Saturday, August 13, 2011

Fantasia 2011 (Day 18)


Woke up early on that fated Sunday, without the slightest knowledge that I would soon get to see the very best film of the festival. Woke up early and grabbed some overpriced croissants at a corporate coffee shop, the likes of which bloom like dandelions around the trendy Concordian campus. Then, I took my place in line for a very early screening of stellar animated gem Redline. While waiting for a friend to arrive, I contemplated the immense lineup that awaited me for a second consecutive day. Now, maybe you think it's easy to sit down and watch film for a whole weekend, but it's not. At some point, your eyes start weeping from the luminous specs at which they've stared so intently. Then, there's the stomachaches from the pizza slices you engulf in between two screenings, the tiring joints carried by my friends and the frustrated desire to hook up with people outside the festival circuit. But most of all, there's the sheer amount of stress involved in dashing between theaters to observe one's tightly packed schedule (especially when you need to go to La Cinémathèque). Luckily for me, that latter issue wasn't so problematic on that Sunday since my first three films were all in the Hall theater, while the following three were all in the De Sève theater. That left only one gap to account for, that between 83-minute Tomie: Unlimited and Lapland Odyssey. Seeing how the former film was followed by a Q&A (which I never attend), I managed to switch theaters without any problem. And so, that Sunday remained unbroken, even in the later moments of the day, when my resolve threatened to falter and I almost missed Hollow for the opportunity to go out with my partner from Last Days Here. But I remained strong and completed my 12-film weekend without a hitch. And it was worth it too, seeing how Sunday's lineup was far superior to Saturday's and how I thus established a record that will be hard to topple during any festival.

Back to the file line where I imagined the logistics of the day. I stood amidst other nerds for nary a moment before I could embrace the presence of the lesser film fan amongst my group of friends. The man being both a fan of action and oversized breasts, he really enjoyed the first film, which left us ripe for the second one, a confused showcase of martial art talent that relegated film form to the background. Then, there was filler until Last Days Here came around and lit a fire under my ass. Now, I always relish the presence of documentary features in any given festival lineup even though these features are equal parts hits and misses. Obviously, reality doesn't lend itself to narration as easily as a simple screenplay. It's hard to make sense of reality, but it is harder to frame it properly and to create sense from simple daily occurrences. That is why the Fantasia festival was riddled with forgettable entries (Feast of the Assumption, Second Skin, Spine Tingler!...) ever since the programmers decided to add a documentary section, with the occasional masterpiece (The King of Kong, Marwencol) emerging from the lot and making it all worthwhile. The result is an overwhelmingly positive endeavor that has garnered a number of unforeseen successes. The present film is proof of this as it easily tops any other entry in the 2011 program. Koodos for the people at Fantasia who allowed their baby to evolve in new, meaningful ways.


The embodiment of Japanese supremacy in the animation arena, this high-octane action drama follows a plethora of colorful hot rod pilots involved in the titular race. Atop the list are professional race fixer Sweet JP and busty perfectionist Sonoshee McLaren, whom is also the obvious but delectable love interest. The action here is not limited to burning rubber as Redline's hosts are a bunch of frustrated cyborgs with anger management issues and an army of yes-men at their disposal. Thus, we get everything from missile-spewing, nitro-fueled vehicles of every shapes and colors, elaborate mid-air gunfights and Akira inspired monster brawls, all portrayed using colorful, fluid animation which can only be achieved using the hand-drawn cels devised by the good people at Madhouse Studios. Any Japanese film fan will lap it up.

PS - For those who were wondering, you DO get to see Sonoshee's breasts. Enjoy!


