Tuesday, August 22, 2017

In This Corner of the World

Check the Fandango and theater listings for this one carefully; AMC Boston Common, at least, is alternating subtitled and dubbed, and it's not always clearly labeled which is which. For right now, at least through Thursday (which appears to be its last day), subtitled shows get the "main" shows at 1pm and 7:15pm, while dubs are at 4:10pm and 10:20pm, which is not how things usually go there.

It's well worth checking out, although the PG-13 rating is about right; as much as I'm usually looking for good animated films with young-lady leads for my nieces, they will not be getting this under the tree; after a certain point, it's pretty constant sadness, and that's a tough gift. I'm kind of impressed that Shout! Factory got it into theaters; they are very much a home-video company. Weird to see the "Manga Films" logo right after theirs; I kind of figured that they quietly shut down in the late 1990s or aughts like a lot of specialty video companies did.

Kono sekai no katasumi ni (In This Corner of the World)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 21 August 2017 in AMC Boston Common #16 (first-run, DCP)

Movies like In This Corner of the World would like to sneak up on the audience, but that's almost impossible; the end of World War II had been thoroughly covered in history class and in film, and if you're watching this one, you've probably seen the story of the Japanese homefront covered (unless you're young, but I'm not showing it to my nieces). It's probably for the best, then, that it softens the emotional hammer blow that many films of its genre aim for, and not necessarily as a result of being animated, though it would be a shame to use these filmmakers' talents entirely, or even mostly, for graphic misery.

The audience first meets Suzu Urano (voice of Rena "Non" Nounen) in December of 1933, a girl of about eight in the Eba section of South Hiroshima; she's prone to daydreams but good at art, wearing her pencils down to nubs much faster than her classmates. She's sweet and helpful, not really changing between then and 1942, when Shusaku Houjo (voice of Yoshimasa Hosoya), a young man from Kure, fifteen or twenty miles away, she has only met once or twice, proposes to her. Suzu accepts, and though it seems that the families have an ulterior motive - mother San (voice of Mayumi Shintani) is frail, so they put Suzu to work right away - she quickly becomes fond of her new family; even if sister-in-law Keiko (voice of Minori Omi) was expecting Shusaku to marry a more sophisticated girl, her 6-year-old daughter Harumi (voice of Natsuki Inaba) takes to her new aunt fast. There is strict rationing at this point in the war, and As a strategic shipyard, Kure is the frequent target of American air-raids, but Suzu's upbeat and determined personality may be what the family needs to get through it.

Seventy years later, it can be hard to set a drama against the war and the years leading up to it without the sense that the filmmakers are following a checklist or having their characters submerged by history rather than being guided by it. Fortunately, director Sunao Katabuchi and co-writer Chie Uratani (adapting a manga by Fumiyo Kono) seem to be mostly aware of this. They show a lot of dates on-screen, which initially tracks Suzu growing up but not only come quicker as the film moves into 1945 and the war comes to dominate the story of an 18-year-old girl marrying before she is truly an adult. The film can't help but note the passage of time moving from something general, a measure of one's life that is somewhat universal despite the specific backdrop, to one where specific events change the course of that life in previously unforeseeable ways. It's generally done with care and the style shifts enough to not make it There may be lines about going home to Hiroshima where it's safer than Kure, but they're a bit awkward, the filmmakers too aware of how they sound to milk them for irony even if they can't have them play straight. The story itself is often built of small things, from disconnected childhood memories to the culinary legerdemain necessary to stretch tiny rations, that coalesce nicely.

Full review on EFC.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Fantasia 2017.04: Wild Blood, Outer Limits of Animation, Animals, Replace and Tokyo Ghoul

If it had just been one shorts program the first weekend of the festival, I might have been able to keep up. But two on consecutive days, and it's going to take me a long time to get those shorts written up, enough that it made sense for my process to just leave a hole in the blog and catch up later. So, here it is, later!

After scooting out of the apartment to get to Wild Blood - not really worth it, but I'd seen the other features and I hate to leave a hole in the schedule, because while I don't necessarily get a lot of hits per review, I'll try to write up everything - it was across the street for the Outer Limits of Animation, which is always one of the best shows, but as you might expect, the guests were Canadian as heck

First up were "Skin for Skin" directors Kevin D. A. Kurytnik & Carol Beecher (second and third from left, with Ruppert Bottenberg, director of the animation programs, second from right), who actually weren't local, but you could tell they were Canadian as soon as they opened their mouths, and they seemed please as punch to be premiering their short film about Canadian history at a big Canadian festival in Montreal, not far from the NFB/ONF (right down to making sure they used both English and French initials), during the 150th anniversary of the confederation. There were a number of people in the audience who had traveled specifically to see this short, including some educators. Everybody involved seemed pretty pleased, as well they should - it was clearly the centerpiece of the block, and exceptionally well-done, with a great deal of research behind it.

Truth be told, I wish I'd gotten more of a chance to get out and see some of the "Canada 150" (and "Montreal 250") stuff being done around the city; between the schedule of the festival, the schedule I set for myself, and the weather, I did relatively little but the festival this trip, and I tend to love learning about our northern neighbor's history, how it parallels and differs from that of the United States. We're like close cousins (with Australia and New Zealand a more distant branch of the family tree), and we should know each other better.

Also making an appearance was Lori Malépart-Traversy (far left, with Marc Lamothe, far right), who made the pretty darn adorable "Le Clitoris", and there's little screwier about words having gender than that one being masculine. Which is all the insight I've got from this mostly-French introduction. I liked how irreverently educational the short film was, though.

No guest for Animals, which wasn't surprising - it was an oddball European thing - and by the time it was over, we were being shuffled in and out of the room quickly enough that I don't think many of us had had times to check our phones before Mitch Davis came in to introduce Replace looking like he'd been punched in the stomach. He had just gotten the word that George Romero had died, and though I don't think I'll ever doubt that the Fantasia folks absolutely love what they do, seeing how gutted he was by this news should allay any future doubts.

He was a bit more composed afterward, introducing writer/director Norbert Keil, co-writer Richard Stanley, and co-star Barbara Crampton, even having a self-deprecating laugh at himself when he pointed out that the movie's star, Rebecca Forsythe, was the daughter of William Forsythe and the audience collectively couldn't quite recall him. As usual, he led a pretty good Q&A, although what struck me was what an interesting cross-section of genre film the guests were. Keil is the up-and-comer, directing what I believe is his first English-language feature, fairly excited to be collaborating with the other two but also carving out his own career. Stanley is sort of a fringe figure and iconoclast, because as much as folks may know the name, his movies are often an acquired taste and he's probably just as famous for being a very distinct personality and, as a result, not getting his big mainstream break. I swear he was wearing the exact same outfit the last time he had a movie playing the festival (that one about him more than created by him). Crampton, meanwhile, has probably handled a career that made her a horror icon impressively well; where a lot of actresses will probably resent winding up most famous for Re-Animator and the like, she seems to genuinely like the genre, making the festival rounds with enthusiasm and getting excited about horror movies she's got nothing to do with on social media. She'll probably wind up saying that, yeah, there's a lot of Jeffrey Combs's Dr. Herbert West in the mad scientist she plays in this one a lot as it makes the festival circuit, shows up on VOD, and is then released on home video, but she'll be gracious and sincere throughout.

