Monday, November 12, 2018


I joke often about feeling a weird sort of victory when I manage to see a Netflix film despite not having Netflix, but I've got to admit, hauling my butt out to Waltham to see something as so-so as Outlaw/King doesn't really feel like an accomplishment. Indeed, it doesn't even seem peculiar anymore, even though I used to pass near the Landmark Embassy every day on my way to work. Taking the 70 bus now has me curious about the changes along the way rather than feeling strong opinions on them - I notice there is no longer signage for an upcoming movie theater at the Arsenal Mall, although it may just be that they're starting construction on it.

Still, this bit's a bummer:

The Construction Zone and The Rail Yard were cool connected toy stores (with the Aisle 9 section kind of neat too) that closed down way before I could really shop for my Lego-loving nieces there, and the oldest of those girls is now 12; she's probably got some blocks I got there. Which is to say, it's been closed a long time, and I always get kind of mad when I pass places I liked that clearly haven't been replaced years later, wondering how many times the place just went under and how many times they were forced out/under by landlords who thought they were easily replaceable. It looks like this building is finally going to be torn down and replaced by mixed-use development in the near future, and maybe it'll include a neat toy store. Still, it seems like there's something wrong with a system that leads to this.

I must admit that I was a little surprised that the Embassy hadn't been renovated into a place with recliners and a bar like its sister cinema in Kendall Square; it's been a while since I've been there and sometimes I just assume that these upgrades are going on everywhere. Instead it still reminds me of the theaters I went to as a teenager and young adult: Six screens packed into a fairly small footprint, the freezer with the frozen treats an undisguised extension of the concession stand, just enough space in the lobby for people to move through but not sit around. There's oversized European posters of great art-house films on the wall, even though this place transitioned from boutique films to more mainstream bookings when the Circle Cinema shut down and it became the closest theater to a bunch of people.

And, now, the occasional Netflix movie, so that they can tell directors that their film opened in the major markets even though Waltham is, at best, "Boston Area". About ten of us took in the first matinee of the day, and at least three of us used MoviePass for it, burning one of our three tickets for something that we could already see at home. I noticed right away that the film had a 'scope aspect ration (about 2.39:1), and since it was projected on a common-height screen, it wound up kind of being the same sort of experience that you'd get at home. I'm not sure why Netflix is making movies shaped like this (I don't think Outlaw/King is an acquisition) - most every screen these movies will be shown on is 1.78:1, and you're wasting precious pixels this way, especially since there are a few scenes that could really use the height. This looks more respectable, though, and that seems to be the push for them right now, so long as they can do it without a lot of effort on their part.

Ah, well. At least I got a chance to see this one, which isn't always the case, before poking around an enjoyably overstuffed comic shop and seeing these signs in the window of the local art center:

Remind me to check that place out the next time "only way to see a Netflix movie on the big screen" pulls me out to Waltham.


* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 10 November 2018 in Landmark Embassy #6 (first-run, DCP)

A local theater has a 70mm/widescreen festival that includes a lot of epics of the sort that Outlaw/King is looking to be, and though Charlton Heston seems like ridiculous casting for 75% of the ones he's in, I wonder what a Robert the Bruce picture with him in the lead would have been like, or at least one made to dazzle on a huge Cinemascope screen rather than one shot knowing that it will get 99.9% if its audience on Netflix. Maybe it had the same problems, but maybe it stands a chance of overpowering them with sheer theatricality and spectacle.

It opens in 1304; Scotland's recent rebellion has been quelled, but with no clear heir to the Scottish throne, King Edward I of England (Stephen Dillane) has moved in to take control, insisting the Scottish lords pay tribute. Robert Bruce (Chris Pine) is one of them, and also soon betrothed to Elizabeth Burgh (Florence Pugh) in hopes of forging a tighter alliance. England squeezes Scotland for more than it can give, leading Robert to start to contemplate rebellion. In the way is John Comyn (Callan Mulvey), whose claim to the Scottish throne is roughly equal to Robert's own, and might improve if he betrays Robert to the king - and Robert kills him before that can happen. Even without that turn of events, Scotland is weary of war and his forces will face a much larger army led by the Prince of Wales (Billy Howle), a onetime friend of Robert's who has grown sadistic and merciless, flying the dragon flag to indicate that the rules of chivalry no longer apply.

Outlaw/King has all the pieces of a classic epic, with castles and tyrants and battles and reluctant but passionate romance, even if the weirdly-punctuated title sounds more self-consciously modern. Director and co-writer David Mackenzie makes a go of it here, and there are a few impressive pieces, most notable a nighttime sneak attack by English forces where the flaming arrows pop on screen and you get a sense of scale and clear purpose not always present in the others. It's Mackenzie's best action direction in a movie where the battles seem as obligatory as the moment early on where King Edwards launching a bomb at a castle because they spent three months building the trebuchet - you need clashes at certain points, but with the story being told (where the Scottish forces burn their own occupied castles to deny them to the English), it's hard to feel any sort of momentum and result from all those blobs of tarnished chainmail slashing at each other, especially when a large part of the finale is "kill the horses" (it's fortunate that there's been nice work on CGI and animatronic horses recently).

Full review at EFC.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Last Letter '18

Boy, can checking up on what's coming out in a given week supply you with interesting surprises. I was kind of ready to pass on this week's Chinese opening - it sure looked like the kind of sentimental thing I often pass up - until I noticed the name on it, recalled being pretty fond of some of his Japanese stuff (although I suspect I haven't seen as much as I feel like I've seen), and said, fine, first priority this weekend.

And it was crowded, even more than the big Chinese movies usually are. I suspect part of that is that Boston Common hasn't had a lot of new Chinese material since Chinese Memorial Day a month or so ago, with Project Gutenberg doing a good job of hanging around for those who hadn't seen it already. Folks were ready for something to show up, and this came with a pretty good reputation not just for Iwai but for co-stars Zhou Xun and Zhang Zifeng being nominated for the Golden Horse Awards.

Still, there were clearly some there for Iwai; a fellow asked if I was a fan as we were filing out, and I honestly said that I don't know if I could count myself as a fan, but I like what he's done that I've seen (which may just be The Case of Hana and Alice and A Bride for Rip Van Winkle, though I seem to recall watching the first Hana and Alice at some point). He was definitely a fan, and was thrilled to be able to able to see one of Iwai's films on the big screen, saying it was such a big mood that way. He's definitely looking forward to the Japanese version next year, and we talked about how this felt more like a Japanese film than a Chinese one, despite apparently being an entirely Chinese production. Almost like a remake of the one he hasn't finished yet (a "pre-make"?).

