Friday, September 18, 2020

Next Week in Virtual Tickets: Films sort of playing Boston 18 September 2020 - 24 September 2020

Not seeing any listings for Apple Cinemas at Fresh Pond, so I'm guessing that they got as much as they could from Tenet and didn't think they'd be viable again until November when No Time to Die is scheduled to come out. I feel bad, because I wanted to go see a movie or two there, but I was so busy with Fantasia and NYAFF and then no evening this week seemed to work out. But maybe that was smart? 2020 is a mess.

  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre opens Chuck Berry in their virtual screening room, probably to a bigger audience than when it was four-walled at the Regent earlier this year (after apparently being released internationally in 2018). Filmmaker Jon Brewer got a bunch of interviews to tell the story of "The Granddaddy of Rock & Roll". They also have two new ones tied to their ongoing series, with Killer of Sheep as the Big Small Screen Classic (that also has a Coolidge Education seminar with Robert Daniels on Thursday evening) and the After Midnight crew offering Parasite through Sunday. Note that it is the 1980s monster movie with Demi Moore as opposed to Bong Joon-Ho's Oscar-winner, and they do not appear to be offering it in 3D. They also continue to offer rentals of Sibyl, Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin, Beau Travail, From Controversy to Cure, and I Used to Go Here.

    In upcoming-but-selling-out programs, there's a four-week course on "Dictators on Film" whose Tuesday sessions are sold out but there may still be room for the Saturday session; they will also be showing Vertigo as a drive-in show at the Medfield State Hospital next weekend.
  • The Brattle Theatre also has a reissue as their new release this week, with Jan Svankmajer's Faust joining their lineup. To a certain extent, you don't need to say much more than that it is Faust (legendary fable about a man who sells his soul to the devil) as told by Svankmajer (legendary Czech animator and surrealist). They also continue Vinyl Nation, The Hole, Ghost Tropic, Moroni for President, MR. SOUL!, and Son of the White Mare.
  • Infidel appears to be the week's only major new release, with Jim Caviezel starring as a man kidnapped in Cairo and Claudia Karvan as the wife looking to secure his return. It's at Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Arsenal Yards, Chestnut Hill, and Revere. The Secrets We Keep also opens at Arsenal Yards, after having started playing Kendall Square and the Embassy on Wednesday.

    Arsenal Yards has locally-produced Spin the Plate for single shows on Friday and Sunday, along with matinees of The Iron GIant through the week.

    Fenway also re-opens Minions this week, because why not. Revere fills its weekday evenings with the No Game, No Life anime (Monday), P.S. I Love You Tuesday), and A Flea in Her Ear (Thursday afternoon), the last two so random that I wonder if there are newer things with the same names. They've also got Sonic the Hedgehog and Jumanji: The Next Level, but I'm not sure if those are "again" or "still". South Bay has The Breakfast Club on Sunday afternoon.
  • Landmark Theatres Kendall Square and Embassy both have two new releases this weekend (aside from The Secrets We Keep). The Way I See It is a documentary from John Lewis: Good Trouble director Dawn Porter that features Pete Souza, White House photographer for both Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, who has become a sharp critic of the latter's successor. The Nest features Jude Law and Carrie Coon as a family relocating from suburban America to the English countryside in the 1980s, exposing the stress points in their marriage. It's from Martha Marcy May Marlene director Sean Durkin.

    Both The Way I See It and The Secrets We Keep are also at The Lexington Venue, which is open at least through Sunday.
  • The West Newton Cinema brings Jazz On a Summer's Day to their screen after its virtual run at the Brattle and Coolidge, which is in reverse, but, hey, 2020 is weird. Their website only shows times through Sunday, including Citizen Kane, Tenet, 2001: A Space Odyssey (not showing Saturday), The Burnt Orange Heresy, and Casablanca (not showing Saturday) and Sunday. Don't know if that messes with their curbside popcorn pick-up on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
  • The Regent Theatre continues to stream The Beatles in India, adding Chet's Last Call (the story of an (in)famous Boston dive bar operator which played the theater earlier this year) on Saturday. The "Red Hot Chilli Pipers" concert is available through Monday, with Moody Blues tribute band "Go Now!" taking the slot on Tuesday. There's a livestream of protest documentary We Are Many on Monday night. It also looks like they will be opening the doors for the first of four screenings of this year's Manhattan Short Film Festival block on Thursday evening, but maybe that page has just been on the site for a while.
  • ArtsEmerson continues to host documentary Our Time Machine through Tuesday, including a conversation with artist Maleonn and filmmakers Yang Sun & S. Leo Chiang on the 19th.

    The Bright Lights at Home show on Thursday is Through The Night, focusing on two mothers and a child care provider who meet at a 24-hour day care center (which is apparently a thing now). It livestreams at 7pm with a conversation with director Loira Limbal afterward. It's a part of the Boston Latino International Film Festival, which is virtual this year and kicks off on Wednesday.
  • The Boston Film Festival will be mostly-virtual this year, but is planning three live screenings: The Girl Who Wore Freedom and Paper Spiders on Thursday evening and Small Town Wisconsin on Friday. A number of other films we be available virtually on Thursday, some including Q&As, though I don't know how that's going to work.
  • Asian imports still playing include Wild Grass at Boston Common, The Eight Hundred at Boston Common and the Seaport, and Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula at Boston Common and Revere.
  • Don't know if anyone is at The Somerville Theatre to update their virtual screening room slate, whch still shows The Fight, Amulet, John Lewis: Good Trouble, the Quarantine Cat Film Fest, Pahokee, and Alice; The Capitol is open for ice cream and snacks, but I don't know if anyone is paying attention to their virtual theater, which still lists the "One Small Step" shorts, the Cat Film Fest, The Surrogate, and Heimat Is a Space in Time.
  • The Brattle, the Coolidge, and West Newton are all offering relatively reasonable rentals for groups of up to 20; search their websites or call them directly get quotes on rates, available slots, and what the rules on concessions and masking are.


Bummed about Fresh Pond apparently closing up before I got a chance to head over, and I hope the two weeks they were open didn't actually hurt them. Write to your representatives via Save Your Cinema so that hopefully all the other places have a chance to survive. Also, Nightstream is about to announce their line-up, the upcoming online festival put on by BUFF and other genre festivals around the country.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Next Week in Virtual Tickets: Films sort of playing Boston 11 September 2020 - 17 September 2020

How far away is the next local-ish virtual film festival, another couple weeks? How will I handle not having to focus on reduced options with rapidly approaching expiration dates?

  • One option would be Sibyl, available via The Coolidge Corner Theatre, which features Virginie Efra as a psychiatrist who decides to become a novelist, but lacks inspiration other than the tales told by one of her remaining patients (Adèle Exarchopoulos), which seems professionally dubious even if it didn't have her blurring other lines in her mind. The virtual screening room also continues to offer Critical Thinking, Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin, Beau Travail, Epicentro, Coup 53, From Controversy to Cure, and I Used to Go Here through at least Thursday.

