Friday, January 18, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 18 January 2019 - 24 January 2019

It could be a pretty great weekend, although who knows - the big release could be terrific or a disaster.

  • After all, who knows what to expect from M. Night Shyamalan sometimes? Glass follows up both an early triumph in Unbreakable and the more uneven Split, with Bruce Willis & Samuel L. Jackson from the first and James McAvoy & Anna Taylor-Joy from the second. Could be a blast, could be a disaster, and it'll probably wind up nuts either way. It's at The Somerville Theatre, Fresh Pond, Jordan's Furniture (Imax), the Embassy, Boston Common (including Imax), Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport (Icon-X), South Bay (including Imax/Dolby CInema), Assembly Row (including Imax/Dolby Cinema), Revere (including XPlus/MX4D), and the SuperLux.

    Dragon Ball Super: Broly is technically a "special screening", but it's playing a full schedule Friday through Wednesday at Boston Common, and anything from one to five shows a day at Fenway (Saturday/Monday-Thursday), South Bay (Saturday/Monday-Thursday), Assembly Row (Monday-Thursday), Revere (Friday-Thursday). They Shall Not Grow Old returns for a full day of shows on Monday at Boston Common (3D), Fenway (2D/3D), the Seaport, South Bay (3D), Revere, and the SuperLux. Fenway and Revere also have The Final Wish, a horror movie with the likes of Lin Shaye and Tony Todd in the cast.
  • Kendall Square and The West Newton Cinema get Stan & Ollie, with Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly as Laurel and Hardy on a late-career tour of the UK, facing health issues, fear that they're has-beens, and issues with previous attempts to go out on their own.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre, the Kendall, and Boston Common all get Cold War, the new film from Pawel Pawlikowski based upon the story of how his parents met, a story of doomed love set against the 1950s and 1960s, with fantastic black-and-white photography.

    Speaking of fantastic black-and-white photography the Coolidge also starts a quick one-week run of Roma in 70mm, which should look kind of amazing. Check times and book early. They also continue their East-Meets-West midnights with Enter the Dragon on Friday night and Sabata Saturday, both on 35mm; Saturday also offers Parts Unknown, a locally-produced wrestling-based horror film. Sunday morning offers Kid Flicks One, a selection of shorts from the New York Children's International Film Festival, while a Wide Lens presentation of The Florida Project plays Wednesday, including a new 35mm print and a post-film panel discussion.
  • Oscar-shortlisted documentary Hale County This Morning, This Evening plays The Brattle Theatre from Friday to Monday, the first feature from RaMell Ross, looking at the "Black Belt" of the American south. It splits the screen with Mandy, which plays in the 9:30pm slot.

    They briefly return to the "(Some of) The Best of 2018" program on Tuesday, showing a double feature of BlacKkKlansman & Sorry to Bother You that had previously been postponed. Then on Wednesday, they start the annual "Dead of Winter" series, this one focusing on "Tales of the Beast", with a double feature of Werewolf of London & The Wolf Man that day and The Company of Wolves & Ginger Snaps on Thursday; the series runs through the end of the month.
  • Apple Fresh Pond continues their runs of F2: Fun and Frustration, Petta, Simmba, NTR: Kathanayakudu, and Viswasam; Malayalam drama Ente Ummante Peru plays Saturday. The big Bollywood opening is actually yat Fenway, with Uri: The Surgical Strike chronicling a 2016 counterattack on a terrorist base.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues the Festival of Films from Iran with Oscar submission,No Date, No Signature (Friday), Pig (Friday), 3 Faces (Saturday), Invasion (Sunday/Wednesday), and Sly (Sunday), The Charmer (Thursday), and A Man of Integrity (Thursday). They also continue runs of Museo (35mm Saturday/Wednesday) and The Mystery of Picasso (Wednesday).
  • The Harvard Film Archive continues Rediscovering Jacques Becker with Paris Frills (Friday/Saturday), Rue de l'Estrapade (35mm Friday), Montparnasse 19 (Saturday), The Adventures of Arsène Lupin (Sunday), Touchez pas au grisbi (Sunday), and The Hole (Monday). In the middle of that, they have a $5 family matinee on Saturday, Fatih Akin's teen road-trip movie Goodbye Berlin.
  • Belmont World Film has their annual Family Film Festival from Friday to Monday, with a George Méliès Cine-Concert at the Regent in Arlington on Friday evening, and "It's Only Natural" program at the Belmont Studio Cinema on Saturday (including the annual Weston Woods Studios show and Tito and the Birds), "Brave and Amazing Kids" back at the Regent on Sunday (including Serbian fantasy The Witch Hunters), and "Dreaming of Dr. King" at the Brattle on Monday.
  • Bright Lights won't be back for another week or two, but ArtsEmerson shows Theatre of War, a documentary about Argentine and British veterans discussing and recreating the Falklands War in collaboration with writer/director Lola Arias on Friday evening; it's free with an RSVP and Arias will be present for a post-film Q&A.
  • The ICA has 1pm & 3pm screenings of films from the 2018 Ottawa International Festival of Animation on Saturday and Sunday.
  • In addition to the festival, The Regent Theatre will show the silent 1924 version of Peter Pan at 3pm on Monday, with organist Peter Krasinski providing the music and actress Lindsay Crouse serving as the benshi (so even kids who can't read intertitles should be able to follow the movie).
  • Cinema Salem holds Shoplifters over for another week in their 18-seat screening room; that also plays at The Luna Theater in Lowell on Saturday and Tuesday. They also have Never Ending Man on Saturday, The Neverending Story Saturday through Monday, Beautiful Boy on Saturday, Misery on Sunday, Martin Luther King day screenings of Selma on Monday, and the weekly, free "Weirdo Wednesdays" mystery show.


Looking hard at Glass, Stan & Ollie, and Roma on the big film, maybe trying to get to some werewolf movies by the end of the week, and catch up on other things in between. Ginger Snaps and Touchez pas au grisbi seem like major holes in what I've seen, after all.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Fantasia 2018 Catch-Up 03: The Traveling Cat Chronicles, The Outlaws, Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires, Knuckleball, Fireworks (2017), Lôi Báo, The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion, Parallel (2018), I Am a Hero, Luz, The Witch in the Window, and Inuyashiki

So it's been (quickly checks Blogger) just about seven weeks to write up these twelve reviews, with another thirteen to go before I can drink the last Canadian Crush that I brought back from Montreal. It's really kind of absurd, especially considering that I haven't spent that much time since then writing up new/mainstream releases for eFilmCritic. But I've got confidence that I'll make it to the end before the next big, time-consuming blocks of movies. That rate isn't so bad, considering I'm working from Letterboxd first drafts and notes taken in darkened theaters. But we really should get more people on that site so that I can try and blitz through them more.

