Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Fantasia Daily, 2011.08 (21 July): Petty Romance and The Divide

Funny thing: When I saw the number of films at Fantasia that I would be able to see films without conflicts, but what has wound up happening in several cases is that I'd have days like yesterday, where despite there being five "slots", there were only new films for me to see in three. That's not necessarily a bad thing; it just means that there are a few days like this.

(l-r: Actor Michael Eklund, director Xavier Gens, actor Michael Biehn, actor Jennifer Blanc)

The Q&A for The Divide was, at the very least, lively, with tales of how the movie was shot in chronological order, largely improvised (to the occasional consternation of the lead actress), and how this was possible because they lost financing and wound up having the production largely paid for by the intern's parents. It also became pretty clear that Michael Biehn owns a room like this, and if he wasn't genuinely enthused for this movie, he's an even better actor than I thought.

Jjae Jjae Han Romaenseu (Petty Romance)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2011 in Salle de Seve (Fantasia 2011 - Korean Film Spotlight)

The dynamic of a comic book's writer and artist could (at least potentially) be a great formula for a romantic comedy; it's often two strangers brought together by circumstance who find themselves having to work together and adapt to the way the other thinks to create something together. Petty Romance does that fairly well, and gets points for doing it as a mainstream comedy rather than something pitched to the comic-reading crowd, although it could use a talented writer of its own.

Jeong Bae (Lee Seon-gyun) is a manhwa creator with a knack for drawing action but who struggles with dialogue, a weakness that just got a project he'd worked on for years rejected - and he needs the money to get a painting by his father back. The good news is that an editor friend has just announced an international adult comics contest with a $100,000 prize. With the deadlines tight and personal stakes high, he looks for a writer. He winds up with Da-rim (Choi Kang-hee), a translator whose penchant for creativity (despite lacking any knowledge of the subject) just got her fired from translating articles from international women's magazines for their Korean editions.

It is, by the nature of the genre, almost a given that Bae and Da-rim will wind up together, but to writer/director Kim Jeong-hoon's credit, there's enough genuine antagonism between them at the start that it doesn't necessarily seem like a good idea: Da-rim is a pushy screw-up with an unearned high opinion of herself, while Bae is a bit of a snob and tends to enjoy the moments when gets the upper hand far too much. Kim also has a great time making the traditional buddy characters not the greatest of friends: Bae's fellow artist Hae-ryong (Oh Jung-se) is spying on them for material for his own contest entry, Da-rim's friend Gyeong-sun (Ryu Hyun-kyung) was the editor that fired Da-rim and makes a play for Bae, and Da-rim's twin brother Jong-su (Song Yoo-ha) whose sexual excesses are the inspiration for the comic's villain. They're a thoroughly mercenary bunch.

Full review at EFC.

The Divide

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2011 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2011)

What do you want from your post-apocalyptic tales? The Divide lays the two paths out before the us - strangeness and danger outside or paranoia and infighting inside - and then literally seals the characters in. That's not the wrong decision, but, wow, are the glimpses of the other path that the film could have taken tantalizing.

It doesn't matter why, but the bombs are falling, and Mickey (Michael Biehn) is ready; the 9/11 survivor has converted the basement of the building where he's the superintendent into a fallout shelter. He may not have been expecting to ride it out with roommates, but he's got a few: Young couple Eva (Lauren German) and Sam (Ivan Gonzalez); engineer Delvin (Courney B. Vance); mother Marilyn (Rosanna Arquette) and daughter Wendy (Abbey Thickson); half-brothers Josh (Milo Ventimiglia) and Adrien (Ashton Holmes); and their friend Bobby (Michael Eklund). Attempting to explore the outside backfires in a big way, trapping them in the basement, and the situation gets worse when the other characters start to suspect that the already misanthropic Mickey is holding out on them.

That's a pretty strong cast, and director Xavier Gens gives them remarkably free reign, shooting the picture in chronological order and encouraging improvisation. During the post-film Q&A, he mentioned that very little of the original scripted dialog remains in the film, while some actors (most notably Michael Eklund) took this freedom and ran with it, making minor parts into showcases. That's a tricky way to work if everybody isn't on the same page, and to a certain extent the movie does become something of a shouting match, with whichever characters are more psychotic and whichever actors are more willing to play that up ruling the day. Saner characters and actors less apparently willing to just seize their screen time sometimes get pushed to the side.

Full review at EFC.

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