Bangkok Knockout
Lame-ass plot involving kidnappers working for an international ring of gamblers is a lame excuse to showcase the skills of some young Muay Thai fighters. Using the simplest means of cinematic expression, the film relies on well-choreographed fight scenes, but mostly on the performers' raw talent as martial artists. The resulting narrative is devoid of anything remotely relevant dramatically. Even the many betrayals contained near the end do nothing to involve the viewers, one of the reason being that the the sheer amount of characters makes it impossible to fully characterize any one of them properly. The film does emphasize the evils of economical imperialism, but it does so in such a crude fashion as to nearly nullify the importance of the message. This is the kind of film that one should only watch with the ability to fast-forward.


Tomie: Unlimited
In this reboot of the long-running Japanese series (eight titles forming a single story arc were released prior to Tomie: Unlimited), director Iguchi tries to capture the grotesque aspect of the source material penned by Junji Ito, while attempting to emulate House's exuberant score. While he successfully does both, he eventually lacks ambition, crafting a conventional horror film filled with many narrative shortcuts and flat characters. Still, the imagery is powerful, especially where head-made centipedes are concerned. This, rather than internal logic or atmosphere keeps the film afloat.


Lapland Odyssey
Delightful buddy comedy manages to avoid the traps of scatological humor and overdetermined plot twists in order to provide the audience with a thoughtful, touching piece about love and commitment. While one could see it like a Finnish Harold & Kumar, it isn't so as the protagonists' present objective (dedication to one's life partner) is far loftier than that of American potheads (craving for burgers). But in the end, the real stars of the film are the picturesque Finnish outdoors and their never-ending rows of snowy conifers and inspiring Northern lights. Title refers to an isolated region in which thrones a dead tree renowned as a gallows for distressed men. Its very presence casts an ominous shadow over the protagonists and only in the final act is that shadow dispelled and the perspective of suicide vanquished. At that point is when the heavens open up to seal the protagonist's destiny.


Last Days Here
Nearly flawless, interventionist documentary manages to capture unique material as well as change the lives of all the people involved. A prime example of documentary cinema's raw power to affect change on this side of the screen and the best film at this year's festival by a long shot. See festival round-up for more information.


By insisting on the aesthetic similarities between this film and The Blair Witch Project, one can make better sense of the former. For me, the fear factor is an important tenet of any such enterprise. The immediacy of the hand-held subjective camera, its proximity to the panicky characters, their tearful eyes and shaking hands should necessarily draw the viewer in. And so I was delighted when Simon brazenly declared that the film had actually terrified him. I had a hard time imagining how such a thing was possible, but then again... Part of me was hopeful, as I had been when Blair Witch hit theaters more than 10 years ago. And while Hollow did not terrify me (at all), neither did Witch when I saw it in a crowded theater with my family back in 1999. I had to wait one fateful Christmas Eve not long ago for the latter film to really terrify me. And I was quite surprised when it did. I was living with two roommates at the time, but both were with their respective families, celebrating and getting drunk free of charge. Seeing how my family is blessed with many fertile parents who don't hesitate to eschew parties in order to better attend to their progeny, I was home alone around 11 PM and decided to indulge in one of my favorite pastimes: roll-up in a bunch of blankets and watch an horror film. For reasons still unknown to me, I chose Witch and ended up finally understanding what the fuss was all about. Seeing it alone in my room, I finally grasped the full power thereof. That is why I think I should give Hollow another chance (this Christmas Eve maybe?). The film does have undeniable potential. It contains many barren, ultra-creepy settings and numerous nightscapades (one of which takes place during a coke trip). If one could only bask in the sufficient amount of solitude, the darken landscape would certainly find new relevance in his/her eyes. Thus, the film's efficiency could be guaranteed. Also, while it is quite a arduous task to depict one's intentions using only his handling of the subjective camera, I must say that the film manages to do so rather brilliantly. Because while the horror here is fueled by supernatural occurrences, it is rooted in a deeply human, emotional drama, that of two long-time friends and former lovers at the crossroads of lives which they don't really want to live. Tension ensues, which leads to a breaking point that is magnified by the promise of supernatural occurrences. The ending is perfunctory, but who cares? The ride there is well worth it.