I don't know that a little more time and ability to consider things has changed my opinion of anything drastically. A bit more clicked together with Luz, The Witch in the Window, and Inuyashiki, but those were ones I'd already liked. I think all three benefit a little from me having a little time to ruminate and find some more universal themes - I don't know that I would have necessarily seen the demon in Luz as basically everything that tries to control women like the title character without more time, for instance. On the other hand, I like to think that it was just the act of writing that revealed The Witch in the Window as about a certain type of loneliness making ghosts out of people, or Inuyashiki playing with how people of different ages interact with technology. In some cases, it might be stretching to try and find more to write about than surface thrills that aren't quite so fresh six months later, but who knows

One thing I wondered about with Luz was whether its small scale does more to make every decision meaningful than would perhaps be the case in a bigger story in the same genre. I am, in general, less than enamored with how movies with big stakes will reduce the action to something small and relatable, but Luz never really does that; instead of making the fate of the world hinge on what's happening to one young woman, she's buffetted by forces in large part outside her control, and the pettiness of those around her is more relatable than trying to make one person's life connected with the greater world.

Luz is the one in this batch I hope gets to make the biggest splash in North American come 2019, but it's not alone - I;m sure that many of the folks who get stunned by Korean action films when I dig them up would love The Witch Part 1. And I must admit, every time I saw the trailer for A Dog's Journey Home this December (and even more so when I saw the reviews), I wanted to drop The Traveling Cat Chronicles on an American audience and really let an animal-voiceover picture tear at someone's heart.

Tabineko ripôto (The Traveling Cat Chronicles, aka Tabineko Report)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The Traveling Cat Chronicles was the first film to play the festival lineup on this day, and it was a canny bit of scheduling not just because this was a more family-friendly movie than what makes up the bulk of this genre-heavy schedule, but because it's unapologetically sentimental in a way few other movies playing the event are. So, fine, let's get the day's crying done early and have fun with the rest of the movies; it's not like that will be unearned.

The film is narrated by a once-proud stray cat (voice of Mitsuki Takahata) who mentions that she as yet has no name, though has been living with Satoru (Sota Fukushi) since he found her on the side of the road. Satoru is a young man, at a point where one's life is often in flux, and there is no space for a cat in this next phase, but he's also a cat lover who wouldn't dream of not making sure Nana does not find a good home. So he travels up and down Japan meeting with childhood friends Kosuke Sawada (Ryosuke Yamamoto), who is recently divorced, and Yoshime (Tomoya Maeno), who has recently adopted a kitten; former classmate Sugi Shusuke (Takuro Ono) and ex-girlfriend Chikako (Alice Hirose), now married and running a pet-friendly B&B; and his aunt Noriko (Yuko Takeuchi), who raised him after his parents' death and whose itinerant work as a judge prevented Satoru from having a pet as a child. None of them, unfortunately, are quite able to take in a cat who has grown attached to her human.

There has, obviously, been a fair amount of tragedy and upheaval in Satoru's life already, and each time Satoru visits a friend there is an accompanying set of flashbacks to how Satoru met them, how they were separated, and some story about how they bonded over a cat. The stories inevitably fall into a bit of a pattern, but director Koichiro Miki makes that a good thing, telling some funny stories that glide into a bittersweet place; they point at where the film is heading while still misdirecting the audience a bit. Where the story is heading is both a surprise and not by the time it gets there, but that doesn't matter; the film is generally about taking both animals and people who need it in, even when it's difficult and leads to some heartache, and never loses sight of that.

Yes, this is the sort of movie that tries to soften a blow with cute animals, but since it's cats instead of dogs (as is more common), it's kind of no-nonsense about it. Nana is smart and not sentimental in her narration (or his; the subtitles use male pronouns despite the female voice, but I suspect that will be fixed if this gets any sort of official release), with Mitsuki Takahata giving her a default tone of annoyed indignation that matches the feline performer without ever seeming aloof (and occasionally being quite emotional). It's just enough tartness on top of a sort of simple, child-like vocabulary to feel like a cat. There are some other animal voices (though mostly confined to the present where Nana can relay them), but Takahata's performance sets the tone.

Full review at EFC.

Beomjoidosi (The Outlaws)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The Outlaws is a basic as heck cop movie, the sort that starts with its cops and hoods on casual terms with each other and doesn't really start getting intense until the very end, even though the outsider invading the territory is constantly bringing the violence. The filmmakers know how these things are shaped, and are willing to give the fans what they like without a whole lot of new ingredients.

It's based upon "The Heuksapa Incident" of 2007, a concerted effort to crackdown on crime in Garibang, Seoul's Chinatown. As the film starts, the Venom and Isu gangs are constantly scuffling over territory, but cops like Ma Suk-do (Ma Dong-seok) and Park Byung-sik (Hong Ki-joon) tend to keep it tamped down because they're either trustworthy locals or the right kind of mildly corrupt. That changes with the arrival of Jang Chen (Yoon- Kye-sang) and his Black Dragons, notably the vicious Wei Sung-rak (Jin Seon-kyu) - Jang is quick to play the established gangs off each other and decapitate and consolidate what's left. It leads to a level of violence that the police can't ignore, although by the time they're ready to act, Jang has dug in enough to make it difficult.

There's not any sort of particular twist in the offing, and that's fine; a lot of people are just at a genre film to enjoy the familiar and maybe laugh at the moments when people just assume that everything will be all right, and this supplies it. There are dry-witted cops, frustrated gangsters, and the occasional lady just trying to make a living working in the casino's back rooms. It's the sort of gangster movie that celebrates equilibrium, where the new arrivals aren't just more violent but also a threat to a mostly functional system, and filmmaker Kang Yoon-sung does well to not be entirely pragmatic about it: There's just the right amount of discomfort around the old gangs that the viewer gets the sense that this sort of system is always going to be ready to fall when someone gets too ambitious, even as the new influx of greed and violence obviously demands a response.

Once that time comes, the film has a good time letting it play out. Kang and co-writer Lee Seok-geun rightly figure that if The Heukspa Incident was big enough to be named, it deserves the sort of overview where the audience can see what's going on while still playing out at a one-on-one scale when it can. There are shootouts, yes, and fights where getting slashed with a knife seems like it's mostly irritating, and they do well to stage them to feel both larger-than-life and grounded in the reality of the true story. Then there's the big throwdown where the big guys let loose, making a mess of everything around them. It's not an all-timer, but it's fair material for a movie mostly intended to do well on VOD.

Full review at EFC.

Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: Action!, DCP)

Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires does the thing where it spoofs dumb, tacky movies by being dumb and tacky in the same way only much louder, trying to legitimize a guilty pleasure by slathering a lawyer off irony on it so someone can say they like how it mocks those attitudes. It's not really fooling anyone, if it's trying; if you're inclined to react to the real thing with "not cool", you'll likely have the same reaction here, and the same likely goes if you delight in that sort of over-the-top excess.

