Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

So here I am, back in Montreal to just have some vacation time that feels like vacation rather than work of any sort, and what am I doing? Trying to get a movie review written and posted before eating breakfast, just like during Fantasia. What is wrong with me? Well, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is fantastic and I want people to see it. It's playing at the Brattle through Monday, and I encourage everyone to give it a look.

Beneath that review, the dozen Fantasia reviews for EFC that I've completed since coming home. The scary part is that there are still at least that many more I'd like to finish before they fall out the back of my head completely.

Anyway - to touristy stuff!

Toki o kakeru shôjo (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 22 August 2008 at the Brattle Theatre (Special Engagements)

Yasutaka Tsutsui's novel The Girl Who Leapt Through Time has been made into a movie twice before, and I must admit that I'm curious to see at least one of them - there are apparently connections with the 1983 version that position this animated film from 2006 something in between new adaptation, remake, and sequel. Not that it's necessary at all; it's just nice to know that a movie as good as this version has something else connected to it.

We start with Makoto Konno, an average high-school girl who is having a bad day: She sleeps through her alarm, arrives at school to a pop quiz, somehow makes her tempura blow up in home ec, etc., etc. The worst is when the brakes on her bike fail, causing her to flip over a barricade, into the path of an oncoming train. Somehow, just before it hits her, she somehow finds that it's a couple minutes in the past. Her aunt Kazuko says she's "time leapt", and it's not uncommon. Makoto is skeptical, but that doesn't prevent her from trying to repeat the phenomenon. When she does, she finds she's able to undo much of her bad day, although doing so introduces many complications, especially in regards to her best friends - handsome Kousuke, baseball-loving Chiaki (whom everyone but Makoto realizes has a huge crush on her), and soft spoken Yuri (who is fond of Chiaki herself).

I'm sure there are people out there capable of disliking Makoto, even though I have a hard time imagining doing less than adoring her. She tends to extremes as much as any real teenager - brash at times, but with paralyzing self-doubts at others. She's kind of tomboyish (playing baseball with Kousuke and Chiaki is her favorite thing to do), scatterbrained and intimidated as heck at the idea of choosing her future academic track, which could determine the rest of her life. She's also brave enough to take the lead when she sees something that needs doing and generous enough to try and help her friends as well as herself. I love her character design, all awkward skinny legs and arms, and a short haircut that still seems to be out of her control, like she never has time to tend to it properly. She can go from gleeful cackling to frozen stunned silence in an instant and always look right, and Riisa Naka's voice is absolutely perfect for her.

Indeed, it's not often that an animated character comes together quite so perfectly as she does, considering that what is often the work of one performer in a live-action film must be accomplished by many people working months apart with just the director to tie them together. It probably works best this way, though: Some of the slapstick, like Makoto's uncanny knack for crashing into things when she leaps, would look too painful in live action. She's got a bit of Wile E. Coyote in her, as well as a bit of Charles Schulz - she cries in a big, open-mouthed way, just like Sally Brown, for instance. Director Mamoru Hosoda doesn't overdo it on the cartooniness or other visual overload - after Mokoto's first, mind-blasting encounter with non-linear time, he's rather restrained in terms of not using a lot of "effects"; we don't even ever actually see Mokoto disappear or reappear.

What I like most about this movie, perhaps, is that although it's about teenagers, it's about them in a way that maybe you have to be an adult to fully understand. There's a point in the middle of the movie where bits of the sci-fi plot device become clear, and we realize that even though her newfound ability allows her to double back, she's also allowing opportunities to fly by her in the way that people her age do but don't realize they're doing until much later. It's a clever little observation that the movie doesn't quite make explicit, but allows to stay somewhat hidden behind the more teen-friendly "go for it!" message. Also impressive is how screenwriter Satoko Okudera is able to wring clever time-travel plot twists from the same device afterward without undercutting the metaphor, as even the most gifted writers are wont to do.

It's not quite a perfect script - some of the bits about time travel and the future don't quite mesh as well as one might hope, or imply things that run counter to the movie's mood. Those bumps are more than countered by how fleshed-out all the characters are, how funny the action is and how poignant its thoughts on young love are - especially as it doesn't try to make the teen years some idealized thing they aren't. It's a story about time travel, sure, and even one that gets a bit caught up in its own mythology by the end, but in a world that is both hilariously and achingly familiar.

