Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Fantasia Daily, 2011.07 (20 July): Hello Ghost, Ironclad, You Are Here, and Underwater Love

I think I need to reboot this computer, so no images today. It just would have been You Are Here director Daniel Cockburn anyway, so you'll have to wait a bit for that.

Yesterday's story short: Two uninspiring conventional movies, a quick trip to Future Shop to get a decent network cable (I can write at the desk now!), the annual stop at m:brgr, and then two wonderfully odd selections from the "Camera Lucida" series, which I suspect may be misnamed - these movies aren't very lucid at all.

Now - wait, work wants me? Oh, I am definitely taking a couple hours back later.

Hellowoo Goseuteu (Hello Ghost)

* * (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2011 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2011 - Korean Film Spotlight)

Hello Ghost makes me feel a little better about Hollywood. Sure, one could take the pessimistic view and see it as a sign that America is exporting the worst aspects of its culture in such quantities that others are assimilating it, but I choose to believe that the impulse to make supernatural comedies with questionable concepts is universal, and that seeing South Korea screw one up indicates that for all the crap people give Hollywood, this sort of thing is harder than it looks.

Kang Sung-man (Cha Tae-hyun) has been suicidal for some time, but has never been able to pull it off. After overdosing on pills fails, he jumps off a bridge, and this time his heart actually stops He's revived at the hospital, though, and now in addition to everything else, he can see ghosts. Four of them - a round, blue-suited chain-smoker (Ko Chang-seok); a woman who cries constantly (Jang Young-nam); a bratty kid (Cheon Bo-geun); and a mildly lecherous old man (Lee Moon-su). He gets the standard spiel from a fortune teller about how they won't move on (and let him off himself) until they have completed some unfinished earthly business with his help. to make things even more awkward, these wishes tend to being him in contact with - and embarrass him in front of - hospice nurse Jung Yeon-su (Kang Hye-won), who is certainly sweet and pretty enough to count as a reason to live.

Give writer/director Kim Young-tak some credit: For a broad comic fantasy, Hello Ghost is a lot more carefully structured than it initially appears to be. The complementary characteristics of Sung-man and Yeon-su are reasonably clever - both are surrounded by people just one on side or the other of death; he's a lonely orphan while her dying father is too much a presence in her life. And certain bits of the story tie together in fine fashion, although the connections are occasionally less elegant structuring than overbuilt plot devices.

Full review at EFC.


* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2011 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2011)

While Ironclad has a truly remarkable amount of crunching, blood-spurting medievel violence, its most memorable moment comes from Paul Giamatti yelling at Brian Cox. If there were a direct-to-video Oscars, he would be a shoo-in for a "Best Villainous Overacting" nomination, at the very least. Sadly, though, filmmaker Jonathan English spends so much time cramming more and more action in that he seldom has a chance to get the best parts of his cast into the same room and let them go at it with something other than swords.

Of course, this is a movie about a siege, and that's not the way sieges work. You've got the good guys on one side of the wall, the bad guys on the other, and except for a person or two having second thoughts on which side is which, it's all about holding fast until the next attack. The siege in question is that of Rochester Castle in 1215 - having signed the Magna Charta, King John (Giamatti) decides he wants to take it back with a vengeance, and sets about eliminating all of the other signatories. The Duke of Albany (Cox) means to stop him, but has only one Templar Knight (James Purefoy), his squire (Aneurin Barnard), and a ragtag band of former allies to stand against John and his army of Danish mercenaries. They hole up in Rochester Castle - to its master's very mixed emotions - with plans to stall him until reinforcements can arrive from France.

Ironclad has three big battle sequences as King John's men attempt to storm the castle, and while English does sometimes have the cinematographer shake the camera a bit more than necessary, the action scenes are not bad at all: The camera isn't constantly in so tight that you can't see what's going on - in fact, there are several pretty good scenes of swordfighting - and most of the actors and doubles look like they know what they're doing. The blood does flow, with nothing romanticized and a fair amount of warfare shown as particularly vicious. There are siege engines, towers, and a thing with pigs I'd never heard of which is insanely effective.

Full review at EFC.

You Are Here

* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2011 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2011 - Camera Lucida)

I have friends who are going to seek out You Are Here based primarily on one member of the cast, and they might as well, as it's a weird enough film that it's not necessarily going to play regular theaters or even boutique houses on its own; it'll have to be sought out for some reason, and if that's because it's the second-to-last film Tracy Wright was in before her untimely death, that's as good a reason as any.

It is a truly odd little movie, though, an indie film that is obsessed less with the emotional lives of its characters as with the cerebral ones. Writer/director Daniel Cockburn creates a number of odd little vignettes whose characters someties overlap, but the main unifying element seems to be curiosity about how we think. It's most explicitly laid out in a dramatization of a thought experiment in which a man who does not read Chinese is placed inside a room with a manual for how to respond if a piece of paper with Chinese characters is shoved under the door, but every single segment ties into the idea of how the mind processes information, and what role individual consciousness plays in it.

Interesting stuff, and seldom dry; Cockburn's stories quickly become funnier and more embracing of the absurd after what could be a fairly pretentious start. Ultimately, I do think that there's an sort of cynicism to the end, but You Are Here works pretty well both in pieces and as a whole.

Onno no Kappa (Underwater Love)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2011 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2011 - Camera Lucida)

I'm not sure how many pink films are made in Japan per year. Probably a lot; they tend to be short and low-budget, and there's always a market for skin flicks. Fantasy themes are probably not uncommon. But how many are musicals? With scores and songs by a European pop group like Stereo Total? Creature effects by Yoshihiro Nishimura? Cinematography by art-house staple Christopher Doyle?

That's what Underwater Love is, a combinaiton of wildly disparate ingredients that somehow work together in a way that is remarkably seamless and loopy. It's a simple story about a woman about to marry whose drowned high-school friend returns to her in the form of a kappa to save her life, and as much as that sounds kooky even for Japan, it works because there isn't an ounce of meanness or cynicism to it. It's a joyous bit of softcore, the sort where even the people whose faces were hidden behind kappa masks were smiling.

Another likely reason why it works so well is that director Shinji Imaoka, despite having all those biggish names attached to it, it's not an over-the-top production. Everything is more than a little nicer than the standard pink eiga, but there's no pretension to it. Underwater Love doesn't try to mock or transcend its genre; amid its strangeness, it's just trying to be the best it can be.

Full review at EFC.

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