Fantasia, Week Three in Review

There hasn’t been a whole lot else I was able to see for Fantasia’s final week, mainly since they were larger titles that already had distribution set up for the coming months (like Glorious, Moloch, and some other Shudder-esque acquisitions), which I’ll probably review later on their own so this update will see some reviews of restorations, with some new films thrown in for flavor.

Blue Sunshine, dir. Jeff Lieberman

Jeff Lieberman’s 1977 film has enjoyed a welcome resurgence, and now Synapse Films is restoring the film for a 4K release sometime soon. Straddling the line between murder mystery & horror Blue Sunshine is as much a generational and political terror as it is tangentially Cronenbergian in plausibility. Three women are murdered at a party and the crime is pinned on one of the guests there, Jerry Zipkin (great name!). While he evades authority Jerry investigates the murder, and other developing murders, by himself, following the thread of intrigue to local government in the film’s own treatment of paranoid political thrillers. There’s a lot of stylistic genre elements that populate the film and not all of it works, but it becomes far more interesting because of it.

As J. Zipkin zips around town (and maybe the city) additional murders and attacks take place, all by different people but with one shared characteristic: all their hair is gone from their head. You’d think that would be enough to clear Jerry, but this political machine has motive to pin him down and send him running a path eerily similar to the patterns of the killers. His discoveries get a little too uncomfortable for mayor-hopeful Edward Flemming, particularly Zipkin looking into his college days where he and his friends partook in a form of LSD. Blue Sunshine remains open by film’s end, Lieberman using his tendency to terrify by showing us the open spaces but populating those spaces with the same level of paranoia as his characters. The film does this effectively but kind of unevenly, almost because of its pastiche nature stretching the tone thin to something suspiciously impersonal. During all this we never really get the feeling of true horror in Zipkin (if he even feels it), instead playing the cool-headed lead type that’d normally lead a Larry Cohen film. Still, this is going to be one interesting release for Synapse. We’ll see what they have in store for us later on.

Accion Mutante, dir. Alex De La Iglesia

While we’re on the topic of pastiche, Accion Mutante really goes for it, opting for full homage in places. Iglesia’s science fiction action horror jams together misfit disabled “mutant” terrorists in a future society where the rich & conventionally beautiful live at the blatant expense of the poverty-stricken. The terrorist group, Accion Mutante, have targeted hubs protecting and perpetuating “beautiful people,” attacking aerobics classes & sperm banks in the film’s opening. Their final job is to infiltrate the wedding of Lord Orujo’s daughter Patricia, heiress of a wildly popular cracker company easily worth billions of space bucks. The plan is to kidnap the bride and hold her for ransom, getting those billions of dollars and retiring for life, but the too-complicated plan set by chief Ramon Yarritu goes awry quick. Its comedic action is cemented very early on, especially after the film’s theme song opening, so you’ll know what you’re getting into pretty much right away.

Accion Mutante gives you this great opening plot thrust but shows its edges in the middle act, once its characters hang around on their ship, hostage in tow. They need to deliver Patricia to someone on some planet somewhere for the money but things get even worse from there. Somewhere within the following, larger Star Wars homage, Iglesias’ individualized sense of humor tries for its audience’s embrace, but altogether comes off as an establishment of intent instead of getting your hands dirty and coming up with something new enough with the tools those homages and references are for. It’s not too derivative either, there’s some awesome, cool shit to see and experience, a little bit Verhoeven, a little bit on the cusp of Ridley Scott/James Cameron. Knowing Iglesias as the filmmaker to later give us Perdita Durango and Day of the Beast, two equally wild and different journeys that Accion Mutante no doubt helped build. Mutante may feel a little dry but its got it’s heart in the right place. And of course Severin Films is working to put this out on 4K and Blu-ray, so it can join its above-mentioned demented siblings on your shelf if you feel so inclined.

The Heroic Trio, dir. Johnnie To

Where to start? Johnnie To got his working in television, directing The Legend of the Condor Heroes in 1983, a wuxia/martial arts series based on a book of the same name. He has a definite knack for showcasing legendary heroes and giving them an effortless flair that in other filmmakers’ hands could feel manufactured or clumsy. To’s approach in The Heroic Trio is a declaration for him to do pretty much whatever he wants (I guess the word for that is independence, huh?), and that is most certainly accomplished here. Not everyone is going to be swayed by something so on-the-fly bonkers, but examining its synopsis will definitely get more people’s attention and intention to see it.

Newborn babies are being kidnapped by an unknown culprit who has the ability to render themselves invisible (Michelle Yeoh), the babies selected for their individual destinies to become new emperors. In investigating the kidnappings, a cop’s wife who moonlights as the vigilante Wonder Woman (Anita Mui) takes the case into her own hands and investigates the motivation behind this proposed empire. During her investigation she runs into Thief Catcher (Maggie Cheung), a motorcycle-riding, shotgun-toting no-nonsense bounty hunter who joins her to save the children and stop an evil supernatural plot to take over their realm. How could you not want to see that?

The fight choreography in Heroic Trio is thrilling and full of twists and turns but feels drenched in a murkiness of slow-motion at some times. It almost feels like those dreams you get when you’re moving as fast as you can but you can’t move faster than a sloth. That feeling isn’t 1:1 though, not nearly that intense; the film feels more dreamlike in not only its sense of logic but its sense of space and force too. On first examination the fights feel a tad slowed, almost as if the footage was meant to be sped up slightly for added effect. But the wire-fu effects certainly add to the growing momentum, and Anthony Wong’s poison darts (which are shot out of his severed fingers) provide a better sense of scale in time. The nature of the film is bizarre, its shifts in tone jerks from melodramatic to comical farce on a thin spin of the dime, but it never feels out of place or forced in any way. You still believe these characters and their struggles translate to palpable stakes. You want them to succeed. That’s why they’re heroes after all.

