Friday, December 07, 2018

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 7 December 2018 - 13 December 2018

I know Thanksgiving seemed to come relatively early this year, but studios more or less doing nothing for two weeks after seems like rather a missed opportunity. Hopefully it inspires folks around here to check out a couple of fun things from this summer's Fantasia Festival.

  • Better to see Anna and the Apocalypse now anyway - it is a Scottish teenage zombie Christmas musical, after all! Charming as heck, but apparently only playing Boston Common. They also bring back The Wife, which everyone seemed to look at as "Glenn Close going for an Oscar" back in August. They're also the only ones listing Once Upon a Deadpool - a PG-13 cut of the very R-rated Deadpool 2 - as opening Wednesday.

    The biggest opening, in fact, seems to be a 25th Anniversary re-release of Schindler's List, which plays West Newton, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay (Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (Dolby Cinema), and Revere. A Star Is Born never actually left, but it gets the Imax screens at Jordan's Furniture, Boston Common, Assembly Row and South Bay for the week, with Jordan's also playing The Polar Express in Imax 3D after school. A Star Is Born also opens at the Belmont Studio Cinema.

    There are also an unusual amount of preview screenings - Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse plays Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row (Imax), and Revere on Friday evening & Saturday afternoon; Bumblebee Saturday night at Boston Common, Fenway (RPX), Assembly Row, and Revere (XPlus); and Second Act at Boston Common on Tuesday. Fenway continues Regal's holiday classics series with A Christmas Story at noon on Saturday, or some inspirational-looking thing called Buttons that has pulled in a pretty nice cast; Boston Common & Fenway also have the last (English-dubbed) screenings of Mirai Saturday afternoon. More holiday specials include a TCM presentation of White Christmas at Fenway & Assembly Row on Sunday and Wednesday, a Jim Henson double-feature of "Emmett Otter's Jug-Band Christmas" & "The Bells of Fraggle Rock" at Fenway on Monday, and Love Actually at Revere on Thursday. Fenway also has Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki on Thursday, so titled because it doesn't seem so long ago there was another documentary about his retirement (which didn't stick).
  • The Brattle Theatre's first Fantasia alum is Five Fingers for Marseilles, a pretty nifty modern Western from South Africa, although it only plays 9pm shows from Friday to Sunday, although they will also be showing documentary People's Republic of Desire with filmmaker Hao Wu there on Tuesday evening. Most of the schedule goes to Bathtubs Over Broadway, a documentary in which a late-night comedy writer discovers "industrial musicals" - trade show presentations produced and performed by legitimate Broadway talent - and the cult fans that trade recordings. There's also a DocYard screening of Island of the Hungry Ghosts with director Gabrielle Brady skyping in to talk about her film following a counselor on the island where Australia keeps asylum-seekers. They also have the second part of this year's Grrl Haus Cinema shows, with part three in Dorchester Friday the 14th.
  • Kendall Square is the Landmark Cinema opening a Netflix film this week, and it's one of the year's best movies in Roma, Alfonso Cuarón's gorgeous B&W story of an indigenous maid and the family for whom she works in the 1970s. It's very much a big-screen movie and who knows how many future opportunities anybody will have to see it on one. They also have Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes, about the man who shaped conservative media for the past several decades.
  • Apple Fresh Pond keeps 2.0 going, but also gets Kedarnath, a Hindu-Muslim love story. The Caleidoscope Indian Film Festival also plays through the weekend, with Evening Shadows at the Pao Arts Center on Friday, two films at Rhode Island College on Saturday, and The Song of Scorpions and C/O Kancharapalem back at Fresh Pond on Sunday.
  • A couple films that had played elsewhere expand to The Coolidge Corner Theatre this weekend in Shoplifters (also at Kendall Square) and Maria by Callas (also at Kendall Square and West Newton). They also have a special screening of Eternity's Gate (also playing the Capitol, Kendall Square, West Newton, Boston Common) on Sunday, with MFA curator Katie Hanson discussing the work of Van Gogh and his contemporaries.

    Midnights during the Christmas season will be featuring dangerous presents, with a 35mm print of Child's Play on Friday and the weekly screening of Gremlins on Saturday. There's a Goethe-Institut screening of Back for Good, in which a reality TV star returns home to bond with her epileptic sister, on Sunday. The Big-Screen Classic on Monday is a 35mm print of The Shop Around the Corner, with an add-on seminar before and after. There's Open Screen on Tuesday, a 35mm print of Wall Street as part of their Michael Douglas tribute, and a Rewind! presentation of Elf on Thursday.
  • The Harvard Film Archive concludes their Jiří Trnka, Puppet Master series with a set of short films on Friday evening, with the Early West German Cinema program having an encore of The Birth of Light at 9pm that night. Saturday afternoon's $5 family matinee is Meet Me In St. Louis, and then that night they begin a series Rediscovering Jacques Becker Antoine and Antoinette (Saturday 7pm), Édouard and Caroline (Saturday 9pm), The Trump Card (35mm Sunday 4:30pm), and Rendezvous in July (35mm Sunday 7pm). They wrap their weekend with Street Scene on Monday, tying in with an exhibition at the Houghton Library, with a tour beforehand.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts spends some time with Agnes Varda and Jacques Demy, with Varda's Lions Love (...and Lies) (Friday/Saturday/Thursday), Varda's Cleo From 5 to 7 (Friday/Wednesday), Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Saturday/Sunday), Demy's The Young Girls of Rochefort (Wednesday), and Varda's Happiness (Thursday). There's also a Jump Cut preview of their "Color Tells a Story" series on Sunday with Black Narcissus, preceded by "A Trip to the Moon" on 35mm with live accompaniment.
  • Border pops back up at Cinema Salem for a week in the small room.
A fair amount of time off this weekend and I guess I can catch up on The Favourite and maybe some of the other stuff I'm behind on.

Monday, December 03, 2018

This Week in Tickets: 26 November 2018 - 2 December 2018

The theme for this week: Use the chance to see something in theaters wisely.

This Week in Tickets

What that means is that when The Great Buddha+ shows up on the Harvard Film Archive's schedule after you've been seeing the distributor tweet it up for a year (though somehow never registering that it's on Amazon to rent), you go for it. Maybe you don't love it, but it's still big-screen worthy.

Similarly, when you see that the new animated film by Mamoru Hosoda is only scheduled for a day here and there, you book tickets for Mirai a week in advance and then tell other people reading your blog about it. Hosoda is a pretty reliable guy, and he's made another pretty darn good animated film about youth and family, and I'm a bit surprised the distributors aren't giving him a bigger push beyond anime fans here. Much like Mary and the Witch's Flower at the start of the year, this feels like something that could have done okay alternating dubbed and subtitled shows at Kendall Square (as some GKids productions have), or even cracked the regular lineup at Boston Common (as happened with The Boy and the Beast, Your Name, and A Silent Voice.

That was Thursday; Friday was the first night of Prospect at the Brattle. That sci-fi western turned out a whole lot better than I'd expected, although it turned out my expectations were low, as I'd seen and like the original short film version four years ago but not connected it with the new trailer.

Saturday I got up relatively early for 2.0, anticipating a big crowd for the Enthiran sequel, and wanting to see it in Tamil, the language it was filmed in, and 3D, which I just like though it turns out that it was captured that way. It wasn't the complete "what the heck is going on up on screen and why is the audience going so nuts for it?" experience of the first, but, honestly, what can compare to going to Enthiran and not knowing that Rajinikanth is a whole thing? Sadly, there wasn't quite the same dedicated fanbase for Me Dong-seok aka Don Lee when I saw Unstoppable that evening, with just a handful of us in the theater. Too bad, because it's a good, if modest, dumb action movie.

