FNC 2017: Review of Hong Sang-soo’s The Day After (Geu-hu)

In this scene from Korean film The Day After, Song Ah-reum (Kim Min-hee) is ready to begin her first day working at a small publishing house. The Day After is directed by Hong Sang-soo.

On her first day at a new job, Song Ah-reum (Kim Min-hee ) is insulted and slapped by the wife of her boss, Kim Bong-wan (Kwon Hae-hyo). Kim runs a small publishing house and Song is his only employee. Song had no way of knowing that Kim had been having an affair with her predecessor, Lee Chang-sook (Kim Sae-byeok). Now that she does know, is she seeing the “getting-acquainted” lunch she just had with him in a new light? Was he grooming her to be his next conquest?

Kim keeps saying “it’s not her!” but his wife, Song Haejoo (Jo Yoon-hee) does not believe him. Song Ah-reum’s forehead is wrinkled in thought as she watches the two of them bicker. Their marriage might be in trouble, but they still have a bond of sorts, after all, while she is the true outsider. As a woman, she might naturally sympathize with Song Haejoo, but not after being hit several times and being called a shameless hussy (or the equivalent.) Her boss HAD seemed like a nice guy (though maybe a bit condescending). Obviously, he isn’t so nice, after all.

“A man behaving badly” would describe most of the Hong Sang-soo films that I’ve seen, and it certainly fits The Day After. While Kim’s wife frequently calls him a liar, he usually just clams up and says nothing at all, or asks “Are you serious?” rather than answer her questions directly.

Confrontation! In this scene from HongSang-soo’s film The Day After, Song Ah-reum (Kim Min-hee) left, watches her boss, Kim Bong-wan (Kwon Hae-hyo) argue with his rightfully suspicious wife, Song Haejoo (Jo Yoon-hee).

The film is shot in black and white, and moves around in time, as Hong’s films usually do, showing Kim Bong-wan at home (not very often!) in his office, and in restaurants eating and drinking (drinking a lot!) with Chang-sook or Ah-reum. We see Kim on the streets, too, walking with one of the women or by himself. He walks a lot, because he’s trying to figure things out, because he lives far from his office, because he has a guilty conscience? Could be any and all of those. Much of this walking takes place in darkness, at night, or in the very early morning hours; it’s not always clear which. At one point he tries to jog, seemingly confirming his wife’s suspicion that he is trying to improve his appearance for someone other than her.

Sometimes Kim Bong-wan even cries on his solitary walks, but I’m not at all convinced that this means he loved Lee Chang-sook, maybe he just misses having someone, other than his wife, to be with. And drink with.

Lee Chang-sook and Song Ah-reum are both young and pretty and Song Ah-reum seems quite brainy, too. While Song does tell Kim that he is one of the best critics in Korea, he doesn’t come across as exceptional in any way. That did lead me to wonder, why did Chang-sook fall for him? Does proximity breed affection? Was she bored? Very lonely, far from home, with no friends in Seoul? Can Kim be really charming when he puts his mind to it? (If Hong had chosen from among my fave actors for this part, I might not wonder as much. Probably that’s exactly why he did not choose them. Sorry, no offence is intended toward actor Kwon Hae-hyo.)

I wonder: Does Hong Sang-soo know about U.S. comedian Stan Freberg? At one point, the two lovers are locked in a passionate embrace while they exclaim “Bong-wan!” “Chang-sook!” over and over. Do a Google search on “John and Marsha,” you’ll see what I mean.

Things I found amusing: When Kwon Hae-hyo eats with his wife, he slurps his soup and munches his kimchi very noisily. He is much more restrained when eating with his assistants.

Meta or gossipy aspect: Director Hong Sang-soo left his wife of many years for actress Kim Min-hee, who has now appeared in four of his films. You might know her from Park Chan-wook’s film The Handmaiden.

Montrealers can see The Day After at the Festival du nouveau cinéma on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017 at 5:30, in Salle 17 of Cineplex Odeon Quartier Latin, 360 rue Emery, métro Berri-UQAM.


The Day After (Geu-hu, 그 후)
92 minutes long
In Korean with English subtitles
Written and directed by Hong Sang-soo
Cast: Kwon Hae-hyo, Kim Min-hee, Kim Sae-byeok, Jo Yoon-hee


Film Review: A Man Called Ove

Rolf LassgŒrd plays the title character in A Man Called Ove.

Rolf LassgaŒrd plays the title character in A Man Called Ove.

The Swedish film A Man Called Ove is one of the five entries competing for an Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film. It’s also nominated for a Best Makeup and Hairstyling Oscar.

Ove is only 59, but he looks much older. That’s what crankiness will do to you! Ove is a stickler for rules; his main purpose in life seems to be upholding them. Even the possibility that a rule might soon be broken raises his ire.

Every morning, Ove Lindahl (Rolf Lassgård) does the “rounds” in his suburban neighbourhood, even though he is no longer the head of the residents’ association. Cars parked (or driven) where they shouldn’t be, errant bicycles, cigarette butts, tiny dogs piddling where they should not, these are just a few of the things that get his goat. Ove even takes his suicide rope back, to a Home-Depot type place, to complain that it was not “suitable for all uses.” The man has chutzpah!

Why suicide? Grief, boredom, or feeling useless and rejected? I choose “all of the above.” Ove’s wife Sonja died within the past year and he misses her very much. Every day he visits her grave to promise her that he will join her soon. He recently lost his longtime job with the railroad, too. (The dialogue in that scene should make human resources people everywhere cringe.) Arguing with the neighbours and store clerks is just not enough to keep a man going. But when decent, friendly Patrick (Tobias Almborg), his wife Parvaneh (Bahar Pars), and their two little girls move in next door, they do provide many new distractions.

