Thursday, July 15, 2010

Fantasia Daily for 13 July 2010: Mai Mai Miracle, Le Grand Chef 2: Kimchi Battle, Tears for Sale

I'm sure my friend Laurel, who has occasionally suggested I make this a dinner and a movie blog, will be disappointed with me: I did not have kimchi or even Korean for dinner on an evening when I saw Le Grand Chef 2: Kimchi Battle, instead opting for a stop at m:brgr. They still make a great burger, although I was a little disappointed that the tall, delicious ice cream sodas I washed it down with last year were no longer on the menu.

I don't know whether this is a regular thing, but for Mai Mai Miracle, families with children got bumped to the front of the line. Very cool from a practicality purpose (those tend to be larger groups, so this gives them the chance to sit together without rearranging the rest of the audience) and reaching out to an audience that could probably be easily put off by how much of the programming is pretty violent and otherwise not kid-friendly. They're also offering free admission to kids under 18 for The Land Before Time with Don Bluth and Gary Goldman in person, and good for them.

In a somewhat interesting repeat of a couple nights earlier, the Q&A for Tears for Sale, there was another heated exchange between audience and filmmaker, once again with the unhappy audience member being shouted down somewhat. Again, a pity, because it demonstrated the tendency of people with strong opinions to presume that they are shared. Writer Aleksandar Radivojevic off-hand criticized the Serbian film industry constantly (along the lines of "the government only funds a certain type of film that stinks"), and what appeared to be a Serbian student in the audience took exception, both to the blanket assumption that nobody enjoys the movies being made in Serbia and how generally down on his home country he was.

I don't know that much useful could have come out of the argument, but as an amateur critic and hopefully open-minded fan of film in general, I'm really not comfortable with the "if you don't like it, why are you here?" that got shouted at the young woman. The way I figure it, the person who doesn't like the movie can probably potentially get more out of a Q&A and insight into the director's reasoning, and maybe has more interesting questions to ask. Those things get awfully dull when it's just "how difficult is it making such an awesome film?". Also, it's a good reminder that it's almost unavoidable one can get a very distorted image of the rest of the world; I'm sure that by the end of this festival, I'll get exposed to a lot of "Serbia is miserable", but there are other perspectives. Maybe this person is upper-class and has her own distorted view, but you always need an aggregate to get a complete impression.

Maimai Shinko to sennen no mahô (Mai Mai Miracle)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 13 July 2010 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2010)

Mai Mai Miracle is charming. It's a nostalgic memoir about growing up as free-range kids, but we can use all the good ones we can get before we run out of people who grew up that way. Nicely animated by Madhouse, the anecdotes should please audiences of all ages, and the storytelling is sophisticated enough to draw adults in without leaving the kids behind.

Shinko (voice of Mayuko Fukuda) is an energetic third-grader living in rural Japan. Her days are spent running through wheat fields, messing with her little sister, soaking in every word that her grandfather, a former schoolteacher, tells her about their town, and using it to fuel her very active imagination, which she claims is connected to her "mai mai", a cowlick that just won't lay flat no matter what she does. One day, a new girl joins her class; Kiiko (voice of Nako Mizusawa) is in many ways Shinko's opposite - the girl from Tokyo is shy and sad, and lives in a new western-style house - but they become fast friends. Soon there are other kids in their orbit. It's a good life, but not always a carefree one.

Like many films of its genre, Sunao Katabuchi's breaks up into smaller pieces. It's taken from a book by writer Noboku Takagi, who based it upon her life, and the various individual episodes toward the beginning are both amusing and true-to-life; Katabuchi almost never misses when depicting what's in a kid's head or what they'll do in a given situation, and there's never a situation the feels contrived beyond kids' natural abilities to get into mischief, usually with at least one big laugh to be found in each scenario. The filmmakers also do a fine job of getting into the kids' point of view, only briefly giving us the adults' perspective.

Full review at EFC

Sik-gaek : Kim-chi-jeon-jaeng (Le Grand Chef 2: Kimchi Battle)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 13 July 2010 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2010)

Looking at the cast list for Le Grand Chef 2: Kimchi Battle should raise some alarms; the main couple from the first film has been recast and a completely new character has first billing. Given that the plot is in large part a repeat of the first film, this looks like something that would normally go direct to video. And yet, it apparently not only played Korean theaters, but apparently got a small simultaneous release in America.

The basics of the story are the same: After a diplomatic incident with Japan, a nationwide tournament is instituted to celebrate kimchi as a uniquely Korean dish and find the best examples of it on the peninsula. One of the contestants, Jang-eun (Kim Jeong-eun), is returning to Korea from Japan after ten years, during which she had climbed to the level of the Prime Minister's Executive Chef. It's also a chance for her to reconnect with her mother, Soo-hyang (Lee Bo-hee), whose restaurant Chunyang-gak is likely closing in the face of its debts - which is fine with Jang-eun. It sits less well with Soo-hyang's foster son, Sung-chan (now played by Jin Goo), the greengrocer who won the competition in the first film. Prodded by his girlfriend Jin-soo (now played by Wang Ji-hye), he enters the competition, hoping to use the prize money to keep the restaurant open - although even when they were kids, he has never beat his sister in a cooking competition.

Kimchi Battle avoids doing a lot of things that other sequels might go for in the same situation: We don't see Sung-chan particularly changed by his success in the previous film, having to get back in touch with his working-class origins; he's pretty much the same guy he was before. When we first see Jin-soo, she's grumbling on the phone to her boss, asking why he thinks she always knows where Sung-chan is, raising fears that the filmmakers will pull the "they broke up off-screen and now must rediscover their love for each other thing. But, no, they're still together, if not terribly demonstrative, which is about right; romance was never" the thrust of the first one. And while it seems Sung-chan has gotten an entirely new family history in this film, it's okay, because it introduces us to Jang-eun.

Full review at EFC

Carlston za Ognjenku (Tears for Sale)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 13 July 2010 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2010: Subversive Serbia)

The hackneyed phrase that will likely be used to describe this movie is "a Serbian Amélie", which I think does it a disservice because, well, I didn't like Amélie much at all. Gilliam might be a better comparison; after all, Jeunet hasn't had quite so bleak an outlook in some time.

Not to say that Tears for Sale is unpleasant; it's funny, sexy, and even sweet. Sonja Kolacaric and Katarina Radivojevic make for an entertaining comedy team as the sisters sent from their isolated village to bring back more men when the last one in the village dies (it's post-WWI, but the war never stops in Serbia; as the opening narration tells us, boys are sent off to war as soon as they are taller than their rifles, and the rifles get shorter all the time). It's unusual not just in Serbian cinema, but movies in general, to have a cast so full of women who are both unapologetically sexy but also funny, but Radivojevic especially is amazingly brash, playing her character broadly but often hilariously.

We were informed that this was the original Serbian cut; when Luc Besson's company cut big chunks out of the movie. I can't compare the two cuts, but I can see both sides, a bit - the cut described (mainly removing the ghost of the grandmother) sounds like it would be in many ways a more straightforward movie, especially since the thematic weight it added really wasn't there for me until the screenwriter explained it after the screening. But, this cut works very well, and certainly deserves to be seen.

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