Saturday, February 16, 2019

Everybody Knows

I have not, historically, been one to complain about film runtimes - what am I going to do with another fifteen minutes that's better than watching a movie?, right - but this thing is 132 minutes long, and even if it handles that length pretty well, that's kind of a heck of a thing to be confronted with at the theater when you arrive just too late to make the 7pm show. Heck, last show of the day is at 10:15 - tack on twenty minutes of previews, and I can't help but wonder, is this really something worth staying up for until after the MBTA stops running? I honestly almost course-corrected to Isn't It Romantic, which is 88 minutes long.

Nevertheless, it was probably the right movie to see last night; I wasn't really in the mood for silly. It's kind of a pre-fab art house movie - foreign stars the audience nevertheless recognizes, rustic European locations, murkiness that makes one feel like they're seeing something more sophisticated than mainstream fare but seldom steps all the way into real darkness. I mock movies like that on occasion, especially when they seem like all there is on offer outside the blockbusters at the expense of something really interesting and new, but they can be done well. This isn't a bad movie at all, just not actually better than a pulpier take on the same material could have been.

Todos lo saben (Everybody Knows)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 February 2019 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, DCP)

Right about halfway through Everybody Knows, I had a horrible thought - what if this is one of those art-house thrillers where we just tread water for a couple hours, nothing is resolved, and the audience is expected to nod appreciatively at the truth of how nobody can ever really know anything for sure? Those films may not be bad by definition, but they can be rote and deflating unless there's something more interesting than the crime itself exposed. This film is not quite that sort of thing, but it's not far off.

It starts out enjoyably enough, with Laura (Penélope Cruz) returning to her hometown in Spain for the first time in a few years for the wedding of her sister Ana (Inma Cuesta), bringing teenage daughter Irene (Carla Campra) and adorable moppet Diego (Iván Chavero) while husband Alejandro (Ricardo Darín) is stuck in Argentina on something work-related. It's a big, fun event, including not just family but Paco (Javier Bardem), her best friend since childhood and his wife Bea (Bárbara Lennie). It's eventful enough that nobody thinks much of it when the boisterous Irene starts to drag relatively early, but when Laura goes to check on her kids later, Irene is missing and clippings from newspaper articles about an abduction a few years back on on her bed. Texts warning not to call the police soon follow, and by the next morning, everybody is well on their way to looking with suspicion at the troublemaking teens in Bea's class, the migrant workers at Paco's winery, the way Laura's father has made enemies all over town, and how Alejandro is maybe not quite so successful as folks in town think.

Looking at this film's running time, one might think that it's got a somewhat leisurely pace for a thriller, but a lot of that comes from a first act of getting to know everybody that is actually quite charming; writer/director Asghar Farhadi captures the feeling of going to a wedding and not really knowing a fair chunk of people there, quickly catching up with others around the actual purpose, cousins falling in together despite not seeing each other in years, etc. It's a fine introduction to Irene as well, establishing her as reckless but sweet and enough of a wild card to make the minutes after her disappearance feel like they could go in a lot of directions Farhadi hints at the fractures that will show up later but gets the audience to enjoy it, getting through a lot of prep with a smile on its collective face.

Full review at EFilmCritic

Friday, February 15, 2019

Short Stuff: The 2018 Oscar-Nominated Documentary Shorts

The theaters in my area that pick up the Oscar-Nominated Documentary Shorts almost always break them up into two packages, and it's usually a smart idea: With every entry pushing the definition of the "shorts" category to its limit, that's a chunk of time where a narrative feature would probably be given an intermission anyway. This year's program, on the other hand, clocks in at a relatively lean 139 minutes, or roughly the length of a Marvel movie, an hour less than its theoretical maximum length. Many places are still breaking it up, which is reasonable enough, as it's the sort of presentation where it certainly doesn't hurt to spend a little time resetting and reflecting.

That several of the entries are more compact is a blessing, but also indicative of something else: This year's group feels like a larger entry in what a documentary can be, whether short or feature-length. It's hardly the first time that a mix of styles has been featured in this category, and it's entirely possible that the five films chosen next year will once again be a set of films that all push the 40-minute barrier as filmmakers try to edit the year they spent shadowing a group of interesting people into something that pays like a feature but shorter, but the Oscar voters have an interesting set of choices this year.

"Black Sheep"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 10 February 2019 in the Coolidge Corner Theatre Screening Room (Oscar-Nominated Shorts, DCP)

Consider "Black Sheep", the first entry being shown in theaters, which some purists may argue is not a documentary at all. A fair amount is Cornelius Walker recounting the story of his youth, when the murder of a ten-year-old Nigerian boy led his mother to pack the family up and move them from London to small-town Essex, only for Cornelius to discover the first time he left the house that the racism was much more overt there, perhaps more likely to lead to violence, with perhaps his best hope of getting through it to be to assimilate into the racist culture despite his own black skin. Though Walker's voice is a constant, what's on-screen is often recreations, with Perkins seldom using photographs or video of the younger Walker.

This sort of recreation may not pass a purity test, and it's often not necessarily more dynamic than stretching whatever footage or other images that can be found out; Perkins repeats the same images a few times, and sometimes a shot will be empty or abstracted in a way that marks it as not real, while the shots of Walker narrating in unwavering, head-on close up can feel just as artificial. It's effective, though, in how it bridges the gap between Walker's mouth the viewer's visual cortex; there's just enough space for one to get the impression he or she has witnessed events while still knowing otherwise. It allows one to make an honest memory.

It's got a fine subject in Walker, too; the young man can spin a story without making it a tall tale or exaggerating for too much dramatic effect, getting across the disbelief he feels for how he acted when younger while still understanding. He and Perkins make sure he doesn't waste words, letting the viewer fill certain gaps in more with experiences than prejudices, and they're smart enough to draw the line in an unexpected but logical place: This is just the story of how he got into a bad place; the story of how he got out or faced the consequences of these actions would be another short film entirely, and one I wouldn't mind seeing.

