Fantasia Diary 2015, Day 22: Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends, Assassination, and Attack on Titan: Part 1

Friday, September 4th, 2015 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Rurouni KenshinTuesday, August 4, was my last day at the Fantasia Festival. It was the official closing day of Fantasia; they’d added a few screenings on Wednesday, but nothing that looked compelling to me. I have some more films to write about after this, thanks to the festival’s screening room. But since I’ll be writing here about the last three movies I saw in a theatre at the 2015 Fantasia Festival, in this post I want to make a point of acknowledging the crowds.

All three movies I saw that Tuesday played in the big Hall Theatre, to packed houses. All of them were more-or-less designed to be big crowd-pleasers, though in different ways. In two cases, they succeeded admirably, even spectacularly. And the third case failed utterly. Given the kinds of movies these were, the audience reactions are worth noting; especially in the case of these audiences. Fantasia crowds are the best I’ve ever found, wildly enthusiastic when a good movie pays off, but critical and even mocking when a bad one implodes. So I’m happy to use their responses in discussing these three movies.

The first film I saw that Tuesday was a late addition to the Fantasia line-up. Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends was the third film in a series, a live-action adaptation of a popular manga that had already been adapted into several anime. Assassination was a Korean movie set during the Japanese occupation in the 1930s, a mix of intrigue and action. Then came the festival’s official closing movie, the first film in the live-action adaptation of Attack on Titan.

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Goth Chick News: Leonardo DiCaprio as Unrepentant Serial Killer… Finally

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015 | Posted by Sue Granquist

The Devil in the White City-smallNearly two years have passed since I first reported Warner Bros. continued to slog through script development on a movie version of Erik Larson’s tale of murder in the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, The Devil in the White City.

Larson’s book, which tells the twin narratives of serial killer H.H. Holmes and Daniel H. Burnham the architect behind the World Fair, was first put in development by Tom Cruise’s production company, but the option lapsed in 2004.

What then ensued was a series of various studio options, all which lapsed before the movie could get out of development hell. White City finally came to rest with Warner Bros. where it has languished for the last several years until their option also expired, resulting in an aggressive bidding war which was ultimately won this summer by Paramount.

Leonardo DiCaprio has been attached to the White City project for nearly ten years, doggedly pursuing the film since shortly after Cruise’s company lost out. DiCaprio is specifically keen to play Holmes rather than the far more likable character of Burnham, because DiCaprio wants to portray an entirely unsympathetic “bad guy.”

Holmes most certainly fits the bill.

H.H. Holmes murdered between 27 and 200 people, mostly single young women, against the backdrop of the Chicago World’s Fair. The reason the spread on the quantity of victims is so large is, due to his insidious corpse disposal methods, the exact body count was impossible to pin down. Even Holmes himself couldn’t recall the precise number, when he was finally caught, tried, and hung in 1896.

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Fantasia Diary 2015, Day 21: Crumbs, Marshland, The Invitation, and Cosmodrama

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

CrumbsFantasia was beginning to wind down. After seeing five movies on Sunday, August 2, I only saw four on Monday the 3rd: an Ethiopian post-apocalypse quest called Crumbs; a Spanish crime movie called Marshland; an American suspense movie called The Invitation; and a French science fiction comedy called Cosmodrama. I’d heard good things about each of these movies, and I had cautiously high hopes. Which were mostly fulfilled.

Crumbs was preceded by a Canadian short film called “Fish Out of Water.” Written and directed by Kirsten Carthew, it’s a post-apocalyptic horror story shot near Yellowknife, in the Northwest Territories. A fisherwoman tries to catch a fish in an iced-over lake, but is herself caught by a lure she didn’t expect. It’s a solid story, at ten minutes perhaps a little long for something so simple, but then agan you can argue it consciously aims for a slow pace. Certainly the natural photography is stunning.

Crumbs was written and directed by Miguel Llansó, a Spaniard based in Ethiopia. It follows Birdy (Daniel Tadesse), a malformed man — in an interesting interview, Llansó describes him as having “an irregular body and a fascinating look” — who lives in an abandoned bowling alley with a woman named Candy (Selam Tesfaye). A spaceship hangs in the sky, and may be coming to life, powering the bowling alley with electricity. Birdy embarks on a quest to find out the truth, about the ship and about his own past. He’s inspired by the image of Superman, but may be taking that inspiration too far. As he makes his way across a desolate but beautiful land, Candy has some strange encounters of her own in the bowling alley. Meanwhile a peculiar antiquities dealer intersects with the story in odd moments.

