Monday, July 21, 2014

The Fantasia Daily 2014.04: Bayonetta: Bloody Fate, Red Family, In the Land of the Head Hunters, The Reconstruction of William Zero, The Suspect

Another long day, as the weekend can be. I spent a little too much time writing Saturday morning to make it to Jellyfish Eyes, as expected, but I think I probably could have gotten into Zero Theorem if I'd tried; the doors were at least open, although it turned out to be tight between that and the end of Bayonetta and I wanted to see Red Family anyway.

There was both a short film before In the Land of the Head Hunters and a panel discussion afterward, but I'm afraid I didn't write any names down for the first (it's not in the official program) and the latter was all in French. If you want to feel like an ignorant American, try doing the hunched-over trying-not-to-be-rude retreat.

After that, pizza, and then a weird "do we line up here, or down there, I know you said here but a bunch of people have just walked past us to line up down there and I can see people who are lined up downstairs who are in the same boat as me pass-wise, come on, what's the deal here?" alongside the folks from the Boston Underground Film Festival (who recognized me for my stylish BUFF t-shirt) in the line for The Reconstruction of William Zero. I get that the guys are sort of figuring things out as they go along with this new screen - there really isn't much room to wait in the lobby area down there - but man, folks were just ignoring the rules while other people were arriving down there via the tunnel from the building across the street (not complaining too much about that one, as Garbriela saved me a good seat after I recommended the movie to her).

It turned out to be a great movie, and writer/director Dan Bush gave a good, though brief, Q&A afterward. I kind of wish I'd had a chance to ask him about the various levels of technology he and his set decorators used on this movie, because it's got what look like Commodore PET-era machines alongside very modern cell phones, and it's a curious choice; I didn't know whether he was trying to evoke the 1980s or just thought the clunky old machines look cool. I was trying to figure out early on if the implication was that one character was making the other think it was thirty years earlier, but it mostly seemed like looks.

(There's a picture, but it's on my camera, and I left my mini-USB cables back home. I'll put it up then or maybe find something when I go to get my tablet repaired)

Most of the folks I saw there stayed in that theater for Cybernatural while I went upstairs for The Suspect. If I'd realized that The Suspect was hitting US Blu-ray on Tuesday, I might have made another decision, but I might not have, as this has some good big-screen car chase action.


Today's plan: Thou Wast Mild and Lovely, which appears to have an entire other short feature by the same director attached, and Hwayi: A Monster Boy, based mainly on having other chances to see the thing playing against it. If you're in town and haven't seen it, Cold in July is excellent at 7pm.


Bayonetta: Bloody Fate

* ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2014 in Salle D.B. Clarke (Fantasia Festival: AXIS, digital)

I strongly suspect that there is no movie, not even among the psychadelic ones by auteurs who were pretty weird even before the drugs, that is as utterly nonsensical to a viewer as an anime created to adapt or enhance a video game that he or she has not played. Bayonetta: Bloody Fate may actually be better than most in that category as it's not actually incomprehensible; it's just so full of clunky storytelling and empty fanservice that I can't see even those fans caring much for it.

It starts with a ton of backstory about witches, sages, the Creator Jubileus, and a Forbidden Child raised by the witches but lost for 500 years and amnesiac, aside from knowing she's supposed to kill anges. That's our frequently-naked heroine Bayonetta (voice of Atsuko Tanaka), who cuts down mostly-headless angels with her "knights" (a set of four guns, with a couple attached to her stiletto heels), among other weapons. A reporter by the name of Luka (voice of Daisuke Namikawa) is searching for the truth about the witches and sages, and incidentally Bayonetta, which may have more to do with Mr. Balder (voice of Norio Wakamoto), leader of the mysterious Idvalle Group, and Jeanne (voice of Mie Sonozaki), the assassin in his employ whose skills curiously reflec Bayonetta's.

Oh, and there's also Cereza (voice of Miyuki Sawashiro), one of the most annoying kid characters in the history of anime, and that is a pretty tough list to climb. She's also annoying in how she encapsulates some of the movie's worst problems, at least when seen on its own: She barely has a personality beyond one or two standard trains and repeated actions/lines, as she's a character built for a very specific purpose and seeming to have very little detail beyond that. Because that's standard operating procedure, it makes everyone and the whole environment a cipher, from the heroes to the world that they're presumably trying to save.

Full review at EFC

Boolgeun Gajok (Red Family)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2014 in Salle D.B. Clarke (Fantasia Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

There have been many, many films built around the twin premises that the family next door that's too perfect to be true really isn't, and that they have their own problems. Red Family doesn't go a completely new direction with it - The Americans is a great ongoing series with a bigger canvas to work on than this Korean film, for example - but it hits its marks very nicely indeed, with its fair share of eye-opening moments.

Of the "family" of North Korean spies living in a tony Seoul suburb, only Chief Comrade Seung-hye (Kim Yu-mi) really seems to see this as her patriotic duty - "husband" Jae-hong (Jung Woo), teenage "daughter" Min-ji (Park So-young), and "grandfather" Myoung-sik (Son Byung-ho) all have family back north effectively being used as hostages. That keeps them executing the missions that they are assigned, but it's the next-door neighbors that might pose the biggest threat: Min-ji is starting to like their son Chang-soo (Oh Jae-moo), while his grandmother (Park Myung-shin) is fond of Myoung-sik, and even the constant fighting of Chang-soo's parents (Park Byung-eun & Kang Eun-jin) serves as a keen reminder of what they're missing.

This is a small film from Kim Ki-duk's independent production company (the Korean filmmaker wrote the script but left direction to newcomer Lee Ju-hyoung), so don't expect a lot of the action or elaborate tradecraft that espionage thrillers often feature; most of the film takes place in suburban homes with very little need to clean up afterward. That doesn't mean it lacks for suspense; the last act is a sustained bit of tension in part for how it's buried beneath the surface. More often, the filmmakers will just suddenly drop the bottom out from a scene, playing up how sudden changes are the norm for this group.

Full review at EFC

In the Land of the Head Hunters

* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2014 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia Festival, HD)

As is so often the case with early silent movies, you can't just watch In the Land of the Head Hunters as intended; the new restoration is pieced together from two incomplete prints and still has plenty of segments that are just missing, filled in with stills. That's almost cruelly ironic, because while many films from that time period were considered disposable entertainment, it's clear that Edward S. Curtis was trying to make something that documents as well as entertains.

Make no mistake, though, this is an adventure story first and foremost, telling the tale of Motana, the son of a village chief sent out on a "vigil" to prove his worthiness. While there, he meets Naida, the daughter of another chief, who is promised to a sorcerer. If Motana can bring back that sorcerer's head, he can marry the girl, but assassinating such a man is seldom going to be a tidy way to end things. So there will be battles.

It's an exciting story, and while Curtis was primarily a still photographer famed for his pictures of Native Americans, he put an exciting narrative together. Though Head Hunters is only about an hour long, that was a full-length feature in 1914, and it's one that hits the ground running and seldom lets up. There are chases, battles, dreams, and all manner of other action, and while some intrigue and romantic plots fall a bit by the wayside, even a modern audience will seldom feel bored. It's a cracker, even a hundred years later.

Full review at EFC

The Reconstruction of William Zero

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2014 in Salle D.B. Clarke (Fantasia Festival: Paradigm Shifters, DCP)

As much as it's fun to be one of the first people to see a movie, it's kind of frustrating when you want to talk about the thing you've seen right away, but the only people you can do so with are the ones who were in that room - and, because it's a film festival, we're all rushing to the next movie. The Reconstruction of William Zero is likely to be one of my favorites of the festival, and I want more folks to see it, but I do not want to give things away.

It starts out playing a few tricks with time, as geneticist William Blakely (Conal Byrne) rushes from his home with wife Jules (Amy Seimetz) and son Kevin to get to work. At the same time, he's being revived by his twin in a new home, suffering from near-complete amnesia after a stupid automobile accident, learning anew that he and Jules have been separated for four years. He's got to relearn everything - and he's been making a start via experimental methods - and some of what he learns is strange and horrifying.

There's a throwback quality to Reconstruction, from the eighties-style production company logos to a lot of the set decoration and costuming - in fact, I'd peg it for a period piece if not for the mobile phones, RFID keycards, and tablet computers that show up as well (it's occasionally kind of distracting if you tend to watch closely enough to try and find an in-story reason for the old tech aside from the atmosphere it creates). Mostly, though, that comes from the way the movie builds and paces itself - director Dan Bush and co-writer Conal Byrne establish a chilly atmosphere early on, letting the audience and characters in on what's happening early enough that they can watch things play out while also letting the audience chew on the ethics of the situation. A good chunk of the effects budget is used on having Conal Byrne play against himself.

