Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Fantasia Daily 2014.11: Hal, Giovanni's Island, The White Storm, The Midnight Swim, The Man in the Orange Jacket, The Seventh Code

Kind of running 24 hours behind "schedule" here - this year's week of working mornings is not quite so friendly toward "write on one computer while a query chugs on another" as one might hope - so this is going to be quick. Kind of like much of they day. I just had time to walk to m:brgr between Hal and Giovanni's Island, and then once more notice how the anime audience really can be a separate thing: Fantasia keeps a line-up so that people who were at one screening can go in to the next first and keep their seats, but there was almost no overlap between Island and the Hong Kong action of The White Storm.

The time between that and The Midnight Swim was ridiculously tight, though - the start time plus the running time of The White Storm more or less equaled when Swim started exactly, so you could hear me and Kurt Halfyard groan a little bit at picking "court metrage" ("short film") out of the introduction. A good time, but a bit of a sprint afterward to get to the next, where I was seated just as the short film before it started.


I shouldn't take pictures if I don't know the names, should I? Left to right, that's cinematographer Shaheen Seth, one of the festival hosts whose name I really should know by now, director Sarah Adina Smith, and producers Jonako Donley and Mary Pat Bentel. Smith did all the talking, including how the house in the movie was her family home, and she has two sisters, but the only really autobiographical thing in the movie was the lip-syncing bit.

"Hinata no Aoshigure" ("Sonny Boy & Dewdrop Girl")

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2014 in Salle D.B. Clarke (Fantasia Festival: AXIS, DCP)

Universal youthful awkwardness seems to be a more common thread in Japanese animation than it does on this side of the Pacific, to the point where "Sonny Boy & Dewdrop Girl" maybe seemed a little more like something I've already seen than it should have. A shy grade-school boy having a crush on a girl, becoming friends, but not confessing his affection isn't just something you see in anime/manga, but it's the center of a lot.

This one's pretty good. There's a chance to be glib that it sidesteps, and while it leans a bit hard on the fantasy moments in Hinata's head, the visuals of those moments are pretty darn nice. Still, I think my favorite part is the epilogue during the credits, when the movie shifts to Shigure's point of view and her thoughts on Hinata are basically "he was a bit of a goof, but nice"; it's the sort of story that can afford to have a little air let out of it once in a while, after all.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2014 in Salle D.B. Clarke (Fantasia Festival: AXIS, video)

I know some folks who will dismiss Hal because it's animated (and from Japan - the characters even have big eyes!) but might otherwise seek out the humanistic flavor of science fiction it represents. It's a nifty little movie which switches up bits of one of the genre's more common stories without losing sight of why it might connect with its viewers.

It's sometime in the future, enough so that old Mr. Tokio (voice of Tamio Oki) has a helper robot, Kyuchi, although he'll be giving it up for a bit - his granddaughter Kurumi (voice of Yoko Hikasa) has completely retreated from her life after her husband Hal's death. Tokio and specialist Dr. Aranami (voice of Shinpachi Tsuji) have the idea to give Kyuchi human form as a duplicate of Hal (voice of Yoshimasa Hosoya) in order to draw her out. A tricky, emotional job for a robot, even though Kurumi and the original Hal have unwittingly given him the direction he needs by writing their dreams on the sides of Rubik's Cubes.

Writer Izumi Kizara and director Ryotaro Makihara don't spend much time at all delving into the science-fictional details of their story; there is almost no discussion of the technical aspects of the change from Kyuchi to "Hal", for instance. It's apparently near enough in the future that the world is not terribly dissimilar to our own, although the hints of higher technology - Kyuchi's design, the holographic cameras Kurumi puts in buttons, increased use of smartphone apps - are nifty and feel like logical extrapolations; a subplot about how much some of this stuff costs and gets paid for shows that this is not the utopian future it might seem like to someone of Kurumi's middle-class background, although any histrionics about the world being built on a lie might be a bit misdirected.

Full review at EFC

Jobanni no shima (Giovanni's Island)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: AXIS, DCP)

Tatsuya Nakadai did the voice of the older Junpei in this? That is flat-out fantastic, although looking at IMDB I see that the guy has just never stopped working even though he was a big-deal leading man back in the day.

It's a pretty great little movie even without that in mind, though. While it's hard not to have Grave of the Fireflies in one's head at some points during the latter half of this one, it's fortunately not anywhere close to that sad, as its take on the resilience of children - in this case, two brothers on one of Japan's northern islands that is occupied by the Soviet Union after World War II (and remains part of Russia to this day) - is much more optimistic, as the Japanese and Russian children become close no matter how their parents come into conflict. There's still a little edge to it - the scene where Tanya shows her room to Junpei and Kanta without seeming to fully realize that it was theirs before the occupiers took the house is going to feel beautifully ambivalent to adult viewers, though maybe not to the kids The film is full of little moments like that, and they make it feel real and lived-in.

Interestingly, the visual style of the movie is often very simple, with the kids' faces often distorting more than you might expect for a relatively serious movie. Still, it's interesting, especially to look at how the animators draw Tanya, who looks a bit distorted but probably did seem that way to her Japanese friends. The renderings of the Russian furniture moved into the Japanese home makes them look huge compared to the simple, low-to-the-ground things they replaced, and the whole look of the movie's background changes when the characters arrive at the Maoka internment camp.