"A Night at the Garden"

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 10 February 2019 in the Coolidge Corner Theatre Screening Room (Oscar-Nominated Shorts, DCP)

Where "Black Sheep" is at one end of the documentary spectrum, "A Night at the Garden" is perhaps all the way at the other - it is entirely archive footage of a February 1939 "Pro-American Rally" at New York's Madison Square Garden assembled by filmmaker Marshall Curry, to the extent that when he is credited as having "produced, directed, and edited" this film, one may have a moment of wondering if a work like this is "directed", in terms of actually directing other people to do something to capture what one sees on screen. It's a terrifically effective bit of assembly, and certainly reflects his craftsmanship, but that's not how many people understand the term.

No matter, in terms of how well the film works. It's a tightly-constructed seven minutes that demonstrates just how overt the racism and anti-semitism of that time could be, with Nazis and their supporters filling the Garden and rapidly dropping the euphemisms like "Pro-American". It has room to show that there was resistance, and that entering this snake's nest to protest marked one as pretty brave. The music by James Baxter is not subtle in underlying the fascist intentions, and it's not hard to tie what one sees on-screen to current events, a sharp reminder that it absolutely can, as they say, happen here.

Curry is not subtle about this, even if he doesn't do a lot in the way of title cards or any cross-cutting with the present to drive his point home. It's interesting what he chooses to include and exclude and what that means, though - he includes speaker Fritz Kuhn saying that the audience knows who he is but does not actually identify him, whether to avoid giving Kuhn a raised profile decades later or to highlight that he has generally been left behind. Though there are multiple shots of the Nazi salute, the most striking one is a POV shot, reminding the audience that this isn't professional footage, but home movies, meant to be shown with pride later. And the way police handle protester Isadore Greenbaum becomes an interesting sort of Rorschach test - whether Curry meant it to or not.

"End Game"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 10 February 2019 in the Coolidge Corner Theatre Screening Room (Oscar-Nominated Shorts, DCP)

Between the two comes "End Game", directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, and it's in many ways more typical - it splits time between the University of California San Francisco hospital and the nearby Zen Hospice Project, following a half-dozen or so patients who have weeks or months to live, though not all have given up hope. They do a lot of makes a documentary about such issues work, maintaining a careful distance to show how the process works without inflating drama, but using interviews with their well-chosen subjects to keep everyone from seeming like mere data points. They never lose track of how, by the time audiences see this, the patients will be dead, but leavening that with positive attitudes and a few moments that acknowledge the presence of the camera and how it may change things. They capture people defining and discussing end-of-life care in a straightforward manner without it feeling staged, either as interview footage or a scene that feels inauthentic.

And in a certain way, all of this works because they have found a number of people who stand out even among people in extraordinarily difficult situations. At the hospice, Dr. Miller catches the eye immediately as a triple amputee, and he acknowledges that knowing his reduced limits informs the work he does there. Eventually, his passionate advocacy and true belief in the work they do becomes his most important feature, and while he (and his institution) can strike a viewer as almost impossibly sunny and well-adjusted, the film presents him as an attempt to counter one's skepticism without forcing it. At the hospital, cancer patient Mitra is striking as an example of how, though the disease and treatment haven't sapped all of her strength and ability to act, these decisions cannot be entirely her own, with husband Hamid and mother Vaji both forced to take more active roles than they could wish. The interplay between Hamid's desperate hope for a miracle and retired nurse Vaji's heartbroken pragmatism is what gets to the core of the family's choices.

The film's biggest issue is that these two cannot give the full picture that Epstein & Friedman wish to present, but at the short film scale, they quickly run out of room for more than quick glimpses. Those glimpses are affecting, but can feel like they're either diluting the things that the filmmakers are able to flesh out or like there's a feature-length version in their footage that covers everything they want to show better. It's still a fine film, just one where the industry's definitions may keep it from being its best possible version.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 10 February 2019 in the Coolidge Corner Theatre Screening Room (Oscar-Nominated Shorts, DCP)

Skye Fitzgerald's "Lifeboat" is cut from similar cloth, only she embedded herself and her crew on a Sea Watch ocean vessel, Sea Watch being a German non-profit organization that patrols the waters north of Lybia, looking for boats of migrants trying to make their way to Europe. By the time their boats have reached international waters, most are in dire straits, as is the case in the operation shown here, where three boats crowded to bursting all need rescue.

Bookends on the shore give a clear picture of how the stakes are life and death and then some - death in this case is often anonymous and devoid of dignity - but for the bulk of the short, Fitzgerald and the crew (cinematographer Kenny Allen and editor Dan Sadowsky) do a fair job of just putting the audience on the water, letting the obvious lack of space for enough fresh water and supplies to cross the Mediterranean tell its own tale, letting the audience keenly feel the rescuers' desire to help and the simple practical difficulty of it between the language barriers, limited resources of their own, and panic and desperation. The filmmakers are quite good at making the film feel immersive when there's actually a fair amount of interview footage and captioning explaining situations and giving stories. Perhaps this is because almost all seems to be taken while on the ship, keeping everything in the same urgent timeframe rather than giving the impression of details filled in later, at their leisure.

Keeping the focus on the present does leave a few gaps that occasionally make it feel a bit over-bounded - there's a whole system on either end of this process that a viewer might want explained, from the Libyan prison camp many are escaping to the challenges those rescued may face attempting to obtain refugee status in Europe. For better or worse, that is not this film's immediate concern, and a short like this is arguably designed to show one link in a chain rather than the whole thing. That it can be seen as a shortcoming is, perhaps, testimony to Fitzgerald's skill and how compelling what both the ship's crew and new passengers are; it's hard not to be interested in the rest of their stories.

"Period. End of Sentence."

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 10 February 2019 in the Coolidge Corner Theatre Screening Room (Oscar-Nominated Shorts, DCP)

The last film included in the package, Rayka Zehtabchi's "Period. End of Sentence.", is in some ways marked as a bit different by the captions at the end, which mention that the film and the project it covers were partly funded by Kickstarter and partly by high school students in Oakland California. It's not that crowdfunding is uncommon for short films or particularly hidden in the credits, rather that the clear but playful way the filmmakers make a note of this serves to connect the process of making the film to what it shows - people getting things done for themselves and young women leading the way. It's a last way to emphasize the themes of the film and maybe stoke ambitions beyond the subject.