Full review at EFC

The Suspect

* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Action!, DCP)

Like a lot of action pictures, The Suspect occasionally has too much going on could sometimes benefit from a little more clarity in its presentation. The good news is that those moments when the plot is convoluted and the camera just won't stay still are generally made up for when things lock in for a truly impressive chase.

The suspect is Ji Dong-chul (Gong Yoo), an former elite soldier for North Korea who defected to the South and is now working as a driver, mostly for Haejoo Group president Park Gun-ho (Song Jae-ho), another defector, while also trying to track down the man responsible for the death of his wife and daughter. When circumstances place Dong-chul at the scene when Gun-ho is murdered - and in possession of a crucial piece of evidence - the manhunt is undertaken by more than the local police: Corrupt NSIA agent Kim Suk-ho (Cho Seong-ha) is in charge of the investigation, while Colonel Min Se-hoon (Park Hee-soon) - who tangled with Dong-chul back when the latter was one of North Korea's top agents - does the work on the ground. The only ally Dong-chul has is former reporter Choi Gyung-hee (You Da-in), who has been trying to get him to participate in a documentary on defectors ever since she was fired from her old job.

There's a lot going on in the script by Lim Sang-yoon, especially early on, and there's the sense that a lot of it could be simplified. A lot of time is spent early on establishing the characters' bona fides, past interactions, and motivations, and the film gets some mileage (and some decent action) out of that, but to a certain extent, it really doesn't matter: Although there are certainly moments when this movie will remind an audience of The Fugitive, it never really turns into a murder mystery the way that movie did, and all the background that the audience is given helps round the characters and story out but you can have less of it, because it doesn't really matter that much when the characters are going to be smashing their way through things rather than setting traps for the real killer.

Full review at EFC

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Fantasia Daily 2014.03: The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow, Cold Eyes, Late Phases, Han Gong-Ju, Suburban Gothic, Zombie TV

Up and down day. I made my first stop into the Swiss place with the forty varieties of chocolate milkshake, and had one with 61% cacao dark chocolate and coconut along with a European hot dog, which was pretty good. Probably the biggest "down" is that sometime during Late Phases, my tablet fell out of my pocket and now there's an almost invisible crack on it. I've seen people using phones and tablets that are much more banged up, but even though mine works just fine in every other way - screen lights up, data comes off when I connect it to the computer - it's not taking touch input at all. I'm not looking forward to what it's going to cost to repair.

Speaking of weird technical things, there was a crazy sound problem in the Clarke theater during Han Gong-ju, loud shrieking static on the soundtrack during a pivotal scene. The projectionists were able to stop the movie and restart the DCP from a few minutes earlier, but it actually seemed to be painful for some of those in attendance. Didn't hurt my appreciation of the movie in any way, but weird.

It delayed things long enough that me and a few others were late getting into line for the sold-out Suburban Gothic, leading to one of those times when they wind up letting passholders in one by one, and those of us who didn't give up (Red Family had already gone in anyway) wound up watching as they kept finding seats for two or three at a time. It looked like the last three of us were going to get shut out, but eventually we wound up waaaay up top, next to where the DJs sit in Theatre Hall. Hence the horribleness of this photography:

SUBURBAN GOTHIC silliness photo IMAG0866_zps80d42d82.jpg

That's star Matthew Gray Gubler in the foreground, giving away door prizes to people who came dressed as ghosts. Way down on the stage, you can see director Richard Bates Jr. and the wonderful Ray Wise apparently checking their phones. It was a fun Q&A, though, with Gubler's and Bates's mothers telling jokes, and Wise sharing a great anecdote about his own supernatural experience. The movie's pretty good, too.

Not sure what I'm supposed to do with this bottle of "ectogasm" they gave us, though.


Plans for today: Looks like I'm going to be late for Jellyfish Eyes, so I'll probably hit Bayonetta: Bloody Fate, try to get into Zero Theorem, fail, wind up in Red Family, and then do the planned In the Land of the Head Hunters, The Reconstruction of William Zero, The Suspect evening.

Wuribyeol Ilhowa Eollukso (The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: AXIS, HD)

You can do absolutely anything with animation, so why not do a story about a satellite that falls to Earth, turns into a girl, and falls in love with a boy turned into a Holstein milk cow by a broken heart? And then, once you've established the premise, things can get really strange.

Yes, the title is pretty literal, and it doesn't even take into account how KITSAT-1 takes human form after crashing into The Incinerator, a massive walking furnace that ways transformed people, or that a bounty hunter is trying to find the transformees so that he can harvest their livers to sell to others in the same fix. Or that the dairy cow, a musician named Kyung-chun, is protected by Merlin, a wizard who is now a walking, talking roll of toilet paper for reasons he'd rather not explain. Things are weird.

A lot of the time, things seem to be weird for no reason other than director Chang Hyung-yun thought it would be funny if one thing looked and acted like another thing, and then he kept fishing with those ideas and wasn't too terribly concerned with how they came together or whether or not they did. It's not completely haphazard, where someone watching it would be thinking that it was the other way three scenes ago, but he's absolutely not going to spend as lot of time explaining something that the audience doesn't really care about while letting some plot threads dangle or skipping things that connect certain pieces of the story. It might be nice of he added a little heft to the constant metamorphosis or how Hyung-kun is frequently a man turned into a cow disguised as a man, but most of the time, he's content just to be eccentric for its own sake.

Full review at EFC

Gamsijadeul (Cold Eyes)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

It's been a while since I've seen Eye in the Sky, long enough that when I looked up my original review, I was surprised how lukewarm I was toward it at the time. Maybe the folks who were talking about this South Korean remake being better than the original had something.

It's still built on a nifty idea for a cop movie or series, following a squad whose specialty is maintaining surveillance by means both high and low tech. The villains, of course, include a mastermind who watches his own crew's crimes play out his own all-seeing vantage point, making for a potentially fantastic game of cat-and-mouse. As with the Hong Kong version, there's a sense that this might work better as the pilot to a TV series - there's even a shadowy group of villains who may be gangs or North Korean spies for all audience knows to serve as recurring threats - but the movie is fairly self-contained with some scale to it, including a couple of fantastically co-ordinated getaways.

It's got a few things going for it, too - Han Hyo-ju stands out as the new recruit to the team, doing all the nervous tics and memory-searching bits that you might expect, but also never making her into the half-autistic case one might expect. Directors Jo Ui-seok and Kim Byung-seo also have the tailing scenes work at a snappy pace, although they also amp up nicely for bigger action. There is a bit of a sense that the action peaks a bit before the movie ends, but then they come back with a bit that fans of the original movie will appreciate.

Late Phases

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2014 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

As soon as he or she sees Nick Damici in this movie, blind but still a gruff former soldier, about to be placed in a retirement community, the jaded moviegoer may smile a bit. It's not the usual hero or setting for this type of film, but horror movies about old folks are often kind of great; old guys know stuff but are often shoved aside to be forgotten. Make the protagonist blind, and the challenges are even greater.

Make him Nick Damici, and you're in even better shape. A horror mainstay thanks to his collaborations with Jim Mickle, Damici makes Ambrose McKinley kind of a jerk, but one whose stubborn self-reliance and occasional hints of having a decent heart underneath make the sarcasm much easier to take, especially as it's delivered in such perfectly clipped, efficient fashion. The script by Eric Stolze and direction by Adrian Garcia Bogliano is enjoyably efficient in another way, spacing its two werewolf sequences out close to the start and the and of the movie, and then having Ambrose methodically figure out how he's going to deal with the situation in between. Lots of movies would insert a lot of extra peaks and valleys and dilute the action, but this one works in large part because it skips over that and lets us get to know Ambrose, understanding why he opts to take this particular path to deal with the threat to a new community that he doesn't much like.

Han Gong-ju

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2014 in Salle D.B. Clarke (Fantasia Festival: The Best Years of My Life?, DCP)

One of the most quietly devastating teen-focused movies you'll see, Hang Gong-ju does an incredible job of doling out information on just what happened to the title character to make her change schools at exactly the rate to keep the audience wondering (and dreading finding out), even as it examines the fallout as this girl who is getting the rawest of deals tries to just get by the precision filmmaking by writer/director Lee Su-jin is impeccable.

