Sunday, August 21, 2016

This week's Chinese stuff: Line Walker: The Movie and Time Raiders

Thing I've been pondering over the last few weeks (surrounding Fantasia) - multiplexes like the one where I saw both of these films have gotten cannier about scheduling similar movies to make double features harder, haven't they? It's certainly seemed that way every weekend where Boston Common has two Chinese movies, and the special one-show-only booking of Time Raiders really makes it clear: The 9pm showtime just didn't work with Line Walker or Sweet Sixteen at all, meaning I wound up hanging around a couple hours between my two movies. I get it; folks seeing two movies are probably not only not going to buy two snacks, but they might even actually go for that free refill on the large soda. Better to get us to come two separate days.

Line Walker: The Movie

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 August 2016 in AMC Boston Common #4 (first-run, DCP)

It's not exactly fair, but you say "Hong Kong crime movie with lost undercover cops", and my head's going to go to Infernal Affairs, which, as an all-time classic, is setting the bar pretty high, when it's probably enough just to be a decent enough cops and crooks movie. Line Walker: The Movie, is no Infernal Affairs; for all I know, it's not even up to the standard of the TV series that launched it. On the other hand, there ain't no shootout like a Hong Kong shootout, and this does deliver the crime-movie goods quite nicely when it gets down to it.

Two years ago, Deputy Police Commissioner Hong Do-heng of the HKPD's Central Intelligence Bureau was assassinated, but he had just enough time to delete the records of the undercover operatives he was handling before their covers could be blown. The CIB believed that they had brought the whole group in, but one of them, Ding Siu-ka (Charmaine Sheh See-man), receives a message in Hong's code signed "Blackjack", and Inspector Q (Francis Ng Chun-yu) - her boyfriend and the one who tracked down the undercover operatives - says that there was a corrupted file by that name on Hong's computer. The text leads them to a party at an investment firm that also serves as a Triad front, and which gets attacked by the team of Lam (Nick Cheung Ka-fai) and Shiu (Louis Koo Tin-lok), underlings of rival gangster Kwok Ming. They escape before Q and Ding can discover whether either is Blackjack, but the speed with which they were on the scene means that Lam, Shiu, Ming, bodyguard Siu Ying (Clara Lee Ching-man), and big boss Tung Pak-ho all know that there is a mole in their midst, threatening both their local operations and a big drug deal in Brazil.

The Line Walker television series was a massive hit in Hong Kong and China, although one need not be familiar with to follow the film (which is good, because while I'll stream a movie or two to get caught up when the higher-profile sequel comes out, a 31-episode series that does not appear to be legitimately available with English subtitles is something else). There are a couple moments when a character will be introduced with music that hints that the viewer should recognize his significance, and some flashbacks that seem more like reminders than exposition, but Ding and Q are the only returning main characters, with Koo and Cheung fairly big movie stars who are definitely new to the series. Writer Cat Kwan and director Jazz Boon occasionally use that to their advantage, especially in the beginning, establishing things fast so that the newcomers can get up to speed without boring the fans.

Full review on EFC.

Daomu biji (Time Raiders)

* * (out of four)
Seen 20 August 2016 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run, DCP)

Treasure-hunting stories are currently pretty big in China, and though it's tempting to see something about a nation with a very specific present and targeted future reconciling with a long, very different past, we don't do that with Indiana Jones. Those movies are just extremely well-built adventures. Time Raiders isn't quite so well-built - it's a jumble of things found in cliffhanging adventure stories that takes their awesomeness for granted rather than building something greater than the sun of their individual joys - but when you're in the middle of a tomb raider craze, this can scratch the itch.

Of course, there are tomb raiders and there are tomb raiders. The first one we see is Hendrix (Vanni Corbellini), a Westerner terrorizing mystics near the Tibet/Nepal border to find the lady of "24 Divine Pieces" that will serve as a map to a Chinese secret of immortality, although the monks are saved by Zhang Qiling (Jing Boran), one of their number with preternatural martial-arts skills. Fifty years later, though, there's Wu Xie (Lu Han), a young man from a family that has been robbing graves for centuries, though they imagine a more legitimate future for him. Which means, of course, that he will be the one to discover the secret passage in The Widow's Tomb, leading to a clockwork key that seems far too sophisticated for the Warring Kingdoms era it dates from (though it seems to be counting down to something just a week away), and which leads his uncle Wu Sanxing (Wang Jingchun) to Kunlun Qiala to unearth the legendary tomb of the Snake Empress (Mallika Sherawai) and King Xiang (Sammy Hung). His crew includes someone who is at least a dead ringer for Qiling, but an ageless martial artist may be just what the Wu family needs when a team of well-armed mercenaries financed by Hendrix and led by Captain Ning A (Ma Sichun) arrives on the scene.

Lovers of swashbuckling pulp adventures will likely have a big grin on their faces through at least the first half of Time Raiders, because it has a bit of everything: A young hero whose family wants something better for him than the family's traditional business, even if the centuries mean it's in his blood; a mysterious partner who is silent about his past; an obsessed villain who has devoted a lifetime to his quest; mysterious artifacts hidden in plain sight; a mercenary who is as capable as she is attractive; relics which seem impossibly advanced for their provenance; an impossibly large underground complex. The jaded may yawn at this, reciting dozens of pulps and serials made from the same ingredients, but director Daniel Lee and writer "Uncle Three" roll with this - seem through the eyes of Wu Xie, it is sort of familiar despite his family's attempts to direct his talents elsewhere, but when he encounters these things in real life, there's some awe to be found in discovering a world that is grand, fantastic, and dangerous beyond his own experience.

And then things go downright insane.

Full review on EFC.

Saturday, August 20, 2016


Normally when I go to a movie and folks near me are talking - something that has been happening with annoying frequency of late - I want to yell "nobody came to see and hear you" but just grit my teeth. I suppose that's technically true when seated next to a very animated Bill Lee for Spaceman, but he'd at least have an argument.

I didn't know that Lee and filmmaker Brett Rapkin would be on hand for the opening night, although it would have been a pretty decent guess; the Somerville Theatre has it in the Micro for most of the week but this screening was bumping Star Trek Beyond from screen #3, so Ian probably knew something was going to bring in a crowd, even if it did mean screening off a Blu-ray in one of the larger rooms.

BTW, when I said I was sitting next to Bill Lee, I mean it, though there was a courtesy single seat between us, meaning my Q&A photos were crappier than normal:

Bill Lee and Brett Rapkin at the Somerville Theatre for Spaceman

Decent shot of Rapkin on the right, though.

I kind of got a running commentary on which details were correct. It worth noting that the bars Lee went to in both Montreal and Boston are apparently still standing, because he approved when they showed up on screen. He had a brown VW camper rather than a "puke green bus", though. A few things got a loud f-you; for instance, though not named in the film, I'm guessing his wife's first name was Mary Lou. Apparently, these were better seats than he got at Montreal's showing - which I was tempted to go to, as it was part of the Montreal Baseball Weekend when the Red Sox played the Blue Jays at Stade Olympique. I think it was kind of a pricey charity screening, though.

He did seem kind of amused that Orion was releasing the movie, though, and I like that. I have the same reaction whenever I see the Orion Pictures logo on a new movie. He was quick to mention that he was blackballed more for being a successful union rep than his bad behavior, and while it's clear his favorite subject is Bill Lee, he was also very keen to note that he is not close to unique in his love of the game, talking up a lot of people he had met in his post-MLB barnstorming career.

It's an enjoyable enough movie, I think, and will probably make for a fun-enough outing for Red Sox (and Expos) fans this week, even if they will be seeing it in the Micro in Boston. Doesn't seem to be playing Montreal yet, although maybe it just doesn't have Canadian distribution.


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 August 2016 in Somerville Theatre #3 (first-run, Blu-ray)

Say this for writer/director Brett Rapkin - not a lot of folks have made a documentary feature and then been able to return to the subject for a narrative one. Of the top of my head, that puts him on a short list with Werner Herzog and a few others. Not at the top of the list or anywhere near it, since this year's Spaceman, at least, is just an average sports bio, but there's a little something to be said for both practice and for doing movies about things that hold one's attention over a long period.

By the time the film picks up in early 1982, William Francis "Spaceman" Lee (Josh Duhamel) had already had quite the checkered career, picking fights with the front office in Boston until they traded him to the Montreal Expos and now proving himself too colorful for even that city, and when he walks out to protest the release of teammate and friend Rodney Scott (Sterling K. Brown), the team cuts ties with him. Fellow barfly Dick Dennis (W. Earl Brown) offers to be his agent, but no team wants the headaches that come with him, and he starts playing with a local senior-league team even as the rest of his life spirals out of control.

Ask Bill Lee (or just find yourself in the same general area as Bill Lee) and he'll tell you that he wasn't blacklisted from Major League Baseball as for his bad behavior so much as for being one of the players' union representatives who worked with Marvin Miller to gain arbitration and free-agency rights, but that's a very different story about a very different thing. Rapkin wants to tell the story of how a passionate, talented man handles a fall, but what make's Lee's story tricky is that the fall comes primarily as a result of his own arrogance, and Rapkin likes Lee too much to really maintain that as an issue throughout the movie. His initial flameout is compelling in large part because the audience can see him bringing it upon himself, but once that happens, it seldom seems to be something inside Lee that either digs him in deeper or pulls him out - for much of the second half of the movie, stuff just happens off-screen. Narration tells us that Lee rents his basement to a drug dealer, for instance, but because we don't see it (and the film initially makes a joke of it), this doesn't seem like something Lee does or which reflects on his state of mind; it's background that he's somewhat disconnected from. There's a cut between the next to last scene and the last that feels good, but which also skips over Lee doing what needs to be done to bridge what had been set up as a large gap, and then the film jumps to his later life as a baseball vagabond without the audience really seeing him attack his issues. It's missing a lot of what would make the story feel complete, rather than a sketch with just one part filled out.

Full review on EFC.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 19 August 2016 - 25 August 2016

One of my most anticipated movies of the summer finally arrives this weekend, as does one whose existence kind of baffles me. There's other stuff, too, which you may have to dig for.

  • If there were any justice, a new film from Laika would be a major event on a par with Disney and DreamWorks releases; their stop-motion films are stunning, genuinely worth a 3D ticket, and well-crafted stories on top of that. Their latest is Kubo and the Two Strings, inspired by Japanese folklore and telling the story of a young boy with the family gift to make the stories he tells real. It's at Apple Fresh Pond (2D only), Boston Common, Assembly row, Fenway, and Revere.

    There's also a new, 3D version of Ben-Hur, which strikes me as the kind of remake you don't do unless you know it's going to be an awards-worthy centerpiece, and though you don't necessarily know what it's going to be before you make it, Jack Huston in the lead role and Timur Bekmambetov directing suggests otherwise, even with Morgan Freeman picking up a paycheck. He probably does a decent chariot race, though. It's at the Capitol (3D only), Apple Fresh Pond (2D only), Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere.

    Then again, for all that those movies are interesting, the biggest opening of the week winds up being War Dogs, featuring Jonah Hill and Miles Teller as a pair of twenty-ish guys who start bidding on military contracts and wind up getting in way above their head, from the director of The Hangover. It's at the Somerville, Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, the Belmont Studio, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    On the other end of the spectrum, Showcase Revere will have matinee screenings of the Maya the Bee Movie, about a worker bee who wants more than just the inside of a hive, on Saturday and Sunday.
  • Kendall Square just has the one new release this week, but it's a good one. That would be Werner Herzog's latest documentary (well, second-latest, as he's got another one ready to release), Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World, in which he examines the history and the present-day reality of the Internet. It is, like all of Herzog's best work, driven by an insatiable curiosity and fascination with the world around him, even if it can come off as dry or cynical in how he meets the less-joyful parts of the topic head on. One of my favorites at IFFBoston.
  • The Brattle Theatre has Cosmos, a surrealistic tale of men and women at loose ends in and around a rural guesthouse and the final film from Czech auteur Andrzej Zulawski, this weekend. It runs Friday through Monday.

    It's not quite alone; Saturday afternoon featues an encore screening of The Painting, while late Saturday night and Sunday afternoon include the week's "Starring Jackie Chan" entry, Supercop, originally known as Police Story 3 but retitled when given a big American release after Rumble in the Bronx was a surprising success; it's also notable for being America's introduction to Michelle Yeoh. The 35mm print is dubbed in English, although with Chan and Yeoh doing their own voice work, it's not as bad as it could be.

    The week's Femme Fatale is Rita Hayworth, whose double feature on Monday afternoon and Tuesday is a pair of classics, Gilda and The Lady from Shanghai. Wednesday's "Under the Influence" series pairs Hail, Caesar! with one of the many films that influenced the Coens in creating it - specifically On the Town, with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra as sailors whose numbers aren't quite so weird as Channing Tatum's (the scheduled Neptune's Daughter, unfortunatley, will not screen). Then, on Thursday, the "Kids International" series includes the two last films to come from Studio Ghibli, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya and When Marnie Was There, both excellent. Note that they don't have matinees next weekend because of other programming, as many others in the series have.
  • The Somerville Theatre is the landing spot for Spaceman, a movie about former Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee (Josh Duhamel) when he spent some time playing in an independent French-Canadian league after being released by the Montreal Expos. This is actually Rapkin's second pass at this material; documentary Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey came out ten years ago. Note that only the Friday 7:40pm show currently appears to be scheduled for a full-size screen, with the others in the 30-person Micro-Cinema, so buy tickets in advance (guessing on that, but when there are six 7pm shows scheduled for what is basically a 5-screen house, it seems most likely).
  • Anybody know where you can find the Hong Kong TV series with English subtitles on line? I ask because Line Walker at Boston Common is a spin-off of an extremely popular TVB series, though as far as I can tell only Charmaine Sheh returns as an undercover cop trying to find others whose names have been removed from the HKPD's records, leaving them adrift in the underworld. Still, it's big Hong Kong action, though hopefully not impenetrable if you don't binge-watch the 31-episode series to get up to speed.

    Another Chinese film opened Wednesday, Sweet Sixteen, which looks like a young-adult thriller starring Kris Wu Yi-fan as a troubled teenager who only finds some sort of peace with the girl next door. My Best Friend's Wedding sticks around, though just with early-afternoon screenings, and there appears to be a single Saturday-night screening of Time Raiders, a big treasure-hunting adventure that is apparently a huge hit in China.

    Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond opens Dharma Durai, a Tamil-language drama with English subtitles, but I'm having a hard time seeing any information on what it's about (doctors facing government resistence, I think), while the two holdovers, Mohenjo Daro and Rustom, are subtitled Hindi. There are also apparently-unsubtitled screenings of Kannada-language thriller Karva and Tamil satire Joker on Saturday.

    They've also got an American action film, Billionaire Ransom, in which rich-kid teens at a reform school fight back after a group of criminals take the place over in hopes of extorting money from their parents, playing a couple of times a day even though it's also on VOD.
  • It's one of those quiet weeks at The Coolidge Corner Theatre where one of the midnight movies - a reissue of John Waters's early bit of vulgarity Multiple Maniacs, which bounces between screens, so check showtimes. 10pm all week, with midnight showings Friday and Satuday.

    The other midnight presentation on Friday and Saturday continues the Boston Yeti's creature feature series with Grizzly, which is pretty much what it says on the tin, with a freakishly-large, angry bear killing campers. The big-screen classic on Monday is Federico Fellini's 8 1/2.
  • The Harvard Film Archive dives deep into their Rouben Mamoulian series this week, including the 1932 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Friday 7pm), Summer Holiday (Friday 9pm), Love Me Tonight (Saturday 7pm), The Gay Desperado (Saturday 9pm), Becky Sharp (Sunday 5pm), and Rings on Her Fingers (Sunday 7pm). After those, they wrap their Theo Angelopoulos on Monday evening with Eternity and a Day. All films are on 35mm.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues their runs of Korean documentary My Love, Don't Cross That River and Bulgarian parable Viktoria, with both screening once each on Friday,Saturday, Sunday, and Thursday. Kamikaze '89, a new restoration of Wolf Gremm's German cyberpunk noir from 1982 that includes Rainer Werner Fassbinder's final role.
  • Outdoor movies on Joe's Boston Free Films include plenty of chances to see Zootopia, Up, and other recent animated films; the most interesting appears to be The Witches in Harvard Square on Thursday.

    Also free that night (though not appearing on The Regent Theatre's website) is a screening of Indie Game: The Movie, which even includes free popcorn, sponsored by UXPA Boston

I intend to take in Spaceman, Kubo, Pete's Dragon, Line Walker, and Time Raiders, and hopefully catch up on some other things as well.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Not much time for these imports My Best Friend's Wedding '16 and Operation Chromite

Does anybody else do the thing, starting on Tuesday, where you start refreshing Fandango and other movie ticket websites to see what will still be around on Friday because it looks awful tight to see everything you want by Thursday night and it would be really good to push something to its second week? No, just me?

