Sunday, August 08, 2021

Fantasia/New York Asian Film Festivals 2021.03: Pompo: The Cinephile and Tin Can

Two scheduled screenings from north of the border on Saturday, albeit opposite ends of the day - Pompo played at 1pm and Tin Can at 9:30pm - and pretty close to the opposite ends of what Fantasia is as a festival: The first is a Japanese import that is probably much more mainstream than my brain which was programmed by growing up in the 1980s, when anime was super-niche and that niche was weird, would expect. I swear that every time I see one of those in Montreal, I figure it's okay to stop at Tim Hortons on the way to grab some breakfast-y movie snacks and then realize that it's packed and I have a moment of worry that my press pass won't get me in. I come out hoping that GKids or someone picks it up so I can give it to my nieces as a birthday or Christmas present, although I am now told that they don't even have anything hooked up to the TV that could play it. The second is a weird Canadian production that fills Hall with a completely different crowd, a bunch of cast and crew in attendance, Mitch hyping it up at the start, and the crowd giving it a big round of applause. I may or may not hear about the film again until the filmmakers make another one which plays BUFF or Fantasia five years later.

(Sighs, looking vaguely northward)

That's one of the genuinely cool things about Fantasia - though it feels like a single event defined by its community, that community is broad enough that if you take us media guys out, sold-out shows in the largest auditorium can have completely different audiences. I've come out of one and seen that the lines of people going to both and allowed in first to reclaim their seats are empty (and other times been glad to see that there were other folks with that sort of broad taste to overlap).

Eiga daisuki Pompo-san (Pompo: The Cinéphile)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2021 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia 2021, Cmosy (?))

In an utterly meaningless coincidence, the animated adaptation of Pompo: The Cinéphile played the Fantasia Festival mere days after the first volume of the manga is released in North America, which I mention because, somewhat unusually, it seems to cover the exact same material, ending on a joke that I suspect screenwriter Takayuki Hirao took as a challenge. He may have had to work as hard as his protagonist to get there, but it by and large works out.

Said main character is not Joelle Davidovich "Pompo" Pomponett (voice of Konomi Kohara), B-movie producer and granddaughter of Nyallywood legend (and studio namesake) J.D. Peterzen, but her frazzled assistant Gene Fini (voice of Hiroya Shimizu), who spends as much time as he can manage watching what happens on Pompo's sets and soaking up what he can, hoping for an opportunity, though he doesn't expect the one his mercurial boss drops on him after he cuts a trailer for her latest monster movie: A straight drama script she's written and will produce, with legendary actor Martin Braddock (voice of Akio Otsuka) signed for one lead part and newcomer Nathalie Woodward (voice of Rinka Otani) being groomed for the other, with Pompo moving her in with frequent genre flick star Mystia (voice of Ai Kakuma) to learn the ropes. That doesn't make it easy on them, though, as Pompo's name on the screenplay doesn't mean she'll be any less exacting and demanding a producer.

That Pompo is a producer is an interesting choice, because it's not a well-understood job among laypeople (or even many film fans), and mostly portrayed in pop culture as the penny-pinchers or tasteless tyrants standing in the way of the director's art. Hirao (and presumably original manga-ka Shogo Sugitani) may have the story follow Gene and his point of view, but they are very much invested in presenting filmmaking as a team activity, with Pompo overseeing the process of making sure Gene gets what he needs and key members of the crew making suggestions he's wise to take to heart. It is, I suspect, fairly true-to-life in its procedural details and in how filmmaking is filled with challenges and opportunities to improvise within limits, mostly without needing to resort to full-fledged crises to advance the story.

Full review at eFilmCritic


* * * (out of four)
Seen 6 August 2021 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia 2021, Vimeo)

Seth A. Smith's Tin Can is an unabashedly weird bit of science fiction, escalating its eccentricity twice, more or less to the point of abstraction. The ironic result is that a flashback to a thoroughly conventional series of events is almost the thing that causes a viewer to have momentary trouble suspending their disbelief. Sure, one might say, I'll buy all that other stuff, but are we really going to have something this big turn on that? That's not a complaint; that's a sign that a movie has rewired what one finds possible but good.

In the near future, there's a new pandemic, this one mostly contained to eastern Canada and involving a fungal infection. Fret (Anna Hopkins) and John (Simon Mutabazi) are both working on the problem for research institute VASE as well as being lovers, and John's recent diagnosis has given Fret a little extra motivation. Her current research in using gold to halt the fungus's advance shows promise, at least until she is unexpectedly knocked on the head and wakes up in a container with barely any room to move around, thoroughly intubated. She manages to pull some of that gear out and pry open a grill just enough to see that there's not much more than other cans to see out there. John is in another one, as are other folks she saw at VASE. Some are talking about a long-term hibernation project, but that doesn't make sense to Fret - her muscles haven't atrophied, for one thing. She's a scientist, and that sounds like pure science fiction.

Which is saying something, considering her circumstances. Smith spends a good chunk of the movie testing just how much of the claustrophobic setting the audience can take, narrowing the already-tight framing, building a shot so that Fret is easy to read but still feels buried behind tubes and such, occasionally switching to a cutaway with the rest of the screen blotted out by some brightly-colored pattern so it doesn't feel too zoomed-out. Anna Hopkins gives an impressive physical performance, contorting and straining against everything around her, escalating from methodical to fierce, playing against disembodied voices, with the changing angles and sound mixing making it hard for the audience to construct a mental map of whatever space contains these units.

Full review at eFilmCritic

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