Fantasia 2010

OPENING FILM:
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Jon Turteltaub) 47
[ review ]

Crows Zero II (Takashi Miike) 63
[ Is anyone able to keep up with Miike’s output? Since breaking out in 1999 with the brilliant “Audition”, the Japanese filmmaker has directed something like 40 features in 10 years, no shit! His latest to reach us is a sequel to 2007’s “Crows Zero”¸ a live-action prequel to the Hiroshi Takahashi manga which I haven’t seen. Nonetheless, I was easily able to get into this story of a high school gang war between the students from Suzuran and those from rival Hosen. After all, it’s mostly about young men yelling at and beating each other! Rowdy, exciting and fun, the fights are stylishly directed by Miike who, amongst other things, makes potent us of some Japanese pop songs, notably during the opening credits sequence, which inter-cuts between a huge brawl and a rock concert. I also enjoyed most everyone in the ensemble cast, even though none of the characters is particularly complex and memorable. It’s almost exactly just guys dressed in black and guys in white exchanging kicks and punches for two hours! ]

Secret Reunion (Jang Hun) 80
[ Taut writing, nervous cinematography, precise editing, a whole lot of breathless action… Right from the amazing 20 minute opening sequence, in which a pair of North Korean hired killers (the cold-blooded Jeon Gook-hwan and the more conflicted Gang Dong-won) secretly rendezvous than make their way to an apartment building for a job, unaware that a South Korean federal agent (the great Song Kang-ho) and his team are just a few steps behind them, I got the feeling that this could be the best Asian crime-thriller I’ve seen since “Infernal Affairs”. During the second act, alas, the film turns into kind of an odd couple comedy with a touch of melodrama. It’s still involving enough, especially since there are some fight and stakeout scenes thrown in here and there, but the promise of the first 20 minutes isn’t really fulfilled until the last stretch leading to the climax, which is a thing of tragic beauty… Too bad about the bullshit happy end, though. ]

Accident (Cheang Pou-Soi) 65
[ The story begins with a freak accident, straight out of a “Final Destination” flick. Only, the victim happens to be a Triad boss… and he was actually killed by a quartet of assassins (Louis Koo, Michelle Ye, Stanley Fung Shui-Fan, Lam Suet) who specialize in making their work look like accidents, so the cops don’t even think to look for them. It’s the perfect murders, and it’s a clever premise, which allows for a series of meticulously crafted, gruesome set pieces. Then when “accidents” start happening to the accident-makers, they understandably start thinking that someone is after them and the film turns into a tale of paranoia and obsession à la “The Conversation”. I’m not sure it adds up to all that much, but it makes for a captivating watch. ]

The Disappearance of Alice Creed (J Blakeson) 55
[ Here’s another film with a great opening sequence it can never quite live up to. Said sequence is a precisely shot and cut, dialogue-free depiction of the various steps of two kidnappers’ preparation for their crime: stealing a molester van, shopping for tools and materials, soundproofing the walls of the room where they will put their victim, boarding up the windows, installing extra locks on the doors, etc. We’re then quickly shown a girl being thrown in the van with a bag on her head, then dragged into what will become her cell, where she ends up handcuffed and tied to a bed, with a ball gag in her mouth and, sorta gratuitously, her clothes and underwear cut off. Only then do we learn a bit more about her and her abductors and still, backstory and exposition are kept to a minimum: she’s a millionaire’s daughter, they’re ex-cons, that’s about it. As I alluded to, like in all movies of this kind, the line is thin between showing a woman being exploited and the film itself being exploitative, or at least voyeuristic, but there’s no denying that it’s all effective and engrossing. What follows, a huis clos that has the two criminals and their hostage engage in increasingly tense situations, is also initially involving, in no small part thanks to the scary intense, dangerously badass performance by Eddie Marsan as the more authoritative of the kidnappers. As his less focused, more “sentifuckin’mental” partner, Martin Compston is pretty solid and Gemma Arterton certainly fully commits to the sordid nature of her part (she basically spends the whole movie in bondage, in tears, terrified, humiliated…), but there’s no doubt about it, Marsan is the best thing about the film. Even when a series of dumb twists are introduced and the characters start behaving stupidly, Marsan always remains convincing and fascinating to watch. As a whole, “The Disappearance of Alice Creed” is suspenseful enough and first-time feature director J Blakeson shows a lot of promise, but his screenplay is unfortunately not as tight as it could have been and, again, I’m not sure there’s a point in showing a girl suffering for 100 minutes like this. ]

Red White & Blue (Simon Rumley) 52
[ “Look, I don’t stay over, I don’t fall in love and I don’t fuck the same guy twice, ok?” If anything, Erica (Amanda Fuller) knows what she wants, and that is apparently to have sex with every man in Austin… Except her neighbor and coworker Nate (Noah Taylor), for some reason. With its loose narrative, its impressionistic visual style and its sexually open yet emotionally opaque protagonist, this low budget, spontaneous-feeling film reminded me a bit of Soderbergh’s “The Girlfriend Experience” at first. But as the focus shifts to local musician Franki (Marc Senter), one of the countless dudes Erica has screwed at one time, “Red White & Blue” slowly but surely turns into something else altogether. To reveal what happens exactly would spoil it, but let’s just say that it gets mighty dark, violent and unpleasant. Horror fans will enjoy this detour, but I personally much preferred the first stretch of the film. ]

Symbol (Hitoshi Matsumoto) 85
[ This film alternates between depicting a day in the life of Mexican lucha libre wrestler Escargotman and the struggle of a man in colourful pyjamas (hilariously played by writer-director Hitoshi Matsumoto) to make sense out of his waking up in a mysterious white room with walls entirely bare except for a bunch of cherubic genitalia which, when pressed, make random objects appear. Need I stress out that this is a profoundly silly movie? Only in Japan, right? The white room part in particular is as absurd as it gets, coming off like a wickedly inventive live action variation on the classic Daffy Duck cartoon “Duck Amuck”, with a touch of Wile E. Coyote for good measure. The Mexican-set part is more conventional, inasmuch as a story about a wrestler who never takes off his mask can be “conventional”, but it’s engaging on its own and works as an intriguing contrast to the rest. And wait until you see how the two seemingly unconnected tales ultimately collide! As for the extended multimedia climax, it’s even more batshit insane, if you can believe it… Much better than his first feature, “Dainipponjin”, which was a lot of goofy fun at times but a bit too uneven overall, Hitoshi Matsumoto’s sophomore effort is obviously not for all tastes, but I seriously doubt I’ll see a more original film at Fantasia -or anywhere for that matter- this year. ]

Sophie’s Revenge (Eva Jin) 48
[ Were mostly used to seeing Zhang Ziyi in martial arts epics (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, “House of Flying Daggers”, etc.), but it turns out she’s also a gifted comedienne, who brings ample charm and spunk to this colorful romantic comedy. Her character, Sophie, is a comic book artist who, after a bad break-up, attempts to win back her ex in growingly stalkerish ways. Almost as visually playful as “Amélie” or a Baz Luhrmann picture, “Sophie’s Revenge” is kind of a mess plot-wise and the gags are hit and miss but, really, Zhang Ziyi is a peach. ]

Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World (Edgar Wright) 94
[ review ]

Metropolis (Fritz Lang) 96
[ Some of the sillier plot specifics and the over the top acting characteristic of most silent cinema have aged, I guess, but as a thematically rich Marxist revolution allegory and a sci-fi epic filled with iconic imagery, this remains as visionary, groundbreaking and masterful as ever. Watching a restored print of it in a packed 3,000 seat theatre with an amazing new score performed by a live orchestra made it all the better. ]

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