Greetings from Fantasia Film Festival 2013 (part three)

 

This is the third and final post covering this year’s Fantasia Film Festival.  While I weep quietly into my beer to cope with my Fantasia withdrawal symptoms, enjoy these reviews!

 

 

Though the academy awards, and many casual filmgoers, seem to love an epic film, I always find them a bit lacking.  The films take themselves too seriously for me to enjoy the grand gestures they make, and the plots and orchestrations are too saturated in history, and lacking in action and character development.  This is why I was surprised that I actually enjoyed The Last Tycoon.  It is a Chow Yun-Fat vehicle, wherein he plays a Chinese gangster turned government pawn in the early 1900s.  While it contained far more history lessons that I typically like in my films, the era they inhabited is one that I knew nothing of, so it was in fact interesting to me.  That, and the fact that it has a lot of great action sequences and ass-kicking women, made it a fun ride through my history lessons.  This is much more of a shoot-em-up than a martial arts film, but the shooting sequences are all lovely and choreographed very well.

One of the more traditional horror films I’ve seen at Fantasia, Missionary plays exactly like Fatal Attraction, with an obsessed Mormon missionary rather than the big-haired Glenn Close. When making his door-to-door rounds to spread the word, Kevin (Mitch Ryan) encounters beautiful mother (Katherine, played by Dawn Olivieri).  Katherine is struggling to play football with her son, and Kevin volunteers to play some catch with the lad before the son’s team tryouts later that week.  Very quickly, Kevin and Katherine begin hooking up, and then just as quickly, Kevin’s obsession with Katherine and her son escalate to unhealthy levels.  A perfectly predictable plot unfolds from here, and rides out with no other surprises in the rest of the film.  It is interesting, however, so see that Kevin’s obsessions are closely tied to his faith.  While it is clear that he is an absolute nut-job, to him he is trying to get closer to God’s mission and the heavenly ends justify his means.  The film makes some odd choices in its characters (I will never believe that the stick-thin Dawn Olivieri works in a junk yard), it is overall a solid film with no real pacing or logic problems.  

In the not too distant future, in an underground scientific research facility scientists are very close to achieving true artificial intelligence.  And not a moment too soon, as the United States is in a prolonged cold war with China.  While the very first scene in the film shows the unfortunate outcome of earlier human trials of brain repairing implants, the main focus of the plot is their first full scale humanoid machine.  She is beautiful and still learning to control her strength, but also inquisitive and confused like a human chile.  It would have been easy for The Machine to take this story into clichéd territory, but it never sinks into the audiences’ expectations.  The film is dark (both in content and lighting design), atmospheric, and well-paced, but surprisingly engaging.  For a film that deals with such heavy topics as AI and the quiddity of humanity, The Machinedeftly handles humor and action in good balance.  With the excellent script the spectacular sets and retro synthesizer score make it a fun science fiction film.  And after my disappointment with last year’s Beyond The Black Rainbow, I feel that I finally got to see that type of movie done well.

Japanese horror films often get unfairly lumped into the category of “J-horror.”  The term conjures up images of ghostly school children, all wet with hair draping over their faces, crawling in an unnatural gait that foreshadows doom.  Unfortunately, The Complex deserves such a label, as it is a mostly unoriginal Japanese haunting film.  Directed by the same man who brought us Ringu (Hideo Nakata) it is no surprise that The Complex does not stray too far from Ringu’s aesthetic or plot.  The film follows a young nursing student and her family as they move into a new apartment, which has a supernatural reputation in town.  There are false plot starts, and creepy children just as you would expect.  Though the majority of the film is adept at recreating these established tropes it does stumble a bit in its pacing.  There are clear attempts by Nakata to establish the emotional gravity of the situation, but these scenes come across as slow, and disrupt what could have been a snappy little film.  For lovers of J-horror, they will consider this another well executed example, but for those who only enjoy the sub-genre casually, you can skip The Complex.

There were no horror films made in Israel until Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado came out with Rabies in 2010.  Now the writers and directors are back with their eagerly awaited sophomore film Big Bad Wolves and I can say that it was absolutely worth the wait.  The film follows a police detective as he nearly catches a horrific pedophile and murderer.  In his journey into vigilantism he surprisingly picks up a coconspirator in the one of the victim’s fathers.  The casting is excellent, and the chemistry between all of the actors is really fun to watch.  As these two moderately competent men try to beat answers out of the suspect, the film never quite veers into a torture film.  It does have gore, but always stops short of having the torture itself become the focus of the scene.  Big Bad Wolves includes a good amount of humor in the dialogue, but never at the expense of the victims or the plot.  Instead it had competent characters bumbling in an unfamiliar environment.  The film also asks some very heavy questions regarding innocence, violence, and revenge.  Though the film never truly answers any of the questions that are posed, it does treat these topic with respect, and shows that not all questions have one correct answer.

Watching Zombie Hunter with the midnight audience at Fantasia was a unique experience.  It was unique, however, for all the wrong reasons.  That is to say, this film had everything going for it- Danny Trejo, a hilarious script, zombies- any yet somehow managed to crash and burn for the last act of the film.  It starts out very strong.  The world has fallen after a new drug turned most of the population into hot-pink bleeding zombies.  In the new American wasteland Hunter (Martin Copping) movies from gas station to gas station in search of fuel for his hot car, and tequila.  It has intentional overtones of Mad Max, and Hunter’s gruff voiceover has the audience howling with laughter.  After encountering a band of survivors, including Danny Trejo as a priest, the whole group is besieged by the zombie hordes.  Up to this point in the film the writing is smart, the editing is snappy, and the acting is campy without being saccharine.  But after leaving their fallen outpost, the film completely falls apart.  The dialogue is awkward and drags down the action.  The editing is unevenly paced (though it was much needed).  And the story does not seem to quite know where it is going.  The amazing thing was that the entire Fantasia audience seemed to pick up on this as well.  They were from cheering every kill, to nodding off in their chairs.  I would still recommend Zombie Hunter simply based on how fun the first 45 minutes are, but if you walk out or turn it off after that, you won’t miss much.

Pol (Oriol Pla) is a teenager who has a lot going on in his life.  He lives with his police officer brother, and there is no mention of his parents.  He plays guitar.  His best friend is a girl who is clearly in love with him.  And he has a teddy bear named Deerhoof that follows him everywhere and backs him up on drums.  Along with all of this, there is a mysterious new student at school, and a teacher (Martin Freeman) who never seems to get off of his back but means well.  Animals never quite settles on having one distinct plot.  All of these stories are swirling around in Pol’s life, each with equal attention and respect.  And while I typically have to put a lot of effort into caring about teenagers, it is easy to care about Pol.  He isn’t lost, of trying to find himself like many predictable teens in films, but rather he is curious and along for the ride when it comes to his time.  The film itself is gorgeous, and show areas of Spain that are not typically shown in travel books.  The soundtrack also features some quirky music that both frame Pol’s interests perfectly, and make me want to download the songs. 

Deirdre Crimmins

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Deirdre (Dede) lives in Chicago (via Boston and Cleveland) with two black cats. She writes for Film Thrills, High Def Digest, The Brattle Theater, Rue Morgue Magazine, Birth.Movies.Death., and anyone else who will let her drone on about genre film. She wrote her Master's thesis on George Romero and is always hopeful that Hollywood will get its head out of its ass.

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