Well, now that most of the showtimes for the weekend are out, it doesn't look like pushing one of these off would have done me any good; Wedding will be down to one early-afternoon show a day at Boston Common and Chromite one true matinee (10:15am) in Revere next weekend. Probably wouldn't do either, and probably shouldn't, as both of these films are just not very good, although not the sort of bad that makes me regret seeing them, though I've got a lower threshold for that than some (many). After all, I'm going to be down for Shu Qi (or a Korean action movie) no matter what.

The original plan was to catch them over the weekend, but it just didn't work out - baseball, apartment-hunting, and an adorable niece's birthday party were all much higher priorities, as they should be. Just make for a long Tuesday night, as there was no getting them nearly back-to-back. Nope, My Best Friend's Wedding played at 6:50pm and ran for 95 minutes plus two previews, and then Operation Chronicle didn't start until 10:20pm and was 115 minutes plus something close to the standard 20 minute preview package. Lucky to get home, but there was a lot of time to kill in between movies, enough to make me wish theaters still had game rooms.

Wo Zui Hao Peng you De Hun Li (My Best Friend's Wedding '16)

* * (out of four)
Seen 16 August 2016 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run, DCP)

I get why Chinese filmmakers have been remaking English-language romantic comedies a lot over the last few years; these are fun, crowd-pleasing stories that work better if there's some familiarity to the fantasy. Still, it's kind of weird to remake My Best Friend's Wedding with Chinese stars speaking Mandarin and then set it in London, right? It's the sort of thing that maybe makes one wonder if this hasn't been thought all the way through.

It makes a couple stops before London, starting in Beijing where Gu Jia (Shu Qi) is the editor-in-chief of a fashion magazine, about to head out to cover fashion week in Milan. Her assistant Ma Li (Ye Qing) has a packed schedule, but that all goes out the window when Jia's best friend since the age of three, Lin Ran (William Feng Shaofeng) calls and announces he's getting married the next weekend. Realizing she doesn't want anybody else to marry him, she heads for London where the situation is as bad as she thought; Meng Yixuan (Victoria Song Qian) is a millennial twit, but maybe Jia can stop this disaster with the help of Nick (Rhydian Vaughan), a good-looking Eurasian guy she met on the plane.

I doubt if I've seen the original American version since it's 1997 theatrical release, so it's not exactly close to my heart, but a big part of why it worked was that the secondary characters - the bride-to-be played by Cameron Diaz along with Rupert Everett more or less inventing the modern Gay Best Friend - were a bit more three-dimensional than you might expect, and their counterparts here don't stack up: Victoria Song's "Xuan Xuan" is not evil or awful or anything, and she's pretty, but when Jia has the chance to feed the allergic younger woman a cupcake with peanut butter in it, the audience's concern is entirely about how ruthless Jia is willing to be. Rhydia Vaughan's Nick, on the other hand, finds himself inserted and pulled out of the story entirely based upon momentary convenience - he's apparently well-off enough to be next to Jia in first class but tending bar when she has to stumble upon him later, and the filmmakers completely skip over Jia somehow convincing him to pose as her boyfriend in an effort to make Lin Ran jealous after he's been portrayed as wanting to give Jia a wide berth because she's a walking disaster.

Full review on EFC.

Incheonsangryookjakjun (Operation Chromite)

* * (out of four)
Seen 16 August 2016 in AMC Boston Common #10 (first-run, DCP)

It's no secret that South Korean entertainment companies have been looking to access the American market directly the same way that China and India do, even if they are more trying to translate their industry's great reputation into an audience the size that they feel it deserves than serve a large expatriate and emigrant population. Inserting a familiar western face into a movie is one way to get it a higher American profile, although audiences going to Operation Chromite under the impression that it stars Liam Neeson will likely be disappointed, though in a different way than folks looking for a truly great Korean War movie.

"Operation Chromite" was the name that American General Douglas MacArthur (Neeson) gave to the 15 September 1950 invasion of occupied South Korean at Incheon, a daring operation given one-in-five-thousand odds to succeed given the narrow harbor filled with mines, massive swells, and steep cliffs to be overcome. That's why the movie opens a couple weeks earlier, with Operation X-Ray, in which Lieutenant Jang Hak-soo (Lee Jung-jae) leads a group of eight ROK soldiers into the occupied city disguised as North Korean inspectors, their mission to discover the location for the mines and capture a crucially-placed lighthouse. Unfortunately for them, their zeal to accomplish this quickly has Colonel Lim Gye-jin (Lee Beom-soo) smelling a rat.

Though the film opens with a title card stating that it was based upon actual events, as near as I can tell that refers to the Incheon invasion itself, with the bulk of the film fictional (and the "Trudy Jackson" team never mentioned). War movies that take that tack are kind of odd - it seems disrespectful to insert fictional characters into actual events as being crucial rather than focusing on the biographical or telling smaller stories that can happen in history's margins. Instead, Operation Chromite takes a setup that seemingly demands a spy story's careful maneuvering and jumps to slam-bang action very early. It's got some room to build - the climax is a going to be massive naval bombardment with thousands of soldiers making a beachhead - but feels like it's climaxing early and then struggling to get back to trying to get back to the same level twice before the finale, doubly hard because the film occasionally jumps over to Tokyo where MacArthur is having meetings.

Full review on EFC.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 12 August 2016 - 18 August 2016

As the end of the summer approaches, things get kind of weird as the studios are still trying for big hits but also looking at folks going back to school and away from vacation at staggered times.

