Sunday, July 22, 2012

Fantasia Day 3 (Saturday, July 21)

Probably the biggest day of special guests we’ve had thus far. Things kicked off with the Canadian undead comedy, A Little Bit Zombie, which featured none other than Pontypool stud and character actor extraordinaire, Stephen McHattie.

We’ll get to the flick in a second, but based on his pre- and post-film “discussions,” I think it’s safe to say that McHattie is one likeable but undeniably quirky dude, along the lines of Michael Rooker (those who have met the Slither/Walking Dead star know what I’m talking about). For example, during the post-screening chat with director Casey Walker and cast, the question came up as to how each of them became involved in the production. The assembled actors dutifully gave a brief recap of how they became aware of the script and came aboard…until the mike was passed to McHattie, who proceeded to give the audience a three-minute reading from one of the saucier bits of Fifty Shades of Grey from his Kindle, then handed it back with a satisfied smirk. It’s good to be the king.

That was followed by a special Fantasia award to longtime John Woo collaborator and influential Hong Kong film artist David Wu for his contributions, after which followed the screening of Wu’s latest directorial effort, Cold Steel.

Due to miscommunications with the Fantasia press office, I was unable to schedule interviews with cast of Sushi Girl prior to its International Premiere last night, but that’s okay because I was still able to sit in the same theater and breath the same air as Tony Todd (Candyman), James Duval (Donnie Darko)...

Noah Hathaway (Neverending Story), Andy Mackenzie (Shoot ‘em Up)...

Michael Biehn (Terminator, Aliens, and as he kept reminding us, "The Victim, screening Monday night at 10pm!")

and … wait for it … Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill.

It was clear that Mr. Hamill was the main attraction for most attendees, but he carried himself with grace and constantly worked to put the spotlight back on his ensemble members. The 60-year-old performer looked a bit tired, but I can only imagine the attention he has received during his time in Montreal (not to mention anywhere in the world) – it can’t be easy being a name-brand member of the zeitgeists to end all zeitgeists. I’m sure Hamill’s work in SG will be called “revelatory” by many a hyperbolic journalist, but the truth has always been that the man is an actor trapped in the career amber of a film from 35 years ago. He has always been capable of being more than Luke, and maybe now, in a John Travolta/Pulp Fiction-like way, he’ll get his shot.

The evening wrapped up with Quentin Dupieux’s hilarious Rubber follow-up, Wrong, and a world premiere midnight screening of the experimental Canadian horror effort, Lowlife. (Across the street, Niboro Iguchi’s Zombie Ass was presumably blowing the roof off, but having seen it under the most ideal circumstances possible at BIFFF, I felt obliged to take the opposite tack, which Seth Smith’s low-budget, rough-edged, starfish-sucking nightmare certainly is.) That said, AC has never been a night owl, and I’ll be glad after tonight’s screening of The Devil’s Carnival when I can get to bed before midnight instead of seeing the wrong side of sunrise.

Little Bit Zombie, A (2012) (1st viewing) d. Walker, Casey (Canada)

What happens when a mosquito takes a nibble out of a shambling fleshbag? What if a human victim of the ensuing undead insect bite retained his humanity whilst losing his pulse? These are two of the many novel spins on gut-munching lore that first time feature screenwriters Trevor Martin and Christopher Bond have contemplated, and while the humorous scenarios occasionally strain credibility, there’s little denying the high spirited approach. Two young white-bread couples (affianced Kristopher Turner and Crystal Lowe, already hitched Shawn Roberts and Kristen Hager) retreat to a wooded cabin for some pre-wedding R&R, a vacation that takes a wicked turn after one quarter of their party starts salivating for gray matter. At the same time, zombie hunters Emilie Ullerup and Stephen McHattie patrol the countryside looking for brainpans to air out. Director Walker and his likeable ensemble (save for Lowe’s by-design love-to-hate-her ballbusting Guidette) energetically trade zingers and physical comedy bits – some work, some don’t, but there’s rarely a dull moment to be found.

Cold Steel (2012) (1st viewing) d. Wu, David (Hong Kong)

When young mountain town hunter Peter Ho insults officers of the Chinese Nationalist Army, he is arrested. But when their caravan is waylaid by Japanese soldiers, Ho utilizes his preternatural sharpshooting skills to fend off the attack and is subsequently inducted into the armed forces as a member of an elite squad of snipers. The action sequences are masterfully handled by director Wu, longtime editor of John Woo’s most renowned Hong Kong efforts, though much of the pseudo-poetic dialogue comes off clumsy and melodramatic. When no one is talking, however, it’s a wingding, bullet-meets-brains good time.

Sushi Girl (2012) (1st viewing) d. Saxton, Kern (USA)

Six years after a diamond heist goes sour, crime boss Tony Todd marks the prison release of Noah Hathaway (the lone arrest made) with a special old team reunion to answer a few questions about what went wrong, a gathering whose centerpiece involves seafood delicacies served off lovely Cortney Palm’s prone naked body. Director Saxton has assembled a notably unconventional and skilled cast that includes not only Todd (who exec-produced) and Neverending Story alumnus Hathaway, but James Duval, Andy Mackenzie, Michael Biehn, Jeff Fahey, Danny Trejo, Sonny Chiba, and casting coup non pareil, Mark Hamill as a fey psycho whose stringy locks bring to mind ’70s era Paul Williams on a really bad day. Watching this venerable team of underrated talents square off should be entertainment enough for most, but the ultimate equation is less than the sum of its parts. Clearly Saxton and co-writer Destin Pfaff have a deep love for Reservoir Dogs, but stunt casting + ornate production design + nasty torture sequences does not a Tarantino breakout make…especially if the memorably chewy Tarantino dialogue fails to show up (Todd’s ominous “oven timer” monologue notwithstanding). The result is a well-produced film with lofty ambitions, full of sound and fury...that ultimately feels like much ado about nothing.

Wrong (2012) (1st viewing) d. Dupieux, Quentin (USA)

Though this will undoubtedly be marketed as “from the director of Rubber,” viewers who were not entirely entranced by that flick’s meta approach to sci-fi/horror need not steer clear of this sterling surrealist comedy. Nebbish Jack Plotnick wakes up to discover his beloved pooch Paul missing, an event which sparks a day in the life adventure unlike any we’ve seen before. In Dupieux’s world, the expression “anything can happen” is taken to a whole new level, and revealing any of the surprises in store would be doing a disservice. (You’ll never look at a clock reading 7:59 the same way again.) Suffice to say, it’s funny as hell, brilliantly performed, wholly original, ridiculous, and not to be missed.

Lowlife (2012) (1st viewing) d. Smith, Seth (Canada)

A film that defiantly resists categorization or even a simple plot synopsis, this experimental horror effort evokes the spirit of David Lynch by way of William S. Burroughs, with a little of Lars von Trier shaken over for flavor. An unemployed social outcast (Chik White) spends his days drifting from one starfish emission-induced hallucinogenic trip to the next, attempting to emotionally connect with his similarly addicted sometimes companion Darcy Spidle. But reality has no place in this world where deified animals speak in garbled, subtitled tones and goo-dripping mud men appear in the unlikeliest of places. Fiercely original and filled with potent imagery, but perhaps a shade long for the fever dream it is. Or maybe the excessive length is all part of Smith’s discomfiting plan. I just know that coming at the end of a long day, I was admiring the artist while begging for release from the art.

2012 Totals to date: 307 films, 261 1st time views, 175 horror, 92 cinema

Fantasia Totals: 11 films, 10 1st time views, 6 horror, 11 cinema

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