There were plans for Sunday, but it rained, and after coming back from the grocery store, I wasn't really in a mood to turn around and go back out. So I decided to shrink the pile from my last delivery of movies a bit and watch the UltraHD Blu-ray of Helios. Not a particularly great thriller, but serviceable, and the 4K transfer looked fantastic, like "why isn't everything released on this because now regular HD is ruined for the next few days" great. I don't actually use the 4K abilities of the player and TV that often, since I mostly watch new stuff and most of the high-res discs I get are stuff I've seen in the theater. I do kind of wonder why more people aren't releasing these - Hong Kong seems to lag a couple months behind the Blu-ray release (frustrating!), and the guys who make specialty discs are relatively slow to embrace it, aside from Lionsgate figuring that there might be another fifty bucks to squeeze out of those of us who keep buying the Evil Dead movies. Still, after having seen some of the limits of 2K projection with Mirai a few days before, it was cool to see just how good something can look.

Not sure what will go my Letterboxd page today, but keep watching it for blog previews.

Helios

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 2 December 2018 in Jay's Living Room (recent acquisitions, Hong Kong 4K Blu-ray)

Helios is a slick, well-staged thriller that ultimately winds up being completely inconsequential. Sure, some characters don't make it to the end and Hong Kong doesn't get obliterated, but there are at best momentary thrills. It shows us a shadowy world of arms dealers and capable agents, but there's no larger tension, just people playing a fast-paced game of chess, and where you can pick the double agent out not because he actually makes sense but because (he does not!) but because he keeps showing up despite having nothing to do.

Maybe it plays differently in Hong Kong, where this sort of nuclear thriller can be especially high-stakes because something as powerful and portable as the DC-8 that serves as the film's Macguffin could basically erase what they consider to be their entire country on the one hand while on the other they are feeling the pinch as China uses them for their own purposes. It's interesting and maybe telling that much of the movie and especially the finale seems to show the HK-based police seeing their South Korean counterparts as friends and allies but look at the representative from Beijing with suspicion (kudos to Wang Xueqi, who makes Song An professional, sincere, and just a smidge arrogant in how he's always considering the bigger picture).

Still, for all that this movie is a bunch of very serious people in suits (and slightly more colorful villains) striding purposefully, it can work pretty well in the moment. It is that sort of urgent, cut to feel like it's laser-focused with no wasted moments and shot with a steely color palette, making fine use of drone cams to get into the canyons of Hong Kong's streets, giving a great view of the action. And, as in the filmmakers' Cold War movies, the action is top notch, with a fight scene between Nick Cheung Ka-fai and Janice Man Wing-san a particularly terrific example (also, the ladies don't ever fight each other).

I've read somewhere that there's a sequel in development, and maybe that will give it more resolution - although given that the filmmakers have done Cold War 2 and are supposedly working on Cold War 3 before Helios 2, I wonder if that's a little white lie they told their Chinese investors to be able to leave things more open-ended than usual. Without something like that, it's kind of like the recent Jack Ryan series - well-made, never actually boring, but also not leaving you with hair standing on end when it's done.


The Great Buddha+
Mirai
Prospect
2.0
Unstoppable
Helios

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Unstoppable

There was only a handful of us in the theater for this movie on a Saturday night with no major studio movies opening for the weekend, which is a darn shame - it's basic B-movie action that's just the right amount aware of how ridiculous it is, the sort of thing that is made to be advertised with something like "(STAR'S NAME) is (FILM'S TITLE)!", and why not do that with Don Lee/Ma Dong-seok? I lent a co-worker Train to Busan a couple weeks ago and like just everyone else who sees it, he came out loving the big guy.

Honestly, if nobody at Universal is talking to him about a role in the next Fast & Furious movie, they're asleep at the wheel over there - who says no to him as the charismatic adversary who fights Vin Diesel to a standstill?

Seongnan hwangso (Unstoppable)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 1 December 2018 in AMC Boston Common #5 (first-run, DCP)

Ma Dong-seok is being billed as "Don Lee" for the American release of Unstoppable, which isn't inaccurate - his given name is actually Lee Dong-seok - but it does make one wonder if he's looking to take some roles outside of South Korea while his profile is high from Train to Busan, Along with the Gods, and Champion. Hollywood would certainly be lucky to have him if so; this B-movie likely wouldn't be half as much fun without this particular big guy in the lead.

He plays Kang Dong-chul, who runs a small service delivering fish at the Incheon market with buddy Choon-sik (Park Ji-hwan), always running short on money because he gets drawn to bad investments, the latest being king crabs, frustrating his wife Ji-soo (Song Ji-hyo), though never for long. She's the one who gets in an argument when they're rear-ended by gangster Ki-tae (Kim Sung-oh) and is kidnapped a few days later, but things don't go down as usual then: Ki-tae gives Dong-chul enough money that the police look at him strange when he goes to report the crime. Fortunately, Choon-sik knows "Bear" Gomsajang (Kim Min-jae), a private eye familiar with the underworld, and on top of that… Well, Dong-chul and Choon-sik weren't always fishmongers, with Dong-chul an infamous brawler before he met Ji-soo.

Folks who aren't familiar with Ma Dong-seok should probably just go watch Train to Busan right now, but he's basically like if a burly 1980s action hero like Sylvester Stallone was also effortlessly charming - not quite a Korean Dwayne Johnson (who tends to be more self-aware where his charisma is concerned), but a guy who can be soft-spoken and kind of intimidated by his wife but also just an absolute force when someone tries to come at him physically. He shines as an everyman and a big teddy bear in the opening scenes and a guy frantically worried about his wife later, but sells the fights pretty well, with Dong-chul not enjoying them but kind of rolling his eyes that these guys are trying to knock him around, something that also works when he's playing the straight man to Bear and Choon-sik stumbling into trouble.

Full review at EFC.

2.0

The transformation that the 10-plex at Fresh Pond has undergone since I saw Enthiran there eight years ago is pretty impressive; it's basically just the walls that are left, the the island-style concession stand gone in favor of a self-serve area in the corner, ticket touchscreens in the middle of the lobby, seats replaced twice, and, oh yeah, the first one played on film. I wasn't noting that then, but a few months later at the sci-fi festival, it was one of the 35mm prints and projectionist David Kornfeld put the whole thing on one platter and the three-hour runtime was a bit much for some of the folks there, especially when the word "Intermission" came up and the movie just kept going.

The website's kind of a work in progress, though - there's actually no page that just lists showtimes - you have to go to a movie's page and then look at the sidebar - and I've occasionally had it hang when switching between days. On the other hand, the service fee is just one dollar and it does not ask you to create an account and remember another password or have your credit card information permanently saved on another server. That was pretty helpful when I wanted to make sure I got a decent set at the Tamil 3D screening without a whole lot of rigmarole.

They were also quick to respond when I came down and said the projection was messed up - it was all green and pink like I've never seen before. Is that an alternate 3D process, maybe an anaglyph on, and projectors can just switch between that on the fly? It makes sense, software and data-wise, but I've never seen theaters dealing with it.

Anyway, it meant I got to see Superstar Rajni's special animated "vanity card" twice, and someday I've got to ask the Indian folks at work what his deal is in detail, because I can't think of any American stars who lean into their own egos that much without being hated. But, nope, folks were hooting and screaming when he showed up, and maybe some of it's ironic, but what if it's not?