Bahar Pars plays Parvaneh, the friendly, lively neighbour of Ove (Rolf LassgaŒrd).

Bahar Pars plays Parvaneh, the friendly, lively neighbour of Ove (Rolf LassgaŒrd).

A Man Called Ove is a crowd-pleasing tear jerker, with some jokes and pokes at smug, smirking bureaucrats. Some of those bureaucrats are just clueless, while others are truly evil.

Ove himself is not evil, he’s a sad, somewhat clumsy man, who has constructed a hard shell over his gooey centre. He’s a politically-correct crank – he does not hate gays, immigrants, or women, so he doesn’t have too far to go to redeem himself, as we know he eventually will. This is not one of those stories where a neo-Nazi sees the light and becomes a human-right lawyer. Too bad he’s so mean to retail clerks, though. As for his run-in with a clown. . . who really likes clowns, anyway?

The young adult Ove (Filip Berg) while socially inept in the extreme, wins the heart of school-teacher-to-be Sonja (Ida Engvoll). He is astounded by how many books she has when they move in together, but gamely sets to building more yet shelves when he realizes he did not make enough the first time. At first, we only see Sonja in relation to Ove, later we learn more about her life-changing goodness toward others. It might have been nice to see more of her, but the story IS A Man Called Ove, not a Woman Called Sonja.

When that same young adult Ove meets his neighbour Rune, it’s like finding another sort of love, as they run after the local rule-breakers with the joy of small children, or frolicking puppies.

Most people might guess the general direction the film will take and some might feel manipulated. While A Man Called Ove has its clichéd elements, I enjoyed it anyway, I’m not sorry I watched it; I don’t feel like I wasted my time. Be warned though: Reviews I read before seeing the film led me to expect a comedy about a cranky man. I was surprised by the many tragedies and injustices that were revealed in the flashbacks. While Ove’s life was not quite as bleak as that of the Biblical Job, he did suffer a lot, much more than I had expected, based on summaries and reviews I’d read before seeing the film.

Random info and musings: The film is based on Fredrik Backman’s  popular novel; it’s been translated into many languages.

Makeup artist transforms actor Rolf LassgŒrd into the balding cranky Ove. (Gala magazine photo)

Makeup artist transforms actor Rolf LassgaŒrd into the balding, cranky Ove. (Gala magazine photo)

Rolf Lassgård has played the detective Wallander on TV. In real life, he doesn’t look much like the worn-out Ove at all. Hence the nomination for a Best Makeup and Hairstyling Oscar.

Ida Engvoll, who plays Sonja, is slightly toothy. If she were a Hollywood star, would someone have suggested that she “fix” those teeth?  I wouldn’t be surprised.

Ove was so lucky to meet his wife, who accepted him as he was. Would an awkward woman be so lucky? I wonder. Don’t think I have see a film like that yet.

Ove’s estranged friend Rune reminded me of one of the guys from TV show Trailer Park Boys.

The blue in Ove’s workplace made me think of the blue of Montreal’s metro system.

The film opens in the plant department of a store that looks like the Home Depot on Beaubien St.

Feline trivia: According to web site, the large fluffy cat in the film is portrayed by two Ragdolls, both from Poland. In an interview after a screening in Seattle, director Hannes Holm said one cat was sleepy while the other was quite aggressive. More than once, crew members brought the wrong cat onto the set, with painful consequences. Holm also said that a Hollywood film would probably opt for CGI cats, but Swedish filmmakers don’t have that kind of money. When told that the film Inside Llewyn Davis used six cats, he said he couldn’t have afforded so many. The entire production budget for A Man Called Ove was a mere $350,000! Quite amazing!

In Montreal, A Man Called Ove is playing at Cineplex Odeon Forum, Cinéma du Parc, and Cinéma Beaubien. One hour, 56 minutes long, In Swedish with English subtitles at Forum and Cinéma du Parc, French subtitles at Cinéma Beaubien.

A Man Called Ove, written and directed by Hannes Holm, with Rolf Lassgård, Filip Berg, Ida Engvoll, Bahar Pars, Tobias Almborg, Poyan Kamiri, Borje Lundberg, Stefan Gödicke

FNC 2016: Review of French sketch-comedy film Apnée

Thomas Scimeca and Céline Fuhrer in the French comedy Apnee.

Thomas Scimeca and Céline Fuhrer in the French comedy Apnée.

Apnée begins with two men and a woman, each wearing strapless wedding dresses, flouncing into an elegant town hall and asking the mayor to marry them to each other. The mayor explains the available options in a polite and friendly manner. He tells them with regret that they can’t marry each other “yet.” The implication is clear: have some patience and your day will come. But the three don’t want to wait and they begin a collective rant about their rights. Then it’s time for the mayor to express his many frustrations with his job and his family. You had to be there. It was funny!

Apnée is a collection of loosely connected sketches, a bit like the old Monty Python show, though there isn’t any animation and the Spanish Inquisition doesn’t show up, either. In the press notes, director Jean-Christophe Meurisse calls it a road-trip and a “comédie socialo-mélancolique.”

A few of the subjects include: dealing with bankers; the ridiculous price of housing ($1755. for less than 200 square feet!) and the hoops people still have to leap through for the privilege of paying for a tiny, overpriced dump; parent-child relations, expectations and disappointments; a mock job interview at an employment centre that gets stuck at the handshaking part and just gets sillier and sillier (in a good way).

