Saturday, November 28, 2009

Fantastic Planet Sydney Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Festival, Diary # 4

The next day of the Fantastic Planet Film Festival was also the last day. The closing night film was Franklyn (UK), directed by Gerald McMorrow (2008). It was described in the festival catalogue as “Part steampunk fantasy, part super-hero adventure, part love story, Franklyn takes you on a unique cinematic journey to a place where fantasy and reality blur.”

Franklyn intertwines the stories of four characters in contemporary London and the fictional Meanwhile City, where most of the steampunk fantasy/superhero adventure takes place. Jonathan Preest (Ryan Philippe) is a masked vigilante a la Rorschach from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen. He relentlessly looks for his archenemy known as the Individual in the religion driven urbanscape of Meanwhile City. Milo (Sam Riley), who has been through a nasty break up, starts looking for his first love. Emilia (Eva Green), a troubled and suicidal art student, is in the process of creating a very personal work of art while trying to resolve family issues with her mum. Peter (Bernard Hill), looks for his son who has escaped from a mental institution. Their lives are brought together in a climactic final scene.

Franklyn might be a bit disappointing for people who expect more of the promised steampunk/superhero action, but rewarding for people looking for a psychological drama with some fantasy overtones. The scenes which portray Meanwhile City are quite visually stunning, and show evidence of a detailed concept design. Considering the acting is mostly sub par – or maybe intentionally downplayed - one kind of wants to see more of those scenes rather than the dramatic lives of the London characters. Yet, I should say that it is quite an unusual film and might deserve a second viewing.

After the screening, I stayed for the awards ceremony and the after party and had a chance to chat with the organizers as well as some of the filmmakers. And this, sadly, brings us to the end of yet another successful film event. Nothing left to do but wait for the next A Night of Horror!


Here’s a list of films that won awards in the festival:

Short Films

Best Animation: Deconstruct

Best Australian Short: Oxygen

Audience Choice: The Drawing

Best Short Film: Intoxicant

Best Visual Effects (of both short and feature films): Burden

Feature Films:

Best Special Effects: Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf

Best Performance: Julie Carlson and Jadin Gould (Cryptic)

Best Australian Performance: Chris Baker (1 and 0 nly)

Best Director: Faye Jackson (Strigoi)

Best Australian Film: Eraser Children

Best Film of the Festival: Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf

Best Screenplays:

Short: Kitten

Feature: Time and Again

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fantastic Planet Sydney Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Festival, Diary #3

On November 5 Thursday (when we all remember, remembered!), I went to see two sessions of the fantastic Fantastic Planet film festival. The first of these was the Shorts Program # 4: Future attacks, and the other one was the “sushi western” Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf, directed by Kurando Mitsutake.

The shorts program included seven films, all of which were, I think, quite good, but some more so than the others. The first film of the session, Burden ( (Michael David Lynch, 2009 – 10 minutes), was one of the most visually stunning films in the festival (and won the best visual effects award in the festival). The film tells the story of a ‘watcher’ with super powers called Calik, who decides to take action when the earth is invaded by aliens. Michael David Lynch (that’s a killer name for the film industry, I reckon) was there to present his film and answer some questions at the end. We’ve learnt that this was a student project and it cost around 50.000 USD to make and that he’s hoping to turn it into a feature length film.

Burden was followed by Spaceman on Earth (Shant Hamassian, 2009), which was a live action/animation parody of 50s sci fi films, and particularly their main characters. Next, we watched Marooned? (Ryan Nagata, 2009), which had a similar approach to 1950s sci fi, as it was shot in b&w and featured two space traveler characters in marooned (?) on a planet with savage inhabitants, it had a twist which turned into a terrorizing tale of amnesia, murder, and geekery!

After the first three films, which were all from the US, we watched the 26 minute long short from Taiwan: Intoxicant by John Hsu (2008). The film re-imagines the internet forum setting as an actual room where the real life people put notices in a board where their actions are controlled by moderators, then turns this into a setting for a tale of mystery, in which the forum is under threat of an attack by a hacker. Intoxicant won the best short film award, and probably deserved it, too!

The Un-gone (Simon Bovey, 2006) hailed from the UK and was set in a future when molecular transportation is possible. However, there is a dark secret behind this form of transportation, which Julian Salinger, the protagonist, finds out to his utter displeasure. The Un-gone was followed by the Australian short Oxygen (David Norris, 2008) was a dystopia, in which the world’s oxygen supplies are in shortage, and people live in airtight houses, in which air is supplied by the government. Xavier, a maintenance worker, is free to get out of his house with a special suit and fix people’s oxygen supply machines. Gradually, he finds out about a terrible plot to keep the society under control. I thought it was really well-made and the costume and set design was really successful. (It can be watched in its entirety on imdb)

The last film of the session was The Attack of the Robots from Nebula-5 (Chema García Ibarra, 2008) was short little film from Spain, about a disabled young man, and his fixed belief in an imminent attack by

Robots from Nebula-5, for which he tries to warn his parents, to no avail.

After the shorts session, I went on to see Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf (Kurando Mitsutake, 2009), which I have been looking forward to after reading the blurb in the festival program – “imagine a Kill Bill on steroids!”. The film has a basic storyline, in which a nameless Japanese man, sets out to kill the man, Nathan Flesher, who has blinded him and killed his wife (after raping her) and his daughter. While Nathan Flesher is in prison, the nameless man (Kurando Mitsutake) learns the ways of the samurai and becomes a swordsmaster despite his blindness. On his way to kill flesher upon his release from prison, he learns that he’ll have to encounter seven deadly assasins and kill them. In his quest, he meets an American swordsman who calls himself the Drifter and who decides to help the “Blind Wolf’s” cause. So they start killing the assasins one by one, till they reach Nathan Flesher.