    The "After Midnite" crew also brings Cannibal Apocalypse to the virtual room, although Antonio Margheriti's uncut, fully restored tale of flesh-eating Vietnam veterans is only available through Sunday. The weekly Coolidge Education seminar goes for a rather less lurid bit of apocalyptic fiction, with Clemson University professor Amy Monaghan taking part in a Thursday-evening discussion of Children of Men (not on the theater's site but available many other places).
  • The week's new offering in the virtual screening room for The Brattle Theatre is Vinyl Nation, a documentary on the recent resurgence of the venerable recording medium, including some facets that are unexpected or counter-intuitive. They also continue to offer the reissue of Tsai Ming-Liang's The Hole, Ghost Tropic, Moroni for President, MR. SOUL!, Desert One, the restoration of Son of the White Mare, and Jazz on a Summer's Day. The links for Represent, Creem: America's Only Rock 'n' Roll Magazine, and You Never Had It - An Evening with Bukowski are still up, but may not be for much longer, as they were previously marked as being in their final week.
  • With Tenet likely to take up a lot of screen real estate for some time, wide releases are likely going to come slowly. This week's main offering is The Broken Hearts Gallery, starring Geraldine Viswanathan as a young woman who starts an art project to deal with her own break-up but may find other connections as a result. It's at Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Revere

    Boston Common and South Bay also bring back Black Panther as a tribute to Chadwick Boseman, while the Majestic in Watertown has matinee screenings of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Revere has anime horror feature Aragne: Sign of Vermillion on Monday evening and polar opposite The Bridges of Madison County on Tuesday. South Bay also has Blackbird on Monday; it has a heck of a cast in Susan Sarandon, Sam Neill, Kate Winslet, Mia Wasikowska, and Rainn Wilson as a family preparing to say goodbye to the terminally ill mother (Sarandon). That may be a one-off or a preview for next weekend; there's both "these dates only" and "opens September 18th" floating around.
  • Apple Fresh Pond opens Fatima, which tells the story of 3 children in 1917 Portugal who claim to have had visions of the Virgin Mary
  • Landmark Theatres Kendall Square opened two documentaries on Wednesday, both featuring elected officials from Georgia: All In: The Fight for Democracy focuses on Stacey Abrams and the current fight against voter suppression, while Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President looks at how musicians helped elect Carter and influenced him throughout his life. They also have The Devil All the Time, a sprawling Midwestern crime gothic from director Antonio Campos.

    Two of those will be hitting streaming on Wednesday (All In on Prime, Devil on Netflix), so they're probably hoping that The Secrets We Keep picks up some of the slack. It features Noomi Rapace and Joel Kinnaman as a mid-century couple who believe their next-door neighbor may be a war criminal. That one also opens at the Embassy.
  • Movies continue to open in China with Wild Grass this week's import; it's a 1990s-set romance starring Ma Sichun, Elane Zhong Chuxi and Johnny Huang Jingyu, and plays Boston Common. The Eight Hundred continues to play at Boston Common, the Seaport//, and Revere; Korean zombie action flick Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula adds the Embassy to showtimes at Boston Common and Revere.
  • The Regent Theatre has a few new virtual options this week, with new documentary The Beatles in India starting on Friday and a "Red Hot Chilli Pipers" concert available starting Tuesday. They also have a livestreamed concert with Serge Clivino on Sunday evening.
  • The Taiwan Film Festival of Boston is running a monthly virtual series, with this weekend featuring 2018 Taipei Film Award winner Dad's Suit. The film will be available through Sunday evening, and there will be a post-screening forum on Sunday evening (mostly in Mandarin with English translation).
  • Bright Lights at Home begins their fall session on Thursday with The Dilemma of Desire, a documentary on how female desire is not taken into account much in public discourse. Director Maria Finitzo and subject Sophia Wallace will have a live-streamed discussion afterward. Note that while the spring's series was recommendations and an open forum, this is a live-stream capped at 175 people (which is three or four times what the Bright Screening Room holds). Note that for right now, the Bright Lights Facebook page is more filled-in than the website.

    ArtsEmerson also has a non-Bright Lights film event going on, documentary Our Time Machine, about artist Maleonn building a stage show around his discovery that his father has Alzheimer's. It can be streamed through next weekend, with a conversation with the artists and subjects planned for the 19th.
  • The West Newton Cinema continues full schedules for Tenet, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Frankie. Casablanca plays Saturday through Thursday, while Inception, Motherless Brooklyn, The Goonies, and The Wizard of Oz play Saturday and Sunday. They are also offering curbside popcorn pre-orders for pick-up on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

    The Lexington Venue is closed this weekend, possibly open in a week.
  • Supposedly theaters in Somerville can open soon, but in the mean time The Somerville Theatre just lets their virtual screening room slate of The Fight, Amulet, John Lewis: Good Trouble, the Quarantine Cat Film Fest, Pahokee, and Alice run; as does The Capitol with "One Small Step" shorts, the Cat Film Fest, The Surrogate, and Heimat Is a Space in Time in their virtual theater, though there are ice cream and snacks for dine-in and take-out.
  • The Brattle, the Coolidge, and West Newton are all offering relatively reasonable rentals for groups of up to 20; search their websites or call them directly get quotes on rates, available slots, and what the rules on concessions and masking are.


I will be cramming as much from the New York Asian Film Festival as I can by Saturday night, and then looking at what I can get off my shelf and maybe doing the thing where I see if I can find an almost empty screen no more than a T stop or three away in the evenings

If you're not ready to go out, make sure to write to your representatives via Save Your Cinema, and check out Nightstream, the upcoming online festival put on by BUFF and other genre festivals around the country.

Friday, September 04, 2020

Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula

Hell of a week to reopen theaters with a movie about a highly transmissible contagion, huh? Who wants this right now, and would go to a theater for it?

Me, apparently. I'll readily admit it's not the world's greatest idea, and probably pure selfishness and foolishness on my part. Sure, I may tell myself that I've mitigated the risk a fair amount - I bought a ticket for a mid-week matinee in the multiplex's largest theater, and because I got there too late to even think of getting snacks, I didn't take my mask off at any point. I didn't see any of the other nine or ten people in the Imax room with concessions either, so I presume they stayed masked (I was toward the front, so I didn't see them other than coming in and out). It looks like I might have been the only non-Korean person in the theater, and make what you will of that.

Is that enough to make going to the movies "safe"? Probably not, and feeling like one has earned a couple hours of extra risk after having been pretty good for the past few months is the way we get back in a worse situation. I can say that I'm creating less danger than others - I live alone and work from home, with no reason to go out for the next week - but I won't lie, those facts make me worry a bit more about what happens if I do get sick and I'm dizzy and wiped out for a month or three. In some ways, that's the scariest outcome.

The funny thing is, I never felt particularly on-edge during the movie. The subway ride from Porter to Park, though? That was kind of nerve-wracking, especially as more people started getting on somewhere around Central. Heck, just waiting on the platform at Porter, I instinctively stood where the fan was creating a nice breeze for a second before thinking it maybe wasn't smart to have air being blown directly in my face. It's kind of amazing not just that I haven't been in a movie theater in five months, but I hadn't even been in a vehicle of any kind since the day after I returned from vacation and spent one day at the office mostly so that I could pick stuff up. Seriously, I went to New Zealand in early March and since then this trip to see a movie at Boston Common is the furthest I've gone in months.

