Reel Asian Film Festival 2012: Cha Cha for Twins (Kirk Haviland)

Reel Asian Film Festival 2012

Cha Cha for Twins (2012)

Starring Huang Peijia, Paul Chiang, Lun Ou Yang

Written by Yi-Chien Yang

Directed by Jim Wang, Yi-Chien Yang

Kicking of Saturday’s lineup at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts is the award winner from this year’s Taipei Film Festival, Cha Cha for Twins. This coming of age story centers on the tale of twin sisters who, now that they have turned 17, are discovering just how different, and alike, they truly are as they both strive to emerge as individuals apart from each other. But growing pains aren’t called ‘pains’ without reason.

Poni and Mini (Peijia in a dual role) have always done everything together. They go to the same school, get good grades, and play on the basketball team. But Poni starts to feel angst about being so inextricably linked to her identical sister, and desperately strives to stamp out her own individual identity. What was once convenient and even advantageous has become a burden for Poni, especially once Mini catches the eye of the Debate club captain Yogurt (Yang), who can easily tell them apart and only has eyes for Mini. Desperate for the same attention, Poni bumps into Ping (Chiang), a boy already held back one due to poor grades, who has no idea how to tell to the two apart.

Cha Cha for Twins carries all the typical trappings of a twins movie. Mistaken identity, false accusations and other typical sitcom fare are all evident but in this instance there is a lot more. The film plays out as a standard formula picture until we get half way though, then the script and direction change. Writer and co-director Yang brings in the real life experience of her being a twin to flesh out the background and stories of both girls while infusing each of the girls with a distinct personality. Poni’s desires, as she also serves as narrator, become clearer and Mini’s trepidations come to light through their relationships with Yogurt and Ping.

The real strength of the film comes in the performance of Peijia as both Mini and Poni. Peijia manages to deliver two very different and separate performances as each sister. Her performance is what elevates the film from the real possibility of this becoming a very generic picture, her work really picks up in the second half when the film could easily make the transition to goofy but instead becomes stronger. The supporting characters do decent work here, Chiang’s Ping is a lot better realized than Yang’s Yogurt, but this film is really a showcase for Peijia’s talented work.

Sometimes when we get a film with two directors the direction can get muddied and split between the two vantage points. In this case having two directors may have been a blessing, as the film manages to keep a crisp pace with emotional sidebars with the twins that are clearly influenced by director Yang’s personal experiences. This allows us to adopt a close relation with the twins and makes them all the more relatable. The effects work put in to place Peijia against herself on screen are actually a well-executed mix of cg and body double work, despite one sequence involving a track meet that has some very clearly evident work done to it.

A complete surprise, the film almost dies in the first third of the film but really grabs you in the middle and gets you to buy in until the end. Cha Cha for Twins is a one woman tour de force for Peijia and it’s because of her performance that I give Cha Cha for Twins a recommend.

Cha Cha for Twins plays on Saturday Nov 17th, more info can be found on the Reel Asian website HERE.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films, festivals and film related events in Toronto.

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Reel Asian Film Festival 2012: Wolf Children Review (Kirk Haviland)

Reel Asian Film Festival 2012

Wolf Children (2012)

Starring the voices of Aoi Miyazaki, Takao Osawa, Haru Kuroki, Momoko Oono, Yukito Nishii and Amon Kabe

Written by Satoko Okudera, Mamoru Hosoda

Directed by Mamoru Hosoda

Considered by many in Japan as the heir apparent to the anime crown currently adorning the master animator Hayao Miyazaki, director Hosoda delivers a fairy tale/fable with a very sophisticated and adult message, Wolf Children. An anime master in his own right, Hosoda shows off classic hand drawn characters on sophisticated backgrounds in a coming of age story with a very worthwhile message at its core. But how will Wolf Children measure up to the classic Miyazaki fare like Princess Mononoke, Ponyo and Spirited Away?

Hana is a nineteen-year-old college student. She meets and falls in love with a man, only to discover he is a direct descendent of the Japanese wolf, able to change between man and wolf at will. The two build a life together and Hana bears two children, a son and daughter named Ame and Yuki. After a tragic accident Hana and the children are left alone, Hana having no idea how to raise the children to deal with their inherited abilities.  She makes a life-altering decision to take her children and move to a rural town and raise them in seclusion. Ame and Yuki suffer growing pains in their new environment, but soon they must make difficult life choices of their own, to lead a life as either a human or a wolf.

