Thursday, August 2, 2012

Fantasia Day 14 (Wednesday, August 1)

Another full unfettered day of flicks, followed by a full night of scribbling. And can I just say, two weeks in and look at those stats! 59 films in two weeks? Dayyyyum. To quote Han Solo, sometimes I amaze even myself.

Portrait of a cinephile at work

Singham (2011) (1st viewing) d. Shetty, Rohit (India)

Time to get your Bollywood on with this over-the-top action extravaganza about the titular noble small town cop (Ajay Devgn) who is prepared to lay his patented lion’s paw slap down on injustice anywhere. But when he offends big city racketeer Prakash Raj, the stage is set for a war of wills and an array of eye-popping stuntwork as bodies and vehicle take to the skies. Inherently exaggerated in every department, there are dizzying camera over-and-undercrankings and whirling crane shots (as well as the requisite musical numbers – the oft-repeated title theme being especially infectious) to rival any Hollywood blockbuster, and the performances match the deliciously larger-than-life tone. Kidnapping plots, extortion schemes, planted evidence, and a little romance from resident lovely Kajal Aggarwal are all part of a day’s work for Singham – let your inner lion roar!

Tall Man, The (2012) (1st viewing) d. Laugier, Pascal (Canada)

The children of a rural, depressed Washington state township are disappearing, presumably abducted without a trace by the haunting boogeyman figure of the title. Authorities are baffled, residents are terrified and helpless, and the kindergarten population dwindles. One night, a child is nabbed from under the wing of plucky widow/local doc Jessica Biel who – in an outlandish but undeniably exciting chase sequence – pursues the criminal deep into the wilderness. However, like writer/director Laugier’s Martyrs before, the opening act is not necessarily the film you’re watching, and this element will either pique or pummel viewer enthusiasm come the final credits crawl. Personally, I admired its moxie and the performances (especially Ol’ Faithful Stephen McHattie) are rock solid across the board, but there were numerous logistical leaps creeping up my cortex while I was watching and more that arose during post-show conversations – fact is, a lot of it doesn’t add up, and some inferred socio-political statements about the parenting skills of lower budget families further muddy the waters. Laugier’s English-language feature debut is not a crashing disappointment, but it’s unlikely to enjoy mainstream success or cult adoration. It’s just kind of there.

White: The Melody of the Curse (2011) (1st viewing) d. Kim, Sun /Kim, Gok (South Korea)

Within the Korean pop music world (known as K-Pop), groups are manufactured and manicured to fit the mold of mainstream appeal; such is the case with the Pink Dolls, a squabbling girl-group quartet who fail to ignite public interest. But when a mysterious videotape (REALLY???) is discovered in a discarded storage unit containing an infectious pop melody, the Dolls decide to appropriate the tune, leading to inexplicable overnight success. Of course, a price must be paid for this plagiary; the kitty catty bitches, already at each other’s throats to land the vaunted “main girl” spot, begin falling victim to rashes, fainting spells and terrifying visions. Yep, it’s standard K-horror spook stuff – right down to the huge eyeballs filling the screen, fuzzy videotape images and long-haired specters performing menacing spider-walks – within the bubblegum milieu. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t, none of it feels new and/or interesting…though some of the overproduced ditties are an amusing send-up of the industry.

Asura (2012) (1st viewing) d. Sato, Keiichi (Japan)

A breathtaking big screen realization of the 1970 manga by George Akiyama about an abandoned feral child roaming the wastelands of feudal Japan, armed with a mouthful of fangs, big freaking axe and a superhuman will to survive. When kindness is finally shown to him, first by a stoic monk and later a tender-hearted adolescent girl, the beast within abates, but the harsh existence they face presents many antagonists to peaceful living. With CG characters existing within hand-illustrated environments, the film looks especially gorgeous on the big screen; ditto the sound design that gives Asura full agitated voice to his frustrations and rage. An animated film with more on its mind than simple diversion or entertainment, a worthy tribute to its once-banned source material.

Black's Game (2012) (1st viewing) d. Axelsson, Óskar Thór (Iceland)

If you’ve watched any underworld/drug dealing crime films, filled with unsavory characters running at a deficit of trust, there’s not a lot here you haven’t seen before. The main distinction is that this one is set in Iceland, and the gang members are all comprised of young bucks as opposed to elder statesmen (although I suppose the latter is not that different from the spate of urban U.S. films from the ’90s). There’s plenty of violence, some kinky sex with a same-sex twist, suspense, dishonor among thieves and one hell of a fun catchphrase takeaway, and while none of these elements elevate it to must-see status, they certainly will appeal to fans of the genre. Based on the novel by Stefán Máni, exec-produced by Nicolas Winding Refn.

2012 Totals to date: 355 films, 308 1st time views, 197 horror, 131 cinema

Fantasia Totals: 59 films, 57 1st time views, 29 horror, 53 cinema

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