Monday, July 22, 2013

The Fantasia Daily, 2013.04 (21 July 2013): Key of Life, The Outer Limits of Animation, Sweetwater & Hello, My Dolly Girlfriend

Didn't quite get a late start yesterday, just fought with this machine all morning. I hope like heck that getting home fixes its issues finding WiFi. I'd hate to replace it after less than two years. I eventually wound up giving up and walking to Concordia for my first visit to de Seve of the year, where I saw the pretty darn good Key of Life and the "Outer Limits of Animation" program.

Outer Limits of Animation

Shorts programs are always a mixed bag, and sometimes it can certainly feel like they're packed with local films. That's a little surprising at Fantasia, in part because they set aside one screen for a whole weekend of local shorts, but it does mean we got a whole lot of filmmakers to show up for the show - and that since they all spoke in French, I didn't understand them almost at all! So, here's my best attempt at assigning names to faces and films, from left to right:

Martine Cartrand, director of "Macpherson"; Jonathan Ng, director of "Requiem pour un Romance"; Pierre M. Trudeau, director of "Raised to be Hero"; Tanya Desjardins-De Libero, director of "L'arc en Ciel"; Audrey Beaulé, director of "Opinion"; Jonathan Martel, director of "Eau Trouble"; Valerie Gadbois, director of "Incident sur la ligne orange"; Ms. Gadbois again, because my phone does weird things in panorama mode; Justine Beaupré, director of "L'Ingénieur du ciel"; Christophe Lalonde Lavergne, director of "À la croisée des chemins"; someone whose name I got nothing of (last two may be reversed); programmer Marc Lamothe.

Enjoyable little program, and I'm glad I'm getting to see more shorts programs this year than I have the past few. You can do a lot of nifty things with shorts that are very cool but wouldn't hold up for a feature.

After dinner (tonight's burger was topped with egg, salami, and monterey jack at m:brgr), I made it to the Imperial where I caught Sweetwater with a lady who found it hilarious that the Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival uses Sci-Fi London as a model (the latter apparently did not impress her), and then Hello, My Dolly Girlfriend with a fairly small crowd. A little much for their Sunday night, I guess.

Anyway, time to run out the door and try to get into the sold-out screening of The Garden of Words. After that, the plan is The Burning Buddha Man and back to the Imperial for Secretly Greatly I am the one in the Science Gangster shirt.

Kagi Dorobo no Mesoddo (Key of Life)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2013 in Salle de Sève (Fantasia Festival, HD)

Imagine a hat containing many pieces of paper. Each one of those slips of paper has written upon it an off-beat comedy trope, and screenwriters start their work by grabbing a handful. Key of Life is an example of what you get when somebody (in this case, writer/director Kenji Uchida) pulls out "hitman", "amnesia", and "must be married by ______". The trick is to move them around until something funny comes up, and Uchida has found a rather entertaining arrangement.

As usual, the hitman doesn't seem to particularly enjoy his grim work, so maybe it's for the best that when Kondo (Toruyuki Kagawa) slips on a bar of soap at a local bathhouse, despondent actor Takeshi Sakurai (Masato Sakai) impulsively switches locker keys with him, mostly so that he can use the other man's money to pay his debts. But when it turns out that the hit to his head has left Kondo unable to remember anything, Sakurai keeps up the deception, only to have crime boss Junichi Kudo (YosiYosi Arakawa) give "Kondo" a new contract while"Sakurai" meets magazine editor Kanae Mizushima (Ryoko Hirosue) outside the hospital where she is visiting her ailing father. So that he can give her away, she intends to marry the second week of December - just a couple months away - even though she isn't currently dating anybody.

That Kanae and Kondo are the pairing is actually a pair of somewhat interesting twists. The template for this sort of story usually involves the screw-up now having to look competent to impress a girl who is a target or otherwise out of his league; Sakurai really doesn't have anything like that going. Plus, the pairing of Kondo and Kanae seems to fly in the face of every romantic comedy convention that exists: Rather than opposites attracting, the pair are both soft-spoken and meticulous without it being a particular sign of repression. They're eccentric, just in the opposite direction as is typical.