Not a bad day, movie-and-guest-wise. Next up: A day in De Seve with Tom of Finland, The Honor Farm, The Senior Class, Shock Wave, and Free and Easy.

Vahsi kan (Wild Blood)

* ¼ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Théâtre D.B. Clarke (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Tribute to Cüneyt Arkin, HD)

Every few years, the festival will have a sidebar that is basically "movies that have an important place in pop culture history somewhere in the world, even though they're kind of objectively terrible", and it's probably worth checking one out so you've got some idea of that chapter of cinematic history in your head. But, don't look too much more closely than "right place, right time" for why these action movies were a big deal in Turkey; the likes of Wild Blood are not good movies, no matter how excited the people of Turkey were to see this sort of home-grown action at the time.

This one opens with a flurry of witnesses in a potential trial against Hasmet (Hüseyin Peyda) being rubbed out, mostly at the hands of son Osman (Osman Betin). Unfortunately for him, his most bitter enemy, Riza (Cüneyt Arkin), escapes from the military police escorting him, although not until after saving the lives of his guards. As he moves through the wilderness, making his way to Hasmet's well-guarded stronghold, he meets up with another escapee, the daughter (Emel Tümer) of one of the other witnesses.

It's barely seconds into the film before the audience is struck by how choppy the editing of this movie is, especially for something made in the early 1980s, bouncing all over the place, with random cuts to weird angles and a tendency to leave a conversation midway through, but without a pause to indicate it's a bit of a cliffhanger moment. It seldom reaches the point of complete incoherence, but it reflects a "throw it all together" feel, content to explain some bit or piece of Riza's deal whenever they get around to it. There aren't very many transitions or bit of exposition in the movie that aren't somehow bumpy, like it doesn't matter how things are connected so long as they're all there.

Full review on EFC.

"Il Etait 3 Fois"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Outer Limits of Animation, DCP)

My French has apparently atrophied to the point where I can't quite understand what little kids are saying, even with visual aids. It's sad.

Still, this short is cute as all get-out, looking and sounding like it was animated to a group of toddlers trying to one-up each other improvising a story of kings, princesses, and knights, leading to absurdity and physical comedy. The art is the sort of colored pencils you associate with children even if most kids that age struggle with getting lines that straight and scales that consistent, at least a bit. Charmingly chaotic.

"Birdy Wouaf Wouaf"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Outer Limits of Animation, DCP)

Another quick but funny cartoon from France, "Birdy Wouaf Wouaf" tells the tale of a baby bird that gets booted out of the nest because his tweets occasionally come out as barks, stumbling around the area until he finds a friend with a similar speech impediment.

Good, funny stuff with a spare style that really helps focus on just how frantic things are for the poor little bird, with pauses just brief enough to prime for the next disaster and spots of greater detail that hint at horror. Director Ayçe Kartal is also sharp in terms of building and undermining expectations of just where things will go as the bird meets cats and dogs. Generally, just a lot of fun.

"Untamed Truths"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Outer Limits of Animation, DCP)

A spiffy-looking bit of cardboard-cutout-style animation that seems like a conventional bit of animal ABCs with fun facts until you get to "D", which is about how even though dolphins have flippers, they do have one member that can actually grip things, and then parents might start rushing kids out of the screening. It's funny stuff, and more fun besides because most of what it talks about is kind of interesting well beyond the combination of cute pictures and gross-out material.

"Skin for Skin"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Outer Limits of Animation, DCP)

The block's centerpiece and standout is easily "Skin for Skin" by Kevin D. A. Kurytnik & Carol Beecher, a downright gorgeous tale of "The Emperor of the North", as the head of the company that controlled much of the fur trade in Canada was called when he toured his territory, checking the books in 1832. It is a perilous journey, as you might imagine, with dangers aplenty and revelations to be had.

The mythology they synthesize eventually chooses the crow as its particular trickster god, serving as pest and beacon before shooting one purges the rest of the trip into horror. It's a genuinely striking, unrelenting horror show, sometimes not entirely clear that it is supposed to be metaphorical to some extent, with imagery of bones and mayhem and disaster indicating the sort of damage that unbalanced, unwavering profit-seeking can do to a place but also just effective on their own, It's genuinely nightmarish, especially for how it leaps to the fore after a stiff sort of opening to reflect the Emperor's dour character.

The animation is impressively styled, too, with plenty of detail and weight to its 3D rendering, not just going for parallax but an expansive world to roam. The often-brown palette suggests autumn and potential endings with the need for later renewal, as well as giving the look of faded history while still being sharp on its own. The sound design is very nice as well, with the traditional songs on the soundtrack gradually verging closer to dirges as the film goes on.

Educators in the audience reported coming out to get a look at this, so I wouldn't be surprised if the NFB makes sure it has a life beyond the festival circuit. It certainly hits its targets well enough to impress.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Outer Limits of Animation, DCP)

More fun knowledge to be gleaned here, as Atelier Collectif presents five twentieth-century inventions that were suppressed or diminished for commercial or political reasons - the aero-train, durable nylons, safe cigarettes, the water engine, and bio-resonance. It's not necessarily the best medium for this - compacting this much contrariness into an eight-minute short can make it look like the work of cranks and diminish even the factual material - but it's still impressive work of presenting the information in a concise, easy-to-understand way, even with the sarcastic end to each segment about how it's all for the best.

It's also a very nice bit of playing with style, though, as each of the "avoided inventions" is presented with a different look, but this never prevents the short from feeling unified as a whole. It feels like the sort of anthology whose bits could be scattered throughout a program, but also unified enough to work as a single short.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Outer Limits of Animation, DCP)

Léo Verrier's "Decibels" certainly has one of the most striking visual looks, with huge heads on small bodies making for a hyper-expressive group at a party trying to take control of the soundtrack, with our sad-sack-looking hero always pushed away even though he's got a really good mix on his USB drive. It's a nifty design, and that Verrier pulls it off is more impressive than it looks at first - those tiny bodies don't seem particularly suited for dancing, and a lot of things have to be designed just so for the hands to be able to get past the heads and manipulate it.

Someone who responds to music a little more than I do will probably get a bit more a kick out of some of the jokes that run along those lines, but it's not needed to really enjoy this - it gets a lot of good character animation in and does a nice job of telling a compact story.

"First Snowfall"

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Outer Limits of Animation, DCP)

It's a bit strange to see something as thoroughly commercial as "First Snowfall" in the middle of a program of what is not necessarily independent animation, but not really promoting anything else - the Mattel logo on either end doesn't even suggest that this "Masters of the Universe" piece is a fan film like we used to see when "Square Jaw Theater" was a regular part of the fest. Take that away, though, and it's a pretty decent piece, with He-Man and Skeletor battling in a snow storm with a decidedly different animation style.

It's not a whole lot more than a fight, and while it's nicely staged and animated, it's not quite a nifty enough bit of work that it would work for me despite my not being a fan of those particular toys and cartoons. It will be worth looking out for some of director Sam Chou's other work, though.