As you may expect, "Chuck Steel" is the name of a cop who plays by his own rules, to the immense frustration of his captain Jack Schitt and whatever poor bit of cannon fodder is assigned to be his partner. His wife has left him and the department wants him to shrink Dr. Alex Cular, but he's the only one noticing that there's something really weird happening with the local homeless population aside from British weirdo Abraham Van Rental, who claims to be a vampire expert (well, "trampire" expert, specifically). And what's this all got to do with the governor, who wants to outlaw booze?

Is Chuck Steel (both film and character) more than a bit crass? Oh, yeah, it leans pretty hard on getting laughs based on political incorrectness and gross-out humor, with the gags based half on being unexpected, whether because it seems like kind of a non-sequitur or because one doesn't expect the filmmakers to follow through on the crude potential of a set-up. It's not entirely shock-based humor that falls apart once you're expecting it, and it kind of works to filmmaker Mike Mort's advantage that he doesn't exactly go small: The gray area between "obviously a spoof of a thing" and "basically that thing" is huge, but he does all he can to get into the spot where it's obviously a joke.

Full review at EFC.

Knuckleball

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Knuckleball is a solid little thriller that gets an occasional raised eyebrow for how ruthlessly capable its young main character can be; it makes some thematic sense at the end and has been hinted at, but, still, hmmm. That goes a bit for the plot in general, which has an awful lot of stuff that probably comes as a package more often than you'd like in real life, but seems a bit excessive for a movie.

It starts with Henry (Luca Villacis) being dropped off at his grandfather's house; he hasn't seen Jacob (Michael Ironside) much; the old man lives out in the sticks and Henry is the sort of kid who loves his phone. His parents don't have any place else to put him while they're at a funeral, though, so it's just for a few days. The trip is shaping up to be a mixed bag, between the forgotten charger, the chilly house, the chores, and, on the other hand, the discovery that Jacob played minor league baseball back in the day and might teach the kids something, but then his neighbor Dixon (Munro Chambers) stops by, and he seems kind of sketchy. A half-overheard conversation between the neighbors sounds really sketchy, and then…

Well, you can guess some of the basic shape; it's not the sort of movie built around people sitting down, having a heart-to-heart, and finding forgiveness for long-buried secrets. No, this is the sort of movie where the secrets use an axe to escape whatever cupboard they've been locked in, which is all well and good, but there aren't a whole lot of moving pieces for much of the movie. Filmmaker Michael Peterson and his co-writers have opted to keep the core very lean, and even getting to the film's 88-minutes-including-credits length means it occasionally has to be goosed a bit. It's the sort of movie where calling the cops or having some other neighbor come by may bring about enough violence to keep the viewer from wandering away but won't materially chance the course of the story; it's just keeping things moving until the big finish

Full review at EFC.

Uchiage hanabi, shita kara miru ka? Yoko kara miru ka? (Fireworks)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, DCP)

Go figure - a couple years ago, we were talking about whether Matoko Shinkai could be the new Miyazaki, and now Fireworks is being promoted in large part by how it's like a Shinkai movie and from a Your Name producer, though it's also noteworthy for being based upon a TV-movie made by Shunji Iwai. Time sometimes marches on fast! It may not be quite at the same level as those filmmakers' best, but it's an enjoyable youth fantasy that should certainly appeal to fans of those filmmakers.

It takes place in the small town of Moshino, starting just before summer vacation. There will be fireworks, and middle-schoolers Norimichi (voice of Masaki Suda), Yusuke (voice of Mamoru Miyano), and Jun'ichi (voice of Shintaro Asanuma) have been having an argument over whether they explode in the shape of a disc or a sphere, plotting to climb to the top of the town's lighthouse to see what they look like from that perspective. There's also Oikawa Nazuna (voice of Suzu Hirose), a girl not long for their class, as her divorced mother is about to remarry and move away; spotting Norimichi and Yusuke at the school's swimming pool, she challenges them to race, saying she'll meet the winner that night during the fireworks. She finds a strange bauble at the bottom of the pool, but it's Norimichi who will eventually discover its strange power.

It's a plenty charming story, though it's not quite Your Name. It's a cute, likable tale of young love and potential separation, but its fantasy isn't quite so sharp - compared to Your Name or Penguin Highway, the fantastical parts of the story seem a bit more grafted on as opposed to being part of the natural part of the world these kids inhabit. It fits with the story the filmmakers are trying to tell; the alternate timelines and attempts for the kids to change their destiny are able to show both how small changes can send young persons' lives in different directions and how those young people can be powerless. The relaxed pacing often feels like repetition and padding that doesn't reveal quite so much on second glance as one might necessarily hope.

Full review at EFC.

Lôi Báo

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: Action!, DCP)

For a movie whose basic premise is goofy enough to include head transplants, this doesn't play as nearly the bit of madness it could have. Granted, you've got to scale expectations down a bit for Vietnam - the effects budget it's not going to be huge - but there's still a feeling of rather mild ambition here, of taking the superhero stuff in stride because you know the beats.

After a sort of misdirecting opening depicting a scene from a comic book Tam (Cuong Seven) is writing and illustrating, the audience gets to know him a bit better - he's pretty well-liked in his neighborhood, although people do make a few comments about how his wife Linh (Tran Thi Nha Phuong) is supporting Tam and their son with her coffee shop. It seems likely to be his last; he has terminal cancer, although it turns out that Linh's Uncle Ma (Hoang Son) is doing more than creating a few hybrid crop strains on his farm, and an otherwise-healthy man about Tam's size has been shot and killed nearby. It's a miracle and then some, because Tam has inherited athleticism and fighting skills that he uses to rescue people and fight crime, disguising himself as his character "Lôi Báo" - but this "cellular memory" also pulls him toward the dead man's home and girlfriend Dr. Tue (Ngoc Anh Vu). What he finds in the house leads him to believe that this Nghia fellow was not a good person, working for organ smuggler Mr. Dao.

Does this make any sort of sense, science-wise? No, not really, but it is by and large the kind of dumb pseudoscience a viewer can roll with; it hits the right wish-fulfillment buttons and taps into the right fears about losing oneself in a new role that seems to be everything one has always wanted. It's not an especially clever story - twists, connections, and betrayals happen almost exactly on schedule, and for a movie with a genuinely loopy premise, it's got a fairly boring, conventional set of villains. Genuinely evil and vicious, sure, but if Tam gets to be something more than himself, maybe the bad guys should as well.

Full review at EFC.

Manyeo (The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Well, okay, you might think as you watch the awkwardly named and punctuated The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion, this is kind of an okay young-adult riff on genetically engineered superhumans, but I kind of feel like I've seen it all before, with the shadowy agencies and people in black suits and the hiding things we can kind of predict. Then there's a sudden, extremely violent action scene, and you remember, oh, that's right, this is a South Korean action movie. You still might not be ready for just how much all hell breaks loose in final act, at which point your eyes will probably go really big and you'll want to now why you can't get "Part 2" right now.