Some outdoor scenes in Apnée were shot in lovely parts of Corsica. That might give the tourist industry a boost.

DirectorMeurisse and the three main actors, Céline Fuhrer, Thomas Scimeca and Maxence Tual, are part of the popular French theatrical troupe Les Chiens de Navarre. (The group presented its latest play, Les armoires normandes, here in Montreal last month.)

I enjoyed some sketches more than others, and the driving scenes went on too long for my taste, but I thought Apnée was pretty damn funny. The description in the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma catalogue already sounded appealing, but then a friend recommended it to me, and that clinched the deal. I’m glad I went!

The English subtitles are a blessing because the actors speak very quickly and sometimes everyone is talking at once. Serge, the friend who suggested Apnée to me, is a francophone, but even he appreciated the English subtitles.

Not sure if I should even mention this but. . .I’m also very glad that I did not see Jay Weissberg’s review in Variety before I went. He called it an “insufferable improvised madcap comedy.”

Of course, people have different tastes, experiences, backgrounds and expectations, but I feel like we did not watch the same film. Maybe he was suffering form “film-festival burnout.” I’ve had that happen right here in Montreal, on my home turf. Imagine the stress and pressures of the Cannes Film Festival. Variety is a very powerful publication, so I hope his negative review does not scare people away from Apnée.

Apnée (or Apnea)
Directed by Jean-Christophe Meurisse
With: Céline Fuhrer, Thomas Scimeca, Maxence Tual, Thomas de Pourquery, Olivier Saladin, Claire Nadeau, Jean-Luc Vincent, Nicolas Bouchaud, Pascal Sangla, Robert Hatisi, Solal Bouloudnine.
88 minutes long, in French with English subtitles.

Seen at the 2016 Festival du Nouveau Cinéma in Montreal.

FNC 2016: My Short Report From Day 2

In this screen grab from the French documentary Merci Patron!, director Franois Ruffin reads a Robin Hood story to his children. Merci Patron is being shown at the Festival du nouveau cinŽma in Montreal.

In this screen grab from the French documentary Merci Patron!, director Francois Ruffin reads a Robin Hood story to his children. Merci Patron is being shown at the Festival du nouveau cinŽema in Montreal.

Thursday Oct. 6 was the second day of Montreal’s Festival du nouveau cinéma. (It was Day 1 for me though, because I did not attend the opening film Two Lovers and a Bear.)

I saw four films on Thursday and liked three of them. That’s quite decent. Here are very brief descriptions of the films. Real reviews will follow.

In the morning I attended a press screening of the French documentary Merci Patron! Director François Ruffin, who is also the editor-in-chief of alternative news outlet Fakir, put a lot of effort into trying to get Bernard Arnault, CEO of LVHM and the richest man in France, to do the right thing for at least some of the thousands of workers who lost their jobs when he closed their factories and moved the jobs elsewhere.

Merci Patron! is a great film, I’m glad I saw it and I’d certainly recommend it to my friends. It will only be shown once at FNC, and that will be on Sat. Oct. 8, at 5 p.m. at Quartier Latin.  You can read more about it here on the festival’s web site. There’s a link for buying tickets online, too.

Next, I saw Welcome to Iceland. In this black comedy from Swiss director Felix Tissi,  a suicidal man, a couple and a family of four on a trekking holiday meet each other in an inhospitable Icelandic landscape. They are all German-speaking tourists.

I’m glad I saw it and I’d certainly recommend Welcome to Iceland to my friends. Welcome to Iceland  will be shown again on Saturday, Oct. 8 at 9:30 pm at Cinéma du Parc. Read more about it, buy tickets, on the FNC web site.

Then I saw The Death of J.P. Cuenca. This falls between documentary and mock doc. Writer, director and star J.P. Cuenca is a highly praised Brazilian author. One day he finds out that he is officially dead, because a dead man’s companion gave the authorities Cuenca’s birth certificate. He sets out to find out who the man really was, how and why he had his birth certificate, etc.

The film got off to an OK start, but it lost my goodwill before it was over. Obviously some people like it, or it would not be in the FNC lineup, or at other festivals, either. But I’m NOT glad I saw it, and I would not recommend The Death of J.P. Cuenca to my friends. I wish that I had watched something else, or gone for a walk in the sunshine.

If you want to see it anyway, The Death of J.P. Cuenca will be shown again on Sunday, Oct. 9 at 9:15 pm at Cinéma du Parc.

Read more about The Death of J.P. Cuenca on the FNC website.

Next, I watched Late Shift, an interactive film from England. (Before the film started audience members were invited to download an app to their smart phone or tablets.) Matt is a university student who works the night shift in a parking garage. He is kidnapped and forced to take part in a robbery at an auction house. Every few minutes audience members were invited to make a choice for Matt. Help the tourist in the subway, or ignore him and jump on the train? Do what the kidnapper says, or try to run away? The film has seven possible endings. Directors Tobias Weber and Caroline Feder were here for a Q&A.

I enjoyed Late Shift very much and would certainly recommend it, but sadly, it will not have a second screening at FNC. The filmmakers hope to release a non-interactive version in North America within the next few months. They already have distribution deals for several European countries. Keep your eyes and ears open for this one! Read more about Late Shift on the FNC site.

I saw all of the above films at Cinema du Parc. I was hoping to end the evening with 76 Minutes & 15 Seconds With Abbas Kiarostami, over at the Quartier Latin, just off St. Denis. Well. . .