The writer/director/star Kurando Mitsutake defines the film as a sushi western, drawing its influences from the martial arts and spaghetti western films as well as 70s exploitation films. He cited films/series like Lone Wolf and Cub and Django among the films that inspired him to make this films during the Q&A. It’s easy to compare his films to Quentin Tarantino’s homage films like Kill Bill and Death Proof, as with the martial arts/western mixture in the formula and with the ‘restored grindhouse film’ aesthetic he is going for. However, Mitsutake made a short film called Samurai Avenger Lone Wolf Blood – Episode 24 as early as 2004, which formed the basis of the Blind Wolf and he claims he had thought about the “restored look” prior to the release of Grindhouse, and was worried upon hearing that Tarantino was making a film like the one he had in mind. Setting the questions of originality aside, Samurai Avenger provides a good 90 minutes of fun for the exploitation film aficionado, with its over the top violence (including a scene which involves a c section with a samurai sword!), litres of gushing/spraying blood, zombies, witches, and flashback explanations of several martial arts sword techniques, cheesy acting and one-liners etc. Although Mitsutake didn’t mention it among his influences, I thought the film also had an El Topo vibe going on with the Blind Wolf’s costume, the desert setting, and the general surreal mood.

It was surprising to find out that the budget was “way way way below half a million USD” (Mitsutake didn’t disclose the actual budget) as the special effects looked really good, but Mitsutake informed us that there were quite a number of volunteers and interns involved, so that kind of explains it. The film won the best film award and best special effects awards, quite deservingly. I got to have a chat to Kurando Mitsutake and had my picture taken with him too!

The diary will be concluded with the closing night of the festival. Coming soon!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Fantastic Planet Sydney Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Festival, Diary #2

The official opening night of the Fantastic Planet film festival on October 30, hosted the world premiere of the Aussie sci-fi dystopia Eraser Children (Nathan Christoffel, 2009). I arrived at Dendy Newtown about half an hour earlier and got a chance to see the pre-screening activities, such as actor Jonathan Welsby interviewing the cast and the crew in his stockings and make up with a gun shaped microphone – possibly for a DVD featurette. The walls were decorated with Misner Corporation posters, and there were promotional badges sitting on one of the tables for us to pick. Around 7 pm, Dean Bertram (PhD) ordered us to go to the theatre in his dystopian policeman attire, shouting “Hail Misner!

Eraser Children is set in a future where a corporation called Misner rules the world. Misner Corporation erases people’s memories to turn them into more effective workers. There is a long list of violations that govern the society, including dreaming and having original thoughts. There are people who refuse to live in these conditions, called the resistance and they live underground as social outcasts. The protagonist, Finnegan Wright (Fionn Quinlan) is a low rank worker in the Misner Corporation who proofreads the violations written by Maximum Blizzard (Jonathan Welsby). One day he is kidnapped by Alfred Fleemort (Shane Nagle) who is part of the resistance movement and who tries to help him regain his memories persuade Wright to kill Misner.

The film, presenting a dystopic future, has obvious references to the masterpieces of the genre such as 1984 and Brazil. During the Q & A, director Christoffel pointed out Brazil as their main influence. So, in terms of the message, it is hard to say Eraser Children is saying anything that hasn’t been said before – a totalitarian regime ruled by a corporation, headed by a man who can associated with Hitler (“Hail Misner”), however, it has a compelling plot, and also details – both visual and narrative – that makes it worthwhile to watch – such as the intercutting advertisements, which give the audience a feel of what it would be like living in Misner’s world. Also, the use of super 8 cameras in dream sequences have led to some visually stunning scenes – and the cinematographer Adrian Kristoffersen deserve some praise for his work not only in those sequences but throughout the entire film.

One of the gems of the Fantastic Planet, for me, was the UK production Strigoi (Faye Jackson, 2008), which was set in Romania and introduced to many of us the title monster that we haven’t come across before. A strigoi is a vampire-like creature in Romanian folklore. They can be either dead people returning from the grave (strigoi morti) or born that way (strigoi vii). In Strigoi, A young man called Vlad, who has been living in Italy, goes back to his village in Romania to find out about a conspiracy of land ownership that involves everyone including the priest, the villagers, the mayor, the rich landowners and the police. There has been some suspicious deaths, and some of the deceased insist on rising from their graves at night to haunt the villagers, suck their blood and, err… eat all the food in their fridges. Young Vlad is resolved to solve the mysteries and fight the undead.

You might think, “just the thing we need, another bloody vampire movie, as if we don’t have enough of those already” but Strigoi brings a refreshing light to this tired old genre. It has a feeling of authenticity to it, being set in Romania and using folk myths specific to that geography. It also has that rare quality of being able to carry a humorous tone all throughout and at the same time being creepy as hell. Imagine one of your deceased neighbours coming to your house at night when you’re alone, and eat all the food in the fridge in grotesque manner and imagine yourself trying to cook more food, because you know when there’s no more food left, she will come and suck your blood! It is kind of funny in a bone chilling way. In that sense Strigoi reminds me of one of my favourite films of all times, Cemetery Man (Dellamorte Dellamore, Michele Soavi, 1994) and I think anyone who likes that film will like this one too.

Macabresque Diary of Fantastic Planet will continue with reviews of sci-fi shorts and Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf!