28 February 2006

Mirrormask (Sony Pictures, 2005)

Let me start by saying you've never seen a feature film like Mirrormask. The visual style mixes live action with computer-generated imagery and other magic by Henson Studios. Several days after seeing the film, I'm still not sure what to think about the plot (which was a bit simple) but the creatures and characters are still front and centre in my mind.

Helena is at the centre of the story. Her parents run a small circus (somewhere in tone between a traditional circus and Cirque du Soleil) but she wants to run away and "join real life." To escape, she draws, endlessly; her walls are covered in fantastic charcoal sketches. When her mother falls ill and her world is thrust into flux, she again retreats into her drawings. On the eve of her mother's operation, she falls asleep and the dream world she enters seems all-too familiar.

Neil Gaiman penned the script after he was approached by Lisa Henson to create a story similar in tone and scope to The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. They then approached Dave McKean (who has collaborated with Gaiman on several children's books) to take the director's chair -- they offered him almost no money but complete creative control. The result is uneven (due to a plot that is too close for my liking to the aforementioned Labyrinth) but still worth seeing -- on the big screen if you get the chance.


Buy Mirrormask on DVD
Buy Mirrormask: The Illustrated Film Script.

25 February 2006

Eve and the Fire Horse (2005 - Golden Horse Productions)

<>Eve And The Fire Horse is set in 1970s, Vancouver BC. It focuses on two sisters, Eve and Karena, children of a traditional Chinese family. Chinese culture is full of bad omens: You curse a household by saying bad things during a birthday. Women should not chop down trees. The most profound superstition is that of the year of the Fire Horse. The year comes every 60 years, last in 1966. Women born into this year are supposed to bring nothing but trouble. In China, abortion rates spike as no one wants a baby from the year of the Fire Horse. In Japan, employers look down at women born on this year as they will be troublesome. Eve is a girl born from this year.

Bad luck befalls the household: Eve’s grandmother dies and Eve’s mother miscarries. Eve and her sister learn about Christianity. The girls begin to attend a Catholic church. At first, the family approve of their daughters’ new faith. They see it as a way of doubling down their bid for heavenly protection: with Jesus and Buddha protecting them, how could they go wrong? Their Catholic nun sees Buddhism differently: those who have not renounced all but Jesus are going to Hell.

This is Julie Kwan’s first feature length film. She has struggled to get out a film like this. Hollywood is run by old white guys. A film by an Asian, Canadian woman is triply cursed. When she approached people about turning this film into reality, they said, “oh, more Mina Shum? We already have a film from an Asian, Canadian woman.” It’s like saying, “sorry George Lucas. Spielberg already turned in a geeky film.” (bad analogy—somebody should have done that). Hollywood is a barrage of action movies, broad comedies and cookie cutter dramas. Kwan’s film is refreshing in its approach and its subject matter. It’s a period piece, but really it’s timeless. It’s Canadian, but it doesn’t have that cloying CBC feel.

Eve And The Fire Horse is a heartfelt and entertaining look at religion and family. It’s full of inspired moments that are reminiscent of movies like Amelie: where household gods come alive; and girls dress up their Jesus in Barbie clothes because he looks cold. The real shame is that you may never get to see this movie. The pessimism of movie distributors and theatre owners is such that this movie may languish in obscurity.