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by Jay Seaver

"Not bad, for something based on a Finnish metal album."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2013 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: This fantasy movie is kind of a peculiar thing: Based on the band Nightwish's concept album of the same name but not seeming to have that many songs from it - I think two are performed and another two or three show up on the soundtrack - it's targeted to a specific audience who isn't necessarily getting a whole lot of what it wants. On the other hand, it's too probably weird and specific to grab the attention of a general audience. The goal, then, is the set of folks who enjoy odd, visually inventive films on the Tim Burton-Terry Gilliam axis, and hoping that has a sizable intersection with the other groups.

Today, Tom Whitman (Francis-Xavier McCarthy) is an old man in a hospice, starting to lose his faculties. Case in point - in his current dream, he's his ten-year-old self (Quinn Lord) and at an orphanage, when the strange snowman he once built (voice of Ilkka Villi) beckons for him. While "Mr. White" takes him on a sinister tour of his life, his daughter Gem (Marianne Farley) has an unwelcome visitor - Ann (Joanna Noyes), his lifelong friend and former bandmate, someone Gem has never forgiven for the mess that was her childhood. Of course, now she's there to convince Gem to reconnect with her father before he's gone, mentally or physically.

Though they're played by Tuomas Holopainen and Anette Olzon, the band Tom & Ann belonged to is probably not exactly Nightwish unless the film and the album that inspired it are confessional to an uncomfortable degree. The music itself is not particularly my cup of tea - I'm no metalhead and found it kind of odd that a Finnish group apparently records and performs in English - but it seems to complement the imagery well enough, and both the songs and score are good enough that one can see where their fanbase comes from. Holopainen and Olzon both fare well enough as actors, for that matter; the scenes set at that point in the characters' lives aren't a step down from the rest of the movie.

The cast as a whole is pretty strong, too - Marianne Farley and Joanna Noyes anchor the present-day segments nicely, with Farley in particular doing a fine job of showing how a lifetime of hurt doesn't quite erase a daughter's love for her father, spending the first half of the film fairly hard-headed without coming off villainous or egregiously ungrateful, even though Tom seems to be fighting for his life. Keyanna Fielding and Kayla McKibbin aren't bad as younger iterations of the character, either. Noyes maybe plays old Ann as a bit too impish; it seems like her wisdom should be less certain than her manner. Young Quinn Lord is actually quite good as the ten-year-old Tom; the part calls for him to at times be completely regressed and at other times let some of his experience and regrets through. He's up to the challenge, as is Francis-Xavier McCarthy as the same character at seventy.

They all get to play inside some nifty environments, as co-writer and director Stobe Harju takes full advantage of better than half the movie taking place within dreams and memories to let things get surreal, from the flying CGI snowman on. It's not all big, elaborate effects pieces (though there are plenty of those, including a nifty roller-coaster ride toward the end); Harju takes advantage of the opportunity to do the opposite, pushing the background further back without quite making it feel like an empty stage. The same sort of open staging is used in the real world, though not to the same extent; Harju keeps the focus on the characters there, establishing images that become transformed during the dreams.

The thing about concept albums - and movies inspired by songs and albums - is that they're often not based on particularly elaborate stories or complex ideas. "Imaginaerum" does okay in that regard; it doesn't often feel like Harju and company are repeating the same notes to pad things out. It is easy enough to figure the shape of the movie out early, and while it's well-paced enough to keep the audience attentive, that audience generally knows exactly where it's going from start to finish.

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originally posted: 09/15/13 04:43:29
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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