Staying for the Late Shift Q&A ate into my available travelling time, but I don’t regret doing that. In retrospect, taking the 24 bus on Sherbrooke, instead of continuing down the street to the Place des Arts metro, was a bad decision, though. There is so much construction on Sherbrooke that I could not get off the bus anywhere near St. Denis. Since I was already running quite late, I decided to abandon the attempt. So, don’t take the 24 to go to Quartier Latin.

76 Minutes & 15 Seconds With Abbas Kiarostami will be shown again on Wednesday, Oct. 12, at 9 pm at the Pavillon Judith-Jasmin Annexe (former NFB/ONF on St. Denis). With luck I will see it then.

The Festival du nouveau cinéma runs from Oct. 5 to Oct. 16, 2016.

Fantasia 2016 Review: Too Young To Die!

Nana Seino, Tomoya Nagase, Ryunosuke Kamiki and Kenta Kiritani play musicians in the Japanese film Too Young To Die! which was shown at the Fantasia International Fim Festival in Montreal.

Nana Seino, Tomoya Nagase, Ryunosuke Kamiki and Kenta Kiritani play musicians in the Japanese film Too Young To Die! which was shown at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

Too Young To Die! is full of laughs, music, demons, and love. It’s educational, too!

I saw this raucous crowd pleaser in the very best circumstances possible, with hundreds of other enthusiastic film fans at the Fantasia International Film Festival, right here in Montreal.

Daisuke (Ryunosuke Kamiki) and his fellow high-school students are riding a bus home after a field trip. Earlier, Daisuke had bribed a friend to change seats with him so he could sit next to his crush, Hiromi (Aoi Morikawa). They are having a shy chat when the bus goes over a cliff.

Daisuke wakes up in Buddhist Hell wondering what he did to end up there and how he could be so much worse than his fellow classmates. None of them are there with him, even though initial reports say that all the students on the bus died, except one.

Daisuke tells Killer K (Tomoya Nagase) a long-haired, horned, fanged guitar-playing demon, that he wants to go wherever Hiromi is. (He hopes she’s alive but he assumes that she’s in Heaven.) When Killer K says that no one has ever gone from Hell to Heaven before, Daisuke vows to do his best to be the first person to do that.

In the film To Young To Die, Daisuke (Ryunosuke Kamiki) works really hard in Hell; he'll do anything for another chance to see his true love Hiromi.

In the film To Young To Die, Daisuke (Ryunosuke Kamiki) works really hard in Hell; he’ll do anything for another chance to see his true love Hiromi.

There will be many challenges ahead! Daisuke has to haul heavy loads AND attend Hell Agricultural High School, too!  He’ll have to work very hard in Hell to be re-incarnated on Earth. What kind of creature he will be depends on his own efforts and the whims of Lord Enma, who sits in judgement. I’d be going into serious spoiler territory if I mentioned ALL of his reincarnations, though they include a bird, performing sea lion, a dog, and a giant scorpion. It’s pretty hilarious to watch Daisuke, who returns to his family home as a pale blue parakeet, frantically trying to delete a naughty video from his smartphone, and send one last text message to Hiromi.

Daisuke will get seven chances to redeem himself, but if he fails, he will turn into a demon like Killer K. Already his face is getting a bit redder, his teeth are longer and sharper and he can feel little bumps on his head where his future horns might sprout.

Arata Furuta plays Lord Enma in Too Young To Die! Lord Enma sends Daisuke back to Earth as a bird, a dog, and a sea lion, among other things.

Arata Furuta plays Lord Enma in Too Young To Die! Lord Enma sends Daisuke back to Earth as a bird, a dog, and a sea lion, among other things.

Joining Hiromi is Daisuke’s main concern, but there’s a secondary plot line about a demonic battle of the bands. Killer K wants to recruit Daisuke for his group, Heruzu (Hells). This plot provides several tunes, some outrageous gags and an ultimate pyrotechnical showdown.

Despite the abundance of laughs and silly situations, Too Young to Die! is also a genuine love story. Years go by, but Daisuke’s love for Hiromi never wavers.  I found it very touching.

Writer and director Kankuro Kudo is obviously taking lots of liberties with his depiction of the Buddhist underworld, but he didn’t make it all up, either. Just Google Lord Enma and Ox-Face and Horse-Head for some background, and you’ll see. That’s why Too Young to Die! is also educational.

Musical Notes: Tomoya Nagase, who plays Killer K, is a musician in a band called Tokio. Director Kudo plays guitar in a band called Group Tamashii.  

Ryunosuke Kamiki, Tomoya Nagase, Kenta Kiritani and Nana Seino played the film’s title track at the Tokyo Metropolitan Rock Festival in May. If you like the songs in the film and you’ve got money to spare, you can order the film’s sound track from CD Japan.

Another film: Ryunosuke Kamiki and Takeru Satoh play high school students who write a manga in Bakuman, also shown at Fantasia this year. (You can read my review of Bakuman here.)

Interesting coincidence: Before the bus crash, Daisuke bought Hiromi an amulet at a temple. A few days after watching the film, I saw a guy on the metro with a similar amulet hanging off his knapsack. I would have liked to ask him about it, but I didn’t get the chance before I had to get off the train to watch another Fantasia film.

Too Young To Die!
125 minutes, in Japanese with English subtitles
Director: Kankuro Kudo
Screenplay: Kankuro Kudo
Cast: Tomoya Nagase, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Kenta Kiritani, Nana Seino, Aoi Morikawa, Arata Furuta

Fantasia 2016: Slash Review

Jessie Ennis plays Martine, Michael Johnston plays Neil and Hannah Marks plays Julia in the film Slash. It was shown in Montreal during the Fantasia International Film Festival.