If it helps, I was able to get a fair amount of other things done while I was out that I generally can't get done going no further than Porter. For instance, I wore the last pair of shoes I had out on that overseas trip to the point where I'm not entirely sure how they were staying together by now, although it's tough breaking the new pair in.

Anyway… Peninsula is a lot of fun. I see Well Go is putting it out on 4K this fall and hope it looks amazing. Is it worth a trip to the theater? Well, that's between you and your particular situation, and I can't actually recommend any other person do this. I'm constantly frustrated that America didn't lock down hard, suspending rents and mortgages and paying out some basic income, so that we could stay in and not give the virus a chance to spread. Now both small local places and big companies like AMC are having a hard time justifying staying closed but also aren't in a situation where they can operate profitably. I hate that going to the movies is a bad idea health-wise and not going to the movies is going to push them closer to being out of business. This country really shouldn't be so fragile.

Bando (Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 25 August 2020 in AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run, Imax digital)

2016's Train to Busan was one of the most electrifying zombie movies to hit screens in years, a rare unique twist on the genre with impeccable, creative action and a pretty terrific cast. Filmmaker Yeon Sang-ho's third trip to that world (including animated prequel Seoul Station) doesn't quite have the same electricity of his previous films, but it's still a fast-moving thrill ride that deserves a better time to get some time on the big screen.

It's been four years since a saliva-spread virus caused the rapid collapse of South Korea, with Army captain Han Jeong-Seok (Gang Dong-Won) one of the last out, driving his sister's family to a boat and passing by a family whose car was broken down by the side of the road. Four years later, Jeong-Seok is an unwelcome refugee in Hong Kong, doing odd jobs for gangsters until he and brother-in-law Goo Chul-Min (Kim Do-Yoon) are made a tempting offer - the gangsters have bribed their way past the blockade to loot the country, and there's a truck with twenty million dollars just waiting to be driven to Incheon, and the four-person team can keep half if they make it. Of course, they're only thinking of the zombies, not aware of "Unit 631", a group of soldiers who have become local warlords, or wild dogs like the family headed by Min-Jung (Lee Jung-Hyun), the mother Jeong-Seok drove past four years ago.

"Zombie-movie heist" is such a great hook that I almost wish Yeon had started from that rather than just picked the getaway car up halfway; he doesn't even really take the time to lay out what skills the various members of the original crew bring to the table (at least one doesn't even get a name before becoming zombie chow). Even if it takes a while to get the full, real cast of characters assembled, though, there's something very enjoyable about having such a mission-focused situation and the epidemic having had a while to settle in; a lot of zombie movies are running off the same template that it's fun to see Yeon play with the formula and as a result break away from the most familiar variations: It's got accidentally-prescient material about immigrants from the epicenter facing prejudice from their new neighbors, kids for whom this sort of life is normal, and the possibility that determination will not necessarily give way to despair.

Of course, that determination can often be the driest part of the movie even if it comes attached to the folks who are the best at action, which is the case here - Gong Dong-Won is one of the biggest action stars in South Korea and he's at the very least a good enough screen fighter to believably blast his way through a crowd of the undead and/or rogue soldiers, but between that, he doesn't have a lot to do but look guilty and determined. Same goes for Lee Jung-Hyun as fierce mama bear Min-Jung - she moves well and you wouldn't want Lee to approach the character any other way, but their scenes are never as lively as those of the villains: Koo Gyo-Hwan's Captain Seo is unraveling as the sort of upper-class officer who is not really fit for actual combat, versus Kim Min-Jae as the sadistic Sergeant Hwang, and Kim Kyu-Baek almost sympathetic as the quartermaster running interference between them. The biggest kick comes from Min-Jung's kids, though - Lee Ye-Won brings constant energy as a seven-year-old who doesn't know that using her RC cars to distract the zombies she scans for using night-vision goggles isn't normal, even when needling her sister Joon-i (Lee Re), a somewhat sour teenager who clearly learned how to drive by playing video games.

And good for her, because if Yeon isn't quite doing "zombie heist", he's got an eye on The Fast, The Furious, and the Undead, with a last act full of car chases through abandoned streets with hordes of zombies serving as obstacles. There's a moment or two when the CGI ghouls seem especially weightless, but it's an acceptable trade-off for how much smashing and skidding Yeon and his car stunt crew go in for, delivering a high-octane finale that offers lots of grinding metal, opportunity for nasty bites, and more than a few chances for Gang Dong-Won, Lee Jung-Hyun, and Joon-i's stunt driver to show their action chops. The film has never been slow, but Yeon piles it on for the finale, and he's got the same terrific eye for how to use the screen and set a pace that he showed in the first Train to Busan.

There's not a whole lot of his early, dark animated films readily visible in Peninsula - it's sometimes hard to believe that the guy who made The King of Pigs and The Fake is the same one who made his live-action adventures - or any moment that catches the audience's breath like a couple in Train, but it's a heck of a ride despite coming out at the absolute worst time to release a movie about a country devastated by a highly-transmissible disease. Here's hoping we get another chance to see it on the big screen once things are something closer to normal.

Also at eFilmCritic

Fantasia 2020.12: Wotakoi: Love Is Hard for Otaku and Bring Me Home

This was looking like the final Fantasia post for 2020, because I didn't do great with managing screener requests and was waiting on emails during the last few days of time off. But, last night I got an email saying I had one more screener to watch, so that's what's going on after tonight's baseball.

If anybody reading this manages to find themselves in the same situation, covering a festival remotely and only allowed access to a limited number of screeners at a time, tilt your requests toward the ones that require talking to a third party first, even if that's not the order you can release the reviews. You've got to manage your supply chain, I guess, which is something I've never really had to worry about because I was always there in person and very rarely struggled to fill slots. You've also got to watch what's being added to the list - a lot of South Korean films were added late and I didn't immediately notice, which is why Bring Me Home is the only feature-length film from the ROK that I saw.

It was definitely a different experience, one I'm not entirely sure I'll be up to repeat if Montreal/Quebec/Canada are either (a) not allowing large gatherings or (b) not allowing Americans in next year. It's not the same, and for as much as I am grateful for everything they let me watch - honestly, I am pleasantly surprised every year that they think the numbers my coverage draws is worth giving a pass to even at this late date - the atmosphere is a big part of the experience. If they're doing a live festival but travel is limited, I'll happily show up two weeks early, work from my sublet, and put up with the same quarantine on the return home if necessary. I really want to do Fantasia properly next year.

Including the snacks! I had a half-joke idea of ordering from various local restaurants that had poutine on the menu and including a photo and review with the posts, but I never got around to it. Right now, I'm just really hoping that the combined effects of the never-ending construction and Covid-related closings hasn't devastated the restaurants around Concordia next year. I will be tremendously disappointed if I get there next July and Brit & Chips is gone.

Anyway - Bring Me Home was a pretty good finish if that's how it had turned out, and holy cow, how had the star of Lady Vengeance not made another feature in the time since? That's not even just "getting married and having kids" time - that wouldn't happen for another five years! And, also, how is Lady Vengeance not more easily available than it is? Little streaming, apparently only available on Blu-ray as part of a box set (I immediately checked to see if I had it or not, lest it go out of print). The discontinuity of this year has really had me thinking about the difference between when I started going to Fantasia and now - Park Chan-Wook seemed like he was going to be a much bigger deal than Bong Joon-Ho back then, what we get from Japan has completely changed (so many slick live-action manga adaptations and introspective indies compared to the Miike/Kitamura-inspired madness of the early aughts), and the rapid releases from China have pushed them to fill the schedule with more indies and farther-flung international releases. It's a different festival, in part because we're all different people, but it's still a ton of fun.

