IFComp’07 reviews

Another year, another comp, this one slightly weaker than most.

Here be reviews

劇場版 鋼の錬金術師 シャンバラを征く者/Fullmetal Alchemist: Conqueror of Shamballa

[Screenshot]The series Fullmetal Alchemist was a breath of fresh air: a little silly but mostly somber, blending a cohesive magic system with essentially realistic worldbuilding and characterization. It had a lot of the best things one can ask for from a series, and it ended on an uncertain, open note. So, like so many good series, it had to be have a movie made based on it. And like so many series, the movie is kind of eh.

One of the problems is that the movie is, from beginning to end, more or less fanboy pandering. We start by taking one of the most awe-inspiring developments in the series (the discovery of what the Gate really does) and milks it completely dry. Add to that the parallel-worlds scenario which allows them to throw in cute, aren’t-I-clever allusions to characters from the original series (did Scar and Lust really need dopplegangers? Gracia at least makes sense if we import the entire Hughes clan, although depriving Maes of his obsessive talking point greatly reduces his charm, and making him a damn Nazi destroys what little is left). It’s a terrible but mercifully rare failing to make spinoff works shout-out too much to the original. It’s unnecessarily cutesy and feels like it’s pandering to canon-obsessed superfans (this was the biggest of many problems with the Star Wars prequels, that they couldn’t go 10 seconds without dropping in an overly precious allusion to the original films).

Thus the FMA film presents a conundrum: considered as an ending to the series, it’s unwatchable because it persists in making these constant, unnecessary, annoying, and frequently irrelevant references to the series’ characters. Watched as a standalone, though, it’d be worse, since it really drops you in at the deep end. There are slight concessions made to the new viewer: the short introduction set in the past gives a vague idea of the brothers’ quest and how alchemy works, but then they skip over to after the end of the series, after many, many plot-significant things have happened. It might have made more sense without the introductory scene, actually.

It’s not quite as bad as I make it sound. The Edward-on-the-far-side-of-the-Gate adventure is a good one even if they work it to death, and Noa’s a welcome addition to the character roster (no, she’s not Earth-2 Rose. She’s not named Rose, for one, and for racial correspondance her Amestris counterpart would need to be Ishbalan, not from Liore. Making her reminiscent of but not actually explicitly like Rose is a much better correspondence than the clumsy ones used elsewhere). And it’s up to the characterization and art standards set by the series. It’s just the overall plot, and the overreliance on cheap thrills, that makes it weaker.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia, Anime News Network, AniDB.

올드보이/Oldboy

[Screenshot]I took a look at this mostly to see Kang Hye-Jeong again, since she was brilliant in Welcome to Dongmakgol; also, I’d heard its name around, so I got the impression it was a classic. It is, in its own limited way, a film of significance: it fits into a logical twenty-first century cinematic styple which I mostly think of as Tarantino-space (my first thought: “Quentin Tarantino must’ve loved this film” as indeed he did; my second: “Adam Cadre would probably hate it”, which I don’t think has been definitely answered). It is extremely, viscerally violent, and manages to be extremely discomfort-inducing despite comparatively mild on-screen squick. The violence and cinematography left me colkd: the former just ’cause I don’t get into it, the latter because what I think were supposed to be really effective bits just seemed muddled to me: there’s a famous fight scene shot without cuts, from the side, but it just ended up confusing and overlong: Oh Daesu kicks, hits people with hammers, get dogpiled, pushes everyone off of himself, and starts all over again. It seemed frankly rather tedious.

Psychologically, though, this works quite well. The cat-and-mouse aspects are powerful, and the motivations for both Woojin and Daesu are believable and keep the film taut. I was favorably impressed by a particular dialouge fragment: Daesu calls foul on Woojin for hypnotizing him to forget a critical piece of history. Woojin’s response? “I didn’t brainwash you. You just forgot.” It works, really. It’s the central event of Woojin’s life, and was basically an inconsequential little scene to Daesu. That actually works for me: underplaying the momentous is really what makes this work.

But, oy, God, is it ever a nasty little story. This is a cruel little tale, not particularly hopeful unless you care to be optimistic about the last five minutes.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Sex in a Cold Climate

[Screenshot]This was on the same disc as The Magdalene Sisters. It delivers in a far less complicated way most of the significant points of The Magdalene Sisters: abuse by nuns, including sexual humiliation, the capriciousness of induction into the asylums, advantage taken by locals and priests…. basically the major plot points of the aforementioned film, only delivered without the pretense of plot. It even had an overlapping cast of characters: sexual abuse victim, unwed mother, orphan. But The Magdalene Sisters was consciously crafted based on Sex in a Cold Climate, so the overlap in characters, theme, and plot points is hardly a surprise. But watching them back-to-back felt tedious. Of course the cinematic movie was more visceral, since documentaries are all grainy stills and after-the-fact reminiscences. But those have their virtues, from a cinematic standpoint: it was moving to see these inoffensive old ladies gripped, in their various ways, with hate and loathing for the system which abused them so.

But, no, I never know what to say about documentaries. Especially documentaries which say the same thing as other films I’ve seen.

See also: IMDB.

The Magdalene Sisters

[Screenshot]“Issue” movies are always problematic. Like them, and you feel like a fool for letting their heartstring-tugging ways blind you to the movie’s cinematic quality. Hate them, and you feel like a heartless bastard for not sympathizing with plight-of-the-day. Usually the safest thing to do isto nod in cursory ackowledgement, allowing them to be competent but no more than that. That approach works well here: it’s adequately acted, adequately shot, and fairly weakly scripted. There’s some decent plotting (Crispina’s entire arc is pretty solid), but all in all the story ends on, I thoguht, a rather weak note: they get sick of it and leave one night? Sounds good, but why not do that sooner?

Anyways, I really didn’t know much about the Magdalene asylums, so I’ll give credit where it’s due for this film bringing me up to speed on that, and apparently in a way that was not actually particularly sensationalistic. It felt oversensationalized though, but I’m not sure how to fix that: how do you make the unthinkable actually believable?

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.