Jessie Ennis plays Martine, Michael Johnston plays Neil and Hannah Marks plays Julia in the film Slash. It was shown in Montreal during the Fantasia International Film Festival.

Slash is a coming-of-age film with an easy rapport between the main actors, Michael Johnston and Hannah Marks. They play Neil, 15, and Julia,16, fellow high-school students who both write erotic fanfiction. They only become aware of each other after Neil drops his notebook at school, other students grab it, read from it and mock him. Would a guy who’s already a bit of an outsider bring his notebook to school and risk such exposure? I have my doubts, but these characters have to be brought together somehow, and they are cute together, so I’ll go along with it.

We see excerpts from Neil’s somewhat overwrought stories, about his favourite hero, Vanguard, acted out onscreen. Some of those scenes were shot at the Vasquez Rocks outside of Los Angeles, the same place where many Star Trek scenes were shot.  Until now I had assumed that those Star Trek rocks were made out of plaster – they looked fake to me back in the day and they still look fake to me now, but that fake look and the Star Trek connection just add more cheesiness to Neil’s stories.

Julia indicates that she has an unhappy home life, even though we don’t actually see it, and Neil hasn’t figured out his sexuality yet, so they both need as much friendship and moral support as they can get. Julia encourages Neil to lie about his age and submit his writing to an Internet site called the Rabbit Hole. Soon Neil is getting friendly messages from an older man. Oh, oh. For Neil, the possibility of meeting that man adds a frisson to their attendance at a Houston comic-con that has a minor slash component hidden away behind closed doors.

I liked Slash, though the lively Julia makes Neil seem bland. She might have made a better main character.

According to some Internet comments, writer-director Clay Liford does not present an accurate picture of slash culture. I have no way to know if that is so, but I confess that the accusations tainted my enjoyment a bit. Here’s a link to a review on The Daily Dot, by Aja Romano, who says the film is “Beautifully filmed and wonderfully acted” but “For all it may be a movie titled Slash, its depiction of slash is completely wrong. It is a bizarre, distorted, inaccurate, outdated, inexplicably porn-obsessed, and inexplicably male-centric version of slash fiction and slash fandom that doesn’t reflect reality.” Romano also says that “Julia still bears all the earmarks of a classic manic pixie dreamgirl.”

Romano includes a link to another article, “A guide to fanfiction for people who can’t stop getting it wrong,” that she co-wrote with Gavia Baler-Whitelaw.

Clay Liford told IndieWire that he did lots of research before making the film, though the world he describes doesn’t sound like the one presented by Romano and Baler-Whitelaw. If you write fanfic yourself, feel free to comment below!

On the other hand, as someone who has never owned a car and has many car-less friends, the car culture and world of privilege that Neil and Julia live in seem more foreign to me than slash culture does – Julia is only 16 but she seems to have access to an expensive-looking SUV whenever she wants it, and the two of them (just 15 and 16, remember) check into a Houston hotel without any difficulties at all.

I watched Slash via online screener at the 2016 edition of the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

Slash, written and directed by Clay Liford, with Michael Johnston, Hannah Marks, Missi Pyle, Jessie Ennis, Peter Vack, Sarah Ramos, Michael Ian Black, Tishuan Scott.

Fantasia 2016: I saw Yoga Hosers and Kevin Smith and I’m very glad I did!

Harley Quinn Smith, left, and Lily-Rose Melody Depp give a decent rendition of O Canada during the closing credits of Kevin Smith's film Yoga Hosers. Depp even sings some of the French verses.

Harley Quinn Smith, left, and Lily-Rose Melody Depp give a decent rendition of O Canada during the closing credits of Kevin Smith’s film Yoga Hosers. Depp even sings some of the French verses.

I can’t imagine a better place to see Kevin Smith’s Yoga Hosers than at the Fantasia International Film Festival. The audience is famous for being warm, welcoming and enthusiastic. And to have Smith himself introduce his film and answer questions later. . .bonus!

I swear, he talked for ONE HOUR before the film even started. I was sitting down (he wasn’t!) and his talk was interesting, so I didn’t mind. After the film, almost everyone in the room stayed for the entire Q&A, even though the metro would close before he stopped talking. We’d figure out how to get home later.

If the critics who did not enjoy Yoga Hosers could have seen it with us…maybe they would have had a different reaction.

Smith told us that he had written the film with teenage girls in mind, after his wife had pointed out that he was taking their daughter, Harley Quinn Smith, to a lot of films about male superheroes. “BatMAN, SuperMAN, IronMAN, do you see a pattern here?” she had asked him. So he made a film about girls hanging out together, playing with their phones, and fighting evil.

Smith is famously fond of our country. Why is that? Well. . . His parents went to Niagara Falls, and then to Montreal, on their honeymoon, and after they had children, they took them to those cities, too. And then there’s hockey, and SCTV, and the DeGrassi TV series. Smith went to film school in Vancouver and met his good friend Scott A. Mosier there. This friendship was foretold by an Indian fakir, no less. (“You will meet someone with the initials S.A.M.”)

Smith said that when the Internet became available to one and all, he thought “Oh, good, now I can learn more about Canada!” He hopes to have dual citizenship one day. He would probably pass the exam easily enough! Daughter Harley came to the screening with him. She likes Montreal; he told her that’s good because “we might be moving here.” (You know, depending how the presidential elections go.)

