Monday, March 10, 2014

Some More Fantasia 2012 Reviews

Here are some more unreleased Fantasia 2012 reviews I found while removing clutter from my desktop. These reviews cover the three films I saw on July 23rd:


You Are the Apple of my Eye
This irresistible Taiwanese import, sort of a coming-of-age romantic comedy, will surely plaster a smile on your face and make you leave the theater with a newfound fondness for humanity. Based on the director's eponymous autobiographical novel, You Are the Apple of my Eye chronicles both its protagonists' arduous process of infatuation and their emotional maturation through that process, using sharp humor and insightful observations about teenage life to keep us involved all the way through. And while the ending proves somewhat off-kilter, it provides a refreshing alternative to traditional happy endings, hence delivering a far more relevant and humanistic message about the selflessness of love.

The film opens in media res as protagonist Ching-Teng Ko is preparing for a wedding ceremony. Then, it quickly flashes back to the world of teenage abandon as the bright-eyed young man, now a last year high school student, is seen rushing to class along with a crew of mischievous chums. After a quick introduction to this happy bunch of comical misfits, we learn that they are all infatuated with cute honor student Chia-Yi Shen, a lovely young woman whose generous smile is equally intoxicating as the protagonist's antics in trying to win her over. Contrary to his friends, numbskull Ching-Teng Ko first seems to be at odds with diminutive Chia-Yi Shen, but when she offers free tutelage to help him out of his academic bind, they soon embark on an enriching relationship that will slowly blossom into love. I use the term "slowly" here as the film chronicles both the gang's high school years and their later college years when "being a man" becomes equally as important as being in love. Will the two protagonists' love for each other survive the test of time, or will emotional strains prevent their union? See for yourself, and be sure to find some inspiration in the process!

Narrowly avoiding the traps of gross-out comedy, You Are the Apple of my Eye is a constantly honest and touching account of puppy love. And while I never personally experienced such a thing, I found myself strangely drawn to the idea. It was as if I'd suddenly found a new souvenir from my youth, an enlightening account of my first brush with romantic love. Obviously, that is pure fantasy, but that is also why such films exist: to help the spectator transcend his own dull life and allow him to wander greener pastures of flickering light and seething sentiments. And while you could say that the present film is grounded in reality, and especially the director and writer's own personal experience, the truth is that real life doesn't quite compare with what's onscreen here. Everyone is beautiful here. There's no pimply misfit with suicidal tendencies. There's just a well-groomed string of well-meaning friends, and a complete departure from the sheer complexity and depressing quality of life as it is. As for the two main actors, they are both incredibly charismatic, which makes their relationship all the more involving while depriving it of any satisfactory anchor into the "real" world. Luckily, they both eventually develop character flaws that allow them to become increasingly human. The film itself also becomes progressively more human as the narrative unfolds, ultimately trading the expected fairy tale ending for a less uplifting, but far more earnest conclusion.

In the end, while the film privileges a glamorized depiction of teenage life, it remains grounded in emotional realism, which greatly helps it convey a plausible love story laced with several complex issues. More importantly, it cultivates humanism in such a way as to completely neuter the poisonous implications of traditional romantic comedies. No longer the simple wage of good looks and shimmering riches, love is thus freed from the exclusionist world of fairy tales and left to thrive in a far more complex, but subsequently more evocative world.

3.5/5  This truly irresistible effort redeems the whole romantic-comedy sub-genre by contributing some well-needed humanism and many genuine emotions.

Cinema provides love and beauty for
those who can't afford it.


Memory of the Dead
Perplexing both in its inability to generate thrills and to contribute any original idea to the horror genre, this appalling Argentinian dud could very well become a case example of bad filmmaking. Shockingly derivative of The Evil Dead, the film clumsily juggles elements of horror and comedy in a hopeless bid to recapture Sam Raimi's zany irreverence. Unfortunately, the lack of creativity and technical proficiency involved in the project result only in a soulless and unpalatable copy plagued by atrocious green hues, appalling art direction, clunky editing and a complacent screenplay featuring redundant tribulations, unsympathetic characters and a defunct story structure. Only the most undiscriminating thrill-seekers are likely to get a kick out of the film's scarce and irrelevant, but muscular gore scenes.

The story of the film focuses on a handful of brooding misfits, each with their own insipid backstory and each a guest in the creepy, thunder-lit mansion of recently deceased sorcerer Jorge. A few days after the man's mysterious death, his friends all congregate for a night of perplexing mysticism, vying to bring back the old man through some incongruous ritual whose main tenets remain unclear until the final few scenes. And while the film seems to entail a web of intrigue between the numerous characters, it ultimately plays out as mere slasher film, confronting lone victims with various lumbering specters as the seconds painfully trickle down and quickly exhaust what little steam the film was running with. As for the ridiculous twist ending, it manages only to elicit embarrassed glances amongst viewers while failing to provide an acceptable conclusion to this harrowing ordeal.

The film's technical shortcomings are obvious from the get-go as inadequate continuity compromises an already dubious opening dream sequence, throwing the whole film in some oneiric limbo from which it never seems to come out. And while the film's atrocious editing (carried out by no less than three people) contributes its fair share to the overarching narrative indeterminacy, the inept art direction and complacent screenplay are also to blame. Using green filters for every single scene, director Valentin Javier Diment creates a nauseous, rather than terrifying atmosphere, bathing the whole story in abrasive gastric acids on their way to the busy colon of film appreciation. As for the ridiculous CGI landscapes surrounding the mansion, illuminated by familiar streaks of lightning, they merely create a sense of childish amateurism that greatly compromises the many adult themes contained in the story. But in the end, while the film looks absolutely abysmal, it is ultimately defeated by a complacent screenplay that proceeds from a mere juxtaposition of overdetermined and seemingly unrelated shock scenes.

