nice monologue and short, though, the sort that spends some time getting comfortable with the idea that these characters may not have a lot financially but how this doesn't bother young Colman particularly much because there's a lot of warmth between him and his mother to give him a solid foundation. One can sense him eliding the parts that are hard and seeing animators Jeremie Balais & Jeff LeBars giving a little extra vibrancy to his world.

"The Cradle"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2022 in Auditorium des Diplõmés de la SGWU (Fantasia Festival, digital)

This is a nifty, atmospheric little piece where I don't know that I necessarily got the program's description from it - yes, that could be what's happening in retrospect, although I maybe saw "weird shut-in spinster" more than "witch" - but it doesn't much matter. Massimo Meo spends a fair amount of the short running time making the audience aware of what's missing, from not showing this old woman's head to the empty cradles to the faceless dolls, and that sense of incompleteness builds up quickly over the film's short running time. Throw some spooky photography that injects a bit of twitchiness into an orderly routine and sounds from outside drawing closer, and you've got a short, solid creeper.

Sadako DX

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2022 in Auditorium des Diplõmés de la SGWU (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

So, this franchise was a big deal back in the day, huh? I get that, like The Grudge, this series has perhaps not gotten bigger with subsequent entries, but rather seen its budget and attached talent slide so that it will continue to make a profit even as ticket sales diminish, but still, this is bad enough that it's hard to see where the original appeal of The Ring was. As someone happening on this for the first time, I can sort of see how there might have been something to it, but it's a shadow of its former self if so.

As it opens, the news is reporting a wave of sudden, inexplicable deaths, and some are just putting together that it resembles the "Ringu" phenomenon of 25 years earlier. A Tokyo news program runs a panel discussion, featuring Ayaka Ichijo (Fuka Koshiba), a grad student who has tested for Japan's highest IQ at 200+, playing the skeptic and Kenshin (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi) arguing for musical explanations, and giving Ayaka a copy of the original tape of Sadako, which her kid sister Futaba (Yuki Yagi) digs out a VCR to watch. Elsewhere, a more social-media savvy young man, Oji Maeda (Kazuma Kawamura), is attempting to help someone who has seen the Sadako video survive, only to find it now kills in 24 hours rather than a week, and they all come together to try and figure out how to keep themselves, their loved ones, and maybe all of Japan alive, as a viral video can spread much quicker in the 2020s than the late 1990s.

Something in Ringu touched a chord in people the first time around, and one can see hints of it here, even if it also feel enough like the Ju-on movies (to the point of the haunting being described as a "grudge") that one wonders what was in the water back then. Unfortunately, so much of Sadako DX feels like the laziest take on half-decent ideas. It seems like there should be a solid foundation for picking the story back up at this time, with both bad information and an actual virus spreading as they are in the present day, but screenwriter Yuya Takahashi never gets much further than saying "this is like a virus, so maybe we should inoculate in the same way", which is an interesting idea but one the filmmakers can't commit to without random twists to sap it of its power. There's also some of It Follows in the film's depiction of Sadako which is apparently new, but it doesn't seem to add much, instead diluting a horror icon until she is practically not there.

All the characters are the most bland stereotypes of basic types, with Ayaka in some ways the most frustrating, because Fuka Koshiba seems like she's capable of more than this, but she's written and directed like Takahashi and director Hisashi Kimura have never actually met someone who is good at science or methodical in their problem solving and can't quite conceive of them as fully human rather than Mr. Spock. Kazuma Kawamura is a different set of self-aware ticks rather than a character, and it's hard to tell whether their anti-chemistry is a sort of choice - the filmmakers are playing this for much more comedy than is apparently typical of the series - or just two people who don't click on-screen. Hiroyuki Ikeuchi at least brings the sort of comfort veteran character actors tend to, but none of this group have interesting stories to plug Sadako into, and none are able to make the audience find them interesting without her.

Meanwhile, Sadako doesn't even look threatening, with the filmmakers going to the well of "this hallucination is just someone in an incongruous wig" so often that the monster becomes a joke. Beyond that, this is such a basic, direct-to-video-looking picture that it's all but impossible to imagine Hideo Nakata or Gore Verbinski ever touched this franchise. It's almost all shot in the most generic possible locations with seemingly no thought to how the lighting might give it some atmosphere. As a result, the scariest part of the movie is probably the original VHS footage (or Kimura's recreation thereof). It at least has some style 20 years later, and a hook the folks making this one can use, even if they've only got fragments of ideas for what to do beyond having teenagers ask what VHS is.

Not counting foreign remakes, this is the producers' second revival of the series (a "Sadako 3D" cycle came out in the mid-2010s), and it seems like the filmmakers make every mistake one can make in doing so: It's youth-oriented but connected to backstory from a film that came out 20+ years ago, too eager to make jokes to really commit to being scary, springing from ideas its makers seemingly don't have the vocabulary to express, and cheap-looking and amateurish on top of that. I suppose there could be Ring fans looking for another hit, no questions asked, but I'm not sure who else this is going to impress.

(Amusing credit note: Somewhere in the scroll at the end, either important enough that someone decided to subtitle it or written out in English to start, is someone who served as the "Supervisor on Series World View", and I've got no idea if this is somebody whose job is to wrangle the continuity of a 25-year-old series on its second wave of legacyquels or someone poring over the script to make sure that the dark comedy isn't too far out of line.)

Sagasu (Missing)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2022 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Shinzo Katayama's Missing has a couple of distinct directions it could go after it hits its first climax, and they represent an interesting choice in how a writer handles deepening the story at this point - lay out a longer path for the sleuth to follow, which makes the whole thing more prone to collapse, or build out to the sides in a way that makes for deeper complexity but less intriguing mystery. There's no right or wrong way to go about it, although those entirely drawn in by the film's genre hook may wish the filmmakers had kept things relatively simple.

It begins by introducing the audience to Kaede Harada (Aoi Ito), a middle-schooler who has had to become even more self-sufficient since her mother's death as father Santoshi (Jiro Sato) has fallen apart; she's just had to pull him out of the drunk tank (again). Santoshi thinks he's figured out a way to get back on track, though; he believes he has spotted the fugitive "No Name" (Hiroya Shimizu) who has recently fled Tokyo, and is ready to turn him in for the reward. Instead, he disappears, but rather than disappear into the foster care system, Kaede is determined to find him, enlisting a boy who has a crush on her to assist.

If this were the entirety of the film, it would potentially be a pretty compelling one; Katayama and actress Aoi Ito' avoid any girl detective tropes while still making a compelling case that a smart, motivated teenager might be able to hunt down a serial killer, or at least get this far in doing so. Katayama and Ito do such a good job of keeping Kaede's eyes on her goal while avoiding the language of mysteries that she never comes across as someone with a gift who might take on other "cases" someday as opposed to a kid recklessly following a path to her father despite other adults seeing just as useless as he often was. The filmmakers create great tension in part because they don't follow certain beats; rather than dangerous narrow escapes that might show she's onto something, there's ominous implied danger that indicates she may be in over her head.