The Fifth Thoracic Vertebra, dir. Park Sye-young

In retrospect this might have been the best film I’ve seen during the entire festival. Running at just 62 minutes, Fifth Thoracic Vertebra manages to encompass the human experience through the lens of an infant-like bacterial life form, both alien and novel. It starts with a mattress, moved into a new apartment building occupied by a young couple. The couple have their issues, snippets of conversations and arguments populating their shared space which always includes their bed, which gets increasingly dirty and unkempt and fosters the birth of a new life-form. To help focus its audience on this birth over the comparatively mundane human drama, time stamps riddle the film marking either monumental events crucial to its development or minor blips in cognitive progress.

The film’s human characters are as fleeting as they are lasting, making significant imprints on the creature’s early development and behavior. It’s a fascinating study on what effect human beings make for those who may come after, or during — whether they will coexist or outlive us in this time. To call this a tone poem would be apt to a point, but in the end the nebulous character of the bacterial alien is pivotal. Near the end of the film, the opening statement of this paragraph is just as important if not more but becomes more lasting on the alien’s character than fleeting at all.

The human interactions at once become part of a mosaicked whole, offering a truly alien view of what was once important to a slice of a race of beings in any given moment. The most moving part of Thoracic Vertebra is affection, love, and touch permeate through all of these things, however crudely deciphered through our own terrestrial voyager. Despite the fact that this is technically a feature-length film, I would greatly welcome an expansion on it with full involvement by writer-director Park Sye-young. But as it is, the film is near perfect.

The Girl From the Other Side, dir. Yutaro Kubo & Satomi Maiya

A feature that expands on the short film of the same name, The Girl From the Other Side is an adaptation of the manga (also of the same name). The story concerns a little girl, Shiva, who is found by herself in the woods by a creature from the Outer Lands, a demon who has been searching for his true identity since his transformation. Shiva takes no issue with the creature’s appearance and takes to following him on his adventure, giving him the name “Teacher,” while he tries to piece together where Shiva came from and deliver her to a safe place.

In the film, the world is split in two: the Inner and the Outer Lands. Humans occupy Inner Land while creatures and demons populate the Outer Lands, and can carry curses that turn ordinary humans into demons such as themselves. The world is vaguely medieval but set as more of an indistinct political backdrop for our main characters innocent compulsion. You’re not going to get any Lord of the Rings-level political involvement here. Although the set-up is intentionally vague it actually enhances the worldbuilding, but by focusing on how Shiva and Teacher see it and interact within it.

In very many ways the world of Girl From the Other Side feels similar to A.A. Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood with more of an adult push towards violence (with regards to strokes of Bakshi within). Partly because this is an adaptation of an existing work of literature it feels a little too methodical for its own good, but still keeps a good number of secrets close to the chest. It feels more a first part to a developing story in terms of an animated adaptation, but self-contained enough as a singular film to provide a springboard for whatever may come from the established story. In the end Girl From the Other Side is a heartwarming nugget set in an otherwise harsh landscape that feels fresh and nurturing in the face of danger.

Shin Ultraman, dir. Shinji Higuchi

This is the big one. Shin Godzilla made such a huge impact on Big Green, marking his return to Toho films, and the announcement was made that Ultraman would be heading back to the screen in much the same way. Directed by Shinji Higuchi and written by Hideiki Anno (of Shin Godzilla & Neon Genesis Evangelion), Shin Ultraman continues the same tone of structured government ineptitude in the face of a dramatically increased number of kaiju showing up in Japan. But Anno’s dark rendition of 1954’s Godzilla stays within Shin Godzilla. Ultraman’s part of the story offers a brighter side to the future, in true return to the Shōwa era television series.

After Godzilla’s destruction of Japan, numerous kaiju start appearing almost out of nowhere sowing destruction wherever they roam. The governmental offices that were hastily set up during Shin Godzilla struggle to learn & classify these monsters and try to pinpoint their weaknesses to save Japan and rid their country of as many beasts as possible. During one such mission, a meteor crashes near an outpost where an agent tries to save a child from the impact. From the crash site a giant, silver humanoid being appears and takes down the kaiju. Ultraman is born.

The film moves at an impressively brisk pace, covering material that could fuel 5 or 6 movies on their own but is sandwiched episodically within Shin Ultraman’s efficient 112-minute runtime. You could look back at everything that happens at the halfway point and be amazed at not only how much ground the film covers but how much of it you’ve retained. Not a small feat. But what I think the best attributes to come of the Shin films so far have been to embrace the characters in their true form, Godzilla as a giant walking, purely unpredictable destructive force, and Ultraman as an alien ambassador, paragon to humankind.

The film is just as fun as you would expect but Toho’s recent penchant for creating CGI-driven fights start to feel a little overbearing despite some moments where I couldn’t tell if I was looking at a scale model. Still, Shin Ultraman does exactly what it says on the tin and more, so whether you’re a fan of the big silver guy or completely new to the story, there’s really no better place to jump in.

Hey! Thanks for reading.

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celluloid consommé

celluloid consommé

90s kid raised by cartoon movie wolves. Twitter: @demonidisco letterboxd.com/HamburgerHarry