The movie itself isn't quite the hoot that the first one was, and not just because the first time was my first encounter with the cult of Rajinikanth. Even more than with most Indian movies I've seen, It almost feels like Shankar had two movies he wanted to make, with the evil cell phone movie getting mashed up with the Enthiran sequel, and I wouldn't necessarily be opposed to someone pulling the mobile phone stuff out and remaking that. There's a good horror movie that doesn't need robots at all there, even if robots do usually make everything better.

2.0

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 1 December 2018 in Apple Cinemas Cambridge/Fresh Pond #3 (first-run, Tamil, ReadD 3D DCP)

The long-awaited sequel to Shankar's Enthiran is in some ways a lot more conventional than its predecessor; with no musical numbers and no romantic comedy subplots, it's less likely to cause the sort of severe whiplash suffered by people who had never seen this sort of masala film but were looking for a big sci-fi action movie. It's still pretty bizarre for folks who don't know what they're getting into, and a lot of fun, if not the insane, jaw-dropping roller coaster its predecessor was.

Life in Chennai has mostly returned to normal since the android Chitti went on his rampage, and his creator Dr. Vaseegaran (Rajinikanth) has recently built a new robot, Nila (Amy Jackson), who is sexy, sardonic, and a bit more bound by Asimov's Three Laws than Chitti was, making Vaseegaran's girlfriend Sana jealous when she regularly phones him. One of those calls gets interrupted by his phone flying away, which is happening all over Chennai, a mystery that stumps everyone from scientists to the government to the executives at the mobile networks, though the audience can probably draw a quick line to Pakshi Rajan (Akshay Kumar), the ornithologist who hung himself from a mobile phone tower at the start of the movie. When the phones stop just flying away but instead start returning to murder people, Vaseegaran says that the best way to fight them would be to reactivate Chitti, although some - notably Dhinendra Bohra (Sudhanshu Pandey), son of the AI researcher who opposed Vaseegaran last time - are prone to disagree.

Enthiran threw a lot of genres into its blender, but it wasn't really a horror movie, and I don't know whether it's thus logical or surprising that the first half of 2.0 turns out to be a good one, in a sort of 1950s way where there's a serious scientist investigating the paranormal - serious in attitude; the pseudoscience he spouts is kind of ridiculous - and a general public kind of perplexed by the strange things happening but not really alarmed. It's got a lot of little things that work - the everyday object weaponized against its users, some striking and eerie visuals, gross kills that are shot in a way that mostly allows one to imagine the worst, and a cell-phone-man monster design that should look silly but is actually genuinely creepy. It builds to the big and genuinely weird, with some big CGI effects that are simultaneously twisted and whimsical and climaxing on a big action scene that is kind of delightful not just for its scale but for how it makes Rajinikanth seeming stiff and less than fluid work in-character as Chitti wreaks havoc.

Full review at EFC.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Prospect

First things first: If Gunpowder & Sky doesn't use the fantastic poster art for the Blu-ray release, instead going with some bland photoshopped thing, I don't buy the movie. I realize this is harsh, but I suspect it's unlikely - the introductory bit before the main titles was kind of charmingly eccentric; I kind of hope that Dust/Gunpowder & Sky makes that a thing and other distributors copy it; it's a fun little bit that connects you with the people involved more than the "thanks for coming here, to the theater, and not pirating this movie" intros you see in the multiplexes on occasion.

I will admit - I was not necessarily hugely enthused about seeing this from the previews. "Space Western" kind of makes me twitch by now (just make a Western if that's what you really want to do!), and my sense from watching the preview was that it was the sort of thing that plays the Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival and which I wind up hating myself for hating because my admiration for people who make movies with few resources doesn't often translate to me liking the final product. I'd seen a lot like this before.

Of course, as it turns out, I'd actually seen the original short version of this film before, too - midway through Fantasia 2014. And I liked that one, for many of the same reasons I like the new version. The filmmakers may have recast, but they nevertheless recaptured a lot of what made it work the first time around. I don't know if I can rightly say there was a specific sense of familiarity as I watched it that could necessarily be separated from "I've seen a lot of movies like this", but a lot of connections did kind of hit me once I went to look up whether I had actually seen the first one at some festival.

Anyway, here's hoping that G&S includes the short on the movie's physical release. It just hit me that a scene where Cee talks about re-writing a book she read over and over from memory, and occasionally inserting new scenes because she had an idea about what had happened in between, is probably talking about the process of remaking and expanding a short into a feature. Clever. Now I'm even more tempted to spend fifteen minutes seeing how much comes directly from the original and how much was rearranged.

Original "Prospect" on Vimeo, for those curious.

Prospect

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 30 November 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (first-run, DCP)

A lot of independent science fiction films like Prospect hit the genre film festival circuit - mostly as shorts, but sometimes as features - and truth be told, many aren't very good despite the clear love for the genre and impressive effort put into creating a world with what they can find and build. What makes this one stand out is the same as what made the short version pop four years ago - not just being a notch better at creating a dingy analog future, but finding an impressive cast and building some tension there.

It opens on a spaceship making the last scheduled trip around the moon Bakhroma Green; Damon (Jay Duplass) and his daughter Cee (Sophie Thatcher) will be dropped in a pod with the hopes of finding enough aurelac crystals over the next few days that when they rejoin the ship on its return voyage, they'll be able to set themselves up comfortably for the first time in Cee's life - quite possible, if Damon's claim to know where the legendary "Queen's Lair" is. It's a dangerous satellite, with poisonous dust in the air and the crystals themselves formed in burning organic pods. That's before the eloquent but stranded Ezra (Pedro Pascal) gets the drop on them, and the alliance forged at the point of a gun is just as unstable as you might expect.

It's a fool's errand more often than not to try and guess how filmmakers created a shot, but sometimes the way filmmakers use effects is worth pondering. There's a moment early in the movie, when the audience has thus far only strayed as far from the cramped pod as a nearby passageway, when the camera pans up from that dingy, practical, analog environment to show a ship that may not be CGI but has a different sort of detail, and which in addition to moving away seems to be spinning enough to simulate gravity. It's a quietly fancy shot that cements how much Damon and Cee are grasping, helping later scenes which might choke on sci-fi details land. There's a similar feel on the moon, where some modest effects work reminds a viewer that it's an alien world but letting the feel that it could swallow people whole come from the location they chose.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Mirai

I must admit to being kind of annoyed that Mirai is apparently getting the "three nights over a week and a half" treatment - Mamoru Hosoda's movies have been as reliably good as you get these days, this one is family-friendly, and I kind of refuse to believe that a market that kept Your Name in theaters for a month and has one of the country's largest anime conventions won't support a regular booking on top of that. It sure seems like it should get a week, but it sometimes seems like GKids is a little more timid than Funimation is where releases are concerned.

Still, it was crowded enough that I made sure to reserve my ticket at Fenway to make sure I got a good seat - though I frequently carp about other modernizations at theaters, I'm pretty neutral on reserved seating, not caring if a theater has it but not above making sure I get to be front-and-center-ish. Not a bad seat, but some early shots where the camera was panning over the city got fuzzy, and I wonder a bit if it's just panning too fast, something which always happens with digital, or if the Fathom presentation is something less than a proper DCP. It's also worth noting that Regal's added a whole bunch of menu options since I was there last. Maybe not as many as it looks - it's not that much harder to have 10 kinds of burgers than one - but I was squinting to read it as the screens above the concession stand refreshed (maybe I'll have to use my vision coverage next year). I found it amusing that they asked me what I wanted for a side with my pizza, and then what dressing I wanted for my fries. They did not ask whether I wanted, say, bacon bits sprinkled in my honey mustard, so it apparently only goes so far.