Please, world, let me go back next year.

Wotaku ni koi wa muzukashii (Wotakoi: Love Is Hard for Otaku)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 31 August 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival, internet)

Has there been a great "young nerds in love" romantic comedy yet? I feel like I've seen and reviewed a few attempts, but something always keeps them from clicking, whether it be the references being too specific or made-up, someone in the production being condescending, or the cast just seeming too attractive and confident to play characters they claim are outcasts. Wotakoi is pretty good, but still doesn't quite hit the target it's aiming for.

The word "otaku" traditionally indicated all-consuming obsession to the point of withdrawal from society before westerners adopted it to mean being a fan of Japanese culture while younger Japanese people reclaimed it as something less derogatory than its original insulting form. That's how Narumi Momose (Mitsuki Takahata) can describe herself as a gaming and manga otaku but still mostly tries to hide it at her new job, especially after it was the reason her last boyfriend broke up with her. She doesn't expect to run into Hirotaka Nifuji (Kento Yamazaki) as a co-worker; they haven't seen each other since school but were always gaming buddies as kids. It's not long before they start seeing each other, but there's some strain even though they both like gaming - Hirotaka suggests they go on "non-otaku dates", and often feels left out when Narumi focuses on her other fandoms.

Narumi and Hirotaka are both otaku, but they're different types, even beyond Narumi actually liking manga and anime more than games. Narumi's enthusiasm can barely be contained, but she's wary of it; though the film doesn't get much into whether women are judged more harshly than men for nerdiness in Japan, it's clearly been an issue. Hirotaka is less uptight about it but less social in general, and it proves a little trickier to work with: Aside from the story mostly being told from Narumi's point of view, her anxieties being on her sleeve makes her perspective easier to see. Both writer/director Yuichi Fukuda and star Kento Yamazaki seem to have a little trouble showing what's going on behind Hirotaka's stony face; there's clearly a story about someone who wants to connect but doesn't know how there, but Hirotaka is so incapable of expressing it, even during the musical numbers, that Fukuda has a hard time finding an angle.

Full review at eFilmCritic

Nareul chajajwo (Bring Me Home)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 1 September 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival, internet)

Kim Seung-Woo's Bring Me Home is such a measured thriller that it at first seems like that's the wrong way to categorize it in genre terms, but that's what impresses about it: As much as one gets the sense of how the characters are stuck in limbo from how it doesn't move particularly fast, it's always moving forward, right up until the something happens in the last act and one realizes that things have gotten pretty tense. That is some nifty, steady screw-turning, the likes of which you don't often see.

The folks in limbo are Jung-Yeon (Lee Young-Ae) and her husband Myeong-Guk (Park Hae-Joon); she's an emergency room nurse in a Seoul hospital, while he used to be a teacher, though he has spent the previous six years searching for their missing son Yoon-Su, who would now be twelve. Though not giving up, Myeong-Guk is about to return to work when he receives a tip that turns out to have been an even crueler prank than intended. It makes the news, though, which is when Constable Kim (Seo Hyun-Woo), a cop on Naebu Island, notes that Min-Su down at the fishing spot matches the description. His partner, Sergeant Hong (Yoo Jae-Myung), says there's nothing to it, but word nonetheless reaches Jung-Yeon, who is not yet ready to give up on finding her son.

It seems almost inconceivable that this is star Lee Yeong-Ae's first feature since Sympathy for Lady Vengeance almost 15 years earlier; she's done some voice work, short films, and a recent television series in between, but unless she's been active on the Korean stage, that's one heck of a lay-off (of course, she's also given birth to twins, which my family tells me keeps a person busy). She doesn't seem to be particularly rusty, either; though she spends the whole movie playing Jung-Yeon as hollowed out but still, somehow, dragging herself through her next day, the variations on it are intriguing, from the way it lends her a combination of focus and numbness at work to how her sleuthing once she reaches the island is a series of relentless baby steps. She spends the climactic last section on a quiet, remarkable roller coaster, emboldened by hope and unleashed when that hope seems to be dashed, but always kind of restrained in how she does it by the fact that this is her first time - this sort of detective work has always been Myeong-Guk's thing and he's probably never gotten into quite this sort of situation - and she's naturally frightened that she'll fail and make everything worse.

Full review at eFilmCritic

Next Week in Virtual Tickets: Films sort of playing Boston 4 September 2020 - 10 September 2020

So that was summer, huh? Not gonna go down in history as one of the greats. Anyway, a couple more theaters open back up, but not the folks with actual film projection. It's looking like we're going to see things get even tighter, as plexes give more screens to fewer films to try and deal with 25-person limits, so releases are spread out (or go straight to streaming services, as with the Mulan remake on premium Disney+).

  • For those who don't want to go out, The Coolidge Corner Theatre has Critical Thinking, directed by and starring John Leguizamo as a teacher who leads a high school chess team from a majority-minority school in Miami to the national championships. They also pick up Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin to stream after its brief placeholder run at the Kendall, with director Werner Herzog doing a livestreamed Q&A on Tuesday evening, and also coordinate Thursday's weekly Coolidge Education seminar (with film critic/historian Imogen Sara Smith) with the re-release of a new restoration of Clair Denis's Beau Travail. There's also a Saturday afternoon Q&A with Epicentro director Hubert Sauper. No events are currently planned for MR. SOUL!!, Coup 53, From Controversy to Cure, and I Used to Go Here, but they are all still playing in the virtual screening room.
  • The Brattle Theatre picks up the new reissue of Tsai Ming-Liang's The Hole, also keeping Ghost Tropic, Moroni for President, MR. SOUL!, Desert One, the restoration of Son of the White Mare, Jazz on a Summer's Day, Represent, Creem: America's Only Rock 'n' Roll Magazine, and You Never Had It - An Evening with Bukowski, the last three marked as being on their final week.

    They also have this weekend's 36 Cinema show with Michael Jai White and Josh Barnett doing live commentary for The Sword of Doom at 9:15pm Sunday night.
  • Christopher Nolan's Tenet officially opens this weekend and basically pushes everything else aside, because the number of people that would fill one screen in normal days now requires (at least) four. Still, it's new Nolan with John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Kenneth Branagh, Michael Caine, and a bunch of the usual suspects, playing West Newton, Fresh Pond Kendall Square, the Embassy, Boston Common (including Imax and Dolby Cinema), Fenway, the Seaport (including Icon-X), South Bay (including Imax and Dolby Cinema), Chestnut Hill, Watertown (including CWX), and Revere (including XPlus).

    Apple Fresh Pond and Landmark Theatres's Embassy also pick up Bill & Ted Face the Music, though mostly on the smaller screens because it's also on VOD. With those two, The New Mutants, and Unhinged not quite filling Fresh Pond to capacity, they also have screenings of The Lego Movie and Happy Feet.

