Thursday, September 27, 2012

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 28 September 2012 - 4 October 2012

Hey, it's my birthday next week! Well, it would be if my awesome niece hadn't stolen it six years ago. The actual day will apparently involve hunting down some Bond Blu-rays at various retailers (how fortunate that the nearest Target and Best Buy are in the same plaza!), but there's really a ton of good stuff coming out this weekend, too.

Although, is it selfish of me to want The Hole to open here, too? Sure, I don't have the time to see everything I want to this weekend, but I would make time for Joe Dante in three dimensions.

  • The big priority is Looper, in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a hitman who targets people sent back in time from thirty years in the future - and his latest target is his older self (Bruce Willis). It's directed by Rian Johnson of Brick and Brothers Bloom fame, with the maker of Primer helping out on the time-travel logic. That is what you call a good pedigree, and it's been getting a ton of festival praise. It opens at Somerville, Boston Common, Fenway, and Fresh Pond.

    There's other stuff that is not so obviously great opening, but which has potential. Pitch Perfect, for instance, looks like a standard take on the competitive-performance moive, this one with singing, but it's got Anna Kendrick in the lead role and Rebel Wilson looks downright hilarious in the trailer. It's at Fenway and Boston Common. Hotel Transylvania is Adam Sandler and friends doing the voices of Universal Monsters knock-offs in an animated kids' comedy, but it's directed by Genndy Tartakovsky, and he's done great stuff. It plays the Arlington Capitol, Boston Common, Fenway, and Fresh Pond, by and large alternating 2D and 3D showings at each. Those screens also play Won't Back Down, with Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis playing mothers pushing to improve their kids' school. Again, looks pretty standard, but a nice cast.
  • Meanwhile, AMC is opening a lot of smaller stuff at Boston Common: Not only do they keep 10 Years stick around on a split screen for a week and open The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but they are where China Lion opens Vulgaria, a Hong Kong comedy by Pang Ho-Cheung that is as crude as its title implies and funny as hell. I laughed hard when I saw it at Fantasia and eagerly await the chance to help it earn some money this weekend. Go see it.

    Speaking of festival films, Solomon Kane has been kicking around the festival circuit for roughly three years and just got distribution now. It stars James Purefoy as a 16th-century Puritan monster-hunter, a character created by Robert E. Howard of Conan fame. The long-delayed release may mean that either the movie or distributor is a bit of a mess, or both. Backwards, meanwhile, features Sarah Megan Thomas (who also writes) as a competitive rower who takes a coaching job as the window closes on her racing career, which is likely what leads to the romance with James Van Der Beek's character.
  • Of course, one can argue that the best movie opening this weekend is at the Brattle, which has a new and beautiful 35mm print of Vertigo. Widely considered Alfred HItchcock's greatest film (and pushing past Citizen Kane to be listed as the best of all time in the latest Sight & Sound poll), it stars James Stewart and Kim Novak in a bizarre tale of obsession. Only runs Friday to Sunday, and Friday's shows are pushed late by the closing-day slate of The Massachusetts Independent Film Festival from 2:30pm to 7:30pm, so don't waste any time getting to it.

    Monday and Tuesday are special events and part of regular series: Keep the Lights On, on Monday, is the second CineCache film of the fall, and has director Ira Sachs on-hand to introduce and discuss what is apparently an intense romance between two men over the course of a decade; it's co-presented by the Boston LGBT Film Festival. Tuesday, meanwhile, is a Balagan presentation, "Germany Year 1962", curated by Dagmar Kmalah and featuring short films from German from that year, plus or minus five. At least five will be seen on 35mm, with a different program playing the Coolidge (off DVD) on Sunday.

    The next day kicks off the Cloak & Dagger: Spies on Screen repertory series with a pair of nifty double features. Wednesday's includes the quite nice (and quite serious) recent version of John Le Carré's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy alongside Carol Reed's witty adaptation of Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana (featuring Alec Guinness). The different approaches are even more clear on Thursday, when The Ipcress File (featuring Michael Caine as tough, no-nonsense agent Harry Palmer) is paired with two of the more fantastical episodes of The Avengers with Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg.
  • Kendall Square puts The Perks of Being a Wallflower on two screens (in addition to the one it's getting at Boston Common). It's got a great cast of young actors (Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller) in an adaptation of a much-loved book, although I must admit that the trailer screams "generic coming-of-age movie" at me. They've also got a one-week booking of "Stars in Shorts", which is what it sounds like - a package of short films featuring fairly recognizable actors.

    They also open two documentaries. How to Survive a Plague chronicles how activists in the 1980s and 1990s pushed to get HIV treatments approved in record rime and transformed the disease from an automatic death sentence to something merely very dangerous. It played IFFBoston this spring and I seem to recall it being well-liked. The other one is Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, a biography of the longtime fashion editor that is put together by the wife of her grandson.
  • With The Master firmly ensconced in the main theater in 70mm, the Coolidge will play this year's edition of The Manhattan Short Film Festival in the small GoldScreen room, where audiences can not only watch two hours of new shorts, but vote on their favorites. Sunday also has another selection of short films - "Provoking Reality", a Ralph Eue-curated collection of films that compliments the Brattle's "Germany Year 1962" program, and two preview screenings that render last week's Boston Film Festival even more moot than before: The Oranges, a Talk Cinema presentation which features Hugh Laurie as a father whose black-sheep daughter returns home for Thanksgiving and wreaks havoc on the family and neighborhood, and The Sessions, a members-first free screening with star John Hawkes, director Ben Lewin, and producer Judi Levine stopping by to talk about their movie about bedridden-but-upbeat writer Mark O'Brien.