That's mostly the first half or so of the movie, before the perspective shifts and the story backtracks to change points of view, and it becomes a very different film, with Kaede mostly reduced to a side character who is maybe even less present than would make sense given what events the film is showing. It is, on its own, a kind of intriguing story, one that starts from the premise of "No Name" being the worst sort of human monster that the viewer can imagine and then expanding outward to consider how seemingly decent people can, for various reasons, get caught up in a network of actions and motivations that include a man compelled to kill. Katayama has worked some in the Korean film industry, most notably with Bong Joon-Ho, and the kind of darkness he explores is the sort that seems to pop more in Korean crime films than ones from Japan, these universal undercurrents that are present all over rather than twisted codes of honor or plain-spoken villainy. Perhaps the most memorable moment in this section of the film is when No Name encounters a suicidal potential victim and cannot himself conceive of someone wanting what he has to offer; even to him, this situation makes no sense.

Katayama and his team tell the tale in a fashion that is relentlessly grim but not gleefully so; No noirish signifiers or sleek surfaces for evil to hide behind; everyone seems to be hovering around having just enough to get by but not the time or motivation to keep it nice, either surrounded by a mess or a sparseness that is not exactly neat. There is something either tragic or rotten about how Santoshi's ping-pong center has gone out of business but he and Kaede still seem to access the building freely, like the building's owners can't even be bothered to properly evict them or change the locks until they have to (maybe they're hoping he gets back on his feet, but it doesn't seem like that sort of movie). There's a sort of rot here that manifests itself in all the linked stories - people shouldn't want to die, and a serial killer who can operate effectively enough to elude the police shouldn't be someone a 15-year-old girl can track down.

The question, then, is how well the flashbacks integrate with Kaede's mission, and while the filmmakers do eventually manage to integrate them, tying the various time frames together and eventually fitting Kaede into this world in a way that quietly and impressively raises eyebrows, it maybe takes a bit too long to fit together as it circles back to the start and reveals how all this connects. The opening is so strong and clear in its purpose even as it establishes the atmosphere that the rest of the film will work in that I suspect even those who enjoy its flavor of moral quagmire may wish that either No Name or Santoshi or any of the people they encounter as their paths cross were as interesting and immediately compelling as Kaede.

Complexity and moral ambiguity are interesting and often worth the extra work they may require, but sometimes the clear, simple piece in the middle of all that can't help but stand out.

Friday, August 26, 2022

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 26 August 2022 - 1 September 2022

Weird but a potentially very fun weekend!
  • I'm a little worried that all the advertising for Three Thousand Years of Longing focuses on on the greatness of George Miller rather than how great this particular movie is, but, on the other hand, Miller directing Idris Elba as a genie found by Tilda Swinton's mousy widow, prepared to grant her wishes while regaling her with other tales, is certainly interesting if nothing else. It plays the Coolidge (including a Sunday Masked Matinee), Fresh Pond, Boston Common (including Dolby Cinema), Fenway, Kendall Square,South Bay, Assembly Row, the Embassy, and Chestnut Hill.

    The week's late-summer-why-not horror release is The Invitation, featuring Nathalie Emmanuel as a woman who finds more than she bargained for as her wedding approaches; it's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Arsenal Yards. Also opening is Breaking, starring John Boyega as a PTSD-afflicted vet who takes a bank hostage, with Michael K. Williams as the hostage negotiator and Nicole Beharie as one of the employees stuck within. It's at Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and the Embassy.

    Rogue One: A Star Wars Story gets an Imax re-release ahead of Disney+'s Andor miniseries (a prequel to that prequel), playing at Jordan's, Boston Common, Assembly Row, and South Bay. Godzilla vs. Kong also returns to big screens, playing Boston Common, South Bay, and Assembly Row Friday night.
  • Korean blockbuster Alienoid opens at Boston Common, and it's a hoot, featuring aliens hiding their prisoners inside the brains of human beings for centuries, mystic martial arts in the 1480s, time travel in the first scene, humanoid extraterrestrial robots raising a daughter, an attempt to poison Earth's atmosphere in the present day, and honestly far too much craziness for just one summer movie. One of my favorites from Fantasia. Boston Common also gets Chinese romance, featuring Li Wenhan and Xu Ruohan as college students who have been dating for eight years.

    The month's Studio Ghibli Fest presentation is Only Yesterday, playing Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, South Bay, and Arsenal Yards on Sunday (dubbed) and Monday (subtitled). Anime feature Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero hangs around at the Arlington Capitol, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, Kendall Square, South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row, Arsenal Yards (including CWX), Chestnut Hill, and CinemaSalem; though most places are dub-only now.

    Boxing movie Liger, starring Vijay Deverakonda as the title character and featuring Mike Tyson, opened Wednesday in some spots and Friday in others, and plays this week at Fresh Pond (Hindi/Telugu), Boston Common (Hindi), and Arsenal Yards. Apple Fresh Pond also opens Malayalam-language thriller Theerppu and keeps Tamil-language comedy Thiruchitrambalam, Hindi comedy/drama Laal Singh Chaddha (also at Boston Common), and Karthikeya 2.

    Egyptian comedy-thriller Tasleem Ahaly, in which a couple finds themselves beset by a stalker, plays at Fenway.
  • The Good Boss opens at The Coolidge Corner Theatre and Kendall Square; a black comedy starring Javier Bardem as a family business's owner striving to earn an award as a good place to work despite there apparently being multiple issues.

    The weekend's midnight's include a 35mm print of Ti West's X on Friday and another of Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 on Saturday. Saturday's "Stage & Screen" show is Once, tied to the Huntington's production of Sing Street. Samurai Summer shows include The Tale of Zatoichi on Tuesday and a 35mm print of Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai on Wednesday
  • Funny Pages opens at Landmark Theatres Kendall Square, with Kevin Kline's son Owen directing the story of a teenager played by Daniel Zolghadri who aims to be an underground cartoonist by rejecting his comfortable suburban life.

    IFFBoston alum The Territory also opens at the Kendall and Boston Common; it's a thrilling "how-much-danger-was-everybody-in" documentary about indiginious people in Brazil attempting to maintain control of their land as European-descended settlers attempt to stake claims with the government turning a blind eye to their aggressive tactics.

    The Kendall also closes out their Retro Replay Hitchcock month with Vertigo on Tuesday.
  • If Three Thousand Years of Longing is not enough George Miller for you, The Brattle Theatre offers The Mad Max Cycle this weekend, with Mad Max Friday & Saturday, Mad Max 2 on 35mm Friday & Saturday, Beyond Thunderdome on 35mm Saturday, and Fury Road on Sunday, with the original version in 35mm and "Black & Chrome" digitally later in the evening.