(Note: The print shown was subtitled, although there is apparently also a dubbed print making its way around. I'm sure the English-language version is perfectly nice, but I have a hard time imagining it improving on Riisa Naka's voice acting.)

Also at EFC.

Pi li shi jie (Disciples of the 36th Chamber)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 5 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

Part of the reason the Shaw Brothers studio was able to turn out so many enjoyable martial arts flicks was that they ran their studio like a factory: They were the very epitome of not messing with success. Take Disciples of the 36th Chamber, part of a series of Shaolin martial arts stories. I happened to see the first in the series, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, as part of a Shaw Brothers retrospective at the Harvard Film Archive about a month earlier. It was a ton of fun, but you can't help but notice this second sequel follows the same template.

This time around, Gordon Liu's San-te is the monk rather than the rebellious student; for that role, we have Hsiao Ho playing a young Fong Sai-yuk. Sai-yuk is arrogant, and like San-te before him, offends the ruling Manchus, eventually escaping to the Shaolin temple where he is taken in as a secular student (the "36th chamber" of the title). Unlike San-te, who found enlightenment studying with the monks, Sai-yuk merely becomes impatient, and begins to sneak out of the temple in order to test himself against the Manchu fighters. The governor (Jason Pai) befriends him, and invites him and the other 36th chamber students to a state wedding. It's an obvious trap, but Sai-yuk may be too proud to recognize it.

If you've seen The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (and, likely, the first sequel, Return to the 36th Chamber), that story is very familiar; it's almost exactly the plot of the first, down to the main character being mocked as a student by the children in the opening scenes. If you've seen almost any Shaw Brothers martial arts film, the film will look familiar; the studio had a number of standing sets and didn't vary their production design much. The main thing that sticks out about this movie is the humor; while the original movie was a fairly serious affair, Hsiao Ho's Fong Sai-yuk is a class-clown type, always ready with a wisecrack and bit of slapstick whenever there's someone stuffy in the area.

Full review at eFilmCritic.

Jack Brooks, Monster Slayer

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 5 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

Someday, I'd like to run a controlled experiment with a movie like Jack Brooks, Monster Slayer. Group A, the control group, sees it more or less cold. Group B sees with the filmmakers in attendance, talking about how they love horror movies, especially from the eighties, so this was a labor of love, working with Robert Englund was awesome, and talks up how they did as much as they could with practical effects rather than CGI. Group C also sees it with the filmmakers in attendance, but they talk about how they really want to make classier stuff, but a kitschy horror movie is a relatively cheap way to make a film that will likely get some sort of distribution on video in part because of a B-movie star with name recognition. Oh, and they used CGI for everything, but because of their budget it wound up just looking like crappy-ass puppets. All three see the same movie, but which group do you think rates it highest and lowest?

We can guess at the answer based on human nature. The point of this thought experiment is not that Jack Brooks, Monster Slayer is a bad movie and the people who say they like it are horror fanatics who want to like it because the filmmakers have sold it as coming from like-minded fans, and they're being taken for a ride. That's not the case at all - Jack Brooks isn't a bad movie, and I don't think there's anything less than genuine about the enthusiasm that went into it. It's that even more than most films, what the audience gets from the likes of this is what they bring to it.

What's the film itself bring? Jack Brooks (Trevor Matthews), who as a kid saw his family killed by some sort of bigfoot troll. Now he's got major anger management issues - the kind that make his shrink (Daniel Kash) reluctant to see him - and a girlfriend, Eve (Rachel Skarsten) that really doesn't seem compatible with a low tolerance for aggravation. He and she are taking night classes at the local high school, including a science class taught by Professor Crowley (Robert Englund). One night Jack goes out to Crowley's secluded home to do some work on the pipes, which are filled with something nasty - something nasty which soon possesses Crowley.

Full review at eFilmCritic.


* * (out of four)
Seen 6 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre J.A. de Seve (Fantasia Festival)

I'm not one to say that there are certain subjects that are untouchable, or can't be made to fit into a certain genre, in part because I've seen too many counterexamples. Still, there are some where filmmakers would be well-advised to think long and hard about what they're doing, domestic violence being pretty high on the list. Punch Lady may get points for doing something more interesting than the standard melodrama, it quickly loses them for a constant stream of incredibly questionable decisions.