To be fair, it starts in dark, bloody fashion, revealing the aftermath of something allowing two children to escape from some sort of lab with security types in pursuit, with the kids' safety not apparently their first concern. The boy is recaptured but the girl, apparently gravely injured, is found by a childless couple on a farm (Choi Jung-woo & Oh Mi-hee). She doesn't remember anything, but grows up smart and athletic, kind of shy until accompanying her friend Do Myung-hee (Go Min-si) a auditions for the Birth of a Star show. Suffice it to say, when someone sees Koo Ja-yoon (Kim Da-mi) on TV, alarms get set off and it's not long before ruthless hunter Mr. Choi (Park Hee-soon) and his ruthless team of teenagers are showing up at the Koo farm.

There was a point where one might have idly wondered just how popular American superhero comics and their tropes are in South Korea when seeing a movie open with a powerful child being found and taken in by a couple salt-of-the-earth farmers, but by now it's probably pretty safe to assume that yeah, everyone in South Korea knows exactly what writer/director Park Hoon-jung is riffing on there (amusingly, the film was actually made by DC Comics parent Warner Brothers's Korean division). As you might expect from the "subversion" in the film's English-language title, Park is not particularly content to just do an upbeat Korean take on Superman, although the route he does go is also kind of familiar, from the wardrobe to the general mad-scientist set-up, right down to there being someone out there who knows there is more to Ja-yoon than even the person in charge of the program today knows. Park is nimble enough that he never seems to be slavishly following a blueprint or undercutting his intent by being self-referential.

Full review at EFC.

Parallel

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

Parallel sometimes feels like two or three high-concept sci-fi films sewn together, not always cleanly, and then accelerated with certain bits taken out to increase the suspense in the second half. It's kind of exhausting at times, to be honest, a puzzle box that keeps inventing new rules lest the characters solve it to fast. Still, it's kind of impressive that it doesn't become just frantic.

It takes place in Seattle, where a software development team lives and works together in the same house where something weird happened before the opening credits: Noel (Martin Wallström), the business-savvy team leader; Leena (Georgia King), his girlfriend and the team's UX designer; Josh (Mark O'Brien), kind of a doofus with a big crush on a local bartender (Alyssa Diaz) but a good coder; and Devin (Aml Ameen), a more grounded programmer. They discover a hidden staircase in their house, leading up to an attic which includes a weird mirror that lets them walk into parallel worlds. Not weird, "what if the Nazis won WWII" worlds, but ones almost identical to their own, but with a few caveats - the mirror never takes them to the same alternate universe twice, and time runs 180 times faster there. So, if you've got a deadline in four days rather than the four weeks you'd planned on, you may find an opportunity there, as well as all sort of other temptations.

Tech and software development are certainly not the only places where something like this will get misused, but there's a certain fitting ingenuity in setting it there; the freelance workers/contractors, impossible deadlines that require cramming more man-hours than is strictly legal into a week, and frequent decision to outsource development to people in what may as well be another world will likely seem especially familiar to people in that business, as will the sense, in later parts of the movie, that other people see you as a replaceable body, and that people do not know what comes next but are certain that "disruption" is good. Director Isaac Ezban and writer Scott Blaszak seem to have a better grasp on it than a lot of filmmakers do (writers and artists have a different sort of grinding, freelance/gig economy to deal with).

Full review at EFC.

I Am a Hero

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

I kind of expected the title if this to be a bit more ironic, both from what I've heard of the manga and the way the opening act played; my increasing unease with zombies and the rules that go with them becoming mainstream certainly had me hoping that the filmmakers would be doing something subversive. They don't, but the pretty much standard but well-done zombie action at least makes it one of the bigger and better takes on the material.

Hideo Suzuki (Yo Oizumi) has not exactly been preparing for the zombie apocalypse, but he's probably more ready than most in Japan, owning a licensed shotgun and carrying around some resentment in his job as an art assistant to manga artist Koroi Nakada (Jin Katagiri), having also been awarded a "best newcomer" prize 15 years ago. Kicked out by girlfriend Tekko (Nana Katase) he's thus got his weapon with him as the virus spreads, eventually winding up in a cab with schoolgirl HIromi Hayakari (Kasumi Arimura). They make it out of the city to an outlet mall where nurse Yabu (Masami Nagasawa) seems to take a shine to him, while the charismatic young leader of the group taking shelter there, Iura (Hisashi Yoshizawa) thinks they may be helpful, but they've got a secret - Hiromi has been bitten, though she has apparently contracted a mild strain of the virus.

Not having read Kengo Hanazawa's original manga, I can't speak to whether the title was meant to be something Suzuki grows into or hopefully grows out of, and the script by Akiko Nogi isn't terribly definitive on this point, either. It's a question that gets down to what a film in this genre is about - is Suzuki justified in hating the world and seeing those within as enemies, or is he going to be able to tap into a buried humanity in the face of the pure misanthropy of a zombie horde? A filmmaker can have most of the same things happen but make two very different movies depending on how they answer that question, although most of the time they take the same bits from column A and B, and have since the first time George Romero put a bunch of frightened people in the same cottage. I Am a Hero is a little more flagrant about trying to have it both ways, and that limits its ceiling: It can be a well-made genre film, but not the type where something buried within it gets the viewer thinking.

Full review at EFC.

Luz

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

Tilman Singer's Luz is the sort of film that I suspect makes other filmmakers envious: How many of them, when they were students and able to be a little self-indulgent, were able to make something good enough to cause a stir at festivals? This one is a heck of a nice bit of art-house horror without that qualifier, but for the work of someone explicitly learning the ropes (beyond how everyone is always learning as they create), it's a heck of a starting point.

The film's own starting point is attention-grabbing - closed-circuit footage of a young woman stumbling into a police station and starting trouble, practically begging to be locked up. She's Luz Carrara (Luana Velis), a Chilean immigrant who now drives a cab in Berlin. The police oblige and call in Dr. Rossini (Jan Bluthardt) to give her a psych examination where she recalls a seance she and friends did back in Catholic school when her friend Margarita (Lilli Lorenz) thought she was pregnant, but was actually host to something else - something which has followed Luz to Europe and is now possessing Rossini.

Hypnosis is often treated as a sort of magic in horror movies (and elsewhere), a way to hack into a person's mind and reveal something hidden or plant a trojan horse, though that sort of powerful mesmerist is out of vogue. What makes Luz a nifty, disorienting sort of horror movie is the way in which it combines hypnosis and possession, blurring the lines between Rossini's therapeutic tool and the entity's supernatural abilities, creating a sense of lack of control and disconnection that many other films like this may not necessarily lack, but do limit. It's a fascinating way to make what seems like a very small threat into something tremendously tense, but it's not just the supernatural element that is amplified here; Singer connecting these two elements in this particular way amplifies the underlying situation, where a woman who has been violated and attacked finds herself forced into a similar situation in the place where she is supposed to be safe, the line between the clinically intimate and the invasive eventually being obliterated.

