Dustin Hucks is still at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, working hard to secure interviews, see films, and send me updates as much as possible.  If you missed his first two reviews here at HitFix, you should catch up.  He reviewed "The Wild Hunt" and "When You're Strange" on Saturday.

This is my first time really working with Dustin, but so far, I'm impressed by how much he's sent me, and by how he's handling the pace of the festival in general.  This weekend, for example, he sent me two reviews that I thought I'd run together, both foreign-language titles, both with reason to pay attention to them. 

In the case of the first film, "Father and Guns," you can expect to see a Sony remake of the film sometime soon.  They bought it for Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy to produce, and it's little wonder.  The original was a monster hit in Quebec last year, and it's the highest-grossing French-language film ever released in Canada now.

The second film is the latest effort from Bong Joon-ho, the director of "Memories Of Murder" and "The Host," and I'm seeing the film a little later this month myself.  I'm a big fan of his work, and I think he's one of the most important voices in Korean cinema right now.  Anytime he releases a film, it's automatically an event as far as I'm concerned.

So I'm curious to read Dustin's take on both these movies.  Let's start with the comedy:

"'Father and Guns'

Another film in the Focus on Québec series here at the SBIFF, 'Father and Guns' by Émile Gaudreault has been my overall favorite since the festival began on the fourth.  Granted, the week has barely begun, but I believe that this particular film will hold a sentimental spot in my film fan heart no matter what I see.  The formula is classic action-comedy simplicity – a crack team of police officers led by the bearish and arrogant Jacques Laroche (Michel Côté) are running an undercover operation against a violent biker gang.  Things go wrong, and one of their own are taken hostage by said gang.  Jacques blames the hesitation of his son Marc (Louis-José Houde), the team sniper, and Marc blames Jacques for putting them in danger one too many times.  The leader of the Bikers is well protected by top defense attorney and all-around scumbag Charles Bérubé (Rémy Girard).  Bérubé plays the part of a cool, controlled legal eagle, but he not so secretly longs for a fresh start away from his constant dealings with violent men, and the secrets he must keep to protect them.  Unfortunate family events find Charles grudgingly traveling to a father and son camp with his troubled offspring (played by Patrick Drolet), in an effort to re-connect with one another.  Jacques and Marc, posing as willing participants in the same group, follow along to find out whether or not the lawyer knows the whereabouts of their kidnapped teammate, and to offer him and his family witness protection if he rats out his clients.

Hilarity ensues.

'Fathers and Guns' never pretends to be more than it is, a silly, eighties comedy wrapped in present day packaging.  The dialogue isn’t always spot on, and when it is you’re not getting the biting wit you see in so many films in similar genre today.  It’s full of slapstick and sight gags (a grown man pretending to nurse another grown man, anyone?), one-liners and entertaining diatribes from both men.  Save a love interest for Marc, the so pretty it hurts Caroline Dhavernas as Geneviève, the rest of the supporting cast never really gets a lot of padding.  I have no problem with this.  Marc and Jacques sail the film comfortably through gentle comedy waters, and it’s a lot of fun to watch them interact.  The rest of the non-principal cast are simply there to give you a quick break before dumping you back into the Laroche family feud.  Houde is a great everyman, and he plays Marc with just the right mix of weakness and badly timed hubris.  He constantly tries to win Geneviève’s heart, and she repeatedly shoots him down in ways that generally leave him mumbling nonsense before he retreats scuffed by not defeated.  'You lack meat,' she says, and Marc spends most of the film trying to figure out what particular piece of meat that may be.  Jacques constantly tears him down, hilariously picking at Marc in ways that are clearly designed from years of repeated use.

This is an action-comedy, heavy on the latter, and honestly the story is simply a vehicle to explore this strange relationship and watch these two men deal with one another in mostly entertainingly juvenile ways.  They love each other, they hate each other – this story has indeed been told.  It could have just as easily been packaged in any number of plugged in settings and scenarios and still would have been good, semi-clean fun.

Last year, Sony purchased the rights to adapt a version of the film for the American palette.  I get the impression that the heart of 'Father and Guns' will not translate well to our side of the border, but I’m hopeful.  The terms and dialogue, a lot of it is distinctly French-Canadian, which is much of why I liked it.  There is a flavor there, and I hope it is retained.  Emile Gaudreault, thankfully, is still onboard as a producer for the next iteration.  Either way, I highly suggest finding a way to get ahold of the original if you can.  Those who do will be well rewarded with a lot of fun and a touch of nostalgia for the days when buddy films ruled the roost."