  • Peak weird is probably Sausage Party, a Seth Rogen-and-friends animated film about food in a supermarket that learns the awful truth about how they are destined to be eaten and attempt to make their escape. Before you bring your kids, remember it's rated R for a reason or three At the Somerville, Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    The kids would probably be better off seeing the remake of Pete's Dragon, which makes the title character 3D CGI rather than traditional animation and has been getting a lot of really great reviews, and features Karl Urban and Bryce Dallas Howard as the adults involved in the story of a boy living on his own in the woods and his big green friend. It's at the Capitol (2D only), Apple Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere.

    Revere will also have Fathom Events screenings of National Lampoon's Animal House on Sunday and Wednesday.
  • Florence Foster Jenkins also opens fairly wide, playing at the Coolidge, the Capitol, The West Newton Cinema, the Lexington Venue, Kendall Square, Boston Common, and Revere. It's about a New York heiress and patron of the arts fancies herself a fine singer - and the fact that her husband has been protection her from the awful truth won't stop her from playing Carnegie Hall. Sounds silly, but Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, and Stephen Frears is the sort of team that often makes this sort of thing work better than it has any right to.

    In addition to that, The Coolidge Corner Theatre and the Embassy will pick up Don't Think Twice, already playing at the Kendall,a quite entertaining comedy about an improv troupe's backstage drama. The Coolidge also breaks out the 35mm projector for a few special presentations: Friday and Saturday at midnight, they continue their August creature features with Alligator, co-presented by the Boston Yeti. Speaking of things in the sewers, there's also a 25th anniversary pizza party (catered by Otto Pizza) for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze at midnight, though on Saturday only. Another big party is on Monday, with the annual screening of The Big Lebowski as part of Big Screen Classics, with bowling, costume contests, and more.
  • A couple other movies also bridge boutique houses and multiplexes. Hell or High Water plays Kendall Square and Boston Common, with Chris Pine and Ben Foster as brothers who rob branches of the bank foreclosing on the family farm, only to wind up in the crosshairs of an obsessed Texas Ranger played by Jeff Bridges. Anthropoid, playing at Kendall, West Newton, and Boston Common, chronicles the mission of the Czech army in exile's attempt to assassinate the Nazis' third-in-command, who is overseeing occupied Czechoslovakia and laid the groundwork for the Final Solution.

    Sticking closer to the specialty houses (Kendall and West Newton) is Equity, a thriller about an ambitious investment banker looking to raise her profile with a big deal while her firm is coming under investigation by the SEC.
  • I'm kind of curious to see how Operation Chromite shakes out; this Korean War thriller is produced by a South Korean studio that has been very clear about wanting a bigger presence in the English-speaking world, and has a Korean-American director and big stars from both sides of the Pacific - Lee Jung-jae as a soldier infiltrating North Korean headquarters and Liam Neeson as General MacArthur. That's at Boston Common and Revere; meanwhile, the My Best Friend's Wedding remake finally lands at Boston Common, featuring Shu Qi, Feng Shaofeng, and Victoria Song.

    Of the three big Indian films open at Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond, two are listed as being in Hindi with subtitles: Mohenjo Daro is a historic adventure featuring Hrithik Roshan as a new arrival to the now-lost city of the title in 2016 BC; Rustom is contemporary, featuring Akshay Kumar as a naval officer on trial for killing his wife's lover. Babu Bangaram is listed as Telugu, an action-comedy about a soft-spoken cop becoming more forceful; another Telugu film, Thikka, has scattered showings, as does Tamil Pelli Choopulu, Anuraga Karikkin Vellam (Marathi with English subtitles). They also have their monthly visit by the Teseracte players with The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Friday, while the Full Body Cast does their weekly show at Boston Common on Saturday
  • The Brattle Theatre's main film this weekend is a 50th-anniversary restoration of Ousmane Sembene's Black Girl, a seminal piece of African cinema about a Senegalese woman who goes to France to work as a maid and finds attitudes have not evolved nearly as much as people like to believe.

    It's got some other things to work around, though - for instance, there will be 9pm screenings of video-game oriented 1980s "classics" all weekend, including Wargames (Friday on 35mm), Joysticks (Saturday on 35mm), and The Last Starfighter (Sunday on DCP) to celebrate the release of the Joysticks soundtrack; they will somehow be cramming classic arcade cabinets into the lobby or the back of the theater all weekend. On top of that, there's a Saturday matinee of Boy and the World and the "Reel Weird Brattle" 35mm screening of Jackie Chan in Police Story 2 at 11:30pm Friday and 12:30pm Sunday.

    Then comes the regular vertical-calendar stuff: The Femmes Fatales double feature on Monday and Tuesday is Double Indemnity and Detour (the latter on 35mm), although they only play matinees on Tuesday so that Trash Night can present Battle Beyond the Stars in the evening. Is it just me, or has Trash Night drifted from its original mission to show true unknown abominations to fairly well-known dated stuff? Moving on, Wednesday's "Under the Influence" pairing is John Cassavetes's Husbands and recent Greek comedy Chevalier, while the GKids retrospective screenings on Thursday are Tales of the Night and The Painting (haven't seen the first, but the latter is terrific).
  • The Somerville Theatre has its annual Jaws weekend from Friday to Sunday, with Spielberg's classic playinig on 35mm in the big room. It's interrupted Sunday afternoon for the monthly "Silents, Please!" show, which features Jeff Rapsis on the organ accompanying Stella Maris, a Mary Pickford melodrama. On Thursday, they wrap up the "Play it Cool" series with two capers that have had high-profile remakes: The original Rat Pack Ocean's Eleven and The Thomas Crown Affair featuring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway.
  • The Harvard Film Archive has room for one more retrospective before school starts again, starting a brief "reconsideration" of Rouben Mamoulian with Applause (Friday 7pm). The Theo Angelopoulos series continues with The Beekeper (Friday 9pm) and Vooyage to Cythera (Monday 7pm). The Robert Aldrich series, meanwhile, wraps up with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (Saturday 7pm), The Big Knife (Saturday 9:30pm), The Big Night (Sunday 5pm), and Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (Sunday 7pm on DCP), and Kiss Me Deadly (Thursday 7pm on DCP). All on 35mm except where noted.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts wraps up their "Rescued/Restored" series with Akira Kurosawa's Ran (Friday/Sunday), Whit Stillman's Metropolitan (Friday/Saturday/Sunday), and Jules Dassin's Rififi (Saturday). They begin short runs of two new films on Thursday: My Love, Don't Cross That River comes from South Korea and documents fifteen months in the lives of a couple that has been married for 75 years; Viktoria comes from Bulgaria and is a fantastical tale of a girl born without an umbilical cord during the communist era.
  • Outdoor movies on Joe's Boston Free Films include Jurassic World on Friday and Saturday, The Iron Giant on Tuesday, and The Last Time I Saw Paris on Thursday.

