The 21st annual SLIFF has come to an end. There’s a lot of stuff that I would’ve seen if it hadn’t been for conflicts, such as Canadian horror flick The Last Will And Testament Of Rosalind Leigh, the Danish comedy Klown, Singaporean anime Tatsumi (based on the memoir A Drifting Life), French animations like Zarafa, Le Tableau, and Tales Of The Night, the Thai thriller Headshot, Russian social-commentary Generation P, Joe Dante’s The Movie Orgy (clocking in at a brisk 270 minutes!), and Don Hertzfeldt’s It’s Such A Beautiful Day. Alas, of the 420 films, I attended a mere handful (spanning just two out of 50 countries; I’m cultured!), but I figured I might as well talk about a few of the highlights of what I did get to see.
The Hole 3D
Post-converting non-3D movies into 3D is the worst thing Hollywood is currently doing. Not just because it costs extra money to see the movies, not just because a movie like Jurassic Park will look terrible and make people sick in fake 3D, there’s a more important reason: they take the projectors away from real 3D movies. Joe Dante is one of the greatest movie directors of all time, and the fact that he was unable to find distribution for his new 3D picture, for years, just because it had relatively unknown actors in it, is a travesty. He eventually gave up, releasing it on 2D VOD here (and 3D blu ray in Europe, where I guess more people have 3D TVs, and good taste in movies), but film festivals remain the only legit way to see the movie as intended stateside.
The film is exactly what makes Dante great, a horror movie for kids that doesn’t candy-coat things for the preverbal set. The plot is about a group of kids finding a portal to Hell in their basement, and it doesn’t shy away from mentioning that word, or showing that the kids are in mortal danger, or using really creepy clown puppets. This all would have been fine in the 1980’s, but apparently they really had to fight the censors on this one just to avert an R-rating! Joe Dante was in attendance at SLIFF, so seeing Tim Lucas interview him for an hour after the screening was the highlight of this SLIFF (and probably all of them) for me.
Stand Up Guys
I think that this movie is supposed to be set in St Louis, but was shot in LA; details are a little short at the moment since it’s not getting released until next year. The story follows a pair of ex-mobsters, Val (Al Pacino) and Doc (Christopher Walken). Val has just gotten out of prison after 28 years, and wants to spend the night partying, and Doc plays along… partially because Doc has orders to whack his old friend by morning. An evening of mayhem ensues, during which they spring their old cohort (Alan Arkin) from his retirement home, battle a rape gang, knock over a pharmacy, visit the same prostitute thrice, and more. It was pretty good, though I’m not really into crime capers, though I’m interested to read that the two main actors were originally assigned to each other’s roles. Much like the case with the original Godzilla, it’s odd to imagine what the film would’ve been like if the characters’ parts were flipped, since Pacino as id and Walken as superego works pretty well here.
Fatal Call is a decent little thriller/mystery shot in the St Louis area. I went to see it (a) to support local arts, and (b) to see Kevin Sorbo shoot people. I was not disappointed on either front. While I wouldn’t recommend actively tracking the picture down, it’s absolutely worth a watch if it happens to scroll by on your television feed. Surprisingly, this was the most packed show I went to (I know the director and cinematographer were present, I imagine that a lot of the rest of the crew and friends were as well), which can lead to a problem for locally-made movies, especially if the audience gasps every time they recognize a location or applauds when their pal is a random extra.
Berserk Golden Age Arc I: Egg of the Supreme Ruler
This new trilogy of Berserk anime movies is incredibly frustrating for me. On one hand, they’re handled well from a storytelling perspective, are occasionally gorgeous to look at, and will potentially bring the franchise to new audiences. On the other hand (deep breath)…. the trilogy is redoing the same storyline as the TV series, which is only the background of the main characters; this should be an aside, a flashback, but not the only focus of the franchise. Characters from the not-backstory (i.e. actual plot) part of the manga are shown as stills during the opening credits, but from everything we’ve heard they don’t show up in the trilogy itself, which is a giant tease. Telling the story this way once is bad enough, but redundantly redoing it really aggravates. If the movies are allowed to progress into further arcs, however, streamlining 26 episodes into 3 well-paced films is a reasonable change. Movies can also afford certain liberties that TV can’t take (they actually animated pubic hair!), and the fact that the third part of the trilogy has been given an 18+ certificate gives me hope that it’ll be completely unrestrained.
