More Fantasia reviews

Zombie girlfriends, yakuza and North Korean spies this weekend at Fantasia.

Mole Song
Takashi Miike’s The Mole Song
The following films are screening as part of the Fantasia Film Festival, on through Aug. 6.

The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji

The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji is the latest film by Japanese genre-bending specialist Takashi Miike, probably best known for the notorious Audition. With an incredible 90 films to his credit, Miike’s films are characterised by crazy tonal shifts, outlandish comic interludes and outbursts of brutal violence. Hailed as Miike’s return to comedy, Mole Song (which is based on a wildly popular manga series) does not disappoint as it amps up the characteristic elements of his movies. And is it ever amped-up!

Reiji is a bumbling beat officer whose moral compass gets him assigned the job of infiltrating the yakuza. This outrageously unlikely premise is the launching point for over two hours of sheer mayhem — the increasingly bizarre tests Reiji’s superiors put him through and the cast of yakuza characters (they range from a meowing pussy to a butterfly-obsessed psychotic) are more than worth the price of admission.

Once Reiji is embedded in the underworld, he finds himself torn between the loyalty he feels to his new brothers and the desire for justice that he originally set out for. Reiji’s mission is counterpointed by his quest to lose his virginity to his former coworker Junna. Miike’s free-for-all attitude can get repetitive and not all of the jokes land, but he always manages to surprise you with an animated sequence or a musical number that draws you back in. (It’s called The Mole Song for a reason.) This is a movie you have to see with friends. (Mark Carpenter & Katie Ferrar)

The Mole Song screens today, Saturday, July 19, 2:20 p.m.
Life After Beth (640x456)

Life After Beth

Once upon a time, there was Hollywood. It was a place filled with Australian hunks that took their shirts off in superhero franchises. One day, a giant beam of light appeared; in its wake, it left DeHaan. Ever since breaking out in 2012’s Chronicle, Dane DeHaan has been Hollywood’s prized project. Studios have been trying extra hard to make him happen and he’s appeared in popular movies like Lawless, The Place Beyond the Pines and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Yet in spite of his newfound omnipresence, movies haven’t really figured out what to do with his brand of swoop-haired smouldering. He’s a good actor, no doubt, but one cast adrift in the roles he’s been given thus far. Life After Beth, sadly, is no different.

Zach (DeHaan) is having a real bad time. His girlfriend Beth (Aubrey Plaza) has just died, having been bitten by a snake while hiking. The situation’s only made worse when Beth just returns home one day, completely unaware that she just died. Beth’s parents (John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon) are understandably  reticent about letting the world know about this miracle, but they’re having even more trouble getting the newly revived Beth not to go back to her regular life. Zach decides to use this opportunity to revive the relationship and fix all the problems they had when Beth was alive — a fact complicated somewhat by the fact that Beth is slowly turning into a rage-addled zombie.

Director Jeff Baena infuses his script with a quirky but not overly precious sense of humour; while this isn’t one of those splattery, Grand Guignol horror comedies that Fantasia often features, there’s a wry sense of the absurd that runs throughout. The cast is terrific, with Plaza shedding the sullen, sarcastic persona she’s associated with for something a little more primal. DeHaan, however, is too sullen and brooding to properly anchor the film’s particular sense of humour. For lack of a better descriptor, he’s just too emo for the world he inhabits. The result is a decent though minor movie that never quite finds its footing for all of its inventive gags and funny performances. (Alex Rose)

Life After Beth screens tonight, Saturday, July 19, 7:15 p.m., sold out
2013 - Red Family (still 2) (640x358)

Red Family

Kim Ki-duk (3-Iron) wrote, executive-produced and edited this dark comedy from first-time director Lee Ju-hyoung. A group of four North Korean spies poses as a family in South Korea, going about their missions and suppressing their emotions about their real families back home as they awkwardly pretend to be ordinary citizens and consumers. Meanwhile, they get to know their next-door neighbours, who are as cartoonishly loud, wasteful and garish as the spies are uptight and ideological.

Though it’s generally a pretty low-brow film, there’s a lot going on. A voyeurism theme is most definitely in effect, with the spies looking at Western decadence through a communist prism, while themselves being spied on by their higher-ups, on the lookout for transgressions. There’s something poignant about how the materialism and first world problems of the neighbours fill the spies with both anger and envy. A dinner party scene, in which the neighbours spout anti-North Korea rhetoric and the spies try to defend their homeland without showing their hand, is a fascinating look at this deep cultural chasm.

I don’t want to oversell the film as all that profound—it’s melodramatic, drawn in broad strokes and not always believable. But the theme of emotions repressed in the name of ideology definitely pushes the intended buttons. It’s also a comedy that’s not afraid to get truly dark when the story calls for it. It’s ultimately a minor film, but one that’s both thought-provoking and enjoyable. (Malcolm Fraser)

The Red Family screens tonight, Saturday, July 19, 9:45 p.m. and tomorrow, Sunday, July 20, 2:30 p.m.
 Fantasia tickets can be purchased at Concordia’s Hall building (1455 de Maisonneuve W.) for $10 each, or online ($11 each), here.