    The Judy Garland centennial wraps Monday & Tuesday with A Star Is Born on 35mm. IFFBoston presents rock doc Anonymous Club on Wednesday, and the Midnighter series ends Thursday with The Harder They Fall & Reefer Madness.
  • Memoria makes its fourth or fifth stop in the Boston are at The Harvard Film Archive, playing Friday to Sunday at 7pm. It is supposedly never playing the small screen here, although I gather discs are starting to show up for pre-order in other countries. Still, an intriguing and unusual experience.
  • IFFBoston opener Emily the Criminal comes full circle, landing at The Somerville Theatre for the week. Repertory material on the big screen includes a 35mm double feature of On Golden Pond & Stand By Me on Friday and Saturday, with a 35mm print of Friday the 13th as Saturday's Midnight Special. Midsommar plays Sunday and Monday, with second feature Season of the Witch (aka Hungry Wives) on Sunday. Nashville plays Tuesday and Wednesday.
  • The Lexington Venue has A Love Song, Top Gun: Maverick, and Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris from Friday to Sunday; they also partner with the Arlington International Film Festival for a program of short climate-related documentaries on Saturday afternoon.

    The West Newton Cinema appears to be back down to only being open weekends, playing Bodies Bodies Bodies, Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen A Journey, A Song, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, Where the Crawdads Sing, Minions, Downton Abbey: A New Era, Everything Everywhere All at Once, and Marcel the Shell with Shoes On through Sunday.

    The Luna Theater has Marcel the Shell with Shoes On Friday and Saturday, Fire of Love Saturday evening, Plan 9 from Outer Space on Sunday, a Weirdo Wednesday show, and, on Thursday, the first of several screenings of a touring group of shorts by/about indigenous people from the Sundance Institute.

    Cinema Salem Friday-Monday line-up is Beast, Bodies Bodies Bodies, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, and Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero.
  • Hey, it's Films at the Gate weekend, with free subtitled Chinese-language movies at the Chinatown Gate, with martial-arts demonstrations beforehand and all the takeout in Chinatown as your concession stand! This year's features include Kung Fu Stuntmen: Never Say No on Friday, Ip Man 4 starring Boston's Own Donnie Yen on Saturday, and animated blockbuster Ne Zha on Sunday. Joe's Free Films has more; amusingly, it's also been announced that the city of Boston will be extending some of these programs because apparently they help stagger everybody trying to get on the Orange Line shuttles at the same time.
  • For those still not ready to join random people in a room for two hours, theater rentals are available at Kendall Square, The Embassy, West Newton, the Capitol and Somerville, The Venue, CinemaSalem, and many of the multiplexes.
Hitting Three Thousand Years of Longing and probably Rogue One and Emily the Criminal at the very least. I highly recommend TheTerritory and Alienoid, both jaw-dropping in very different ways.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Fantasia 2022.16: What's Up Connection, Whether the Weather Is Fine, and The Witch Part 2: The Other One.

I should have made some notes on just why things dragged out my mornings, because on this day it knocked out the first movie of the day (not that I was really that excited about an underground-fight-club movie), and then the second film of the day was something I'd already seen (Shari is pretty nifty), and then as it approached 5pm, I realized that What's Up Connection, which caught my eye on the schedule, would actually stretch past the start of the next movie in Hall, which I'd figured to see because the one in de Seve had a later show. Ah, well, might as well do three movies instead of two today rather than potentially five rather than four on another, especially because the schedule might be tight.

Amusingly, I hadn't really looked up what sort of movie I was into, figuring it was crazy Hong Kong/Japan action, and then saw Camera Lucida programmer Ariel Esteban Cayer get up and I realized it was a different sort of film. It wound up pretty decent, but it was a kind of weird intro; Camera Lucida can seem like one has wandered into a different festival from Fantasia's genre stuff, and the intro was talking about this whole movement and set of less-known filmmakers like we'd all been attending a series on this at the Harvard Film Archive or the like. Not bad, just odd, before getting to how Cayer is also one of the guys behind Kani, a new home video distributor for this sort of film (I've got one, Be Natural, and they did have cool stickers for this one).

The day eventually ended on The Witch: Part 2: The Other One, which is one of those cases where a film that had distribution but apparently doesn't hit Montreal during its spring run - does Well Go just not get along with the guys who book the Cineplex in the old Forum very well? Usually, it gives me a little flexibility; this time, since it didn't play Boston, it got locked in early. Surprisingly, it never occurred to me that it didn't play Boston not just because it's a sequel to something that had limited availability (this seldom stops Chinese movies, for instance, or Korean ones with Ma Dong-seok), but because it's maybe not exactly great.

No guests, again. After this, we head into the last weekend of the fest, with Island of Lost Girls, The Pass: Last Days of the Samurai, Circo Animato, Sadako DX, and Missing.

Tenamonya Connection (What's Up Connection)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2022 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia Festival: Fantasia Retro, DCP)

What's Up Connection is a genuinely mad little film that threw me for a couple reasons, the most important probably being that "character is most important!" is so often treated as holy writ in terms of making and discussing movies, and filmmaker Masashi Yamamoto seems barely interested in such things. Apparently he was more interested in the evils of capitalism, although maybe not as much as he was interested in just seeing what he could do in making a movie split between Japan and Hong Kong on a shoestring and embracing the chaos that ensues

It starts out following the Chi family, particularly Gau-Shul (Tse Wai-Kit), who is in his late teens or early twenties and has a house because in this part of Hong Kong, if you build a house, you claim the land, so his family has grabbed a strip. Each has, somehow, won a free vacation, and Gau-shul is looking forward to his trip to Japan with girlfriend Yu-Chan, only to have her dump him before he leaves. The company handling the tour on the other end is awful fly-by-night, with guide Yumi not speaking great Cantonese or English and just starting that day to boot. Soon enough, Gau-Shul gets his pocket picked, but even when they track down thief Akane, she's spent all his money. He does get back to Hong Kong, where he discovers that a multinational corporation has been buying up large chunks of the neighborhood with the intent to build a new World Trade Center, with Gau-Shul's mother in particular rallying to stop him.

For some reason, Yumi and Akane are along for the ride, perhaps because Yamamoto was making the film for a Japanese audience and didn't want to jettison his Japanese characters, and while it seems like the heart of the film could be why Yumi sticks around Chi Gau-Shul and helps out his family even though he's still sort of pining for Yu-Chan. She's probably got the best actor in the film playing her and she's just kind of hanging around most of the time because this isn't really a film where relationships matter in the way you'd expect for independent films of this scale.

(Note: As near as I can tell, few members of the cast other than Tse Wai-Kit have been credited in other features, and this Reiko Arai is probably not the same actress who was active from 1950 to 1974; hopefully the upcoming Blu-ray release will make this clearer!)

Instead, the director seemingly wants to say something about international capitalism and consumerism, but hasn't really thought much about any sort of thesis beyond generally being against it. If there's a specific satiric target, it's a bit unclear thirty years later, and there's something a bit unbalanced in how the big businesses are mostly sort of realistically bland while the Chis and their alloys are colorful and eventually resisting in ways that are larger than life. Those bits of the movie aren't on the same page, and while Yamamoto is trying a lot of different things in different areas, it leaves a lot of times when it's fair to ask where he's going with this.

And yet, I still found myself kind of delighted by the end, just by the sheer "sure, why the hell not?" improvisational feel of the movie. It's probably not completely made up on the spot, or even mostly so, but it sure as heck seems insanely random, from the point where it seemed completely impossible to shoot a street scene without everybody deciding to talk to the camera, leading to the film becoming a documentary about people living on the street in Osaka to just randomly switching in different actors (apparently the actress playing Akane wasn't available for part of the Hong Kong shoot) to the utter madness of the last act. Few films are actually made up as the creators go along, but I suspect that a lot of independent films find themselves boxed into corners logistically and opt to shoot and edit around what they can't do rather than plow through.

And, it's worth mentioning, the film is frequently very funny. There's a bit about how getting some pay-per-view porn in one of those infamous Japanese capsule hotels is probably not a great idea and some entertainingly goofy physical comedy. Yamamoto also seldom ends up getting stuck when he suddenly dials things up to eleven, quietly getting back where he can spring something else on the audience without appearing to reverse course.

I don't want to say this is less a story than a vibe because the vibe is all over the place, but it is impressive anarchy, the sort that another underground Japanese auteur, Seijun Suzuki, was known for. Film is generally too collaborative with resources too tight to feel this random without also being an obvious disaster, and that's something worth checking out.

Kun maupay man it panahon (Whether the Weather Is Fine)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2022 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

There's something potentially powerful about walking through a devastated landscape, pondering what the loss of all this means or potentially just trying to survive, but it kind of helps if the character at the center grabs one's interest early. It does, eventually, have something to say about what all this means for Miguel, but it takes a while to get there, maybe asking the audience to look for what happens rather than what does.

As it opens, 2013's Typhoon Haiyan has nearly leveled Talcoban City on the island of Leyte in the Philippines, and as the camera descends on Miguel (Daniel Padilla), sprawled out on a couch in a building whose roof has been blown off as if he'd slept through it. His girlfriend Andrea (Francinne Rifol) soon finds him, and with the word being that another storm is coming, they start out looking for his mother Norma (Charo Santos-Concio) and evacuation to Manila. Angela is by far the most intense of the group, drawing a gun and making a man slaughter stray chickens for them, while Norma insists on detouring to find out what happened to her ex-husband, who left her and Miguel for another woman years ago.

Like the horror movie where nobody seemed to sweat in 100° weather a couple weeks earlier, I found myself transfixed by how the protagonists never seemed to get particularly dirty walking through a coastal city destroyed by a hurricane for a few days. Extras did, but is this a situation where continuity would just have been too time-consuming? Not that continuity is exactly a major issue for "magic realist" tagged films, but it's an odd thing to note in the middle of a film where everyone around this trio are disheveled and look like they've been through something. It sort of brings into sharp relief how this sort of movie makes a natural tragedy into background for these characters' personal issues.

It would be one thing if there were something to hold on to here, but the three main folks all seemed to be going in different directions, and Miguel at the center is so frustratingly passive that Andrea has to hang it on him, and it's easy to feel like it's to no apparent end, that there's a big space in this movie where some sort of core should be. It's not entirely untrue - I spent a lot of time wondering why I should be interested in this configuration of characters. It took a bit of time for the theme of abandonment to truly sink in - it starts from having the very roof over Miguel's head torn away, and there's the sense that he needs Andrea to take him in hand because he's quite possibly not as important to his mother as her ex-husband, while anybody who can leave Talcoban is expected to. A disaster lays bare that some seemingly nice people will easily slip into robbing others at gunpoint, some will go to ground, and others will just flee. Miguel was probably aimless before Haiyan, but its aftermath leaves an even more open question of just what his center is.

This sort of interior question doesn't particularly manifest outwardly, unfortunately; Daniel Padilla and Francinne Rifol give the impression of the pair balancing each other out, and Charo Santos-Concio presents the older woman carrying sorrow well enough, but they never quite make one want to know more. It's still often a striking movie, though: That early drone shot where the audience first sees Miguel digs its way into one's head well, and the sequences after that, showing this part of Talcoban as one of those neighborhoods where buildings bleed into each other in in every direction, emphasizes what a free-for-all the aftermath is. There's a feeling of disconnection that never quite trips into "ethereal", even in moments that bleed into the fantastic.

Writing this review after-the-fact, I'd be interested in giving Whether another look if it came my way again; there's more there than made a conscious impression on me at the time. Still, I suspect it will play much better for Filippinos and other Pacific Islanders, for whom Haiyan's devastation is something that was experienced first-hand rather than just the idea of a disaster that upends one's life.

Manyeo 2: Lo go (The Witch: Part 2 - The Other One)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2022 in Auditorium des Diplõmés de la SGWU (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

When Park Hoon-jung's The Witch: Part 1 - The Subversion played Fantasia four years ago, it was electrifying, throwing a lot of genre tropes together so they became more fresh than expected, before giving it an extra jolt of South Korean intensity and willingness to push genre boundaries. The crowd was excited to see what came next, and but its sequel is less Part 2 than The Other One - it rearranges what The Subversion did, and Park can still bring the big action, but it winds up weighted down by its familiar pieces rather than free to create something new.

If it has been a while since you've seen the first movie, you'll be forgiven for thinking that this one perhaps picks up right where it left off (give or take a flashback prologue), in the rubble of the secret lab Koo Ja-Yoon obliterated in the finale. But, no, this is a different lab, although the group laying waste to it didn't check to see that one girl (Shin Shi-A, aka "Cynthia") was dead. She makes her way to a road, where some gangsters who have kidnapped Kyung-Hee (Park Eun-Bin) grab her as a potential witness, though she makes quick work of them even if she takes a bullet or two. Kyung-Hee brings her to a vet she knows who has also done this sort of thing, both surprised how quickly the mute girl heals, and then back to the farm she and brother Dae-Gil (Sung Yoo-Bin) inherited from their late father. This puts a big old target on their backs, as not only is gangster Yong-Du (Jin Goo) looking to take possession of this farm to build a resort, but at least three factions with enhanced operatives of their own seem to feel this one is too dangerous to let live. And that's without considering that no nobody has heard from Ja-Yoon in months.

It's the "three factions" thing that really bogs the movie down; I don't recall The Subversion as being quite that complicated, and even if it was, writer/director Park could really do with getting where everyone is coming from straight: Bilingual soldiers of fortune Jo-Hyun (Seo Eun-Su) and Tom (Justin John Harvey) appear to be working for some international quasi-governmental unit, snotty-guy-in-a-tailored-black-suit Jang (Lee Jong-Suk) has some connection with Dr. Baek (Jo Min-Soo) from the original project, and the leather-clad "Tow" group seem like psychotic escaped lab rats, but since this is an entirely new cast outside of a couple extended cameos, establishing some motivations is especially important if anyone is going to switch sides or maybe become uneasy allies. Park builds the film as if it's the amoral secret societies of the first that struck a chord with people, rather than a girl that the audience still liked even if she had been presenting a facade tearing through those groups to protect and/or avenge the people who had shown her kindness.

This film tries to recapture some of that, and while it sometimes feels clumsy - Dae-Gil literally looks up Ja-Yoon on YouTube to suggest they could maybe exploit his new friend's abilities similarly - the smaller-stakes material gives the audience something to hook into, whether it being Park Eun-Bin's Kyung-Hee in her gratitude working very hard to shrug off how unusual "ADP" is, the siblings' friction, or the simple fun of a girl who has probably been fed protein bars her entire life discovering actual food on the one hand and gangsters watching a petite teenager throw something she shouldn't be able to budge at them and figuring they didn't sign up for this science-fiction stuff and maybe should regroup several miles away on the other. It's tough to get a read on Shin Shi-A in her first role - she handles the detached genetically-engineered super-assassin and the excited kid well enough individually but doesn't quite link them - although she and Park Eun-Bin tend to play well off each other.

Still, the action tends to be what raises eyebrows in this series, and director Park stages some quality mayhem here. It's easy for superhero fights to seem weightless, especially when one is using this sort of slick black color scheme to make sure it's clear this is Very Serious, but the filmmakers from director to cast to stuntpeople to fight choreographers strike a good balance between the action being larger and faster than life bust still easy to follow. Folks hit inhumanly hard, bounce back up, and heal quickly, but there is still a feeling of danger even beyond the regular people caught in the middle, and the guidelines for what people can dish out and take feels consistent. A lot of the action takes place at night, but it seldom feels like Park is trying to hide his visual effects in the dark so much as controlling his light and shadow to give the film a certain look and feel. The finale's got some striking imagery, some hell-yeah moments, and enough of a mean streak where characters who won't necessarily be needed for a hypothetical Part 3 are concerned to keep the audience on its toes.

Will the audience still want a Part 3 after this? Probably, although maybe not quite so much as they wanted a Part 2 after the last one. The series is still quite capable of bringing the cool detachment and furious violence, but it's at a point where it needs to be about something rather than just the surface. This movie too often felt like the same good pieces in a new order, and the next should hopefully recapture the excitement of doing something that feels new in a familiar genre again.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 19 August 2022 - 25 August 2022

You can sort of see what sort of doldrums late summer/early fall is this year from just how random a lot of what's playing on the deluxe screens is. You expect something off-kilter on Labor Day weekend, but theaters are booking lots of things besides new big studio tentpoles there.
  • The biggest American studio film opening this weekend is Beast, starring Idris Elba as a man returning to the African game preserve where he and his late wife first met with their daughters, only to find themselves besieged by wild animals and vicious humans. It's at Fresh Pond, CinemaSalem, Boston Common (including Dolby Cinema), Fenway, Kendall Square, South Bay, Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema), Arsenal Yards (including CWX), the Embassy, and Chestnut Hill.

    Boston Common also opens Delia's Gone, a crime drama featuring Stephen James as an ex-con trying to solve his sister's murder and Marisa Tomei as the cop handling the official investigation. There's also Orphan: First Kill, a prequel to the 2009 horror film with Isabelle Fuhrman returning as Esther, because even though it takes before a movie she made when she was 9… Well, Orphan was nuts and we'll leave it at that. It's at Boston Common and on Paramount+.

    Grease plays Boston Common as a tribute to Olivia Newton-John, while the E.T. re-release continues at Boston Common (Imax Xenon on Friday) and opens at Fenway. Dr. No plays Fenway and Assembly Row on Sunday to celebrate its 60th anniversary. Fire of Love returns to Boston Common for one night on Wednesday.
  • Arguably the biggest new release this weekend is anime feature Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero, the latest iteration of the Dragon Ball saga, which seems to be wearing the influence of western superhero material on its sleeve more than was previously the case. It's at the Arlington Capitol, Fresh Pond, Boston Common (including Imax Xenon), Fenway, Kendall Square, South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax Xenon), Arsenal Yards (including CWX), and Chestnut Hill; it's mostly dubbed, but there are some subtitled screenings. For more anime, Bleach the Movie: Hell Verse plays Fenway, South Bay, and Assembly Row on Thursday; Inu-Oh sticks around at Boston Common.

    Apple Fresh Pond has three new films from India. Hindi-language sci-fi flick Dobaaraa played Fantasia and is a kind of interesting time-twister in the vein of Frequency with a likable lead. There's also Malayalam crime drama Nna Thaan Case Kodu and Tamil-language comedy Thiruchitrambalam. Marathi family drama Ekda Kaay Zala and Tamil drama Methagu 2 play Saturday, with Tamil drama Gaalipata 2 on Sunday. Boxing movie Liger, starring Vijay Deverakonda as the title character and featuring Mike Tyson, opens Wednesday at Arsenal Yards (including CWX). Laal Singh Chaddha (HindI) sticks around Fresh Pond, Boston Common, and Fenway; Fresh Pond keeps Raksha Bandhan (Hindi), Karthikeya 2, and Sita Ramam (Telugu).

    Egyptian comedy-thriller Tasleem Ahaly, in which a couple finds themselves beset by a stalker, plays at Fenway.
  • Landmark Theatres Kendall Square has the new restoration of Going Places, which made Gerard Depardieu a star and features a killer cast up and down, in limited showtimes. They also continue the Hitchcock Retro Replays with Shadow of a Doubt on Tuesday.
  • The Brattle Theatre has a 40th Anniversary double feature of Blade Runner & The Thing, two films which premiered the same day and sort of flopped in 1982 but became known as classics later, on Friday and Sunday. Blade Runner is the Final Cut; The Thing is on 35mm. There's a live concert on Saturday, and a special RPM screening with Brittany Gravely presenting seven of her 16mm short films with Q&A.