"The Absence of Eddy Table"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Outer Limits of Animation, DCP)

I've not seen any of Dave Cooper's Eddy Table comics (and I've probably skipped right over Cooper's stuff in the comic shop generally), so I've got no idea how well this adapts them. It is, on its own, a pretty surreal bit of animation, starting off looking like a somewhat awkward attempt to convert something two-dimensional to three. It's surprising how Cooper's curvy, rounded characters don't look quite so right as you'd think when CGI'd, although director Rune Spaans puts Table into an environment rendered beautifully. It feels like a small world whose curve you can see and feel, with everything made of little thriving nodes, and it's impressively if unevenly enveloping.

Then Eddy spots a will-o-the-wisp, and some super-curvy girls, and they lead him to some genuinely creative and bizarre horror material, although it often plays out as other genres in cartoony fashion. I don't know if Spaans and Cooper quite hit the emotional beats that they're going for, but it doesn't matter that much, as the singular, oddly-well-connected strangeness works on its own

"La Bite"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Outer Limits of Animation, DCP)

"La Bite" is, in many ways, French satire at both its best and worst - fearless, anti-authoritarian, and happy to be vulgar if it gets a point across, but also so full of blanket cynicism and "both sides though" that it might as well not be saying anything. So it is here, where cops beat up a jackass spray-painting a penis onto a wall, get caught on video which goes viral until… Well, you can guess how it turns out.

It's fun, and directors Jérôme Leroy and Pierre Tolmer have a genuine knack for zipping through casual violence and vulgarity to make them play as well-timed jokes; there's a lot of laughs and you can't say that much of the cynical viewpoint isn't well-earned. But "hey, everyone's awful eventually" isn't really that clever a statement, and getting there leaves things a bit hollow.

"Richard Twice"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Outer Limits of Animation, DCP)

Matthew Salton's film is in that odd "animated documentary" genre, and it's an interesting-enough story - an interview with Richard Atkins, who was half of the title duo that made one album and then walked away, with Atkins becoming a woodworker and not performing for 40 years. It's an interesting story backed up by some good music and the further hook of Atkins having lost a leg in a motorcycle accident some years earlier.

The animated nature hurts it, though - maybe finding footage to use or recreating it would have been prohibitive, but the squiggly, not-particularly-striking style used here never really feels like showing things that the filmmakers otherwise can't; it's more off-putting than intriguing. It also never makes the incident that ended things seem like the watershed moment it was. That may be fair - the point of the story may just be that sometimes show business is just that random - but it doesn't really communicate that, either.

"Le Clitoris"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Outer Limits of Animation, DCP)

Another animated documentary, albeit on a somewhat different subject. This one is an appropriately cheery thing, as would seem appropriate for "the only organ devoted exclusively to pleasure", though writer/director Lori Malépart-Traversy is sneakily clever on that one - an early comment about how the clitoris has been "repeatedly rediscovered by men" gives a bit of hint to how, while Malépart-Traversy will mostly focus on basic biology that both men and women in the audience may not be aware of, there's an important undercurrent to what she's saying about how science and knowledge are often defined in terms of male experiences and how it fits into cultural norms, making this sort of basic primer more necessary than it should be.

All that, and it's a cute, fun picture to watch - it may technically be a lecture, but it's an enjoyable one.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Outer Limits of Animation, DCP)

Things stayed sexy with "Vibrato", a somewhat unconventional narrative that focused on the Paris Opera House through the eyes of architect Charles Garnier's wife, who points out that they made love just about every one of its many nooks and crannies as it was built, breathy narration not normally used for architecture and generally more metaphorically for music. It's an odd but clever choice - architecture is an art form that can easily be reduced to mathematics or appreciation for scale, and this pushes the viewer to experience it on a more raw, direct level.

The animation is beautiful, naturally, but more often impressionistic than detailed, occasionally making use of interesting transparency to show multiple layers. It also shows mechanical marvels within the building, and allow reminders that this is a performance center rather than a cathedral accrue.

You can see all the architectural details in photographs or in person; this is about showing the building as a living place with an energy of its own.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Outer Limits of Animation, DCP)

The program finishes up with "Yin" by Nicolas Fong, a funny and striking short which opens on a cosmic scale, zooming in on coupled gods before finding the one grumpy, solitary one at the center. He goes on to create a world with one creature with male and female halves, splits it, and then devises various obstacles to the pair reuniting. The message: Patriarchal monotheism is a path to misery.

Well, not the only message, but I suspect that would be a fun place to start when pulling apart the symbolism in Fong's movie, which seems delightfully deep but also charmingly whimsical - it gives the viewer a vast, beautiful universe to consider even if it puts the focus on a small corner, and then plays with big ideas and emotions with a smile. As the male and female figures pursue each other despite their miserable creator's attempts to keep them separate, they're occasionally separated as much by scale as distance as something that goes in a door small comes out large because this is no simply physical portal. The temple they climb is an Escher-like edifice even without the creator's interference; take the message about how faith and ritual can create both obstructions and connections as you like.

But mostly, enjoy the fun, upbeat atmosphere, the black-and-white visuals which incorporate and eschew grey scales as necessary, and the general sense of fun. There's a brain and a heart to "Yin", but never without a smile.

Tierre (Animals)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017, DCP)

Greg Zglinski at times gleefully dispenses with basic narrative logic and consistency in Animals, and often seems to taunt the viewers who would be inclined to to navigate it on the basis of symbolism or some sort of dream logic besides. Instead, he takes a simple-seeming situation, loads it with inconsistency and alternate realities, and tells the audience good luck with that. But for all that his movie is peculiar and self-contradictory, it's never exactly confusing, letting the audience both digest and laugh at its strangeness.

It opens with a set of quick snapshots - popular chef Nick (Philipp Hochmair) chatting with customers at his restaurant, his wife Anna (Birgit Minichmayr) practicing asking him about the affair she's sure he's having, and a woman throwing herself out the window of her apartment. The camera implies she disappears before hitting the street, though, and soon we're seeing Nick and Anna preparing for a six-month working trip to Switzerland, where Nick will collect local recipes and Anna will work on her first novel for adults after many successful children's books. Mischa (Mona Petri), a friend of a friend of Nick's, will apartment-sit. All well and good, except for the furtive call from Nick's depressed lover Andrea (whose familiar window is directly above their own), the sheep Nick hits with his car on the way, and how, after Andrea finally does jump, her ex-boyfriend Harald (Michael Ostrowski) comes to Nick's apartment to confront him, only to be certain that Mischa is actually Andrea.

There's more strangeness on tap - more doppelgangers, missing time, memories that seemingly come from the future rather than the past, doors in both Mischa's borrowed apartment and the cottage rented by Anna and Nick that don't open, etc. - and though Zglinski initially seems to offer a logical explanation in how both Anna and Mischa have sustained a head injury that they don't necessarily tend as well as they should, that soon proves not to be enough; the men are also seeing double. And yet, as the movie goes on, the idea that there might be some sort of in-story explanation becomes less important. After all, as the potential concussions remind us, human memory is not a perfect mechanism. Maybe, when we see things from Anna's perspective, she's confusing faces because in her mind, the two people already both represent her husband's infidelity. Things are shown, shown not to have happened, and then happen later, but that can represent a struggle - Andrea seems depressed the one time the viewer sees her, and it's not hard to see her as contemplating suicide every day, and this is the day she finally goes through with it. Maybe what seems prophetic is just a coincidence, or influenced by the earlier impression. On top of that, Anna is writing a book about a woman who kills her husband. Life is a series of reflections, roads not taken, and things which seem inevitable at the time, imperfectly recorded by a process we do not truly understand.