It is another reminder of how weird and distorted foreign film distribution has always been and has become in the last few years, though. There was a time, not so long ago, when Iwai's All About Lily Chou-Chou was able to get some art-house play here, DVDs were made, it was more or less a given that Hana & Alice would make it here as his next film… Now, it's kind of a crapshoot. Maybe those of us who are stupidly dedicated will get to see things because we travel to film festivals; maybe a movie from an internationally acclaimed director will show up on a streaming service that we're subscribed to a few months after we've stopped anticipating it. We get a pretty steady stream of movies in theaters from China because some people have built a pipeline direct from there to expatriates - it is worth noting that the website for this movie's American distributor, China Lion Film, is primarily in Chinese; although you no longer have to select English, foreign film fans are a decidedly secondary concern to them in that they will take our money if we show up but won't seek us out - but Japanese film has all but dried up despite Japan once being a big pop culture influence. There should be a spot for the new Iwai film not just at AMC Boston Common, which happens to be near Chinatown, but at Landmark Kendall Square, but they often feel like they're programming a steady stream of artist docs and old-lady indies (sometimes, as with Tea with the Dames, both at once).

It's also kind of nice to see that this fellow was legitimately affected by seeing the film on the big screen. Love Letter is not obviously a film that must be seen big and loud, but there's power in it being enveloping - it's worth noting that we were in the front section rather than the stadium seating area - that is tough to describe to people who have mostly given up on or de-prioritized the theatrical experience for whatever reasons. It does make a difference for these movies to go to the edge of your vision, although I'll be darned if I can figure out a way to show it other than anecdotally.

To get to the point, though - Last Letter is very good. It's in theaters, even if it's not necessarily the theaters where this kind of movie used to be found, and I hope my friends who liked Iwai's previous films are able to find it.

Ni Hao, Zhi Hua (Last Letter '18)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 9 November 2018 in AMC Boston Common #4 (first-run, DCP)

It is entirely possible that by this time next year, we'll be looking at this Last Letter as one half of a phenomenon fairly unique in film history, as director Shunji Iwai is already shooting a remake of this Mandarin-language movie in his native Japan - it usually goes in the other order, and seldom in such rapid succession. Those strange circumstances make this film an oddity, but nevertheless still in line with Iwai's previous films, an earnest and emotional work that's also quite sweet and funny.

It opens with a funeral for Yuan Zhinan, who died on 7 January 2018 at the age of 45, leaving behind two children, Mumu and Chenchen, a sister, and her parents. Son Chenchen isn't ready to go back home after the funeral, so his aunt Yuan Zhihua (Zhou Xun) and uncle Zhou Wentao (Du Jiang) take him in for the rest of winter break; their daughter Saran (Wendy Zhang Zifeng) offers to stay with Mumu (Deng Enxi) at their grandparents. Zhihua also goes to Zhinan's 30-year middle-school reunion to share the bad news, but is mistaken for her sister and, flustered, leaves without clearing it up, not even to Yin Chuan (Qin Hao), who rushes out to talk to "Zhihan" before returning to Shanghai. They exchange phone numbers, and while Zhihua is in the shower, Chuan sends a text - "I have loved you for 30 years" - that Wentao naturally sees first.

He smashes her phone in a fit of pique, which leads to Zhihua writing letters to Yin Chuan under Zhinan's name to vent, and there is something sneakily clever about how things play out after that: Much of the film has the sort of plot that seems like it would have been right at home in a movie from 30 years ago but supposedly wouldn't work now because of mobile phones, even though the whole thing is kicked off by a mobile phone-based misunderstanding, even highlighting it with a replacement phone joke that is cute on its own but gets better without veering into the dismissive "kids these days" territory that it could have done. It's a small thing, but it's a path to Iwai indulging a broad love of written communication that spans generations, and isn't necessarily about writing as everyday artistry. He loves the elderly learning to write in a new language, even if it has no practical purpose. He loves that these missives can be sealed in an envelope and sit there until someone is ready. He loves that they can be sent out into the world generally, whether in a book or tied to a bird's leg, in the vague hope that the right person will see them. He loves that they can be misdirected or intercepted. Written words are little bits of information and emotion but also physical things that require human facilitation and active engagement, and while Iwai has no nostalgic disdain for the ethereal messages that buzz for the recipient's attention, he builds this story on pen and paper and then includes more besides.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, November 09, 2018


Not quite Plan A last night, but the bus out of Burlington was just late enough that it looked like it would be 50/50 to make it to Fenway in time for Suspiria, and definitely not in time to get some much-needed nachos (or anything, really). And, truth be told, a two-and-a-half-hour horror movie was starting to feel like a lot to ask of me by then. That's arguably twice the optimal length of one of those things.

So, instead, quick detour out to the Common and then into this. It was, perhaps, a bit closer to the type of horror I was looking for anyway - not really disturbing or challenging, but more going for the gross-out and action/adventure. I probably spent a little more time than necessary wondering if it could pull the genre switch off if someone came in just looking for a WWII action flick, which is kind of a holdover from seeing Rampant less than a week earlier. It's kind of amusing to me that, at a moment when unabashed horror-movie stuff is doing pretty well, we're also getting some fair fusions.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 8 November 2018 in AMC Boston Common #18 (first-run, DCP)

Even without the horror stuff plastered all over the advertising, I don't think you could take someone to see Overlord as a wartime action film and have them be caught flat-footed by things going into a decidedly less realistic direction. It gives the game away fairly early and doesn't build quite enough to feel like more than the basics before doing so, but the jump to mad scientists and monsters works pretty well.

It opens like a war movie, with Private Ed Boyce (Jovan Adepo) fresh out of basic training and about to jump out of a plane on a mission to destroy a radar jammer which the Nazis have placed atop a church in occupied France. The actual charges, Sergeant Rensin (Bokeem Woodbine) explains, will be placed by Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell), recently in Italy and just transferred to the unit; also on the plane are the equally green Rosenfeld (Dominic Applewhite), smart-aleck sniper Tibbet (John Magaro), would-be writer Dawson (Jacob Anderson), and war photographer Chase (Iain De Caestecker) - not that all will necessarily make it to the ground, and they wouldn't have much of a base of operations in the village if they didn't luckily meet Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier). She's captured the eye of Lieutenant Wafner (Pilou Asbæk), one of the nastier pieces of work stationed there, although it soon becomes clear that there's something much worse than radio jamming going on at the church.