As is Chun Woo-hee has the title character. There's not a moment where she's not just right, a perfect combination of a kid still somehow determined to plow through despite her unearned shame and crippling rejection. Gong-ju is a heroine that the audience can get behind for her persistence even if she does have her own crippling doubts, and it's kind of amazing how individual she feels even as she's very deliberately not leaving the center path.

SPOILERS! It makes me want to take the most optimistic view of the final scene, a gut-punch by its very nature. I think, though, that this is why Gong-ju put so much importance in the swimming lessons - she knew that, at some point, things would get low enough that she would throw herself off a bridge, and she aimed to make sure that, when she came to her senses moments later, she would be able to get through it. !SRELIOPS

Suburban Gothic

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Aha, Kat Dennings! I knew I recognized her from somewhere!

Apparently, after Excision, writer/director Richard Bates Jr. couldn't get any work, in part because that thing was just ridiculously dark. So for his next one he bounced back with something still kind of freaky and gross but also aggressively light. Suburban Gothic is about a guy who can see ghosts and who must help one find her final rest Or Else, but there's barely a moment without something enjoyable goofy going on.

The script by Bates and Mark Bruner is a rapid-fire piece, but the cast keeps up with it, with star Matthew Gray Gubler a manic, irrepressible force driving the movie forward, bouncing off everyone else in the movie with fine wit and the sort of cheerful sarcasm that keeps the audience on his side, rather than thinking he's a whining, entitled prick. Dennings is a fine foil, and every movie should have Ray Wise in it, because he makes the racist jerk of a father that the main character moves back in with an utter delight to watch.

It's a goofy thing that, despite being very funny, kind of wore me out even at a mere ninety mminues. But I enjoyed most of it, even if the supernatural plot that held it together was the least interesting thing about it.

Zombie TV

* (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Yoshihiro Nishimura, Japanese makeup/special effects artist extrordinaire (and decent director as schlock goes), loves himself some zombies, and got a couple of other directors to go in with him making this riff on the things, 78 minutes of sketches purportedly coming from a network dedicated to zombie-oriented programming. Troubles are, that's a thin concept for a sketch movie, and the whole thing looks cheap. And the folks involved are not really that funny, with just a few rare exceptions.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Fantasia Daily 2014.02: Kite, Live, Zombeavers

One guest today, festival regular Noboro Iguchi:

 photo IMAG0865_zps1c3f73ee.jpg

Yes, he's in costume from the movie, with the joke being he ran here from Japan. As always, he was plenty enthusiastic, although I could kind of do without him encouraging the audience to yell "danger!" or "ochigi!" at the appropriate moments. Sure, his movies are the sort of B-movie things where a little audience participation probably makes them a little better, but this behavior can spread. Plus, the acknowledgment that he's making movies in part as an excuse to point cameras at girls' butts is honest, but creepy.

I'll probably have to save the full review for later in the festival or afterward, but suffice it to say that his movie wasn't nearly as much fun as Zombeavers, which gives the audience exactly what it wants.

Anyway, got to run quickly. Todays plans are tentatively The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow, Cold Eyes, Late Phases, Han Gong-ju, Suburban Gothic, and maybe Zombie TV if I'm still going by then.

"Raging Balls of Steel Justice"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

"Raging Balls of Steel Justice" is exactly the action-movie parody it sounds like, but done via stop-motion animation. That lets writer/director/guy doing all the voices Mike Mort do pretty much anything he wants so long as he has the time, and while sometimes that's riffs that seem overly familiar with crudity that is not deployed quite as precisely as you might hope, it's also a lot of big, bloody slapstick that gets genuinely peculiar at times.

To a certain extent, the animation is the star of the show - the base is stop-motion using the same sort of plasticene models as the Wallace & Gromit shorts, although smoother and slicker, and in a style that looks like three-dimensional caricature drawings than anything else. Mort fills the screen but keeps everything smooth, with CGI assistance for things like flames, muzzle flashes, and presumably wire removal and other effects, so there's none of the stuttering or sense of the mechanical or rubbery floppiness that you often see. It's often bloody and gross, but it's gorgeous.

Plus, it's pretty funny. Guys who are more into "spot-the-reference" than I will probably have a ball with this, but while Mort spends a lot of time pushing easy parody and bad taste, there are a lot of bits that are genuinely funny, well-executed jokes, from the way the movie keeps time to a guy being kicked in the crotch dozens of times to maverick cop Chuck Steel's robot partner (a sex fiend). The laughs aren't always something to be proud of, but they're big when they come, and that's a good match for the excellent animation.

Kite

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Action!, DCP)

This live-action adaptation of Yasuomi Umetsu’s animated film has apparently been in development for fifteen years, and the end result is one to make you wonder why certain projects persist and eventually get made in some form while others just fall apart. The idea isn't bad, but by the time all the necessary compromises have been made, is what's left worthwhile, or even good enough to stand out among other sci-fi/action movies of its type?

This one follows Sawa (India Eisley), whose mother and farther (an honest cop) were killed about ten years ago, and who now uses herself as bait to catch the flesh-smugglers who did it. She takes the edge off with "Amp", a drug designed to combat PTSD but which winds up erasing long-term memory if you abuse it the way she has. She's aided by her father's old partner, Karl Aker (Samuel L. Jackson), although as she gets closer to The Emir, a new potential ally enters the great, a bit about her own age by the name of Oburi (Callan McAuliffe).

The world she lives in is the near-ish future, after the economic collapse that has become the fashionable way to create a grimy environment where criminals run the show in genre films these days. The place is South Africa - not specified, but Jackson is the only one without the accent of the region - but it hardly matters; though the filmmakers were able to shoot in some impressively run-down neighborhoods, it's a generic sort of dark future where the setting contributes very little personality to the story. The string of foes that Sawa must go through (or whom she goes through even though she'd be much better off keeping a low profile) are fairly uninspired as well, leaving the story feeling like a warmed over mess of sci-fi pieces, with the really weird versions left in the anime.

Full review at EFC

Live

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Aside from the stuff mentioned above (and how such audience participation often threatens to turn into a competition), you know what really bugs me about Live? Noboru Iguchi only seems able to direct action sporadically. It's at its worst when he's got girls capable of doing some gymnastics on the payroll; he'll often just show them flipping around like that's supposed to be exciting, even though there really isn't any tension to the scene. Something's happening but it's not accomplishing anything.

A lot of the movie is like that, full of silly material that doesn't make much sense, but does well enough in having activity fill the screen that the audience might be tricked into thinking something is happening. The fact that Iguchi is so guileless and cheerful in his exploitation - he seems to get the same joy from pretty girls and fake blood as his target audience - helps some, as you can see that he's having fun making the sort of movie that he wants to see, especially if you like those things too. It's just not enough sometimes, and this is one of those times.

"Waterborne"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

"Waterborne" is eight minutes long, but it feels like something you could build a pretty decent creature feature around. As it is, it's a two-character piece, with Martin Blum as a government employee montioring the water in Victoria and Don Bridges as a farmer who feels this monitoring does little but make a bad situation feel worse, and the way co-writer/director Ryan Coonan has them play it out feels genuine, with Bridges dry and caustically funny but the tension seemig real.

Then the zombie kangaroo shows up, and it's a pretty fantastic zombie kangaroo - a big chunk of the movie's crowdfunded budget went to it, so it looks great on screen. Plus, Coonan and cinematographer Chris Bland shoot the heck out of the one set piece (and then piece it together well with editor Chris Tomkins) so that it's just as tense as it is absurd, a great demonstration of how a zombieroo (actual word in the credits!) feature could be a lot of fun.

I hope they get a chance to make one. I mean, hey, the beavers worked out all right!

Zombeavers

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Zombeavers gives the audience what they want from a movie with that title, pretty much the way they want it, and that way involves puppets. Puppets and blood.

Director Jordan Rubin and co-writers Al & Jon Kaplan are smart about getting the audience there, spending about two or three minutes on an opening scene that explains why there might be zombie beavers in the area before introducing Jenn (Lexi Atkins), Mary (Rachel Melvin), and Zoe (Cortney Palm), three sorority sisters planning on a boyfriend-free weekend at Mary's cousin's house on a lake where there's no cell phone service. Of course, boyfriends Sam (Hutch Dano), Buck (Peter Gilroy), and Tommy (Jake Weary) do show up, despite the fact that the whole thing was specifically about not seeing Sam, but they're not nearly as much trouble as the beaver dam covered in green gunk.