So, here we are, with two more days scheduled (subtitled on the 5th and dubbed on the 8th). Go see it, because it's a sweet, good-looking film that certainly creates enough of a delightful fantasy world that you'll want to get pulled into it rather than see it from a remove. It's niece-friendly, and may even lead them to The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.

Mirai no Mirai (Mirai)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 29 November 2018 in Regal Fenway #9 (Fathom Events, digital)

I'm guessing that a great many of us older siblings are going to watch Mirai and be amazed that our parents did not justifiably murder us. We almost certainly had it coming, even if we were toddlers at the time, and I don't know of many other movies that have focused so strongly on that particular stage of growing up, certainly not with the charm and visual whimsy that Mamoru Hosoda brings to this one.

That Hosoda is himself able to thread the needle between sympathy and awfulness is a huge part of what makes Mirai work, because 4-year-old Kun is an authentically horrifying kid not taking the arrival of his baby sister well at all, but he's drawn and animated in a way that reminds the audience that he's still learning how to act - him carefully navigating steps too big for him to use easily is actually adorable in addition to being a reminder of just how far he is from being mature. It's just enough to offset the natural inclination to ask what is wrong with him every time he does something bratty or worse, and also quietly establishes a baseline for him to grow from. One of the ways that animation can sometimes be more believable than live action is to make characters visually match going from kids to adults to seniors, but there's also a lot of difference between 4 and 5, and you maybe don't notice how much Kun's appearance and movement has changed over the course of the film until stills from the beginning run during the credits.

What makes him grow up? Well, time, but along the way Hosoda gives the family home a magical enclosed garden where the family dog can take human form and grumble about how he used to be the prince of the house, he can meet a fifteen-year-old Mirai, or follow a path that leads in the other direction to meet family members when they were younger. There's not necessarily a real-world explanation given for this, nor is one strictly necessary; I like to think the great-grandfather he meets is impossibly cool because that's how he's portrayed in the family's stories, even if it makes an earlier sequence of Kun, teen-Mirai, and human-Jukko seem unlikely (although, now that I think of it, maybe it didn't actually require reading…). It puts the story somewhere in between a fairy tale and a peek into how a small child whose brain has not yet fully grasped the difference between fantasy and reality learns and grows. It's just enough to stitch the various flights of fancy that make up the movie together, from and adult's perspective; maybe it seems a bit less cobbled-together for a kid, and I suspect this will seem more clear a second time through.

Full review at EFC.

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 30 November 2018 - 6 December 2018

The weekend after Thanksgiving, most of the multiplexes are just trying to shuffle things around, maybe give a screen or two to something because something else underperformed. But, there's still other interesting things going on if you can look.

  • For example, Apple Fresh Pond has two or three screens going for 2.0, S Shankar's sequel to 2010's Endhiran which has Amy Jackson and Akshay Kumar joining Rajinikanth in India's biggest movie ever, with 2D and 3D shows in three languages (Tamil, Telugu, and Hindi). If you want more Indian genre thrills, there is a screening of Bengali thriller Flat No. 609 on Sunday as part of Caleidoscope (more on that below).

    Another Asian star that should probably have a bit more name recognition, Ma Dong-seok (aka Don Lee), stars in Unstoppable, which looks like a pretty standard "guy demolishes the mobsters who kidnapped his wife" movie, but you absolutely want to see the guy who stole Train to Busan in that sort of thing. That's at Boston Common, which hangs onto A Cool FIsh, which is apparently a pretty big hit in China.
  • Over at The Brattle Theatre, Prospect gets a short run from Friday to Monday (it plays all week in the small room at Cinema Salem). It's the sort of sci-fi western mashup that has to overcome a small budget by running long on atmosphere and fine performances, and word has it that they do just fine on that account. On Tuesday, the Raiders of the Lost Ark in 35mm alarm goes off, with members of the Harvard Anthropology Department giving it an introduction (they do this about once a year, I'm guessing mostly because they want to watch one of the greatest adventure movies ever made). They close the week out with a special tribute to the late screenwriter William Goldman, presenting a 35mm double feature of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid & The Princess Bride on Wednesday and Thursday.
  • After a couple days of early screenings, The Favourite opens for real at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Kendall Square, and Boston Common,. It looks like maybe director Yorgos Lanthimos has harnessed his wit and fondness for absurdity into something genuinely crowd-pleasing this time around, with Olivia Colman as Queen Anne and Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone as the lifelong friend and new servant competing for her attention.

    The Coolidge continues to celebrate their namesake Award winner Michael Douglas this weekend with Fatal Attraction at midnight on Friday and Basic Instinct taking the swing shift on Saturday, both on 35mm, as well as a presentation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which he produced, on Monday evening. There's the monthly screening of The Room as well, also midnight Friday, while Saturday's other midnight is the first of four weeks of Gremlins on the big screen. A 35mm print of The Land Before Time plays as a "Science On Screen Jr." show on Saturday morning, with an introduction by paleontologist Katie Slivensky. GlobeDocs has a free screening of The Stand: How One Gesture Shook the World on Tuesday night, with directors Tom Ratcliffe & Becky Paige on hand (RSVP here).
  • The Favourite is not the only alumnus of IFFBoston's Fall Focus to open this week, as Kendall Square opens Hirokazu Kore-eda's Shoplifters, an impressive story of a makeshift family of petty criminals with a surprise or two inside. They also have a one-week booking of Becoming Astrid, which follows the early life of Astrid Lindgren, who would become known as the creator of Pippi Longstocking.
  • The big studios mostly lay low this weekend, with The Possession of Hannah Grace, a horror movie set in a morgue where something creepy may be going on with the body of a girl who died mid-exorcism, the only "major" new release, at Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere. Boston Common and South Bay give matinees on the Imax screen to Ralph Breaks the Internet, also bringing back Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween for matinees (seasonal!).

    Regal starts a series of Saturday Christmas movie matinees with The Polar Express at Fenway this weekend; Showcase counters with Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer in Revere. Fenway, Boston Common, and Revere have dubbed screenings of the new Pokemon movie ("The Power of Us") on Saturday afternoon, subtitled ones for Mamoru Hosada's charming new one Mirai on Wednesday evening, and return engagements for Burn the Stage: The Movie on Wednesday and Thursday (the K-pop doc has been huge). Fenway has 25th anniversary screenings of Sleepless in Seattle on Sunday and Wednesday, and Superman celebrating its 40th on Monday. Boston Common adds a new featurette to their 25th anniversary of Philadelphia on Saturday (man, did Tom Hanks have a year in 1993 or what?).
  • The Harvard Film Archive finishes their Tony Conrad series with a short film program on Friday evening; with a special sound performance at MIT's List Visual Arts Center on Saturday. The Early West German cinema program has an encore Friday night with a 35mm print of Chased by the Devil. Jiří Trnka, Puppet Master continues with A Midsummer Night's Dream (35mm Saturday 7pm), The Good Soldier Svejk, Parts I-III (Saturday 9pm), a $5 program of shorts at 4:30pm Sunday, and The Emperor's Nightingale (35mm Sunday 7pm); most include a short film as well. Finally, Christian Petzold visits to introduce and discuss two of his recent films - Transit on Monday and Phoenix on Tuesday.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts wraps the November schedule with their last shows of John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection and Milford Graves Full Mantis on Friday. The December schedule features New Cinema from Brazil in Vazante (Saturday), Pendular (Sunday), Rust (Sunday), and Good Manners and an Agnes Varda/Jacques Demy series that kicks off Thursday with Lola. They also welcome Gary Hustwit for a screening on his latest design-focused documentary, Rams, on Saturday; as you might guess, it focuses closely on famed designed Dieter Rams.
  • The Lexington Venue has a couple of special presentations this weekend: Locally-produced film The Mouse in the Bread plays Saturday morning, and Hindi film Turup (Checkmate) plays Thursday night as part of the Caleidoscope Indian Film Festival, which also has screenings at Fresh Pond, the Wellesley Community Center, the LTC Gallery in Lowell, and Rhode Island College.
  • Emerson's Bright Lights finishes the fall semester by welcoming 306 Hollywood directors Elan & Jonathan Bogarin to discuss their "magical realist documentary" on Tuesday and faculty discussion of Eighth Grade on Thursday. As always, it's not just for students; anyone can grab a free seat in the Paramount's screening room.
  • Friendly reminder: The "Slutcracker" burlesque takes over the big room at The Somerville Theatre starting Friday, so be ready for that crowd!