    Boston Common and South Bay also have 42 back on screens as a tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman. Revere screens last year's great Little Women on Tuesday evening and The Prado Museum: A Collection of Wonders on Thursday afternoon.
  • The Eight Hundred continues to play at Boston Common, the Seaport, and Revere, with Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula still at Boston Common and Revere, with Father There Is Only One 2 playing Revere.
  • The West Newton Cinema has cleared space for Tenet but also has a screen for Ira Sachs's Frankie, featuring Isabelle Huppert as the title character on vacation with three generations of her family in Portugal. They also hang on to Inception (Saturday-Thursday), 2001: A Space Odyssey, Casablanca (Friday & Saturday), Motherless Brooklyn (Sunday-Thursday), The Goonies (Sunday), and The Wizard of Oz (Saturday). They are also offering curbside popcorn pre-orders for pick-up on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

    The Lexington Venue is closed this weekend, with the next "coming soon" films listed for 18 September.
  • the New England Aquarium reopened a few weeks ago, including the Simons Imax Theatre; it's worth noting that the concessions are closed and the films playing ("Great White Shark", "Turtle Odyssey", "Sea Lions: Life By a Whisker", and "Backyard Wilderness" are 22 minute shorts rather than the usual 45-minute featurettes, and I'm guessing they aren't in 3D so people don't have to worry about putting recycled glasses right on their nose.
  • With the crew furloughed, I'm guessing there's nobody at The Somerville Theatre to switch up what's in their virtual screening room, so it's going to be The Fight, Amulet, John Lewis: Good Trouble, the Quarantine Cat Film Fest, Pahokee, and Alice for a while; ditto for The Capitol keeping "One Small Step" shorts, the Cat Film Fest, The Surrogate, and Heimat Is a Space in Time in their own virtual theater, though folks are selling ice cream and snacks.
  • The Regent Theatre has their last Kalliope Trio livestream concert on Monday, but has emptied out the virtual room out.
  • The Brattle, the Coolidge, and West Newton are all offering relatively reasonable rentals for up to 20-ish people; search their websites or call them directly get quotes on rates, available slots, and what the rules on concessions and masking are.


I'll probably be spending a lot of time "at" the virtual edition of New York Asian Film Festival this coming week, but may also try and head out to David Copperfield, Bill and Ted, or The New Mutants while holding out hope that the Somerville will open by the end of the month and have a 70mm print of Tenet.

If you're not ready to go out, make sure to write to your representatives via Save Your Cinema, and check out Nightstream, the upcoming online festival put on by BUFF and other genre festivals around the country.

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Fantasia 2020.11: Undergods and The Paper Tigers

This would have been a pretty good Sunday, I think, especially if the cast and crew of The Paper Tigers were to be on-hand. The Paper Tigers was also where I got to a point where I was really looking for good, straightforward stuff and prioritized that over some of the trickier material I could have been asking for over the last few days of the festival. You get to a point where you just want to have fun, you know?

Undergods

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 31 August 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival, Vimeo via Roku)

If the world is going to hell, it's going to hell in different ways in different places for different classes, and they all may as well be living in different worlds. Or at least, that's the apparent idea behind Chino Moya's Undergods, a set of three or four stories that may be set in the same decaying world or may just be stories the people in those worlds tell each other, but who can tell these days?

In a dystopian world, K (Johann Myers) and Z (Géza Röhrig) collect the bodies they find on the streets, selling the live ones to a sweatshop. Elsewhere, Ron (Michael Gould) and Ruth (Hayley Carmichael) appear to be the only residents of an apartment tower, at least until charming Harry (Ned Dennehy) knocks on the door, saying he's locked himself out of a flat on a different floor. In a storybook city, businessman Hans (Eric Godon) is offered what seems like an incredible opportunity by a foreign engineer (Jan Bijvoet), but when he copies the plans and turns the man down, daughter Maria (Tanya Reynolds) is kidnapped, forcing Hans to recruit her artsy new boyfriend Johann (Tadhg Murphy) to help rescue her. And just as middle-manager Dominic (Adrian Rawlins) is starting to curry favor with his boss (Burn Gorman), his wife's long-believed-dead first husband (Sam Louwyck) reappears, and Rachel (Kate Dickie) immediately devotes herself to his rehabilitation from crippling PTSD.

The niftiest trick Moya manages here comes from how he connects these various threads, very carefully creating fictional space between them until the characters in one stumble into another. At that point the audience can be forgiven if they think this is part of a parallel-worlds fantasy setup (and to some extent it may be), but soon characters from the most seemingly out-there portion are just popping up in the most bougie and familiar, and it suddenly becomes a different story. Sure, there's just enough distance that one can construct some sort of off-screen portal between worlds, but the very effort of doing that world-building on one's own indicates that it is probably unnecessary and counterproductive - despite the way each group of characters sees the others as part of some world so unfamiliar that it may as well be imaginary, the simpler answer is that this is all happening together, and may be more connected.

Full review at eFilmCritic

The Paper Tigers

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 1 September 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival, Vimeo via Roku)

Just about everything about The Paper Tigers is mainstream cinema comfort food, but it's that sort of thing done pretty well: Yes, there are a lot of stock pieces in it, and they don't always fit together perfectly, but there's also good chemistry among the cast, not much wasted time, and a finale that delivers the goods without making the audience wish they'd had more of that stuff before. It's the sort of movie often dismissed for being predictable, although few filmmakers put it together as well as Quoc Bao Tran does here.

Twenty-five years ago, teenagers Danny, Hing, and Jim were big into kung fu, learning from a martial-arts master and practitioner of Chinese medicine who, rather than opening a school, taught those "Three Tigers" and worked as a cook. The friends had a falling-out soon after graduation and soon drifted apart, to the point where they learn that Sifu Cheung (Roger Yuan) has died just before the funeral. These days, Danny (Alain Uy) works for an insurance company and often disappoints son Eddie (Joziah Lagonoy) and ex-wife Caryn (Jae Suh Park) on the days he has custody; Hing (Ron Yuan) is limping and receiving workman's comp after a construction job left his knee messed up; and Jim (Mykel Shannon Jenkins) is teaching Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, his trips to Chinatown long in the past. And that would be that, except that Carter (Matthew Page), Danny's would-be rival back when they were teenagers who has stuck with martial arts in the meantime, suggests that this was something more than a heart attack, and Carter's teacher (Raymond Ma) doesn't exactly say his student is off-base.

Where things go from there isn't particularly surprising, but Tran's script is impressively assured in how it follows the template and not too pleased with itself for how it diverts from it. He's got enough confidence in his characters to hang out and wander up a blind alley or two and even kind of make what is more or less a way to kill some time as the audience gets to know the characters and to keep things from moving forward too quickly. He also doesn't feel particularly compelled to set things up in the obvious way, as he introduces Danny in the present by having him not even think of getting in a fight when he has a confrontation. He also recognizes that the film doesn't need to run on conflict between the protagonists or to make people villains who don't need to be.

Full review at eFilmCritic

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Fantasia 2020.10: Minor Premise, Born of Woman 2020, and Sanzaru

Go figure, the two-plus-hour group of short features took some effort to get through. Good news/bad news is that the last few days only have a few "scheduled" items that have screeners, so maybe I'll be able to catch up a bit.