Full review at EFC.

"Au-delà de l'animation 2013" ("Outer Limits of Animation 2013")

Seen 21 July 2013 in Salle de Sève (Fantasia Festival AXIS, HD)

I may run down a few more of these in detail for a "Short Stuff" column (which won't necessarily be short itself, as there were twenty items in the program. As much as I talked about filling it with local material earlier, though, it's hard to deny that some of the best items to be found came from Quebec, including perhaps my favorite, "Requiem pour une Romance", which takes the audio from a break-up telephone call and plays it opposite a fantastic kung-fu fight; it's a wonderful juxtaposition of things that seem unrelated but frame each other perfectly. Not technically from Quebec (according to the program) but French-language Canadian short "MacPherson" is a beautifully animated, melancholy relation of the friendship between a Jamaican scientist (who supported himself in many other ways) and a Quebecois folk singer. While the film itself left me a bit cold, I couldn't help but be captivated by the use of the pinboard both as medium and metaphor in "Here and the Great Elsewhere".

Among the ones that were just pure fun were "(Notes On) Biology" and it's flip-book-style creation of Robo-Elephant!, the stick-figure slapstick of "Bon Voyage", and the familiar (but well-executed) joke of "Raised to be Hero". "Planet Utero" had some nifty sci-fi ideas even if it's hard to get past the too-smooth CGI, a look that worked a little better for Switzerland's "Stopover". And while I admired the heck out of "La Casa Triste"... Christ, that's depressing.

Sweetwater (aka Sweet Vengeance)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival: Django Project, DCP)

Ed Harris. Western. There, that should have sold everyone... Oh, you need more? Fine. Sweetwater (also known as Sweet Vengeance) is a dark, bloody Western that is both fairly traditional and over-the-top crazy, with a fairly great cast. Including Ed Harris in a role that really needs to be seen to be believed.

He plays a New Mexico lawman tracking two men across the unforgiving landscape, although they've already had the poor fortune of crossing paths with Josiah (Jason Isaacs), both the largest local property owner and the leader of its local church - he calls himself prophet and his ranch "Holyland". The rest of the community bends to his will, with the exception of farmer Miguel Ramirez (Eduardo Noriega) and his beautiful wife Sarah (January Jones). Well, them and Jackson, who has installed himself as sheriff by literally kicking the old one out of his office.

You've got to sort of feel sorry for January Jones, in a way. She gives a perfectly acceptable performance as Sarah - playful, determined, extremely capable without seeming like she's all skills, cold hate when that's what sustains her character - and it's just going to get blotted out by what Jason Isaacs and Ed Harris are doing. Isaacs rips into his part as the villain with gusto, taking the sort of monster who wraps his viciousness in holy words and somehow squeezing just a bit of extra authority to it, not so much defiantly daring anybody to oppose him as knowing that nobody has the nerve. Harris, meanwhile, is playing a guy who just does not care what anyone else thinks and may very well be insane, and he's got more or less free reign to chew any scenery that happens along. Watching Isaacs and Harris go at it, their characters clearly despising each other and used to getting their own way, is a kick.

Full review at EFC.

Figyua na Anata (Hello, My Dolly Girlfriend)

* * (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival, HD)

Look, I don't necessarily want to have this in my head, but... When a character spends a lot of time talking about whether the extremely lifelike mannequin he's pawing has a vagina (or, really, any sort of hole down there), it's kind of weird to have the area in question blurred out, right?

Okay, forget I just wrote that. But there's no denying that for a movie that is pretty constantly shoving sex in the audience's face, backing off the question relatively visibly is kind of distracting. Certainly I'd like to talk about something else, and it looks like writer/director/original manga-ka Takashi Ishii has ideas about living within fantasies and objectification he'd like to address, and he seems to be onto something interesting with how Kokone seems to move between woman and doll based on how she's treated, but as with It's Me, It's Me, it feels like the filmmaker came up with something symbolic but wound up more interested in the different things he could do with it than doing one thing really well.

Full review at EFC.

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