Fantasia Film Festival 2012

Blurbs and links to longer reviews to appear below; as with SXSW this year, the goal is to write at least something for everything I see. Schedule tentative and aspirational.

Wednesday, July 25

Reign of Assassins (Su Chao-Bin) C+ [I tend to have an attention span of about an hour for these traditional kung fu flicks, and this one was no exception, though it's in some ways livelier and better-plotted than what I'm used to seeing. Gets increasingly and self-consciously ridiculous, culminating in the revelation that the central Macguffin is entirely useless, which is so brazenly anti-climactic that I kind of loved it. Still, you have to pick this stuff out from two hours of leaden dialogue ("When I taught you the shedding waterfall maneuver, I taught you 4 mistakes," etc.) and endless, repetitive, not-particularly-distinguished swordfighting melees. Which is fine if you dig that stuff, but at a certain point I have to resign to the fact that this just may not be my genre.]

Resolution (Justin Benson & Aaron Scott Moorhead) B [review]

Thursday, July 26

Sleep Tight (Jaume Balaguero) B- [review]

11.25: The Day He Chose His Own Fate (Koji Wakamatsu) Walk Out [Stunned to later learn that this was in Director's Fortnight at Cannes, since to me it just seemed like tedious historical pageantry. I lasted 20 minutes.]

A Boy and His Samurai (Yoshihiro Nakamura) B+ [review]

The Mechanical Bride (Alison de Fren) B- [Riveting for as long as de Fren's candid subjects are discussing the endlessly fascinating "love doll" industry and/or their relationships (in both the weak and strong senses) with their dolls. Less interesting when it veers off into more academic ruminations about the sexual allure of the robotic, the links between androids and nazism, etc. Feels a little padded even at 75 minutes, and there's a dearth of the tougher questions that could have been asked of these people, but nonetheless an entertaining peek at a fascinating subculture.]

A Night of Nightmares (Buddy Giovinazzo) B+ [review]

Friday, July 27

The Cat (Byeon Seung-Wook) Walk Out [This is not the feline-centric Korean horror film you're looking for. As best I could tell this is basically The Grudge except there are cats and the little ghost girl's eyes glow and it's even less atmospheric or thrilling or interesting.]

Sons of Norway (Jens Lien) C [Takes a couple half-steps toward a noble goal: exploring the nature of rebellion, whether it can ever be truly productive, and both the creative and destructive energies it can unleash. But Sons of Norway really just wants to be a wishy-washy coming-of-ager, and so we get a fifteen-minute long interlude where the teenage protagonist's hippie father takes him to a nudist colony, dream sequences where father and son eat the dead mom's hair, etc. What we don't get is any sense of real anger, or any consequences: the film opens with a flash-forward where the boy hurls a beer bottle at the head of a school principal, but that episode ends with a triumphant speech extolling adolescent spunk rather than, say, arrest. And the one truly tragic result of the characters' dalliance with don't-give-a-shit punk happens off-screen and is glibly unveiled as a life lesson. John Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten) figures prominently in the 70s-set film and even makes a cameo, but the association with him feels like a hollow pose.]

Dragon (Peter Chen) C+ [Each festival there's one film during which I hit the wall and start to nod off a bit, and here's the lucky winner this time. So I won't pretend to really review it, and you should take the grade with a giant grain of salt -- particularly considering the near-universal acclaim elsewhere. My groggy take was that I liked this film better when it was called A History of Violence. Take away Cronenberg and add some (admittedly well-shot) mystical wu shu chopsocky, and what do you get? Not a ton, for my money. Donny Yen's fight scenes are impeccable, but the plot is boilerplate, and the wit of the opening scenes (with the detective mentally recreating Yen's camouflaged martial arts mastery) quickly dissipates and never really returns.]

Doomsday Book (Kim Jee-Woon & Yim Pil-Sung) C+ [review]

Play Dead  (Shade Rupe & Teller) C [This is a perfectly pleasant 70-minute sit, but it's a recording of a performance that is indispensably theatrical, and seeing the film is a pale imitation of that live experience. After the screening, the star of the show, sideshow performer Todd Robbins, came up on stage and ate a lightbulb, and Teller did an amazing trick, and that was the real deal.]

Saturday, July 28

A Letter to Momo (Hiroyuki Okiura) B- [This captured a little bit of what I love about the best Ghibli films: a careful sensitivity to the emotional lives of young characters and a willingness to occasionally pause for a lovely quiet moment that any American film would steamroll right past. (Case in point here: the melancholy shot of the protagonist's new friends frolicking in the water as she, watching from above, shies away from jumping in.) And there's a lot more to like about this low-key anime about a trio of well-meaning but irritating goblins who gently torment a girl struggling with the recent death of her father -- it's charming and funny, with great character design and some sharp off-handed wit. ("AS YOU CAN SEE WE'RE JUST REGULAR FOLKS!" the giant, grinning, gold-toothed monstrosity reassuringly screams at the terrified little girl.) It's also a little long (there are like five endings), and a little too doggedly therapeutic for my tastes: the nature of Momo's supernatural companions ends up being a little on the nose and counter-dramatic. Still very much worth checking out with kids.]

Errors of the Human Body (Eron Sheean) C [Had high hopes for this genetic engineering thriller from the writer of The Divide (which I haven't seen but which by most accounts is super-ambitious, if uneven), but it's a holy mess, fiddling around ineffectually with two weak-sauce ideas for 90 minutes. Tries to be a moody slow-burner set in a shady-seeming research lab in the middle of snowbound Dresden, but the underlit, unattractive film spends most of its time on a boring institutional dispute between researchers, and a  barely-there romance. The genetic-mutation plot lurks mostly in the background, and is stunningly pedestrian; the ending tries to give it some dramatic oomph, but we're nowhere near invested enough for it to work.]

Graceland (Ron Morales) C+

Sunday, July 29

The Kick (Prachya Pinkaew) B-
Under the Bed (Steven C. Miller) C-
Sunny (Kang Hyeong-cheol) Walk Out

 

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Screening Log

Snitch

Ric Roman Waugh, 2013

Score: C

Side Effects

Steven Soderbergh, 2013

Score: C+

10 Years

Jamie Linden, 2012

Score: B-

The Place Beyond the Pines

Derek Cianfrance, 2013

Score: B+

Warm Bodies

Jonathan Levine, 2013

Score: C

Beautiful Creatures

Richard LaGravanese, 2013

Score: B-

The Window

Ted Tetzlaff, 1949

Score: B+

The Chase

Arthur Ripley, 1946

Score: B

Street of Chance

Jack Hively, 1942

Score: C

The Taste of Money

Im Sang-Soo, 2013

Score: C+

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