Which, itself, benefits from the film having a somewhat less formal style than the other nominees. It drops the audience into a village about 60 km outside of Delhi, where a group of women has acquired a machine to allow for low-cost, people-powered manufacture of sanitary pads, no small boon in area where not only is the use of such things rather low, but where men and women alike can often be quite uneducated about the menstrual cycle. Zehtabchi and her main subjects poke at this with good humor, acknowledging the embarrassment of bringing the topic up but defusing it with laughter even as they also point out that the general ignorance and lack of accessible hygiene measures is a real problem. There are multiple scenes where women are seen going from being unable to talk about their periods to joking about it.

That doesn't disguise the genuine frustration and need for change that exists both above and below the surface, at how being unable to acknowledge biological reality is what leads to pads being treated as a luxury item and women as a result having fewer options. Zehtabchi pointedly doesn't offer up any convenient male villains - there seem to be some terrible husbands who aren't around at the moment - but instead highlights the passive acceptance that keeps bad structures in place. Dealing with one man isn't going o make a dent, but the film shows women building what they need more or less on their own.

Were I to have a vote, "Period. End of Sentence." would probably have it; it's quality moviemaking and clear communication that feels just right at its length. If I were a betting man, I'm not sure I'd want to bet against "Lifeboat", with "A Night at the Garden" the dark-horse favorite as the one that speaks most directly to the mostly-American Oscar voters' current concerns.

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 15 February 2019 - 21 February 2019

A lot of this actually opened earlier in the week, because between Valentine's Day being on a Thursday and the tendency toward earlier previews, it's a perfect storm of stuff getting drawn out.

  • After being developed by James Cameron for a long time, Alita: Battle Angel finally makes it to screens because Cameron hired Robert Rodriguez do get the thing done (which Rodriguez is pretty good at). It should be something to look at, at least; both genuinely like shooting in 3D and so this isn't post-converted. It's at Fresh Pond (2D only), the Somerville (2D only), Jordan's Furniture (Imax 3D), Boston Common (including Imax 3D), Fenway (including RPX 3D), the Seaport (including Icon-X 3D), South Bay (Imax 3D and Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (Imax 3D and Dolby Cinema), the Embassy (2D only), and Revere (MX4D and XPlus 3D),

    The semi-conventional Valentine's release is Isn't It Romantic, with Rebel Wilson, Priyanka Chopra, and Liam Hemsworth sending up the romantic comedy in the month's second fantasy kicked off by a blow to the head. That plays the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, the Embassy, Revere, and the SuperLux. The less-obvious one is Happy Death Day 2U, although to be honest this sequel to one of the more inventive horror movies of recent years works pretty well as a date movie. That one's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    Boston Common and Fenway both have Oscar Best Picture showcases this weekend, with the former playing The Favourite, BlacKkKlansman, and Bohemain Rhapsondy on Saturday and Fenway playing seven of the eight nominees over the course of the week (with a Roma-shaped hole), along with Best Animated Feature nominee Mirai on Monday. Fenway and Assembly Row have TCM Classics presentations of My Fair Lady on Sunday and Wednesday (with Revere also showing it the second day). Mobile Suit Gundam NT plays Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere on Tuesday, one which date Revere also has Patrick, about a young woman inherited her grandmother's pampered pug.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Kendall Square, and Boston Common open Everybody Knows, the new thriller by Asghar Farhadi with Penelope Cruz as a woman returning to her hometown for the first time in years for a wedding, reuniting with an old friend (Javier Bardem) - and having her daughter go missing. Tuesday's 7pm show at the Coolidge is also an "off the couch" screening hosted by the Boston Psychoanalytic Society. The Coolidge and Boston Common also pick up Arctic, already playing at the Kendall

    February's Women in Horror Month continues with a 35mm print of The Mafu Cage at midnight on Friday (with The Room playing downstairs) and new favorite Revenge on Saturday. There's a Kids' Show of The Great Muppet Caper Sunday Morning, and a Wide Lens screening of Black Panther on Wednesday.
  • In addition to that, Kendall Square opens Best Foreign Language Film nominee Never Look Away, with The Lives of Others director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck returning to the Cold War, as viewed by an artist and the woman he loves.
  • The Lunar New Year/Spring Festival celebrations may be over, but The Wandering Earth continues strong, on two screens at the Common and one at Fenway. Pegasus also continues at Boston Common, which offers a Chinese-language valentine movie with Fall In Love at First Kiss, a high school romance starring "Jelly" Lin Yun from Chen Yu-shan, who made the pretty decent Our Times.

    Uri: The Surgical Strike moves from Fenway to Apple Fresh Pond, with both picking up Gully Boy, a musical drama about street rappers in Mumbai. Apple also picks up action/adventure Dev (with showtimes in both Tamil and Telugu), with Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga continuing through the week.
  • Next week is school vacation week, so The Brattle Theatre will be playing a Bugs Bunny Film Festival on 35mm all afternoon and into the evening, although there are 10pm late shows of black-metal tale Lords of Chaos (at a relatively early 8:30pm Thursday). The other exception is Tuesday, when it's Trash Night at 7:30pm
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues their February calendar, with the Boston Festival of Films from Japan featuring Shoplifters (Friday), Ryu Sakamota: Coda (paired with Ryu Sakamoto: Async Live at the Park Avenue Armory on Saturday), and The Third Murder (Thursday); Down and Dirty in Gower Gulch: Poverty Row Films Preserved by UCLA including The Sin of Nora Moran (Friday), Mamba (Sunday/Wednesday), and Strange Illusion (Wednesday/Thursday); and screenings of Young Picasso on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The restorations play with restored newsreals and shorts
  • The Harvard Film Archive welcomes Mariano Llinás for the weekend, and he will have the run of the place with magnum opus La Flor ("The Flower") stretching over the whole weekend - 3.5 hours Friday evening, nearly six each on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. After that, Monday's 35mm "Cinema of Resistance" screening of Young Mr. Lincoln on Monday must seem almost quaint.
  • Bright Lights (in the Bright Screening Room at the Paramount Theater) has two free festival favorites this week: Skate Kitchen plays Tuesday, with director Crystal Moselle on hand for a Q&A afterward, while writer/producer/star Rafael Casal is there for Blindspotting on Thursday.
  • Boston Sci-Fi FIlm Festival concludes at The Somerville Theatre with a couple days of documentaries, local productions, and other features, panels, and short programs on Friday and Saturday before the big old marathon from noon to noon Sunday to Monday which has a strong lineup, including Jeff Rapsis accompanying Woman in the Moon, a 70mm print of Star Trek VI, and much of the rest on 35mm. With a screen to fill after that, the Somerville will be playing the latest Banff Mountain Film Festival touring package from Tuesday to Thursday (it also plays the Regent Monday night), and the The Boston Underground Film Festival's monthly Dispatch From the Underground - a female-directed set of shorts called "Wiles" - in the micro-cinema on Wednesday.
  • New IMAX films get added to the rotations at the museums, with The Museum of Science picking up "Cuba" and the New England Aquarium opening "Turtle Odyssey".
  • School vacation means The Regent Theatre in Arlington is playing kid-friendly stuff all week, with three programs from the New York International Children's Film Festival on Monday and Wednesday and sing-along shows of Annie and The Muppet Movie on Tuesday and Thursday. They also have a "Deconstructing the Beatles" show on Wednesday evening, this one focused on the Magical Mystery Tour.
  • Where to see the Oscar-Nominated Shorts? The Documentaries are at the Coolidge, Cinema Salem, and the Luna (Saturday/Monday); the Animation is at the Coolidge, the Kendall, CinemaSalem, and the Luna (Saturday/Monday/Tuesday); the Live Action at the Coolidge, the Kendall, CinemaSalem, and the Luna (Saturday).
  • The Luna Theater also has Matilda (Saturday-Monday), Breakfast at Tiffany's (Monday), and "Weirdo Wednesday".