I struggled a bit more with the "Born of Woman" package than I did last year; it felt like there were more things in it that I just didn't get, and even the ones I did seemed more complicated by how including them in a block of films from women often seems to imply more than just the simple fact that women directed them, so meaning feels just a bit further out of reach. Still, a lot of good stuff in there.

I also found that I really liked Sanzaru; it's got a lot of moments when it could go off in typical horror movie directions of shock and trippiness, and while it never runs from either, there's purpose to every bit rather than just red herrings. It's kind of art-house horror, the sort of thing I could see A24 picking up, although the polish is in different places.

Minor Premise

* * (out of four)
Seen 24 August 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival, Vimeo via Roku)

There's a stretch at the start of Minor Premise when I wondered how a movie shot during quarantine was already finished and on the festival circuit, so cut off did it seem from the rest of the world even when a character was supposed to be delivering a lecture. That proves not to be the case, and it's kind of a shame; working their way around that sort of logistical challenge, whether it was part of the on-screen action or not, would have made for a much more interesting movie than the rickety Jekyll-and-Jekyll-and-Hyde-and-Hyde thing that viewers get.

The man in question is Ethan Kochar (Sathya Sridharan), who had long worked with his father Paul (Nikolas Kontomanolis) on technology to read and edit memories, although that was a mess - the father tried to take credit for the son's work and while a working prototype was built, crucial information was missing for their intended project of editing consciousness. Months later, a building at the college is being dedicated to Paul Kochar, but department head Malcolm (Dana Ashbrook) is pushing the difficult Ethan for results and presentations to the board; Ethan's ex-girlfriend Alli (Paton Ashbrook) has also returned to the university, as established a figure as he is. It's the sort of situation that inspires rash self-experimentation.

At least, it does in movies; in real life, it would seem like a long shot that Ethan's basement laboratory, with no graduate students or other team members to check his work, or any sort of proper protocols that include an actual control group, would get any sort of funding, and even if some rich eccentric did bankroll him, it seems unlikely that he'd be able to publish any sort of peer-reviewed paper, no matter how lax the standards have grown, or have what he has created gain government approval for commercial or therapeutic use. This may seem like party-pooping, nit-picking complaints to make, but it's indicative of how much the filmmakers are going to sweat the rest of the details or have supposedly smart people approach problems later, and it's also frustratingly uncreative: The movie is made up of tropes that were silly when they first started getting used for simplicity's sake decades ago, and it's big "what-if" idea is basically phrenology with more modern terminology on top.

Full review at eFilmCritic

"Come F*ck My Robot"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 30 August 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival: Born of Woman 2020, Vimeo via Roku)

I'm not sure that I've ever seen a better distillation of why women groan and say "why even are men?" than this movie's 12 minutes, where the range from villain to male hero is from an engineer (Ian Abramson) who creates a robot with a vagina and immediately starts to pimp it out (despite calling her "like a daughter") to a confused and generally decent young virgin (Nicholas Alexander) who decides he's not okay with this after meeting "Ivy" (voice of Catherine Tapling) but still has trouble with the fact that she is, shall we say, not conventionally attractive and not going to fall head over heels in love despite him doing one good thing. Nobody's perfect, but one might want that range to extend a little further in one direction.

That said, "Come F*ck My Robot" is still an entertaining, mostly-upbeat short film, with Alexander able to bring the audience on a pretty good emotional ride in that time while Tapling does nice voice work and Abramson makes his character awful while hugging the line between cartoonish and skin-crawling. Filmmaker Mercedes Bryce Morgan keeps things moving at an enjoyably frantic pace, slowing down just long enough to have Brian and Ivy connect while showing how Abramson's engineer resents that. I'm not sure that the anachronisms quite match up - I don't think cragislist was around until after car phones had evolved into flips - but the filmmakers are smart in how they use them, placing this far enough into an ambiguous past that Ivy doesn't have to be a perfect gynoid but where the film still doesn't come off as period. Ivy's actual design is a nifty blend of sleek and boxy plopped in the middle of sets that are both disturbing and sad.

It's a fun little short that gets at female frustration with men from an abstract place but does so in an extremely enjoyable, goofy way.

"Blocks"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 August 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival: Born of Woman 2020, Vimeo via Roku)

"Blocks" is just surreal enough that I keep wanting to assign some sort of meaning to it and then stepping back, thinking that's a little much although there's got to be something there from the way the film is built, and then wondering whether young mothers would say I'm reaching or not stretching far enough. It's got the feeling of being clever but is absolutely not smug about it.

That weird premise - mother-of-two Ashleigh (Claire Coffee) suddenly finds herself, shall we say, unlikely to ever run out of Legos - feels like the sort of thing filmmaker Bridget Moloney came upon by accident and then found just enough variations to fill a ten-minute short with, not building toward anything extra-crazy but not exactly repeating herself either. It's a nice job of milking a joke just enough, while also having eccentric stuff going on around it to keep the giggles coming and a fun performance from Claire Coffee, who is very much in line with Moloney's sense of humor.

It's agreeably absurd, doesn't wear out its welcome, and ends in a way that makes one feel like it has accomplished something, even if you're not quite sure what.

"Break Us"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 August 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival: Born of Woman 2020, Vimeo via Roku)

The part of me that loves crime movies and thrillers is kind of disappointed that Rioghnach Ni Ghrioghair didn't hit the double cross that I was looking for when I was looking for it, because there are bit where it certainly looks like Sophie (Danielle Galligan) is scoping out how she can not be caught on camera while the more apparently enthusiastic Mark (Gavid Drea) is. Of course, what she does is probably better, telling a story that evolves because of what's going on rather than just mechanically playing out what happened before the audience got there.

It's a fun play either way, as the pair launch a plot to rob a post office but find things immediately diverging from their plans, building the tension up a little and getting things rolling. I don't know that the main pair ever get a chance to show how well they work off each other for more than a second or two, but Galligan is especially good as she often has to make Sophie look like she's not connected with any of what Mark is doing but still have what she's feeling run across her face.

"Snowflakes"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 August 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival: Born of Woman 2020, Vimeo via Roku)

I'm not sure that the summary listed for this movie in its IMDB listing is necessarily something you can deduce for sure from the movie, in which a pair of Jamaicans (Sharon Duncan-Brewster & Cherrelle Skeete) who have been in the UK all their lives are being deported before an attempt to sedate the older, more agitated Esther seems to kick off an alarming series of events that turn the tables and then some.

As with a lot of shorts, I wonder a bit if filmmaker Faye Jackson (who wrote, produced, directed, and edited) initially saw this as a part of something bigger; the film poses a question but stops before it gets to any sort of logical endpoint, although I don't know that there's really a feature here, either. It's a lot of nifty pieces that form into a snapshot if not quite a story. It's an impressive snapshot, though, and the style is aces - there's a moment with two or three great moments coming rapid-fire and the big one leaves the audience shocked enough to carry through to the end, with what they seen on-screen reflecting that.

