Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Fantasia Daily 2015.01 (14 July 2015): Miss Hokusai, Tangerine, and two shorts.

Welcome to Montreal!



Things got started a little early in Montreal this week in order to accommodate an early show of Ant-Man, which I didn't even try to get into, as there will be plenty of time to see that later. I got up here even earlier, Sunday evening, after a longer-than-expected stop at the border and with whatever ailed me in the Boston area still taking a bit out of me into Monday, which I spent wandering the area near Juste Pour Rire (lots of food trucks and stands) and capping off the day with Terminator: Genisys in 3D. I guess that served as a useful baseline for how dreadfully lifeless a genre film meant to be exciting can be, but is otherwise not recommended.

As has become somewhat usual, morning stretched out a bit long to allow me to do much touristing in the afternoon, so I mostly sat outside, read the program, and got a little more familiar than usual with what was coming up. It's going to be a fun festival, although there are some really tought decisions to be made later on.



First guest was Keiichi Hara (l), director of Miss Hokusai. There were apparently other guests from Production IG and others who worked on the film in the crowd, although I wasn't exactly able to spot them craning my neck back.

One thing worth mentioning about this screening and Q&A was that there were two sets of subtitles - one in English, and one in French. It's something I'm surprised isn't done a little more often, though later on in the festival a film will have one screening with English subs and one with French. Generally speaking, there seems to be a lot more on the schedule where those of us whose high school French is twenty-five years rusty despite coming north for ten years are out of luck. That's cool - this festival is for the people of Montreal first and foremost and monolingual New Englanders something like seventeenth. So we've got not cause to complain when pretty much the entire Q&A is in French.

Sitting through it made it a tight squeeze to get across the street for Tangerine, I wound up in the last seat just as the lights were going down. Close call, but worth it, as it's a pretty nifty movie.

Each feature wound up having a short featuring a parent at his/her wit's end, though I liked the one with Miss Hokusai much more than the one with Tangerine.

So, that's day one. Day two will be another evening-only one to help ramp up, and I'll be going with Kung Fu Killer and The Hallow.

"Calamités Caustiques"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 14 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, digital)

This short film by Hughes Provencher takes a clever enough turn midway through that I really would have liked to see it go for a proper ending that plays it out, rather than imply that the protagonist isn't in her right mind. It's more fun, I think, to want to see where a situation is going next than to feel like it doesn't matter.

Getting to that point has a fair amount of laughs for a 14-minute short, happily. Valérie Cadieux is amusingly flustered as Patricia, a single mother who doesn't just always seem to be a little behind, but is mocked by the smiling, capable reproduction of her own face on her real-estate signage. She's sympathetically worn-down but not so much that the situations she's reacting to aren't funny, including and especially a burglar (David Boutin) who decides to make himself at home after seeing just how much Patricia's life and space aligns with him.

That bit is funny enough that I wound up wanting the movie to center on it; there is probably a brilliant romantic comedy to be made about a burglar who believes he has found his soulmate in a woman who really isn't that cool with this being the only guy who appreciates her. It winds up being just one part of the weirdness overwhelming her toward the end, but it's the part that seems to have more to build on.

Sarusuberi: Miss Hokusai

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 14 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, DCP)

Stories about art and artists are fantastic opportunities for makers of animated films, and I suspect that if I knew more about Japanese art, I'd be even more impressed by how Miss Hokusai uses it to give its sweet but far from sugary story more atmosphere. Even an art dummy like me can still see that the filmmakers are doing neat things here and without being as obvious a style choice as the occasional bursts of rock & roll on the soundtrack of a movie set in 1814 Edo.

That is when Katsushika Hokusai (voice of Yutaka Matsushige) was known as "Tetsuzo" (he had many names over the course of his career), with his adult daughter O-Ei (voice of Anne Watanabe) assisting him, sometimes to the extent of doing the work for him. Another artist, former samurai Ikeda Zenjiro (voice of Gaku Hamada), lives and works with them, and other young artists come around to soak up the older man's wisdom. Tetsuzo is divorced, and O-Ei regularly visits her mother and blind younger sister O-Nao (voice of Shion Shimizu).

Art can appear to have literally spiritual implications in this film's world, and I idly wonder if investigating paranormal activity connected to paintings was the recurring engine for Hinako Sugiura's original Sarusuberi manga; Hokusai father and daughter get involved in a couple different cases over the course of the film. It's an interesting way of keeping a film about historic figures from becoming too much just a recitation of events or speculation about their family life, spacing out the other storylines a little bit. The supernatural elements are never treated as indisputably true, but are given the sort of weight that people in this time and place would have given them.

Full review on EFC.

"Lake Mahar"

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 14 July 2015 in J.A. De Seve Theatre (Fantasia International Film Festival, HD)

Not looking at the program to see this described as a take on the King Arthur myth, I didn't really get it from the short itself, despite the obvious bits. Kind of needs a Merlin on the one hand, and it's not like infidelity of the queen is a strong enough signifier on the other. Without anything to really indicate what's going on until the sword shows up, it's just a few unpleasant things around a guy who doesn't react much.

And that's not particularly clever or funny. Errol Portman is kind of amusing as the worn-down sad sack of an Arthur, but that's not exactly new material. "Lake Mahar" winds up in a rough spot - it's really got nothing new to say about how a guy's botoxed-up-wife's affair with the gardener and daughters' infatuation with rather unpleasant types is emasculating, and it's not the most outrageous version of it, so audiences who have seen this type of edginess before might not havve the needle moved. And even if it was more outrageous, I'm not sure that would actually matter in terms of making some sort of actual point.

Tangerine

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 14 July 2015 in J.A. De Seve Theatre (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

One almost wants Tangerine to get through its entire length without any sort of real consequences, because the movie Sean Baker has built moves forward with such great chaotic energy that actually slowing down enough for someone to actually accomplish something substantive seems like it could throw everything off the rails. It kind of does, but mostly in the right way.

It starts out introducing the audience to Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor), a couple of transsexual prostitutes sharing a donut because they are broke, especially with Sin-Dee just out of jail - and she is not happy to hear that her pimp/boyfriend Chester has been cheating on her with some white girl with a vagina. She's off to find out what's going on, Alexandra saying she wants no part of any drama (although what did she think was going to happen when she let that slip?). Elsewhere in West Hollywood, Armenian cab driver Razmik (Karren Karagulian) plies his trade, although it seems like he would rather have a few minutes with one of these girls with something extra than go back home to where his mother-in-law has set up shop.

Sin-Dee and Tangerine as a film both feel kind of like wind-up toys as they start, something has cranked a bunch of tension into her spring and then dropped her into a situation, sending her bouncing off various obstacles but keeping her pointed in the general direction she wants to go. It might almost be too frantic if it wasn't regularly interspersed with Razmik dealing with various sorts of deadpan awkwardness, keeping the movie from burning itself out too early. Instead, it manages to be pretty explosively funny, and not just because the film has the ability to shock: Situations that get big initial laughs are allowed to recharge their batteries rather than drag out, while new characters being introduced and others going their separate ways keeps things fairly fresh.

Full review on EFC.

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