Full review on EFC.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017, DCP)

A genuinely nifty little short that I'd like to see expanded into a feature, as writer/director Mamady Condé hits the same sort of intersection between superhero and horror material that M. Night Shyamalan did with Unbreakable and Split, giving us Lindsey Shaw as the title character, narrating to a friend how she survived a disaster while on a cruise with her family which should have been impossible. It's found-footage, doing a quick build to a sort of inevitable reveal, but Condé, co-writer Kyle Meade, and Shaw do a nice job in keeping the tone appropriate, remembering that Emily is grieving even as they build to an exciting finale with potential for different directions.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017, DCP)

Replace has a creepy, au courant premise for a horror movie about a woman afraid of losing her looks to the aging process - in fact it's got two, and that may be its biggest issue - though the two attack the same idea, they do so from decidedly opposite directions, and combining the two, as necessary as it seems for the plot, often has the movie feeling like it's at cross-purposes, and not in a way that creates interesting moral ambiguity.

That young woman is Kira Mabon (Rebecca Forsythe) - she's hot and knows it, letting tonight's boy Jonas (Sean Knopp) know he's lucky to get her into his crappy apartment. It's a funny thing, though - she barely seems to have left when she finds herself coming back, like it's her apartment and she's been there a while with no sign of Jonas. That's the way her next-door neighbor Sophia Demeraux (Lucie Aron) seems to see things, and that's not the only strange thing going on - the skin on her hand is decaying, and the spot seems to be spreading quickly. The researcher she's referred to, Dr. Rafaela Crober (Barbara Crampton), prescribes Kira some drugs, but Kira discovers something else - her skin will quickly integrate with that of someone else, although the tissue needs to be fresh. So, just how badly does Kira want to stay young and pretty?

Director Norbert Keil and co-writer Richard Stanley seem to have come up with two answers to that question - one where she goes out with a knife and gets replacement parts and another where she unwittingly trades something precious for it in a way that explains her missing time, and while that may seem like too much for one movie, the links Keil and Stanley build between the accelerated decay that leads to the violence and the missing time are tantalizing, especially since Kira needs to be doing something while she and the audience figure out what is going on in the part of the story where she's relatively passive. They just seem to have a problem stretching things quite far enough - they're almost there on the desperation that leads to Kira taking other women's skin but never quite manage for there to be consequences - murder-for-beauty may be graphically presented, but remains a sort of moral abstraction when they need to have Kira as a protagonist and victim of someone else's horrific machinations later.

Rebecca Forsythe generally seems more comfortable doing the latter, in part because that's when her material makes a bit more sense - though most people will accept the reality that they are presented in most situations, there's something more immediately easy to believe about how Kira picks at the corners of her life later on; Forsythe has a way of communicating that her character is perhaps more curious out of obligation, that her youthful self-centeredness needs cracking to get to the better woman inside. She's able to sneak an impressively sympathetic performance out as the film goes on, convincing enough when communicating horror, fear, and regret that the fact that she was a bit flat earlier on is a bit of a positive: She wasn't so convincingly monstrous that a viewer can't get past it.

Full review on EFC.

Game of Death (2017)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU/Théâtre Hall (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017, DCP)

Even when manga adaptations like Tokyo Ghoul start to seem like they are covering the same territory - it's not hard to read the description in the festival program and think "wait, didn't we just have two Parasyte movies last year?" - they at least tend to have enough off-center to not just be another secret-monster-society riff with slight difference. Even this one, which comes pretty close to being familiar mopey-vampire fare, it occasionally gets just weird enough to be worth it.

Ghouls, in this case, are human-looking folks who live in hidden communities, are pretty damage-resistant, have at least one hidden limb that tends to be useful in a fight and, of course, can't eat much besides human flesh. They are mostly urban legends to the general public, although there is a Commission of Counter-Ghoul Operations that fights them in the shadows. Ken Kaneki (Masataka Kubota) doesn't know much about any of that; he's a bookish college student who only winds up on a date with longtime crush Rize Kamishiro (Yu Aoi) because his friend Hideyoshi Nagachika (Kai Ogasawara) pushes him into it. Thanks a lot - Rize is a ghoul and the only thing that stops her from finishing him off is a very convenient industrial accident, and when Ken wakes up in the hospital, he finds out his life was saved by transplant organs… from a ghoul. Now stuck with a glowing red eye and an unseemly appetite, he's fortunate to find "Antieku", a coffee shop run by Kuzen Yoshimura (Kunio Murai), a ghoul who tries to ensure his people have a low impact on the human world, joining Toka Kirishima (Fumika Shimizu) on the wait staff. Unfortunately, his senpai Nishiki Nishio (Shunya Shiraishi) is a ghoul who isn't so inclined to defer to humans, and CCG agents Amon (Nobuyuki Suzuki) and Mado (Yo Oizumi) are following a trail of bodies that can't help but reach Antieku eventually.

It's a bit surprising to see that Sui Ishida's manga comprises relatively few volumes, as these things go, because that is a whole bunch of characters to juggle, and it doesn't even include the regulars at Antieku, supporting cast at both the school and CCG, and so on. It's a setting that seems more apt for an ensemble-based television show, and the film does eventually feel like that - once Ken settles into Antieku, it has the feel of a status quo, where stories will start, characters will meet, and where everybody will regroup before the next thing gets started. As screenwriter Ichiro Kusuno and director Kentaro Hagiwara are getting the audience familiar with the ghoul world, it's not exactly a bad arrangement; they're able to ground things in the familiar while still popping in a gross image or two, pushing things forward bit by bit. It does, however, lead to a movie that perhaps seems to stop more than end, with the characters who are still left around more or less in the same in-between position as they were two or three times before, with what had read as hints of secrets still simply potential, waiting for the next episode.

Full review on EFC.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Adventurers

I really wish I'd liked this one a bit more; it not only seems to really be right up my alley - I am fond of the entire cast, I like Hong Kong action capers, and I like the French action capers it's channeling - but it played Fenway as well as Boston Common, and while that's probably as much a case of Boston Common being overloaded with Asian films as anything - including this, there are four and a half screens out of 19 showing movies from China, Japan, and South Korea, most on at least their second weeks - I really like seeing those specialty films breaking out like that.

And I wouldn't be shocked if it played pretty well there, I was the only person in the theater for this five minutes or so before showtime, and I wouldn't be totally shocked if people went to Fenway rather than AMC - those that can often do, although I don't think there's that much difference between them. Might have just been not wanting to mess with Boston Common while what was expected to be a far less one-sided protest and counter-protest, with the Park Street station closed when I was heading down there. Certainly makes it tough to judge what the actual audience was.

Aside: As much as the Amazon links on here are basically to break up pages that are just walls since the readers never buy anything, sometimes they're also for my amusement, like finding and adding Switch for this case: Andy Lau and Zhang Jingchu also played a couple that has drifted apart but thrown back together by the theft of a priceless piece of art just four years ago. I admire the heck out of how hard these Hong Kong stars work, but maybe slow down a bit so you're not so obviously repeating yourself (even if these two movies are coming at it from absolutely different angles).

