Friday, July 24, 2009

Fantasia Daily for 23 July 2009: Edison and Leo, "Yariman", Crazy Racer, Cryptic, and The Possibility of an Island

Coming into the festival, the "Vers les Étoiles: Cerebral Science Fiction Cinema" program was probably the one I looked forward to the most, because I always want more sci-fi (versus fantasy and horror) at this sort of festival, and in the movies in general, and I'd like it to be good. But, more often than not, this program wound up highlighting how disappointing science fiction is when the lit-crit crowd gets hold of it.

Science fiction was born in the pulps, and there's a part of me that thinks it should never leave there. Now, the Golden Age wasn't as golden as it's made out to be - a vast amount of the material produced was amateurish and unreadable; we just remember the brilliance of Asimov, Heinlein, and the other stars. But that material wants to excite you, not just with action, but with ideas, and it knows its audience has a decent crap detector when it comes to the details.

It reminds me of a funny story from before I left for the festival - I'd been gushing over Moon to my brother Matt and his girlfriend Morgan, and she said she wasn't sure she'd be interested - she'd heard all the 2001 comparisons and that was sort of a boring movie nap for her. I had to reassure them that, yeah, Moon had a lot of the aesthetic style of 2001, but it was also an exciting movie with a nifty story. So many of the "cerebral" science-fiction movies in this program were like 2001 in that they were trying to impress the audience, but have neither Kubrick/Clarke's truly sweeping scope or the ability to tie their supposedly-grand ideas into a story the way Duncan Jones, Kubrick, or the like do.

(And this is why I'll defend A.I. pretty much forever - it may not be quite so close to perfect as I see it, but it tells a story even while throwing big ideas around like they're penny candy).

Edison and Leo

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre de Seve (Fantasia Festival)

For a movie about a great inventor, Edison and Leo is curiously lacking in spark. There are moments of quirky inspiration, but they're quickly followed by fairly uninspired bits of meanness, ultimately wasting some fine animation.

George T. Edison (voice of Powers Boothe) is a great inventor, but also a ravenous collector and a bit of a lech. As the film opens, he is hiring and Eastern adventurer to seek out a particular type of bamboo that he believes may have potential as light bulb filaments, but the man is more interested in a ceremonial knife in Edison's collection - while Edison has an eye for his wife. The caper will have dire consequences for Edison's wife and younger son Leo, and come home to roost ten years later when Toni (voice of Jacqueline Samuda) and her daughter Zella (voice of Carly Pope) return, even if Zella does have eyes for the now-grown Leo (voice of Gregory Smith).

There's a sort of anarchy to the opening reels of Edison and Leo that may not always be fun, in the strictest sense - it can go from something cute, like the Edisons saying their good-nights in Morse code, to nasty mutilation in no time at all - but at least tosses out new ideas at a decent clip. The dry delivery of the film in general and Powers Boothe as George in particular initially creates a darkly comic feel, and George starts out as one of the more intriguingly multifaceted characters in animation history. He's selfish, unable to resist his baser urges, and has a huge place in his heart for his wife and son.

Full review at EFC.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre de Seve (Fantasia Festival - Behind the Pink Curtain)

This is something close to what I expected when I first started hearing about Japan's pink films - it's a real movie, albeit a fairly short one (65 minutes), but one which has an actual story and plentiful acting to go with its soft-core sex scenes. There's been recent stories (widely mocked) about porn stars lamenting that they don't get to do much acting today, but watching something like this, you see what they mean - just because a movie is looking to get somebody off doesn't mean it can't be entertaining as well.

S & M Hunter

* * (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre de Seve (Fantasia Festival - Behind the Pink Curtain)

Boring movie nap.

No, seriously - I conked out at points watching this one, and had to stitch the plot together on my own afterward, despite the provocative title. I'm not sure whether the retro style of the movie, which I did kind of like, is just what Japanese film looked like in the eighties or whether it was calling back to an earlier era (it felt like something from the seventies).

Feng Kuang de Sai Che (Crazy Racer)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival - Hong Kong Cinema 100 Years)

Ow, that video projection hurts my eyes, especially considering that all the stills promised a visually amazing picture (the 35mm print that arrived lacked subtitles, necessitating a fallback to video). It's still a pretty darn enjoyable, fast-paced comedy, and the introduction's comparison to Guy Ritchie (good Guy Ritchie!) is pretty apt. A lot of fun, and one I'd like to see again in non-cruddy projection.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre de Seve (Fantasia Festival)

The evening's shorts seemed more closely paired to their features tonight than usual, particularly this one, in which one-man-band A.J. Bond creates a quirky time-travel story that has an odd digression into the topic of body hair (hence the title), but does a nice job of wrapping its story up like a pretzel.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre de Seve (Fantasia Festival)

Speaking of time travel movies that tie their plots up like a pretzel... This one is ultra-low budget, without even the minor amount of special effects that you see in "Hirsute", but the time-travel plot is extremely tight - impressively so, because it's a story that resets itself a couple of times before it gets to the end. No mean feat, that - the first time it happens, you're at great risk of having the audience think that these are new characters, so why should they care?

Pretty nice performances by the actresses playing the lead character at the ages of 9 and 18 - aside from being a great casting job (they really could be the same person nine years apart), they both handle some nutty concepts with style.


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre de Seve (Fantasia Festival)

This one's a pretty frantic thing, but even beside that, I tend to look at it as starting from a false premise - that there's a particular conflict for people who have skills in both the arts and the sciences. I can't speak to it personally, but the folks I've met who are drawn in both directions tend to be some of the healthiest, and best at both.

Even with that, the concept - transplanting the right hemisphere of one's brain into an illegal clone to give that part full reign - is a nifty one, and most of the technobabble thrown out to make it work sounded right. Maybe, if the filmmakers had just slowed down a little to really explore the idea, it would have been a better movie.

La possibilité d'une île (The Possibility of an Island)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2009 at Concordia Theatre de Seve (Fantasia Festival - Vers les Étoiles: Cerebral Science Fiction Cinema)

The Clone Returns Home redux, in many ways - it plays with a lot of nifty ideas, and is beautifully photographed, but is in many ways severely lacking in the story department. It's a curious thing, I suppose, but what passes for cerebral, idea-oriented science fiction on film is pretty weak sauce compared to what it does in print. Vernor Vince or Charles Stross probably gets through everything in The Possibility of an Island by page seven, by which point an exciting story is under way.

Today, the decisions are/were really easy, since de Seve is given over to French-language shorts packages and (presumably Francophone) panels for the weekend. So we go with You Might as Well Live, Cyborg She, Battle League of Kyoto, My Dear Enemy, and Crawler. Big recommendation for Deadgirl at midnight in the Hall theater.

Saturday is awfully thin for what could potentially be a packed day, but there's a chunk in the middle where everything is in unsubtitled French, giving me time for an afternoon meal, I guess: Private Eye, Rough Cut, Embodiment of Evil, and maybe the midnight Troll 2. Speaking of which, Best Worst Movie (7:30pm in de Seve) is pretty good.

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