"Diabla"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 30 August 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival: Born of Woman 2020, Vimeo via Roku)

There are two separate moments in "Diabla" when I stop and wonder if it's supposed to indicate that what filmmaker Ashley George just showed the viewer was meant to be a premonition or something she's feared, and while I'm pretty sure it's not, I'm not quite sure what circling back around to that same shot or moment is accomplishing. Is it the last time Nayeli (Ruth Ramos) trusted the world around her, or a reminder that one still has to walk the same path even though something terrible has happened on it? I'm not quite sure.

In between, it's impressively strong. It feels strange to compliment a movie for how well it handles a rape scene, but it must be tremendously difficult as a filmmaker to make it appalling without actually stopping a short film that only has a little time to work with while not diminishing it or even making it exploitative. Part of why it works, I suspect, is because George and editor Diana Mata do an impressive cut to the doctor's office, with the visit ending on a whispered line delivered well enough to make one skip a breath. What comes after is a bit out there, but well-done.

Actress Ruth Ramos is in the middle of it, and she's pretty great; one gets a quick impression of her Nayeli and the of how what was done to her is huge but doesn't fundamentally change her - she may be warier, and a little harder, but she is still the same young woman underneath. It may take a great deal of support and help, but she never surrenders herself.

"The Rougarou"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 August 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival: Born of Woman 2020, Vimeo via Roku)

Huh. There are something like half a dozen short films and TV episodes about a "rougarou" in just the past few years. Is this some sort of new emerging urban legend or something that's been out there that I'd never heard of?

I genuinely thought it was just some sort of nonsense word being made up on the spot by a father recently released from jail (Jacob Tolano) trying to entertain his daughter Gerty (Victoria Dellamea) while explaining the scars he has picked up along the way. The pair are a nifty contrast, even if a sometimes alarming one - as much as Vin seems to genuinely adore his little girl, he's over-polished, slick, and not nearly as clever as he thinks he is compared to the smart, practical, if naive Gerty. It's great odd-couple energy that can't hold.

Still, it's fun to watch Gery see that there's potentially a monster in her neighborhood and start working to deal with it - Dellamea is a genuine delight - and then see how things play out as she confronts the reality of it. I like the direction filmmaker Lorraine Caffery takes with it, very much aware that Gerty's specific circumstances might not have this on the usual track.

"Narrow"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 August 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival: Born of Woman 2020, Vimeo via Roku)

Anna Chazelle's "Narrow" was probably not specifically inspired by A Quiet Place, but it's hard not to think of that feature when watching this short, with the scavenging for post-apocalyptic resources, paths you can't leave, and the like. It's science fiction/horror built around following the rules of its universe without really making the reason for them self-evident or building a mythology that makes them interesting. There's not even a metaphor that seems to work for it when all is said and done. Sure, at one point it looks like it will be about how exhausting staying on the path that someone else has left down is exhausting and often leads to dead-ends that force you to backtrack, but unfortunately, Chazelle doesn't wind up bringing her short somewhere that could actually get anything out of it.

It looks great, and Chazelle (who writes/produces/directs/stars) knows what she wants out of her own performance, but it feels empty at the end, even if it's intentionally making a point about how not following society's rules even as they exhaust you will have you destroyed. There's dark truth in that, but there's a point where making the in-story situation so arbitrary hurts the effort to do more.

"F For Freaks"

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 30 August 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival: Born of Woman 2020, Vimeo via Roku)

At 30 minutes this is the longest of the shorts in the block but the one that feels like it can best be summed up with "ugh". To a certain extent, I get why filmmaker Sabine Ehrl does what she does, dragging Ursula Werner's wheezing, elderly Gabriela through scenes where she's not just absolutely unneeded, but a practical liability, and takes every opportunity to detour into cruelty; there's got to be no excuse, no way to offer sympathy to someone who is old and sick and maybe being exploited in a different way to the elves or gnomes (or whatever the little people being hunted are). She is not going to let her viewers miss her point.

Still, one wonders whether she could have maybe found a way to do this efficiently, because for all that she creates a striking, memorably ugliness, highlighted on occasion by pinpricks of wonder when the elves show up - Ehrl and her visual effects crew do a nifty job of putting them right on the line where a viewer can't be sure whether they're seeing an unusually small child or something unreal - it's just miserable enough to watch that I can see people bailing if it's the last piece in a collection (as the longest sometimes is) or getting unruly if it plays before a feature. It's the sort of movie where you can see the cynical realism and intent behind each decision, but while that is worthy, it's not necessarily worth enduring.

"Ils salievent" ("They Salivate")

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 30 August 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival: Born of Woman 2020, Vimeo via Roku)

Huh. That's a lot of fluid.

A lot of fluid.

I kind of don't have more than that. It's one of those shorts that I watch closely, because filmmaker Ariane Boukerche is obviously doing something very deliberate that has meaning to her, but where I watch all this drool happen and just don't connect it to anything. It just strikes me as weird images in sequence, with things escalating, but which never makes me think anything but "huh, that's weird".

Sanzaru

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 30 August 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival, Vimeo via Roku)

The opening scenes of Sanzaru are genuinely peculiar; most of the rest of the film is grounded and commonplace. In a lot of movies, that might serve as a reminder that there is some sort of dark force lurking in the background, but that's often the opposite of what filmmaker Xia Magnus is up to here. Larger-than-life evils are not always invented, but they may be easier to deal with than the more prosaic situations that they're used to explain.

Evelyn (Aina Dumlao) is far from home in Victoria, Texas; the Flilipina nurse provides in-home care to Dena Regan (Jayne Taini), a mostly-bedridden widow whose mind is starting to go. Daughter Susan (Tomorrow Shea) hired her; son Clem (Justin Arnold) is staying in his RV on the property, while Evelyn's nephew Amos (Jon Viktor Corpuz) is staying in Clem's old room, visiting while suspended from school in Dallas for fighting. It would be a slow, uncomfortable downward spiral, but Dena is panicking over a missing piece of jewelry, which she thinks Amos may have stolen; Amos is beginning to realize that his absent mother and aunt are keeping something from him, and Evelyn is starting to hear spooky noises from the intercom that lets her monitor Dena while doing other work in the house - at least, when the power isn't randomly cutting out. On top of that, the mail occasionally contains a letter for a Mr. Sanzaru, despite the mailman mentioning that Evelyn and "Mo" are the only Asians he can remember being in the area.

Though the audience is primed by the opening narration from Evelyn's dead mother and voices coming from the cemetery, they rapidly come to seem metaphorical. Not entirely - if the static and mysterious sounds from the intercom weren't enough to remind the audience that they were watching a horror movie, the glimpse she catches of old VHS tapes hidden in a room she hadn't realized was there in the preceding months certainly sound alarm bells for savvy viewers. More often, though, what haunting there is seems much more prosaic - Dena freezing, or suddenly seeming to be trapped in the past is the most obvious, but Mo, Clem, and Evelyn all have things that weigh them down. They don't need ghosts, even though there certainly seems to be one there.

Full review at eFilmCritic

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Fantasia 2020.09: The Block Island Sound

Got two more from Friday maybe coming later because I didn't get my screener requests in before folks apparently went home for the weekend, so maybe we'll call that 2020.09.5 or something.