Aside aside: On my way to finding this, I found The Wesley's Mysterious File with Lau and Shu Qi, and how the heck have I never heard of that bit of insanity?

Zong heng si hai (The Adventurers)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 August 2017 in AMC Boston Common #6 (first-run, DCP)

It's kind of fun to have a car chase with Shu Qi doing some reckless driving in Cannes near the start of The Adventurers; as big a star as she is in the China region, her biggest stab at the world audience was The Transporter fifteen years ago, and it's fun to have her outside the trunk for director Stephen Fung's stab at doing something like a Besson-produced medium-sized action movie, even if he's not quite enough to elevate this star-studded picture out of the time-passer category.

It starts with Dan Zhang (Andy Lau Tak-wah) being released from a French prison after serving five years for stealing "The Eye of the Forest" (once part of a priceless necklace called "Gaia" given to China as a gift, now scattered around Europe in three pieces) - from the Louvre, and though he kept his head down, Inspector Pierre Bisette (Jean Reno) confronts him at the gate and has a team follow him. It's a good call even if Dan does shake his tail; his release coincides nicely with "The Wreath of Destiny" being auctioned in Cannes, and he's already got a crew ready to help take it: Hacker Po Chen (Tony Yang Yo-Ning) and con artist/getaway driver Red Ye (Shu). And though that should be the One Last Job, both Dan's mentor "King" Kong (Eric Tsang Chi-wai) and Pierre know that the third part of "Gaia", "The Rope of Life", will be impossible to resist, so while Dan's crew figures out how to get through the state-of-the-art security that Chinese businessman Charlie Law (Sha Yi) has installed in his Czech castle, Pierre recruits Amber Li (Zhang Jingchu), an art historian now working as an insurance investigator, to help track down her former fiance.

Fung and his four co-writers bait the hook fairly well at the start, knowing immediately what makes for a good caper: The opening narration establishes something potentially bigger and more heroic than simple thievery for the crew to aspire to, if they so choose, and while the opening scene of Pierre confronting Dan at the prison gate has been done a million times before, it's a bit of a thrill to see Andy Lau and Jean Reno doing it - they're both crime-film workhorses who know just how to get a little something extra out of this sort of boilerplate, and for fans of both French and Hong Kong genre cinema, it's a thrill to seeing them playing a scene as equals after twenty-odd years of doing similar things on opposite sides of the world. Fung and his collaborators don't particularly look to reinvent the wheel here, but they have enough of a sense of what the audience enjoys about a good caper and how to serve it up well. The story stumbles in some ways - it seems like the film could get a lot more out of what happened five years ago than it does, to the point where Amber seems to be marking time until she's a hostage in the last act - but its storytelling is polished in a good way.

Full review on EFC.

Marjorie Prime

I mention in the review that this movie would probably seem most at home on television or in a screening room - it seems perfectly suited to the Coolidge's GoldScreen and I'd be pretty thrilled if they picked it up in a week or two - although for as cavernous as the Regent Theatre in Arlington is, it kind of works because it's a place that only shows movies occasionally right now, so you're going out of your way to see something unusual. It's a weird thing, how that sort of context interacts with the actual movie in one's head, and especially appropriate here. It's arguably the sort of thing you shouldn't really consider when discussing or critiquing the film itself, but the fact that this is a movie that is often about memory that point out that our memory of something is often actually the memory of the last time we remembered it, and not just a clean dip into a pristine databank, and the where and how becomes important. Not that it's ever not important, but maybe I'm inclined to think a little bit more about it for having to go out of my way and see it with a small group in a big theater.

That said, it's good enough that I'd rather more people see it. Unfortunately, it's got the sort of booking that makes word of mouth almost impossible to generate; the fourth and final screening in the Boston area is at the Regent Theatre in Arlington at 4pm today, barring someone else picking it up. Check it out if you can; it's impressive enough to merit some eyeballs even if that location flies under the radar.

Marjorie Prime

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 19 August 2017 in the Regent Theatre (special engagement, digital)

Marjorie Prime doesn't seem like much to start (and seems misnamed to boot), a strange case featuring a director whose previous film seemed much more ambitious and a cast where many had been a big deal not so long ago only able to scrape together enough to do something that looks amateurish and flat. It never really escapes the shackles of its stage-bound roots - it even feels like the lights go down between acts - but by the end, that's something an audience may be willing to talk itself into as a positive, that a lack of filmic flourish allows the ideas to stand on their own.

Certainly, you can see where that's the plan, as the very opening scene gives a hint of how malleable memory can be, as Marjorie (Lois Smith), an 85-year-old woman whose mind is decaying, converses with a hologram whose AI is modeled on her dead husband Walter (Jon Hamm), and a dull conversation about going to see My Best Friends Wedding becomes an example of how the truth as people know it changes by accident and design. The film delves into this, talking about human and machine memory, subtly showing the AI being upgraded but never becoming perfect, performing a couple of hard twists as it finds other iterations of the premise articulated in that first scene. Writer/director Michael Almereyda, adapting a play by Jordan Harrison, doesn't try to sneak this in; he has his characters interrogate this new technology directly and among themselves, showing its flaws but also, in parallel, showing those of the human mind, very particularly these characters.

Marjorie is not along with Walter Prime, after all; daughter Tess (Geena Davis) and her husband Jon (Tim Robbins) have moved in with her, as has caregiver Julie (Stephanie Andujar), now that Marjorie needs twenty-four hour care. The film seldom expands beyond that circle - Marjorie's granddaughter is pointedly never shown - it doesn't necessarily have to; that core cast is pretty sharp. Jon Hamm gets the short end of the stick somewhat, only seen as the original Walter in one scene, and mostly spends the movie relatively flat and affectless; it's a capable portrayal of a computer program designed to project patience, but deliberately unvaried. Lois Smith also gets a more narrow than expected range of material as Marjorie, in that the audience never sees her swerve from good days to bad as her mind deteriorates, but rather the horror of knowing she is losing herself. It's careful, unglamorous work, though she does have some later scenes that make interesting contrasts to what both she and Hamm were doing before.

Full review on EFC.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 18 August 2017 - 24 August 2017

It's mid-August and the things being released during the usually dreadful dog days of summer look… Kind of good?

  • Likely the best film of the week opens at The Brattle Theatre on Friday, with Boston Underground Film Festival favorite Dave Made a Maze having the place to itself through Sunday and then playing 9:30pm from Monday to Thursday. It's a joyously creative, hilarious delight as the arts-and-crafts project in the kitchen swallows its creator and his friends, who have to somehow find their way out.