    The week's Judy Garland movies are Judgment at Nurenberg on Monday and A Child Is Waiting on Tuesday, both on 35mm. Grease plays Wednesday evening on 35mm, and Thursday's classic midnighters are a 35mm print of Freaks, plus Rock 'n' Roll High School.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre picks up IFFBoston opener Emily the Criminal, although its shows all seem to be in the small rooms upstairs. Kevin Smith's first two films play on 35mm at midnight this weekend, with Clerks on Friday and Mallrats on Saturday. Labyrinth is the Big Screen Classic playing on 35mm Monday, while Samurai Summer II features Onibaba on 35mm Tuesday and a double feature of Kill Bill Volumes I & II on Wednesday.
  • The Somerville Theatre has the new 4K restoration of Robocop at 9:45pm on Friday and Saturday, plus The Terminator at midnight Saturday. Monday and Tuesday have a 35mm double feature of Dirty Dancing & Now and Then, while Wednesday and Thursday have two from Spike Lee - Do the Right Thing (in 4K) & Crooklyn. The Capitol finishes their "Feel Good Flicks" series with Parenthood on Friday night and Saturday afternoon.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts presents the Boston French Film Festival this weekend, with Quentin Dupieux's Incredible but True and Antoine Barraud's Madeleine Collins on Friday, Xavier Giannoli's Lost Illusions and a 35mm screening of Ma Vie en Rose on Saturday, and Robust and Closing film Hold Me Tight on Sunday.
  • The New England Aquarium, in addition to their regular rotation of made-for-Imax documentaries, is doing a monthly series of aquatic-themed features on Saturday nights, with Waterworld this weekend.
  • The Lexington Venue has Bullet Train and Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris from Friday to Sunday.

    The West Newton Cinema is closed Friday, but reopens Saturday with Bodies Bodies Bodies, Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen A Journey, A Song, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, Where the Crawdads Sing, Minions, Downton Abbey: A New Era (no show Saturday), Everything Everywhere All at Once (no show Saturday), and Marcel the Shell with Shoes On.

    The Luna Theater has Marcel the Shell with Shoes On Friday and Saturday, Fire of Love Saturday afternoon, House on Haunted Hill on Sunday, and a Weirdo Wednesday show.

    Cinema Salem Friday-Monday line-up is Beast, Bodies Bodies Bodies, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, and Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris. There's a Saturday night show of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with Teseracte Players doing a pre-show, a Sunday matinee of Grease, and a Thursday Summer Rewind presentation of Clueless.
  • Joe's Free Films has a lot of the usual suspects for the outdoor movies (lots of Sing 2), but also shows Captain Phillips on the deck of the U.S.S. Constitution on and All About Me at the Goethe-Institut on Thursday.
  • For those still not ready to join random people in a room for two hours, theater rentals are available at Kendall Square, The Embassy, West Newton, the Capitol and Somerville, The Venue, CinemaSalem, and many of the multiplexes.
I've got to work this weekend, so I kind of don't know what I'm up to

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Fantasia 2022.15: "Flames", Out in the Ring, Freaks Out, and DJ XL5's Ultimate Zappin' Party.

End of an era with the final Zappin Party. But first...

First up, we've got Bertrand Hebert and Out in the Ring director Ryan Bruce Levy. There were apparently a lot more people in town to support the documentary on Tuesday, but they're pro wrestlers, so they take gigs when they come, and if that's the middle of the week, it's the middle of the week.

It's a neat documentary, something I'm kind of curious about because for as much as I watched a bit of wrestling back in the 1980s and 1990s, because what else was on Saturday afternoon? A couple of my brothers still follow it, I think, although how much they're still into WWE as opposed to the other circuits like AEW, I don't know. I'm also kind of surprised how many women I know (though not particularly well in some cases) got into wrestling in general and AEW in particular over the last few years, seemingly out of nowhere. I kind of wonder to what extent these alternate circuits being easy to follow online has done, especially with folks having found reasons to be disillusioned with the McMahons' outfit.

The post-film talk was kind of interesting, even if some of it was kind of inside to me - Levy mentioned that they had to reconfigure a lot of the back half of the movie and shoot new material when folks that were apparently a major part of the original cut were involved in a scandal, saying it like this was something most of the wrestling fans in the audience would recognize but not a lot more details (they weren't upset, as it allowed them to get Dark Sheik and other folks they really liked in). It was kind of odd to me that it was in the Q&A that they brought up that Mike Parrow hadn't won a match since he came out and that, contrary to the way she's presented in the film, Sonny Kiss doesn't get on the AEW television shows, which is crazy considering how acrobatic and charismatic she is from what we see in the film. These seem like kind of important omissions.

Take a bow, Mark Lamothe, who has been programming the "DJ XL5 Zappin' Party" program at Fantasia for more or less as long as I can remember going - per the blog, I saw my first one in 2009, and I bet if I dug through whatever boxes my old festival programs are in, I'd find them back to 2005. This was apparently the final one, which means the festival won't be the same next year, at least one one night.

(Apologies for the quality of the photo; I was sitting back much further than usual and while the new phone has a pretty amazing camera, it can only do so much!)

I should have asked Gabrielle to translate for me - as I mentioned the previous time Monsieur Lamothe took the stage, my French was not great when I stopped taking the class in high school 30 years ago - but I caught enough to sort of piece it together: "Soixante", "mes VHS cassettes", "comédie" all came up, and, yeah, I imagine it must be tricky to program a comedy program for a younger crowd once you get up past 60, and Fantasia does do a pretty good job of drawing new young attendees rather than catering to older nerds like me, and given how Québêc-centric a lot of the material can be in some years (including this one), there must be a lot of overlap with Fantastique Week-end programming.

Which isn't to say that times have passed this block by; he seemed surprised by just how many folks in the audience were attending their first Zappin Party show. But, on the other hand, how many of those first-timers had actually spent a late night sitting around, "zapping" between channels on cable, coming across the odd or unusual because a lot of these stations could be kind of fly-by-night, filling the off-hours with any old thing that one might tape (on actual tape) because it may never show up again, as opposed to part of some corporate behemoth that just reruns familiar things constantly (if they've even got cable at all)? If they're college students, not many, I imagine. That makes the format kind of alien, as opposed to something that us fogies remember well and can see this as a heightened take on it - the Zappin' party has gone from a twist on the familiar, to something nostalgic, to a period conceit over the course of its life.

(Maybe in a couple of years, there will be a DJ XL6 who puts a show like this together emulating an eccentric and deranged streaming algorithm, but that might hit different, in that it would be an idealized version of what we want YouTube to do, not the whole thing getting weird and surreal the way the Zappin' Party is.)

We also spent some time talking about how the specific community around the show was, if not gone, dispersed. This show is usually a must-see for another friend, but he wasn't here for this one, having to handle his own screening elsewhere. The presentations always ended with thanks to "the front row crew" (and maybe this one did as well) but that group has thinned out a lot in recent years, even before covid. Where there used to be a group of up to a dozen people who would settle in the front row of almost every screening in Hall and quite a few in de Seve - like, as much as I often take the first row, I always felt like I would be encroaching when I first started coming - they were less and less a presence during the last few in-person festivals, and I think I only saw one of the folks I recognized for a few shows at the tail end this year. And it happens; people go all-in on three-week movie events and the like when they're younger, but then they relocate for work, get married, have kids, maybe move out to the suburbs so that it's a little more hassle to come into the city. It probably hasn't been quite the same for a while.

And then, of course, there's covid, which had this program virtual at least in 2020 and maybe 2021, so really not the same. There were also local folks we used to see a lot, but didn't see at all this year. One in particular was older and somewhat frail-looking back even before 2019, so we found ourselves kind of hoping that he was just staying away from indoor crowds, but you never know with this sort of nodding acquaintance, do you?

