Fantasia 2013 Continues with Exploitation, Anime and Epic Beards

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Fantasia 2013 is chugging along like a freight train powered by celluloid and methamphetamines, and even though it’s only a week and change in, there’s already been some great cinema on display. And some kinda ish cinema. Some very ish cinema. Like, for example….

20889f221e9fe4fb6460a907d754868dPin Up Dolls on Ice

With a title like this, you pretty much know you’re in for a good ole fashioned grindhouse/exploitation throwback, to the point that you don’t even need to look at the plot. For the record, the plot in question is that a group of tough, take no prisoners burlesque performers go to a secluded trailer park to put on a show, only to find themselves menaced by an ax wielding, fridge humping crazy who goes around making noises like Christian Bale’s Batman getting repeatedly kicked in the bat-junk.

Not that any question of plot matters, because the film seems determined to present the most generic, by the numbers 80s slasher “tribute” imaginable. Up until maybe the last five minutes, almost everything that happens can be seen a mile off by anyone who’s watched more than one slasher movie in their entire lives.

Women in underwear run around screaming and being totally ineffectual (despite an early scene that seemed to promise that the female protagonists this time around were tough and feisty and knew how to take care of themselves), the killer materializes at will, just in time to kill the plucky sheriff (that’s not a spoiler, seriously) mere seconds after he spends five solid minutes pointing the exposition hose straight at our faces, blasting us with the most generic slasher villain origin ever, it’s all about as choreographed as a Russian ballet dance, to the point that you can practically hear the dancers’ domineering mother/coaches shouting at them from the sidelines. “Scream louder, push your tits out, or you vill have no borscht tonight!!”

Now all of this isn’t to say it’s bad, per se, just generic. Startlingly, maddeningly generic. For all the film makers’ love of the genre, they don’t take it anywhere new or interesting, don’t show us anything we haven’t seen before. Just tits and violence (the gore effects aren’t that amazing either) and a lot of really annoying post-production digital zooms. So if tits and violence is what you’re after….just watch a real 80s slasher flick.

Doomsdaysddays poster 26.5x40 final

This one hit the fest with a lot of hype and fanfare, with festival bigwig and hair care enthusiast Mitch Davis coming out beforehand to sing its praises in his typical exuberant fashion. Normally, when a movie gets this much hype my “Well, I know better than them!” circuits go into overdrive and I immediately become more inclined to hate the film to satisfy my smug sense of superiority….but Mitch was right, this movie’s gooooood.

Billed as a pre-apocalypse comedy, our protagonists are Bruho and Fred, a pair of shiftless 20-somethings wandering around isolated cottage country, breaking into peoples’ homes and living there as long as possible, in anticipation of an apocalypse brought about by the oil crisis.

Or at least, that seems to be Bruho’s reasoning, and also his motivation for slashing tires and going all Street Fighter 2 on any car that he finds, and generally being sullen and moody. Fred just seems to be along for the ride, with free booze and the opportunity to be detached and snarky as a bonus.

The film, the first offering by critic turned film maker Eddie Mullins, wears its influences on its sleeve, evoking early Jarmusch, Wes Anderson and even shades of early Kevin Smith at every turn with painstakingly framed, extended static shots, little scene-to-scene continuity, and characters seemingly destined to become cultural icons, probably by design.

Of course, all the cynical influence-spotting doesn’t change the fact that Doomsdays is still a damn fine bit of film making, funny and heartfelt and creative. Yeah, it might be a bit too obvious in its attempts to be this generation’s Clerks, but I’d rather it try too hard to be memorable than fling itself into mediocrity like Pin Up Dolls on Ice did.

KRp4l9rThe Garden of Words

Last year, you’ll remember I lamented that Makoto Shinkai’s 2011 offering Children who Chase Lost Voices suffered mostly from feeling distinctly NOT like a Makoto Shinkai movie, but more like Makoto Shinkai after someone told him to be more like Miyazaki.

Well, while I highly doubt anyone in Japan reads this, his new film The Garden of Words feels like someone, possibly Shinkai himself, read my words and took them to heart, because Garden of Words is about as Shinkai and Shinkai can get.

Clocking in at a mere 45 minutes long, Garden is a concise, moving tale of two individuals, a student named Takao and an older woman named Yukino who, after a chance encounter, meet every rainy day in a secluded bench in a park to escape their lives. Takao, a driven, hardworking student harboring dreams of becoming a shoemaker, and Yukino, a scatterbrained, immature woman not quite comfortable with her adulthood, strike up a friendship, with each providing something the other needs.

To Takao, the older Yukino seems like the only adult in the world to treat him as an equal and encourage him in his dreams. To Yukino, Takao represents the kind of drive and maturity she feels is missing in herself. The film, often pausing to focus on the most minute details and putting emotion, character and relationship in the forefront, unfolds like a poem, which is to say you’ll probably be weeping like a child by the end.

Unlike Children, which seemed to put too much focus on the fantastical world it was creating and the adventure and hijinks therein, Garden gets back to what made Shinkai….well, Shinkai. Character-driven stories where emotion and relationships are the main focus.

It should also be said, this is probably the most beautiful animated film you will see all year, if only based on the visuals. The meager running time meant the animators could punch up the details and make every raindrop and facial expression as beautiful and lush as possible, and when the movie doesn’t have you bawling like an XboxOne investor after spending five minutes on the internet, you’ll probably be struck dumb by the sheer beauty the film can conjure out of a cityscape or sunlight shining through leaves.

Some may find its frank emotion a tad schmaltzy or Hallmark card-y, but this is not one to miss.

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