Friday, July 18, 2014

The Fantasia Daily, 2014.01: Jacky in the Kingdom of Women, The Mole Song - Undercover Agent Reiji

Hey, Hall Building, I kind of missed you last year.

Concordia's Hall building

Don't get me wrong, the Imperial was great last year, but having all two - now three! - screens right at a single intersection makes things a whole lot easier, and a lot of my memories of this festival come from being in the Hall. Granted, some of them involved terrible seats that had been broken for years, but I can do without that.

The trip up was surprisingly uneventful. I got all my packing and stuff done the night before, woke up early enough to catch a 7am bus - which I think, but am not sure, is earlier than it was in previous years. I think that in part because we got to White River Junction well before lunchtime, when the McDonalds that is practically the only place to get some food near the bus stop would get a rush in previous years. I must admit to being amazed that I'm the one who had my stuff together, unlike the couple in the next seat over, one of whom feared that he lost a passport between presenting his ticket and sitting down, while the other did lose her wallet somewhere in the station.

Anyway, got here without incident, found the basement I had rented on AirBnb - a bit further from things than I thought, but I'm not going to complain when I'm paying $35/night - finished typing up some of what I had written on the bus, and then went to pick up my media pass and program. Smooth as anything. Heck, when there was a bit of a to-do about whether a pass got you into Jacky in the Kingdom of Women or whether you needed to be on the VIP list, that was handled easily in my favor as well.

No guests for these two screenings, as it turned out - well, none related to the movie; the whole festival staff and many people from Concordia University (where the movies show), the city, and the province got up to speak. Most of them were speaking French, though, and I swear that my French is getting worse despite my annual visits here. It's like the number of people in this Francophone city who speak English is making my brain prioritize knowing the other language too low or something.

The new, remodeled seats are pretty great, by the way. Firm the way new theater seats should be, maybe a few less of them, but still having the little desktops if you want to put your food there or take notes or something. The projection was always good, but they've upgraded the digital projector - although at the cost of moving the 35mm to a platter according to the folks I sat with who know much more about that end of movies than I do - and put masking on the screen. It looked nice to my eyes, at least.

Anyway, it was one of the easiest and most enjoyable Fantasia arrivals I've had, and I'm hoping it bodes well for the rest of this crazy three-week movie summer camp. Really, this festival is the best.

My plans today: Hanging out at Hall for Kite, Live, and Zombeavers. Shockingly, that last one is American and not from the fest's native Canada!

"Lucky and Finnegan"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia Festival 2014, digital)

Resolution: Not only catch more short films, but spend more time writing about them, because lord knows that if anyone at the festival could use what little exposure I can give them, it's these guys. For instance, this one doesn't even have an IMDB entry, and I found the wrong Davide Di Saro the first time I looked on IMDB (I'm looking for the one with this website.

At any rate, he made this short film, a nine-minute video for a song of (presumably) the same name by Ronley Teper, although I couldn't find any evidence of it existing outside of this short. It is, should you get a chance to see it, nifty, a lushly animated movie that at times sort of has a "title sequence" feel, where it's trying to introduce characters and give the general gist of a movie or TV series without actually giving anything that happens away, especially since the song's lyrics at least sound like they're establishing the title characters as world-saving heroes. What would (presumably) be those title characters sort of fade into the background fairly quickly, though, as the background comes alive, with volcanoes and mountains and other elements that would be part of the scenery standing up and moving around, while the roving camera will often follow a path which shows one thing changing to another.

It's really a visual knockout - Di Saro is a guy to keep an eye out for - and I liked Teper's music for it too, kind of poppy but still having some rock and roll to them, and not repetitive over nearly ten minutes, Sure, the eye-popping things on screen help, but the whole thing comes together very nicely indeed. Nice start to the festival.

Jacky au royaume des filles (Jacky in the Kingdom of Women)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia Festival 2014, DCP)

The fact that the satire in Jacky in the Kingdom of Women so often seems silly rather than particularly cutting might just be the most damning indictment of entrenched gender roles that there is; the whole thing seems ridiculous from a different perspective. The good news is, that goofy nature gives filmmaker Riad Sattouf a chance to go off in a bunch of different funny directions rather than just hammering at the one thing throughout.

Jacky (Vincent Lacoste) is a young man in the country of Bubunne, which means he is a second-class citizen who cannot go out without being covered from head to toe, but that is all right, because he is expected to look after his factory-worker mother (Laure Marsac) until he can be married off, because what else are men good for? His friend Julin (Michel Hazanavicius) dreams of emigrating, but Jacky's dreams involve Colonelle Bubunne XVII (Carlotte Gainsbourg), the beautifully stern heir to the throne whose mother la générale (Anémone) is throwing a ball to find her daughter a Big Dummy of her own. But entry is expensive, and even if he could afford it, his cousins Vergio (William Lebghil) and Juto (Anthony Sonigo) are more than willing to act the wicked stepbrothers in this Cinderella story.

Movies are a sideline for Sattouf; he's a cartoonist by trade, although few of his albums appear to be available in the United States, including the one that serves as the source for this movie. That a bande dessinée was the source isn't surprising when you look at the movie, it's full of visual whimsy presented in solid colors and cute designs that occasionally hide a sense of humor with a mean streak. It's gleefully exaggerated, right down to the pseudo-baby talk that most characters speak in - "horsums" are the national animal, they eat 'plantums", and to question that they can speak to some people is "blasphemery" - the cinematic equivalent of the sort of broad cartooning that doesn't require enough realism for the audience to believe in it so long as they can enjoy it and get the important bits out.

Full review at EFC

Mogura no uta - sennyû sôsakan: Reiji (The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia Festival 2014, DCP)

A few weeks ago, someone recommended a comedy to me by saying "it's great - it's 96 minutes long!" And while the complaint with long comedies tends to be that they're bloated or diluted by not-funny material, The Mole Song often has the other problem: Takashi Miike's latest bit of absurdity is so high energy that it can very easily wear the audience out by the time only half of its two hours and ten minutes have passed.

It starts out with policeman Reiji Kukukawa (Toma Ikuta) being fired - though passionate about justice, he is not very bright and more trouble than he's worth; it's a wonder that it took five years since he graduated from the Academy with the lowest score ever for this to happen. But, thinks chief Toshio Sakami (Mitsuru Fukikoshi), his hot-headedness and single-minded devotion that overlookks the regular rules might make him a great guy to send undercover! Reiji accepts the job and the bizarre training of Kazuki Akagiri (Kenichi Endo) and quickly becomes close to yakuza Masaya Hiura (Shinichi Tsutsumi). One problem: Hiura doesn't deal in drugs, and that's apparently all undercover cops are allowed to investigate in Japan. Well, maybe two: He didn't tell academy classmate Junna Wakagi (Riisa Naka) where he was going, and she's got enough of a crush on him to come looking.

As is often the case, Miike starts fast, introducing characters with loud splashes before cutting to Reiji on the front of a speeding car, naked save for some carefully placed newspaper, and then doing a lot of jumping back and forth to explain how he got there, make the situation a little more crazy, and get into what happens next. This half hour or forty-five minutes is among the funniest things I've seen at the movies all year - it is frantic, full of jokes that go for broke, and manages to keep upping the ridiculousness until it is ending on a musical number. It's the sort of madness that maybe couldn't be sustained, but I don't think I would have minded if Miike and writer Kankuro Kudo (adapting a manga by Noboru Takahashi) had tried, even if the movie wound up being nothing more than just one more absurdly elaborate field test after another for about, oh, 96 minutes.

Full review at EFC

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