2017 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: MOVIES & MAYHEM IN MONTREAL, VOL. 2

7/19 & 7/20 : Preparing for another Long Weekend

Although it may come back to haunt me, I did not brave the swarms of fan-boys and girls that flocked to ‘s new space epic Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Wednesday evening. I did, however, stay out late to catch Ufuk Genç’s German-language martial-arts movie, Plan B. It was truly “a mix of action und comedy”, but unlike Rainier Wolfcastle’s mediocre McBain: Let’s Get Silly!Plan B has no shortage of hilarity (and, indeed, action). A trio of wannabe kung fu movie stars are trapped doing dirty work for a gang of vicious criminals and have constant run-ins with another gang of vicious criminals. Police detective Robert Kopp looms in the background wondering what these idiots could possibly be up to.

Still from Free and Easy (2017)On Thursday night, just one feature—a weird one. Geng Jun’s Free and Easy plays like it was shot from a screenplay whipped up by when he was doing his post-college backpacking trip around Northeast China. (Note: there is no record of Beckett back-packing around Northeast China). In a ghost town of some dozen people, around half of the inhabitants seem to be con-men; two bored policemen encounter victims of knock-out soap (literally). Free and Easy had a fair number of laughs, but as the screen darkened, the normally clapping crowd was silent, not quite knowing what to do: there was one clap, then silence during the incongruous Mandarin rap song that played over the credits.

7/21 : Triple Feature; All Hail “NongShim”

Technically it’s 7/22: just returned from the final film of a triple feature this evening, and I feel like my brain should be soaked in a cool bucket of ice. Things started around 7 o’clock with the Cambodian jailhouse action extravaganza Jailbreak. Very martial arts, not very weird, but those who like well choreographed (and non-hyper-edited) combat should check it out.

On the heels of this violence was some more violence—of less quantity, but far more grisly. Lowlife is looking to be the high point of the Festival, and I’ll remark more on it later once I’ve had a chance to shut down. Suffice it to say, I think America has a new go-to director for unsettling violence fused with smart script-writing and quirky wit. Lowlife also gives us one of the nastiest bad guys to come out on film in a long while.

Rounding out the evening was the hyper-bizarre, hyper-violent, and ultimately tender movie, Kudoku Meatball Machine. This film introduced me to the creativity of , whom I will have the pleasure of interviewing in under ten hours. I’ll provide details on the last two later this weekend. Now, though, I’m signing off and passing out.

7/22 : Laid-back Conversations

On Saturday-proper, I had intended to watch three movies: Dead ShackGod of War, and A Day. However, interviews got in the way. I was able to sit down with Yoshiro Nishimura and talk “” with him through a translator. He’s a hard working man, and very dismayed about the state of independent horror cinema in Japan today (more on that in a forthcoming interview transcription). On the heels of that, I talked with all the main players of the new crime-drama-comedy (?) Lowlife. After chatting for half an hour, they invited me to lunch and picked my brain about movies. I took the rest of the day off when, around 5 o’clock in the evening, I realized that I hadn’t gone to bed since 3 o’clock in the morning. I have summoned the energy now, though, for a…

Travel-Size Review: Kodoku Meatball Machine

Still from Kodoku Meatball Machine (2017)Yuji is a “50-years-young” debt collector suffering one of the worst mid-life crises imaginable. He’s too nice to do his job, he’s hopelessly smitten with Kaoru, a young and pretty bookstore attendant, and he finds out he has cancer—with, a doctor reassures him, “one, maybe three months to live.” At the end of his tether, he visits a cabaret where the smiling hostesses con him out of his money and leave him beaten in the sidewalk. Suddenly, a giant container slams down over his city, splitting off the inhabitants before infecting them with combative parasites. Miraculously (as it were) maintaining his grip on his humanity, he gains the super-powers of the alien invaders and, with the help of the ninjas from the local police, fights to kill the monsters and save his new love.

A master of the squishy “splatterpunk” genre, Yoshihiro Nishimuro leaves no stops un-pulled in this opus that guzzled through four tons of fake blood (not sure if those were metric or otherwise, but you get the point). Practical special effects and models make the sickening morphing creatures both cringe-inducing and hilarious (multi-function nipple gauges for blood or bullets, a triple-hand pummeling arm, and “wheeler”-style limbs for a car enthusiast are a few examples). And even before the real madness starts, we get to enjoy the singing dwarf of the Cabaret, whose song about death in an angel get-up makes me suspect she’s a half-sister of the woman behind “in Heaven, everything is fine.” It’d be hard to walk into this movie without knowing what kind of thing you’re in for, so let me just warn/assure you that Kodoku Meatball Machine delivers the gory goods.