Director Julius Avery and his crew never make Overlord as simplistic as wartime B-movies tended to be, but they certainly evoke that - the characters are gung-ho, the mission is fairly straightforward, and tensions within the unit mostly come from Boyce being considered too soft-hearted by the others. In fact, they cast a bit anachronistically so a modern audience might more easily get into the same mindset (there were not integrated units with black sergeants in 1944). Still, the opening of the film is an absolute meat-grinder in its own way, with horrible death and terrible decisions never far from Boyce and Avery stages it impressively enough that the movie never actually needs to have more. The atmosphere just horrific enough that this sort of evil they will soon encounter seems possible, but it's also just pulpy enough to feel like a tall tale rather than something that disrespects those who actually fought.

Full review at EFC.

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 9 November 2018 - 15 November 2018

Yes, I just bought tickets to something before posting it to make sure whoever reads this doesn't sell it out before I could. You can probably guess which one.

  • It's not Overlord, which I caught Thursday night and rather liked - it's pretty basic WWII pulp horror, but fun, and at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay (including Imax 2D and Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax), and Revere. The week's other big thriller is The Girl in the Spider's Web, which has Claire Foy taking on the role of Lisbeth Salander as Sony (and director Fede Alvarez) jump past the original trilogy for one of the books written by someone else to continue the series. It's at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    Also being adapted - The Grinch, this time in 3D-animated feature form, with Benedict Cumberbatch voicing the title character who sounds a little more sympathetic in the previews than normal. It's at the Capitol (2D only), Fresh Pond (2D only), West Newton (2D only), Boston Common, Fenway (including 2D RPX), the Seaport, South Bay (including Imax 2D and Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax 2D and Dolby Cinema), Revere (including MX4D), and the SuperLux (2D only).

    There's more Christmas cheer on hand with 30th Anniversary (really?) screenings of Die Hard at Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere on Sunday and Wednesday. It's 25 years for Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, which plays those places on Monday, and no particular milestone for Slap Shot at Revere on Thursday. Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, Assembly Row, and Revere also go early with a special "Fandom Event" premiere of Fantastic Beasts 2 on Tuesday.
  • Boy Erased plays at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Kendall Square, and Boston Common, offering up Lucas Hedges as a gay teenager sent to "conversion therapy", with Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman playing his parents. Joel Edgerton directs and appears, and that's a lot of Australians making this movie set in America.

    The Coolidge's Midnight Meltdown continues with 35mm prints of two masters showing a movie can be both smart and gory (and remakes at that): David Cronenberg's The Fly on Friday night and John Carpenter's The Thing on Saturday. They also break out film for The Royal Tenenbaums, a Thursday "Rewind" show.
  • Kendall Square and Boston Common are the first to get A Private War, featuring Rosamund Pike as war correspondent Marie Colvin. They also have biography in documentary form with Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex Fashion & Disco.

    Over in Waltham, their sister cinema in Embassy Square continues to help Netflix technically release their films in major markets by playing Outlaw King, featuring Chris Pine as Robert the Bruce reuniting him with his Hell and High Water director, David Mackenzie.
  • The big Diwali movie this year looks to be Thugs of Hindostan, playing both Apple Fresh Pond and Fenway, which has the director of Dhoom 3 reuniting with some of that movie's cast for a big high-seas adventure that, so far as I know, it's more about pays than the mostly-fictional Thugee cult. Fresh Pond also holds over Tamil drama Sarkar and screens Marathi film Ani… Dr. Kashinath Ghanekar, about a dentist who became a popular stage actor, on Saturday and Sunday mornings and Monday evening. They also have American documentary Surviving Home, about four generations of Veterans who had trouble re-assimilating to civilian life.

    The new film from Japanese director Shunji Iwai, Last Letter, is set in Shanghai and features a woman attending a high school reunion in place of her late older sister and meeting the man she had a crush on as a kid. Intriguingly, Iwai is already shooting a Japanese version, both inverting and accelerating the usual foreign remake cycle in a way that makes me wonder if this isn't some other sort of experiment. The Chinese version plays Boston Common this week, and if be surprised if the other makes it over here. Boston Common also opens Korean comedy Intimate Strangers, on which two couples who haven't seen each other in some time exchange cell phones and have secrets revealed as party of a game.
  • The Brattle Theatre and the Goethe-Institut finish their "And the Winners Are…" series on Friday with In The Aisles (director Thomas Stuber in person) and Manifesto. They follow that up with the start of the latest "Recent Raves" series, including Science Fair (Sunday), Sorry to Bother You (Tuesday) and The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Wednesday). There's also a DocYard screening of Blowin' Up with director Stephanie Wang-Breal discussing her film about how prostitution cases are handled by the law, and a special screening of short film "Jahar" with filmmakers present; it dramatizes the reactions of the Cambridge teenagers who knew the 2013 Marathon bomber.
  • Saturday and Thursday at the Brattle are taken by the Boston Jewish Film's Annual Festival, which continues all week, spread out over the metro Boston area. Films also screen at the Coolidge (Friday/Sunday/Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday), the JAC Riemer-Goldstein Theater (Saturday/Sunday), MFA (Saturday/Wednesday), ICA (Sunday), Newbridge on the Charles (Sunday), West Newton (Sunday/Tuesday/Thursday), Patriot Place (Monday), the Center for the Arts in Natick (Monday), the Capitol (Monday/Thursday), Maynard Fine Arts (Tuesday), the Somerville (Tuesday)
  • The Harvard Film Archive receives a visit from Chinese documentarian Wang Bing to present two of his most recent works at drastically different scales - Mrs. Fang, on Friday, is an 86-minute look at the family of a woman in an open-eyed coma; Saturday's Dead Souls is an eight-hour compilation of the stories of those sent to a state re-education camp.