Full review at EFC.

The Witch in the Window

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Thumbs up to The Witch in the Window being a 75-minute horror movie, which is almost always the best length for movies in the genre to be. May filmmakers' increasing recognition of streaming services as their ultimate landing spot keep them from adding fifteen to twenty unneeded minutes going forward. It's not always going to result in something as naturally compact and effective as this, but that's something to strive for.

For Finn (Charlie Tacker), the horror starts with father Simon (Alex Draper) dragging him north from New York to rural Vermont, where there's no cell phone coverage and the house they're staying in is a fixer-upper that Simon plans to flip; as pretty as the area is, it's not exactly a city kid's ideal summer vacation. Still, he hasn't seen his dad much since the divorce, it is kind of nice to have this much room to himself, and the neighbors seem nice. Still, Louis next door (Greg Naughton) isn't exactly eager to help Simon with the wiring, and eventually the electrician explains why: The previous owner, Lydia (Carol Stanzione), had been sitting in her chair by the window dead for the better part of a month before someone called the police, and that's the sort of story that makes people feel like she never really left.

Despite the film's brief length, writer/director Andy Mitton doesn't push the scares too hard, trying to get to jumps and escalating the danger quickly. He favors the scene where the viewer realizes that there's somebody else in frame when it's quiet enough for the eye to wander, and the question is less when Lydia showed up (she's always there), but what exactly is making Simon or Finn receptive to seeing her. Milton lets the characters' fear drive the story as much as the actual presence of a ghost, letting it spiral, as a frightened kid leads to a father afraid he can't protect his son, and a frightened father makes it worse for a kid.

Full review at EFC.

Inuyashiki

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

As much as the usual position of a fan is to look for fidelity in an adaptation, I was rather hoping that the feature film version of Inuyashiki would fix up a few problems the manga had, most importantly that the creator apparently found himself more interested in the villain than the title character. The filmmakers cut out some of the fat to be sure, but what they've come up with turns out to be a pretty faithful adaptation, warts and all. It's still kind of a blast, and who knows, maybe sequels will let them have a freer hand later.

Ichiro Inuyashiki (Noritake Kinashe) is younger than he looks, but that still leaves him in late middle-age, not as far up the corporate ladder as he probably should be, a disappointment to his wife (Mari Hamada) and an embarrassment to daughter Mari (Ayaka Miyoshi) and son Takeshi (Nayuta Fukuzaki). They don't much like the stray corgi he let follow him home, either. While walking Hanako one night, he winds up very much in the wrong place at the wrong time, as a spaceship crashes right on top of him. Fortunately, the alien tech is quite capable of repairing itself and the park, leaving no trace of itself - but part of what it repairs is Ichiro, who wakes up feeling better than he has in years but having no appetite for anything more than a little water. That's because he's a highly advanced android now, incredibly strong, able to interface with any technology, even equipped with weaponry and the ability to fly, although as a timid and non-confrontational man, he's nervous to test these abilities. Trouble is, he wasn't the only one at the park, and Hiro Shishigami (Takeru Satoh) is a teenage outcast mad at the world.

Director Shinsuke Sato and screenwriter Hiroshi Hashimoto don't change much from the manga, and perhaps one of the most notable changes of necessity likely doesn't seem very big: The film's Ichiro is not so extremely old and feeble as the manga. He's certainly not exactly bursting with vitality and comes across quite beleaguered, but that gives star Noritake Kinashi room to put the focus on Ichiro's attitude, rather than just his capabilities. Kinashi projects a simple, genuine decency compared to the villain's detached sociopathy. It's a good but not preachy version of the much-retweeted quotation about not knowing how to explain you should care about other people, and also superhero 101, but effective.

Full review at EFC.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 7 January 2019 - 13 January 2019

If I made New Year's Resolutions, they might involve giving up even the attempt at midnight movies. But I don't so I didn't so here we are.

This Week in Tickets

The week started off with Sisters at the Brattle, which has apparently been recently restored and looks nice, although I gather that I liked it a fair bit more the last time I saw it. The events of the past few years have highlighted the general creepiness of its narrative, and I'm not sure how well it sits now. It makes me curious to see just what is on that box of early counter-culture comedies director Brian De Palma did with Robert De Niro (though some of that is dread). I'd be back there on Wednesday for the start of the theater's Best-of-2018 series, watching the really impressive The Rider.

Thursday was a trip to the Fenway theater, as that's where they show the anime. Modest Heroes turned out to be a nifty little shorts program, although there was a fair amount of confusion toward the start regarding the subtitles, or lack thereof. It got sorted, but could have been avoided.

I was considering a double feature Friday night, but nothing aligned very well with Queen Boxer at the Coolidge at midnight. I thought I was in good shape for that, having slept in enough to almost miss two buses to work in the morning and having fortified myself with caffeine ahead of time, but I was frustratingly in and out. And while I"m not exactly going to shake my fist at the theater for loading up on old kung-fu trailers before the movie, I just missed the last 66 bus across the river and wound up taking a Lyft home (and, yeah, I feel bad, because I know the business model is predatory, but the genuine taxi app was quoting a price something like 6x as high and I wasn't adding $36 to the price of a movie I barely saw).

Back to the Brattle the next afternoon for Hereditary, which wasn't quite the slog I'd feared but was still kind of a lot. No way I was staying another 2.5 hours to try the Suspiria remake again, although that probably would have been better than taking the Red Line downtown to see Replicas, which was impressively Not Good, but not even in a surprising way. It was just boring.

Destroyer wasn't quite "boring" the next night, but it certainly wasn't what I'd hoped for when combining a favorite actress with a director who has a ton of potential. Of course, it didn't help that I followed it up by coming home and watching the first couple episodes of the new True Detective, which is thus far looking like a much better take on revisiting a case decades later.

More potentially good TV coming up this week, but still plenty of movies planned, with the Letterboxd page where the rough drafts go.

Sisters

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 7 January 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (Refreshed, Renewed, Restored; DCP)

Hot take: The best part of Sisters is the segment in the beginning with the "Peeping Tom" show and African Room, where De Palma is doing some weird, mean satire on much more deserving targets than career women and people with mental health issues. The thriller stuff after that is stylish and arty and has a fair Bernard Herrmann score, but plays as seriously misogynistic, with Jennifer Salt's career woman pretty much useless in terms of actually figuring things out and instantly gaslighted when necessary (between this and The Hot Rock, I wonder if there was some weird fad for hypnotism in the early 1970s that now seems especially weird). The doctor may be a creep, but at least he's a creep with some agency.