Not a lot of time for movies this week, as I'm looking for a new apartment, going to a ballgame, and exchanging toys for cake at a niece's birthday party. I still figure to find room for Jaws, Operation Chromite, Sausage Party, Pete's Dragon, Hell and High Water, and Arthropoid, though I'm not sure how.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Umimachi Diary (Our Little Sister)

One day left to see this, Boston, as it leaves Kendall Square after Thursday night's screenings. Sorry for being so late to let you know that it's one of my absolute favorite movies of the year, but, folks, you shouldn't need me to tell you that an ensemble film by Hirokazu Kore-eda is kind of terrific. That's just about a given, although this one is a particular favorite. I probably could have caught it in Montreal - it was playing for a good chunk of the time I was up there - but I was kind of overloaded on movies enough, right?

(Although, as an aside, given the amount of theaters that are going to be built near Boston Common in the upcoming years, I am really hoping that it continues to become more like the one at the old Forum in Montreal which, because it has 22 screens and has to split films with a fancier place two stops up the Metro, has a lot of foreign and independent stuff.)

This film may actually have started playing both Montreal and Boston on the 21st, which is interesting because the second Japanese two-parter to play the festival that year was Chihayafuru,a shojo manga adaptation that I punted because the second part overlapped something I wanted to see (directly or via domino effect). Now, though, I see that those films starred Suzu Hirose, who is absolutely fantastic as the title character in this movie. I'm not exactly regretting those decisions now - as I'll post before too much time is out, Holy Flame of the Martial World is great, insane stuff - but it would be great to see what else she is capable of.

She plays the youngest sister; the oldest is played by Haruka Ayase, and seeing her name in the advertising for this movie made me wonder if I was remembering a certain actress's name wrong. In 2009, it seemed like every non-art-house movie I saw from Japan had the same actress - she was in Cyborg She, The Magic Hour, Ichi, Happy Flight, and she was unavoidable - I saw two at Fantasia, one when a Japanese airline rented out the Coolidge to hold a free movie screening at which they pitched their services, and one that played a single screening at the Kendall that apparently only I noticed. It was weird. I didn't mind - she was really pretty if not exactly suited to some of her roles - but what were the odds?

Same actress, and it's pretty cool to see that she has grown to the point where she's actually excellent in here. Checking that led me to something else, too - earlier this year, she apparently starred in a miniseries version of Never Let Me Go, and now I really need to see it. I loved the movie and am very curious how giving the story a little room to breathe and moving it to Japan rather than England might change it. I'm afraid I'm going to have to find a torrent site or something, because it doesn't seem to be on Crunchyroll and I don't know where else you would find Japanese TV in America.

Umimachi Diary (Our Little Sister)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 8 August 2016 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, DCP)

There probably won't be a sweeter movie this year than Our Little Sister, and not just because few filmmakers aim for that. It is wonderful to see something like this appear, though, because it is a joy to sit down in the theater and see people at their best without ever feeling like they've been made overly simplistic or the situations less honest. It's two hours that few people could do nearly as well as Hirokazu Kore-eda.

There's a house in Kamakata where the three Koda sisters live. Sachi (Haruka Ayase), the oldest, is a nurse and a sort of den mother; Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa) is a couple years younger and likes her alcohol and men; Chika (Kaho) is just out of high scool and a bit of an eccentric. They're a tight enough family unit that when the news comes that their father has died in Yamagata with his third wife, they aren't too concerned about going; they haven't seen him since he left fifteen years ago. Yoshino and Chika do, and that's where they meet Suzu Asano (Suzu Hirose), the fourteen-year-old daughter of the woman for whom their father left their family. Seeing that Suzu is not especially close to her stepmother, the sisters ask if she would like to move in with them, an offer she eagerly accepts.

At this point, something like ninety percent of the narratives based upon this concept would focus on the Suzu being taken in out of a reluctant sense of duty, or hidden resentments coming out. Instead, Kore-eda (adapting the manga Umimachi Diary by Akimi Yoshida) quickly establishes that the Kodas connect with Suzu out of a sense of empathy and seem puzzled in a genuine way when someone in their lives suggests that they might or should harbor hard feelings toward Suzu. It's actually an exciting development despite appearing to be the very opposite of dramatic, both because it feels like the opposite of what always happens (and thus uncharted territory) and because, in doing so, Kore-eda is clearly setting up for a number of smaller, but no less intriguing, ways of looking at the situation.

Full review on EFC.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

The Fantasia Daily 2016.10 (23 July 2016): Pychonauts, Phantom Detective, Assassination Classroom: Graduation Day, Tank 432, and Red Christmas

Lots of guests today, and there could have been more, but there was some weird scheduling, with two animated films overlapping. Not sure why you do that. It looked like I was going to be able to - Nova Seed at 12:45pm and 65 minutes long, with Psychonauts starting at 1:50pm. Would be a quick run underground, but Nova Seed had a 29 minute short ahead of it. So, because I didn't bother with the first part of Chihayafuru (since I wasn't going to see the second), I was able to get a reasonably late start, which isn't a bad thing when the night before wiped me out and I was staring down the barrel of another midnight.