    The focus then shifts to Germany, with a special family screening of Mountain Miracle - An Unexpected Friendship on Sunday afternoon, and then continuing their Early West German Film program with Avant-garde shorts (Sunday 5pm on 16mm/35mm), The Eighth Day of the Week (Sunday 7pm), and Redhead (Monday 7pm on 35mm).
  • In addition to their Jewish Film Festival programming, The Museum of Fine Arts continues The Boston Turkish Festival's Documentary & Short FIlm Competition with programming on Friday and Saturday. Friday is also the first night for Milford Graves Full Mantis, a documentary about a percussionist who, in addition to being at the top of that field, had a martial-arts dojo in his backyard and a lab in his basement. A different matter of hours field is profiled in John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection, which screens as a "Jump Cut" preview on Sunday. The new Frederick Wiseman documentary Monrovia, Indiana, continues with screenings Sunday and Wednesday.
  • Emerson's Bright Lights program has director Amy Adrion in on Tuesday for her documentary Half the Picture, which focuses on how under-represented women are as directors in the movie industry. Thursday's presentation is A Fantastic Woman, with faculty discussion. As always, free and open to the public in the Bright Screening Room.
  • The Somerville Theatre had to cut its "Silents, Please" series short for renovations this year, and though those are not yet done, they've still got room to show The Big Parade, with Jeff Rapsis providing the score for the 35mm Armistice Day presentation. There's a "Reel Rock" group of short films on Wednesday, which includes the guy from Free Solo as well as other climbers. And on Thursday, they team with IMAGINE for a special premiere of The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot, which was shot in Massachusetts and is a ton of fun. The $75 VIP tickets get you in a 6:30pm reception, but the guests (writer/director Robert D. Krzykowski, FX guys Doublas Trumbull and Richard Yuricich, and composer Joe Kraemer) will be there for a Q&A after the 8pm screening which only runs $15.
  • The Regent Theatre has documentary Horn from the Heart: The Paul Butterfield Story on Thursday evening, and I don't know if these really count as movies, but one of those "Deconstructing the Beatles" things (this one for The White Album) on Wednesday..

I am down for Last Letter, Thugs of Hindostan, Outlaw King, and A Private War, and will probably try to fit some catch-up in there too, although some of that is hard to schedule around given length and location on some of 'em. Oh, and I absolutely look forward to catching The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot again from someplace that is not the absolute last seat in the house.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

This These Weeks in Tickets: 15 October 2018 - 4 November 2018

All that blue takes a while to write up, but it was a pretty fair Fall focus weekend.

This Week in Tickets

First up, All About Nina, which I'd anticipated based upon the cast of Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Common, but wound up not really liking much, getting me more pushback than usual on Twitter in part for acknowledging that there's not really a good way to write about how a movie which deals with surviving sexual assault and similarly touchy issues but isn't really well-put-together. You feel awful writing it, you acknowledge feeling awful writing it, and you get told you're awful. But what can you say?

The next day… My employers sent me on a trip to Frisco, TX. On a plane at 8am, at work at noon central, dinner after work, fly back Wednesday night. Really only needed to be on a conference call for an hour or so between the two days. Not even time for a movie, really, although I was able to stream The Cloverfield Paradox to my tablet on the plane home. It was bad and that's no way to watch a movie, but I find it weirdly satisfying to watch a Netflix exclusive without subscribing to Netflix.

After that, it was Fall Focus weekend - Wildlife and Border on Friday; Cold War, Rafiki, Shoplifters, and Vox Luxon Saturday; and Roma on Sunday. There was actually a full day of screenings, but I opted to head a few stops down the Red Line for the original Halloween at Fresh Pond, so that I could see that before the sequel. I was the only person there, I think, until a couple chatty folks arrived late. Probably not great business for the theater, but I appreciate the idea of a theater giving the original film a screening a day when showing a 40-years-later sequel.

This Week in Tickets

The Red Sox were in the World Series the next week, and I was unable to get any tickets. I'd had tickets for Game 7 of the ALCS, but the team was just too good to have to play it - so that was a few days in front of the TV. But first, there was a brief window to see Bad Times at the El Royale, which was okay, but long.

Long enough, it turned out, that when I got home and found my keys were not in my pocket, there was no way to get back on the T and head back to the office in case I'd left them there. And it was cold. I tried hunkering down for a while, but ultimately moving around seemed like the best bet - I did some late-night grocery shopping, wound up in the Harvard Square IHOP at 3am, did some late-night grocery shopping (mostly energy drinks to get through the day at work), found out you could get into the Porter Square station at around 4:15am but the early train on the schedule didn't necessarily come, and wound up on the 6:20am bus to work, where I'm reasonably sure I was the only one going to sit in an office. I got there and found my keys on my desk, so hurrah! Before all that, though, I tried to find an open hotel room nearby (the last time I locked myself out I lived pretty close to a few that were expensive but prevented me from damaging my lock or calling a far-away landlord), and no dice. Which means that, for all the insanity that went on in the movie, I came away thinking that the most unlikely part was the whole idea of being able to just find a room to rent on short notice.

Anyway, it took me all week to get back on a sane sleep schedule, and then the Sox played a game that lasted until 3:30am ET on Friday night, meaning I actually had to set my alarm to be able to catch First Man on its last Imax weekend Saturday. I liked it quite a bit, but for all that they hyped shooting the lunar sequences in IMAX, and they looked great, there sure wasn't a lot of them. Sunday was for checking out that new Halloween while it was still on the Dolby screen at Assembly Row - which seemed to have some projection issues. A shame, as that screen usually looks great.

This Week in Tickets

As I mentioned at the time, the week above would be a heck of a score if I was still trying to make movie-ticket Yahtzee a thing - three screen 5s and a screen 15! It was enough for a theme post, as I saw The Sisters Brothers and Free Solo on two different #5s on consecutive nights. Later in the week, I got a package of movies from Hong Kong, and having missed the movie I'd been planning on seeing that night, I sat down and watched Drunken Master II, which has only been released dubbed and cut in the U.S. It is kind of dumb, but the martial-arts action is amazing.

Saturday started off as planned - Korean medieval zombie flick Rampant (the #15), which was okay, though not quite what it could have been. Then back to Harvard Square for what I'd planned to see the night before: Mexican heist drama Museo, followed by Nicolas Cage in Mandy, which kind of feels like it's trying too hard to be a cult movie.

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, on the other hand, isn't really trying, but it's got Keira Knightley being kind of bonkers.

As usual, more on my Letterboxd page, especially now that the baseball season is over.

