We’re into the last week of Fantasia, and our coverage here at FTB is almost at an end. But it’s not over yet, and here’s three more reviews from my Fantasia experience.
Director’s Commentary: Terror of Frankenstein
Sometimes, a really, REALLY good idea is all you need, and Director’s Commentary: Terror of Frankenstein does indeed have a really good idea at its core. The film takes Terror of Frankenstein, an almost entirely forgotten 1977 Frankenstein movie and creates an entirely fictitious director’s commentary for it.
In the world of the commentary, the film took on a cult following after a serial killer cut his way through the cast and crew of the film over several years after the production wrapped. The director and writer, two of the only survivors, are now recording a new commentary shortly after the killer’s execution, and over the course of the recording, all the old baggage comes to the surface, bringing new revelations along with it.
On paper, Director’s Commentary is actually kind of brilliant. Taking the DVD director’s commentary and turning it into a way to tell a story in itself is a really interesting idea, and you have to wonder why it took so long to hit on. It’s a really clever example of remix culture, one that will probably have some imitators in the next few years. For good or ill.
The only serious problem arises in the execution. Of the two actors performing the film (there’s also an appearance by Leon Vitali, one of the actual actors from the original film, playing an alternate version of himself) one isn’t quite up to the level you’d really want, often coming off a bit too hammy. There’s also a lot of silence where we’re just watching the original movie, and it would have helped the authenticity of the thing if they’d thrown in a lot more of the usual director’s commentary babble to fill the time between major revelations about the story. But still, it’s a really interesting film. A really solid idea that just needed another ten percent in the execution.
I’ve never really been into the Lupin III series, the ridiculously long-running anime and manga franchise about the grandson of legendary French thief Arsene Lupin. What I am into is Ryuhei Kitamura, the maverick director who brought us Versus and Aragami. Kitamura’s films have a swagger, a kind of rock and roll confidence to them that appeals to the angry teenager in me, the one who still thinks that Katana plus trenchcoat is the most rockin’ combination ever.
So when I went in to his new live-action Lupin III movie, it wasn’t for the source material. It was for the style. And style is something the film has in abundance.
Kitamura’s signature over-the-top action, the nonchalant, sneering “cool guys” who can cut a truck in half while maintaining the kind of facial expression that says “this is as exciting to me as waiting in line at the bank.” It’s all there for fans of his to appreciate.
Problematically though, it’s also frequently buried under a lot of really choppy, incoherent editing. I’m not who’s responsible for this, but the action scenes frequently wound up frustrating for me to watch, because the flow and geography of the action scenes often got completely and utterly lost in a storm of quick cuts that seemed hastily put together.
And then there’s the Engrish. Oh ye gods, the Engrish. Again, not sure who’s idea it was to have half the dialogue in the film spoken in awkward English by the mostly Japanese cast but much like that dodgy editing, it just felt distracting and weird.
Is it still fun? Of course. You’ll probably have a fun time watching it. Is it Kitamura’s best film? Absolutely not.
Ninja The Monster
With a title like Ninja The Monster, you probably already have an idea of what to expect. Something akin to Aliens Vs. Ninja perhaps, an over-the-top action fest full of gushing blood geysers, about as tongue in cheek as something Noboru Iguchi might do. And yet when you watch the film, you quickly realize that that isn’t the case.
A slow paced, moody affair, Ninja The Monster sees a samurai and a ninja team up to escort a princess through a forest plagued by monsters. Of course, the samurai is distrustful of our broody ninja hero, and they stand as much chance of killing each other as they do being killed by the monsters.
Speaking of the monsters, I throw the phrase “big pile of CGI” around fairly willy-nilly sometimes. It’s refreshing for once to see a movie where that description is entirely accurate, however.
The creatures that menace our heroes are some kind of slime or water based monsters, big floating blobs of liquid that occasionally coalesce into a monster-like shape. As creatures go, it’s fairly dull, and the fact that they’re never really explored or exposited upon goes a long way to making them the most boring part of the film.
I will give it this, though, it’s a lot better assembled than I expected. Given I was expecting something schlockier and cheaper, it was a pleasant surprise to see how much care went in to the compositions, atmosphere, and mood.