    The weekdays continue the summer's vertical repertory programming. The Robert Mitchum tribute shows this week are River of No Return (Monday) and Two for the Seesaw (35mm Tuesday), while Wednesday's Recent Rave is the utterly delightful kitty documentary Kedi. Thursday's Agnes Varda picture is a 35mm print of Vagabond
  • Hey, remember how Steven Soderbergh was only going to work in TV because there was no place for him in the film world any more? Lasted four years, but from the looks of Logan Lucky, that's a good thing, as it features Channing Tatum, Riley Keough, and Adam Driver as dimwit siblings trying to pull off a heist with a likely-annoyed explosives expert played by Daniel Craig, and a ton of good folks like Katie Holmes, Set MacFarlane, Katherine Waterston, and more around the edges. It's at the Somerville, the Kendall, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    Less well-heralded is The Assassin's Bodyguard, with Samuel L. Jackson as a hitman who has elected to testify before a war crimes tribunal and Ryan Reynolds as the guy tasked with getting him there safe despite a difficult history with the man; I'm guessing Gary Oldman is the villain and Salma Hayek the love interest. It's at Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway (including RPX), Assembly Row, Revere (including XPlus and MX4D), and the SuperLux.

    There's a final showing of Fairy Tail: Dragon Cry at Fenway and Revere on Saturday, while Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars, a likely less-satirical animated sequel (that has Casper Van Dien and Dina Meyer doing voice work), plays Monday at Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere.
  • Unless I'm miscounting - and I think I can count to nine - Kendall Square is back up to full capacity, and on top of Logan Lucky, they've got a couple of things from this year's IFFBoston opening this week. The Trip to Spain is the third time Michael Winterbottom has cut a 6-episode comedy series starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as fictionalized versions of themselves on a culinary road trip into a feature for the American market, and it's reliably good, as funny as the first two. Menache is the story about a recent widower in an Orthodox Jewish community who is given a last week to spend with his son, about to be adopted by in-laws because tradition says he must be raised in a home with a mother. It's also at West Newton.
  • Plenty arriving from Asia this week, including the relatively-rare full booking of an animated feature from Japan, although In This Corner of the World looks like something of a prestige piece, telling the story of an 18-year-old girl in Hiroshima who marries a soldier during the war and must try to care for her family as the tide turns against Japan (and, presumably, as the worst happens), and probably does well by it, as director Sunao Katabuchi's Mai Mai Miracle managed to mix optimism and darkness a few years back. It's at Boston Common, and between that and the fact that A Taxi Driver, Once Upon a Time (now with 2D and 3D screenings), and Wolf Warrior II have all been held over, they've only got room for a couple screenings per day of The Adventurers, in which director Stephen Fung (who has been working on Into the Badlands since Tai Chi Zero and Tai Chi Hero) has Andy Lau, Shu Qi, and Tony Yang playing a group of master thieves chased around Europe by Jean Reno, but don't worry, they're giving it a full slate at Fenway.

    They have plenty of new Indian films at Apple Fresh Pond as well, with two subtitled Hindi-language romantic comedies from Bolllywood: Bareilly ki Barfi stars Ayushmann Khurrana, Rajkummar Rao, and Kriti Sanon in a love triangle that looks to be set in the world of independent publishing, while Toilet Ek Prem Katha stars Akshay Kumar as a man whose new wife threatens to leave unless he installs a toilet in their home and good lord I don't know how you get 155 minutes out of what should be a really easy decision.. No subtitles are indicated for Telugu horror-comedy Anando Brahma or Tamil drama Taramani, but it can't hurt to ask. Spy thriller Vivekham (Prudence) opens Wednesday in both Tamil and Telugu.
  • The West Newton Cinema picks up The Only Living Boy in New York, Marc Webb's second (and apparently lesser) film of the year, featuring Callum Turner as a grad student beguiled by his father's mistress (Kate Beckinsale). Plenty of other interesting folks in there, including Jeff Bridges, Pierce Brosnan, Wallace Shawn, and Kiersey Clemons (it also plays Boston Common).
  • The Regent Theatre has 4 screenings of Marjorie Prime, with Jon Hamm as the hologram of the title character's dead husband used to help ease her dementia. I'm a bit surprised at the tiny release; you'd think something which also featured Lois Smith, Geena Davis, and Tim Robbins from the director of Experimenter might at least show up at the Kendall, but nope, just Friday night, Saturday afternoon & evening, and Sunday night out in Arlington.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre picks up Wind River, as do the Embassy, Fenway, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux; IFFBoston alum Step arrives in the GoldScreen (both are already at Boston Common and the Kendall). They also have a nice group of specials, with Speed and The Room at midnight Friday andBroken Arrow at that time Saturday. Monday's big screen classic is the annual The Big Lebowski party, while the "Cinema Jukebox" presentation on Thursday is The Blues Brothers. In between, there's a GlobeDocs screening of Beyond the Wall followed by a panel discussion with the filmmakers and a local "navigator" who helps recently released prisoners readjust. All of this week's special screenings except Beyond the Wall are on 35mm.
  • Lots of Ernst Lubitsch atThe Harvard Film Archive this weekend, with the retrospective to his works taking up almost the entire schedule: The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (Friday 7pm with accompaniment by Martin Marks), Ninotchka (Friday 9:30pm), Cluny Brown (Saturday 7pm), To Be or Not to Be (Sunday 4:30pm), "The Merry Jail" & "Romeo and Juliet in the Snow" (Sunday 7pm with accompaniment by Robert Humphreville), and Angel (Monday 7pm). That leaves precious little time for much else, although there is a $5 family screening of WALL-E at 3pm on Saturday and one selection from the Jean Renoir series - 1951's The River at 9:30pm that day. All are 35mm prints.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has more Feed Your Head: Films from 1967 with In the Heat of the Night (Friday), You Only Live Twice (Friday), The Dirty Dozen (Saturday), Valley of the Dolls (Saturday), In Cold Blood (Sunday), and The Graduate (Sunday). Thursday is a couple of the recurring presentations, with The Artist's Garden: American Impressionism and the Garden Movement in the afternoon and Slack Bay in the evening.
  • Hey, check it out - a special early entry in Emerson's Bright Lights program at the Paramount, with screenwriter Graham Moore coming to town on Tuesday to intro/Q&A The Imitation Game.
  • The 18-seat room at CinemaSalem has The Ghoul, in which a british cop goes undercover as a patient to investigate a psychotherapist, and things get weird.
  • The Joe's Free Films calendar has multiple screenings of Doctor Strange, and live magic and balloons in University Park on Tuesday and Thursday.

I have other stuff claiming the weekend (baseball and a niece turning seven), but I'll still go for The Adventurers, Marjorie Prime, In This Corner of the World, and Logan Lucky at the least. Certainly planning on hitting Dave Made a Maze again, because that one demands an audience.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Once Upon a Time

It's kind of reductive to talk about men's & women's films, but there's something worth talking about when you look at it as "things thought of as men's & women's films". I'm having a hard time thinking of any big effects-laden blockbusters from the west that are built as this kind of romance. It might just be a matter of timing - there have been movies like Upside Down, and I don't know how visually nutty Twilight got - but this is the first high-fantasy film I can recall where the romance is central, and the quest or fight is secondary.

I wonder, a bit, if there's anything like this on the drawing boards in the U.S. The "discovery" that women and girls will buy tickets for blockbusters in large numbers is predicated on action/adventure films with female leads, not stuff that is traditionally feminine but also visually lush, grand fantasy. There's Crimson Peak, I guess, now that I think of it, but that wasn't really a hit. But, I notice that we get a lot of romantic comedies/dramas from China, probably more than come from Hollywood and play mainstream theaters, and I wonder if they are just better at catering to the audience that, male or female, would rather watch people falling in love and struggling with it than beating each other up right now - and whether Hollywood will catch on.