First up: Psychhonauts co-director Pedro Rivero (c) being interviewed by Rupert Bottenberg (r), who has been programming the animation section for years though I don't recall him being quite so visible as he was this year.

I didn't make the connection that his co-director was actually the creator of the Psiconautas graphic novel, who also collaborated with Rivero on a "Birdboy" short. Rivero commented on it not being for kids, although he asked the parents of some of the ones who did stick around how they liked it. They seemed okay with it.

Next up - well, actually, much later that evening - it was time for Tank 432, with programmer Simon Lapierre, director Nick Gillespie, and producer Finn Bruce. Surprisingly, not a whole lot of talk about executive producer Ben Wheatley, even though things can often go that direction.

Lots of talk about the tank, including how they're getting a little more difficult to get hold of, and you can't just cut them apart in order to get better angles. There was also a little bit of conversation on what I considered sort of an unsatisfying ending - SPOILERS! I don't care how evil an organization you're running overall (or how maybe the population is kind of high), HR can't be pleased with a training plan that involves killing so many of your own people. !SRELIOPS

And, finally, we have Mitch Davis and the Red Christmas crew: star Dee Wallace, filmmaker Craig Anderson, and co-star Janis McGavin. The latter two came all the way from Australia, while Ms. Wallace was already in town because the series she's on for Amazon, Just Add Magic, shoots in Montreal. That's still a large amount of travel for one midnight screening, but Frontieres was going on, and this looks like something that could get distribution, even with the controversial subject matter.

A bunch of questions about this being an Australian Christmas movie, with a couple fun tidbits: It was apparently actually kind of difficult to find this sort of American-style house to use, as Aussie homes tend to favor building out rather than a second floor, since there's a ton of unused land. Christmas, meanwhile, is a big day - since Australia is in the southern hemisphere, seasons are reversed and it's summer and actually kind of a big beach day, but so many of their pop-cultural images of Christmas come from North America and Europe, there's a lot of winter imagery and fake snow around (even where you don't really get much snow even during a chilly August winter).

Dee Wallace was kind of the star of the Q&A, as she's been in a lot of great stuff, and is pretty cool with much of it being horror. As she points out, at a certain age the answer to "what makes a project appealing" is "the chance to work", but she sure seems pleased with being able to do this sort of material.

Psiconautas, los niños olvidados (Psychonauts)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2016 in the SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Fantasia 2016: Axis, DCP)

I'm not sure what "psychonauts" ("psiconautas" in the original Spanish) means as far as this title; if the original graphic novels involved an Inception-style trip inside someone's mind, it doesn't appear in the film, although I guess the "happy pills" some characters take might qualify as psychonautics. What does show up is a story of fed-up teenagers in a slightly post-apocalyptic future, and that's without mentioning they are talking animals.

Dinky is probably the most sick of everything; a clever mouse who wants to know more of the world than her island home, she's ready to run away, but not without her beloved Birdboy. She has accomplices in Sandra, a rabbit who hears voices, and the friendly Little Fox, but Birdboy is proving elusive, as is a boat that they can use to to the city. The only place they can buy one of those is amid the island's vast piles of trash, where rats quarrel over scraps.

There's a tremendous uncertainty to the world of Psychonauts; though the film opens with the rats chanting a mantra that would not be out of place in a Mad Max-style film, and a flashback shows what appears to be nuclear war, but when Dinky is introduced, she and her friends seem to exist in a world with a comfortable middle class, compete with school uniforms and alarm clocks. It is a reminder, perhaps, that what is a devastating apocalypse for one class or group can go almost unnoticed by another. What would normally be inanimate objects talk and plastic is rare, creating a situation that often seems unreal even by the standards of a talking-animal picture.

Full review on EFC.

Tamjung Hong Gil-dong: Sarajin Ma-eul (Phantom Detective)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2016 in the SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Fantasia 2016, DCP)

The first impression that Jo Sung-hee's Phantom Detective creates is that pulp is kind of the same the world over; the film may be based upon a series of Korean novels, but the look and though-guy attitude isn't far off from Sin City, which was itself an attempt to distill the American pulp tradition to is essence. And yet, as it goes on, it becomes undeniably South Korean, and the way that it reflects that place's fears and bravado makes a frequently clumsy movie intriguing even when it's at its most absurd.

It is October 1983, and Hong Gil-dong (Lee Je-hoon) is the top operative of the HDB Agency, a private concern that specializes in smashing human trafficking rings, something he's been raised to do since childhood. His only memories from before that are his mother being murdered and the face of her killer, and now he thinks he's finally talked the former down in the person of Kim Byung-duk (Park Geun-hyung). The trouble is, someone else has too, looking for his secret ledger of the "GU Group", and when Hong arrives at Kim's place, all he fonds are granddaughters Mal-soon (Kim Ha-na) and Dong-yi (Roh Jeong-eui) , and it is a bit unusual to allow ten- and six-year-old kids to tag along on your mission of vengeance.

For a guy with little memory, Hong Gil-dong narrates an awful lot, and that is something that can wear on a viewer pretty quickly, especially early on when he's not learning things particularly quickly. The same goes for the strongly-stylized look which seems like it belongs a few decades before the 1980s setting, at least where the costumes are concerned, and often veers into characters being superhuman brawlers with little notice; the first time villain Kang Sung-il (Kim Sung-kyun) did something like punching through a wall raises an eyebrow because, because for as much as it's clear from the start that Jo is going for something heightened, the film does take a while finding its level.

Full review on EFC.