Sounds good to me. That's one of those so-simple-it's-ridiculous set-ups for a comedy that all depends on casting and chemistry.

Next up, the Bong Joon-ho film, and this one has me intensely curious:

"'Mother'

I generally give a lot of wiggle room to Eastern films, simply because I’m culturally out of step with a lot of what is produced.  Last year at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival I had a blast with 'K-20: Legend of the Mask,' and it was probably the most mainstream offering to come out of Asia for the festival.  I saw some great horror flicks too, but again… wiggle room.  A lot of the dialogue in these films, for me at least, can be a little halting.  Movement tends to be more theatric and unexpected, and reactions to circumstances feel out of place from scene to scene.  Almost every offering I’ve seen has been unique to the cultural makeup of Asian cinema; and for the most part I am thrilled that they are sharing.  It takes some getting used to, but that wiggle room is usually rewarding as a viewer.  I always come into these films with the expectation that my expectations will be challenged.

My buddies told me that Saturday night at the Metro 4 was not to be missed.  'Mother,' a film by well established South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho, was showing, and if his previous works were any indication of the quality to expect, I was in for a treat.

'Mother' is the story of Do-joon (Won Bin), a mentally challenged man in his mid-twenties with a dangerously close to incestual relationship with his mother, Hye-ja (Kim Hye-ja).  She worries over him incessantly, pouring homemade medicines down his throat, has strange conversations with Do-joon about his virility, watches him urinate at one point, and they share a bed.  In one scene, when he climbs in next to her and cups her breast, there is no outrage, but a seemingly worn out, “I’m so tired,” from her as she casually pushes his hand away.  Ick.  When Do-joon is accused of murdering a local girl after a late night out drinking, Hye-ja makes it her mission to clear his name – no matter the cost.

When I say Do-joon is mentally challenged, it’s difficult to really give that the correct meaning, mostly because the extent of his issues are not fully exposed until very close to the end of the film.  His primary problem seems to be a memory like a sieve, though he clearly lacks other social norms.  He seems sweet enough in most scenes, but plays that against skeezy tendencies towards women.  He’s not a toucher, but he has a mouth and boundary issues all the same.  His only friend, inexplicably, is a handsome and self-confident man named Jin-tae (played cleverly by Jin-Goo).  It’s easy to get the sense that he keeps Do-joon around simply for comic relief, but back and forth behavior during the film turns that into grey area.
Do-joon seems to have implicated himself in the murder of the girl, who is seen mostly in flashbacks later in the film, simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  I suppose the difficult part in reviewing 'Mother,' for me, is the way the story tried to knit itself together once he’s incarcerated.  The chief detective on the case, Je-moon (Yoon Je-moon), plays the part of a standup guy reticent to believe in the guilt of Do-joon, but strangely participates in steamrolling him into a confession under threat of violence.  When Hye-ja wrongly suspects Jin-tae to have framed her son, and acts on these beliefs, he extorts her rather than taking her to court knowing full well she’s almost destitute.  In the same scene, he then turns around before leaving, money still pocketed by the way, and begins developing strategies with Hye-ja to capture the “real” killer of the young woman.  Further, having been extorted and barely scraping by as a ginseng vendor and occasional acupuncturist, Hye-ja manages to secure the services of the best defense lawyer in town.  Eh?

At this point I felt like the application of wiggle room began to no longer apply to what simply looked like a disjointed narrative, built around characters with seemingly arbitrary motivations, other than Hye-ja, who simply exists to protect her son.  Still, she gets lost in the shuffle.  Do-joon, while previously absent-minded and goofy, suddenly has no concept of who, what, and where in pretty much any measurable way.  His shifting condition seems to exist only to shove the plot along at that point.  When shocks and revelations finally start dropping into place, you do see what Bong Joon-ho was aiming for, but the means by which he gets there are really too convoluted and sometimes simply out of place to make it work.

Still, I won’t say I didn’t like the movie.  Jin-tae is fun to watch, and he’s the only smooth character in the bunch.   Hye-ja follows her very linear path well, and Do-joon is an interesting character to watch bumble through the film.  'Mother' isn’t bad, it just sort of falls on its own sword.  It wants to be strange, and it is… but mostly for the wrong reasons."

Thanks, Dustin.  I've got more from him coming today, including a piece about the James Cameron tribute and an interview with Oscar-nominee Carey Mulligan, so keep checking in here at HitFix for more from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

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