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Friday, 5 September 2014

FrightFest and a Girl Named Lucy

Because I said I would, let's return to FrightFest, or at least to the five films we watched on the Friday and Saturday of the weekend:

Late Phases (2014): A UK premiere for this clever take on the werewolf film. Grumpy, blind war veteran (a thoroughly abrasive Nick Damici) moves into a supposedly idyllic retirement community...idyllic apart from the banging and screeching on his first night there and the fact that his guide dog is killed protecting him from an unseen beast. It doesn't take a genius to work out that an unfriendly neighbourhood werewolf is rapidly decimating the elderly population, not that his nosey neighbours appreciate his concern. Nor does the reality-denying local priest (an always welcome Tom Noonan). Not a great deal actually happens and the splatter is kept to a jokey minimum, but warrior Damici is armed to bring matters to a head and restore some sense of order into the doomed community, whatever the cost to himself.

R100 (2013): This Japanese film receiving its UK premiere was not part of the main programme, but featured on the 'Discovery Screen'; we chose it because non-US and non-UK movies have been the pick of the Fest in previous years. What a swizz! Film Four who are the festival's main sponsor actually broadcast the movie, free-to-view, the same weekend. Had we known that we might have saved ourselves the cost of a decent bottle of wine! Bitching apart, it was a weird treat and I suppose there was some advantage to watching it on a big screen. Our 'hero' (a recognizable Nao Omori from the great "Ichi the Killer") has a boring job and a wife in a coma. So as one might, he joins a strange gentleman's club to fulfil his fantasies. The catch is there is no quitting membership within the first year and he is beaten, embarrassed, and abused by a series of dominatrices -- but guess what, his reaction is supreme bliss. After an obese deliverer of projectile saliva (don't even try to picture this) dies at his house, he fights back, killing ranks of female ninjas, until the CEO of the club, an occidental buxom giantess locks herself in his fortress for the ultimate orgasms to the strains of Beethoven's Ninth. A kinky hoot...but what in the world was this movie doing at FrightFest?

 The title refers to the fact that this is purportedly the 100th film of a 100-year old director, as we eventually discover from a bunch of his lackeys. An apologist for him says that no one can understand this movie until they too are 100. A colleague retorts that there is therefore no point releasing the film, since how many 100-year olds are there and how many of them go to the cinema? Good questions....

The Harvest (2014): Another UK premiere for another US movie with rather more interesting credentials. From director John McNaughton of "Henry" fame and starring Samantha Morton and Michael Shannon, they play a somewhat estranged and somewhat deranged married couple with a big secret concerning their bedridden son. As a young new neighbour (a fine Natasha Calis) tries to make friends with the lad, Morton's behaviour becomes more and more defensive, desperate to hide the fact that there is another bedridden boy in the basement. What is being harvested and for whom is the shocking puzzle for the viewer to discover.

Starry Eyes (2014): Still another UK premiere and I'd better hurry along or I'll never get through everything I'm hoping to cover today. This was a mildly interesting examination of the desperate search for stardom in Hollywood by a would-be actress with rather minor talents. Performed by a no-name cast, our heroine Sarah is seduced by the producer of a supposed film company -- a front for a bunch of Satan worshippers we gather -- and is physically and mentally transformed into a beautiful murderess. So now you know how one becomes a success in La-La Land.

Life after Beth (2014): A preview this time for a Sundance hit starring Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan (flavour of the month), John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, and Anna Kendrick in a zom-com of dubious distinction. Young Zach is heartbroken when his girlfriend Beth dies, but rather taken aback when she comes back to life as a gradually disintegrating zombie. Her parents (Reilly and Shannon) are thrilled to have their daughter back and happy to turn a blind eye to her strange behaviour. Meanwhile Zach's family want him to get involved with a nice young lady of their choice, although they then are distracted when their long dead relatives begin to arise from the grave. Why all of the characters were meant to be Jewish is a complete mystery and non-sequitur. The film started as mildly amusing but soon outstayed its welcome.

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And here comes "Lucy" which deserves rather more room than I have left. This new film from French director Luc Besson (who has directed very little of late) is a fine bit of entertainment and something of a roller-coaster ride. Starring the delectable Scarlett Johansson, the movie has a similar premise to Bradley Cooper's "Limitless" (2011); it poses the question, what would happen if we humans used more than 10% of our potential intelligence. Cooper rose to the 20% level with amazing consequences, but Johansson's heroine gradually moves up to 100%. She begins the movie as a feckless bimbo living in Taiwan. Her slime-ball boyfriend Pilou Asbaek (yes, him out of "Borgen"), involves her in a major drug heist master-minded by Min-sik Choi ("Oldboy"), and she finds herself with a bag of some weird chemicals sewn into her tummy. One of her jailors, before she and three other mules are to be dispatched to various European cities, fancies a bit of 'how's your father' and kicks her in the stomach when he is rejected. This breaks the bag and disperses its contents into her system with unforeseen results as her intelligence and cunning grow by leaps and bounds.

She makes her way to Europe to recover the full drug haul with hordes of the Chinese Mafia on her tail, their guns blazing indiscriminately, and Lucy is no slouch herself when it comes to disposing of the enemy. Into the mix comes intelligence guru Morgan Freeman who has lectured on our poor use of our potential, but he adds little to the procedings as Johansson's Lucy is more or less the whole show. It's hard to think of another young actress who could have thrown herself so completely into the role as she becomes aware of her mortality and strives to preserve the knowledge that she has unwittingly acquired. Perhaps the film could have been rewritten for an older lead actress like Streep or Mirren, but it would have been a very different animal.

Of course the whole concept is a load of tosh, but it is beautifully handled by Besson. The cinematography of animal life and the special effects are masterfully presented, and he takes pains to remind us that the original ape linking the animal world to humankind was also called Lucy. Johansson moves from a pretty nobody to the embodiment of unimaginable intellect and pure spirit.

Next time for the remaining six FrightFest films....
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