What about the movie, Yoga Hosers? Of course it’s silly, but it was better than I expected. Harley Quinn Smith plays Colleen McKenzie, and her good friend Lily-Rose Melody Depp, the daughter of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis, plays Colleen Collette. People call them Colleen M and Colleen C. (Or Colleen Squared.) I assume that the McKenzie name is a tribute to hoser brothers Bob and Doug McKenzie from SCTV. The two Colleens work in a Winnipeg convenience store (or dep, as we’d say here in Montreal) owned by Colleen C’s father.

The store has lots of maple syrup in stock, and even sells frozen poutine. As often as possible, the two Colleens head to the back to practice their singing. This inadvertently leads to the appearance of tiny men, made of bratwurst, wearing red jackets and Kaiser Wilhelm-type pointy helmets, who start killing people.

The two Colleens go to Terry Fox Preparatory School(!) Their history teacher, played by Vanessa Paradis, talks about Nazi sympathizers in Canada during World War II. Some U.S. or U.K. reviewers might not have grasped that that part of the story was not fictional at all. Sadly. (This might seem like a weird thing to mention, or even notice, in a film with bratwurst Nazis, but it seemed strange to me that Paradis, as the teacher, could wear skinny jeans at school while her students had to wear school uniforms. Also, we don’t do that junior, senior, sophomore stuff here in Canada. Whatever, though.)

Colleen M (Harley Quinn Smith) left, Guy Lapointe (Johnny Depp) centre, and Colleen C are held prisoner in a secret, underground lair in Kevin Smith's film Yoga Hosers.

Colleen M (Harley Quinn Smith) left, Guy Lapointe (Johnny Depp) centre, and Colleen C are held prisoner in a secret, underground lair in Kevin Smith’s film Yoga Hosers.

Johnny Depp plays a Montreal detective named Guy Lapointe. He’s got bushy eyebrows and wears a beret. (Depp told Smith that he could do a very good Québécois accent, because of the time that he’s spent here in Montreal, but if Smith preferred a bad one, he could do that, too. “Dial it down to stupid,” Smith told him.

The yoga part of Yoga Hosers? The girls take a yoga class with Yogi Bayer (Justin Long). The moves he teaches them come in very handy when they have to defend themselves from murderous satanists, not to mention the Goalie Golem!

Yoga Hosers and Kevin Smith got lots of applause and a standing ovation from the Fantasia crowd. The introduction, the film itself and the post-film Q&A, took about 3.5 hours. Time well spent; I have no regrets!

During the Q&A, there was a heart-warming moment when a man in the audience said that he had met Smith last year at Comic-Con and the encouragement he got from Smith then  had led him to write his first feature film.

Yoga Hosers, written and directed by Kevin Smith, starring Harley Quinn Smith, Lily-Rose Depp, Johnny Depp, Vanessa Paradis, Justin Long, Haley Joel Osment, Ralph Garman, Stan Lee.

Los Angeles stands in for Winnipeg.

Yoga Hosers was seen at a sold-out screening at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal on Friday, July 29, 2016.

Fantasia 2016: Check out the manga film Bakuman on Saturday – you won’t be sorry!

In the film Bakuman, Moritaka (Takeru Satoh) and Akito (Ryunosuke Kamiki) play high-school students who want to get their manga into the magazine Shonen Jump.

In the film Bakuman, Moritaka (Takeru Satoh) and Akito (Ryunosuke Kamiki) play high-school students who want to get their manga into the magazine Shonen Jump.

I enjoyed Bakuman (バクマン。) very much. This Japanese film about breaking into the manga world has a good story, sympathetic characters, appealing actors, and lots of laughs. There are some lessons in friendship, co-operation and work/life balance, too, if you care to notice them; they didn’t seem heavy-handed to me, but feel free to ignore them if you’d rather.

And for the squeamish among you, no one gets any fingers cut off, either.

High-school students Moritaka (Takeru Satoh) and Akito (Ryunosuke Kamiki), try to create a manga AND have it accepted by the prestigious weekly magazine Shonen Jump. They aim high, these guys! Moritaka will draw and Akito will create the storyline.

There are multiple motives, including pride, the spirit of competition, money, and a desire for a future as someone other than an office drone. Moritaka’s main reason is to impress fellow student Miho (Nana Komatsu). He spends most of his class time sketching her surreptitiously. But the pure joy of creation is a very big part of it, too, and that’s a big part of the film’s appeal for me.

Moritaka can draw very well, but he must learn some new techniques, with pens and brushes, to make a manga. We learn these techniques along with him, and hear the scritch, scritch, scritch of his pen quite clearly. He already has a big advantage, since he spent many of his childhood years in the studio of his late uncle, who was a famous manga artist. In fact, that studio is still available for him to work in. (I didn’t quite grasp why that room had been left unused all that time. But never mind!)

The visuals in Bakuman are great. Facts about manga scroll across the screen; sometimes it’s like we’re inside a drawing, other times the characters are fighting like martial artists, with giant pens and brushes as their weapons. The newsroom of Shonen Jump is a sight to behold – it’s huge with lots of art on the walls and enormous piles of paper everywhere. Is that the real office, or a set? I won’t stop writing to find out right now, but I’m mighty curious! If it’s a set, what a job it must have been to create it. Fun, too, I imagine. (UPDATE: It is a set, but it does look like the Shonen Jump office.)

Moritaka (Takeru Satoh) and Akito (Ryunosuke Kamiki) wield their drawing instruments like weapons in Bakuman, a film about the world of manga.

Moritaka (Takeru Satoh) and Akito (Ryunosuke Kamiki) wield their drawing instruments like weapons in Bakuman, a film about the world of manga.