Afterwards, I was kind of surprised that some folks brought kids, but a little thought has me thinking that it's not too heavy for them. I would absolutely recommend it as a family movie, though - it's got layers that adults will see that kids don't, and might bear some discussion afterward.

Full review on EFC

"Evil Twin"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Action!, DCP)

There was an event at the Regent Theatre last year (maybe the year before) called something like "The Boston Action Movie Film Festival", which played a lot of short films like "Evil Twin": Less fully-realized narratives than joint demo reels, with a director showing how well he could pace an action scene, the actors/stuntpeople showing their screen-fighting skills, and maybe some FX guys thrown in.

On that level, "Evil Twin" impresses. It's built as a showcase and that it does, jumping between locations as the cast continues some quality hand-to-hand without slowing down. The story is goofy and barely there, but Cha-lee Yoon and Kamil Can Aydin can throw down, and filmmaker Christian Pfeil does it all behind the camera. They've made a fine calling-card for themselves, and I hope it leads to more work.

Sou Duk (The White Storm)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Action!, DCP)

Sometimes, it's not enough for someone to be shot in the chest. They have to fall off a cliff, and there have to be alligators in the river below. That is the attitude Benny Chan brings to The White Storm, and it's kind of a blast, a throwback to the operatic heyday of John Woo and Chow Yun-fat, only with a couple of even bigger action scenes than Hong Kong could have pulled off back in those days.

It's a ton of fun. Not perfect - the way they sideline Nick Cheung for much of the movie in favor of the characters played by Lau Ching-wan and Louis Koo and then make up for it big-time later on is a little goofy, and even though it drives the second half of the movie, I don't know if I ever buy into it. But, man, when Chan is shooting things up or banging cars together, it is a ton of fun, and the shift between environments - the lovely grit of Hong Kong, the gorgeous scenery of Thailand (that place photographs very very well), the gloss of Macau - makes this one of the most beautiful action movies you'll see.

Full review on EFC

"Sea Child"

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2014 in Salle D.B. Clakre (Fantasia Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

A fitting pairing with The Midnight Swim, both in the general setting, tone, and how the movie did not quite connect with me. I felt like writer/director Marina Shron had a very basic idea but not a real story to go with it, and as a result the sharpness of the mother and daughter scenes at the beginning didn't really sustain as young Lila wandered off on her own, thinking about her father but not actually doing much.

The Midnight Swim

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2014 in Salle D.B. Clakre (Fantasia Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

The trick with movies like The Midnight Swim is to make the characters either outright fascinating or dole enough hints at a larger story out that the audience can overlook that not much is actually happening (presuming, of course, that they're like me and very much into the things happening). Writer/director Sarah Adina Smith does fairly well on this account; I felt like I got about halfway through or more before the realization that we were running in place hit, ironically during a bit of explaining folklore that I knew was never actually going to matter. Then things just seemed to stop for me, and even weirdness and explanations never really got things jump-started.

A shame, because Smith did a good job juggling genre and talking-head material through most of her movie, and the ladies playing all three sisters who meet following their mother's disappearance (Lindsay Burdge, Jennifer Lafleur, and Aleksa Palladino) are all excellent. There are a few too many blind alleys to the supernatural bits, but the one eventually chosen is kind of neat, conceptually.

On the other hand, folks were raving coming out of this, so clearly it worked much better for some than it did for me.

Full review on EFC

M.O.Zh. (The Man in the Orange Jacket)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2014 in Salle D.B. Clakre (Fantasia Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

Why, Fantasia (and other) programmers, do you insist on scheduling nearly-wordless movies for 10pm (or later)? I get that they're often enough of an acquired taste to keep out of prime time, but it can be rough on those of us already coming down after 8+ hours of movies.

Few movies work with this sort of exhaustion better than The Man in the Orange Jacket, though. It's a simple enough premise - man kills rich guy who kind of has it coming, slides into his house/life, and soon finds that either he has a copycat coming after him or he's starting to crack - and writer/director Aik Karapetian moves it forward at a steady pace but also tends to circle around in surreal loops. At a mere 70 minutes, the lack of conventional action and fairly sparse plot is no problem.

It's a neat, smart movie beyond that. There's something that's not quite comedy but still kind of off about the killer trying to insert himself into the rich man's life - he doesn't know how to eat the fancy soup or how to handle the distractions in the house meant for idleness. And as much as the film sheds no tears over the rich old man with the pretty young wife, there's also something to it about how that sort of wealth is isolating. It's well worth unpacking; hopefully I'll get to see it again sometime and really get into it.

Full review on EFC

Seventh Code

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2014 in Salle D.B. Clakre (Fantasia Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

This back-end, meanwhile, is an enjoyable weird, but still somewhat conventional little movie which has a flaky Tokyo girl chasing a guy she met once a month ago to Vladivostok and then getting half-voluntarily stranded there for her trouble. Of course, she makes new friends, but also gets involved in something very shady.

It winds up going sort of where you'd expect - I can't say what Akiko finally gets into surprised me - but it has exceptional fun getting there, and the latter portion of the movie is both filled with some impressive action and on occasion kind of goofy. Neither has typically been part of writer/director Kiyoshi Kurosawa's arsenal before now, but he handles both pretty well. Heck, even the music video segment - which I half-suspect is what paid for the rest of the hour-long mini-movie as a way to showcase Atsuko Maeda - kind of fits into the anything-goes feel of the thing.

Full review on EFC

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