I'm not sure how much of the sci-fi fest I'll do aside from the Marathon (it's been really easy to skip stuff this year), but there's still Oscar shorts, Alita, Isn't It Romantic?, and maybe Fall in Love at First Kiss before and after.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019


This was the movie I intended to see Friday night only to wind up at Arctic, and while I was initially annoyed at all the weekend shows being canceled, it turns out to be a not-awful decision; The Wandering Earth put a lot of butts in seats and there wound up being just a handful of us at this Tuesday night show. Of course, it was also a Tuesday night where we'd just gotten some actual snow on the ground, so people were staying inside anyway. I've got no idea if the lack of visibility over the weekend hurt it, but from what I can see on Fandango, this won't be around come Friday, or maybe even Thursday, considering the Valentine's openings (including another Chinese film).

One thing I noticed was that, despite this being a Hong Kong film, the listings had it in Mandarin and to my rather untrained ears, it certainly didn't exactly sound like Cantonese. There may have been some minor lip-sync issues as a result, too, although I am quite capable of driving myself nuts over that to a degree completely out of proportion with the actual issue. It makes me wonder, a bit, if this cut was different than the Hong Kong one, as it's supposedly the start of a trilogy and it feels exceptionally tied-up at the end.

Lian zheng feng yun (Integrity)

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 12 February 2019 in AMC Boston Common #19 (first-run, DCP)

Integrity is the movie that took the biggest hit around here to make room for more screenings of The Wandering Earth (this didn't actually play until Monday despite showtimes listed starting Friday) and it turns out that's fair. This movie is a dull alleged thriller that gets more excitement out of the appearance that it will lazily use tired plot twists than anything it actually does.

As it opens, Independent Commission Against Corruption investigator King Chan (Sean Lau Ching-wan) is preparing whistleblower Jack Hui (Nick Cheung Ka-fai) to testify against employer Chan Chui Kwan (Lam Wai) and border officer Chung Ka-ling (Anita Yuen Wing-yee) in a case of smuggled cigarettes and bribery. Jack presents King with a USB drive full of documents that hint at a much larger conspiracy, but when the hearing comes, both Jack and Chan Chui Kwan have fled. Jack is tracked to Australia, so ICAC sends negotiator Shirley Chan (Karena Lam Ka-yan) - also King's ex-wife - to convince him to return, while King and his team attempt to build a case that will survive even if Jack doesn't return and reveal the mastermind behind the scenes.

One can't necessarily say that this sounds exciting - it's a lot of arcana about Hong Kong's taxes on tobacco, market manipulation to hide payments, and, crap, now they're talking about Bitcoin - but people have built good thrillers out of people lying about even less consequential things. In this case, shockingly little actually happens; the film starts by having any clever sleight-of-hand happen off-screen and seldom actually doles out the sort of information that makes the viewer want to follow a trail. There's an on-screen countdown of the seven days' extension granted ICAC by the judge that never seems to indicate time passing or urgency, and it's worth noting that there may not be a night scene in the entire film, making it feel like nobody ever has to work late on this supposedly important case. There are vague threats of dangers and masterminds but never any sign of them closing in until a couple random bits of violence happen without feeling like they've changed anything. All the manoeuvring toward the start counts for naught, and the script does a bad job of figuring out what to hint at and what to save for later.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Tuesday, February 12, 2019


Holy crap, you can see the Kendall from the street again!

Arctic wound up being sort of a last-minute detour, as another theater reshuffled their screens to give The Wandering Earth a lot more showtimes than it originally had, wiping what I'd planned to see out, so while I was going to see the movie later rather than at the screening with a guest that I assumed would sell out, well, might as well give it a shot.

I got in, but with the movie starting so it was easiest to grab the front row, which was a bit of an interesting perspective, even for a "try and make sure you're using your entire field of vision" guy like myself. I think, to a certain extent, it enhanced the film, in how I sometimes had to do a careful scan to figure out where the action was and that magnified the feeling of the characters being swallowed by the field of snow and ice, but I get how some folks may not go for that. It probably helped that screen #1 has the best projection at the Kendall, although I don't know that they got a 4K DCP of this one.

Anyway, as promised, co-writer/editor Ryan Morrison:

Morrison is, I gather, a relatively local guy who had been working with director Joe Penna on a YouTube channel for years only to find that the ability to make money off such a thing has evaporated as Google changed the monetization rules, which had them anxious to try and create something similar in a new medium, with a similar emphasis on aiming for universal appeal and relatively few words. They weren't striving to get it down to a single line as was the case with Robert Redford in All Is Lost (a film that came up a few times in the Q&A), but they wanted something that could be told visually to the extent it was possible.