Ha-eun (Do Ji-won) is the woman being beaten as the film opens, and if that's not bad enough, husband Ju-chang (Park Sang-wuk) does this for a living: He's a mixed martial arts champion. This time, he doesn't just focus his rage on Ha-eun, but their daughter (Choi Seol-ri), which finally gives Ha-eun the impetus to clock him with some furniture and get out of there. She moves in with a friend, and is soon approached by her high-school boyfriend, now also an MMA hopeful, who invites her to watch his fight against her husband. This is disastrous, as Ju-chang beats him so badly that he dies in the hospital later on, leading to Ha-eun making a scene at Ju-chang's press conference that results in her challenging him to a fight three months down the line. No gym wants to take her on until she wanders into one run by Soo-hyeon (Son Hyeon-joo). In actuality, Soo-hyeon is her daughter's math teacher, and was intending to turn the gym into a day-care center until Ha-eun showed up offering a not-insubstantial amount of money. Of course, Soo-hyeon knows nothing about martial arts.

Many movies have some shaky elements, but it's hard to remember any as thoroughly and willfully stupid as Punch Lady. Consider the premise: Ju-chang kills Ha-eun's old/new boyfriend in the ring, and he wasn't giving up nearly as much size, strength, and skill as Ha-eun would be. The idea that this fight could be anything but a slaughter is, thus, patently absurd. Heck, the very idea that the MMA governing body would touch it with a ten-foot pole is ridiculous, as there are basically two potential outcomes: They either televise a man pummeling (and likely killing) his wife, which can't possibly be good publicity, or by some miracle their champion is beaten by a petite fifty-kilo woman. Both of these are outcomes any reasonably competent business man can foresee and want no part of, but this bit of logic is passed right by.

Full review at eFilmCritic.

Negatibu happi chenso ejji (Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 6 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

Funny thing about fantasy entertainment - we get so caught up in the forms and mythologies and visuals of them, that we often seem to forget just why fantasy exists. "Escapism" is a word we throw around, but it's generally meant to refer to the audience, rather than the characters, even though they're likely the ones who need an escape.

Start with Yosuke (Hayato Ichihara). He's a fairly ordinary high school student who has been sneaking out of his dormitory more ever since his buddy Noto (Haruma Miura) died. One night, he comes across Eri (Megumi Seki), a beautiful but morose girl who engages in a nightly battle with a giant chainsaw-wielding maniac; it's a good thing she has a fuku filled with throwing knives to go along with preternatural strength, reflexes, and fighting skills. Yosuke is immediately taken with her, and starts trying to help. Naturally, he's in the way more than he's actually useful, but after a while she seems to be glad to have him around.

I admit it - I was there for the pretty girl fighting a gigantic marauder that fell from the sky with a chainsaw. I imagine most of the audience was, and I doubt many of us were wondering why Eri was fighting this guy aside from how he might be putting the citizens of Tokyo in peril and what arcane agency had bestowed powers upon her; the smitten but ineffective sidekick just seemed like comic relief. So it wound up being kind of a surprise - though a pleasant one - that these wound up being mere details that would eventually fade into the background. Negative Happy Chain Saw Edge has monsters and action scenes, yes, but it's not about them; it's about how Yosuke and Eri cope with loss, and the feelings of being powerless and lonely that accompany it.

Full review at eFilmCritic.

What We Do Is Secret

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 6 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

Music doesn't interest me nearly as much as movies do, and I grew up on the East Coast besides, so it's not exactly surprising that I'd never heard of short-lived (but apparently influential) Los Angeles punk band The Germs and their leader Darby Crash. So perhaps it's a bit of an indictment that, after seeing What We Do Is Secret, I have no interest of hearing of them again. The fans seemed to enjoy it, though, so it's doing something right.

The Germs were a late-seventies band started by "Darby Crash" (Shane West) in high school. He started it with his friend George (Rick Gonzalez), who would take the stage name "Pat Smear". They advertised for bandmates, eventually meeting "Lorna Doom" (Bijou Phillips) and what would become a revolving door of drummers, notably including Don Bolles (Noah Segan). There's something there, but with Darby's charisma comes an incredible tendency toward self-destruction. There's the usual drugs, but also cutting himself on stage, inciting the audience to riot, and playing the band and the fans against each other. It's no wonder that at one point they're considered the hottest band in L.A. but have to book their gigs under a different name because no club will touch them.

