Friday, August 3, 2012

Fantasia Day 15 (Thursday, August 2)

Things were relatively uneventful once again in the offscreen Fantasia world, with onscreen events taking precedence. I don’t know about you guys out there on the reading end of things, but from this end it’s been a welcome change of pace from the mania that had become the norm. I’ve been able to get to bed a little earlier (1am instead of 3 or 4), but the trade off is that my body has resumed its normal waking pattern, so I’m awake at 7 or 8am (instead of 10 or 11), the end result being that I’m still pretty exhausted. All things considered, I’m holding up fairly well – only one more big weekend to go with a couple of sizeable events on the horizon, including interviews with Jennifer Lynch and the co-directors of ParaNorman, the closing film of Fantasia 2012 (which, oddly enough, screens on Tuesday though the festival continues until Thursday. What can I say? They do things differently in Montreal…)

Speaking of next Thursday, that is the official screening date of Jaume Balaguero’s latest, Sleep Tight, and since Fantasia had added the two extra days after I’d already booked my return flight, there is/was no way for me to see among the masses. So, I journeyed up to the media room yesterday, caught it via DVD, then headed back down for a pair of Japanese charmers, and wrapped up the day with a wicked suspense flick that deservedly generated some buzz at TriBeCa, Replicas, presented by the director, Jeremy Power Regimbal.

All in all, not a bad little day. Now get ready for the six-flick-a-day weekend schedule...

Afro Tanaka (2012) (1st viewing) d. Matsui, Daigo (Japan)

Splendid romantic comedy in the broad Japanese vein, meaning that characters do a lot of face-pulling and vocal histrionics, here in the service of a story about a young man with an incredibly lush head of kinky curls (brought into existence by sheer childhood will). The winning Shota Matsuda plays the titular lead with a blend of twentysomething bravado and insecurity, chasing any number of potential female candidates to ride his arm for a high school chum’s upcoming wedding. Naturally, his dream girl shows up next door (an effervescent Nozomi Sasaki), but misconceptions and fate keep them apart for the majority of the running time. Hey, we wouldn’t have a movie otherwise, right? An endearing and well-crafted amusement, full of heart and relatable scenarios.

Sleep Tight (2011) (1st viewing) d. Balaguero, Jaume (Spain)

A sociopathic doorman/desk jockey/maintenance man (Luis Tosar) at a Spanish apartment complex antagonizes those around him in supremely subtle, sinister ways. His most calculated measures, reserved for a beautiful young tenant (Marta Etura), should have most single females climbing the walls with a case of the skeeves. This glimpse at the man behind the friendly smile, the one we pass every day, resonates deeply on the creepy scale, perhaps because there is no tangible cause for his casual maliciousness. The problem with Balaguero’s and screenwriter Alberto Marini’s approach – if it is a problem – is that Tosar is too despicable to generate any real viewer empathy. We’ve been given menacing monsters as our protagonist before, but either an explanation for their psychosis is provided or they exude enough raw charm that we root for them in spite of their depravity. Here, we desperately want Tosar to get caught, the tension generated because he continues to elude detection. It’s a strange, if effective, dynamic but one that, especially in the final act, left me feeling a bit unclean. Maybe this is the filmmakers’ intention, to leave us stewing in our discomfort and helplessness, but seems purely mean-spirited in the final analysis.

Letter to Momo, A (2011) (1st viewing) d. Okiura, Hiroyuki (Japan)

Following an argument, a young girl loses her father to a boating accident, later finding a letter that contains only the words, “Dear Momo…” Shattered by guilt, she and her mother relocate to the family’s island fishing village to make a fresh start, but mysterious otherworldly forces are at work and Momo soon finds herself the unwitting companion of three oafish companions…a trio of benign goblins assigned to watch over her from “Above.” Fantasy and the everyday combine in utterly endearing fashion is this exquisite animated film, reportedly seven years in the making with every frame hand-drawn. The technical care and craftsmanship are well complemented by a sincere and touching coming-of-age story, one whose two-hour runtime flies by with ease.

Replicas (2012) (1st viewing) d. Regimbal, Jeremy Power (Canada)

An affluent young couple (Josh Close, Selma Blair), reeling from the death of their young daughter and seeking to escape the everyday reminders around them, retreat to their family’s private mountain lodge. With their 9-year-old son and fluffy pooch in tow, their arrival is met by the spontaneous welcoming committee of James D’Arcy and Rachel Miner, themselves a young couple with a 9-year-old son. The enthusiastic and persistent neighbors invite themselves over for the evening, paving the way for one of the most indefinably tense dinner sequences in recent memory. In fact, this first act is so supremely unsettling, with D’Arcy and Miner’s over-the-top ingratiating and friendly demeanor absent any discernible agenda, that it’s almost disappointing when Replicas turns into a standard if effective home invasion scenario. However, even within this familiar terrain, first time director Regimbal and his well-honed cast have a few tricks up their sleeves, introducing fresh and unsettling maneuvers into the subgenre’s playbook. Leading man Close’s impressive screenwriting debut invites not-unwarranted comparisons to Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, minus the intellectualizing and with a lot more sly, disquieting humor on display. Definitely worth checking out.

2012 Totals to date: 359 films, 312 1st time views, 199 horror, 134 cinema

Fantasia Totals: 63 films, 61 1st time views, 31 horror, 56 cinema

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