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Fantasia Diary 2015, Day 20: Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, Outer Limits of Animation 2015, Experimenter, Ninja the Monster, and Strayer’s Chronicle

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Kahlil Gibran's The ProphetSunday, August 2, was a day I’d been waiting for and slightly dreading. I was planning to see five films, one after the other. All of them at the large Hall Theatre, except for the second, a presentation of short animated films at the De Sève. It would kick off at 12:30 with Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, a cartoon adaptation of the classic book. The Outer Limits of Animation 2015 showcase would follow. Then Experimenter, a biopic about controversial psychologist Stanley Milgram, he of the notorious fake electroshock experiments. Then Ninja the Monster — as its title suggests, a film about a confrontation between a ninja and a monster. Finally would come Strayer’s Chronicle, a novel adaptation about a group of alienated teenagers with strange powers fighting to protect a world that hates and fears them. I was fairly sure it was possible to make a good movie out of that sort of material. But I had a lot of film to watch before I’d get to see it.

The Prophet is a co-production from Canada, France, and Lebanon, produced by Selma Hayek. It follows a poet named Mustafa (voiced by Liam Neeson) held captive by Turks on an island far from his homeland. He’s given the news he can go home — but do the Turks have a hidden plan? A determined little girl, Almitra (Quvenzhané Wallis), wants to protect Mustafa, while her mother Kamila (Hayek) is more worried about Almitra. Mustafa makes his way from his home to the docks, stopped along the way by peasants who praise him and ask him to speak of subjects that matter to them.

That’s the general outline of events, but the movie’s easy to view as an anthology: when Mustafa gives a speech, the realistic art of the story fades to be replaced by a highly distinct vision of some kind. Each of these sequences has a different director. The frame sequence, with Mustafa and Almitra and Kamila, is directed by Roger Allers. The directors of the inset sequences are Paul Brizzi, Gaëtan Brizzi, Joan C. Gratz, Mohammed Saeed Harib, Tomm Moore, Nina Paley, Bill Plympton, Joann Sfar, and Michal Socha. Each of the segments they create are at the very least effective and fun to watch, while the best are stunning.

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Fantasia Diary 2015, Day 19: Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal; Remix, Remake, Ripoff: About Copy Culture and Turkish Pop Cinema; Orion; and Socialphobia

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Snow Girl and the Dark CrystalSaturday, August 1, would start early for me at Fantasia. At 12:30 I was seeing a Chinese fantasy adventure called Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal. Then I’d head over to the screening room, where I planned to watch a documentary about the Turkish film industry, Remix, Remake, Ripoff: About Copy Culture and Turkish Pop Cinema. Then I’d go to the De Sève Theatre for a pair of films, the post-apocalypse art-house movie Orion and then the Korean drama Socialphobia. Once again, a nice varied day.

Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal (Zhong Kui fu mo: Xue yao mo ling) is a blockbuster loosely based on Chinese myth, directed by Peter Pau and Zhao Tianyu with a script by Zhao, Qin Zhen, Shen Shiqi, Li Jie, Raymond Lei Jin, and Eric Zhang. It opens quickly, with the gods trying to save the city of Hu from the forces of hell. One god, Zhang Daoxian (Winston Chao) offers to send his pupil, Zhong Kui (Kun Chen) into hell to steal a crystal vital to the demons’ scheme. Zhong succeeds and takes the crystal to Hu; Zhang teaches him further magical demon-slaying tricks as the demons scheme to get the crystal back. A caravan of entertainers soon come to Hu featuring the lovely Snow Girl (Li Bingbing) — in reality a demon who shares a past with Zhong. But Zhong’s now gained a magical sword, and an alternate shape as a ten-foot-tall spider-giant. He needs all his new might to turn back the forces of hell, but more is going on than meets the eye.

The plot unfolds nicely, complex and full of twists without being too frantic. The story seems to me to be relatively accessible to people used to Western structures. It’s got a few thoughts about love and society and hypocrisy, but nothing especially elaborate — this is solid big-budget epic filmmaking, with bright visuals and lots of action and heroes and villains. As such, it succeeds.