The weekend shall start with Prospect, 2.0(*), and Unstoppable; I do not see myself ever passing up 35mm Raiders; I liked Barbara and Phoenix enough that I really should see Transit; and, yeah, I'll probably go to The Favourite despite having a somewhat contentious relationship with the director's previous films. Looks like it's getting to be the last call for A Private War, so that's on the list too.

(*) How good is dubbing on Indian movies, generally? Should I be thinking Tamil-or-bust, or are Telugu/Hindi acceptable options if they fit my schedule better?

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

This Week in Tickets: 19 November 2018 - 25 November 2018

Someone dropping a whole bunch of TV that comes from one of my favorite filmmakers explains why not a whole lot of scotch tape was necessary this week:

This Week in Tickets

AMC rolled out an old-school miniseries this week - three movie-length presentations on consecutive nights, the sort of thing that used to be the bedrock of network-television event programming during sweeps periods - and the thing that grabbed my attention where this new adaptation of John le Carré's The Little Drummer Girl was that the whole thing would be directed by Park Chan-wook, who has made one English-language feature but who has mostly worked in his native South Korea, creating strong, lush thrillers, and whose willingness to go dark certainly seemed like a great fit to le Carré's realistic, amoral spy stories. The only issue, really, is that this is a pretty sizable project, built as six 55-minute episodes for the BBC, so my reaction went something like this:

Night One: Whoever decided to hook Park up with all those garish late-1970s color schemes was a genius.

Night Two: Look, cable stations, it's one thing to have an episode of Justified run long by five minutes, but if this is going to run 161 minutes every night, start it at 8pm rather than 9pm - some of us have to work weekdays!

Night Three (watched Sunday morning because of travel and such): Okay, this last chunk is pretty great, but how much of the set-up do we really need?

This thing drags a lot, and I kind of wonder how often Park has had to work in a format where runtime is so strictly defined before. There are thrillingly tense moments and a sort of meta-thread showing how carefully rehearsed and planned everything that the actress played by Florence Pugh is, which everybody from the cast to the editors pulls off every time. Pugh certainly has next-big-thing potential, given how she enlivened Outlaw King and how much everybody liked her in Lady Macbeth, and Michael Shannon is never not watchable, but Alexander Skarsgård is kind of dull in a pivotal role. A lot of the folks around them, be they Mossad or PLO, feel like TV supporting characters who would really get fleshed out well given their own subplots and maybe a spotlight episode, but this isn't that kind of TV series.

I wonder what Park and his editors would get this thing down to if told to make it a show to be watched in one sitting or six episodes that didn't have to be any given length. I'll bet it would become much more digestible.

Digestion brings us to the rest of the week, which involved heading north to Maine for Thanksgiving dinner(s), an even crazier process than it used to be because everybody has multiple places to go on different schedules. It's a fair chunk of time on the bus and in loud houses, but my extended family is great and contains many people who are very good at making pie, so it's pretty good. It needed to do laundry when I got back (I'd already purchased one pair of pants to put it off a couple days this week) and local theaters are getting stingier with 3D screenings, so plan A was abandoned and I caught the new Robin Hood on Friday night, and that's a frustrating movie - not nearly as bad as I'd feared or as good as one might hope, and the annoying thing is that having competently-constructed action would likely not have gotten in the way of making a modern Robin Hood for the resistance one single iota. Saturday, there was plenty of time to get to Ralph Breaks the Internet - that one didn't disappoint; it's probably smarter than Wreck-It Ralph even if it doesn't hit me straight in the nostalgia gland the way its predecessor did.

That left me with a comfortable amount of time to get to the Brattle Theatre for Seven Samurai, and even though it started early, that one will polish off an evening. It's still a total classic, a lot to watch on a regular basis but the sort of thing that makes me glad some theater in the area will play it on 35mm once a year or so. Keeps me from feeling the need to upgrade it to a Blu-ray. Sunday was also a 35mm Kurosawa at the Brattle evening, with a double bill of The Hidden Fortress and Throne of Blood.

Monday's The Grand Buddha+ has already gone up on my Letterboxd page, and it looks like there's a pretty busy weekend on tap.

Shichinin no Samurai (Seven Samurai)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 24 November 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Kurosawa in History, 35mm)

I don't know that I've got a whole lot to add to what I wrote the last time I saw this (or at least, the last time I wrote about it). It's such a relaxed film even though it never loses track of its ticking clock and the desperation of the peasants who feel the need to hire a team of samurai. I wonder if that's a matter of Kurosawa identifying with the samurai as much as (or more than) the villagers. He gives the common people the opening act, but once their are samurai, they start to drive the narrative, stern and patrician and wise. The practicalities of battle are presented as just how things are, and the stubborn common men who will see their homes destroyed sadly impractical. Even Toshiro Mifune's central rant about how both peasants and samurai are terribly selfish only gets rebuked through the warriors' actions, and his characters' trying to put on airs and climb above his station is the cause of many problems.

What makes this a rich movie is that I sort of came to the opposite conclusion last back in 2014 - that Kurosawa was sneakily undercutting the image of the noble samurai. It's kind of fascinating that my reaction to this film seems to seek an equilibrium - it will undercut whatever assumptions one comes in with, and does so in a way that seems honest rather than like the filmmakers trying to cover the angles, even if it's often theatrical rather than strictly realistic.

What I wrote back in March 2014

Kakushi-toride no san-akunin (The Hidden Fortress)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 November 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Kurosawa in History, 35mm)

This movie has a bit of an inflated reputation because of the clear line one can trace from it to Star Wars, both from those who love George Lucas and those who aren't inclined to give him much credit. In truth,it's a very enjoyable adventure story but also kind of flabby in spots, and perhaps doesn't stop to think as often as it could or have that many impressive action bits. It's good, because even lesser Kurosawa with Toshiro Mifune and Misa Uehara as a fiercely memorable princess is a cut above most films out there, but you can see it doesn't have enough to fill its running time.

That's part and parcel of its gimmick of being both a movie about two hard-luck peasants trying to get home from war with something to show for it and one about a samurai trying to get a princess to safety. It's a fun idea, and the film does a good job of representing both their perspectives, although seeing it the day after Seven Samurai, which seemed a bit more even-handed about it, although both seem kind of hard on the peasants compared to the nobility.

Full review at EFilmCritic (from 2010)

Kumonosu-jô (Throne of Blood)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 November 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Kurosawa in History, 35mm)

I kind of wonder how this plays to folks who don't know Macbeth. I suspect it's still a great, thrilling picture; I just wonder if not seeing where Kurosawa is following a familiar structure makes certain turns more exciting or more peculiar. I certainly found myself wishing he had abandoned the supernatural after the ghost's initial appearance, just relying on the wife as a persistent voice of doubt, even as I also wondered what this Kurosawa leaving a straight-up horror movie would be like, as the moments where he goes for that sort of atmosphere are fantastic.