So they came up with a script called "On Mars", only to be shown the trailer for The Martian, which may have led them down a better path, as setting things in Iceland (or some other northern latitude) let them pull a lot of exposition out and focus on the characterization. Interestingly, they wrote up a whole bunch of backstory for Mads Mikkelsen to read, and he tossed it, feeling that if it wasn't going to be on the screen, it didn't need to be quite so specific, which went back to their ideas about keeping it universal - this wasn't meant to be about Overgard surviving as a way to resolve something in his past, but just about the act itself.

Mikkelsen was apparently down for whatever was on tap, with the biggest diva on set Agee the polar bear. The filmmakers apparently had to talk to the trainer's girlfriend because the beast is very possessive of the trainer himself. They also couldn't have any food on set for days before Agee was there, lest she smell it, or even have water bottles, because Agee would think it's food and try to take it.

The whole bit with the polar bear, they pointed out, was an example of how studio notes are not necessarily a bad thing - the need for something actively dangerous was what took them from "almost there" to the script really working.

Anyway, it's a neat one and I'm glad I got to see the Q&A after all. And, hey, they're finally actually showing the thing I intended to see now!


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 8 February 2019 in Landmark Kendall Square #2 (first-run, DCP)

There's often not a whole lot to say about this sort of survival adventure, especially if it's pulled off as well as Arctic is. You admire the difficult conditions, note how well the star communicates what's going on in his head with looks and body language, maybe try and find some other theme, and eventually decide that to a certain extent, the movie defies analysis because it's about a visceral experience. It can seem either very easy or like an impossible bit of alchemy because it feels like something anyone could do given the right location, and it's hard to pin down what makes a given attempt great.

And, yes, this one was quite clearly shot sompleace awfully cold and isolated, and Mads Mikkelsen is great at showing emotion by how his survivor does things rather than by delivering lines. It's inevitably and unapologetically that movie. It throws a bit of a curve in how it's built by starting out with Mikkelsen's pilot, Overgard, already doing what he can to scratch out survival, avoid the polar bear whose territory he has invaded, and try to attract rescue when the film starts, only for a second crash to set things in motion, which is kind of clever in terms of leading with the methodical grind rather than giving a false impression of what the film will be with spectacle. From there, it goes in a familiar direction - the able-bodied person crossing the ice with an injured companion, bits of how-to, animal attacks and dangerous terrain.

But the details are good. The most important ones, which arguably drive the entire film, are the ones that give a sense of the preciousness of life in all circumstances but especially this one. The first time the audience sees Overgard catch a fish, he holds it for a moment, wordlessly considering that this living thing will have to die to feed him. At the other end of the film, a pale pink bloom peeking out from the blinding white of the snow and ice around it reminds him of the principles he's about to defy. The filmmakers have Overgard demonstrate a great deal of ingenuity but never any sort of foolish pride in doing without.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, February 08, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 8 February 2019 - 14 February 2019

Remakes, sequels, shorts, Chinese New Year, festivals… I am reasonably sure I'll be able to basically live in movie theaters for the next week and still miss out on a fair amount.

  • The big/3D screens go to The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, the sequel to a very funny and clever original which this time has the Lego minifigs heading out into space. It will be kind of interesting to see how the live-action bits of the first play into it - the spinoffs referenced but didn't integrate them, but it's got to be there from the start in this one. It plays the Capitol (2D only), Fresh Pond (2D only), West Newton (2D only), The Belmont Studio (2D only), Jordan's Furniture (Imax 2D), Boston Common (including Imax 2D), Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport (including 2D/3D Icon-X), South Bay (including Imax 2D), Assembly Row (including Imax 2D and Dolby Cinema), Revere (including XPlus and MX4D), and the SuperLux (2D only).

    Two remakes also come out, taking different routes. What Men Want is a gender-flipped version of What Women Want (already remade in China) which puts Taraji P. Henson in the Mel Gibson role as a woman who winds up able to hear men's thoughts after some sort of head injury, and runs at Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux. Cold Pursuit transplants In Order of Disappearance from Scandinavia to the U.S., with the same director apparently taking a broader, less dry approach. It stars Liam Neeson and plays Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux. There's also The Prodigy, which looks like a possessed-kid thing, at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    The "Burn The Stage: Love Yourself (in Seoul)" concert film pops back up, with Saturday and Sunday matinees at Fenway and Boston Common. Dirty Dancing plays pre-Valentine dates at Fenway (Sunday/Wednesday), Assembly Row (Sunday/Wednesday), and Revere (Wednesday only). Fenway has A Nightmare on Elm Street Tuesday night.

    Alita: Battle Angel gets 3D previews on the big screens at Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, South Bay, and Revere on Tuesday, with night-before previews and regular shows starting Thursday at Fresh Pond (2D only), Boston Common (including Imax 3D), Fenway (including RPX 3D), South Bay (Imax 3D and Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (Imax 3D and Dolby Cinema), and Revere (MX4D and XPlus), with a couple other movies are getting a jump on Valentine's Day by opening on Wednesday: Happy Death Day 2U at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, and Assembly Row, with Isn't It Romantic at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux. Other places may book them after the weekend.
  • Do you think Mads Mikkelsen knew that Polar and Arctic would be coming out within weeks of each other when he made them, or is that just a screwy last-minute thing? The former is on Netflix, but the latter, an award-winning story of survival after a plane crash in the North, and that one's at Kendall Square, with co-writer and editor Ryan Morrison answering questions after the 7:10pm show on Friday.

    They also give a screen to the Animation and Live Action Oscar-Nominated Short Films, with a couple extra shorts in the animation package to pad it out to 75 minutes. It will also be playing various other locations in the lead-up to the ceremony, including Cinema Salem and the Luna this week.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre gets the Documentary Oscar-Nominated Short Films, playing them in two programs in the screening room; those are a bit less likely to show up elsewhere and the room is small (though Cinema Salem and the Luna have it as one program), so tickets in advance are advised. They also get Lebanese foreign-language Oscar nominee Capernaum.