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Fantasia Diary 2015, Day 18: Ava’s Possessions, The Golden Cane Warrior, H., and Turbo Kid

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Ava's PossessionsFriday, July 31, started late for me at Fantasia. My first movie, a horror-comedy called Ava’s Possessions, screened at the Hall Theatre at 5:15. After that I decided to watch the Indonesian wuxia movie The Golden Cane Warrior. Then I’d go across to the De Sève Theatre to catch the surreal science-fictional American-Argentinian movie H. before returning to the Hall for the Friday midnight movie, a Quebec-made tribute to 80s post-apocalypse action movies called Turbo Kid. That would carry me through to something like 2 AM. So if things started late, at least it looked like I had a lot on the agenda.

The festival experience began even before the movies, in a way. One of the interesting things about Fantasia is the way you meet people in line, strike up conversations, and often get to know new acquaintances over the course of the festival. In line for Ava’s Possessions I got to speak to a teenager from France — who turned out to be a director. 16-year-old Nathan Ambrosioni was only 14 years old when he directed his feature debut, Hostile, which was having its international premiere at Fantasia. I made a note of the film, though since I was trying to focus on fantasy and science-fiction I suspected I wouldn’t be able to get around to seeing a thriller; still, it sounded interesting. At which point the theatre opened, and the crowd took its seats to the sounds of Black Sabbath, played by the CJLO DJs.

It was a good choice of intro music. Ava’s Possessions, written and directed by Jordan Galland, is about the aftermath of a demonic possession. It follows a New Yorker named Ava (Louisa Krause), who at the start of the movie wakes up to find out that she’s spent the past month as the host for a demon named Naphula the Annointed. Her friends can’t relate to her experience — “Was it kinda like being pregnant? Having this thing inside you?” — but that’s far from the worst of it. Her goldfish are dead, nobody called the record company where she works to them she was sick, and she’s facing criminal charges for the acts Naphula committed while in her body. She’s legally obliged to join a twelve-step program for people who’ve been possessed, Spirit Possession Anonymous; and part of the homework the program director (Wass Stevens) gives her is to find out what happened when the demon was in control of her, and try to make it up to those she wronged. Except it soon becomes clear something complex and sinister took place during that month, something that left a disturbing amount of blood in her apartment.

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Fantasia Diary 2015, Day 17: Synchronicity, The Dark Below, Traders, and Méliès et magie

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Georges MélièsThursday, July 30, looked like one of the odder days I had lined up at the Fantasia Festival. I’d head down to the De Sève Theatre early on to catch a new American science-fiction film called Synchronicity, then go to the screening room to watch a dialogue-free horror film called The Dark Below. After that, I’d go back to the De Sève to catch the Irish black comedy Traders, and finally wrap up with an event called Méliès et magie, an event presenting some of the classic short films by the first master of fantasy cinema. It looked like a varied day, though in the end it was less so than I’d expected.

Synchronicity is directed by Jacob Gentry, known for his horror film The Signal, from a screenplay by Gentry and Alex Orr. It stars Chad McKnight as Jim Beale, the leader of a small team of physicists about to successfully achieve time travel — and Michael Ironside as a venture capitalist named Klaus Meisner angling to take over their invention, to play, as Meisner says, Edison to their Tesla. Caught in the middle is a mysterious woman named Abby (Brianne Davis) with ties to Meisner. Beale’s drawn to her, but whose side is she on? As the movie goes on, time loops back (or does it?) and events are reinterpreted. But then there’s a final revelation, and all we thought we knew is questioned.

I want to avoid giving away fundamental plot details. But I have to say the final twist of Synchronicity seems to me to be badly misjudged. It means not only that the logic we thought we were following up to that point was not true, but that there is no alternate logic to replace it. We’ve been watching a tissue of coincidences. It deflates the movie for me (and incidentally calls into question the intelligence of otherwise well-characterised scientists).