There's still a lot to love here, though, from the usual pleasures of a brash, arrogant Toshiro Mifune to how Kurosawa skillfully blends the conventions of the stage with those of the cinema. This movie is Shakespearean not just in its premise but in how it uses servants as a chorus, for example, while also leaning into how Kurosawa's samurai stories often seem to take place in a post-apocalyptic hell. Scenes will often take place in fixed locations, having people report in rather than necessarily showing action, but the setting of the scene and the impressive cutting and cinematography makes sure it never feels static and boxed in

This movie could possibly do with sticking a little less close to its source (said the guy who loves Shakespeare), but given the master and the masterpiece involved, wishing for something even better seems terribly conceited.


The Little Drummer Girl
Robin Hood '18
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Seven Samurai
The Hidden Fortress / Throne of Blood

The Great Buddha+

The Great Buddha+ is a true art-house film, and has had a release that fits that - New York and Los Angeles back in January, streaming, spots at festivals and other short bookings, and heading back to theaters for an end-of-year push, presumably related to it being selected as Taiwan's Oscar submission (and maybe or maybe not related to the HFA booking it for an evening). That it was selected is kind of interesting, in that it actually played Taiwan in October 2017; the calendar for Foreign Language Film releases runs October to September - presumably an artifact of when it might take months of negotiations, work, and booking to have the film ready for a release near the ceremony - so this is kind of like a movie released in January or February hoping to be seen among the more recent entries.

Will it get an actual nomination? Odds are long for anything to make the shortlist let along the final slate of five, and I don't know how much the Academy still tends to favor the genuinely boutique items like this in that category as opposed to something with more mainstream appeal on top of being kind of fancy. I, personally, don't really love it, kind of feeling a bit disappointed considering how much distributor Cheng Cheng had been talking it up all year; they'd released a few of the more interesting movies that crossed the Pacific quickly before that.

Worth a trip to the HFA even if there was the kind of rain that destroys my cheap shoes Monday night, and I was still saddened when the host for the evening mentioned David Pendleton in her intro. It's a $5 rental on Amazon right now, and likely worth that. It's specialty, cinema that often doesn't even get the sort of booking it belongs in a city like Boston, the sort of singular thing that has a hard time breaking out.

Da fo+ (The Great Buddha+)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 November 2018 in the Harvard Film Archive (special presentation, DCP)

Huang Hsin-yao's The Great Buddha+ seems like a movie that could use a little more context to be truly appreciated outside its own region, whether by seeing how it fits in with Huang's documentary work, what it adds to his short film "The Great Buddha", or just knowing a bit more about the part of Taiwan where it takes place. Taiwan's submission for the Academy Awards is an interesting bit of work, but likely richer with a bit more background.

It makes jokes about that on occasion, as one man answers a question about his background by describing the poster hanging behind him. Huang breaks the fourth wall like that from the very start, where his narration reads out the names of the companies and producers that put the film together and returns every so often in order to make a wry comment that sometimes adds a bit more information that might not come out otherwise but just as often serves to point out the film's artifice. There's a certain value in that - being reminded that this is just a movie may keep viewers honest about just how much they've learned about this place from watching it - but these moments do threaten to get a bit cute.

The place in question is the fringes of Taichung, where Pickle (Cres Chuang) works as a night watchman at a factory that makes religious statues, with the biggest current job a Buddha that will be used in an upcoming Dharma Assembly. He passes the time with his friend Belly Button (Bamboo Chen Chu-sheng), a scavenger who collects bottles to recycle and the expired food left outside supermarkets; they can't even afford to drink. Their latest way to pass the time is to watch footage from the dashcam from Pickle's boss's car, a weird combination of prosaic shots out the windshield and the sound of various young women performing fellatio on him. One of those women, Feng Ju Yeh (Ting Kuo-lin), was waiting for Kevin (Leon Dai) outside the factory, but they don't see her again until they're looking at more footage later, and then… Well, what can they do? The rich and connected have all the power.

Full review at EFC.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Fantasia 2018 Catchup 02: Being Natural, Neomanila, I Have a Date with Spring, The Vanished, Hurt, Under the Silver Lake, People's Republic of Desire, Cam, and Kasane

This is taking embarrassingly long - 9 reviews since the first catch-up post almost two months ago is a crappy pace, but it's been a busy year and there aren't enough people on eFilmCritic covering mainstream films, so I feel weirdly obligated. Good thing my notes and Letterboxd first drafts are holding up well so far. Looks like end-of-year is going to be an optimistic target.

Of course, if some stuff keeps getting pushed out, that might not be so bad. Under the Silver Lake, for instance, was going to come out during the summer, then got pushed to December, but now is scheduled for 19 April 2019, which may be a whole year on the shelf, which feels like it must be frustrating for all involved. Still, that's not the only one with a release coming about right now - People's Republic of Desire starts making its way into theaters on 30 November, with a stop at Boston's Brattle Theatre on 11 December, with guests present; Cam has already popped up on Netflix, which I guess is a fair place for it.

Being Natural

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, digital)

Before it takes a turn for the weird, Being Natural is kind of a low-key charmer, playing as a group of guys in late middle age growing closer, even though those bonds are not exactly of the strongest material. It's pastoral but not over-romanticized, as these things can sometimes be - indeed, not doing so is a good chunk of the point - enough that the satire can perhaps be missed right up until filmmaker Tadashi Nagayama pulls out the sledgehammer.

It introduces late-middle-aged Taka (Yota Kawase) as a bongo-playing oddball, acting as caretaker to his ailing uncle, which gives him a bed to sleep in and a little money from his extended family who don't exactly want to take on that responsibility themselves. It's the kind of arrangement that by its nature can't last forever, and when the old man dies, Taka goes to work at the family's fishing pond with his cousin Mitsuaki (Shoichiro Tanigawa) and their friend Sho (Tadahiro Tsuru), whose market was put out of business by a new supermarket, and things seem nice. Except the train from Tokyo has just disgorged the Kurihara family - husband Keigo (Kanji Tsuda), wife Satomi (Natsuki Mieda), and daughter Itsumi (Kazua Akieda) - come to the country to live a less artificial life. Satomi has always wanted to open a café in a traditional Japanese house, like the one Mitsuaki owns but hasn't really seen any need to kick Taka out of yet.

You can't really strip the entire movie down to Taka, Mitsuaki, and Sho, but there are long stretches where it's tempting to try. Yota Kawase and Shoichiro Tanigawa make a genial odd couple, with Tanigawa's Mitsu showing his age a bit more with a hint of drag in his step, coming across as both endearingly square and kind of prickly (he'd moved to the city when he was younger and isn't entirely excited to be back). Kawase embodies a certain sort of lazy eccentric as Taka, funny but kind of petulant, able to get the audience in his corner because he's able to needle someone without really being mean and because he's the one who is having his circumstances upended. It doesn't hurt that his flaws can seem relatively minor compared to Tadahiro Tsuru's Sho, who is more openly angry and impatient, deployed in quick bursts.

Full review at EFC.

Neomanila

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

I wonder just how this crime flick plays in its native country, where the sort of vigilante killing at the center is a Thing That Happens rather than something as far outside the norm as it seems in North America. Is it just piercing rather than shocking? Or is it even that - maybe it feels like a well-made thriller that contains nothing that an observant person wouldn't expect.