There are, it seems, two basic rock and roll biopic templates; both of them involve a talented young musician whose emotional fragility is exacerbated by drugs, the only question being whether or not he beats the habit in the end. Fans know and the rest will quickly deduce that Crash is, as one might expect from the name he chose for himself, on the path of Icarus. There is something fascinating about seeing an otherwise intelligent, capable person seemingly committed to making things worse for himself and everyone around him, and this story certainly delivers plenty of downward-spiraling.

Full review at eFilmCritic.

Idiots and Angels

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

Idiots and Angels is Bill Plympton's new film. For fans of the artist and many animation enthusiasts, this bit of information is all that really needs to be said when it comes down to deciding whether or not to give the movie a look. For those who are less devoted, it's good Bill Plympton. For those who are less familiar with the man, well, there's the rest of the review.

Plympton's style should be familiar, even if his name isn't necessarily so: It is most definitely cartooning, with caricatured body types in two dimensions. Though at least partially created with digital tools, it still retains the look of being drawn with colored pencils, with a frequently low frame rate and a fondness for gags that are a little on the gross side. It's about as far from what Chuck Jones used to call "animated radio" as can be, with dialog frequently either absent or deliberately garbled. His last feature, 2004's Hair High, was something of a departure from this, with narration and several speaking parts. Idiots and Angels pretty much dispenses with words, so it's something of a return to form in that sense.

It follows a patently unpleasant man who smashes his alarm clock and throws things at chirping birds in the morning, and will happily threaten lethal force to take a favored parking space; he sells black market guns from in a local bar. One morning, though, he awakens to find bony stubs growing out of his back, and despite his attempts to cut them off, they eventually grow to become a pair of angel's wings. Soon everybody he meets is trying to exploit his unwelcome additions, which he would just like to be rid of, as they seem to have a disturbingly altruistic mind of their own.

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)

It's probably not wise to expect a movie to be both provocative and wise. The idea that Daisuke Tengan proposes in The Most Beautiful Night in the World is crude and simplistic, and he drives it home with some anything-but-subtle imagery; my initial reaction was that it was horrible and would be a disaster. That doesn't make the basic idea unworthy of consideration, though.

In the present day, junior-high student Midori (Haruki Ichikawa) is preparing, along with much of her village, for a trip to Tokyo to be honored by the Prime Minister for the village having the highest birth rate in Japan. She is writing a letter to a famous reporter on the surprising story of how this came to pass. Fifteen years earlier, a big-city reporter by the name of Kazaya Mizimu (Tomorowo Taguchi) arrived in town, exiled from Tokyo for a scandal. The local editor (Shiro Sano) despairs of anything interesting ever happening there, though Mizimu figures something must eventually happen with the colorful cast of characters he finds: There's Shineko (Michie Ito), a child-like woman who people treat like a moron; she's secretly a genius but allergic to stupidity; she assists her father Gonzo (Akira Emoto), a fisherman and would-be musician. There's Nihei (Ryo Ishibashi), a former Marxist terrorist whose interests now run to archeology, particular the ancient Jomon people, famed for their unusually strong sex drive. Local Shinto priest Pontus (Takeshi Wakamatsu) operates an island brothel; the local bar is owned by Teruko (Sarara Tsukifune), who lived in the city for a time and is reputed to have psychic powers and/or belong to a cult.

It's an interesting group, and Kaname Village is a nice place to have them bouncing off each other. It's one of those small movie towns with bicycles and bridges, where even the residents who only briefly interact with the main characters have some sort of memorable quirk. It takes on a bit of the appearance of a fairy tale, something that can be partially attributed to the young narrator. Everyone and everything is very distinctive - Mizimu is very earnest, Teruko is sexy but sophisticated relative to the locals; her bar is dumpy, noirish, and spooky depending on the needs of the moment.

Full review at EFC.

Gidam (Epitaph)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 10 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre J.A. de Seve (Fantasia Festival)

Epitaph is one of the busiest horror films I've seen lately, starting in 1979 before flashing back to 1942, offering up ghosts and serial killers and obsessions that may or may not be connected in ways other than happening in close proximity to each other. It's got its moments, some of them excellent, but not enough to forgive a somewhat weak story.