    After midnight, they continue their February Women in Horror Month with a 35mm print of The Descent on Friday and the new Suspiria on Saturday, when they'll also have documentary Survival of the Film Freaks. There's also a Science on Screen presentation of Inside Out Monday, with Northeastern Professor Lisa Feldman Barrett talking about how emotions work within the brain beforehand. The monthly Open Screen is Tuesday, with a 35mm print of Lost In Translation an interesting choice for the Valentine's Day Big Screen Classic on Thursday.
  • The Chinese New Year pictures got shuffled around, with Crazy Alien apparently off the schedule and The Wandering Earth getting early shows. It (re)opens at Boston Common and Fenway on Friday (albeit in 2D). Peppa Pig Celebrates Chinese New Year and Pegasus continue from Tuesday at Boston Common, which also gets Hong Kong thriller Integrity.

    Indian films include another few days (at least) of Uri: The Surgical Strike at Fenway and Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga at Apple Fresh Pond. They also get Amavas, a Bollywood horror movie with Nargis Fakhri & Sachiin Joshi as a young couple staying in a freaky old house, Telugu historical drama Yatra, and Kannada-language action-adventure Natasaarvabhowma (which also plays Fenway on Saturday afternoon). Something called Bhaai Part 2 plays Saturday and Sunday, but I can't find much information on it.
  • The Brattle Theatre opens Brazilian animated feature Tito and the Birds for matinees Friday through Sunday, with the first two screenings of this movie about a kid seeking a cure for a fear virus on Saturday and Sunday in English and the last one of the day in Portuguese. They spend the evenings of the weekend on a 35mm Tribute to Nicolas Roeg, with Performance on Friday, a double feature of Don't Look Now & The Masque of the Red Death on Saturday, and Walkabout on Sunday. There's a DocYard screening of The Grand Bizarre on Monday with director Jodie Mack bringing a 35mm print, and they kick off a new series, "Cinema in Context", with Jill Lepore discussing The Ipcress File after screening a 35mm print. Wednesday and Thursday are the annual Valentine's Day shows of Casablanca and The Princess Bride.
  • The Boston Israeli Film Festival opened on Thursday and continues at multiple venues this week, with the schedule including Shoelaces (Bright Screening Room Saturday); Operation Egg, Rachel Agmom, and You Only Die Twice (The West Newton Cinema Sunday); Outdoors (JCC Reimer-Goldstein Theater Monday); The Dive (West Newton Tuesday); An Israeli Love Story (MFA Wednesday); and The Unorthodox (West Newton Thursday)
  • The Museum of Fine Arts also has their own series going on, starting with their Boston Festival of Films from Japan, including Ramen Shop (Friday), We Make Antiques! (Sunday), and Night Is Short, Walk on Girl. They also begin an "Exhibition on Screen" run for Young Picasso (Friday/Wednesday/Thursday), with a Sunday screening of At Eternity's Gate to tie in. Their monthly "On the Fringe: Adventures in Cult Cinema" screening is on Friday with Zardoz.
  • Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor finish their visit to The Harvard Film Archive with Leviathan on Friday and somniloquies on Sunday. There's a $5 family matinee show of How to Train Your Dragon on Saturday afternoon, and Mariano Llinás's jumbo-sized Extraordinary Stories that evening. They then wrap their "Poets of Pandemonium" series on Monday, pairing Derek Jarman's War Requiem with Humphrey Jennings's short "The True Story of LIli Marlene", both on 35mm.
  • Bright Lights has two documentaries in the Bright Screening Room at the Paramount Theater this week with Three Identical Strangers (featuring post-screening discussion with microbiologist/Emerson associate professor Amy Vashlishan) on Tuesday and Love, Gilda (discussion with assistant professor Maria Corrigan) on Thursday. Both free and open.
  • The Somerville Theatre is homebase for Boston Sci-Fi FIlm Festival in the week leading up to the big marathon, this year featuring more documentaries about fandom topics, plenty of short films and panels, and several special presentations, including a work-in-progress screening of Wizards of Hollywood at the The Museum of Science on Tuesday.
  • The ICA has a program of Sundance FIlm Festival Shorts from the 2018 edition Friday evening as well as Saturday and Sunday afternoon.
  • In addition to the Oscar shorts, The Luna Theater has Grease (Saturday & Sunday matinees), Casablanca all day Sunday, and "Weirdo Wednesday".

In previous years, I'd be living at the Somerville for the sci-fi fest, but aside from having been burned before, the combination of Lunar New Year, the Oscar shorts, and the other good stuff makes it harder to take a risk on sub-VOD material. I'll still spend a fair chunk of time there, but Arctic, Integrity, The Lego Movie, the Oscar shorts, and maybe others aren't going get pushed off this year.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

The Wandering Earth

Happy Lunar New Year to those who celebrate it, and sincerest thanks from those of us who don't for making it a week to release a bunch of big, fun movies. Although I guess that means we kind of do celebrate it, doesn't it?

I kind of intended to celebrate it more last night, but the MBTA made it harder than is ideal; despite it being an unseasonably gorgeous day, I got hit with two long delays on my bus: After missing the 8:15am one to work, the 8:50 didn't arrive until something like 9:10, and then to balance it out on the other end of the day, the 5:45 back into town didn't come until around 6:05, which even with almost zero time idling at Alewife is not going to get me back to Boston Common in time for the 6:55pm show. Luckily, AMC's Stubs A-List has been pretty good about letting you cancel reservations without a whole lot of issue, and there was still a good seat for the 9:50pm show. On the one hand, it meant I couldn't do a double-feature with Pegasus; on the other, time for barbecue at Redbones.

It was worth the wait, though, and I find myself liking it more as I think about it. It does the basic sci-fi action blockbuster stuff really well, looks genuinely fantastic in Imax 3D, and just up and goes for it whenever something's got the potential to feel too silly. It's the sort of sci-fi movie where you remember, just as the characters do, an early conversation about how Jupiter is 90% hydrogen and hydrogen is rocket fuel and suddenly realize that just completely blowing up the largest planet in the solar system is on the table. Go big or go home.

It's kind of a bummer that the chances to see it in its full Imax 3D glory are going to be rare in the U.S.; Boston Common has it in that format today and tomorrow afternoon before giving the screen to The Lego Movie 2, and it looks like the screenings starting Friday are 2D only. If you're reading this now, I'd advise trying to see it in Imax 3D tonight because you might not get another chance.

