To some, the idea of seeing five movies in a day might seem excessive. “Why?” they’d ask, their heads barely breaking the surface of the sea of mediocrity they belly-flopped into years ago. To which I would reply, my hands on my hips and my chin thrust proudly into the air, “Why not?” Fantasia 2014 kicked off this weekend, and for me it truly started on Sunday, when I set out to break my own record and attend five screenings, essentially back to back. So to kick off my real coverage of this year’s festival, let’s take a quick look at what I’ve seen so far.
It’s no great shock that Jellyfish Eyes has been masterminded by a renowned pop artist, because the film is in many ways pop art personified. Everything is impossibly colourful and crisp looking, about as processed and artificial looking as the plastic toys no doubt already long since sold-out bearing the likenesses of the film’s Pokemon-esque fighting monsters. For a lot of people, Jellyfish Eyes’ bright, four-colour aesthetic would be an instant turn-off but for me it really made the movie.
In a lot of ways, Jellyfish Eyes pulls off the “live action anime” vibe better than more overt attempts at pulling that aesthetic off, like some Miike movies. If nothing else, it’s a gorgeous looking flick, and has enough heart and charm to carry it the rest of the way to a top spot on the list of things I’ve seen so far this year.
Despite being the driving force behind more fantastic, groundbreaking films than many directors working in the industry today, the past several years have not been kind to Terry Gilliam. Or rather, critics and audiences haven’t been kind, as his last few efforts have gone either unnoticed or failed to impress anyone to the degree of his earlier efforts.
As much as I’d love to say that his new film, The Zero Theorem, is the turning point Gilliam fans have been waiting for….eh, it’s not amazing. While the movie continues his trend of stunning sets, costumes and overall look, it also continues the more recent trend of his films feeling meandering and unsure of themselves. The social satire is still there from the Brazil days but it feels like an easy, unsubtle Mad Magazine type of social satire. I’d probably like the movie more on a whole if not for a fairly disappointing ending that doesn’t so much offer closure as a big, black void of closure. I get enough of that from my romantic relationships, thank you very much.
Even without the presence of Japanese cult auteur Noboru Iguchi, it’s not at all surprising that I was drawn to Nuigulamar Z, a wild take on the “Tokusatsu” genre that sees a girl fuse with a teddy bear to fight zombies. Perhaps more than Takashi Miike, Iguchi is quickly becoming the quintessential Fantasia director (for me at least) and Nuigulamar Z is more proof of that.
Almost from frame one, the viewer is assaulted with more irreverent, weird, messed up, “because it’s Japan” zaniness than you’re bound to see anywhere else at the movies this year. If you’re into that kinda thing, you’ll probably be grinning ear to ear as hard as I was for the entire run time. The only thing Iguchi’s fans may find lacking is the lack of any real “splatter” or gore beyond CGI blood-splatters added in post. But apparently his other movie this year, Live, makes up for that. But for weirdos like me who are into this kinda thing even without Iguchi around to add adult babies and boob lasers, it’s about as much fun as you’re going to have at this year’s Fantasia.
The Reconstruction of William Zero
God, The Signal was good, wasn’t it? Going into director Dan Bush’s new feature, you can practically hear that phrase being spoken like a litany by about half the audience. But here’s the big problem: if you go in to William Zero expecting The Signal, you’re going to be disappointed.
If you go in to William Zero expecting a low-key, well acted genre flick with some interesting turns but nothing that will splinter the Earth’s crust ‘neath its mighty steps, then your expectations will very much be met. What strikes me as more interesting about William Zero than anything else is just how formally different it feels from The Signal. That oppressive, apocalyptic vibe is totally gone in favor of something a bit cleaner, a bit more polished and less intentionally raw. And though some may find the difference jarring, or even disappointing, when taken entirely on its own it’s a perfectly good, if only half-remarkable movie.
Just seriously, don’t compare it to The Signal.
As good as The Suspect is, I can’t shake the feeling that by the time the festival is over, it will be lost in my memory, fused together with the two or three similar looking Korean action thrillers in an amorphous blob of gunfights, car chases and blue tint.
This may be because when the overly convoluted plot involving North Korean spies wasn’t confusing the hell out of me, the nigh-incomprehensible action scene photography was confusing me even more. It seems that in their haste to ape all the qualities of American and Hong Kong actioners, the team behind The Suspect picked up all the bad qualities, resulting in a mess of shakey-cam, bland leading men and a score that feels like something Hans Zimmer writes to warm himself up.
Which isn’t to say it isn’t enjoyable at times. Some of the supporting cast are fun and likeable enough that the movie really should have been about them, and not the bland, near-superhero of a protagonist. But it feels overly drawn out, overly complicated and emblematic of all the worst qualities of modern fight scene photography, and the fun supporting cast can’t entirely save it from being forgettable.
Fantasia International Film Festival runs until August 6, 2014.