Once Upon a Time (Once Upon a Time)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 12 August 2017 in AMC Boston Common #9 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

The trouble with reviewing something like Once Upon a Time on a platform that is pretty much all words is that sometimes a movie's story can be utterly ridiculous and its dialogue (at least in subtitle form) inartful at best, and it's easy to point that out, whereas the argument for the movie is "just look at this thing!" It's a fantasy romance of rare visual splendor, maybe just enough to overcome all of the other very real problems it has.

Royal Immortal Bai Qian (Crystal Liu Yifei) is the Empress of Qingqiu; a six-tailed fox in her spirit form and looking quite good for her 140,000 years, especially considering that she seems to be drinking a lot. She's betrothed to Ye Hua (Yang Yang), a crown prince who at a mere 50,000 years of age seems absurdly young to her. Nevertheless, they meet at a party in the Eastern Sea, although Qian first meets A Li (Peng Zisu), Ye Hua's "Little Rice Ball" of a son with a mortal named Su Su who threw herself off a platform and into oblivion 300 years ago. Qian, it seems, looks just like Su Su, leading the prince to make a more active attempt to woo her and thus earning the ire of Su Jin (Li Chun), the Princess Consort with enough of a crush on Ye Hua to conspire with demoness Xuan Nu (Gu Xuan), who aside from wanting to use A Li's body to resurrect her unborn child also wishes to free demon king Qing Cang (Kevin Yan Yikuan) from the Eastern Magic Bell where he was sealed by Qian's former master Mo Yuan, who is now frozen in a cave near Qian's home.

It would be easy enough to write a version of that last paragraph (or even cut a trailer) that emphasizes the latter half, playing up the monsters and grand battle scenes and suggesting that Bai Qian and Ye Hua are a warrior odd couple who will wind up together because they're the male and female lead, but for better or worse, the action/adventure is decidedly secondary: The bulk of the movie is Ye Hua feeling that his betrothal to to Bai Qian is destiny but wondering if his attraction is influenced by how he failed Su Su, while Bai Qian finds she is starting to like this impertinent young man but not only denies any connection to Su Su but worries about being unfaithful to to Mo Yuan, as she has waited millennia for his soul and body to reunite. It's a fantastically grand romance and would be even if one knocked the time frame down to a less grandiose level - despite the scale of it, the motives of everybody are pretty easy to grasp, whether Bai Qian is second-guessing herself or Su Jin is acting on simple jealousy. Like any good, expansive mythology, there are little sub-stories that could be spun out into their own entertaining movies: There's a great horror movie in Xuan Nu's desire to place her unborn son's soul in A Li's immortal body, and the outlines of something gothic in the flashbacks to a pregnant Su Su brought into the palace but placed among the maids.

For all the grand scale of the love stories that have the potential to coalesce into one - indeed, because of how eternal and powerful this romance is supposed to be - the film needs the central couple to work no matter how they are paired up, and that's an area where the film often falls short. Crystal Liu Yifei handles what is thrown at her fairly well - the recklessness and pettiness shown early occasionally allows a glimpse of dissatisfaction, and she invests what could just be fantasy big-talk with genuine introspection later when talking about how her long life breaks into phases where she barely feels like the same person. There's more spark between her and Luo Jin as the old friend who tends her kingdom's peach orchard than there is with Yang Yang's Ye Hua, though, and it's not just that Ye Hua is initially written as a jerk (girl says she's not interested, you don't just show up at her house with your kid and literally claim a place in her bed as your right, even if you are betrothed and the Crown Prince). Yang does a fairly good job of making Ye Hua more than his initial smarm and even eventually looking like he's got genuine rather than plot-mandated affection for Bai Qian, but it's kind of telling that the pair seem to display the most chemistry in the flashbacks of a younger Ye Hua with Su Su, scenes which have them posing under voiceover narration rather than doing anything back and forth.

Full review on EFC.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Fantasia 2017.30: A Taxi Driver

So, if Fantasia were still going on, this would have been day 30, and since I saw a Fantasia selection on this day…

Yeah, it's a dumb joke, but I'm really hoping to have the chance to beat it into the ground over the next few weeks, although right now only Brigsby Bear appears to be on the horizon.

Been a while since I really had a bad audience for a movie, with the start of this one marred by a bunch of folks who didn't realize it was Korean (and weren't tipped off by the previews playing before it, which all had Asian leads) and exited in noisy disgust. I wonder if they thought this was a revival of the Al Pacino movie. Probably wouldn't have liked this one anyway, although who knows; maybe when it actually got to the riot scenes they would have connected it to something in the present.

Oh, and speaking of that trailer package, it included a new, somewhat different trailer for The Villainess that actually has footage of the big crazy fight at the end, which makes me a bit sad, because it's a heck of a thing to not know is coming. I think it will still do the job.

One other thing I wonder when watching a movie like this, which is about the need to smuggle evidence that our "democratic" allies in South Korea were in some ways an improvement over their neighbors to the North mainly because the rulers were merely corrupt rather than insane, I wonder what sort of impact it made here. I was something like six-and-a-half at the time of the events, but I was probably already watching M*A*S*H reruns, so I know Korea wasn't something entirely out of America's sight, even if (by my memory) that show never really touched on the sometimes-problematic nature of that particular ally in the cold war.

Taeksi Woonjunsa (A Taxi Driver)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 11 August 2017 in AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run, DCP)

A Taxi Driver ends with the traditional footage of a real-life person portrayed in the movie from many years later, and though it's a bit of a cliche, it also acknowledges that while the story may at times seem a little too good to be true, there's apparently enough to it to be worth buying into. There may be liberties taken in the making of this film, but there's more than a bit genuine at its core, and it's a quality film as well as an important true story.

As it opens in May 1980, Kim Man-seob (Song Kang-ho) has the same opinion of student protesters that most people in Seoul do - they're in the way, making it impossible for him to drive his private taxi from point A to point B; they don't know what real work and hardship is, like when he spent part of his youth working in Saudi Arabia's blistering heat; they're naive about the threat represented by the North and the authority that the government needs to fight it. Meanwhile, German telejournalist Jurgen Hinzpeter (Thomas Kretschmann) - "Peter" for short - is starting to feel too comfortable after his eight years in Tokyo, so when he gets word that something is going down in the city of Gwangju, he flies into Seoul claiming to be a missionary and hires a cab to drive him cross-country for 100,000 won. Kim, roughly that much in debt, steals the fare despite not really being as bilingual as he claims. Neither of them are quite prepared for exactly what is going on within the southern city, which has had the phone lines cut and roadblocks everywhere.

The Gwangju Uprising is a pivotal moment in the history of South Korea, one whose importance derives as much from it becoming public as the actual horror, although there's plenty of that. It takes a while to get there, although it's an impressive work of pacing that an American viewer like myself who is less likely to know the history won't feel like anything is being skipped over or taken for granted, though it raises the question of whether a Korean audience will think director Jang Hoon and writer Eom Yu-na are over-explaining. On the other hand, it gives the audience a little time to (re-)immerse themselves in South Korea circa 1980, with its military checkpoints and sanitized news, enough that the sight of a locked-down Gwangju is ominous and the violence that erupts shocking. Jang and Eom make the conscious decision to spend most of the movie showing things from the perspective of working-class Kim and outsider Hinzpeter, hammering home just how the military crackdown seems not just unjust, but almost unfathomable, rather than showing what reasons (corrupt or paranoid as they may be).