The end loops back to the same level of knowing absurdity as the start, and while it's not as targeted as the opening minutes (a shame, because there's something to be said here about what happens to women who try to report crimes and evidence often being right there but people being unwilling to see it), I do kind of like how merrily destructive this sort of ironic ending is - it acknowledges just how much of what's gone on that it's undercutting, rather than just doing it to get an extra scare in. De Palma owns his nihilistic ending.

I liked it a bit more seven years ago

Chou (Queen Boxer)

N/A (out of four)
Seen 11 January 2019 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (After Midnite: East Meets West, dubbed 35mm)

That is a lot of axes. Honestly, this movie deserves to be referenced more for the axes than the boxing. And maybe with the other guy more than Judy Lee's Ma Su-chen; from what I managed to be alert for, he certainly seemed to be driving the story more, with her drifting in and out.

Nice fighting, at least, and truth be told the dubbing wasn't horrific. I would have happily given this another chance when I got home if it were readily available anywhere, but I guess that's why I at least make the attempt to get through a midnight show. Hopefully the Police Story movies won't be like that!

Hereditary

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 12 January 2019 in the Brattle Theatre [(Some of} The Best of 2018, DCP]

I guess if you're going to make a horror movie around a series a creepy scenes, as opposed to something basically unnerving at the core, it's tough to do it better than Hereditary. The staging of each individual scene is impressive, it looks great, it sounds creepy. Toni Collette gives a genuinely terrific performance, especially when one considers just how much of the center of the movie is her manically diving into something utterly irrational and making the audience believe she'd do that after having been so reserved and scared. It's a jump-scare movie, but it's dressed up nice for folks who feel like they want more.

But, boy, does it feel like an big collection of nice stuff. Though not quite so long as I'd thought it was (I'm not sure where the 2.5 hour runtime in my head came from), my biggest moment of dread came from looking up at the Brattle's clock, thinking it was almost over and then realizing I'd misread the hour hand and it was just at the halfway mark. All the nice sleight of hand and practical effects can't really cover how I always find this sort of movie less scary when the actual paranormal material pushes all the stuff in the characters' heads to the side - early on, there's this genuine feeling of dread as Collette's Annie lists out the various people in her family who suffer from some sort of mental illness, and her worries that she's eventually going to lose her mind - or that she's already just barely maintaining control and may not be up to what her family needs from her - is much more frightening to me than some ridiculous cult or demon.

I do wonder a bit how much my being less impressed than some comes from not seeing it early. There were some things that probably should have been bigger surprises based on what was emphasized in the trailer, but though the folks on social media didn't exactly "spoil" things in some cases, there were enough oblique references that I wasn't really shocked. There's an argument that a good horror movie can beat this by either being more than just out-of-nowhere jolts or by being so enveloping that even those who have seen it before get engrossed enough to be shocked, and I don't know if Hereditary does that quite as well as you might hope.


Sisters
The Rider
Modest Heroes
Queen Boxer
Hereditary
Destroyer
Replicas

Monday, January 14, 2019

Destroyer

99% of the time when I see a fim at a festival, I don't have anything to ask during the Q&A until days later, but I felt like I had a pretty good question at the end of this one, about whether all the baseball references were meant to add up to something. It seems like they do - there are ballgames on the radio in both the past and present before things go to hell, the most uplifting moment early on in the movie has Erin suddenly finding herself above Chavez Ravine, looking down at the lights, and Bradley Whitford's lawyer is trying his best to make practicing miserable for his son. It disappears later on, so I wondered if it was meant to be some sort of calming influence.

On second thought, that would be tough to ask about without it coming across as an annoying "explaining the movie to its director" thing, which always frustrates me. I suspect I'm just relatively attuned to baseball, and the characters liking it is a thing that helps me identify with them, which is especially important in a movie like this where I really want to feel closer to what seems like a generic group. After all, it's not like Shelby's memory at the end involves baseball, or there are many references to campiling earlier. Maybe someone else would have seized on other throw-away background details to try and get something out of this movie.

It's a shame it comes to that, though. For as much as I've been lukewarm on director Karyn Kusama's movies, I always feel like they're almost there. The Invitation did pretty much nothing for me as a whole but had some great moments, and I've got to rewatch Jennifer's Body sometime; the people who really like it all seem to like it for the reasons I wanted to, even if it didn't really manage to pull it all together. I really wanted this to be great and Nicole Kidman to hit it out of the park, but instead it's mostly just fine.

Destroyer

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 13 January 2018 in AMC Boston Common #14 (first-run, DCP)

Destroyer is a little better than the award-seeking gimmicks that show up front and center, but not by that much. The filmmakers tell their story of cynical cops and robbers well enough, but don't find a compelling reason to tell this particular story; there's a quick thrill as things click together in the end, but not quite to the point where one wants to go back and reconsider everything longer one is supposed to.

Seventeen years ago, LAPD detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) went undercover with a federal agent (Sebastian Stan) to crack a ring of bank robbers, and the fallout from that is a big part of why she's a mess now, regularly hungover on the job, her teenage daughter (Jade Pettyjohn), already living with her stepfather (Scoot McNairy), taunting her by dating an older creep. Now she finds out that Silas (Toby Kebbell), the ringleader they ultimately failed to capture, is back in town, and she's intent on finding him before more corpses appear in the present.

Two-track crime stories like Destroyer often seem like they would be better off if they were reconfigured to focus more on one time period or the other, and that's a major issue here. Both halves of the film are rather by-the-numbers, stepping through familiar situations with only the occasional interesting deviation, although hinting at situations just interesting enough to keep the audience's attention. The flashback sequences seem a bit lighter than those in the present; too much of who Erin was to start with is held back for this thread to give an idea of how the assignment changed her, and the gang as a whole barely gets enough holding it together to make what happened to them later particularly compelling. Writers Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi throw in a couple of sharp turns, but these aren't the sort of guys who commit entertainingly intricate crimes and the material around the robberies is restrained, saving too much for last-minute revelations that don't pack the punch they should.

Full review at EFC.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Replicas

Not much to say about this one - it's been on a shelf for a while, it got released in a spot where studios generally drop things that are too expensive to not try and recoup via theatrical play but which will get crushed by actual good movies, and it doesn't particularly look promising. Finding that it is not in fact very good is hardly surprising.

I'd hoped otherwise, though, because I like stars Keanu Reeves and Alice Eve, and maybe this was just a case of critics and studios not knowing what to do with science fiction that wasn't built as an action movie. No such luck, it's just bad and boring.

Oh, and Boston Common is now doing reserved seating for all theaters, not just the Imax one. I'm kind of neutral on that as an idea, but I've kind of liked that place being the last accidental hold-out of old-school moviegoing among the chains, and now they're apparently even letting you order food ahead. I don't see them ripping the seats out for recliners any time soon, but who knows?