Ah, well. Some of this is probably way off, me projecting a lot of feelings about a dynamic, evolving festival and my own growing older on some poorly-heard words in a foreign-to-me language. But even if so, there's going to be a hole where the Zappin' Party used to be ⅔ the way through the festival next year. Maybe it gets filled with something similar, or something new and exciting, or maybe it's just another spot to show movies until someone comes up with a new signature event. Time will tell.

But as we say goodbye, let's applaud all the folks who made shorts for the festival and came, in large part because they were local. Enough were pickle-related that I wonder if there was some sort of Montreal-area filmmaking challenge, but it's cool to see this sort of crowd of filmmakers.

One last thing - Gabrielle wondered if the meowing between the time the lights went down and the film started up would fade in coming years, as it originated what the regular "Simon's Cat" shorts here (themselves no longer an indie cartooning thing, but something bought by a larger company that makes plushes, greeting cards, and the like along with the cartoons). I figure it won't, because it's too much of a thing on its own now, for better or worse, and I wouldn't exactly put it past the programmers to pair a Simon's Cat cartoon with the opening-night film just to make sure it continues.

So, this is Thursday. Friday is up next, another short-ish day with What's Up Connection, Whether the Weather Is Fine, and The Witch Part 2: The Other One.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2022 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia Festival, digital)

A cute little short that pairs quite well with Out in the Ring, although it's one of those where I looked at the program's description afterwards and was like "oh, yeah, that explains some things!" It's always interesting when you see just how well a short can get by without much in the way of exposition, but what's in the program is necessarily nothing but that.

As to the film itself, it's very cute, a pair of young men practicing pro-wrestling moves but not exactly entirely into it while being heckled by an older man watching from the apartment. There isn't exactly a lot to do at this point, so filmmaker Matthew Manhire has his cast quickly sketch some emotions out, establish that the old man has probably been this specific sort of pain since these two were little, and then give them time for a rather nice reversal of emotion before an entertainingly goofy punchline.

It packs a fair amount into its six minutes, without a whole lot of talking but with an earnest vibe of it not being what you love, but that you love it and how you express that.

Out in the Ring

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2022 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia Festival: Documentaries from the Edge, DCP)

Not a lot of documentaries made by people who are clearly fans are able to approach their subject quite so clearly as Out in the Ring does, openly acknowledging that the history it presents is full of contradictions, and that the thing those fans love has so often not loved them back. There's no escaping the cognitive dissonance. Nevertheless, the filmmakers clearly love wrestling and celebrate queer people, even when the intersection can be a mess.

As the film points out, queer angles in wrestling go back in 1940s lucha in Mexico, where the "exoticas" gimmick was actually created by American Dizzy Davis, although when he returned home, he didn't think it would work north of the border, telling George Wagner to run with it if he wanted. "Gorgeous George" quickly became a superstar with his make-up, capes, and boas, and other wrestles with pretty-boy gimmicks would prove popular through the years (and even those not technically doing that sort of thing, like Ric Flair, would lean into that sort of flamboyance). There would be leathermen more clearly inspired by Tom of Finland than any real bikers and other similar angles, but at the same time, folks like Pat Patterson, who started out in Montreal before moving to Boston and the West Coast, would stay carefully closeted, even as he took behind-the-scenes roles and was arguably the architect of what made Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Federation (later World Wrestling Entertainment) the dominant force in the industry.

There are plenty of stories like Pat's and George's, and plenty which don't turn out so well, as well as a lot of chances to impishly point out that if a lot of wrestling wasn't directly lifting from drag balls and other pieces of queer culture, they certainly came up with a lot of the same things. Filmmaker Ryan Bruce Levey has a big job in compacting 75 years or so of history into something under two hours, and that he manages it without feeling like he skipped over any particular time periods or got trapped in a repeating cycle is actually fairly impressive, when you think of how many documentaries don't find the time or the good combination of archival footage and people who were there to make that happen. It reassures the audience that he's not trying to shape the narrative into something else without hammering points home too bluntly.

(He is also very helpful in putting names, areas of expertise, and pronouns on the screen nearly every time someone appears as an interview subject. It may seem like overkill, but there are a lot of people popping up even if people weren't more inclined to watch movies in general and documentaries in particular in chunks in the streaming era.)

As I imagine that most stories of wrestling inevitably do, Out in the Ring sort of gets swallowed by the WWE during its second half, and it's kind of a tricky thing to maneuver: How Vince McMahon built what sure looked like a monopoly to non-fans - one that has only recently seen its first real competition in a decade or two emerge - is a big part of the landscape but not the point of this story. It does allow the filmmakers to zero in on a certain type of hypocrisy in how it's often good business to demonstrate you're not bigots but maybe not so much to put your money where your mouth is, which could probably be extracted as an object lesson in it. Based on the Q&A, the film probably paints things a little rosier than is actually true, at least in how prominent some of the gay or trans wrestlers shown are in the mainstream, at least if you're not coming to it as someone who watches regularly.

And it's a shame that wrestling fans are not getting as many chances to see that talent as they should; the film is at its best when celebrating the folks who would be up and comers in a just world - the acrobatic stuff Sonny Kiss does is particularly amazing - and otherwise showing some joy. There are moments when it engages in the sort of weird meta-reality that wrestling often indulges in, like Charlie Morgan coming out during a show somehow feeling just different enough from typical mic work to feel authentic even as one is aware just how much acting is involved in those segments, and cockeyed bits where tiny shows of people beating on each other in high school auditoriums are family entertainment for queer kids. For a film that's about something so physical, where the performance clips are expected to be the most fun, it's able to get incredible mileage out of its subjects probably feeling more comfortable about the intersection of the thing they love and who they are than they were a few years ago, let alone when some of the older subjects were active. It's infectious, although it can be even more so because it's not just talk.

Despite what Levey and company choose to show, those things don't actually intersect as well as one might hope. On the other hand, the end of a documentary that might not really circulate until a couple years after it's done, festival circuits and sales and release schedules being what they are, needs to show trajectory as much as anything, and there's no shame in being a little hopeful there, given how good and persistent some of these folks are.

Freaks Out

* * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2022 in Auditorium des Diplõmés de la SGWU (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

As oddball superhero movie premises go, one would think that "Italian circus X-Men versus a 12-fingered Nazi who gets hgh and sees the future" would be an excellent starting point, and it winding up a complete mess makes it one of the festival's biggest disappointment. Director Gabriele Mainetti and co-writer Nicola Guaglianone seem to be trying to do too much on the face of it, but they often have the opposite problem, lacking the important pieces needed to pull the story together.