7/23 : Back to the Grind

I thought I’d start the day of lightly with a screening of Ishiro Honda’s 1958 monster/police procedural/noir film, The H Man. However, the “light” part of that plan was quashed when I discovered the film was introduced by a Honda historian who lectured for some fifty minutes before being cut off to start the screening. The film itself was pleasantly forgettable, with two in-movie newspaper bylines standing out: on the same day citizens of downtown Tokyo were told that a mysterious substance was melting people, they were informed of the equally monumental news that “Australia Rejects U.S. Wool Plan”; and on the heels of that global trade snafu, the headline of “City Menaced by H-Man Monster” was diminished by the concurrent stroy, “Cantonese Dollar Drops in Markets.” A dark day in world economic news.

A crazy combination of claustrophobia and open-world wonderment awaits any viewer of Junk Head, Takahide Hori’s epic-length, far-future, dystopian vision with heart. An unnamed explorer from the earth’s surface keeps losing his head (you guessed it, literally) on assignment to explore the depths of the earth where, 1200 years ago, immortal humanity’s clones staged a rebellion and formed their own society. Though mistaken for a god, a series of accidents reduce him to a service robot. Creepy animals, both menacing and cuddly, plague the descendants of the human race in this stop-motion journey. Effectively a one-man band (the credits mention his name for almost every aspect of production), Takahide Hori establishes himself firmly as a modern day animation superman. I generally don’t seek out daylight, but after watching Junk Head I was eager to see the sun.

Still from November (2017)For those of you wondering what and have been up to, the answer is November. Actually, it is Rainer Sarnet who directed the bleak and beautiful Estonian/Dutch/Polish co-production that obliged me to linger in the dim light of the cinema a bit longer. Full of dark magic and sinister beauty, November‘s stand-out weirdness is without doubt the ubiquitous “kratt”: mishmash automatons made of random pieces of discarded farm tools and what-not, brought to life by the owner’s soul courtesy of Satan’s magic. Folklore is real in this bleak romance set in early 19th-century Estonia.

7/24 : Action Double-Feature

Underestimating its popularity, I had intended on catching the Quebecoise “genre” classic, Karmina. However, I was told my press badge was useless (!) and that I’d have to wait out in the rain with the rest of the crowd. I’d had enough of the rain, so instead I caught the North American 3D premier of Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Twenty-six years after its debut, I finally saw this action classic. I was not disappointed, particularly as it clarified both a Lego Movie and a number of “Simpsons” references that had confounded me. Unfortunately, it seems the worst dialogue was written for the characters played by the movie’s worst actors: the mother and son Connor. Somehow these very human characters made Terminator 2‘s robots seems charismatic. And as a much belated rejoinder to Sarah Connor’s anti-male diatribe about creativity: if you want to live in a world without scientific curiosity so badly, I suggest you relocate to Arkanar. Have fun.

Stil from The Mole Song: Hong Kong Capriccio (2017)And speaking of fun, The Mole Song: Hong Kong Capriccio (dir. ) did not disappoint. The lead was overacting and over-narrating perhaps two notches above what he should have, but despite his Kabuki-campy performance, The Mole Song held together far better than Miike’s other silly-and-otherwise-Japanese extravaganza on offer at Fantasia, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. It consistently found the right tone, harnessing -style madcap with candy-noir badassery. The trio of police conspirators, in particular, hit a note of comic genius whenever they appeared on screen. I also appreciate that The Mole Song gave the audience a seamlessly-included plot summary of the preceding action epic, The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji. Armed with just enough information, I happily laughed along with the audience through the mole’s wacky adventures as he inadvertently thwarts the human-trafficking machinations of the deadly Chinese gang “the Dragons”.

7/25 : France and Brazil Grab My Attention

With perhaps the largest English-speaking audience I’ve heard so far, the house was packed for the French crime drama Money’s Money. In a wonderful—nay, perfect—90 minutes, director Géla Babluani tells the tale of three low-level thieves who make the mistake of stealing one-million Euros from a crooked government minister after thwarting his suicide. Immigrant issues act only as an undercurrent, sparing the viewer from being slammed over the head with commentary. Small laughs scattered throughout break the tension at all the right moments, and things end on a somewhat existential note—this is a French movie, after all.

Things got slightly weirder in the telenovela-meets-The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, & Her Lover offering from Gabriela Amaral Almeida, The Friendly Beast. Restaurateur Inácio is having a rough day: loutish customers plague him near closing time, his kitchen staff is growing rebellious, his wife smashed up his car, and a couple young punks try to rob the place. It turns out that’s enough to break the man, and he proceeds to hold the restaurant’s occupants hostage with the assistance of impassioned waitress Sara. Bodies pile up, social commentary is made, and we witness some blood-soaked lovemaking. Not bad for a debut, I suppose, but I’ll hold out for Almeida’s sophomore effort before I start making any recommendations.

I’m signing off now; join me next week when I’ll be reporting live(-ish) from my new base of operations, the wonderful La Tour Belvedere hotel in the heart of downtown!

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