Our journalist David Harris continues his exploration of the both strange and wonderful cinematic realm that is the Fantasia International Film Festival. Here’s his latest batch of reviews. Today: Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura, Aragne: Sign of Vermillion, Cold Skin, Champion, Mega Time Squad and I Have a Date With Spring.
Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura
I never thought I’d actually be able to watch a live-action Miyazaki film. If you throw in a little bit of Harry Potter charm, you get the recipe for Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura. This magical story tells the tale a newly married couple so devoutly in love, and their adventures with the creatures from Japanese folklore. Their marriage hit an obstacle after a fateful visit to a spirit market. Akiko and Masakazu get entangled in a series of mysteries, hauntings, and adventures.
This is the perfect movie for anyone looking for a whimsically charming time. It has laughs, excitement, and the occasion moment of respite in between the various escapades. The only criticism I can point out has to eb with the the quality of special effects. There are times when it stands out enough that it can be a little distracting.
Unlike Maquia: When The Promised Flower Blooms, Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura has moments of action and humour to balance out the overly saccharine sections. I had a very hard time not finding myself enveloped in Akiko and Masakazu’s relationship, and praying that they achieve everything they want. It’s impossibly hard to dislike them and their compatriots. It’s the perfect pick-me-up movie for a dour time.
Aragne: Sign of Vermillion
When writing a story, some creators will start with a theme or a genre. Let’s say you choose horror as your starting position. The next big question is most likely selecting the sub-genre of horror. Are you going for monster? Haunting? Serial killer? Psychological? Government conspiracy? Supernatural? The list is endless. Unless you’re trying for an anthology, it’s advisable to stick to a couple themes at most. Aragne: Sign of Vermillion obviously skipped the day this lesson was taught, and crammed in every possible sub-genre without consistency, or clarity.
On paper the movie is interesting, in reality it is the epitome of trying too hard to make something scary. Not once did I ever think that the main character, Rin, was in danger from whatever horror “thing” was out there. I honestly couldn’t explain what the movie was about except, it involves dreams and bugs. Sort of.
I was hoping that this animated film would at least look creepy, but even failed to accomplish a single shiver. Every scene looked rushed and stale, full of inaccuracies and bland expressionless faces. The one impressive thing I can say is that the director animated it all by himself. Kudos to him, but sometimes effort doesn’t count. Aragne: Sign of Vermillion was my first big disappointment at Fantasia.
I’m going to paraphrase Cinema Sins here. A movie that starts with reading and narration? We’re in for a treat! I instantly lost a little interest when I saw Cold Skin instantly employ these two techniques. To add the next level of an eye-roll, the quote they used was from Nietzsche. You know the one. In the following minutes, the camera panned to multiple shots of Dante’s Inferno. Xavier Gens, the director, really wanted to shove the symbolism down our throats. Maybe he didn’t think the audience was smart enough to grasp the obvious themes.
Luckily, as the movie progressed, I started to appreciate the story and characters a lot more. The two protagonists are stuck in an inescapable environment. Don’t worry, it’s not Paris. This time around, they are on the tail end of nowhere, with only two buildings on the entire island. Besides for an ocean view, this prime piece of real-estate is constantly under the threat of nightly monster attacks. The only way they can survive every night is to endure each other’s misanthropy. Cold Skin really pushes the limit of isolation operated by paranoia and fear. Every step our “heroes” take are selfish and irrational, ensuring that the inevitable end will come sooner rather than later.
Quick! Tell me the most ridiculous sport you can think of. Okay, e-sports is not a real sport. I think you meant to say arm-wrestling. Right? Mark (Ma Dong-seok), a former arm-wrestling champ with no real ambition, is unwillingly brought back from retirement. Along the way he meets the family he never had, and finds out how to love again.
There’s honestly not much more to it than that. Champion is as wonderfully manly as it’s schmaltzy. Ma Dong-seok has the acting chops of a baked potato, but his interaction with the super-adorable kids make up for any staleness the intrepid hero lacks. Unlike other sports movies that focus on the sport, Champion puts more emphasis on Mark’s relationships, and his eagerness to keep them protected from a pathetic set of gangsters.
Whatever you do, don’t go in expecting something nuanced or “real” like Rocky. Champion does not attempt to bring into the light the difficulties of fame, fortune, and age. This simple by the numbers sports story will put a smile on your face.
Mega Time Squad
The alternate title for this movie can be Polite Morons and a Time Machine. There is no better way to describe Mega Time Squad than with those words. In a very small town of Thames, New Zealand, less than small-time crook Jon is a member of a heist whose prize is enough money that can fit in a medium sized purse. One of the goons steals a magic amulet that lets him travel to the past.
As I have mentioned in numerous reviews, what comes next is a series of morons failing spectacularly. The dim-witted criminals are so incompetent in their revenge; it surpasses pity and strides into being adorkable. It has the perfect formula for a great B movie.
Mega Time Squad has an amazing script, and the quick dialogue is akin to many seasoned directors. Unfortunately, it does lack the acting power to push it into the forefront of incredible movies. It may not be the best movie to watch on your own, but gather a bunch of your mates, a couple of drinks, and put it on the television and I guarantee it will be a mega hit.
I Have a Date With Spring
There is nothing more annoying than a work of art so artsy it comes off as pretentious. When a movie shouts out “look at me I’m symbolic! I’m deep! I’m the essence of pure soul!”, you have no choice but to find a way to wipe your hands clean of the mess.
I Have a Date With Spring is without a doubt simply noise. It lacks a complete sense of self-awareness, or a real identity. I can’t tell if it’s trying to be difficult, or there are layers so hidden, you need to have studied multiple disciplines to comprehend what on earth is going on. Somehow the common theme are birthdays. I really wish I could talk more about the film than how conceited It gets at times. Unlike some other films I’ve seen that attempted to push for something multi-layered, I Have a Date With Spring has little no redeeming factors. Down to the bare bones of it all, this movie is the personification of the subreddit r/iamverysmart. It’s an odd piece that is far too slow, too unorganized, too forced to even be worth the watch.