Things center around Toto (Timothy Castillo), who may still be a kid, but who doesn't have the luxury of being an innocent any more than anyone else in the slums of Manila. He smuggles a razor to his brother Kiko in jail, and runs errands for gangster Ringgo, although he also goes to church, if only to meet girlfriend Gina (Angeline Andoy). Recently orphaned, he is taken in by Irma (Eula Valdez), a one-time friend of his mothers, who has a small pest-control business, and it's not just four/six/eight-legged nuisances she exterminates: She and partner Raul (Rocky Salumbides) are freelance killers given missions by a man they refer to only as "Sarge", and their newest target is Dugo (Jess Mendoza), the next man up from Kiko and Ringgo. Toto can get them closer and, indeed, wants to help, although he doesn't realize just who this new surrogate family has killed in the past.

There's not much light to be found in Neomanila; the whole city seems run-down and oppressive, the sort of place where the sun only comes out to remind people that they can't afford air conditioning, and it's easy to despair because there is no escape from the gangs and violence. Director Mikhail Red and his co-writers make sure that criminality infiltrates every facet of these characters' lives, with Irma's pest-control shop only briefly more than an ironic front for her other activities. Even Gina, who initially looks like she could be the good part of Toto's life, being pimped out (something revealed so casually that one can't really even be surprised for more than a second or two). It's the sort of environment where extrajudicial killings naturally arise because even if the police are clean, it's almost impossible to conceive of any institution not being tainted, or there being any other framework that functions.

It's not a healthy way to grow up or live, and an even worse way to grow up. You can see that in the faces of almost everybody involved; there's an air of resignation that seems to hang over nearly everybody that Toto meets, although the gangsters tend a bit toward paranoia. It hasn't quite completely set in for Toto yet, but Timothy Castillo is able to show it making inroads in muted responses and unfocused bitterness, chipping away at his natural instinct to trust . He's not beat, yet, but he's having trouble figuring out how not to be.

Full review at EFC.

Na-wa-bom-nal-eui-yak-sok (I Have a Date with Spring)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Despite I Have a Date with Spring being a jumble of dark wishes from depressed people as the world is about to end, or at least stories of such things, it's interesting that the connecting thread is not so much self-destruction or loneliness as much as people just looking for a respite: The rest of the world being evacuated or raptured away is not initially to be questioned lest the quiet vanish.

It is framed, somewhat, by the story of Lee Gwi-dong (Kang Ha-neul), a filmmaker who has not been able to actually make a film in the past ten years, and who has gone to an isolated spot in the woods to write a screenplay on his birthday - only to be interrupted by a woman (Lee Hye-young) with a fair-sized and devoted entourage. From there, there are other tales of people initially celebrating their birthdays alone: Teenager Lee Han-na (Kim So-hee) is an outcast at school whose eccentric neighbor (Kim Sung-kyun) offers her a ride home; 57-year-old professor Jeon Ui-moo (Kim Hak-sun) is celebrating alone (aside from a phone call from his mother who lives overseas) when he finds an ailing, disoriented girl (Song Ye-eun) in his classroom; Ko Su-min (Jang Young-nam) is overwhelmed and doesn't even have the day acknowledged by her busy husband and demanding child - not what she expected as a student radical in her youth, although a chance encounter with frantic Park Mi-syun (Lee Joo-young) brings some of the old time back.

All three (or four, including Gwi-dong) are at least partially looking to be left alone, even if they haven't voiced the desire out loud, and some force or another has granted their wish - it seems as though they have just missed some sort of call to evacuation, because aside from their new companions, the space around them is suspiciously empty. It makes the individual stories work as variations on a theme, especially since director Baek Seung-bin and co-writer Yoo Ji-young are fairly relaxed about how the various threads fit together: There could be some planet-wide disaster, Gwi-dong could be trying out variations on a theme, his visitors could be telling him stories, or any combination of those cases, with the actual movie the viewer is watching maybe or maybe not the end result. It kind of doesn't matter; as it slowly becomes clear that there's not really a mystery without a single point of convergence to be revealed here, there's a bit more importance given to how the characters are mostly just grasping in the dark. It makes some of the stories a little stretched at times, but does well to focus on their individual introspection.

Full review at EFC.

Sarajin Bam (The Vanished)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The Vanished almost seems too simple, with all the conclusions to be drawn from the available evidence made quickly, and most of the time used to hopefully shake some new information loose. The trick is seeing how long the filmmakers can tease that out, since it would seem everything will fall together as soon as the last puzzle piece shows up. That director Lee Chang-hee keeps it a great deal of fun until the credits roll is a pretty good job of juggling and knowing when to pay off and play against expectations.

Or that he's got a good template to work from. It's been long enough since I've seen The Body - the Spanish film he and his crew remade - that I can't rightly recall exactly how closely the plots match, but it's worth noting that if you dig around for that review on this site, you'll find words awful close to that paragraph, which I scribbled down as my first impression immediately after the festival screening only half-conscious that I'd seen the original. It's a fun coincidence, indicating that Lee and his team certainly knew what worked, but I suppose it also puts the lie to one of my usual complaints about this sort of thriller, that most people aren't predictable enough for intricate plans dependent upon others' reactions to work.

It opens at 8:10 in the evening at the South Korean National Forensic Service's headquarters, which is a creepy enough place to be patrolling as a guard even before the power goes out. When it's back on, one of the cabinets in the morgue is open and the body of Yoon Seol-hee (Kim Hee-ae), a pharma company heiress, has disappeared - and if you believe a freaked-out guard, gone on a little walk. The detective dispatched, Woo Joong-sik (Kim Sang-kyung), is a mess, but one doesn't necessarily send the top man to what looks like a distasteful prank. Seol-hee's husband Park Jin-han (Kim Kang-woo) is informed - the poor grieving professor has gone straight from the funeral to the apartment of student and mistress Hye-jin (Han Ji-an) - and doesn't like Joong-sik's theory that maybe Park didn't want a coroner to discover she didn't die of natural causes. Throw in a theory that Seol-hee was cataleptic rather than dead, a mysterious document in the hands of her lawyer sister, some more blackouts, and a boss who was ready to suspend Joong-sik anyway (he is a loose cannon), and it's going to be a long night.

Full review at EFC.

Hurt

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Hurt plays fair enough as it warns the audience that it's not necessarily telling the story they think, and that it's going to be inward-looking, but is that really enough to make up for switching so much out late? On top of that, there's the question of just how vigorously the filmmakers intend to bite the hand that feeds them by making a horror movie about how horror movies are problematic. Would Blumhouse really make a movie about how horror movies are more trouble than they seem?

Probably not, but it nevertheless finds an interesting angle in today's self-aware horror world by starting with - well, there's a prelude of sorts, so eventually getting to - Rose (Emily Van Raay), a woman who became a fan because of the man who would become her husband (Andrew Creer), getting really into it, and then having Tommy return home after time in the military and clearly not yet ready to see sudden noises and mutilated bodies as something fun again, despite it being Halloween. Things are tense at a get-together with Rose's sister Lily (Stephanie Moran) and her husband Mark (Bradley Hamilton), with a trip to the local haunted house and hayride serving s a tipping point.

Writer/director Sonny Mallhi displays an interesting sort of wary fondness for his genre as the movie starts - his pastiche of slasher films may be a bit exaggerated but it's also kind of good, enough so that a viewer might feel a little disappointment upon discovering that it's not a "real" part of the movie. It meets the audience on their own turf, establishing horror as good entertainment rather than a campy strawman. Still, you wonder about slasher movies being a thing little kids can just pull out of their pocket and watch, and Rose's enthusiasm is right on the line between mostly harmless fun and off-putting. It seems like a slower, more methodical build than horror movies that go meta usually are because it never goes out of its way to prove its bona fides or cast its heroes as outsiders. This stuff is mainstream here, even if some folks are a more into it than others.