The Cloverfield Paradox

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 17 October 2018 on my tablet on an airplane (streaming, HD-ish)

There's a certain thrill of victory when you get to see a Netflix exclusive somewhere, else even if it's streamed to my tablet on a plane. I bet it would have looked nice in an actual theater, but that's about as far as I can go saying nice things about this movie. It wastes a heck of a cast and budget on the way to streaming obscurity.

It doesn't help that it's the sort of horror movie that annoys me more than any other kind, where a bunch of hopefully-scary things are thrown together but don't really feel like they connect. Sure, it makes sure to give itself an opening by which anything can happen, but there should still be some sort of emotional or resonant thread connecting them, and while you can have known terrors appear for ineffable reasons, there needs to be some sort of logic to how people react and fight back, or where information comes from, that is just not here.

It's dumb all around, and really doesn't deserve Gugu Mbatha-Raw doing her best to make it work. She's great no matter what part of a cast most movies would kill for she's playing against, or if just being privately anguished or stressed. Unfortunately, none of it really makes sense, and that leaves her and the rest adrift.

Halloween (1978)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 October 2018 in Apple Cinemas Cambridge/Fresh Pond #6 (catch-up, DCP)

It's an odd thing to watch anything for the first time because a 40-years-later sequel just came out, but this one was an especially strange experience. Not just because you can't help but know who the final girl is, but because so much of this movie has been used as the template for decades of later slashers that it feels reheated even where it's innovative.

Still, it's easy to see why this became the standard rather than others. The match of Dean Cundey's first-person photography with killer Michael Myers's inhuman gait is uncanny, for instance, and John Carpenter's simple, minimalist score is deservedly iconic. The script is frequently quite dumb (and even the clever bits can feel dumb), but when Carpenter concentrates on atmosphere, he gets a lot out of it. There's an odd feeling of little pockets of potential danger right in the middle of a busy suburbia, and what should be irrational paranoia that is in fact quite justified and convincing.

40 years of sequels and references means most will know who survives and whose odds aren't so good, and the two notable performances are the ones you'd expect. Donald Pleasance gives a peculiar one as Dr. Sam Loomis, but it's also oddly convincing for a character who shouldn't be. Then there's Jamie Lee Curtis, who doesn't really come into her own until the last act, but nails the frightened/traumatized/capable horror heroine that other actresses have been trying for since.

So, sure, I enjoyed it enough to catch the new one, even if I'm not feeling any need to watch anything on the other forks of continuity. I can't really love this the way someone seeing it for the first time should, but I can see its importance.

Bad Times at the El Royale

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 October 2018 in Arlington Capitol #5 (first-run, DCP)

The first couple scenes of this, if nothing else, guarantee that one will remember that it's made by the same guy who did Cabin in the Woods; it has the same focus on an iconic sort of genre location, careful attention to spatial detail (including hidden rooms), and a short of self-referential plotting that encourages the audience to look at the movie as a puzzle to be solved than a story to be told. It's a fun game, and sometimes games make a movie more re-watchable than anything else.

On the other hand, is hard for me to imagine coming back as the film takes not just a nasty turn at the end, but one that seems so uninspired at times. Filmmaker Drew Goddard doesn't just give Chris Hemsworth a generic villain to play, he has a character actually comment on how, willingness to do violence aside, he's just not that interesting in a way that a lot of bad guys aren't that interesting. The whole script is full of things that often seem more useful than interesting, and while it doesn't necessarily leave any important loose ends when everything is done, the loose end is more or less how it works as a thriller: It gets the audience to a cliffhanger, shifts perspective, rewinds, and lets the audience wonder how things are going to come together. It keeps your attention until a finale that cranks the violence up to uncomfortable levels, but it's kind of like the Motown soundtrack - lots of good songs that don't really develop into a theme.

It's got Jeff Bridges, though, and his thief/priest confronting a lonely end as his mind starts to go is pretty terrific, and Cynthia Erivo makes a very nice complement as a singer never able to convert her raw talent into stardom. I suspect Lewis Pullman will be revealed as sneaky good on a second time through; it's not like we can't see where his character is coming from throughout, but he's given a haunting flashback and makes it better with his present-day material around it.

First Man

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 27 October 2018 in Jordan's Furniture Reading (first-run, Imax 4K laser)

First Man is very much my sort of thing, a movie that is very much about people doing things which are themselves interesting and revealing their characters by how they do it. That this difficult thing is going to the moon only makes it more thrilling.

That said, it being my thing in many ways it won't be everyone's thing. It's not a chatty movie, and it often requires the audience to wrestle with Neil Armstrong's personality, not giving viewers an easy patriotic hook or having him vow that friends won't die for nothing even when that seems the obvious way to go (and often is when telling the story about going to space). Ryan Gosling plays him as an engineer who gets swallowed by problems and possibilities, and there's not much attempt to make him more conventional underneath. He's the man for this job and that necessarily makes him singular.

It's also sometimes harsh in how it depicts the dangers and difficulties of 1960s space exploration - director Damien Chazelle uses the widescreen framing not for vast expanses but to restrict what the audience sees, shaking the camera and creating confusing reflections that remind the viewer that this is difficult and requires more concentration than they may be capable of. The lighting is often harsh and blinding, bright unforgiving whites that are both institutional and burning. It's aggressively discombobulating, especially if you sit close enough to let the big screen overwhelm you.

Things change when Armstrong actually reaches the moon, and though the IMAX-shot lunar scenes are actually fairly short for their prominence in the advertising, it's definitely worth the trip to the best IMAX screen available (Jordan's Furniture Reading for me, since I couldn't find a place showing film). It's awe-inspiring and magnificent, and in many ways the experience reminded me of 2001: A straightforward, professional path to something grander than could be imagined.

It's a bit of a shame that this section contains what to me feels like the film's biggest misstep as it focuses too closely on something personal to Armstrong, calling back to early scenes to do it. It's what the rules of screenwriting say you're supposed to do, but it comes awful close to not just making the movie about him, but the mission about his feelings, which is poetic but also kind of sad, implying a lack of grand imagination on the filmmakers' parts. There's a fine line between showing what an event brings out in a person and building the movie so that the whole Mercury and Apollo programs feel like their there for a man to learn to mourn properly, and sometimes Chazelle is on the wrong side.

Halloween (2018)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 October 2018 in AMC Assembly Row #2 (first-run, Dolby Cinema DCP)

There's something accidentally honest about giving the new Halloween the same title as the film it follows up; there's not a lot of progress, reinvention, or revelation here, just the same thing again. There's some nods to 40 years having passed and continuity, but at its heart, this movie is basically more.

