Friday, July 20, 2012

Fantasia Film Festival 2012 – Day 1 (Thursday, July 19)

Having survived my first film festival experience earlier this year in Brussels, I had come away with one singular truth resounding over and over in my head: I need to do more of these. Well, as fate would have it, my summer work obligations just happened to have a mid-July to mid-August hole in them. Guess what happens for three weeks up Montreal way? Yep, it’s the 16th annual Fantasia International Film Festival (which I will not be abbreviating to FIFF, so just stifle those hopes right now), a 22-day assault on the eyes, ears, brain and stamina of adventurous cinephiles everywhere, one of the largest and most significant horror, sci-fi, fantasy and wild-ass genre film festivals in the world. And I’m here, right in the thick of it. Be careful what you wish for, right?

First off, I gotta put out a big ol’ shout out to Neil Calderone of Chicago Cinema Society , as he has already proven himself invaluable in navigating these waters. Neil, for those not in the know, is one of the brightest new stars in the programming world, bringing all manner of exotic and mind-blowing fare to the Windy City and he has been an attendee of Fantasia for the past five years. As such, he’s learned many of the tricks of the trade, and is happy to pass along valuable tips and info to a fellow traveler. For instance, it was his suggestion to scout about on Craigslist for a sublet as opposed to trying to go the impossibly expensive hotel route. As a result, I’ve secured lodging for my entire three-week stay for $700 – and I’m located a mere five minute walk from the venue!

I arrived on Tuesday, settled into my new digs, was shown around the neighborhood by my temporary roommate Jeff, did a little grocery shopping. Picked up my press badge on Wednesday morning, then spent the next few days wraping up the previous two weeks’ Fools Views and the massive G-GEST 2012 report in order to have my plate, mind and palate clear for the onslaught to come. With over 150 features and nearly as many short films on the docket, I’ve got my work cut out for me. Lucky I’ve been training for this all my life, right?

Anna and Dominque at the Fantasia press office have been most attentive and helpful over the past few weeks via email – I still have not met them in person, being that they were absolutely crazed with preparations for opening night ceremonies and the first big weekend, but I am definitely looking forward to it since the BIFFF press team were key elements in my enjoyment of that festival. I have no doubt that the Canuck version will prove likewise.

Speaking of opening night, the first films to be screened were Takashi Miike’s For Love’s Sake and Pascal Laugier’s The Tall Man. (Unlike BIFFF, there are two screening venues, which means that choices have to be made.) I opted for the Miike film in the larger Concordia Hall, knowing that I could catch up with Tall Man when it screens again on Aug 1, and so at 6pm, I queued up to head inside and see what there was to see. I quickly found a seat (they go fast) and settled in to enjoy the ambience of excitement and anticipation. The Fantasia folks have a Twitter feed running on the big screen, so there were many amusing comments to read while we waited. On the one hand, I can appreciate that this is the way the world works these days – on the other, I personally miss the days where one was not being cyber-shouted at 24/7. Additionally, when someone from the fest would stand at the mike to address the crowd, they were inherently competing with the twitter feed going on behind them. To me, that’s just RUDE, but again, this is the world we live in, where the competition for people’s attentions never rests.

However, there was no denying who had the upper hand once the amazing Asian drum team selected to kick things off entered the premises and started doing their thing. With astonishing precision and pounding rhythm, they blew the capacity crowd away and if spirits weren’t high already, they were jacked to the gills once their routine reached its conclusion.

Numerous introductions of important people ensued, all of which were in French so I have not Clue #1 who these folks are (shades of BIFFF, oui?), but soon the lights went down, the roar went up and the first flicker of Fantasia exploded to life with Patrick Bouchard’s extraordinary short stop-motion subject Bydlo, which documented the nighttime struggle of a resurrected ox corpse and tiny mud creatures, a struggle that concluded with the morning rays. Miike’s musical/comedy/romance/action feature followed, which proved a crowd-pleaser despite some serious projection/focus problems – the French subtitles were nearly illegible at times, and the left side of the screen was fuzzy for the last hour of the presentation. Hopefully those in the know will resolve this issue moving forward because it proved most distracting. (Almost as distracting as the unfortunate young lady who suffered a seizure during the last 15 minutes and had to be carried out by paramedics between screenings. Our best wishes go out to her – hope everyone’s okay.) The evening’s second feature (also at the Hall), Dragon aka Wu Xia, starring Donnie Yen and Jimmy Wang Yu, was shown via digital projection and exhibited no similar problems, so fingers crossed.

For Love’s Sake (2012) (1st viewing) d. Miike, Takashi (Japan)

When violent sullen bad boy Satoshi Tsumabuki crosses paths with idealistic rich girl Emi Takei, the stage is set for a “different worlds” romance, but this being a Miike film, there is nothing traditional about the events that unfold. However, even setting aside the evening’s projection issues, there is a distracted feeling about the prolific and unpredictable auteur’s latest musical/comedy/romance/action offering. Not because of its willful genre blundering, which I quite enjoyed, but rather because occasionally its internal rhythm seems to falter – behavior and motivations feel strained rather than fanciful, as though Miike felt that he had an obligation to color outside the lines as opposed to being inspired to do so. Still, audiences ate up the bizarre Glee-ful interludes right along with the brain-shattering fistfests, though at 133 minutes, the slight material might have slightly overstayed its welcome.

Dragon (aka Wu Xia) (2011) (1st viewing) d. Chan, Peter (Hong Kong)

I’m admittedly not versed enough in the world of martial arts films to make any such claim, but Donnie Yen is one of the few headlining Hong Kong stars who can impress both with his flying feet and fist as well as his potent acting chops. Having amassed an impressive resume of international hits like Iron Monkey, Hero and the Ip Man films (of which a third installment has just been announced), one has to wonder when Hollywood is going to swoop in and steal him away. This latest effort is no exception, with Yen playing a simple village papermaker who “accidentally” kills two villains during a robbery – the ensuing investigation revealing a darker past that our “hero” has sought to keep secret. But the real delight is the return of 70s chopsocky star Jimmy Wang Yu, who blows everyone else off the screen as Yen’s long estranged father. Seriously, you can’t buy screen presence like this, and even if the rest of the picture weren’t worthwhile (which it definitely is), Yu’s sequences make this a must-see.

2012 Totals to date: 298 films, 253 1st time views, 169 horror, 83 cinema

1 comment:

  1. Thanks! Nice reviews. For me, the highlight of DRAGON was seeing Kara Hui back on the big screen in an action role. Not to mention seeing her again this afternoon in FISTS OF THE WHITE LOTUS. As you may know, Kara's career took a bit of a dive at one point. In fact, I have a copy of a Hong Kong edition of Playboy in which she did a (tasteful) nude pictorial.