From the start, this thing is going to be a sort of light goof on monster movies, but it's not nearly as easy as just putting some girls in bikinis on the screen with some puppets of limited mobility and letting the yuks happen. As much as Rubin & the Kaplans absolutely know they're making a silly movie, they don't seem to feel the need to spend much time congratulating themselves on how clever they are or winking at the audience. They trust the situation to be funny, give their cast actual characters to play that won't slow things down, and while the beaver puppets are just handmade enough to let the audience laugh a bit at the lower budget, the film is built around their capabilities enough that it never takes the viewer out. This is a funny horror movie built around a goofy premise, yes, but it is decidedly not a spoof, but funny characters playing it straight.

The young cast doing that is one of the movie's most valuable assets. Lexi Atikins, Cortney Palm, and Rachel Melvin aren't given complicated characters to play at the start - they're easy to peg the sad one, the bratty one, and the sensible one right off - but they play off each other nicely, and when the boys are added to the mix, they're similarly quickly sketched but easy to grab onto; there aren't any boring non-entities there to get the body count up. Even Hutch Dano's Sam isn't the completely unlikable guy we're cheering to become zombie food; he's a funny jackass.

Full review at EFC

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Fantasia Daily, 2014.01: Jacky in the Kingdom of Women, The Mole Song - Undercover Agent Reiji

Hey, Hall Building, I kind of missed you last year.

Concordia's Hall building photo IMAG0861_zpsde924c11.jpg

Don't get me wrong, the Imperial was great last year, but having all two - now three! - screens right at a single intersection makes things a whole lot easier, and a lot of my memories of this festival come from being in the Hall. Granted, some of them involved terrible seats that had been broken for years, but I can do without that.

The trip up was surprisingly uneventful. I got all my packing and stuff done the night before, woke up early enough to catch a 7am bus - which I think, but am not sure, is earlier than it was in previous years. I think that in part because we got to White River Junction well before lunchtime, when the McDonalds that is practically the only place to get some food near the bus stop would get a rush in previous years. I must admit to being amazed that I'm the one who had my stuff together, unlike the couple in the next seat over, one of whom feared that he lost a passport between presenting his ticket and sitting down, while the other did lose her wallet somewhere in the station.

Anyway, got here without incident, found the basement I had rented on AirBnb - a bit further from things than I thought, but I'm not going to complain when I'm paying $35/night - finished typing up some of what I had written on the bus, and then went to pick up my media pass and program. Smooth as anything. Heck, when there was a bit of a to-do about whether a pass got you into Jacky in the Kingdom of Women or whether you needed to be on the VIP list, that was handled easily in my favor as well.

No guests for these two screenings, as it turned out - well, none related to the movie; the whole festival staff and many people from Concordia University (where the movies show), the city, and the province got up to speak. Most of them were speaking French, though, and I swear that my French is getting worse despite my annual visits here. It's like the number of people in this Francophone city who speak English is making my brain prioritize knowing the other language too low or something.

The new, remodeled seats are pretty great, by the way. Firm the way new theater seats should be, maybe a few less of them, but still having the little desktops if you want to put your food there or take notes or something. The projection was always good, but they've upgraded the digital projector - although at the cost of moving the 35mm to a platter according to the folks I sat with who know much more about that end of movies than I do - and put masking on the screen. It looked nice to my eyes, at least.

Anyway, it was one of the easiest and most enjoyable Fantasia arrivals I've had, and I'm hoping it bodes well for the rest of this crazy three-week movie summer camp. Really, this festival is the best.


My plans today: Hanging out at Hall for Kite, Live, and Zombeavers. Shockingly, that last one is American and not from the fest's native Canada!


"Lucky and Finnegan"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia Festival 2014, digital)

Resolution: Not only catch more short films, but spend more time writing about them, because lord knows that if anyone at the festival could use what little exposure I can give them, it's these guys. For instance, this one doesn't even have an IMDB entry, and I found the wrong Davide Di Saro the first time I looked on IMDB (I'm looking for the one with this website.

At any rate, he made this short film, a nine-minute video for a song of (presumably) the same name by Ronley Teper, although I couldn't find any evidence of it existing outside of this short. It is, should you get a chance to see it, nifty, a lushly animated movie that at times sort of has a "title sequence" feel, where it's trying to introduce characters and give the general gist of a movie or TV series without actually giving anything that happens away, especially since the song's lyrics at least sound like they're establishing the title characters as world-saving heroes. What would (presumably) be those title characters sort of fade into the background fairly quickly, though, as the background comes alive, with volcanoes and mountains and other elements that would be part of the scenery standing up and moving around, while the roving camera will often follow a path which shows one thing changing to another.

It's really a visual knockout - Di Saro is a guy to keep an eye out for - and I liked Teper's music for it too, kind of poppy but still having some rock and roll to them, and not repetitive over nearly ten minutes, Sure, the eye-popping things on screen help, but the whole thing comes together very nicely indeed. Nice start to the festival.

Jacky au royaume des filles (Jacky in the Kingdom of Women)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia Festival 2014, DCP)

The fact that the satire in Jacky in the Kingdom of Women so often seems silly rather than particularly cutting might just be the most damning indictment of entrenched gender roles that there is; the whole thing seems ridiculous from a different perspective. The good news is, that goofy nature gives filmmaker Riad Sattouf a chance to go off in a bunch of different funny directions rather than just hammering at the one thing throughout.

Jacky (Vincent Lacoste) is a young man in the country of Bubunne, which means he is a second-class citizen who cannot go out without being covered from head to toe, but that is all right, because he is expected to look after his factory-worker mother (Laure Marsac) until he can be married off, because what else are men good for? His friend Julin (Michel Hazanavicius) dreams of emigrating, but Jacky's dreams involve Colonelle Bubunne XVII (Carlotte Gainsbourg), the beautifully stern heir to the throne whose mother la générale (Anémone) is throwing a ball to find her daughter a Big Dummy of her own. But entry is expensive, and even if he could afford it, his cousins Vergio (William Lebghil) and Juto (Anthony Sonigo) are more than willing to act the wicked stepbrothers in this Cinderella story.

Movies are a sideline for Sattouf; he's a cartoonist by trade, although few of his albums appear to be available in the United States, including the one that serves as the source for this movie. That a bande dessinée was the source isn't surprising when you look at the movie, it's full of visual whimsy presented in solid colors and cute designs that occasionally hide a sense of humor with a mean streak. It's gleefully exaggerated, right down to the pseudo-baby talk that most characters speak in - "horsums" are the national animal, they eat 'plantums", and to question that they can speak to some people is "blasphemery" - the cinematic equivalent of the sort of broad cartooning that doesn't require enough realism for the audience to believe in it so long as they can enjoy it and get the important bits out.

Full review at EFC

Mogura no uta - sennyû sôsakan: Reiji (The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall Concordia (Fantasia Festival 2014, DCP)

A few weeks ago, someone recommended a comedy to me by saying "it's great - it's 96 minutes long!" And while the complaint with long comedies tends to be that they're bloated or diluted by not-funny material, The Mole Song often has the other problem: Takashi Miike's latest bit of absurdity is so high energy that it can very easily wear the audience out by the time only half of its two hours and ten minutes have passed.

It starts out with policeman Reiji Kukukawa (Toma Ikuta) being fired - though passionate about justice, he is not very bright and more trouble than he's worth; it's a wonder that it took five years since he graduated from the Academy with the lowest score ever for this to happen. But, thinks chief Toshio Sakami (Mitsuru Fukikoshi), his hot-headedness and single-minded devotion that overlookks the regular rules might make him a great guy to send undercover! Reiji accepts the job and the bizarre training of Kazuki Akagiri (Kenichi Endo) and quickly becomes close to yakuza Masaya Hiura (Shinichi Tsutsumi). One problem: Hiura doesn't deal in drugs, and that's apparently all undercover cops are allowed to investigate in Japan. Well, maybe two: He didn't tell academy classmate Junna Wakagi (Riisa Naka) where he was going, and she's got enough of a crush on him to come looking.