Replicas

* ¼ (out of four)
Seen 12 January 2018 in AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run, DCP)

As much as we've all come to see Keanu Reeves not so much as a bad actor as a guy who can do quite well when he's playing something within a certain range, "ethically-conflicted scientist" is pretty damn far outside that comfort zone. It is, unfortunately, more or less the entirety of this movie, and makes Replicas a pretty tough slog. It's got about five times more in the way of interesting sci-fi ideas than it does actual story, and never finds a good way to close the gap.

Reeves plays Will Foster, an engineer working on transferring the contents of a human brain into a robot body at the Puerto Rico laboratory of Bionyne Industries. It's not going well; the latest soldier who had signed a release started ripping his new shell apart as soon as awakening, and the boss (John Ortiz) says funding will be cut if they don't see results soon. A weekend away with his family - wife Mona (Alice Eve), son Matt (Emjay Anthony), and daughters Sophie (Emily Alyn Lind) and Zoe (Aria Lyric Leabu) seems like it might be just thing, but a car accident leaves only Will alive. His co-worker and best friend Ed (Thomas Middleditch) has done advanced work on cloning, so if Will can figure out the transfer in the 17 days it takes to grow them to their previous ages, it might be like they'd never gone. The trouble is, Ed can only get hold of three cloning pods, and that's a lot to hide for two and a half weeks.

There are a lot of ideas that make for good science fiction here, and though the script by Chad St. John (from a story by producer Stephen Hamel) can sometimes handwave these challenges away, the decision to portray all of these issues as interconnected and happening at the same time, rather than isolated innovations and thus ethical conundrums, is a good one in theory. Practically, though, it often leaves little room for anything to be examined in much detail, and there are moments when the filmmakers don't seem to have figured the details of their near-future world out; some things are presented as very difficult while things such as editing memories is referenced very casually. Lots of things get brought up, but fewer lead to situations that put Will on the spot.

Full review at EFC.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Modest Heroes

I can't really complain about my trip to Fenway for this movie, especially since I brought a certain amount of frustration on myself by ordering hot food that wasn't nachos about five minutes before showtime. When there's no time to eat before the movie and you're hungry, though, it's hard not to imagine a job interview where an applicant talks about his love of cinema and the manager sighs, because what she really needs is people who are passionate about filling orders and making change fast enough that everyone in line can get to their seat before the lights go down. That I made it tight myself diminished my tension not a bit.

And the movie had already started when I got to my seat, but it was weird; people were talking, not in English, without subtitles. After a few minutes, it stopped, the clowns who think they're making a really funny and original joke by applauding like the movie had finished did so, and then it started up again, and I got the impression I wasn't the only one who hadn't seen the opening credits. The first segment starts, and… No subtitles, but it was also pretty clear that the characters were yelling each other's names and something like "Papa!" Still, it stopped again, and a manager came in and offered to play the dubbed version instead. By then, some folks had gotten out their phones and found out that the first segment didn't have dialogue as such and convinced the manager to play it as is despite the fact that they'd had customers complain.

I imagine we were all on pins and needles when the second one started, of course, even if we had seen some translated credits. It seems like something the distributor should have seen coming and warned the theater about.

Even with that going on at the front, I was on my way home relatively quickly. The show is probably about 45 minutes long and the bonus interview(s) about a half-hour, meaning I was waiting for a train by 8:30pm. The interview itself was interesting not so much for what the producer said about the film itself but for how often Studio Ghibli came up. Isao Takahata was going to contribute a segment, but passed away during pre-production, but two of the directors who did make shorts were lead animators and character designers for Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki at Ghibli, and there was plenty of talk about the studio not just being an inspiration, but a void they were specifically looking to fill, and not just because they consider themselves one of the few companies in Japan specifically aiming to make good films for children.

The most interesting bit in the interview was that, for much of the process, the filmmakers were working without conventional screenplays, instead going straight from concept to storyboards. I'm kind of curious about the inflection point where this becomes more practical than something more conventional.

Chiisana eiyû: Kani to tamago to tômei ningen (Modest Heroes: Ponoc Short Films Theatre, Volume 1)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 10 January 2018 in Regal Fenway #9 (Fathom Events, DCP)

Unsolicited advice to Studio Ponoc and GKids: Do not put the short with unsubtitled dialogue up front in a movie like this; depending where people see it, they will either assume the disc is defective or that the theater or Fathom Events screwed things up, especially if there's already a bad reputation there. But do keep making short films and packaging them for theaters like this; it's a nice anthology, both in terms of the individual shorts being good and the whole working as a unit.

That first short is "Kanini & Kanino", with the two title characters (voices of Fumino Kimura & Rio Suzuki) a pair of tiny water sprites whose mother has just gone off to give birth, leaving them with their burly, loving father until he is swept away by the current while trying to rescue Kanino. Frightened but brave, they set out to find him, a dangerous prospect when you're only a few centimeters tall and a good-sized air bubble may as well be a boulder. Writer-director Hiromasa Yonebayashi finds great adventure in this while keeping it maybe a little less than epic; this isn't a story where all of some land or other is in danger if the father isn't found, but one where the focus is on the kids finding their courage and ability to be older siblings and eventual adults. This, perhaps, is why what dialogue there is in the segment is limited to characters calling out each other's names; it forces Yonebayashi to stick to what can be explained visually and with a bit of pantomime.

His telling that story visually is great fun, too. Though the character designs may be simple and in some ways familiar (nowhere else in the film is it quite so clear that Ponoc was created to be a sort of successor to Studio Ghibli), they're expressive and communicate big emotions. Yonebayashi will occasionally linger on a shot not just so that the audience notices details, but so that they can see characters noticing details, giving a sense of how this place works. There's a bit of whimsy, such as in the staffs topped with crabs' claws and how these underwater creatures cry bubbles, but also danger; a fish, for instance is a monster with pointy teeth and bugging eyes. That this CGI creature doesn't quite fit with the hand-drawn environment is not exactly a problem, in that it appears alien, although some of the shots of the water from above serve as reminders that liquid is harder than it looks on a budget.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Rider

I absolutely should have seen this last April rather than getting lucky that it popped up on the Brattle's best-of-2018 series as half of a double feature with Leave No Trace, another really fantastic movie directed by a woman that takes place well outside of the city and focuses on people having a hard time reintegrating with the world. It's a pretty terrific double feature, even if I bailed on the second half because I was pretty sleepy (had one of those nights where I look up, see it's 2am and wonder if I was still awake or if I had briefly slept, and then sucked down extra caffeine at work).

