Friday, July 27, 2012

The Fantasia Daily, 2012.08 (26 July 2012): The Mechanical Bride and The King of Pigs


Short movie day, but that was sort of planned from the beginning. I'd already seen the 1pm offering, and I bought my ticket for the 10pm Muppet show a week or two ago. So, once I had the Day 7 blog post up, it was off to the old port, where one of my favorite places to visit in Montreal, the Pointe-a-Calliere archeological museum, had a Samurai exhibit.

I wish I had pictures, because it was pretty amazing - the centerpiece that caught ones eye as soon as you entered the room was roughly a dozen suits of samurai armor, spectacularly well-preserved and cared for, with another few scattered around the exhibition space that also contained numerous swords, scabbards, ikebana containers, etc. Pretty cool all around.

For the first time since I started going there every year, there was a second exhibition in a new space attached to the museum, this one about the Etruscans, a rich culture that existed in Northern Italy before being subsumed by the Romans. The building was in the process of being renovated and had a nice paint-y smell to it in places, and the exhibit was extensive. Very nifty, since I hadn't known these people had existed before. The final room was especially cool/freaky, as it had a number of busts created by the Etruscans whose placement in individual plastic display cases was like something out of a science fiction/horror movie.

The Etruscan display meant I was a little longer at the museum which expected and there was no chance I was going to make it back to Concordia for 11/25 The Day Mishima Chose His Own Fate, so I decided a late lunch/early dinner would not be amiss, and lo and behold:

IMAG0161, Sign for "Le Steak Frites", dans le vieux-port

The menu isn't quite so basic as you might expect - they sort of share a kitchen/outdoor dining area with a casual Italian restaurant, so there's some bleed-over on the selection - but it is pretty close to "how would you like your steak cooked, sir, and I see you have not brought a bottle of wine; can we get you a Coke?" This pleases me; it is well-known that good food is wasted on me and I hate trying to figure out what an item on a menu is, so a simple medium-rare steak and potatos is wonderful.

I dithered by the river a bit afterward, so I just got back in time for The Mechanical Bride:

"The Mechanical Bride" director Allison de Fren, "The Mechanical Bride" director Allison de Fren

Director Allison de Fren mentioned that she had been working on this project for ten years or so, during which time she'd written a dissertation on the subject while something like five other documentaries covering similar ground had been released. It meant she had a lot of knowledge to impart, though, and could give more interesting, analytical answers to the questions afterward. Audiences typically expect filmmakers to be experts no their subjects as opposed to experts on presenting a topic, but de Fren had obviously given stuff enough thought that when she answered, I wished she had been able to put more into the movie, which was more or less an overview by its nature.

Also, you couldn't pay me to do hosting duties for the most tame of subjects, but something like a movie about men who buy $6,000 life-size dolls to engage with sexually? No way. Change your expression just a little when she's mentioning one thing or another, and suddenly people are acting like there's meaning to it.

"The King of Pigs" director Yeun Sang-ho, "The King of Pigs" director Yeun Sang-ho & Fantasia Staff

I was pleasantly surprised to see that The King of Pigs director Yeun Sang-ho had come to Montreal to support his film; it's a challenging animated feature that warrants some discussion. Unfortunately for me, that discussion turned out to mostly be in French.

After that wound down, it was back on the Metro, off at Place des Arts, and follow the throng to the box office so I could pick up my ticket to the "Just for Laughs Festival Muppets All-Star Comedy Gala". Which was, let me tell you, a blast. My only regret is that when buying tickets, there were two choices offered at the price range I had chosen and I couldn't find a seating chart on-line fast enough, which meant I wound up at the end of the ninth row rather than the fifth. Still - the Muppets! Fifty feet in front of me! Live!

And a pretty fun show it was. One thing I noticed when watching Being Elmo that it's a mark of how good the performers are that you can watch them doing the technical work but still get completely sucked into the characterization, which was what you sort of had to do unless you wanted to just watch the screens; it just wouldn't have been practical to build the set so that the performers were always hidden. Fun fact: Gonzo puppets always seem to have feet, even though most of the others are cut off at the waist.