Full review on EFC.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 11 August 2017 - 17 August 2017

I can only speak for myself, of course, but I find it weirdly satisfying when I skip a film at a festival and it shows up in regular theaters days or maybe weeks later. You get both the feelings of having managed your time effectively and and like the festival has stretched itself out a bit, and aren't those both kind of great?

  • Basically, this means I made a fair decision last week in not going for A Taxi Driver to close out Fantasia, because it opens at Boston Common this weekend. Folks really seemed to like it, and why not, with Song Kang-ho as an initially-apolitical cabbie who lands German journalist Thomas Kretschmann as a fare in 1980 and as a result winds up front and center at the Gwangju Uprising. Song is one of South Korea's best actors, and he's reuniting with Jang Hoon, director of Secret Reunion and Rough Cut. The same theater and distributor also opens Chinese romantic fantasy Once Upon a Time, featuring Yang Yang and Liu Yifei as celestial lovers who meet again after 300 years. Unusually, these days, it's playing in 3D only. On top of that, they're still keeping Wolf Warrior II around, bringing back up to a full slate of screenings every day.

    For those more into Indian cinema, Apple Fresh Pond continues to show Jab Harry Met Sejal in subtitled Hindi, as well as Telugu films LIE, Nene Raju Nene Mantri, Jaya Janaki Nayaka, and Tamil film VIP 2, none of which indicate subtitles on Apple's site.
  • Also skipped at Fantasia but opening in Boston: Brigsby Bear, in which a young man raised in a bunker finds out that not only was he kidnapped as a small child, but his favorite television show was made exclusively for him, leading him to make a Brigsby feature to make some part of his childhood real. It plays at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Kendall Square, and the Embassy.

    The Coolidge also once again has 70mm screenings of Dunkirk through the weekend before reverting to DCP on Monday (the Somerville is still all 70, all the time, and West Newton is 35mm). Other special programs there this week include midnights of Nighthawks (Friday) and Sudden Death (Saturday), a Big Screen Classic showing of Werner Herzog's Aguirre, the Wrath of God on Monday, special anniversary screenings of Reservoir Dogs (pardon the borken links, I'm working on them) on Tuesday and Wednesday, and a "Rewind!" presentation of Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet, all but the last on 35mm film.
  • Kendall Square seems to have its renovation almost done, at least as far as auditoria are concerned, as it is now up to eight screens and can thus add some stuff. Sticking with the festival alumni, IFFBoston documentary Step is one of them, following a high-school step-dancing team trying to win a championship and give the members the tools they need to make it to college; it's also screening early and late at Boston Common.

    They also pick up a couple more mainstream things: Wind River is a thriller starring Elizabeth Olsen as an FBI agent teaming up with game hunter Jeremy Renner to solve a murder on an Indian reservation (hopefully with a strong Native supporting cast); it also plays Boston Common. There's also a fairly wide opening for The Glass Castle, with Brie Larson, Sarah Snook, and others as the adult children of parents (played by Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts) who are somewhere between eccentric and dysfunctional. It's also at the Capitol, West Newton, Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.
  • That's honestly more screens than some of the late-summer multiplex filler gets, although to be fair Annabelle: Creation (a sequel to a spin-off of The Conjuring) is getting pretty good reviews, with Lights Out director David F. Sandberg at the helm and reliable Aussies Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto among the stars. That's at Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway (including RPX), Assembly Row, and Revere. Not getting particularly good reviews: The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature, a 3D animated thing which adds Jackie Chan to the voice cast as a mouse who helps the animal characters from the first prevent their green space from being turned into an amusement park. It's at the Capitol (2D only), Apple Fresh Pond (2D only), Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    Revere also has Catastrophico, a comedy-adventure from the Dominican Republic about a spoiled movie star whose private plane crashes on an isolated island with the screw-ups who attempted to kidnap her. There's also a fair number of one- and two-offs this week: Mune: Guardian of the Moon is a cute-looking CGI adventure from France dubbed into English by GKids (Saturday at Fenway and Revere); TCM presents 50th anniversary shows of Bonnie and Clyde (Sunday & Wednesday at Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere); there's a new DC animated feature in Batman and Harley Quinn (Monday at Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere); Fairy Tale: Dragon Cry is the latest entry in the anime series (Monday & Wednesday at Fenway and Revere); and, finally, racing documentary McLaren comes from director Roger Donaldson, who is pretty good at that sort of thing (Thursday at Revere).
  • The Brattle Theatre's year-long "series of series" celebrating women in cinema bookends the week, starting with a weekend full of 1980s Comedies: Desperately Seeking Susan (35mm) and the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer play separately on Friday, there's a 35mm double feature of Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Valley Girl on Saturday, and another double feature of Wayne's World (35mm) and Real Genius on Sunday. Robert Mitchum just gets one day this week, with an early-starting double feature of El Dorado & The Lusty Men (35mm) on Monday, so that Tuesday can be Trash Night. Wednesday's "Recent Raves" are both pretty fun, with My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea in the evening and then Free Fire at 9:15pm. The other repertory women in cinema series has another entry Thursday, with a double feature of Agnes Varda's Documenteur & Mur Murs.
  • The West Newton Cinema has two Boston Jewish Film Festival's presentations this week: A free preview of IFFBoston alum Menashe on Tuesday (only rush-line tickets available), and the final "Summer Cinematheque" screening, Moos, on Wednesday. At least, that's what the festival's site says; the theater's site shows special screenings on Wednesday and Thursday, so double-check.
  • It's still summer, so The Harvard Film Archive is chuggin on with its retrospectives. Ernst Lubitsch is represented by To Be or Not To Be (Friday 7pm), The Oyster Princess (Saturday 7pm with Robert Humphreville accompanying), The Merry Widow (Sunday 7pm), and The Wildcat (Monday 7pm with Andrew Simpson accompanying). Jean Renoir is the auteur of The Human Beast (Friday 9:15pm), "Baby's Laxative" (on video) & "A Day in the Country" (Saturday 9pm), and Le Bled (Sunday 4pm via DCP with Bertrand Laurence accompanying). All on 35mm unless noted.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues to screen Slack Bay (Friday), but also starts Feed Your Head: Films from 1967; that new repertory series features In the Heat of the Night (Friday), The Graduate (Saturday), Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (Saturday/Sunday), The Dirty Dozen (Sunday), and a special outdoor "Sunset Cinema" screening of Cool Hand Luke on Thursday, with a DJ and Tie-Dye lessons.
  • Jeff Rapsis will visit the Aeronaut Brewery in Somerville to accompany Fritz Lang's Metropolis (in its most complete version) on Sunday.
  • CinemaSalem is where you go to catch BUFF & Fantasia favorite 68 Kill.
  • The Joe's Free Films calendar shows multiple Lego Batman and E.T. screenings, but the Tuesday night show of the latter in Kendall Square includes puppets!

My plans: A Taxi Driver, One Upon a Time, Dunkirk, Wind River, and one or two other things.