Which isn't really bad; when director and co-writer David Gordon Green gets down to slasher business, he's impressively capable, even making the scenes where you expect to be rooting for killer Michael Myers to slice up some obnoxious people who are kind of asking for it the right sort of awful (he's kind of slumming, but it's not like everyone who does thoughtful dramas can stage a thrilling murder). There's a tendency toward being kind of pointlessly clever at times, like when he recreates scenes from the original with other characters in Myers's place or has comments get kind of meta, but the last act is solid.

Just as with the original, Jamie Lee Curtis is better than the material deserves, adding life to Laurie's 40 years of PTSD and making her just the right level of unhinged. She gives the sort of performance everyone else in the cast can reflect - Andi Matichak as what Laurie was, updated (the smart girl gets to be cool in 2018); Judy Greer as the daughter determined to be her opposite; Will Patton as a less-obsessed parallel - and is just as confident or not as she needs to be in any scene.

Though I haven't seen any of the other sequels or remakes, I suspect they all hit the same issue: Michael Myers is basically a catchy theme (which original director/composer John Carpenter rearranges and reuses here), and excellent execution. Green probably does a better job than most in trying to emulate Carpenter and get good work from his cast, but Myers only rarely hits the same overlapping point between a monstrous person and something almost demonic, although he's clearly trying. He can't help but produce something that feels like an imitation that sabotages whatever he and his co-writers might have to say about trauma.

Jui kuen II (Drunken Master II)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 2 November 2018 in Jay's Living Room (newly arrived goodies, Hong Kong Blu-ray)

The fact that I'm referencing a lot of pages titled "The Legend of Drunken Master" whie writing thisshows how tough it's been to see Drunken Master II uncut/undubbed in the last twenty years, but there is a new Blu-ray out in Hong Kong that plays in any Region A player. It's a happily different experience to see it this way - though it's been too long for me to really notice what a few scenes' difference means (aside from the outtakes under the ending credits), it's a treat to see it in Cantonese; the English dub took what was a silly movie and made to ridiculous.

And make no mistake, DM2 is incredibly silly, marrying a plot that feels like low-rent farce to some of Jackie Chan's most incredibly funny martial-arts work. The comedy portions, before the action really kicks in, work in large part because Anita Mui was downright perfect for this sort of role, mugging and bantering and not quite winking at the age difference between her and her stepson but giving the character life. She was kind of brilliant and I fear that she's being too quickly forgotten because of the changes in the world (entertainment and otherwise) since hear early death.

Still, you have a copy of this sent halfway around the world for the astounding Jackie Chan action, and when that kicks in, it reminds you why this one was considered something special. It's not just that Jackie Chan spent about four months lighting himself on fire for a five-minute fight (though he did and you had better appreciate that), but the way his "drunken boxing" has him doing amazing silent-comedy movement even when he's not actually punching and kicking, although it blends into a good fight seamlessly, precision in every move that looks stumbling and lucky. It's the high-water mark for this sort of action, making one amazed at its artistry but also looking effortless and natural. That's something great art manages, even if that's not usually a term connected with movies where a martial-arts legend gets blotto and somehow fights even better.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 3 November 2018 at the Brattle Theatre (special engagement, DCP)

This certainly raises the bar for "things trying incredibly hard to be a cult film", if it does nothing else. As much as I was digging what it was throwing down, it was hard to put the sort of concentrated push this got trying hard to make this an officially approved unusual thing.

That it's seemingly built for cult fandom and given a strong push in that direction doesn't make it insincere, though; I've got no doubt that Mandy is exactly the film Panos Cosmatos was looking to make and he does so in striking, memorable fashion, with gorgeously composed shots lit incredibly well, gloriously insane villains, and the sort of gore and imagery that belongs on a Heavy Metal cover (or the side of a van) in every frame. It's a little too much mayhem and often knowingly nonsense, but it's sincere.

Plus, it's a near-perfect fit for Nicolas Cage, who never mails it in but only finds someone who wants the full Nic Cage experience about half the time. Cage goes all out here, whether in unusually well-mounted action or sobbing, lost grief, and it's kind of beautiful even if the audience coming to see the weird movie doesn't know how to react with anything but laughter. The over-the-top violence works in large part because Cage is utterly sincere in Red's devastation, dragging us into his hell even before things get red and distorted.

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 4 November 2018 in AMC Boston Common #5 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

At least to start, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms feels like Disney is doing a live-action remake of one of their animated films without actually having an original version to work from. The whole thing feels vaguely familiar and kind of predictable, but made with some sort of genuine affection for the material.

It outgrows that, a bit, even if it mostly just settles into being an effects-filled family adventure much like any other. It's got a likable heroine in Mackenzie Foy's Clara, an enjoyably daft performance from Keira Knightley, and a few solidly anchored ones to go along with them. Sidekicks in funny costumes and others in motion-captured CGI. It does them all well enough.

And it mostly looks nice. The opening effects sequence is rough enough to reveal it's not exactly Disney's highest priority of the year (as do the things that are supposed to be cool clockwork but look too digital), but it's also one of the few that looks like the 3D work is something other than a studio-mandated inconvenience. There's something fun about the ballet bit also showing that there is ballet behind the scenes, some of the design is enjoyably weird, and the action is rousing without feeling too violent.

It's no classic, but, look, I can't exactly NOT like a movie with a girl who finds her way out of trouble with engineering and a finale built around a giant magic microscope. Sure, I'm not the target audience for this, but I've got to think people who are will like those things too.

All About Nina The Cloverfield Paradox Wildlife Border Cold War Rafiki Shoplifters Vox Lux Roma Halloween '78

Bad Times at the El Royale First Man Halloween '18

The Sisters Brothers Free Solo Drunken Master II Rampant Museo Mandy The Nutcracker and the Four Realms

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

The Great Buster

Thing I probably should have realized well before now: Buster Keaton's films were blockbusters. It's kind of obvious - they're full of jaw-dropping action and never look like they're cutting corners, the train crash in The General was famously expensive, and Keaton was a big star - but until Peter Bogdanovich casually mentions that Keaton's movies cost two or three times what other movies being made at the time, it didn't quite click with me that his movies were that sort of outlier. Maybe it's a sort of survivorship bias - chances to see Keaton's greatest films come reasonably frequently (as well as Chaplin's, to speak of another guy who clearly spent on his silents), so they form our impression of what silents were like, and that these are remembered because they're incredibly elaborate doesn't necessarily connect until you've seen enough other things. And even then, the number makes an impression.

