Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Fantasia Daily, 2012.10 (28 July 2012): A Letter to Momo, Mon Ami, Nameless Gangster, Graceland, and Z-108

Q&A's can get weird, folks.

Cast & Crew of "Mon Ami"
Cast & crew of Mon Ami: Sound designer Ian Robinson, costume designer Ellie Schultz, producer Joe (last name not legible), stars Scott Wallis & Mike Kovac, and writer/director Rob Grant

The makers of Mon Ami were pretty great, joking with the audience and generally showing the same kind of charm that's one of their movie's assets. One thing that struck me weird, though, is how Grant mentioned that some of the choices made were meant to reflect what sort of choices the characters would have made if they were making the movie, such as using all the slow-motion and classical music for the underscore, because they thought they were a lot more sophisticated and suave than they actually are. I don't know if I really see that - I think part of what makes it work is that Cal & Teddy don't really think they're criminal masterminds, but are in over their head anyway. What works is that these guys are sort of average, know it, and still find their plan falling apart.

Seriously, it's okay to just admit that you used that music because it was free.

Makers of "Graceland"
Makers of "Graceland"

Graceland had a lot of folks in town, so much that I should have tried to figure out the panoramic features of the camera-phone. Writer/directer Ron Morales is in both shots, with producers to his left and the festival's Stephanie Treppanier and the musicians to his right. Not pictured: The guys from Resolution doing a great introduction since Ms. T had lost her voice.

The Q&A got kind of weird in the way they do for movies set and shot in a poor country with an audience that wants to be empathetic but sort of verges on the edge of being patronizing. Plus, it got into a real "issue" groove when the producer on the far right said he got involved because he felt it had a lot to say about the exploitation of women and girls. I guess that's sort of true, but I kind of thought that if you wanted to make a movie about that, you might choose one which has women in a substantive role or two. Graceland is a lot of things (I kind of wish I'd been sure enough about the plot of Kurosawa's High and Low to ask about that), but its main characters are men and the conflict driving the plot is class and corruption, not really mysogyny and pedophilia. Those are there, but not really central.

Introducing "Cougars"
King-wei Chu and director Lonnie Martin introducing his short film "Cougars".

Zombie 108 had a short film before it, and, man, did that ever not need to start later. "Cougars" was cute and clever enough, although the twist cold be seen coming a mile away, but could use a lot of refinement before going to the feature-length version.

Today's plan: The Kick, Quick, Roller Town, The Warped Forest and The Human Race. So, basically just living in Hall all day.

Momo e no Tegami

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012 AXIS, HD)

You can do a movie like A Letter to Momo with live-action nowadays, and it's increasingly common, but animation of the traditional variety still seems the best medium for this sort of fantastical but relaxed family entertainment: It makes everything part of the same world and allows for things to slow down a bit, and is especially fitting here, were drawings literally come to life, in a fashion.

After the death of her father, 12-ish Momo Miyaura (voice of Karen Miyama) and her mother Ikoku (voice of Yuka) move from Tokyo to Shio Island on Japan's Inland Sea, where Ikoku grew up. Momo, who carries a note her father started to write her (without getting beyond "Dear Momo"), is not especially thrilled with her new home, and that's before discovering that they are not the only new arrivals - although nobody else can see or hear goblins Iwa, Kawa, and Mamé (voices of Toshiyuki Nishida, Koichi Yamadera, and Cho).

Parents shouldn't worry, though - A Letter to Momo is never in any particular danger of turning into a particularly scary movie. The goblins are more pests and comic relief than any kind of real threat, although it's understandable if Momo initially thinks otherwise. The design and animation of the trio is particularly clever in this regard - despite the resemblance to the Edo-era drawings that inspired them being absolutely unmistakable, the filmmakers manage to twist them into something friendlier. For example, the way Iwa's massive mouth is always open to display his pointed teeth comes across as sort of dumb and vacant rather than intimidating.

Full review at EFC.

Mon Ami

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012, HD)

Mon Ami, despite its title, is in English, so its audience needn't fret about having to deal with subtitles. It's still rather off the beaten path, a buddy black comedy, with as much enthusiasm as gags involving grievous injury; maybe enough to win audiences over.

Teddy (Mike Kovac) and Cal (Scott Wallis) have known each other since they were six, though their lives are in a bit of a rut - they've been working in the same hardware store for a years, with Cal actually crashing in the back room when not in his parents' house and Teddy married to a very demanding wife (Teagan Vincze). When the store's owner Hank (John Fitzgerald) opts to put his sons in charge rather than promote Teddy after retiring, he and Cal decide to take control of the situation: Telling everyone that they're going on a fishing trip, they kidnap Hank's pretty nineteen-year-old daughter Crystal (Chelsey Reist) with the intent of holding her for ransom. They've got a plan, but it's not nearly as foolproof a plan as they think, especially given the fools involved.

Give this movie one thing; the energy level is very high indeed. The characters often talk fast, gags come at a quick pace, and nasty physical comedy produces plenty of blood. There's quick cuts and slow motion, and rather than get bogged down, things accelerate toward the end. The movie relies on this energy, both in terms of keeping the audience with the characters as things get further out of hand and having the characters continually make things worse for themselves when stopping to think might solve a lot of problems.

Full review at EFC.

Bumchoiwaui Junjaeng (Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012, DCP)

Can I be honest? I don't really like gangster movies that much. Crime movies, yes, but movies about the mob tend to leave me cold. For me, "the outfit" in Richard Westlake's "Parker" novels is close to ideal - vaguely corporate and threatening, but off to the side of the action.

So I suppose it's both a bit of an achievement that I liked Nameless Gangster but inevitable that I didn't love it. The conflict between distant relatives played by Choi Min-sik and Ha Jung-woo never quite becomes operatic enough to really fascinate, and Choi's character just seems put together wrong: On the one hand, he's a fat stumbler without a subtle bone in his body, but on the other, his apparent strength is that he knows everybody and can network and call in favors like a pro. It's possible to be both, but the movie never really makes a case for it.

Full review at EFC.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2012 in Concordia University Cinema J.A. de Seve (Fantasia 2012 Spotlight: Filipino Cinema, HD)

Though a low-fi picture that appears to have scraped every penny together to get made, Graceland has a pretty darn excellent hook - a twistier, more noirish take on High and Low with the chauffeur keeping things from his employer to save his kidnapped daughter - which it plays out just excellently. There are a few gaps in the plot at points, but calling most out would be called quibbling.

What's really excellent is the way it goes from an efficient and brutal setup - it makes you really like certain characters before doing something awful - to a noose that starts out pretty darn tight and only gets worse from there. Things can only end badly in this movie; the question just being how badly things will end.

Very much recommended.

Full review at EFC.

Zombie 108

N/A (but likely low)
Seen 28 July 2012 in Concordia University Cinema J.A. de Seve (Fantasia 2012, DCP)

I can't legitimately grade this, since about half an hour in, the need to get some sleep started acting upon me like a force that could not be denied and I was in and out, doing that head-jerk thing every few minutes. This, despite the iced tea I'd purchased at the concession stands - which, naturally, kicked in after the movie.

Pretty sure I still wouldn't like it, though - the story was choppy and all over the place, and frequently just ugly in ways that tended to push it past my threshhold for such things. The washed-out color palette just made it drearier and harder to keep attention.

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