The story and script for Wolf Children is eloquent and moving, and yes I am talking about an anime. The film depicts the trials, tribulations and sacrifices of a single parent, living and raising children completely lost without her soul mate, in a more mature and realistic way than a lot of more established productions could hope for. The children are portrayed as some of the most realistic of that age I have ever seen. Rambunctious, curious, enthusiastic and fiercely stubborn, these children have oodles of personality and jump of the screen.  The story forces the brother and sister to fight and literally claw their way towards adulthood, and while the two take different paths which lead to much tension between them, there is still a love there, just below the surface.

The animation here is fantastic. It’s great to see a fantastically executed hand drawn style in this world dominated by computer generated animation. The backgrounds are part CG and in most cases are breathtaking, photo realistic vistas. But all the characters in front of these pieces of set and scenery are wonderfully animated by hand and the characteristics of them shine through because of this. The setting of the farmhouse where they move is fantastic and shows how even animation can use a setting to enhance storytelling.

A charming and fantastic surprise, Wolf Children is a tale that will enchant and delight audiences of all ages, and it really does it in a smart and funny way. This is a film that stays with you and grows in fondness the more you think upon it. One of the best animated films of the year, Wolf Children is an absolute recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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Toronto After Dark 2012: Wrong Review (Kirk Haviland)

Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2012

Wrong (2012)

Starring Jack Plotnick, Eric Judor, Alexis Dziena, William Fichtner, Steve Little and Regan Burns

Written and Directed by Quentin Dupieux

The infamous Quentin Dupieux, aka musician Mr Oizo, the director of the movie about a car tire on a killing spree ‘Rubber’, is back with his newest absurdist comedy ‘Wrong’. With Rubber being an extremely divisive film, and Dupieux’s penchant for the bizarre, I knew this would not just be simply a story of a man trying to find his lost dog. I also knew that this was likely to be the most loved and most hated film of this year’s Toronto After Dark lineup.

Dolph Springer (Plotnick) wakes up one morning to realize he has lost the love of his life, his dog, Paul. During his quest to get Paul (and his life) back, Dolph encounters a myriad of bizarre phenomena and people. Firemen apathetically ignore a fire, an alarm clock reads 7:60 AM, a pine-tree becomes a palm-tree, a pizza restaurant nymphomaniac, a jogging-addict neighbor in search of completeness, an opportunistic French-Mexican gardener, and an off-kilter pet detective. And with all this, if Dolph Springer has any chance of getting his dog back he has to listen and follow the lead of a guru of canine psychosis, Master Chang (Fichtner), who sports a mysteriously scarred face and even more mysterious intentions.

To say that Wrong is a sack full of fighting kittens crazy is an understatement. As expected, we pretty much get everything AND the kitchen sink thrown in here. Plotnick does some good work here, essentially playing the straight man for the majority of the film, as his hapless Dolph actually comes off loveable. His deconstruction of the absurdity of a fast food mascot is hilarious. Fichtner is, as always, a fascinating watch as he deftly maneuvers through the intricacies of his character and delivers a smart and engaging performance. Steve Little’s detective also ranks as a highlight. The plot and script are meandering at best, one thing you cannot accuse the film of is being predictable. The film’s plot makes so many twists and turns it is frankly sometimes hard to keep up. The surrealist manner of execution added to the unconventional script and mode of storytelling just adds more intrigue to the proceedings. Wrong is also a decidedly better shot, edited and looking film than Rubber was, showing that Dupieux is growing as a technical filmmaker more with each project.

Definitely not the type of film that will play equally for everyone, it will challenge the best of viewers and will turn off a lot of them, but the film will reward the people that stay with it and give it a chance. Despite its absurdity Wrong has a charm and charisma that are undeniable, and for that Wrong is a recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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Toronto After Dark 2012: Game of Werewolves Review (Kirk Haviland)

Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2012

Game of Werewolves (2012)

Starring Gorka Otxoa, Carlos Areces, Secun de la Rose and Luis Zahera

Written and Directed by Juan Martinez Moreno

The closing night film from this year’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival was the Spanish horror comedy ‘Lobos de Arga’. The translation literally meaning Wolves of Arga (pronounced r-e-ah) but retitled Game of Werewolves for the international market. Game is throwback film. Wearing its influences like a badge on its chest, Game is clearly inspired by the Universal Monster films of old and more modern masterpieces like An American Werewolf in London and The Howling. The only question remaining is does it belong in the company of these classic films?