Unfortunately, the availability of these movies on disc seems to ebb and flow a bit - the best versions of from Kino, who reissue them every few years after the previous versions have sold out, and right now they're at a pretty low level. That the next release is 4K discs is probably too much to ask, but wouldn't that be something? Especially when you watch this movie and note the difference in picture quality between Keaton's films, which have good surviving prints, and some of his later TV work, which look like they are third-generation kinescopes or something. It seems unlikely - 4K isn't a given even from major studios, let alone smaller distributors - but I wonder. To a certain extent, silents are the sort of catalog items that can get sold to the same people again and again if the quality is bumped, and some of the other movies that thrive on that (The Evil Dead, for instance) are starting to come out.

Even if that sort of release isn't in the cards, it seems like there should be more Keaton discs out, more on Prime, etc., to coincide with this movie's release. Hopefully that's the case when it reaches home video.

The Great Buster: A Celebration

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 6 November 2018 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, DCP)

Is there necessarily much new to learn about Buster Keaton in 2018, a hundred years after his first on-screen successes and ninety after his most fertile period ended? No, not really, although many viewers of Peter Bogdanovich's "celebration" will likely pick up something new to them. It's a good primer by a meticulous student of the medium, and it's worth having one of those come around once in a while to remind people of Keaton's brilliance anew.

Bogdanovich is thorough, making sure that practically everything Keaton ever did in the entertainment business has a moment to be seen, mentioned, and placed into context, and as such this survey can seem a mile wide and an inch deep. Despite the seeming need to rattle off every short that Keaton made, Bogdanovich has a way of making it not seem a dry list despite his restrained narration; he's quietly reverent and very conscious of who his long-term audience may be, slipping in bits of repetition and reinforcement that may serve him well when people are half-paying attention to this as it streams. It's a manner of speaking that can register as odd - it doesn't feel either conversational or like the written word - but it's clear in terms of both relaying information and atmosphere, saying this is worth knowing but not cause for a raised voice.

He's not alone in his praise for Keaton, of course. He enlists a great many people to pay tribute, some predictably enjoyable because they've done this sort of thing a lot and are established as both knowledgeable and charismatic; you listen when Mel Brooks, Werner Herzog, or Leonard Maltin talks movies. others who are surprisingly dedicated fans who have become close to the family (Richard Lewis, Dick Van Dyke). Bogdanovich does stumble a bit with younger voices, and that is in some ways the film's greatest weakness if part of the goal is to introduce Keaton to a new generation; he doesn't seem to know what he wants to get from Bill Hader or Quentin Tarantino, for instance, and seems to miss opportunities to dissect the man's genius more fully with Johnny Knoxville and director Jon Watts - Knoxville being as good a person to talk to about stunt-based physical comedy as anyone while Watts's discussion of how Keaton's expressive stone face influenced how he used the masked title character of Spider-Man: Homecoming doesn't go much further than "he was a big influence".

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Independent Film Festival Boston 2018.180: Roma

I very nearly wound up skipping the last day of the Fall Focus entirely - the closing night film sold out before I could buy my tickets, but that was okay because it's not like I really wanted to deprive anyone who wanted to see the new Yorgos Lanthimos film early a seat, considering that my opinions on his films have generally ranged from "interesting idea but wobbly" to "go screw yourself". Same deal with Olivier Assayas's Non-Fiction, though maybe less viscerally since it's actually been a while since I've watched one of his films. In between, The Burning, but having shown up for Roma, I'm not so sure about killing to in Harvard Square just waiting for the second movie of the day. Instead, I'll go check out Fresh Pond's good-intentioned but pretty much empty screening of the original Halloween, crossing my fingers that Well Go would get their movie onto local screens.

But, Roma was added to the schedule relatively late and since it isn't likely I'd be getting Netflix anytime soon (for reasons admittedly more silly than practical or principled), I wanted a chance to check it out on the big screen. Tickets weren't on sale online when I got home after Saturday's festivities, so I headed out there for the rush line, where I wound up being the last person let in, and as such winding up right behind a tall guy with big hair and annoyingly good posture. There was a reason why that seat was the last one, despite it's nice central location.

Lots of leaning back and forth to read the subtitles and I still wouldn't trade paying for that screening for streaming it to my living room. I've heard that it's going to get an unusually generous two-week theatrical window with some actual 35mm and 70mm prints finding their way to some theaters (though maybe not around here). It's a great movie that works with a crowd and looks fantastic blown up big; it probably deserves to be quickly marched off into the Netflix servers even less than most of their productions/acquisitions do. It's good enough for me to ponder whether being picked up by the streaming service is going to cause it trouble down the road - folks like the Brattle and Harvard Film Archive (to give local-to-me examples) are going to want to program it as a part of Alfonso Cuarón retrospectives or in series about Italian Neorealism and those it influenced, and I don't think we've really had a test of how that goes yet. Netflix has, by and large seemed completely indifferent to traditional movie exhibition, whether in theaters or at festivals, except as a way to give their product prestige with little effort or expense; theaters are understandably leery about booking films they know people can see for free online. Will Roma wind up excluded from its rightful place in film history because of its ownership?

Time will tell. For now, Roma is coming out sometime in December, and is worth a trip to the theater and the money for a ticket even if you'll be able to see it for free just by waiting a couple weeks.

Roma (2018)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 October 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Independent Film Festival Boston Fall Focus, DCP)

There are those that believe that subtlety is the mark of truly great art, and manipulation is its enemy, but it seems unlikely that Alfonso Cuarón is among them, and not just because he has done as much popular, commercial work as art-house material. Roma falls into the latter category, and viewers can spend a lot of time teasing out how it works and what its symbols mean, but even without putting that sort of academic effort in, they'll feel what Cuarón is saying and be pulled along. It's superficially a piece of film-snob material that anybody can enjoy.

It takes place in Mexico City of the early 1970s; Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) and Adela (Nancy García García) are two Mixteco servants to a comfortable family, with Cleo a particular favorite of the children. The father, Antonio (Fernando Grediaga), is a doctor of some renown, briefly at home before leaving for a conference in Montreal - one which gets extended until it becomes clear he's not coming back. Sofia (Marina de Tavira) sinks into understandable despair, putting extra weight on Cleo, who is now expecting her own child with a father (Jorge Antonio Guerrero) more interested in revolution than domesticity.

