Monday, July 24, 2017

Fantasia 2017.10: Napping Princess, Dead Shack, Pork Pie, A Day, and Money's Money

Fantasia 2017.10: Napping Princess, Dead Shack, Pork Pie, A Day, and Money's Money

A fun, guest-filled day, starting with the very enjoyable Napping Princess, which I guess is the name GKids will use when releasing Ancien and the Magic Tablet in North America, although it didn't appear on the DCP projected, actually making some of the folks neat me think it was the short before the main feature. Weird, but I'm glad this will come out in the USA and probably hit video around Christmas, because I think my nieces will dig a lot of it, even if the big action finale is way too much and probably shouldn't even be there at all.



The day's first guests were the makers of Dead Shack, from left to right co-writers Phil Ivanusic and Davila LeBlanc, co-error and director Peter Ricq, and producer Amber Ripley. They made a pretty decent movie, despite my going in thinking basically "it's this or Turkish camp", and I suspect a lot of folks will like the stuff I didn't really go for.

I do like that they got genuine kids for the movie, although the filmmakers pointed out that it made an already short shooting schedule even shorter, since the kids could effectively only work dove hours a day. There are apparently a lot of scenes where one of the folks in the picture doubled for a young cast member.



Matt Murphy (right) made the trip from New Zealand to talk about how Pork Pie was a family affair, as he not only adapted a movie his father made but had siblings and other family members directing second unit, working on costumes, and the like. He said it was still very different from the movie his father made, both in terms of character choices and technology. And, in answer to a question, that Mini was pretty helpful, although they went through one and a half cars - one a total loss, one not really usable because of all the equipment they bolted onto it, including a rig that would allow someone to drive it sitting on the roof while the actors performed, and they actually sold the last one to help finance the film.



Director Cho Sun-ho was there for A Day, and he got a fairly impressive ovation for a guy who, near as I can tell, doesn't really have anything out there that would make him a particular favorite with the audience. It was a fair Q&A, given how twisty questions on a time-loop movie can be and that can't be easy going through a translator.



And, finally, today's "I should really learn French again" event photo has Géla Babluani, director of Money's Money, in the center and I think a cast member on the right introducing the film (he didn't come out for the Q&A afterward). It was a pretty low-key session, with me mainly picking up that Babluani wasn't really interested in violence, but often found it the best way to tell his stories.

For Sunday: The H-Man, Broken Sword Hero, What a Wonderful Family! 2, and The Sheriff in Town. Bastard Swordsman is enough fun that I considered swapping it in for Broken Sword Hero depending on how long the presentations with H-Man go, and might have tried to squeeze November or King Cohen in between Family and Sheriff.

Hirune-hime: Shiranai watashi no monogatari (Ancien and the Magic Tablet, aka Napping Princess)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2017 in Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU/Théâtre Hall (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Axis, DCP)

I judge animated movies based in part on niece-appropriateness these days, and roughly five minutes into this, I was seeing a fantasy about an awesome little girl whose magic power is basically knowing how to code, so, heck yes, I was ready to pencil it in as a Christmas present right away. The movie doesn't live up to that great beginning all the way through - it's got kind of a big problem toward the end - but a bad climax is not really a deal-killer, even if it tries.

Mostly, though, it alternates between two related stories: It opens in Heartland, where everyone's job revolves around the auto factory in the castle, and Princess Ancien (voice of Mitsuki Takahata) is a powerful sorceress, able to change the world with her magic tablet. This, it turns out, is the recurring dream of teenager Kokone Morikawa (also voiced by Takahata), a few days out from her last summer vacation, which coincides with the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. She lives in Okayama with her auto-mechanic father Momotaro "Jersey" Morikawa (voice of Yosuke Eguchi), with childhood friend Morio (voice of Shinnosuke Mitsushima) just arrived home from college. There's also a more sinister visitor - Ichiro Watanabe (voice of Arata Furuta), who has Jersey arrested, claiming he has stolen Shijima Motors property, leaving Kokone to figure out what is going on.

There's something genuinely charming about both halves of the film. One is openly and unapologetically a fantasy, but the 2020-set scenes have a lovable looseness to them, feeling like they're being played out by regular people who may be mechanically-minded but not conspiracy naturals. It's fun to watch them stumble both forward and back, as the case may be; it's the source of a lot of laughs and humanizing.

The animation itself is pretty nice, too, a classic style that certainly owes a debt to Ghibli, although it draws from a slightly different, more sardonic library of facial expressions. It's occasionally a little bit creaky in the present, but makes delightful imaginative leaps in the dreams, offering adventures and a mystery just the right speed for the younger viewers.