As is often the case, Miike starts fast, introducing characters with loud splashes before cutting to Reiji on the front of a speeding car, naked save for some carefully placed newspaper, and then doing a lot of jumping back and forth to explain how he got there, make the situation a little more crazy, and get into what happens next. This half hour or forty-five minutes is among the funniest things I've seen at the movies all year - it is frantic, full of jokes that go for broke, and manages to keep upping the ridiculousness until it is ending on a musical number. It's the sort of madness that maybe couldn't be sustained, but I don't think I would have minded if Miike and writer Kankuro Kudo (adapting a manga by Noboru Takahashi) had tried, even if the movie wound up being nothing more than just one more absurdly elaborate field test after another for about, oh, 96 minutes.

Full review at EFC

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 18 July - 24 July 2014

There's some good stuff coming out in Boston that I likely won't get a chance to see because I'm out of town. Not complaining too much, though, because I'm going to be binging on crazy movies in Montreal. But for those back home...

  • One that will be playing as part of Fantasia and played IFFBoston as well as a number of other festivals where it got heaped with praise is Richard Linklater's Boyhood, which he filmed over twelve years so that audiences could see its protagonist (and the other characters) grow up without any fakery. Audacious as heck - what happens if the kid who started this at five decides he wants no part of it at nine? - and by all accounts brilliant. It's at Kendall Square and Boston Common. Those two locations, as well as the West Newton Cinema, also open Zach Braff's Wish I Was Here, with the writer/director/star playing an out-of-work actor home-schooling his children as a number of other major life changes occur.

    The one-week booking at the Kendall is Borgman, a nifty-looking film from the Netherlands about a sinister homeless man who insinuates himself into a suburban family, implying some sort of secret history with the wife. The one-day screening is The Endless Summer on Wednesday night, with the classic surf documentary digitally remastered for its fiftieth anniversary.
  • It's a busy week at the multiplexes as well, with three movies opening wide. Planes: Fire & Rescue is Disney's latest spin-off of the Cars franchise, this time with a former racing plane taking up work as a firefighter. It plays in 2D and 3D at the Capitol, Apple, Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Fenway. Those same theaters open another sequel, The Purge: Anarchy, which extends the idea of the original (all crime is legal for one night every year) by following someone out to take revenge for what he lost in a previous purge. And though not actually a sequel, Sex Tape re-unites Bad Teacher director Jake Kasdan with stars Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel, as the latter play a couple whose recorded lovemaking winds up easily-accessed on the internet. It's at the Somerville, Apple, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Row, and the SuperLux.

    Boston Common's regular series are still running, with The Rocky Horror Picutre Show Saturday night, The Breakfast Club playing for $6 Sunday and Wednesday, and 300: Rise of an Empire playing at 9:30 Monday-Friday for $3. Fenway has what looks like the first showing of Monty Python Live (Mostly); the reunion of the comedy troupe at London's O2 auditorium will be playing all over the place over the next couple of months. And if you want to haul yourself out to Revere, that's where they're playing Persecuted, a thriller with the dubious premise of a governmental conspiracy against American Christians.
  • Apple Cinemas in Cambridge isn't opening any Bollywood this week - the new Indian movie they've got is Oggarane, in the Kannada language which I'll admit to never having heard of (it looks like a food movie of some sort). They're also opening Among Ravens, with longtime friends meeting up for an anual summer holiday along with a couple of outsiders. It's not at great times, but it's got a somewhat interesting cast, tagging Johnny Sequoyah with an "introducing" credit even though she starred in Believe all spring.
  • The Somerville Theatre picks up a couple of movies that merit a screen in a new neighborhood, Begin Again and Snowpiercer, and also kick off their summer midnight series with Harold & Maude in 35mm and on the big screen Friday and Saturday (they'll be doing midnights for things in other theaters, too). Both they and the Capitol in Arlington are skipping the family film this week (I wonder if attendence on those plummets the week something like Planes comes out), and the Capitol wraps up the "Bill Murrathon" with Groundhog Day at 10:30pm on Friday and Saturday.
  • The Brattle has a great double feature for those who like action this weekend, with The Raid and its sequel The Raid 2: Berandal playing in 35mm. That is a lot of bones breaking in an afternoon. They'll also be using the 35mm projector for an 11:30pm screening of Alex Proyas's Dark City on Saturday, kicking off their "Reel Weird Brattle" summer series with a bang. Then as the weekend closes, they'll be screening a free preview of I Origins, reteaming Another Earth's director Mike Cahill with co-star Brit Marling. Cahill and co-star Michael Pitt will be on-hand for a Q&A, probably having just flown down from Montreal (where the movie is part of Fantasia on Saturday). No guests on Monday for the one-off screening of Video Games: The Movie, a documentary on how games have risen from a children's toy viewed with suspicion to a huge cornerstone of the entertainment industry in roughly one generation.

    Once the work-week begins, it's back to the vertical calendar, with the Robert Wise centennial series offering a double feature of the director's noirs Born to Kill and The Set-Up on 35mm Monday (matinees only) and Tuesday. Wednesday's "Girls Rule!" show is Clueless, while the Recent Raves on Thursday are a pair of great-looking weird fantasies, Only Lovers Left Alive (on 35mm, which should look gorgeous) & Under the Skin.
  • Venus in Fur opens at The Coolidge Corner Theatre after a week at Kendall Square (in the Goldscreen, so arrive early to get one of the 14 tickets per show). The special screenings include midnights of Ken Russell's awesomely lurid The Devils on 35mm Friday & Saturday (and the monthly presentation of The Room at midnight Friday) and a Big Screen Classic presentation of The Wizard of Oz on Monday, also in 35mm. There's also a preview of some sort of The Hundred-Foot Journey, featuring Helen Mirren as a French chef not pleased at the Indian restaurant opening across the street, on Thursday night.
  • The Harvard Film Archive starts its always-fun summer programming this weekend featuring The Complete Fritz Lang. That series kicks off with the restored Metropolis (Friday 7pm), then continues with The Big Heat (Saturday 7pm), Ministry of Fear (Saturday 9pm), India-based two-parter The Tiger of Eschnapur & The Indian Tomb (Sunday 5pm & 7pm), and silent film Harakiri (Monday 7pm). All are in 35mm except Metropolis, because it looks like they just made one print of that reconstruction and it doesn't leave Germany.
  • The 19th Annual French Film Festival chugs on at The Museum of Fine Arts; potential highlights include Catherine Breillat's new one Abuse of Weakness (starring Isabelle Huppert) and Domestic Life starring Emmanuelle Devos.
  • From Joe's Calendar, noteworthy free outdoor films this week are Citizen Kane at the Boston Harbor Hotel on Friday, The Goonies at several places over the course of the week, and Soylet Green in Davis Square as part of Somerville's "Summer Movie Feast" series.


My plans? None of the above, likely, as I'll be continuing to binge at Fantasia, but if you're in Boston, catch Borgman, Dark City, and some Fritz Lang for me.

Fantasia Days -02 & -01: Ju-on: White Ghost, Ju-on: Black Ghost

Much like there is no Year Zero in the Christian calendar, there is no Day 00 when talking about festivals. If you're watching stuff on screeners or otherwise in preparation, that's day minus one and so on back. My blog, my rules, even if I am a count-from-zero guy most of the time.

And why, pray tell, am I doing this? Because there's a new Ju-on sequel playing the festival, and while it will almost certainly ignore the two direct-to-video short features made in 2009, what if it doesn't? These things can be hard enough to keep track of without missing pieces, and the Blu-ray Well Go put out a few years back was on my shelf anyway, so I figured I might as well check them out.

Oddly, Well Go lists White Ghost and Black Ghost as separate movies on the back of the packaging, but they are encoded as one long feature, with the credits for both at the end. I'm not sure why they'd do that unless there's some weird licensing fee for the encoding involved or something.

Ju-on: Shiroi Rojo (Ju-on: White Ghost)

* * (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2014 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival prep, Blu-ray)

The Ju-on/The Grudge series burned bright and fast in the 2000s, going from direct-to-video to theatrical features in Japan before jumping the Pacific, doing two American features before dropping to DTV status in the USA and then mostly disappearing, having already started to get self-referential in the second Japanese feature, right along the time it was becoming a general target of parody. As a last gasp, two short direct-to-video features were produced simultaneously in 2009. To see them is to understand why things have been quiet on the Ju-on front until this year's relaunch - as much as it seems like an open-ended plot ripe for extension, these flicks made the mine look pretty tapped out.