Takayuki Yamada plays Akira Hattori, the editor our guys meet when they visit Shonen Jump. His character is rather scruffy and subdued, but he’s impressed by their work and he offers solid support and advice.

Lily Franky plays an editor-in-chief who seems very mean at best and downright sinister at other times. Since I’ve seen him play gangsters and psychopaths in other films, the sinister part might just be in my own head.

Shota Sometani, who seems to be in half the films coming out of Japan these days, plays Eiji Niizuma, a rival manga artist, who is also still in high school. He dresses in all in black and scuttles around in a crab-like manner that recalls assorted horror movies like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera. He’s already ruined his body by spending so many hours scrunched over his drawings.

This film about manga artists is based on a manga itself. (Of course it is!) I can’t claim to know much about manga myself, but viewers who do will likely pick up lots of references and enjoy many inside jokes. Maybe they could share them with me!

Takeru Satoh was the star of the wonderful film If Cats Disappeared From the World, which had a sold-out screening at Fantasia this year. He was also the star of the live-action Rurouni Kenshin trilogy. Ryunosuke Kamiki was in two of the Rurouni Kenshin films, and in two other films in this year’s Fantasia selection, As the Gods Will, and Too Young To Die. He was in Poison Berry in My Brain, a hit at Fantasia 2015.

Directed by: Hitoshi One
Written by: Tsugumi Ohba, Takeshi Obata
Cast: Takeru Satoh, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Takayuki Yamada, Nana Komatsu
Language: Japanese with English subtitles
Runtime: 120 min.
Distributor: Toho

You can see Bakuman as part of the Fantasia International Film Festival, at 6:40 p.m. Saturday, July 30, 2016, at the Hall Theatre of Concordia University, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd W. Fantasia runs until Aug. 3, 2016.

Wednesday night suggestion at Festival des films du monde: satirical superhero The Portuguese Falcon

David Chan Cordeiro, left, plays Partridge Kick, and Gonalo Waddington plays the Falcon in a satirical film from Portugal, Capit‹o Falc‹o (The Portuguese Falcon). The film is being shown at Montreal's Festival des films du monde.

David Chan Cordeiro, left, plays Partridge Kick, and Gonalo Waddington plays the Falcon in a satirical film from Portugal, Capit‹o Falc‹o (The Portuguese Falcon). The film is being shown at Montreal’s Festival des films du monde.

UPDATE: I saw The Portuguese Falcon on Wednesday night, and I thought it was pretty funny! The audience seemed to enjoy it, too. I hope to write a proper review after, but just wanted to add this note, right now. On Thursday, Sept. 3, it will be shown at noon. If you work in the daytime, maybe your boss(es) would allow you to take a long lunch to watch it? It’s a thought!

Capitão Falcão (The Portuguese Falcon in English) is a satire on superheroes. Instead of defending truth and justice and the American Way, as such characters usually do, the Falcon and his sidekick defend the fascist regime of dictator António de Oliveira Salazar from commies and feminists in the 1960s.

The film was directed by João Leitão, and written by him and Nuria Leon Bernardo. Gonçalo Waddington plays the Falcon and David Chan Cordeiro plays Partridge Kick, who is more or less Robin to his Batman.
Here’s the synopsis from the web site of Festival des films du monde: “A parody of Portugal’s first superhero: Captain Falcon. A fearless defender of the fascist regime of the 1960s, Falcon, along with his Asian sidekick, Partridge Kick, defends his nation against various threats: evildoers, thieves, and above all, the Red Peril: communists! But one day, Lisbon, the capital, starts experiencing mysterious attacks, and no one is sure who’s behind it all. Will Captain Falcon save the country once again?”

I haven’t seen The Portuguese Falcon yet, but it sounds like good cheesy, goofy fun, the kind of thing more likely to be seen at Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival. But we all like to laugh, don’t we?

The Portuguese Falcon, in Portuguese with English subtitles, is 106 minutes long.

Wednesday Sept. 2, 2015 – 9:30 PM – CINÉMA QUARTIER LATIN 14
Thursday Sept. 3, 2015 – 12:00 PM – CINÉMA QUARTIER LATIN 14

Cinéma Quartier Latin: 350 Emery St., Montreal. (Metro Berri-UQAM)

Go Away Mr. Tumor Review: Hilarity and heartbreak mix amazingly well in this popular film from China

Bai Baihe, left, and Daniel Wu promote their film Go Away, Mr. Tumor. (Xinhua photo)

Bai Baihe, left, and Daniel Wu promote their film Go Away, Mr. Tumor. (Xinhua photo)

Go Away Mr. Tumor is a film full of laughs about a woman who is very ill. This might sound questionable, but the people in the cinema where I saw it (Cineplex Odeom Forum) seemed to like it a lot. It worked for me, too! On top of that, Go Away Mr. Tumor, is drawing huge audiences in China. (Variety says it earned “$29.7 million in four days.”

The main character in Go Away Mr. Tumor is Xiong Dun, aka Bearton – “Xiong like bear, Dun like Newton,” she says – a graphic artist who is 29 but fast approaching 30, and comparing herself to others who did great things at that age, or at least started to do them. (The long list includes computer guys Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, and writer Haruki Murakami.)

In the first few scenes, she is so very perky and quirky that I felt annoyed, and feared that I’d made a mistake by going to see the film. False alarm, though; things picked up quite quickly.

While entertaining her friends, in her very nice apartment, Xiong Dun (Bai Baihe, who also uses the name Fay Bai) collapses and ends up in a hospital. The first sight she sees upon waking are the eyes and long eyelashes of Dr. Liang (U.S. actor Daniel Wu.) All right then! Things are not so bad after all. They seem better still after he takes off his surgical mask.