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Fantasia Diary 2015, Days 15 and 16: Minuscule, Observance, Boy 7, and Big Match

Monday, August 31st, 2015 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

MinusculeI took a day off from Fantasia on Tuesday, July 28, to run some errands and buy some groceries, then returned on Wednesday to begin a kind of mini-marathon that would carry me through to the end of the festival. I saw four movies Thursday, starting at the De Sève with a wordless 3D animated French film called Minuscule, about a ladybug who falls in with a group of ants who’ve liberated a box of sugar from an abandoned picnic. After that I went to the screening room to see an Australian horror-suspense movie called Observance. Then I went back to the De Sève for the semi-science-fictional German action movie Boy 7. After getting out of that one, I made a snap decision to run across the street to the Hall Theatre to watch the Korean action-comedy Big Match. Which turned out to be one of the better calls I made all festival.

Minuscule: La vallée des fourmis perdues (Minuscule: Valley of the Lost Ants) is a feature film version of a series of five-minute animated shorts made for French TV; in English, the Minuscule shorts are subtitled The Private Life of Insects. Both TV and film version follow CGI insects with real natural backgrounds. Both (apparently; I haven’t seen the TV show) have a strong Looney Tunes feel.

Co-written and co-directed by Hélène Giraud and Thierry Szabo, Minuscule the movie follows a ladybug separated from his parents. Bullied by some flies, he joins forces with black ants who’ve found an unimaginable treasure: a tin box filled with sugar cubes, left behind by picnickers. The ladybug helps the ants get the sugar back to their queen, threatened not only by obstacles in the landscape but also by vicious red ants. But will the red ants give up the sugar, even if they succeed? In the end, the ladybug must summon his courage and push his limits to save his friends.

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Fantasia Diary 2015, Day 14: The Visit and The Demolisher

Sunday, August 30th, 2015 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The VisitNo-one’s a perfect critic, and I’ll readily confess to being less perfect than most. At any rate, sometimes a film’s best appreciated with a certain level of knowledge. Maybe you know too much about the film’s subject, and you see nothing new. Or you know too little, and you find yourself lost. In the latter case, at least, you can wonder whether your lack of knowledge is representative of a general audience, if not of whatever audience the artist has in mind. No critic’s going to be able to hit the sweet spot of knowing just enough, not every time out. Nobody’s perfect.

Monday, July 27, I saw two movies, both in the De Sève Theatre. The first was a documentary called The Visit, examining what would happen if aliens landed on Earth — what the response would be from human governments and scientific organisations. Then I watched a suspense movie called The Demolisher, about a woman stalked by a mentally-disintegrating police officer. And I found myself wrong-footed in the first case by knowing too much and in the second by knowing too little.

Before The Visit a short film screened: “Testimony of the Unspeakable” (in the original French, “Témoignage de l’indicible”). The director, Simon Pernollet, spoke briefly beforehand setting up the film, a story told by one of his friends about his childhood in Mexico and strange things that happened around his family’s home. We hear a voice telling several anecdotes about unexplained happenings; the stories have the feel of real experiences, in the way they seem to build up an atmosphere more than a connected set of incidents. Meanwhile, the camera moves around an empty house at night, catching shadows, creating an atmosphere and sense of place. At six minutes long, the film manages to subsist on the spooky magical-realist feeling it evokes without feeling as though it’s outstaying its welcome.

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A Brief Guide to Space Race Documentaries, Part II

Sunday, August 30th, 2015 | Posted by William I. Lengeman III

Earthrise The First Lunar Voyage-smallI’ve written two articles at this site about movies and documentaries that deal primarily with the Space Race years, which I define as 1957 (Sputnik) to 1969 (first Moon landing):

A Brief Guide to Space Race Movies
A Brief Guide to Space Race Documentaries

I thought I’d exhausted the supply of space race documentaries worth mentioning, but alas, I recently ran across two more.

Both are worth noting for the simple fact that they solve two problems I often see with this type of documentary. One is the tendency to cram too much into too little time, which means it’s hard to go into any kind of depth in one specific area. The other is the tendency to rely on footage that’s rather familiar.

Which comes with the territory, I guess, at least to an extent. If you’re going to do a documentary on Apollo 11 you can hardly leave out the footage of Neil Armstrong’s first step on the Moon. Ditto for many of the events that made up the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission.

But one can’t help but suspect that there’s a vast amount of footage from this era that we don’t see much of. The following two documentaries seem to support that theory.

Earthrise: The First Lunar Voyage (2014)

It’s safe to say that the best known space missions of all time — whether American or otherwise — are Apollo 11 and Apollo 13.

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