I'm kind of fascinated by where everyone goes next. Chloé Zhao has signed a deal with Marvel to make The Eternals, and even as a guy who likes Marvel and Jack Kirby and all, I couldn't name an Eternal to save my life; I don't know whether that gives her a blank canvas or sets her up for an Inhumans-style mess. Take that chance to do something huge, though. More interesting, potentially, is Brady Jandreau; it's got to be weird to try and drop back into your life after making a movie about how you can't drop right back into your life, and there's hints of real talent here. I suspect if studios were still making Westerns, he'd become a familiar character actor (his injuries seem to leave stunts out of the question), but they're not.

That we ask that sort of highlights what an interesting situation Zhao's decision to use Jandreau and his family to make a narrative of their story is. In most features, we're free to imagine what comes next, and the ambiguity is by design; documentaries are often definitive in some way or other. This has all the open-endedness plus the idea that the observation distorts the outcome which is kind of fascinating.

The Rider

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 9 January 2018 in the Brattle Theatre [(Some of} The Best of 2018, DCP]

Show someone The Rider without any background, and they'll probably come away impressed; it's a fine independent film that tells its story with understated respect for its characters and creates a few striking images. Add that context, and it starts to feel a bit like a documentary. It's not, of course, but filmmaker Chloé Zhao is able to find a middle ground between what is real and what is crafted that makes both elements more effective and the film more compelling.

It gives the audience Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau), a gifted South Dakota horse trainer in his twenties who is also a star on the local rodeo circuit - at least until he was thrown from a bucking bronco which stepped on his head, leaving him with not just a nasty gash on his head and post-concussion symptoms including dizziness and vomiting, but mini-seizures that leave him unable to unclench a fist. Beyond the questions of his health, this leaves him adrift - all his friends are involved with the rodeo, and raising and training horses has long been the family business. Who is he if he's not a cowboy?

Change the last names, and character Brady Blackburn's story is not far from that of Brady Jandeau; that scar on his head is real and his real-life situation inspired Zhao (who had met him while working on another project) to make this film. His family plays fictionalized version of themselves as well, and knowing this can make a viewer wonder about certain scenes in different ways - is the resentment one sees between father and son created to make the film more dramatic, or not, and what does it mean that they'd be willing to re-enact it and let Zhao record it for posterity? Is that different than giving a documentary filmmaker full access? There are a number of places where a viewer can't help but wonder about the blurred line between fiction and reality here.

Full review at EFC.

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 11 January 2019 - 17 January 2019

Things that have been sitting on shelves for a while, stuff with uninspiring trailers, and a likely Oscar contender that took a while to get out of New York and Los Angeles. Yeah, that's what mid-January looks like.

  • Replicas for instance, played the Toronto Film Festival in 2017, but this thing with Keanu Reeves as a scientist trying to recreate his dead family as robots seems to have kicked around until the price went down enough for Entertainment Studios to afford it. It's at Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, and Revere. There's also The Upside, which played the same festival, starting out with the Weinstein Company and landed at STX. It stars Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, and Nicole Kidman in a remake of Intouchable, about an unlikely assistant and friend to a paraplegic billionaire. That one's at Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    Supposedly A Dog's Way Home is better than the trailer which has played in front of everything for the last month or so and which seemed to pretty much tell the whole movie's story about a dog who gets lost and crosses hundreds of miles trying to find her person. It's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    Fenway and Revere have the dubbed version of Modest Heroes on Saturday afternoon. It's pretty good, and one of the three segments is basically dialogue-free; another flavor of Japanese animation plays Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere on Wednesday and Thursday (with Boston Common having it all day rather than just the evening and in Imax on Wednesday). Fenway also has a double feature of two of DC's animated adaptations of comic book arcs, The Death of Superman & Reign of the Supermen on Saturday, and a RealD presentation of the Cousteau family's Wonders of the Sea on Thursday. Revere plays Forrest Gump on Thursday. Theaters still showing Bohemian Rhapsody will have special sing-along shows on the schedule, while Boston Common puts Free Solo and A Star Is Born on the Imax screen and South Bay does the same with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The Somerville Theatre re-opens Burning.
  • Kendall Square and Boston Common get Destroyer, featuring Nicole Kidman as a worn-down cop still feeling the fallout of an undercover assignment she took years ago. Karyn Kusama directs, with Tatiana Maslany and Bradley Whitford in the cast as well.
  • Apple Fresh Pond opens Telugu comedy F2: Fun and Frustration, continuing Petta, Simmba, NTR: Kathanayakudu, Viswasam, with Telugu entry Vinaya Vidheya Rama. They also open English-language The Aspern Papers, featuring Jonathan Rhys-Myers as a researcher looking for a poet's love letters. Boston Common, meanwhile, has another week of Mojin: The Worm Valley.
  • The Brattle Theatre has another week of "(Some of) The Best", with a double feature of Eighth Grade & Madeline's Madeline on Friday, one of Suspiria '18 & Hereditary on Saturday, Monrovia, Indiana on Sunday, the pairing of Night Comes On & You Were Never Really Here on Monday, I Am Not a Witch & The Miseducation of Cameron Post on Wednesday, and Zama & Museo (the latter on 35mm) Thursday. The series also includes matinees of Paddington 2 on Saturday and Sunday, and probably doesn't include Trash Night on Tuesday.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre has another pair of "East Meets West" midnights with a 35mm print of Judy Lee in Queen Boxer on Friday and Franco Nero as Django on Saturday. There's also a Goethe-Institut screening of 3 Days in Quiberon Sunday morning and the new restoration of Detour on Monday.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has more screenings of Life and Nothing More (Friday) and Border (Saturday/Sunday), with Museo (35mm Friday) and The Mystery of Picasso (Wednesday/Thursday) also starting runs. There's more Ida Lupino at 100, featuring Not Wanted (Saturday), The Trouble with Angels (Sunday/Thursday), and the Boston Festival of Films from Iran opens Thursday with the country's Oscar submission, No Date, No Signature.
  • It's members' weekend at the The Harvard Film Archive; if you're a member, you know what they're showing. They restart regular screenings again on Monday, with Jacque Becker's Touchez pas au grisbi.
  • The Boston Underground Film Festival and Boston Sci-Fi FIlm Festival team up for a "Dispatches from the Underground" show of five short films from 2018's Sci-Fi Festival on Wednesday night; it's in the Micro, so get tickets early if so inclined.
  • Boston Jewish Film has their first event of the year on Wednesday at Temple Israel, presenting silent film The Ancient Law with live music by Alicia Svigals and Donald Sosin.
  • A selection of films from the 2018 Ottawa International Festival of Animation is the first of several short programs The ICA will be running this winter; its run begins Thursday evening.
  • The Lexington Venue has featurette "Including Samuel" on Thursday evening, with a post-film discussion that expands on finding ways to facilitate access for people with disabilities.
  • Cinema Salem plays Shoplifters in their 18-seat screening room.


I will see Destroyer and probably won't be able to help myself with The Upside and Replicas. Other things merit catching-up, whether Hereditary and You Were Never Really Here, or Detour, or more recent things.