Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Fantasia Day 13 (Tuesday, July 31)

This was one of those days where it was less about extracurricular treats and all about the movies (although we were treated to a visit from Errors of the Human Body’s director and star, Eron Sheehan and Michael Eklund, respectively).

I can tell that Fantasia Fatigue is starting to set in, otherwise known as feeling a bit FF’d. I was doing battle with the sandman all day long, struggling to keep my eyes open through the five features. After nearly two weeks of five hours of sleep (or less) a night, the toll is being taken. When you find yourself nodding off during a roaring crowd of Simon Pegg fans, you know you’re tired.

Schoolgirl Apocalypse (2011) (1st viewing) d. Cairns, John (Japan)

The well-worn zombie premise is given an intriguing spin via a “Screwfly Solution” premise, wherein all the male members of the human species turn into staggering homicidal id monsters, relentlessly stalking the fairer sex. Cairns, an American émigré making his feature directing debut, also injects intriguing animated fantasy sequences into his J-horror by having surviving protagonist Higarino interact with the line-drawing characters from her English language lesson book. Higarino’s existence is further complicated by the presence of sociopathic female Mai Tsujimoto, who is far more calculating a predator than her brain-dead counterparts. While the ending takes the film into dicey “WTF for WTF’s sake” terrain and the somber pace and tone fly in the face of expectations conjured by the joyous Sushi Typhoon splatterfest title, one must admire Cairns for daring to venture bravely outside the undead box.

Errors of the Human Body (2012) (1st viewing) d. Sheehan, Eron (Germany)

The Divide scribe Sheehan takes the directing reins, reuniting with that film’s breakout star Michael Eklund for this chilly exercise in body horror. Walking a precarious tightrope between authenticity and inaccessibility, Eklund is a bit of a cipher in his muted portrayal of a discredited biochemist devastated by the loss of his infant son to a mysterious mutating disease. Called to Germany five years later by a colleague (The Young Ones star Rik Mayall), the still-grieving doc reunites with former flame Karoline Herfurth, who just happens to be on the brink of a breakthrough utilizing her old mentor’s theories. Fertile ground for science-run-amok mutation madness, but Sheenan pulls things up short with a muted visual palette and deliberate pace. While this “bleak is beautiful” aesthetic is admirable, the viewer is ultimately left stranded in bathos, unable to connect with Eklund despite our comprehension of his emotional state and precious few thrill-ride creature effects to compensate. A final plot reveal packs a retroactive wallop, but arrives a little late to save the day. Still, Sheehan, with his sure, uncompromising vision, is clearly a talent to watch.

Fantastic Fear of Everything, A (2012) (1st viewing) d. Mills, Crispian / Hopewell, Chris (UK)

As a deeply paranoid writer of children’s books, the usually infallible Simon Pegg shrieks and mugs his way through an exhausting 100 minutes that had me honestly flummoxed by the screaming gales of laughter around me. Seriously, it was one of those times where it felt like my fellow audience members were somehow watching a different, exponentially superior film than I, giggling hysterically every time Pegg (who also exec-produced) twitched this way or that. Things admittedly pick up in the final act with a laundromat sequence that literally spirals downward into surprisingly dark terrain, but for the most part it’s all frantic frenetics without the funny.

Robo-G (2012) (1st viewing) d. Yaguchi, Shinobu (Japan)

An utterly charming comic yarn about a retired crank of a senior citizen (Shinjiro Igarashi) who becomes the unlikely savior of a group of muddled computer technicians tasked with creating a humanoid robot for an upcoming electronics expo. When their design fails, they recruit Igarashi – despite his age, he fits the existing metal robot frame – but when he instinctively saves a young brainiac from being brained by a falling beam, the faux cyborg becomes an unlikely national hero, and the charade must be sustained indefinitely for (paid) public appearances. Keeping the cover-up intact provides many clever comic opportunities which the energetic cast mines for all they’re worth; meanwhile, Yaguchi, who also scripted, gives the film a warm heart via Igarishi’s relationship with his robot-loving children. Terrific family fare.

Isn't Anyone Alive? (2011) (1st viewing) d. Ishii, Gakuryu (Japan)

News of a mysterious train crash, where the conductor is suspected of having fallen asleep or died suddenly, reaches a medical college campus. And, as the clock ticks benignly by, students and individuals of all walks start randomly coughing, spasming…and dropping dead. An intriguing concept, but unfortunately, that’s the whole of the film and at 113 minutes, it’s far too long for its slender premise, intriguingly nihilistic though it might be. While we spend some time with characters (more with those that live longer, for obvious reasons), we never get to really know them at all, the mysterious plague is never sufficiently explained and the entire enterprise becomes a waiting game to see who will keel over next and whether they will say anything clever, amusing or insightful on the way down. Maybe the pointlessness of it all is director Ishii and screenwriter Shiro Maeda’s point, but its delivery proves undeniably monotonous.

2012 Totals to date: 350 films, 303 1st time views, 195 horror, 127 cinema

Fantasia Totals: 54 films, 52 1st time views, 27 horror, 49 cinema

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