I really liked this one, though it's kind of funny that I followed the links back and saw that I apparently liked the filmmakers' first feature eight years ago but it hasn't been hugely "sticky". I can't remember whether it played the Boston area or not, but I hope this one does; it's a solid little movie, and the filmmakers are somewhat local, enough that it's got a real New England feel to it even if a fair amount was shot in Los Angeles. This sort of New England beach town is my favorite sort of non-city place, and incidentally one of the best places to set a movie.

The Block Island Sound

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 29 August 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival, Vimeo via Roku)

I don't know that anybody will be going to movies to just see whatever is playing next for a while, or if this will have the sort of distribution where it's an option, but I love the idea that someone might buy a ticket for The Block Island Sound, figuring it's some sort of rock and roll story, only to discover it's a horror movie, maybe about some sort of subsonic noise that drives men mad. It's none of that, but it is a pretty darn nifty little thriller that makes the most of what it's got.

It opens with a disoriented man (Neville Archambault) coming to on his boat while out to sea, and it turns out that Tom's spells, which only his son Harry (Chris Sheffield) knows about, aren't the only strange thing happening on and around Block Island; Harry's EPA scientist sister has been called out to the island to investigate an ongoing mass die-off of fish, with over nine tons having washed up on West Beach so far. She arrives with co-worker Paul (Ryan O'Flanagan) and daughter Emily (Matilda Lawler) in tow. Soon Tom disappears, and while investigating, Harry finds some sort of strange radio interference in the spot where his boat was found.

The McManus Brothers, who wrote and directed, had their last big-screen release eight years ago with Funeral Kings, and if this movie was nothing more than a story of a sometimes-contentious family dealing with the father's decay, it would be a worthy follow-up to that movie. Neville Archambault switches between friendly, cantankerous, and out of it in a way that would feel natural if there wasn't this other set of circumstances but also fits in nicely that way. Michaela McManus and Chris Sheffield make the relationship between Audry and Harry as something that's been worn kind of thin over time, and it adjusts in just the right way when Heidi Niedermeyer enters the picture as a second sister. The family is easy to relate to but also feels specific to this particular sort of community, where you're either stuck with each other or cut off, with the place overwhelmed by outsiders in the summer or a little too quiet during the off-season.

Full review at eFilmCritic

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Fantasia 2020.08: Alone and A Mermaid in Paris

Only two movies with embargo dates on Thursday, so at least I haven't fallen much further behind in the last day. I'm kind of starting to feel the festival grind that I occasionally hear people talk about (but which I've seldom felt at Fantasia), and it's really making me miss the in-person experience, where even if I feel like I'm falling behind, there's another movie to get to and another and while it's nice that I'll have no more reviews to do at the end, I really miss the grind.

Anyway! Remember how earlier in the summer there were stories going around about people watching movies on the Seine? That movie was A Mermaid in Paris, and it's had an interesting year, opening up in March, seeing theaters close a week later, coming back when they re-opened in July, and if Box Office Mojo is to be believed, making pretty good coin in South Korea when it opened there. I wonder if it will make it here; I remember hearing about it enough early in the year to figure it had the profile, but I kind of don't know what the landscape is going to look like over the next few months with some theaters open while others running virtually and it likely being hard for distributors to supply a film to both. It's a bummer that I didn't love it more, but the female lead reminds me of young Julie Delpy and who doesn't love that?

Alone

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 August 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival, internet)

There's a note at the end of the credits for Alone that states it was based upon another movie, and there's a temptation to wonder if anybody really would have known that this was adapted from any specific one of the couple thousand movies with a similar setup in Sweden or elsewhere. It and Försvunnen share the same screenwriter, so good on him getting paid twice for the frame of a decent, solidly-made thriller that wouldn't be particularly original even if it weren't a remake, but gets the job done.

It opens with Jessica (Jules Willcox) packing her stuff in a U-Haul and getting ready to move; not exactly sneaking out of town but not saying any long goodbyes; it's been a rough year. There's a little bit of weirdness on the road with an SUV that is going way below the speed limit and then riding her tail after she's able to pass. The same car shows up in the motel parking lot that night, with its driver (Marc Menchaca) coming up to apologize, which is kind of weird, but then she sees him broken down on the road, and then…

Well, let's just say that a guy doesn't have a room in his cellar with bars on the windows that locks from the outside if he hasn't done this before, and while that could be formidable, the film does not revel in Jessica's helplessness - it establishes the seriousness of the situation with Jules Willcox capturing how this situation is almost paralyzingly frightening, but the filmmakers quickly move on to the next stage of things. It's something the film does well throughout, so that even in the moments when Jessica has a brief advantage or chance to put some distance between her and her abductor, there's often a lingering force that threatens to freeze her even beyond the practical things that slow her down.

Full review at eFilmCritic

Une sirène à Paris (A Mermaid in Paris)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 August 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival, internet)

France doesn't quite produce a steady stream of movies like A Mermaid in Paris, but probably more than wind up making it to even boutique theaters in the United States. If it feels like there used to be more, when Jean-Pierre Jeunet was working steadily with his movies getting world-wide distribution and some adventurous distributors picking up both animated and live-action movies that had one foot in the surreal, that's likely because it's not easy, with most of them winding up like Mermaid - often on the wrong side of the border between cute and cutesy, featuring a French sense of humor that is hard to translate, and so focused on whimsy that it's light on everything else. It's the sort of film one looks at and wants to love only to find that doing so is a bit harder than it looks.

Taking place after a series of 2016 floods that are well-remembered in France but maybe not so much in the rest of the world, it initially introduces Gaspard Snow (Nicolas Duvauchelle), who spends his evenings singing in the semi-secret below-decks section of Flowerburger, the floating restaurant started by his grandmother and currently owned by his aging father (Tchéky Karyo), who has decided to sell despite the nostalgic Gaspard's objection. A couple regulars have disappeared lately, walking straight into the Seine because of some sort of siren call. Apparently, the floods have washed an injured mermaid up the river, whom Gaspard finds and tries to rescue. When she awakes in Gaspard's bathtub, Lula (Marilyn Lima) is shocked to see that he is apparently immune to her song, which generally causes men to fall so deeply in love with her that their hearts explode, and what neither realize is that while he tried to bring her to a hospital the previous night, her song was overheard by a young doctor (Alexis Michalik), and his scientist wife Milena (Romane Bohringer) is determine to discover what happened - and perhaps take revenge.

Director Mathias Malzieu is actually best known as a rock star, though he also became an author before he started adapting his stories into films, and Mermaid is a multimedia project as well, with both an album and a book coming out more or less simultaneously. I wonder a bit if it might work out better as an album where he can hit an emotional theme or event, play with it for a few minutes and not really worry too much about the nuts and bolts of how it fits together. The story here makes a certain amount of sense, but Malzieu and co-writer Stéphane Landowski cut a fair amount of corners, telling the audience about Gaspard's heartbreak but seldom showing it affecting his personality, or having him seemingly betray no curiosity about having met an actual mermaid until very late. That Lula has killed is something that the film seldom reckons with, other than it being an easy excuse to make Milena an antagonist, and while there's some interesting stuff going on with Lula never having been in a situation where she could love before and Gaspard's hardened heart, it's a metaphor that Malzieu and Landowski thoroughly lose track and control of by the end of the film..

Full review at eFilmCritic