Ansatsu kyôshitsu: sotsugyô hen (Assassination Classroom: Graduation)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2016 in the SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Fantasia 2016, DCP)

The first Assassination Classroom is a decent enough movie hurt in a big way by needing to reset at the end so that this one could be made, so it's fairly good news that the filmmakers stick to the two-film plan and let Graduation play out to to a fairly conclusive finale rather than try and find ways to extend the series indefinitely. Though more plot-oriented than the opener, it's a satisfying conclusion an entertaining series.

As in most classrooms, things aren't that much different for Kunugigaoka Junior High School class 3-E; they're still considered the dregs of the school; their teacher is still a bizarre yellow creature with tentacles, beady eyes, and the ability to move at Mach 20 (voice of Kanna Hashimoto); and they are still expected to find a way to kill him before he destroys the world like he did the moon come graduation day. After the events of the fall semester, Nagisa Shiota (Ryosuke Yamada) has emerged as the class leader, though Karuma Akabane (Masaki Suda) is probably smarter though undisciplined. Other students include Nagisa's crush Kaede Kayano (Maika Yamamoto), science genius Manami Okuda (Miku Uehara), genetically-augmented Itona Horibe (Seishiro Kato), a military robot with the AI of a schoolgirl, and more. One of them, though, is harboring a secret connection to a secret government program involving captured master assassin Shinigami (Kazunari Ninomiya), egomaniacal scientist Kotaro Yanagisawa (Hiroki Narimiya), and his prue-hearted fiancée Aguri Yukimura (Mirei Kiritani).

Unlike a great many of Japan's recent multi-part manga adaptations, there was a full year between episodes here, and it while they may just be following the source material, it seems as though director Eiichiro Hasumi and screenwriter Tatsuya Kanazawa took note of some of the first half's flaws and made some adjustments. Detours that take the kids away from the business at hand are reduced fairly drastically this time around, and the larger story about where "U.T." (for "unkillable teacher") came from and why he is so dedicated to teaching this class fills the gap. Truth be told, this one tells a complete enough story to make the first not strictly necessary, and is a better movie for it.

Full review on EFC.

Tank 432 (aka Belly of the Bulldog)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2016 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia 2016: Camera Lucida, DCP)

The man behind Tank 432, Nick Gillespie, often runs a camera on Ben Wheatley's films, and I worry a bit that he's picked up a bit too much of Wheatley's "let the audience put things together on the fly" style, which only really works when what's going on emerges a bit earlier. He still makes a nifty little movie, though one that's more great bits than great whole.

In an unknown war zone sometime in the future, a small group is bringing two hooded prisoners back to headquarters, but they've come under fire: Capper (Michael Smiley) is injured, commanding officer Smith (Gordon Kennedy) is losing patience, scouts Gantz (Steve Garry) and Evans (Tom Meeten) are looking down at Reeves (Rupert Evans), and corspwoman Karlsson (Deirdre Mullins) is dispensing drugs to keep people leveled as much as dealing with injuries. There's biological weapons in play, a young girl (Alex Rose March) found in a cargo container, and the only escape route leads to an open field with a broken-down Bulldog tank in the middle. That gets the survivors cover, but unless they can get the thing moving...

Well, then they'll be stuck in an enclosed space, getting on each other's nerves and barking at each other but kind of in a holding pattern until something either happens outside or the situation inside comes to a boil, and while at least one of the two eventually happens, it's a tough downshift - the movie goes from being on the run, poking at this scenario where all manner of things could happen, and being at each other's throats to just being at each other's throats, and for a certain chunk of the audience, that's not necessarily the most interesting part of the film. A good deal of that other stuff gets pushed aside until a climax that is not necessarily the most satisfying way to resolve them.

Full review on EFC.

Red Christmas

* * * ¾ out of four

Seen 23 July 2016 in the SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Fantasia 2016, DCP)

Some movies and filmmakers try and sneak their controversial subject matter in quietly or spring it on the audience later, distracting the audience with blood and guts (or the hallmarks of another genre) with the hope that the other ideas will sink in a little deeper that way. Craig Anderson is having none of that with Red Christmas, rubbing the audience's face in a touchy subject from the start, backing off just enough so that what comes next seems like even more of a minefield, and what comes after that is not just impressively vicious but perhaps worth a moment or two's consideration between the uses of sharp objects.

It's not looking like a great Christmas before that, though the last one at the old family home, with Diane (Dee Wallace) selling it to spend her golden years traveling with second husband Joe (Geoff Morrell). Maybe that's what brought all the children together, even if Virginia (Janis McGavin) and her husband Scott (Bjorn Steward) expecting seems very unfair to sister Suzy (Sarah Bishop) and her pastor spouse Peter (David Collins). Already there are Jerry (Gerald Odwyer), loud but fairly functional for a 23-year-old with Down's Syndrome, and Hope (Deelia Meriel), Diane's only child with Joe, set to start art school the next year. Then there's Cletus (Sam Campbell), who shows up with his face behind a shroud and drops a bombshell. And when he's not accepted...

The audience doesn't quite forget the prologue while this family drama is going on, but it's a relatively bold one, opening with a look at just how charged emotions were around abortion about twenty years ago - as contentious as it is now, there seems to be less outright violence than the attack on a clinic caps the montage in truly queasy fashion. Cletus's origins give the film a charge on two levels, the first being that it plugs into something that has real-world resonance, impressively doing it without overtly falling on one side or another (Cletus represents both the righteous and indiscriminate rage of anti-abortion activists). Anderson has also built his cast of characters so that Cletus's injection into the party reinforces the existing family tensions, ratcheting up the tension in a scene whether or not Cletus is a direct threat at that moment, planting mines that can explode in any manner even if Anderson were to do a fake-out that had Cletus exiting early.

Full review on EFC.