Or three stories, as the case may be. Though the film starts with an elderly Dr. Park Jung-nam (Jeon Mu-song) delivering a lecture about a WWII-era surgery, he only figures prominently in one of the stories that unfolded at Anseng Hospital in 1942: As a young intern (Jin Goo) betrothed to a Japanese girl he only vaguely remembers from childhood, he's assigned to assist Dr. Kim In-young (Kim Bo-kyeong) in the morgue, where he becomes obsessed with a beautiful Jane Doe found drowned in a nearby river. Elsewhere in the hospital, Dr. Lee Soo-in (Lee Don-kyu) finds himself bonding with Asako (Ko Joo-yeon), a silent five-year-old girl who is the sole survivor of an automobile accident that claimed both her parents (and who may be haunted literally as well as figuratively). As if that's not enough, In-young - who aside from being a coroner is also the wife of Dr. Kim Dong-won (Kim Tae-woo), Asia's most brilliant neurosurgeon - is also being consulted on what appears to be a serial killer attacking officials of the occupying Japanese forces.

Much of the trouble with Epitaph is its structure. It's sort of an anthology film, with the three stories mostly told in self-contained chunks, although there is a fair amount of overlap between them - too much for them to be cleverly linked but basically separate, but not enough for the three to merge into one story. It's a structure that works fine for a lot of more conventional dramas, but fantasies require the audience to consider rules other than those of human interaction, which don't always line up here: What we learn about ghosts in story A doesn't necessarily apply to story B, even though they're otherwise tied too closely for that.

Full review at EFC.

Tenten (Adrift In Tokyo)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 11 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre J.A. de Seve (Fantasia Festival)

Every time I see a new one, I wonder why there aren't more movies made using the same template as Adrift in Tokyo. It's a deceptively straightforward one - two people walking through city streets, talking and getting to know each other - for every beautiful Before Sunrise or Quiet City, there's probably a dozen that are numbing story-free torture. Just because what Satoshi Miki and his cast do here is simple doesn't make it easy.

Here we have Fumiya Takemura (Jo Odagiri) and Aiichiro Fukuhara (Tomokazu Miura). Takemura is an aimless college student with gambling debts; Fukuhara is the man sent to collect them. Surprisingly, Fukuhara offers Fumiya another option; he'll forget about the money if the younger man will accompany him on a walk across the city. At the end, when they arrive at what Fukuhara says is the best police station in the city, Fukuhara will confess to the accidental death of his wife.

I love movies shot like Adrift In Tokyo, on authentic city streets that have something in common with city streets everywhere but still give a feeling of being unique to that neighborhood. They aren't necessarily the places tourists take pictures, and we probably haven't seen them in other films. It's fun to play tourist that way, and when the unexpected happens - as it often does in Satoshi Miki's film - it seems both more surprising and more believable, because those scenes seldom look staged to start.

Full review at EFC.

Wicked Lake

* (out of four)
Seen 12 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

I grew up in Maine, where comedians can build entire routines out of how we use the word "wicked". For us, it's usually an adverb that means "very", as in "wicked cool". In some spots, you can drop the "cool" part and have something that means "awesome". It is more properly used to mean "evil" or "improper/sinful but enticing". Sadly, the movie Wicked Lake is none of those things. It probably intends to be the last one, but is more often closer to "evil". That's not fair to it, though - making an awful movie isn't actually monstrous, after all.

It is calculated, of course, in much the same way as the other movies Media Blasters/Fever Dreams was promoting at the festival. It's a Frankenstein's monster of a movie, based on what's been shown to correlate with high sales for non-sequel direct-to-video horror: More blood and guts than a movie that cares about an R rating can use and naked girls (even better if they're making out!), I imagine, are the first things on the list. Quality writing and acting are much lower. A couple names with horror movie credentials will help, too, but Frankenstein is on a budget, so figure out the point below which crappiness hurts sales and stay a few bucks above that.