White Ghost opens with Fumiya Hagimoto (Hiroki Suzuki) delivering a Christmas cake to the Isobe family, only to have the mother say she is tied up like she was in a loop. When he investigates, he finds her and her entire family dead. That's not the only mystery; seven years ago, Hajime Kashiwagi (Ichirota Miyakawa) vanished after dropping his daughter Akane off at cram school; now the teenaged Akane (Akina Minami) seems to have some sort of psychic abilities which flare up big time when her friends produce a homemade spirit board.

Like the previous Ju-on: The Grudge movies written and directed by Takashi Shimizu (credited as a "supervising producer" here), this one written and directed by Ryuta Miyake a series of five or ten minute vignettes (there are eight in this sixty-minute movie), introduced with a character's name and telling the portion of the story from his or her perspective, jumping back and forth in time as necessary. It's not a bad trick for building mystery, as you can end as many segments as you like on bizarre cliffhangers with the implied promise of getting back to them later, but when you make your film into a puzzle, is expected that the solution be clever, and Miyake seldom really manages that. The movie gets its jumps, but rather than having the aha! moment where things come together in twisted fashion, White Ghost practically winds up running down a checklist, never really putting a twist on material that, while horrific, doesn't rise to the level of a rate-powered stain on the world.

Full review at EFC

Ju-on: Kuroi Rojo (Ju-on: Black Ghost)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2014 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival prep, Blu-ray)

The good news about Ju-on: Black Ghost is that it's better than the other short feature it was stitched to for American home video (Ju-on: White Ghost). Not by a huge margin, but by just enough that you can see where writer/director Mari Asato has the right idea of how to tell a story that fits the franchise but stands on its own as well.

Though Asato gets at the story via Tetsuya (Koji Seto) and Yuko (Ai Kago) - a young man and the nurse next door he has a crush on - the story truly centers on Fukie (Hana Matsumoto), a teenage girl not coping with her parents' divorce very well. It currently seems to be manifesting as seizures, but the doctors can't find anything physically wrong with her, and weird stuff is starting to happen around her - strange enough for mother Kiwako (Maria Takagi) to call her sister Mariko (Yuri Nakamura), a purported psychic, to help.

What's actually going on is a fairly neat subject for a ghost story on its own (one I think I've seen elsewhere although titles are not leaping to mind), although one that could be kickstarted by the idea of these metaphysical grudges. While there is a digression or two, Asato keeps it focused on Fukie's story. The puzzle-box format of these movies is not as prominent here as elsewhere, but there's a certain heft to it, a curiosity on the audience's part as to what sort of rage is hiding within the sweet-seeming Fukie to lead to the murdered family hinted at early on.

Full review at EFC

Thursday, July 17, 2014

This Week In Tickets: 7 July 2014 - 13 July 2014

Why yes, I was trying to get a bunch of stuff in before heading to Fantasia while also indulging events with inflexible timing!

This Week in Tickets

First up - baseball. Normally, there'd be an exclamation mark after that, but this game was just a sort of grinding reminder of what 2014 has been like for a Red Sox fan - pretty good pitching, nearly zero offense, which meant even though the game was close, it felt doomed. I think the most fun I had baseball-wise was when Chicago DH Adam Dunn crushed a ball over the Red Sox bullpen - it put my team behind, but Adam Dunn hitting home runs is satisfying: The man's approach is to try and crush balls he thinks he can drive, which leads to a lot of walks and strikeouts which frustrates fans who love the aesthetics of hitting the ball on the ground and moving the runners along. Hitting coaches keep trying to get Dunn to do that, the results are terrible, and then he eventually decides, screw it, I'm swinging for the fences again, and his game may become mostly ugly with moments of awesome, but it's more useful on average.

It was still kind of fun - I had good seats even if it was raining a little at points. A family with a two-year-old named Xander who was crazy excited whenever Xander Bogaerts was on the field (kids care nothing about horrible month-long slumps), at least until some other seats nearby opened up and they could spread out without little X squirming on someone's lap. On the other side was a guy and his lady friend from (I think) Brazil who had never seen a baseball game but seemed to be getting into it. It was a fun reminder of two things: Baseball is a lot more difficult to explain than a lot of popular sports,and baseball seems to collect colorful characters and odd events more than many other games. Maybe it's the downtime that lets personalities come out or the relaxed, clock-free pace, but baseball seems to make people laugh more than the other major sports. That may be a big reason why it's the best. (box score)

I meant to check out Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case on Tuesday, but when I got off the subway I realized that I'd forgotten my Landmark discount tickets. Being the cheap bastard thrifty New Englander that I am, I bailed, did some grocery shopping, and came back Wednesday. I liked it, although it made for a weird contrast with a film on Ai Weiwei from a couple years earlier, almost playing like a sequel but with certain things that were important before kind of rearranged and discounted.

Friday, I hit the Coolidge for Snowpiercer. I'd already seen it before, but given the bizarre, at least partially spite-based release pattern The Weinstein Company gave it, it was important to me to support it with money (even if it was MoviePass's money). That weird release pattern, though, led to a rare treat - something that plays like a big summer sci-fi action movie playing on the Coolidge's main screen, which is well-suited for that sort of thing but generally only has it for midnight and Big Screen Classic shows. Good crowd, too.

Then I loaded Saturday up pretty good, because who knew if some of this stuff would still be playing in a month? First up was Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, early enough to catch the relatively inexpensive early 3D show despite a few worries about how 3D would treat it. That left me time for a much-needed haircut, some time reading on the deck, and watching a little baseball before heading to the Brattle for the Magic Lantern Show and then from there to the Fenway theater for Deliver Us from Evil

The Magic Lantern show was kind of neat to see, as I'd seen a lot of these pre-cinema mechanisms in motion picture museums in Montreal, Paris, and other places, but never really seen them used as intended. This show was done as part of the Magic Lantern Society of the United States and Canada's convention, and had a convivial atmosphere - perhaps too convivial, really, as some of the presentations were more self-deprecating and played to a presumed audience of enthusiasts as opposed to just recreating what these shows were like in their heyday. There were also a lot of times when the presentation of the slides didn't go off so well, likely from the Brattle's unique rear-projection set-up, which meant that the presenter on stage and the operator underneath couldn't easily see and cue each other, not being able to get into a groove. Like I said, it was fun to do once, but I dont think I'll be marking out time for future magic lantern shows the way I do for silents.

And speaking of silents, I had a long Silent Sunday with Three Ages, Orphans of the Storm, and Intolerance to close out the week. I just wrote about it during this bus ride, so follow the link. It was fun, though, and probably a good warm-up for the Fantasia Festival, what with the running between screens, drawing up a plan of attack rather than just showing up and killing time if I was late, and reading the dialog (though with intertitles instead of subtitles).

Snowpiercer

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 11 July 2014 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (first-run, DCP)

My second time around for this one - I caught it in Paris last year, because that's what a guy like me does when my facation lines up iwth the French release of movies that might be butchered for their U.S. run - and I'm pleased to say that it's still really, really good. I maybe enjoyed it a little more this time because not being jet-lagged and anxious about language barriers may trump feeling like you're getting away with something. Though it's uncut, I think I noticed a little bit of a difference in the subtitling; I remember a bit in the French release about Song Kang-ho's character being frustrated that the others couldn't get his name right that seemed downplayed in the US one, but that may have been entirely done with different subtitling. Speaking of which, I was very pleased to see that my lousy high school French didn't fail me too badly with Song's subtitled speech at the end last time.

It's a pretty great movie which is happily doing a good job of sticking around the Boston area and even expanding into more screens. It's also on VOD if the big screen's not an option for you where you live, but I do advise hitting the theater if you can. Like I said, this sort of thing needs to be supported with money.

Original review at EFC

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 12 July 2014 in AMC Boston Common #16 (first-run, RealD 3D)

Even if you don't include Snowpiercer, this has been a pretty darn good summer at the movies, what with including Edge of Tomorrow, this, Begin Again, and some other good stuff looking to follow. Dawn isn't the fantastic surprise that its predecessor Rise of the Planet of the Apes was, but in a lot of ways it's even better. It channels its smarts into telling a great story without obvious winks at fans of the previous series (even if Rise did manage to do that in the very best possible way), one that stands alone quite satisfyingly while still having clear links to the last movie and the presumed next one.

It's also put together, visually, exceptionally well. The ape village here genuinely feels like a precursor to the ape cities from the novel - the three-dimensional ones built for four-handed inhabitants - more than any from the previous movies. The apes themselves are a wonder, the current apex of how today's CGI rendering skills are meshing with performance capture to create something real enough to not be unsettling. The environments and the rest of the world are well thought-out, and director Matt Reeves and company build some fairly impressive action out of it, which looks pretty good in the native 3D but doesn't seem like it would look wrong or too busy when flattened.

