Monday, July 20, 2009

Fantasia Daily for 19 July 2009: Samurai Princess, 20th Century Boys double feature, and Portrait of a Beauty

The time spent in the Hall theater yesterday: Pretty first-rate, with both the quite satisfactory adaptations of 20th Century Boys and the pretty-good Portrait of a Beauty. The bookends across the street, though... I had issues. If I were smart, I would have skipped Samurai Princess, because it does look just like the cruddy gore movie it is. But, hey, I figured - Evangelion is playing at the Brattle next month, so why not see one more movie you might not. Because it's going to be crap, is why.

On the other end... I'd forgotten that the description to Train to Nowhere made it look like one of those movies where nothing happened, and it did indeed wind up being a bit of a boring movie nap. It was also one of those cases where being at the end of the line really hurt, because it meant I couldn't get a seat on the aisle. I don't normally favor those, but I don't want to climb out over people, which is the only alternative to sitting through a french-language Q&A session where I understand maybe one word in twenty.

Samurai purinsesu: Gedô-hime (Samurai Princess)

* ¼ (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre de Seve (Fantasia Festival)

Why watch this crap? I ask not just because it's tacky exploitation that's bad for you, but because it's not even ably made bad exploitation. The acting is terrible, the director can't even frame a shot properly, and the action, for all the lovingly realized gore it leads to, is not exciting.

Seeing it a day after the Hard Revenge, Milly films makes it even worse, as there you at least get to see it done right. This... Well, it's just crappy and embarrassing, even if it does play with an interesting idea or two.

20-seiki shônen: Honkaku kagaku bôken eiga (20th Century Boys)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

I considered skipping the 20th Century Boys double feature at Fantasia, not out of disinterest or fear that it wouldn't be any good, but because the weeks that translations of Naoki Urusawa's manga are released are the ones where I most look forward to visiting the comic shop. Three of about twenty-five volumes have been published so far, so figuring on a bi-monthly schedule, we're looking at about two and a half years of spoilers in one afternoon. But it's a ride!

When he was a kid, back in '69, Kenji Endo dreamed of changing the world with rock & roll. He played for a while, but as the film opens in 1997, Kenji (Toshiaki Karasawa) is no big star - he's taken over he family business, enduring humiliation from corporate reps after changing it from a liquor store to a franchise convenience store, and looks after Kanna, the baby his sister Kiriko (Hitomi Kuroki) left in his care before disappearing. Things are about to get a lot more exciting for Kenji, though - the police have questions about an entire area family's disappearance, a childhood friend has apparently committed suicide, and the talk at his elementary school reunion is about a religious cult led by a mysterious "Friend", all of them linked by a symbol they created as kids. Even worse, a series of viral outbreaks is mimicking the story Kenji wrote back then, "The Book of Prophecy" - a story which promises much worse to come.

The opening minutes give the audience some idea of just how sprawling the 20th Century Boys saga is; it jumps in time from 1969 to 2015 to 1997 (though not necessarily our 1997), and this film alone will make some other stops. There are literally dozens of characters, many of whom we see as both adults and children, and things introduced early on that won't pay off until the second or perhaps even the third film. And that's after paring it down from a comic series that published weekly 18-page installments for around five years!

Full review at EFC.

20-seiki shônen: Dai 2 shô - Saigo no kibô (20th Century Boys Chapter Two: The Last Hope)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

So, how about that ending for part one? Crazy, huh? Going to be hard to top. Hard enough, in fact, that the filmmakers don't quite manage it in the second chapter, although they certainly do an entertaining job of getting to the next phase of The Friend's plan and whetting our appetite for the forthcoming Chapter Three.

(Note: Do not click through to the rest of the review unless you're okay with knowing how Chapter One ends. I mean it. It'll still be here later.)

Full review at EFC.

Mi-in-do (Portrait of a Beauty)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival)

Passion is at the core of Portrait of a Beauty, both that of one person for another and a person for his or her art. The former comes across loud and clear; the heat on this film is dialed almost all the way up. The latter, while there and important, doesn't always come through quite as well as it perhaps could, although perhaps that's fitting, considering the love both the film and its subjects have for the world's earthly and sensual delights, in contrast to the abstract.

The film opens during Korea's Joseun dynasty, with people admiring a young boy's artwork, but when he is asked to take brush in hand, he freezes, wetting himself. His enraged father comes to look for him after he has fled the room, only to find the boy has hung himself. That's when the true story emerges: Despite his father's ambitions, the boy has no talent for art; his sister Yun-jeong has been filling his portfolio and allowing him to pass it off as his own. The father is further enraged, blaming the girl for her brother's death but also insisting she continue the deception, disguising herself as a boy and going off to the art academy under Yun-bok's name. She does, and quickly becomes a favorite of the court artist, Kim Hong-do (Kim Yeong-ho); however, when the adult "Yun-bok" (Kim Min-sun) meets mirror maker Kang-mu (Kim Nam-gil), he soon discovers her secret and they fall in love, which not only adds a forbidden erotic streak to her art, but threatens to expose her in a time when women were not allowed to become artists.

Though several of the characters are actual historic figures, the premise advanced in the 2007 novel on which the film is based, that Shin Yun-bok (also known as "Hyewon") was actually a woman, is fictional, so far as anybody knows. It does make for an intriguing scenario, albeit one which requires some suspension of disbelief if Yun-jeong was really as beautiful - and the other students as masculine - as presented in the film. It also leads to the question of just what her father's plan was - when sending her off, he makes comments about how artists are brought down by their best pupils, but what does he mean? That Yun-jeong would succeed Hong-do as court artist, or that he intended to reveal the deception in such a way as to ruin Hong-do? Either way, the long-term repercussions of that plan don't seem to be very well thought out.

Full review at EFC.

Today's plan: The Warlords, Coweb, and Life is Hot in Cracktown. Crush and Blush, Orochi, The Chaser, and Tactical Unit: Comrades in Arms are all recommended.

Tuesday: Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl, maybe "Small Gauge Trauma", Canary, and 8th Wonderland (with having to miss The Canyon reallly hurting). Portrait of a Beauty and Tactical Unit, again, are both pretty good.

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