In the remote countryside of Galicia, Spain, the townspeople of Arga have suffered under a gypsy curse for 100 years. A treacherous woman’s unborn son was cursed to become a werewolf every full moon and ravage the town. Now the curse might finally be lifted when local boy Tomas (Otxoa), returns to the village looking for inspiration to write his new novel. Tomas, unbeknownst to him, is the last of the lineage to the cursed woman and if bitten will lift the curse. So instead of peace and serenity, Tomas ends up running from the locals and accidentally releasing the dreaded beast. While the villagers try to kill the monster, Tomas and his friends attempt to end the curse on their own, with hilarious and dire consequences.

Game of Werewolves is one hell of a fun film. The script is smart and concise with little wasted action. We start realizing right away that there is something else going on here and that Tomas has returned under false pretense. The performances from our lead trio are great. The comedic timing between the three is sharp. The location in the Spanish countryside is gorgeous and the buildings and set design help lend a classic feel to the proceedings, the film almost looks like it was literally ripped out of classic Universal monster pic. Almost all the effects work here in a glorious example of why practical effects work better for werewolves than most of these CG creatures we get today. Clearly inspired by Rick Baker’s work from Werewolf in London, the transformation sequences feature the protruding and changing body mass along with the creaking and crunching of bone that Baker’s work in London is famous for. Director Moreno shows a steady and adept hand behind the camera, crafting a theme park amusement ride of a film that is fun from beginning to end.

A crowd-pleaser until the very end, Game of Werewolves is the type of film that seems destined to become a cult classic and a yearly traditional watch come October. Best seen with a full house of people laughing along with you, Game of Werewolves is a definite recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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Toronto After Dark 2012: Dead Sushi Review (Kirk Haviland)

Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2012

Dead Sushi (2012)

Starring Rina Takeda, Shigeru Matsuzaki and Kentarô Shimazu

Written by Noboru Iguchi, Makiko Iguchi and Jun Tsugita

Continuing a long tradition of Japanese splatter films at Toronto After Dark – past years have also brought us Tokyo Gore Police, RoboGeisha and Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl – we were treated to Noboru Iguchi’s Dead Sushi for the 2012 edition of the festival. One of Iguchi’s first films outside of the Sushi Typhoon label since that company launched, Dead Sushi has been hailed as a fun romp that returns Iguchi back to the form of Machine Girl, the film that helped launch Typhoon in the first place.

Kieko (Takeda) is the daughter of a prestigious sushi chef, whom after being unable to cope with her father’s rigorous and frequently painful instruction, runs away from home. She finds work at a resort as a hostess/waitress only to find herself accidentally embroiled in a delirious revenge plot against a gaggle of corrupt corporate cronies. The corporate retreat you see has been invaded by the transformation of multitudes of Sushi into undead teeth-baring, murderous, man-eating monsters. Hysterically, amidst all the bloody mayhem that ensues, the film is genuinely educational about the preparation, presentation and etiquette of sushi.

Surprisingly Dead Sushi is a step back for Iguchi, a much smaller and contained film than some of his previous efforts. This actually benefits the film greatly, keeping the action from going completely off the rails like his splatter film compatriot Yoshihiro Nishimura’s films so often do. The fact that Sushi Typhoon is not associated with the project results in less budgetary dollars for the film and prompted more creative and economical decisions.

The cast is very funny here, Rina Takeda delivers a very watchable performance as Kieko and Shigeru Matsuzaki as the gardener Sawada steals pretty much every scene he is in. The killer sushi itself is almost all done with practical effects work, with some cheesy CG in parts that only serves to add to the overall goofiness of the film. One scene in particular, a character transformation scene is pretty hilarious. Iguchi even plays off his own past when a character onscreen at one point screams ‘things have reached the point where they literally make no sense’. The homage to Gremlins with a bullied and dejected Gizmo like piece of Egg Sushi is entertaining throughout. The film is set and takes place mainly in the one great looking location of the resort and a few rooms within, which I assume cut down production costs as well, and the settings look very authentic here.

Iguchi’s creativity has been enhanced here by having to stick within budgetary constraints. The film is definitely something that plays better with a lively Toronto After Dark crowd, but is inventive enough that it should hold up on repeat viewings as well. Dead Sushi is a recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films, festivals and film related events in Toronto.

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