Thursday, July 10, 2008

Fantasia 2008, Day Seven: Assembly, Idiots and Angels, and The Most Beautiful Night in the World

It started out rainy yesterday, but I was able to knock five work hours off the 24 I said I'd work to bring the vacation time used down to an even two weeks (plus the Fourth of July, which still counts as a holiday even if you're in Canada at the time). By the end, I had even figured out a relatively comfortable set-up for working in the apartment. It's not actually a bad place, but it's old enough that there aren't many outlets - so there is basically one place you can put the DSL modem and have it reach both the phone jack and some electricity. That would drive me absolutely nuts if I were staying there on a more permanent basis.

Still, I was able to keep half an eye on the Sox game until I hit the nearby steakhouse, where the feed was actually playing on the TVs, just in time for the offensive explosion. Steak, baked potato, and the Red Sox crushing the opposition to gain ground on the Rays. That's a nice afternoon even before leading into a good evening at the movies. Although scheduling a 160-minute movie for 10pm (even before Idiots and Angels started late) is just mean. Took a Diet Pepsi Max to get through it (man, you pay for the extra caffeine and not having your teeth feel coated with corn syrup [or, in Canada, "glucose-fructose"] with a nasty aftertaste), and that sort of wrecked my plans to get to sleep early.

Today's plan: Beautiful Sunday, Epitaph, Accuracy of Death and Black Belt. Sparrow is recommended at the QC.

Ji Jie Hao (Assembly)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 9 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre J.A. de Seve (Fantasia Festival)

One probably wouldn't name a war movie "Retreat!", although that's what the assembly call of the film's title means - fall back and regroup. There is, after all, a time for soldiers to be fierce and a time when doing so just means walking through a meat grinder.

Captain Gu Zidi (Zhang Hanyu) knows this. A captain in Communist China's army, the film opens in 1948 with him warning the Nationalist forces that they're surrounded and it's better for them to surrender than die fighting. He knows the position isn't quite so one-sided, so he sends Lieutenant Jiao (Fan Liao) out for some more recon. They get pulled into battle anyway, and by the time it's over, he's lost a great many troops, including the unit's political officer. And though his old friend Colonel Liu (Jun Hu) claims his next assignment is not a punishment, it certainly seems like one: He and his 46 men are to defend a coal mine - and the only new personnel he's given is former prisoner Wang Jincun (Yuan Wenkang) to serve as the political officer (Liu says he doesn't need one, but Gu's men are nearly all illiterate, and having someone to write home for them would be a boon). The bugle call to assembly is supposed to come within a day, but while waiting, it's a bloodbath. Afterward, to add insult to injury, Gu awakens in a POW hospital - he had taken an enemy uniform for warmth - unable to convince his captors of his actual identity. He stays in the army, though, assigned as an enlisted man to Zhao "Flapjack" Er Dou (Deng Chao), hoping to learn the fate of his men.

There are men for whom the military becomes their family, and Gu is one of those from the start of the movie. Interestingly, we see him follow the reverse of the usual soldier's story arc: As the movie starts, he is the father figure, encouraging to his men and desperate to protect them even in death, adopting Jincun and making a man out of him. After the battle, we see him as a somewhat awkward recruit, not initially well-suited for the artillery unit he's been assigned to, taken under someone else's wing. He's still the grizzled veteran in Zhao's unit, though an NCO rather than an officer. For other characters, this may seem an affront to pride, but Gu seems content at his new place in the world. It's the only one he really knows, and while he still clearly feels immense loyalty to his troops, there is perhaps a bit of relief in no longer feeling the burden of command.

Full review at EFC.

Idiots and Angels

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 9 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival, Animated Auteur Visions)

Bill Plympton is an institution by now; he puts out a new animated short every year or so, a new feature every few years, all with a distinctive style and sense of humor. He's also one of the people who has figured out a way to support himself on his work without giving up much of his freedom, and managed to integrate new digital tools into his arsenal without wholesale compromise of his signature style.

His latest, Idiots and Angels, is pretty good; a dialogue-free story of a loathsome man who grows angel wings and maybe becomes a better person because of it. There's plenty of fun cartooning in it, and the story's pretty good. If you like Bill Plympton, you'll probably like this quite a bit.

Full review at EFC.

Sekai de Ichiban Utsukushii Your (The Most Beautiful Night in the World)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 9 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

I'm not quite sure whether Diasuke Tengan's new movie overreaches in its grasping for profundity or whether I just don't quite love what it comes up with. It's a charming fantasy, with plenty of fun characters and a whimsical story. The visuals are snazzy, too, without being overly aggressive.

It's pretty long, though, and ends on something of a dubious note. In a way, it becomes like the last act of Fight Club, only with sex as the means of anarchy instead of violence, and I don't know if I necessarily bought into it as a good idea. Provocative, sure, but making much in the way of sense?

Full review at EFC.

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