Xiong spends more time dreaming and daydreaming about Dr. Liang, and figuring out how to get more of his attention, than she does thinking about her health problem, which turns out to be quite grave when her test results come back. She obviously thinks that being a patient is a pretty good thing; it allowed her to meet him, after all. There’s a delicate balance here; her craving for attention is almost puppyish, but she’s not pathetic in any way. And she’s quite cute, with her big eyes and gamine haircut. If not for those pesky doctor-patient taboos, who knows what might happen?

Daniel Wu plays Dr. Liang as a guy who’s very serious and very professional, but also very caring. He lives in a bit of a bubble though – he’s astonished to learn that his subordinates are afraid of him. He’s also very busy and mindful of all the proprieties. He gently explains to Xiong that it’s his job to look after her and her job to have faith in him. There doesn’t seem to be any possibilty of more than that. And yet. . .

The two characters do have a lovely rapport. Dr. Liang enjoys listening to Xiong’s stories about her childhood, and her rationale for her sunny outlook on life, even in the face of adversity. (Now and then, I did think that her optimism was a bit farfetched, but hey, some people really are like that. Also, yeah, that “trust me, have faith” thing is more than a little retro and patriarchal, but. . . )

Dream and fantasy sequences add much appeal to Go Away Mr. Tumor. Many are laugh-out loud hilarious, though with hindsight others don’t seem quite as funny as they had been.

In Xiong’s dreams, zombies are a metaphor for her illness. At first, she fights them alone, like a superhero in a video game, or a Marvel movie, wearing a cape, flying around via wirework and firing two guns at once like Chow Yun Fat in an old John Woo movie. Later, when a zombie has her in a chokehold, Dr. Liang appears, dressed all in black, armed with a crossbow, to save her with one well-timed, well-placed arrow. Pow! Peng! Cheers from the audience! (Spoiler, sorry!)

You want this guy on your side, right? Dr. Liang, (Daniel Wu) is prepared to go all out to protect the life of his patient.

You want this guy on your side, right? Dr. Liang, (Daniel Wu) is prepared to go all out to protect the life of his patient.

Another scene mocks the international popularity of romantic Korean TV dramas. Xiong, wearing adorable furry earmuffs, stands in a park amidst falling snowflakes. As she starts to fall over backwards, in a slow motion swoon, Dr. Liang appears, clad in a quietly elegant camel-hair coat. He catches her gracefully with one arm while stopping the snowfall with a masterful, magical snap of his fingers. “Oppa!” Xiong exclaims. (It means “big brother,” but it’s also what Korean girls call their boyfriends, and what fans write on messageboards devoted to their crush. Don’t ask me how I know.) As a further nod to Korea’s powerful influence, Xiong gives Dr. Liang some Korean hand lotion, to repair the damage done by his frequent hand washing. (He keeps it in an office drawer with his British tea.) Korea has its share of medical dramas, the “trust me, have faith” likely appears there, too.

Dr. Liang (Daniel Wu) and his patient Xiong Dun (Bai Baihe) in the Chinese film, Go Away Mr Tumor. Xiong has watched lots of Korean TV dramas and she has a crush on Dr. Liang, so she imagines many scenes like this one.

Dr. Liang (Daniel Wu) and his patient Xiong Dun (Bai Baihe) in the Chinese film, Go Away Mr Tumor. Xiong has watched lots of Korean TV dramas and she has a crush on Dr. Liang, so she imagines many scenes like this one.

Xiong’s friends are a loyal, supportive and entertaining bunch, with some quirks of their own. They visit her often in the hospital, and gleefully help her with an elaborate, spur-of-the-moment prank against her obnoxious ex-boyfriend.

The film is based on the real-life experiences of cartoonist Xiang Yao. (Xiong Dun/Bearton was her pen name, which she chose because bears were her favourite animal.) She had already written several comic books before she became ill; an article on the web site says that her other books were about “teenage love, weight-loss, living the single life and her lifelong idol Michael Jackson.”

Bears were Xiong Dun's favourite animal. Could you tell?

Bears were Xiong Dun’s favourite animal. Could you tell?

Once she became sick she wrote an online comic to raise money for her treatment and share her ordeal with her fans. (While she is often seen sketching in the film, the book is not actually mentioned.) In addition to Go Away Mr Tumor, various articles have rendered the English translation of the book’s title as Go To the Devil, Mr. Tumor, Be Gone, Mr. Tumor, Get out, Mr. Tumor, even F*** Off, Mr. Tumor! The article goes on to say that “More than one million books of the cartoons were sold, and the series inspired millions of people with its optimism and courage.” It includes this quote from Xiang: “I hope my drawings can entertain people and bring positive energy to me and to others. I am happy and delighted that they can enjoy it.”

Go away Mr Tumor Xiong Dun cartoon


BTW: The actors chosen to play her loving parents look quite a bit like their real-life counterparts.

Go Away Mr. Tumor (Gun dan ba! Zhong liu jun)
125 min., in Mandarin with English subtitles.
Director: Han Yan
Cast: Bai Baihe, Daniel Wu, Zhang Zixuan, Li Yuan, Liu Ruilin, Cheng Yi, Liu Lili, Li Jianyi, Temur Mamisashvili, Joel Adrian

In Montreal, Go Away Mr. Tumor is being shown at Cineplex Odeon Forum Cinemas. It’s also being shown in Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, in several U.S. cities, and in New Zealand and Australia.