Very fun show. As it was an "all-star comedy gala", about half of it was other stand-up acts, which were pretty good. The Muppet bits, though, were worth the price of admission alone, if only for the expereince. I saw them do a couple musical numbers as a group, saw the Swedish Chef make poutine, saw Fozzie do stand up (and Statler and Waldorf heckle from the second balcony), and a Muppet Labs sketch which involved "French-Canadifying" Beaker, with the end result being Youppi.

Great fun. Wouldn't have missed it for the world, and I wish I could have gotten some photos, but we were asked not to, and while that's the sort of thing I might have been tempted to defy toward the end, they were filming the show (does HBO still broadcast these?) and that meant there was a dude with a handheld HD camera within ten feet of me at all times (for those who know how much I love having my photo taken, you can imagine my thoughts on this). I would totally have gotten caught, and there is no way I was being thrown out of this.

"Today's" plan: Sons of Norway, A Night of Nightmares, Doomsday Book, Play Dead, and Yes We Can! and Hard Romanticker, it turns out.

Mechanical Bride

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2012 in Concordia University Cinema de Seve (Fantasia 2012 Documentaries from the Edge, HD)

It's not an uncommon occurrence - you see a documentary at a film festival and there's a Q&A afterward. Someone asks an interesting question, the director gives an interesting answer, and you're glad you came but kind of wish that the meat of that exchange had worked its way into the film. The Mechanical Bride is one of those movies - a decent overview of the creation of life-size dolls and the men who buy them, but not much deeper than that.

It starts with an annual "adult products" exhibition in Los Angeles, where attendees are amused and titillated by the synthetic girls on display. Not wanting to just view them as a curiosity, filmmaker Allison de Fren travels the country (and the world) to interview enthusiasts, manufacturers, and commentators to learn more about the phenomenon.

She gives an interesting overview, speaking with some of the expected people - RealDoll and Superbabe founders Matt McMullen and Mark Maki, for instance, and their counterparts in Japan and Germany. There's discussion of the challenges in manufacturing, where they are headed in terms of integrating robotics and programmed responses or even artificial intelligence. It's an interesting contrast, with the RealDoll people coming across as dedicated craftspeople (interestingly, the company's staff is roughly 50% female, though only one in twenty-five of their products are sold to women) while Maki and Superbabe seem a bit more industrial and cynical.

Full review at EFC.

Dwaejiui Wang (The King of Pigs)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012 Axis/Camera Lucida, HD)

Animation fans will spend a great deal of time telling the rest of the world that the medium is good for more than children's entertainment, and will point to movies with either violent content or mature themes to make their case. It's unusual to see both handled well in the same movie, though, which makes The King of Pigs a searing rarity.

The film opens on a woman's corpse and her killer Hwang Kyung-min (voice of Oh Jung-se) trying to locate a childhood friend, Jung Jong-suk (voice of Yang Ik-june). Jong-suk has problems of his own - he's failing as a ghostwriter and tending toward abuse in his own relationship - but meets with Kyung-min to reminisce over their middle-school days. Not that they were good times - young Jong-suk (voice of Kim Kkobbi) and Kyung-min (voice of Park Hee-bon) were incessantly bullied, and when another student, Kim Chul-yi (voice of Kim Hye-na) stood up to their attackers, things only got more volatile.

The precise manifestations of class and economic status in late-1990s Korea may not be completely familiar, but it's clear that this classroom serves as a microcosm of a broken system - an elite is able to abuse the poorer classmates with almost complete impunity, with the victims feeling they have no recourse but violence, especially since the authority figures like teachers only seem to respond when the privileged are attacked. The abused seem quite aware of how this works - Chul describes them as pigs, only considered useful as they are killed - but with their thoughts on survival, that's as much high-minded as they get in their philosophy. Survival comes before changing the system.

Full review at EFC.

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