Part of what's impressive, though, is that the action does not feel like the purpose of the movie the way it does with so many others of its type - in fact, I half-suspect that it was somewhat dialed down so that it wouldn't steal emphasis away from the great build-up of tension that comes around it or the stories around that. This is a movie that invites the audience to watch the directions everyone is moving in, because the script quietly establishes each character with his or her own point of view and ideas about what is necessary to thrive in such a desperate situation, with every conflict, whether between ape and man or within either group, seem tragically inevitable even for the ones desperately trying to avoid it. It's a heady but never dull picture, one that leaves me legitimately excited to see another movie in this franchise for the first time ever.

Deliver Us from Evil (2014)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 12 July 2014 in Regal Fenway #2 (first-run, DCP)

I know Scott Derrickson is doing Doctor Strange next, but I half-wonder if after that, he plans to do a caper movie built around exorcism. After all, he's done a courtroom drama (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) and a cop movie (this) on the subject; wouldn't that sort of crime picture be next?

As exorcism movies go, this is a pretty decent one. It's not my favorite type of horror movie, mostly because the plot generally requires buying into some sort of fringy religious belief and, relatedly, I tend to find the idea of people believing in demonic possession more frightening than the idea of possession itself, and this one's got a lot of the flaws of the genre: The villain is an uneasy balance between generic and absurd, and I can't help but feel that if the supernatural were so accessible, we'd see a lot more of it. Derrickson mostly handles it by creating situations that are weird but which don't require explanation, and where the supernatural elements basically extend real-life horrors: The mother who doesn't care for her baby properly, or the soldier who comes home from war broken. Maybe there's a little something there about the impossibility of continually confronting evil and being able to engage the normal world properly, whether you're a detective who sees the worst of human behavior or a Jesuit priest who confronts literal demons.

Eric Bana and Edgar Ramirez serve pretty well in those roles. Bana, in particular, is terrific, giving his Bronx-accented, familiar-seeming detective exactly the right attitude in every scene, a near-perfect blend of cockiness and genuine terror. Ramirez plays the more conventional pulp hero - the secret-society guy who still has quips at the ready despite having been involved in horrific adventures, but he's got the knack for making it seem believable. My favorite, though, is probably Chris Coy as Bana's partner on the force; he's confident and sarcastic and despite his often having a blade at the ready, I was still surprised when he got involved in a pretty great knife-fight at around the two-thirds mark. The knife fight is an underrated bit of movie action - it adds all the nervous tension and high stakes to every hit of swordplay to the close-in exchanges of a fistfight - and Derrickson directs a good one. I may not always love the supernatural subjects Scott Derrickson chooses or how he seems to give them more credence than they deserve, but I continue to be impressed with the solid movies he builds around them.

Sox vs SoxAi Weiwei: The Fake CaseSnowpiercerDawn of the Planet of the ApesMagic Lantern ShowDeliver Us from EvilThree AgesOrphans of the StormIntolerance

Silent Sunday: Three Ages, Orphans of the Storm, Intolerance

This didn't quite end up being the seven hours of silent film in one day that I initially reckoned on it being - though many sites listed Orphans of the Storm as being almost three hours long, the Somerville's print clocked in at something like two and a quarter, though I have no idea how much (if any) of that was a matter of different cuts or frame rates. Theater manager Ian Judge mentioned that they were pressed for time beforehand, as the film started at two and they had a 4:45 screening of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes scheduled for the auditorium, but there turned out to be a fair amount of room, even with accompanist Jeff Rapsis taking a moment to read a review of Orphans from the time of its release that used some really sensational metaphors.

It was somewhat instructive to see three silents with different presentations and pedigrees almost back to back, though. All looked pretty good, but it was kind of interesting to note that the DCP presentation of the restored Intolerance, while the clearest and most stable, looked kind of off. I hate saying that in an unquantifiable way, especially if it might just be a matter of my eyes/brain not being used to seeing this sort of movie this way and confusing "unfamiliar" with "poor". I wouldn't be surprised if silents, with their often deep blacks, suffered a little more from that particular digital projection problem area than later movies. I also wonder a bit about the tinted sequences - I imagine that the restoration worked with the original black-and-white footage and then applied a filter program to make those scenes blue or green or yellow as necessary, but it seemed a little brighter than usual. That had a blue-tinted scene really looking blue, as opposed to like night.

Orphans of the Storm, meanwhile, was a black-and-white print from the early 1970s that had not been tinted, and while it looked fantastic (a great exhibit for how these movies look better on B&W stock than color), we were warned that certain scenes, like when Louise is alone and panicked near the river, would look odd because some shots were shot at night while others were shot in the day and intended to be tinted blue, but weren't.

The music was the other big difference. I'm made the point of how seeing silents in a theater can be different every time because you get a different soundtrack, but this really drove it home. Jeff was great, as always, working "La Marsaillaise" into the score for French Revolution-set Orphans of the Storm fairly often and just generally doing a great job of tracking how D.W. Griffith brought a surprisingly light touch to a heavy story for two plus hours. It's an endurance test. It's the other two movies that had included scores that made me think a bit, though. Three Ages had a somewhat weak soundtrack to my ears, a kind of tinny, plinky piano sound that reflected what was happening on screen rather than helping to build or emphasize, while Intolerance had a new orchestral score by Carl Davis (along with some sound effects, which always seems kind of weird in silents to me, because if we can hear that sound exactly, why not voices?); it gave the movie some oomph. Given I felt when I came out of these movies - a little underwhelmed despite frequently being amused in the case of Three Ages and impressed even if I had occasionally been impatient for Intolerance - I wonder how much the scores managed to set the mood.

So, anyway, that's six and a half hours (give or take) of silents in one day, which is a lot. I appreciate both the Brattle and the Somerville getting their silent programming in before I left for Montreal, but I was joking for days before and after about how they might want to check with each other a little more often, because you've got to think there's a fairly limited audience for long D.W. Griffith epics in the first place, and scheduling two at the same time has to cut into it!

Three Ages

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 13 July 2014 at the Brattle Theatre (Silent Movies Special Engagement, 35mm)

Three Ages was hardly the first parody movie - the practice of doing a quick takeoff was so common in early cinema that Thomas Edison's employees may have spoofed Frankenstein mere days after making it, for all we know - but it's noteworthy, a feature by one of the great silent comedians that not only has fun with a great movie but makes it his own. Buster Keaton may not quite be Mel Brooks at his peak here, but he's still a guy who knows his way around a joke.

His inspiration here is D.W. Griffith's Intolerance, although his parallel stories are much simpler. In each, a beauty (Margaret Leahy) is courted by a suitor (Wallace Beery) who appeals to her parents (Joe Roberts & Lillian Lawrence) and The Other Guy (Keaton) who loves her true but can't catch a break. And while the specific trials in all the time periods - the stone age, the Roman Empire, and present-day 1923 - may be different, the basics of the story are the same.

This basic premise sort of winds up a stumbling block as well, because it means there's no escaping that Keaton and his compatriots are repeatedly telling the audience the same joke three times in a row. That's kind of rough when the joke already has whiskers on it, like Buster trying to make his beloved jealous by cozying up to another girl who is not in on the gag, but even the better parts suffer for the repetition: Keaton, co-director Eddie Cline, and writers Clyde Bruckman, Joseph Mitchell, and Jean Havez are not trying to subvert expectations as they cycle between ages, and what probably seemed very clever for a comedy 90 years ago doesn't quite get the same reaction now. Also not aging particularly well (and probably not that great in 1923, either) - how all three of Margaret Leahy's characters come off as somewhere between fickle and indifferent to which man wins her, even if all three do start to show some fondness for the Keaton characters later on.

Full review at EFC

Orphans of the Storm

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 13 July 2014 at Somerville Theatre #1 (Silents Please!, 35mm)

Filmmakers sometimes make weird decisions. Some are objectively odd but basically harmless, such as casting real-life sisters in a movie whose plot involves one of their sibling characters being adopted. Folks probably wouldn't do that today, but it works out rather well for Orphans of the Storm, a gem of the silent era.