Full review at EFC.

Under the Silver Lake

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

What an absolutely bizarre tall tale of a movie, filled to overflowing with impossible connections, revelations that don't necessarily mean anything but create a feeling of resolution, and utter pop-culture absurdity. I suspect people will be digging through Under the Silver Lake for months when they can do so at home, connecting references and finding themes, once it is bounced from theaters because it is the sort of strange that makes one suspect the filmmakers went down the same sort of rabbit hole as the characters and still haven't come out.

The main guy plunging down the rabbit hole is Sam (Andrew Garfield), who came out to Los Angeles to make it big, somehow, but doesn't seem to have chosen a field in which to do so, and is now five days away from being evicted from his apartment. That's when he finally meets his pretty neighbor Sarah (Riley Keough) and they seem to hit it off watching How to Marry a Millionaire. The next day, Sarah is gone, and Sam is certain that she didn't just move out in the dead of night like many would-be actresses behind on their rent. But while the police are searching for vanished mogul Jefferson Sevence, they're not going to spare the effort to look for Sarah on Sam's say-so, and he doesn't so much have clues as he does random bits of information that his brain sees as coded messages. Following them leads him to bizarre people and places, but does the trail lead to Sam - or is it even a trail?

That's the material for a good shaggy-dog story, with each new chapter somehow managing to be more absurd than the rest but also seldom feeling like writer/director David Robert Mitchell has taken an abrupt, unwarranted turn into impossibility. In fact, one might argue that it works because as each new revelation and seemingly random character appears, it is offering Sam some kind of explanation, and while the details may be ridiculous or seemingly impossible, it feels like progress away from not knowing, both for him and the audience. Mitchell may have his audience shaking their heads in disbelief, but he's careful never to just throw things at the audience randomly, and he is constantly tying the seemingly impossible conspiracy Sam's chasing into the ways that the audience already thinks of Los Angeles as weird anyway.

Full review at EFC.

People's Republic of Desire

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Documentaries from the Edge, DCP)

Us older folks should probably be paying much more attention to the cultures represented in this documentary, both online and Chinese, than we do; both are huge, misunderstood, and often dismissed. I'm not sure I truly understand it now, but I've got a better handle on what I don't know, and got some interesting stories to boot.

Take, for example, Shen Dan, a twenty-something singer in Chengdu; "Big Li", a comedian in Hebei; and Fan Yong, an 18 year old "diaosi" (Chinese slang for a low-mobility loser) in a factory town. All are livestream hosts on the YY platform, monetizing their internet celebrity from both small fan donations and larger gifts from "Tubao", described by some as having money but no culture. YY has exploded in recent years, to the point where there are trainers, managers, and syndicates sprouting up, as well as an annual competition to see who can get the most views and donations on one busy day. It's a boom-and-bust business that was new enough as director Hao Wu started shooting that nobody knew how to navigate it just yet.

These livestream hosts are not a uniquely Chinese phenomenon, of course; the West has its own YouTube celebrities whose popularity baffles the parents of their generally young audience and who can see their streams go from hobby to lucrative business to albatross depending on the site's monetization policies. As with a lot of things, though, the Chinese version seems accelerated, as these new means to have a voice and make (or spend!) some money are pounced upon by people without a whole lot of pre-existing ideas about the proper way to do this. The story Wu seems to be showing us most is one of how instant fame, in any medium, consumes the authenticity that initially gained someone an audience, and few know how to navigate that, either in terms of staying true to themselves or making their hobby into a small business - although there's plenty of space for the possessiveness of fans and how the people that make a platform like YY viable literally beg for money.

Full review at EFC.

Cam

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Though I often lament the fact that impressive films wind up either funded or gobbled up by Netflix, it's worth noting when something like Cam comes along and seems like a natural fit for it or some other streaming service, not because it's in any way lower-class than something released theatrically, but because it's very much of the online world, and its plentiful thrills come from knowing how that world works and tapping into the fears around it.

Specifically, the film centers around online adult entertainment. Alice (Madeline Brewer) - screen name "Lola" - is a camgirl whose cheery online persona is not far removed from who she is off-camera. She works out of her apartment though colleagues Fox (Flora Diaz) and Princess (Samantha Robinson) have a bit of dedicated studio space, and though Lola is rising in popularity on the site which hosts them, they all grouse a bit on how effortlessly this seems to come to Baby (Imani Hakim), this site's #1 star. She's careful with how she engages fans like "Tinker" (Patch Darragh) and "Barnacle Rob" (Michael Dempsey), and while her brother Jordan (Devin Druid) knows what she does for a living, her mother (Melora Waters) does not. It's working out pretty well for her, until she finds herself locked out of her account, and not only is tech support not helpful, but a doppelganger is broadcasting on her channel.

The thing I like most about Cam (at least as a person whose day job is in software development) may be one of the smallest and dumbest parts of it, but I can absolutely believe a certain thing tripping things up because some developer didn't take that a user might do something ridiculous into account. We aren't lazy, but we've often got no idea what's a likely situation worth prioritizing. That is not the piece of the film's authenticity that matters most; screenwriter Isa Mazzei has worked in this business and has experience to draw on. Her first-hand knowledge gives the film an impressively grounded perspective that movies about sex work or online commerce often lacks; it all seems to fit together in tidy, unforced fashion, and that lets the more unlikely parts play out.

Full review at EFC.

Kasane

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Kasane is not exactly subtle with the archetypes it plays with, announcing them in big, bold capital letters as the title character progresses from one stage of the film to another, giving the audience whiplash and making them pause to say "wait, what?" multiple times. But a fantasy that takes place in and around the theater can work with melodrama, and this one certainly does. It feels like it could become a huge cult film if it can get in front of people.

Kasane Fuchi (Kyoko Yoshine) lives a lonely life due in large part to the nasty scar on her face, a cruel irony considering that her late mother was an actress famed for her beauty. What agent Kingo Habuta (Tadanobu Asano) approaches her, it seems like a cruel joke, but he knew her mother and about the special lipstick she gave to Kasane - the one that will allow the person wearing it to exchange faces for twelve hours with someone she kisses. Habuta has a client, Nina Tanzawa (Tao Tsuchiya), who is very pretty and well-aware of that but whose acting ability is not nearly at the level it needs to be for a production of The Seagull directed by the legendary Reita Ugo (Yu Yokoyama). Kasane is a prodigy, so Habuta proposes an arrangement. It doesn't exactly take into account the attraction between actress and director, and definitely doesn't take into account...

Well, let's stop there, because the movie has not one but two crazy, huge-stretch plot devices, and while the twist at roughly the halfway point is not bigger, it's roughly the same order of magnitude, and two big things like this is more than one generally lets a movie have for free. It is, however, a fantastic way to swerve once the audience picks their jaws up off the floor - the script by Tsutomu Kuroiwa has already made the necessary Cinderella references so it's not too much to make the leap to fairy tales that more directly involve kissing. More than that, though, it allows the filmmakers to shake up the story in interesting ways, closing the gap between the shallow and cruel Nina and the shy, exploited Kasane to a point where the audience's sympathies can be as fluid as the characters' identities, and the revelations that Nina digs up with time on her hands get to be enjoyably lurid without the movie having to lean too hard on how surprising or shocking even a cynical viewer might find them.

Full review at EFC.