Giving the creation a soul is a difficult thing, though those other movies had a little more success. With Machine Girl, they had a filmmaker with a track record of making giddy exploitation at the helm; I haven't seen Tokyo Gore Police, but the description promises something new and creatively gross every few minutes and some talented people involved. Wicked Lake, on the other hand, has a thoroughly generic screenplay by the director of I Know Who Killed Me: Four hot lesbian witches (though only two actually contribute to the story) take a road trip to a mountain cabin to perform some sort of ritual only to have to deal with the nasty redneck family of Caleb (Mark Senter), the dork who has a crush on Ilene (Robin Sydney), some more jerks they meet at a gas station on the way, and a pair of perhaps overzealous cops investigating some nasty murders.

The story plays out in painfully predictable and lame ways: Just about every man is a pig and a thug; the ones that aren't are cowardly and ineffectual at standing up to the rest. There's not a character in the movie that isn't made out of purest cardboard, and the witches don't come off as much better than the guys. Ilene's girlfriend Helen (Eryn Joslyn), the leader of the group, manages to be enough of a bitch to taint the entire group, so that when the white trash shows up and starts tying people up and threatening sexual assault, it results on the audience not having sympathy for anyone, especially since the other two are vicious like they've had practice when an opportunity arises to turn the tables.

Full review at EFC.

Chanbara Beauty (Oneechanbara)

* * (out of four)
Seen 12 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

I've spoken to people who claim that the story is the most important part of a video game, which strikes me as silly, mainly because it makes them less like games. When you play basketball, are you acting out a plot? Besides, the storyline that is considered a strength within a game is often exposed as pretty weak when transplanted to a medium like film.

To be fair, it's not as if the action movies always offer that much more. In both, we're often brought up to speed fairly quickly: The world in general and Japan in particular have been overrun with zombies. One of the survivors is Aya (Eri Otoguro), the last member of a secret ninja clan, who is on a quest to find Dr. Sugita (Taro Suwa); Sugita is the cause of zombie plague and has Aya's teenaged sister Saki (Chise Nakamura) as an ally. Aya has a chubby sidekick, Katsuji (Tomohiro Waki), who is also looking for his little sister Asami; they meets up with Reiko (Manami Hashimoto), who is looking for her daughter.

For either a videogame or a b-movie, that's probably just enough plot to glue together a few zombie attacks and lead up to a "boss" stage where Aya finally confronts her sister and Sugita. The thing is, in a really good video game or action movie, the action scenes would be much more exciting because you're either the player controlling the main character or watching folks who are really good at action go to work. Neither is the case here; the zombie effects and CGI are fairly unimpressive, and Eri Otoguro is not Michelle Yeoh: I'm guessing that looking good in the costume was a much larger factor in her casting than the ability to sell a good fight.

Full review at EFC.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

One of the few things I miss about living in the suburbs versus the city is that it's difficult for me to keep a dog. My family had them while I was growing up, and I envy my brothers with their dachshunds and labs. Pets do become a part of one's family, and that simple fact is what makes Red compelling; most of us can sympathize with a man defending their family, even when it comes down to wanting justice for the four-legged members.

Red is an old dog belonging to Avery Ludlow (Brian Cox), the mostly-retired owner of the local general store. One morning, he and Red are out fishing when three teenagers come upon him, carrying a gun and looking for money. Avery doesn't have much on him, which displeases the boys; the ringleader, Danny McCormack (Noel Fisher) takes his anger out on Red, shooting the old dog dead. When Avery gets back to town, he's looking for justice, but his attorney friend Sam (Richard Riehle) has bad news - according to the law, Red was merely property, with destruction of property being a misdemeanor, and Danny's father Michael (Tom Sizemore) is one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in town. Avery is undeterred, so Sam decides to bring in Carrie Donnel (Kim Dickens), a reporter for a nearby TV station, in the hopes that shaming the McCormacks will lead to Danny admitting his responsibility. Instead, things begin to escalate.

That the audience will get more angry at a dog's death than a person's is a cliché in movies, of course, to the point where even the rebelling against it has become tiresome - the audiences applauding a dog's killing in a horror movie is by now a merely (ironically?) Pavlovian reaction, rather than delighted shock that a filmmaker is willing to do something others shy from. It's a cliché that comes from a real place, though, and this movie earns its use: It shows us Red as Avery's constant companion, and peppers the rest of the film with other dog lovers, casually or forcefully reminding the audience of the bond a person and his dog share whenever the audience might think Avery should just let it go.

Full review at EFC.