One interesting thing: This was a pretty last-minute booking - it wasn't on the schedule on Thursday - and it seems to have bounced Crazy Alien right off the schedule. Seeing as that was apparently the big winner at the Chinese box office the other night, I'm kind of surprised it just disappeared; did the animal cruelty controversy get some traction, is it just how things shook out in Boston, or did someone sign a distribution deal so that we'll see it later?

Liu Lang Di Qiu (The Wandering Earth)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 5 February 2019 in AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run, Imax-branded 3D)

You can't rightly say that China didn't pull out all the stops with what's being described as the country's first big-budget science fiction adventure after years of seemingly only movies about The Monkey King getting this kind of blockbuster treatment; The Wandering Earth is a movie of audacious scale that sometimes it seems to sacrifice everything else, but why not go for broke? The Chinese New Year IMAX 3D spectacular is grandiose and exciting space opera, well worth seeking out on a big screen now rather than discovering it on a streaming service a couple years from now.

It posits that the Sun will enter its red supergiant stage several billion years ahead of schedule, but with just enough lead time for the world to band together for a truly audacious plan: Building ten thousand "Earth Engines" around the planet, capable of thrusting the planet and the three billion souls who have relocated to underground cities on a 2,500-year journey to Alpha Centauri. A Navigational Platform International Space Station flies ahead, charting a course and searching for anomalies. That's where astronaut Liu Peiqiang (Wu Jing) has been stations for the past 17 years while his son "Hu Kou" Liu Qi (Qu Chuxiao) and orphan Han Duoduo (Zhao Jinmei) are raised by Peiqiang's father Han Ziang (Ng Man Tat) in Beijing's Underground City 3. With Peiqiang due to rotate home as the station and Earth approach Jupiter, a resentful Qi makes plans to run away - but a "gravity spike" from the gas giant means that instead of being accelerated out of the solar system, the Earth is caught in its gravity well, causing earthquakes and massive failures of the Earth Engine system. While his family is caught up in desperate - and seemingly futile - rescue and repair operations, Peiqiang and the other astronauts are ordered to go into hibernation to conserve resources, which doesn't sit right with him at all.

The science in this fiction is sketchy as heck, but the filmmakers are able to make that work by being utterly sincere about the whole thing. Maybe not necessarily serious - Peiqiang's cosmonaut comrade and a Chinese/Australian in the next jail cell over from Qi and Duoduo are funny characters, and there is an occasional bit of whimsy to be found in the design - but Duoduo's class has room for both brown-nosing students and her rolling her eyes at them, and nobody ever acts like haven't been living in this world for the past couple decades. The big sci-fi action flows somewhat logically from the bits of the setting the audience is asked to take on faith, and also from the attitude inherent in the setting. A project this massive doesn't leave a lot of room for hidden villainy, so even the conspiracies are well-meaning enough, and the whole thing is inoculated against any cynicism one might feel about stirring, heroic speeches. There are little logical bits like how the brainstorm one kid has was, in fact, also proposed by the folks who should have thought of it.

Full review at EFC.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 28 January 2019 -3 February 2019

Explain to me, world, why I can be starting this entry at 1am in the morning, only kind of tired, but I can't make it through midnight movies anymore.

This Week in Tickets

I hate that blank first page, but it was cold and theaters were playing things at weird times last week, with a lot of shows at 6pm (too early for me to make coming from Burlington) or 8pm (a lot of time to kill in freezing weather). I'm sure my friends and family in Montreal and Chicago will mock me for this, but it's how things wound up shaking out.

So I kind of tried to make up for it all at once on Friday, starting with Missbehavior at 7pm. It may not be Pang Ho-cheung's greatest film, but it's funny, 88 minutes long, and good-natured despite the raunch, with a music video at the end (as is the HK Chinese New Year movie tradition) that is pretty catchy whether you speak Cantonese or not. After that, I hung around for They Shall Not Grow Old, both as a gambit to stay warm and because there were projetion issues when I saw it back in December, and I figured maybe I'd enjoy it more if I could see it that way. I did, although it didn't necessarily leap from good to great.

(Aside: Look at those tickets. Is there any logic as to which screens at Boston Common have assigned seating and which don't? Is it just a matter of AMC only having gotten around to putting the stickers on the seats in some auditoria?)

That actually killed enough time that I arrived at the Coolidge just in time for Police Story, which looks so spiffy in its new restoration that I'm ashamed I zoned out at a point or two. Honestly, if you can't stay awake for Jackie Chan breaking an awful lot of glass, what can you manage? Insult to injury, it ran just long enough for me to miss the lass 66 bus, call a Lyft, and then have it wind up driving in a circle for ten minutes because the second person to share the ride was also coming from the Coolidge, albeit from the screening of Wes Craven's New Nightmare that got out a few minutes later.

Fortunately, this movie is coming out on Blu-ray soon, and I think it and its first sequel may show up at the Brattle in March or April. But, boy, do I wish the Coolidge's midnights started at 11:30pm; it would make a world of difference, transit-wise. Just call it "Round Midnight" rather than "After Midnight", and pretty please do this for yoru "Martial Art House" screenings.

Anyway, that left me in bed until noon, but that worked out well for seeing Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi at Fresh Pond at 4. Not really great, but you know what was? Seeing a bunch of kids still going to see Spider-Man: Enter the Spider-Verse and chatting with the people working at the theater about who their favorite Spider-person is.

Sunday wound up being a day of errands, reading comics, and drilling down into the DVR while finally accepting that I'm just not going to see a lot of this year's Oscar-nominated films between the Movies About Musicians that I don't care about (well, I don't care about the movies; I'm sure Don Shirley and Freddie Mercury are fascinating) and having a hard time dragging myself out of the apartment for Can You Ever Forgive Me? and Vice. Maybe I'll manage it this week and post the results on the Letterboxd page.

They Shall Not Grow Old

* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 February 2019 in AMC Boston Common #14 (first-run-ish, RealD 3D DCP)

Huh, it turns out I saw this in the exact same theater as I did a month and a half ago. Sure, the multiplex may only have so many with 3D, but I wonder if I would have been a bit worried had I realized that, since there were projection issues with the Fathom Events screening. Fortunately, that wasn't an issue this time, and seeing it without tension and frustration wasn't exactly transformative, but having the projection work from the start, not worrying about missing the next show, and just having knowledge of what the movie is all made this a more pleasant, easygoing experience, enough so that I will probably pick up a Blu-ray if a Region-A-friendly, 3D version comes out.