It's a crying shame that this is a Netflix film and very few people will get to see its stunning black-and-white photography on the big screen; it's striking and uses its widescreen composition impeccably. Cleo and the rest do not often stray far from the city, but when they do, Cuarón gets the sort of picture that seems to sink deep into the screen, a world that swallows their personal concerns. At home and in the city, Cuarón doesn't quite shoot the film like a soap opera or a stage play, but one gets the feeling that wherever possible, every room and outdoor space has been carefully built or scouted to match the widescreen frame, a tight box than both limits and comforts Cleo and Sofia and a space that, while nevertheless cinematic, puts the audience in a space to accept melodrama.

Full review at EFC.

Sunday, November 04, 2018


Can I take back a little bit of my getting worked up about Well Go stacking their Korean movies too closely? It looks like The Burning is scheduled for next week, though we don't know if it will get a Boston release yet. They've got another one scheduled for the end of the month which basically looks like Ma Dong-seok punching a lot of people, and, sure, I'll take that.

Chang-gwol (Rampant)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 3 November 2018 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, DCP)

You might reasonably expect a fusion of palace intrigue and supernatural action to be a lot more exciting than Rampant turns out to be, or at the very least more crazy. Maybe that's an inevitable peril of setting this sort of horror movie in a time when people mostly believed in demons - they are just not going to yell "what the hell?" when discovering that they're in the middle of this crazy mash-up the way the audience is - but either half could certainly be a better take on its genre.

As things start, the Joseon kingdom is already on shaky ground - Kng Lee Jo (Kim Eui-sung) is weak and easily manipulated by cabinet minister Kim Ja-joon (Jang Dong-gun) and fortune-telling concubine Jo So-yong (Seo Ji-hye), enough that Crown Prince Lee Young (Kim Tae-woo) is supporting a revolt, something he knows is dangerous enough that he's written brother Ganglim (Hyun-bin) to bring his pregnant wife Kyungbin (Han Ji-eun), to safety in Qing. But when Ganglim and servant Hak-su (Jeong Man-sik) arrive, the port town of Jemulpo is abandoned - at least until nightfall, when the zombies that Young's aide Park Jong-sa (Jo Woo-jin) and sister Deok-hee (Lee Sun-bin) have been defending the town from come out of hiding.

There's a couple ways this can go, ideally - even if the filmmakers don't go the full From Dusk Til Dawn route of not springing the genre change on the audience without warning, there's usually a point where the viewer gets caught up enough in the conventional part of the story that the strange catches them by surprise. Rampant never quite manages that - it dives full into zombie stuff early on and then steps back to the nobles which is never quite so fast-moving. Writer Hwang Jo-yoon eventually stitches both halves into a single story that doesn't feel too much like cheating but only fitfully ever has either half feel like it's doing anything special, beyond being combined with the other.

Full review at EFC.


I joke a bit in the opening about how one of the things that got brought up in the pitches for Museo during other recent movies at the Brattle mentioned how, in real life, the stolen artifacts wound up sitting in the thieves' closets for a few years, but you can kind of see why the film compacts that: It would involve a chunk of the movie to be built around things not happening, and that's a tough thing to do, especially since it would probably involve getting into how the model for Juan didn't end up as just the confused idealist the film saw him as.

It's still a neat story, though, and I liked the opening that called it a "replica". I've been to enough museums that had replicas alongside actual artifacts to identify with how, in some ways, it doesn't really matter with them behind glass, but one must be aware of the fact that things change in the recreation. It's at times a little too interested in the fact of how the story is being imperfectly told versus telling the story, but the ambition is nice.

I must admit to rolling my eyes a bit when I saw the "YouTube Originals" logo at the start, and not just because I have a hard time associating YouTube with feature-length material to start with. How many subscription services are going to be getting into the original content/indie pick-up game, because I figure there might be a point of diminishing returns. I'm happily paying for Prime, less happily for CBS All Access, and will probably break down and get Netflix, but Hulu and YouTube Red are probably a tier below Prime & Netflix, and how many people are going to shell out for them on a monthly basis to get access to fewer originals, and how many are even going to know about those originals unless they surface in theaters like this one did. It's tough for me to think that this sequestration ends up anywhere good, unless you've got the money to subscribe to everything, just in case.

Museo (aka Museum)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 3 November 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (first-run, DCP)

Oddly enough, the part of the true story which inspired Museo that most seemed to intrigue the people waiting in line for the film - that the artifacts stolen just sat in the thieves' houses for years - doesn't really factor into it; the circumstances that lead to that are important, but it's almost gilding the lily. The point is made without that. And, as the opening credits remind the audience, this is just a "replica of the original" events.

In this version, the two men who robbed Mexico's National Museum of Anthropology in 1985 are Juan Nuñez (Gael García Bernal) and Benjamin Wilson (Leonardo Ortizgris), both studying to be veterinarians and in some ways defined by their fathers: Ben's is very sick and requires constant attention, while Juan is a bit of a disappointment, as both father and grandfather were doctors and "Shorty" never seems to commit to much. A summer job working in the museum (for weed money, according to Ben's narration) gave Juan an inside view of its lax security, enough to come up with a plan to rob the place, which they do on Christmas Eve. They're counting on Bosco "Chunuc" Huerta (Bernardo Velasco), a tour guide at the Mayan pyramids, to help them fence their take, but the 140 artifacts they stole are almost impossible to move.

The heist that serves as the movie's centerpiece is an all-time great, as silent and detailed as the one in Rififi, though not exactly going for the same kind of tension. Writer/director Alonso Ruiz Palacios embellishes what happened, in large part to put the focus on Juan and Ben more than the lack of security that enabled them, though that being a factor is inescapable. Ruiz Palacios skips over a lot of the standard pieces of this sort of caper - no casing the museum or recruiting the team, a trip to the hardware store the only prelude to the main event - but still builds a nifty moment or two before and after, even if it's just Juan kind of being a jerk at Christmas dinner. The movie moves well enough both during the robbery and on either side that the relatively simple action doesn't seem stretched, and the film marinates in the delightful irony that pulling off the main part of the plan doesn't mean they get anywhere with seemingly easier stages.

Full review at EFC.