As frequently wonderful as the dream segments are, there's little denying that the one at the climax is almost insanely excessive, like the filmmakers were determined that every single asset created for the movie needed to feature in this finale, and it's not only visual overload, but brings up a lot of questions about just what all this alternate world stuff means after it's been explained quite well and emotionally.

Will that bother little kids like my brothers' girls? Heck if I know, although the big action sequences might scare them. It's a strange mistake to put the movie's biggest fantasy-action sequence at a moment when it makes absolutely no sense to have one, but it doesn't hurt the rest of what is charming about the film much at all.

Dead Shack

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2017 in Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU/Théâtre Hall (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Axis, DCP)

This movie should have been a complete disaster - it's got the stink of 1980s horror nostalgia executed without many thoughts beyond liking gory old movies - but instead it turns out, well, not bad.

To a certain extent, it's a matter of how well one responds to swear-y, sarcastic teens; I'm not a particular fan, and while this one gets a boost from a dumb but likable dad who joins in it kind of scans as a bit obnoxious to me even if it is genuine and frequently funny. The movie keeps plugging away, though, and a little mortal danger helps things - it plays more as nervous reactions than just being a jerk, and it certainly gives the characters an alternate note to play against.

And, eventually, it gets into the gore, and it's entertainingly gooey stuff, played in large part for gross slapstick, but able to work for pathos when necessary. It's a reasonably tricky line to walk when using mostly young characters, because what's funny sarcasm in the average zombie movie would undercut the basic innocence of the kids.

(It's also kind of interesting that they walk the characters right up to saying the word "zombie" a couple of times, not quite struggling with the oddness of a world where teens don't know the rules but coming close to having to deal with it.)

Pork Pie

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2017 in Théâtre D.B. Clarke (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Axis, DCP)

There's something kind of charming about the making of this film, with a son making his own version of one of his father's films, although it needs a bit more than that for a hook to be interesting to someone who hadn't seen the 1981 original. I'm not sure whether Pork Pie actually finds that, although it plays nicely enough to be an enjoyable matinee.

It thrives on its likable characters, although it takes its time giving the audience basic information on a few of them, hoping that just watching them play off each other week do the trick. It does, eventually, but that leaves a lot in the hands of the actors, trying to make the ransom situations they find themselves in something that days something about their characters.

On the other hand, there's nifty car chase action to fill a lot of the gaps, and while it's kind of random itself, it looks great as the Mini Cooper one character style drifts down winding roads and onto a train (which itself winds up on a boat, and how is that a thing, New Zealand?). By the end, I'm not sure that the movie has exactly earned its finale, but it's enjoyable enough enough to watch that one is willing to forgive.

Ha-roo (A Day)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2017 in Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU/Théâtre Hall (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017, DCP)

Say this for A Day - it rapidly makes a solid impression that being stuck in this sort of time-loop would be a sort of hell, as nobody in the audience wants to watch the cute little girl die over and over again any more than her father does, so by the time it does a bit of a switch-up, we're pretty relieved as well as thankful to see that this movie is going to be more than a hyper-compressed Groundhog Day with violent death.

And it does become more than that, but, boy, even at 90 minutes, it's kind of a punishing grind, and while that's part of the point - people being put through hell to pay for their sins until they can finally attain forgiveness or see the pointlessness of their anger - I'm not sure if writer/director Cho Sun-ho really finds a good point to really change his characters enough to make his finale really work, aside from how it basically hinges on a character doing something that the film spent a good deal of time establishing as just not being physically possible, necessitating a change in hearts and minds.

This is a very nicely crafted film, even without us English-language folks getting the pun in the title. It just isn't quite so steady underneath as it seems like it should be.

Money (Money's Money)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017, DCP)

As much as I suspected going in that this would be a fairly grimy, no-nonsense crime movie, I wasn't necessarily prepared for how little it sends to have going on aside from getting things into position and then getting people killed. That sort of seeming nihilism can be as much feature as bug - a lot of crime stories are about how the big score can seem like the only solution - although it's not necessarily a point that the filmmakers seem to be trying to make here.

Instead, it's a simple crime thriller that sometimes fella oddly small, returning to the same spot in ways that don't necessarily feel natural or otherwise feeling a bit under-populated. It does manage some impressively clever and creative moments as it sets up the situation for the anti-heroes to wiggle out of. When it starts to play out, though, you can't help but wonder what the filmmakers trying to accomplish.

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