It's often considered kind of gauche to talk about tech when talking about movies, but there's an impressive little "whoa, that's cool" moment when the film finally goes from being flat, black-and-white, and sort of recessed (Jackson frames it so that we're looking through a foregrounded window for the first section) to in color and 3D, which I kind of missed with the messed-up projection before. I'll bet it will look really cool when we figure out some sort of good glasses-free 3D display, whether from some sort of lenticular screen or just crazy-high frame rates, although that doesn't seem to be an immediate priority right now.

Blog entry from December
EFilmCritic review from December

Ging chaat goo si (Police Story)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 February 2019 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (After Midnite: Martial Art House, DCP)

In a strange way, movies like Jackie Chan's Police Story are the closest thing you'll find to a Bollywood masala flick outside of India. It changes direction midway through, has pretty extreme tone changes even without taking that into consideration, and the elaborate fight scenes and stuntwork are the same sort of celebration of movement and visual spectacle as the dance numbers. Heck, some have space for musical interludes even before the Canto-pop that accompanies the tremendously frightening outtakes running over the end credits. The action swerves from slapstick to playing for keeps, and the comic-relief subplot with Maggie Cheung as Detective Ka Kui's girlfriend always seems more than a bit off.

Indeed, there are a lot of moments in this movie where Ka Kui is more than a bit of a jerk, and it seems a bit off when I compare it to Police Story 3: Supercop. Ka Kui was much more the goofball there, even when his ego was a bit out of control, and I wonder if I've just never seen it in the original Cantonese and the dubbed versions play up the comedy, if it's just the natural softening of the characters a few entries into a series, or if Chan doesn't really give a damn about that sort of continuity and just slaps "Police Story" on anything where he plays a cop because it helps put butts in seats.

That aside, you can see why the action makes it one of Chan's best. The opening sequence is downright incredible in a lot of different ways, going from a tense sting to this amazing thing where the cops and crooks more or less destroy a hillside shantytown to a chase to him hanging off a bus, with a little kung fu sprinkled throughout. There's more fun fighting throughout, with a really excessive amount of broken glass, including the last big stunt in the middle of a shopping center. Like a lot of the centerpiece stunts in Chan's movies, it's probably not actually as impressive as the careful martial-arts choreograph, but you still can't help but respect how Jackie goes out and puts his body on the line for your entertainment.

I'd be looking forward to having a nice copy of this on my shelf even if the late night hadn't defeated me, although I wish all of those things that mentioned the 4K restorations meant actual 4K discs - it looks great and I'd like to see every pixel.

They Shall Not Grow Old
Police Story
Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi

Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi

It appears that I arrived at my seat just a bit too late to see a fair number of disclaimers before this, citing historians consulted and the like. Not unusual for Indian movies, I've found, and not exactly a bad policy, although I do wonder if that commitment to accuracy is why the film often seems drier than it should - it covers events and embellishes a bit but is loath to get into motivations or the parts of the history that can't be well-researched. There's an interesting story there, I think, about how Manikarnika was apparently groomed for greatness from birth for seemingly arbitrary reasons (or, alternately, some really flagrant myth-making), and maybe as a result was able to shake up a more privileged group. Or maybe her youth was a factor; I kept thinking about how Mary, Queen of Scots seldom explicitly referenced that queen's age but certainly made the impulsive nature that went with it a key part of her story. Manikarnika never really gets something similar to ground the character, and it shows in the characterization.

That's early in the movie; by the end, I'm pretty sure that I wasn't the only person in the theater thinking of something more along the lines of 300 (I'm pretty sure I overheard bits of conversation along those lines). I haven't seen that one, so I don't know if any shots were cribbed directly from it the way one seemed right out of Wonder Woman (not that Gal Gadot is the first woman to lower a shield that just stopped a bullet from hitting her face), but the final act makes a hard shift into bloody swordplay without a whole lot of room for consideration of individual motivations all around. Which is fair enough, although it's a marked contrast from the woman who wants the tiger attacking her neighbors subdued and taken back to the jungle.

Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi

* * (out of four)
Seen 2 February 2019 in Apple Cinemas Cambridge/Fresh Pond #3 (first-run, DCP)

There's a thin line between an a biographical film embracing that its subject is larger than life and it seemingly trying to prove that she is significant, and while Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi lands on the wrong side, it may not be possible for it to have done otherwise. This is a woman who did significant things but was in a position to do them in large part because people saw the potential for greatness within her, and while there's an important lesson to be drawn from that, this filmmakers aren't quite able to apply it to the life in question. The history and battle is interesting, the framing less so.

Take, for instance, the very first scene, which director Krish Jagarlamudi frames to show Manikarnika as a baby practically being born not from a man and woman but from the waters of India itself, just before a mystic tells her birth father that her hand has an exceptionally strong fate line, though her life line is impossible to read. That is how she is bestowed a name that evokes the strength of goddesses and mountains, presumably leading to her being raised in the home of the local chieftain. That's why, years later, an official from Jhansi (Ram Gopal Bajaj) is able to see Manikarnika (Kangana Ranaut) fell the tiger that has been attacking the local livestock with a single arrow, despite there being enough wind to make sure her hair and clothing billow majestically, and realize that betrothing this extraordinary young woman to his state's morose Maharaja Gangadhar Rao (Jisshu Sengupta) may be just the thing to both strengthen his resolve against the British and produce an heir who will be more inclined to resist than the current next in line.

It's a bit much, and that's with the filmmakers letting the audience do the necessary math to figure out Manikarnika would have been 14 when this betrothal occurred on their own (star Kangana Ranaut is made up to look young-but-maybe-not-that-young in those scenes because that's a whole minefield itself) - a lot of time is spent telling the audience that she is extraordinary, with a couple of early interludes showing that she was trained to proficient with weapons, but it leaves a lot unsaid. Does this warrior upbringing contribute to her defiance when introduced to the British East India Tea Company's representative, or is it her youth? What is her relationship with Gangadhar like? He seems nice enough, but he's a bit of an enigma; there are references to his being more interested in the arts than governing early on, and while he would obviously rather not bow to the British, it's hard to get a bead on his politics more specifically, or how Manikarnika's arrival changes them.

Full review at EFC.