The other factor worth mentioning is the frequent, atrocious use of CGI for the renderings of the characters. This is not just when traditional animation would be prohibitively expensive or complicated; it’s almost arbitrary but jarring every time. I was reminded of how when Gundress first played in theaters it wasn’t finished, so animatics filled in certain scenes to be fixed later, but this Berserk picture plays the inexpressive, Dreamcast-looking polygons interchangeably with the rest of the picture straight-faced. I’m only hard on it because it does have so much potential to truly be great, and these bits make me lament as though animation as an art form is dying.
It’s worth noting that this film festival served as the premiere of Viz’s English language dub of the movie. The festival director didn’t realize this in advance (I asked), but fortunately it was a very competent dub job, even if it was unexpected at a show that usually presents stuff in its native language.
A smaller-budget spoof of the full-blown comic superhero genre (a spiritual sibling to Doctor Horrible, Mystery Men, or The Specials), Alter Egos takes place at a remote motel in the northeast, where costumed heroes Fridge and C-Thru are transporting a supervillain. Things go awry: Fridge has a breakdown because he thinks his girlfriend is cheating on him with his secret identity, an unstable local cop decides to one-up the heroes that give him an inferiority complex, all while C-Thru gets secret orders from high command, a dangerous combination when a powerful telepath is locked in your bedroom. The movie makes an earnest attempt, though on a smaller scale, to present a world in which superpowers and spandex costumes are commonplace, and on that level I appreciate it a lot more than some of the blockbusters that attempt to camouflage their campy roots in the name of realism. If I had to voice a complaint, it would only be that I want to see more!
Based on a (banned) manga from the 70’s, Asura (it should be romanized as Ashura, but I guess to avoid confusion with another film with the same name they changed it?) is great. It’s a nasty, violent movie about famine and cannibalism during medieval Japan, that publicity material refers to as an “anti-Miyazaki” picture. While unrelenting in its cruelty, it still captures a good deal of pathos, and it actually does have some cute-ish moments that enhance the inevitable tragedy. It’s CGI anime, but that fact doesn’t bother me this time because the movie’s internally consistent and looks good, successfully capturing a watercolor aesthetic. Also, while I rarely discuss the cast in anime movies, this is an exception: Masako Nozawa plays the lead, giving her lungs a workout the likes of which we haven’t seen since Dragonball (dang, can that woman scream!), and legendary VAs Megumi Hayashibara and Kappei Yamaguchi round out the cast.
Comic-con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope
Morgan Spurlock’s documentary on San Diego Comic-Con nearly moved me to tears. It’s an excellent portrait of the passion that fans can have for the media that they love, following five groups of attendees (two artists, a cosplay troupe, a toy collector, the Mile High Comics vendors, and a film-fanatic couple) on their journey through the weekend, to see whose dreams will come true. Spurlock narrates this with the most amazing assortment of talking head that’s ever been assembled for fandom: writers, directors, actors, and artists ranging from A-grade to god-tier (I get the feeling that Kevin Smith in particular must have been talking at the camera for at least an hour).
The film has been out for a while now (I almost bought a copy at Toys R Us because it came with a Joss Whedon action figure), but an incentive to see it at this festival was that subject Skip Harvey was there to talk about the production. Apparently, and much to my approval, Spurlock is a true documentarian, and just sat back watching the drama unfold rather than attempting to guide it in a specific direction (as I’ve heard about countless “reality” projects), and the reason why the movie holds interest is that we’re only seeing a few of many subjects that were shadowed before editing. This makes me feel even better about a picture I already greatly respected, so I’d recommend it to anyone, either fans or casuals trying to understand what makes fandom tick.
Fat Kid Rules the World
It’s a funny sort of logic: Matthew Lillard is an actor that tends to appear in good projects, therefore there’s a chance he has good creative taste and I should see a movie he directed. Turns out, this was a valid assumption, as Lillard’s directorial debut is astonishing: it’s funny and touching, well-written and expertly performed. The story of a homeless junkie saving an overweight teen from suicide, then blackmailing him about it into joining his punk rock band, operates on a cartoonish level of absurdity, but the film sells it effectively, and the perfectly timed comedic bits, especially the protagonist’s awkward adolescent fantasies, had me laughing throughout, and the script is really smart in never letting any characters get one-dimensional, even if they do behave in over-the-top manners. I’m really looking forward to what Lillard, and the young actors who knocked this movie out of the park, can produce in the future.
Voted: 4/5, though I could have gone to 5.