The siblings in question are Henriette Giraud (Lillian Gish) and her sister Louise (Dorothy Gish); about twenty years ago the newborn Louise was placed on the steps of Notre Dame cathedral to save her high-born but unwed mother scandal, and while Henriette's poor father was about to do the same thing for different reasons, he not only could not go through with it, but returned home with two babies. Though Louise's mother left money for whoever found her daughter, their lives are still potentially tragic - the fever that took Girauds mère et père left Louise blind, and just as they arrive in Paris to seek a cure, Henriette is kidnapped by a smitten aristocrat. She is rescued by the far nicer Chevalier de Vaudrey (Joseph Schildkraut), but by the time they return to the carriage station, Louise is gone, with a family of con artists looking to put her to work panhandling. And, as if things were not dire enough, it is the eve of the Revolution!

Griffith isn't going to stop there, of course - he's relating a melodrama, so there's a whopper of a coincidence to tie things together and a string of dramatic cliffhangers. He inserts Revolutionary figures like Robespierre (Sidney Herbert) and Georges Danton (Monte Blue) into the narrative to give it greater scale, and does a fair amount of rabble-rousing, whether against long-deceased French aristocrats - this atrocity, a caption declares, is true! - or by having the introductory text draw a direct parallel to his day's "anarchists and Bolsheviks". Griffith was not a very subtle man, and both the action and the titles bellow. It's not surprising that a key portion of the climax hinges on the oratory of Danton (declared "the Abraham Lincoln of France" in one intertitle) despite this being a silent picture; Griffith loved this sort of thunder.

Full review at EFC

Intolerance

* * * (out of four)
Seen 13 July 2014 at the Brattle Theatre (Silent Movies Special Engagement, DCP)

D.W. Griffith's Intolerance, these days, is most often brought up as a defense for his having directed The Birth of a Nation, and while it will always be linked with that movie - Griffith made it partially in reaction to the reputation he gained for Birth, after all - it's an essential piece of movie history on its own. Few movies today can match the sort of ambition he showed 98 years ago, even if the act of inventing much of modern cinema language means there is still a bit of refinement to be done.

Four stories from different periods are interwoven, each an illustration of how prejudice and intolerance interferes with love and happiness. In the present, "The Dear One" (Mae Marsh) spends her days caring for her factory-worker father until the work of priggish reformers sends both her and The Boy (Robert Harron) to the city, where potential corruption, redemption, and tragedy await. In another place and time, Huguenot girl Brown Eyes (Margery Wilson) and Catholic Prosper Latour (Eugene Pallette) intend to marry, unaware that Catherine de Medicis (Josephine Crowell) is preparing a purge and that she has also caught the eye of a mercenary (Allan Sears). The ancient city of Babylon is the setting for a story about a feisty Mountain Girl (Constance Talmadge) who falls for Prince Belshazzar (Alfred Paget), unaware that the high priest of Bel (Tully Marshall), furious over the increased worship of the goddess Ishtar, intends to betray the city to an invading warlord. And in the time of Christ (Howard Gaye), the Pharisees do not just look down upon others, but expect others to look up to them.

Griffith's ambition with Intolerance was staggering for 1916 - the movie is king-sized, especially for the silent era, at roughly three hours (depending on which cut you see), and the idea of telling multiple stories in parallel, only related via theme, was all but unheard-of. Those themes themselves, meanwhile, were broad and impassioned, an earnest and heartfelt lecture on how prejudice have been harmful forces throughout human history. It might, arguably, be a bit of a stronger argument coming off of Birth of a Nation if there were any black characters of note in the film, but it's certainly difficult to argue with Griffith's intensity in making the argument. And he's not content for the film's components simple half-stories solely dedicated to making a point; he could probably have built two or three decent movies out of the various pieces without too much padding.

Full review at EFC

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 11 July - 17 July 2014

On the one hand, I'm kind of glad the studios are only releasing one big movie and the local places are both doing big silent things before I head north for the Fantasia Festival. On the other, it's creating a weirdly lopsided weekend.

  • Fortunately, the one big movie this weekend looks to be really good: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has a strong up-and-coming director in Matt Reeves, a solid cast, and the same writers who helped make the movie it follows, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, surprisingly excellent. It's a 3D conversion job, but given the relatively low light levels shown in the trailers, that may not be the way to go. It's at the Somerville (2D only), Apple, Embassy, Fenway (including RPX), Boston Common, and Assembly Row.

    There's also a little expansion going on, with Begin Again adding screens at Fenway and Assembly Row while Snowpiercer opens at West Newton. Boston Common has Pretty Woman as the $6 on Friday and Wednesday, and the remake of RoboCop as the $3 late show Monday to Wednesday.
  • The Brattle is keeping Snowpiercer around for late shows through the weekend (10pm Friday & Saturday, 9:30pm Sunday). On Friday, the earlier shows are Jonathan Demme's hugely popular Talking Heads concert film. For the rest of the weekend, it's silents: Saturday starts with a new restoration of The Thief of Bagdad and concludes with An Evening of Magic Lantern Entertainment, the centerpiece of the Magic Lantern Society of US and Canada, dedocated to preserving and collecting devices used to entertain audiences before the invention of what we now know as cinema. Then on Sunday, there's a double feature of D.W. Griffith's Intolerance and Buster Keaton's spoof thereof, The Three Ages, the latter on 35mm.

    Then on Monday, the summer vertical schedule starts, with Mondays and Tuesdays a centennial tribute to the great Robert Wise, starting with two films that he edited, Orson Welles's Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons; both play in 35mm as a double feature on both days. Wednesday, they kick off the "Girls Rule!" program with the delightful We Are the Best!, and while the Thursday "Recent Raves" program won't start until next week, this Thursday promises to be a lot of fun with the annual Trailer Treats show, with all sorts of crazy, the entries to their "Trailer Smackdown" contest, and barbecue at six.
  • The Somerville Theatre also has silents this week, with Jeff Rapsis at the piano for a 35mm print of Orphans of the Storm on Sunday afternoon, which, like Intolerance, is a three-hour epic directed by D.W. Griffith featuring Lillian Gish. The Saturday morning "Affordable Family Flicks" screening is also on 35mm, in this case a print of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. There's also a All Things Horror screening of Providence filmmaker Richard Griffin's Future Justice on Saturday in the Micro-Cinema; the 7:30pm show is sold out but they added a second at 9:30. The Somerville also ships 22 Jump Street over to the Capitol, which will be showing Despicable Me at noon for $6 from Friday to Thursday, and Caddyshack as part of their Bill Murrathon series at 10:30pm on Friday and Saturday.
  • Kendall Square has A Coffee in Berlin (aka Oh Boy) for the one-week booking, a German Academy Award-winning black-and-white movie about a college drop-out havnig odd misadventures after his allowance is cut off. They're also opening Venus in Fur, the new one by Roman Polanski which adapts David Ives's play. The Friday/Saturday midnight - which wraps the series - is The Princess Bride.
  • Apple Cinemas/iMovieCafe and Fenway both pick up Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania, which features Alia Bhatt as a woman about to get married who meets title character Humpty Sharma (Varun Dhawan) as she's doing her wedding shopping. They also have screenings of Telugu-language thriller Drushyam all week and Malayalam-language drama Bangalore Days occasionally starting on Saturday.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre picks up Roger Ebert documentary Life Itself, which is in the main screen during the day and the Goldscreen at night, switching places with Snowpiercer at 7pm. The main theater also has midnight screenings of David Cronenberg's Scanners on 35mm. The Monday Big Screen Classic is Blazing Saddles.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues the 19th Annual French Film Festival, which is mostly new films, including Michel Gondry's Mood Indigo, and the animated adaptation of Aya of Yop City.
  • The Regent Theatre has two films this week: The Alive Mind presentation of Daughters of Dolma, a documentary on Tibeten Buddhism from a woman's perspective, plays on Tuesday, while Redemption, which looks at the no-kill movement in America's animal shelters, plays Thursday.
  • The Harvard Film Archive has their semi-annual members weekend; if you're a member, you've received an email saying what's running.
  • From Joe's Calendar, the free outdoor films this week are Jimmy Was a Carpenter at the Liberty Hotel on Friday (RSVP required), the same night that the Boston Harbor Hotel shows The Wizard of Oz and Despicable Me 2 plays on the Esplenade (and a lot of other places during the week). Check the listings for more.


My plans? Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the Magic Lantern show on Sunday, 7 hours of silent films on Sunday, try and fit Life Itself and Deliver Us From Evil in at some point before heading north for the Fantasia Festival on Thursday, with Greyhound hopefully getting me there in time for Jacky in the Realm of Women and The Mole Song - Undercover Agent Reiji.