Constructed as a murder mystery, the film vies to use the shady backgrounds of its various characters to keep you guessing about to the killer's identity. Unfortunately, this proves to be quite a slippery venture as none of those characters is interesting in the least. Their personal dramas, etched with crude strikes of the brush are so overdetermined and obvious as to make you question their very relevance, especially in relation to Jorge, another one-dimensional character who finds his most intriguing iteration as a large portrait overlooking the living room. Instead of creating a web of relationships around the dead patriarch,  Diment chooses instead to mechanically juxtapose nasty execution scenes next to one another, with the punitive nature of these executions providing a means to develop the characters, hence half-assedly integrating them to the storyline.

Once assembled, the characters are thus conveniently isolated in the mansion's various rooms and exposed to some gross specter who will swiftly tear them apart. Aside from diluting the importance of the main narrative, this process fractions the screenplay in a series of unrelated episodes, each focused on gore rather than dramatic relevance. The dramatic content of these scenes is actually so overly emphasized as to become totally nullifying, and an abrasive example of babysitting the viewer. For example, there is one instance in which a one of the characters is tormented by a couple of ghosts, one of which is a lecherous old man and the other a knitting woman looking the other way. When the later apparition starts knitting her eyes and mouth shut, we immediately understand that we're looking at the girl's mother and father, replaying a traumatic scene from her childhood. But instead of letting us figure out this fact for ourselves, thanks to the many overdetermined signifiers of child abuse contained in the scene, the film proceeds to include another scene in which the character bluntly states that she was abused as a child. Whether this overly emphasized dramatic issue stems from a patronizing disdain for the viewers or crippling uncertainty in the process of storytelling is not even relevant. After all, the result is the same: would-be expressive metaphors rendered useless by explanatory dialogue, a common flaw in immature filmmaking and the coup de grace for a film whose sole saving grace was the evocative potential of its many monsters.

Memory of the Dead is definitely not the cool indie horror film that it wishes to be. Instead, it turns out to be toothless, bland and impersonal, a TV-quality throwback to the worst episodes of Tales from the Crypt. As for its many attempts at humor, they constantly fall flat on the back of the equally numerous dramatic attempts at fleshing out insignificant details about the characters' lives. With gore providing the film's only enticing feature, the result will likely be remembered only as a failed Evil Dead clone, flailing festering limbs around in a desperate attempt to catch our eye.

0.5/5  This appalling exercise in redundancy exudes the green glow of a radioactive turd.

Memory of the Dead is a crude film fraught with crude symbolism.


The Victim
I love Michael Biehn. I think he is a key figure of the 1980s/1990s genre scene. But as Paul Reiser's Carter Burke so rightfully put it, he is merely a grunt. I'm sorry to have to say this, but the man has no place in the director's chair. The screen loves him sure, and he manages to do great things with the superior material provided by James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd, but he has hardly enough creativity or proficiency to spearhead any sort of serious project, even if that project is a mere exploitation quickie. And if the present effort in neutered nostalgia is any indication of his new direction in life, then you might want to endlessly revisit Terminator and Aliens instead of moving on to iffy new pastures...

Extremely primitive in both its direction and story structure, The Victim focuses on a handful of dated archetypes involved in a dated premise fraught with dated tribulations, all of which contribute to a dubious "homage" to the much brawnier exploitation films of yesteryears. And if you aren't put off by the presence of either the overdetermined wood-dwelling hermit hero or the light-hearted prostitute victim, then you will surely be done in by the film's tedious developments, which half-assedly bridge toothless exploitation scenes.

The "story" of the film focuses on the tribulations of blonde bimbo Annie, a reckless "bad girl" who gets mixed-up with a pair of murderous cops after trying to score some quality coke. When her friend is accidentally killed during a sex party with said cops in some secluded area just outside of Los Angeles, Annie immediately becomes a target for elimination. Forced to flee through the woods, she manages to befriend a moody hermit who provides invaluable help in combating the lawless constables. The film then drags along to a tedious final act featuring a disturbingly familiar game of cat and mouse between the good guys and the bad guys. As for the obligatory twist ending, it'll probably won't give you time to shrug as you'll surely be dashing for the exit already...

If you don't mind having to wait through various boring scenes of exposition in which undirected actors are struggling with a student-level screenplay filmed in mundane locals only to be rewarded by a few flashes of nudity and some uninspired rough play featuring a heated crowbar, then be my guest and seek out the film. Same if you'd like to see Michael Biehn endlessly driving his pick-up truck to an atrocious pop music soundtrack for what appears to be ten minutes. But I wouldn't recommend it otherwise... Hell, the film's very short runtime of 83 minutes could've been shortened significantly with no detriment to the narrative. The lingering scenes in which Jennifer Blanc is walking through the woods, the painful expository scenes in which she and her friend are mundanely chatting on their couch, all of those could've been shortened or edited out. And what you'd be left you would still be a boring short.

1/5  Uninspired and mindlessly executed,  Biehn's film is a toothless homage to the brawny exploitation thrillers of the 1970s.

Faced with such a bleak future, poor Michael Biehn
will undoubtedly keep looking at the past for inspiration.