Fantasia: One More for the Road


Despite what the producers of The Simpsons and Coronation Street would have you believe, all things must inevitably end, and sadly Fantasia 2012 has now come to a close.

It’s been a pretty wild ride, with some great films and some bad ones on display, but the time has some to take a bow, gently step behind the curtains and immediately make for the exit, and the hooker-filled limousine waiting in the back alley behind the theatre.

So here’s one last look at what was on display this year.


Doomsday Book

Korea really seems to have “won” Fantasia this year, delivering quite a few notable films, and Doomsday Book, an anthology of three not-at-all related South Korean shorts, seems to be the ultimate proof of that

It’s good to see an anthology film balanced so well, especially after that the flaccid, underwhelming V/H/S and the only slightly more unimpressive The Fourth Dimension. Doomsday Book, despite the lack of an overall theme or genre, is a great collection of films, ranging from thought-provoking to funny, and a few places in-between.

The stories are a varied bunch. The first is a fairly basic zombie outbreak yarn, because we haven’t seen enough of those apparently. The second is an Asimov-esque tale of a robot who attains enlightenment in a Buddhist temple and the resulting moral quandaries. And finally we have the story of a girl who orders a pool ball on a mysterious website, only to have a 100-mile wide 8-ball come speeding towards Earth at the same blistering speed attractive single women run away when they hear my name.

Of the three, the middle one is the strongest, the best kind of philosophical future-speculation sci-fi Roddenberry was riffing on, taken to a new level. The Asimov connection is obvious, and in a way this is a more faithful adaptation of his whole “Let’s stop and -think- about this robot idea” schtick than certain movies.

The zombie story is fairly standard, tough clever and well executed, and the final story is humorous and original. All three are worth a look, and make for an excellent package overall


The Sorcerer and the White Snake

There are precious few movies I can name that take ancient myths and figures and put them on screen without holding back any of the over-the-top spectacle and epic myth-making that’s needed to….y’know, actually make myths.

The Sorcerer and the White Snake is one of those movies. This is a film that decisively does not fuck around. Want kung-fu monks throwing huge magical attacks at skyscraper-sized snake demons in the midst of country-swallowing floods? You got it, and what specific tastes you have.

The film is adapted from an old fairy tale of the same name, a fairly basic story of forbidden love spiced with comedy, action and a good message of tolerance and love.

The visuals are spectacular, just about as creative and epic in scale as you would want from a story adapting Chinese mythology. Though once in a while the images aren’t up to the fidelity we’re used to from Hollywood, they make up for it in creativity.

The one real weakness is the story, which sometimes seems indecisive at times. It can flit from comedy to melodrama in a heartbeat, and one sub-plot in particular just vanishes from the movie for no real reason for a good half hour, only to suddenly return later.

That aside, the film has the kind of forward-thinking, tolerance-based message that I frankly have found missing from a lot of big Hong-Kong movies, which lately have been more occupied with Nationalist propagandizing than preaching understanding.

If you have the chance to watch this on a big screen, do it.


Toy Masters

I was born a tad too late to really be part of the big “He-Man” craze in the late 80s. I was more part of the Transformers/Power Rangers generation.

But the makers of Toy Masters were there, and have now grown up and chronicled the whole phenomenon with the love and attention of true fans, which is the film’s blessing and curse.

The main draw of the movie is the ongoing dispute between two men who each claim to have created He-Man for Mattel in the 80s, and a good chunk of the movie is one of them saying the other is full of shit. Of course, if that were all the movie were about it’d be great, but as interesting as all that is, the film makers insist on tearing us away from the amusing bickerings of the two now retirement-age men to show us the rest of the He-Man story, including an extended look at the ill-fated live action movie starring Dolph Lundgren.

Overall, the movie needs a tighter focus. The passion of those behind the camera is palpable, but in order to deliver a stronger, more tightly focused and consistent movie, they needed to decide if they wanted to do a complete retrospective of the He-Man franchise, or a look at the disputed origins of the big lumpy goon.

As it is, they tried to do both, and the spinning plates crashed down on their heads.

Ace Attorney

To say that films adapted from video-games have a bad track-record is like saying Mortal Kombat Annihilation was just a little bit terrible, but lo and behold, it seems our old friend the batshit-insane Takashi Miike seems to have provided some evidence that making a good video-game movie isn’t impossible.

Ace Attorney, based off the game series of the same name, is about what you’d expect from Miike: a visually lunatic film laced with dark comedy, absurdity a the occasional glimpse of the profound, all the while sticking as close to the source material as possible, right down to the protagonist’s weird looking anime haircut.

As suggested from the title, the movie is a kind of courtroom comedy, where dueling lawyers go head-to-head to prove or disprove cases. Think Law and Order: Criminal Intent meets Gladiator.

Our protagonist is Phoenix Wright, a struggling young attorney who must win a series of court battles over the course of the movie: The murder of his mentor, the supposed framing of his rival Miles Edgeworth, and finally a years-old case with ties to half the cast of characters.

To someone unfamiliar with the games, like me, the film is often baffling, but then again I have yet to see a Miike film that didn’t baffle me on some level, and there are occasions when I’m in the right mood for a vigorous baffling. Such was the case when I saw Ace Attorney, and though I barely understood what was going on half the time, I still enjoyed it immensely.

And that, as they say, is that. Fantasia 2012 has drawn to a close. It’s been a good fest, with some surprise hits, precious few let-downs and only one seizure mid-screening.

Hopefully next year will be even better, and until then…..I need a fucking nap.

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