Hey folks, Harry here... with the UT vs OU game happening up in Dallas - I watched till halftime before beginning my day at FANTASTIC FEST - which was another damn great day of films and flicks. Chatting with attendees from Mexico and Spain and Los Angeles and all over... Just seeing attendees actually wearing their Festival shirts is a big deal for me, as if they're wearing em - that's a sure sign they're enjoying themselves. Also - ol Augustus Gloop has been on this thing like a mosquito on a baby leg. Here's another sweet report from teh Gloop...
Hey Harry, I don't know how you do it. Three days of this fest have nearly wiped me out. Watching movies all day and all night, coming home to write down my thoughts and then about 4 hours sleep before starting it all over again, right now I feel about as beaten and as fulfilled as I did after 24 hours of Butt Numb a Thon.
I'd already seen The Big White, and with the exception of Damnation Alley and The Stand, I'm not a big fan of post-apocalyptic cinema, so I skipped No Blade of Grass, which meant my first screening today was the 4:00 presentation of:
A Scanner Darkly (Panel)
I think there is a very large audience eagerly awaiting this film. There's not much to say about panel discussions. This wasn't the same scale of presentation as yesterday's Narnia panel. We were treated to a very nice trailer, which has not yet been released, and which will probably see some changes before it is. The audience was composed mostly of die-hard Philip Dick fans and technical people, so the questions tended to be about the production of the film. They also showed a couple of short clips, but nothing that gives away much of the story. Still, they were more than any of the extremely brief clips I've seen on TV. One thing I got from this was the effect of the rotoscoping on people's faces tends to smooth out wrinkles, subtle muscle movements, all the little indicators of expression. The presenters mentioned that the most difficult character to animate was Winona Ryder, because the female face is smoother, and it was difficult to retain the sense of femininity with any mistakes in drawing. In the case of Keanu, who doesn't seem to express himself facially most of the time, this just enhances that effect. For Robert Downey Jr, however, just the opposite happened. His face is full of lines, and he really expresses himself in his acting. This translates very nicely with the black lines drawn in with the rotoscoping. We also saw a live demonstration of the software used, running on an off-the-shelf Mac. It looks very easy to use for anyone who has decent proficiency with computers and Photoshop. I would love to see this released as a consumer product. But of course, it is still a time-consuming process, and it is just a tool that requires artistic ability to use effectively.
The panel ended after roughly an hour, so there was a lot of time until my next event at 6:45:
I expected to like Strings. The description looked interesting, and the stills I'd seen looked very artistic, but I reserved a doubt or two about a production made with puppets. Perhaps I was influenced by Team America or even The Thunderbirds. What I did not expect was for this to be my favorite show of the festival. Luckily, this one is already available on DVD, and mine is already on order. Amazon has them for less than $16 from some of their affiliated sellers.
From an artistic perspective, take all the best puppet shots from Being John Malkovich, and think of them as a child's crayon sketches next to Matisse or Renoit. These puppets are similar, but much more detailed and unique. They are stunningly beautiful, as are the castles, tents, and other various landscapes used. This is not a set of puppets on a stage, but an entire world populated by people who just happen to have strings that go up to Heaven. It is totally immersive and believable.
The puppetry and look isn't the only thing to love about Strings. The story is very rich and engaging. It incorporates a whole mythology or cosmology that is unique to the puppets. They see their strings and they are as much a part of them as our blood or brains. To torture one of them is to cut a hand or leg string. To kill one is to cut the vital head string. In an amazing scene, we actually see how these creatures reproduce, where in a 'birth', silken strands detach from the mother's strings and are attached to a body crafted by the father, bringing the new child to life.
I must say that absolutely nothing in this movie is cheesy or childish. In fact, it might not be a good idea for younger ones to see this due to very mature themes of war, genocide, and death. The ending of Strings had me in tears, and that's something no puppet show has ever done.
Strings was preceded by a very wonderful animated short called:
This one is perfectly paired to get you in a good mood for Strings. Computer animated in 3D, it is cartoonish, but has some stunning moments, most notably, a constellation of stars that comes to life as a catfish and transports the main character to the moon, where he must do battle with evil. A short yet sweet story, with a beautiful score by They Might Be Giants. (instrumental only, unfortunately)
After Strings, I should have gone home for some sleep, but it was just a few minutes until:
I had heard this was a decent film, and it was billed as 'the scariest movie ever', so I just had to see what it was all about. Unfortunately, I really didn't find anything remotely scary in this Japanese psychological horror/apocalypse. I didn't really dislike it, I was just too wiped out to stay awake during very long scenes where not much is really happening. The general idea seems to have been that Hell has filled up, and ghosts are now finding their way to Earth in an attempt to keep people from truly dying by depressing them into purgatory. At first, people are just committing suicide, but soon, they are instead overcome with intense melancholia that ends with a psychological confrontation with a ghost that leaves them as nothing but a black smudge on a wall or floor, where they are shortly discovered by a screaming friend. People are also trying to protect themselves by taping up all the doors and windows with red duct tape. I'm not sure how this is supposed to work or how they got the idea to do it, but it doesn't seem to have any effect, as people just need to use their doors too much, so the tape never stays put for long. It goes on like this for about two hours until at the end only a couple of people are left alive. They have been journeying, trying to get off the island and have arrived at a dock where they are getting on a boat, when a B1 bomber comes flying overhead (or crashing overhead, really) trailing smoke, and crashes into the industrial complex right next to them. This was the coolest shot in the film. So, they get on the boat and head to South America, where there are still supposed to be a few survivors, and that's the end. I'm looking forward to other reviews of this to see if there's anything I missed while I was dozing. It wouldn't be bad for a saturday or Sunday matinee, but it just doesn't live up to my idea of 'Fantastic'.
Pulse ran so long there was no time to stop and chat with anyone before I had to duck back into the theater for:
I almost didn't give this one a chance. After the previous two hours of subtitled Japanese, I wasn't sure I could make it through this one when I found out it was also a Japanese sub. While Pulse could have really used a dubbing, Marebito, narrated by the main character was just fine with subtitles.
It started a little slow, with very bad footage from a camcorder, but that's because the lead (Masuoka) is a news cameraman, and he's looking at footage of a man he saw stab himself in the eye. Masuoka has a fetish for terror and wants to experience for himself the images that people see when they are at their most frightened. The film quickly gets more interesting as he makes his way back to the subway station where the suicide happened. He discovers a portal to the underworld, and we are treated to some really spectacular shots of the underground world that is supposed to be accessible from all major cities of the world. As he continues exploring, Masuoka happens upon a vampire girl chained in an alcove. He frees her, and takes her back home, where he has to deal with caretaking and providing for a helpless waif that only eats or drinks blood. In the end, he has committed the murder of his ex-wife and a total stranger to satisfy her, and you aren't quite sure if this is all really happening or if he's just insane and the girl is his actual daughter, who's supposed to be missing. Trying to sort this out for himself, he's pretty much going insane, and he ends up back in the underworld alcove in much the same condition his vampire foundling was when he first brought her up from the depths.
This plays very well, and only drags a little at the beginning and again at the end. The juicy, gooey middle is a lot of fun. Marebito explores voyeurism through Masuoka's character, who takes a video camera everywhere he goes and even has cameras in his apartment to watch the vampire, 'F', through his cell phone. The main psychological aspects in play would seem to be various perversions bordering on sadomasochism. The girl is treated as his pet, and to drive that home, we see her licking blood from the floor, and later, she escapes for a time only to return much like a missing puppy, to have her head scratched by her loving master. In the end, however, the tables are turned as she now holds the video camera on him as he trembles in the subterranean alcove.