As it opens, Ringmaster Israel (Giorgia Tirabassi) is showcasing the other four members of his small troupe: Fulvio (Chaudio Santamaria), an erudite beast-man covered in fur with superhuman strength; Mario (giancarlo Martini), a diminutive clown who is also a human magnet; Cencio (Pietro Castellitto), who can control insects, which is particularly impressive with fireflies, though he dislikes bees; and Matilde (Aurora Giovinazzo), a teenager who can channel electricity, though controlling it is another story. It's interrupted, though, as the town where they've set up is bombed - it is World War II, after all - and they find themselves making thier way to Rome without a tent. Israel intends to get visas so that they can escape to America, but vanishes, and while Matilde seeks him, the others figure they may as well see if the German circus direct from Berlin is hiring. What they don't necessarily realize is that its leader Franz (Franz Ragowski) is not just a pianist with an extra finger on each hand, but that he can see the future, and has become convinced that the only way to prevent the Nazi's ignominious defeat is by him leading a team that includes a foursome of people with powers like his.

Superhero tales have been inserting World War II since it was current events, and it's easy to understand why - the truly monstrous villains, the iconic imagery, the real-life stories that seemed to become iconic immediately - but it always winds up a little trickier than it looks. You're also talking about the Holocaust, after all, and there at least should be a certain amount of unease in rewriting history to fit in necromancers and super-soldiers or juxtaposing the horrors of war with the whimsy of brightly-colored costumes. This film opts to confront the Holocaust directly, and while it could go much worse, it's hard to see the point of mixing it with this sort of fantasy - the reality of it is so seemingly larger than life that you don't need fantasy to lay things out in starker terms, and it risks recasting true horrors as cartoon villains. Mainetti and Guaglianone seem aware of this, and work hard not to diminish the reality, but it mostly means there's not much fantasy value here. It's an alternate history where everything's all going to turn out the same, except there are mutants.

And on top of that, their mechanics of building the story are kind of terrible. There's a sequence where Fulvio, Cencico, and Mario wind up on a truck heading toward a concentration camp, bust out in violent screw-these-guys fashion… and then just head back to town to join the Nazi circus. Once there, Franz bounces between making the guy very comfortable and torturing them for no reason, and there are at least two or three times when the only way the filmmakers can get to the next stage of the story is just to have Matilde walk deliberately and stupidly into danger even when it's exceptionally clear she should know better, when a well-written movie would have actually having her learning from the first time it ended in disaster. It's odd, because they never really come up with much for the troupe to do beyond the absolute basics, rather than having any sort of particular stories of their own.

Frustrating because as much as so much is dumb, one can see where the filmmakers are right on target. The opening introduction, for instance, is terrific, a way to introduce the characters and their personalities and powers without a lot of exposition before pulling the curtain back on the sort of darkness the movie is dealing with. There's a bit of inspired lunacy with the cannon used to launch human cannonballs that's just goofy enough that one can happily overlook how, nah, it's not going to help them catch up with that train. And for all the dumb anachronistic jokes built around Franz, there's a specific sort of angering tragedy about him: It's not just that he can see the future, but he's pulling in songs and art that only he can play on the piano, seeing other ways to delight people, and all he wants is to be a normal Nazi, even knowing that they're a historical dead-end.

Those clever bits are too few and far between, though, and too much that's in-between winds up tacky or boring when it's not just downright ill-considered. It's a terrific premise squandered by people never finding the right material to flesh it out.

DJ XL5's Ultimate Zappin' Party

Seen 28 July 2022 in Auditorium des Diplõmés de la SGWU (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

So many of these shorts are very short indeed, too short for notes, and many of them local-enough that I'd just be grasping them by the time they finished, so let's just hit the highlights:

  • "Monsieur Magie" - A delightfully daft premise which almost feels enhanced for those of us who speak little French because we get the slow dawning on us as to what's happening organically: The title character, the sort of magician who usually works children's parties, is brought out to a cabin to perform for an adult audience, and while on the one hand the guest of honor just seems kind of dim, it eventually turns out that these guys are criminals, and they want him to make a body disappear.

    It's a nutty, dumb idea that would probably absolutely self-destruct if dragged out much longer than these ten minutes, but at that length it's still got me chuckling at the goofball logic of it while M. Magie is trying his best to extricate himself from a bunch of murderers using only his skills at close-up magic and their evident gullibility. Just long enough not to get frustrating and just tricky enough to keep a contest of wits with morons from being an unfair fight.
  • "Simon's Cat: Light Lunch" - Maybe not the most brilliant or original "Simon's Cat" short, as we have probably seen Simon leave food unattended only for the cat to be gross, or go to some trouble to feed him only for the cat to ignore it, and there's not exactly a lot of creative destruction here. It's a comfortable familiar gag, though, and it would have been wrong to see the Party without a visit from its favorite feline. Though it does seem likely that it was chosen for the fact that there's a pickle in it, which made for a bit of a theme with other shorts.
  • "Felis Infernalis" - Then again, this kitty sows a fair amount of havoc in one minute. Just a cute, funny short that captures the exact line cats straddle between deliberate and uncaring mayhem.
  • "Spaghetter Getter" - The sort of short that seems custom-made for the Zappin' Party, because it initially seems like it could be one of the screwy commercials used to pad out the time between shorts until it just starts going off the rails. It's random-seeming, dark and absurdist comedy, maybe not actually that funny unless you're on its up-too-late-what-is-this vibe, but this is a package that gets you there.
  • "Guimauve" - Kind of comedy torture, in a way, as writer/director/star Daniel Grenier demonstrates his skill at tossing a marshmallow in the air and catching it in his mouth, tosses one too high, and then spends the next ten or fifteen minutes getting in position to catch it. Silly and self-aware, but Grenier by and large has the right instincts on when to get laughs from stretching a bit out and when to cut something off and amble on to the next thing.
  • "Guts" - The of "guy with his guts either on the outside of his body or his belly just sliced open and somehow not bleeding out feels he's being discriminated against at work" sort of speaks for itself, but it escalates into chaos even as it repeats its joke four or so times, treating the weird gross-out bit as a sort of safe place to reset as the film spirals into bigger messes.
  • "Panique au village: Les grandes vacances" - Who doesn't love "Panique au village" (aka "A Town Called Panic")? Joyless monsters, that's who. This one's a jumbo-sized short, nearly half an hour, but it hums along as the mischievous Cowboy and Indian create trouble, have it spin out of control, and have to do something even stranger to fix what they've broken. Somehow, this goes from building a toy boat to having to win a bicycle race to replace Horse's car, all while Horse is trying to impress his would-be girlfriend.

    Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar are masters of just piling one thing on top of another, having it fall down, and then having their characters scramble to make up for lost time in a way that makes the audience feel almost as frantic as they do. As is often the case, they use this to let them suddenly take sharp turns into new territory even as they maintain the running jokes that have been going on since the whole thing started. The very limited stop-motion just adds to this, like they're frantically trying to keep up with their story while also reminding the audience that this is a totally made-up cartoon place with no rules , so absolutely anything can happen next.
… and a dozen more, and a bunch of stuff in-between where you kind of had to be there.