    The Midnight Movie on Friday and Saturday is Sleepaway Camp, a cult-favorite slasher from 1983 which, IIRC, was planned for the summer but was delayed due to print-wrangling issues. Supposedly, it's got one of the most bizarre endings of the genre, which is saying something.
  • ArtsEmerson continues their Shakespeare on Screen series this weekend: Stage Beauty and Shakespeare in Love (35mm) on Friday, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead and the Zefferelli Romeo & Juliet (35mm) on Saturday, and 10 Things I Hate About You on Sunday afternoon. All are DVD unless otherwise indicated.

    Similarly, the Harvard Film Archive continues The Passions of Werner Schroeter: The Rose King (35mm) and The Smiling Star (digital) on Friday, Malina (35mm) and Willow Springs (digital) on Saturday, Dress Rehearsal (digital) and Flocons d'or (digital) on Sunday, and a digital double feature of theatrical adaptations ("Salome" and "Macbeth") on Monday. Silent film fans can drop by on Wednesday for a free VES screening of Man with a Movie Camera.
  • The MFA finishes up the September calendar with more screenings of Detropia and You've Been Trumped, along with a special screening of Jake Mahaffy's War on Saturday the 29th. The latter is shot on a silent, hand-cranked camera, and the screening will also features several of Mahaffy's short films. They've also got a screening of the Manhattan Short Film Festival on Sunday the 30th, and come October, they trade one IFFBoston documentary for another, showing screenings of David Redmon's and Ashley Sabin's Downeast on Wednesday and Thursday. I missed that one at the festival (though I did like their Girl Model); it covers an attempt to keep a Maine cannery in business by switching its specialty to lobster.
  • That Manhattan Short Film Festival sure gets around - it also plays the Regent Theatre in Arlington on Friday and Sunday evenings. They've also got Backwards booked from Tuesday to Thursday, probably not expecting that AMC would pick it up too.

    Speaking of getting around, Detropia may finish at the MFA on Sunday, but director Heidi Ewing will be in town on Thursday to screen the film with a Q&A at the UMass Boston Film Series on Thursday, October 4th at 7pm. Admission is free, although I don't know how many seats there are in the venue where the film will screen (the UMass Boston Campus Center 3rd Floor Ballroom).
  • FEI brings Arbitrage to the Somerville Theatre after it closes in Kendall Square.
My plans? Looper, Vertigo, probably The Oranges, The Ipcress File, and Keep the Lights On. I'd like to see Solomon Kane, "Stars in Shorts", and re-catch Vulgaria too. Too many of these really aren't sticking around very long at all; I foresee a very busy weekend.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

This Week In Tickets: 17 September 2012 - 23 September 2012

Hey, I went to a Red Sox game and they won! I'm sure it's happened at some other point this season, but I can't recall it. Plus, movies!

This Week In Tickets!

Stubless: Young Gun in the Time, in my living room on Saturday night via a Fantasia Festival screener.

I've generally been terrible about watching screeners that I'm given to review, but there's something nicely focusing about another festival with the same movie coming up that gets the thing put in the DVD player. It's not like EFC is going to get other coverage of Fantastic Fest, after all (as much as I like Jay Whyte's enthusiasm, I am much less interested in hearing about the people who go than the movies they show).

Anyway, the week started with Blackmail with the Alloy Orchestra. It could have started with the first CineCaché screening of the fall, but, yeah, silent Hitchcock with live music wins. Of course, there were points on Monday when this didn't seem like a particularly great idea; getting from work in Burlington to the Coolidge for a 7pm show via public transportation is a near thing in the best of conditions and, man, was the 17th not the best of days. I thought things were going well when there was little wait between the 350 bus and the Red Line at Alewife and a C Line train showed up right away at Park, but it was slow in the tunnels and once we were out, it seemed like we were advancing meters at a time (you can feel the whole train wanting to yell "come on, you can do it!" to the engine until the mood inevitably turns angry). By the time I realized it would be faster to get out and walk, they wouldn't open the door even when stopped in a place where doing so would be perfectly safe. I arrived at the 7pm show at 7:20, and it's a good thing I didn't mind sitting on the end of the front row, right next to the band, which was just starting to accompany the "Filmstudie" short. I think it's one of the ones I saw this March; especially since another short started as soon as it finished, causing the guys in the band to ask if someone could tell the projectionist to go to the main film, because while "The Life of a Film Extra" is a fun film, they weren't going to do that one. Screwy night all around.

As for the rest, I hit the RPX screen for Dredd in 3D and went to Somerville for End of Watch. I'd heard good things about Dredd's use of 3D and the RPX screen is the best for that in the area, non-actual-IMAX category, while at Somerville, sometimes you get lucky and wind up with film on the big screen, but not today. An interesting pairing, just because they both wind up being "two cops in an ambush" movies, but good ones that take things in entirely different directions.

Blackmail (silent version)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 September 2012 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (Sounds of Silents, 35mm w/ live accompaniment)

I've reviewed this one before, and pretty much stand by that assessment: Good movie, Hitchcock was great from the start... You know the drill. It does, admittedly, lose a little something the second time through; there's a bit less delight in the perversity of the situation and the actions of the characters seem less motivated, while the finale is kind of a cheat. It's not enough to spoil the movie, but does lead to those weird moments when you remember something being great, but the reality is not quite there.

Still, it's a fun movie with some nifty work for a silent; the rig they must have built for a scene where the characters climb a staircase must have been pretty elaborate. It's a reminder that I really should get back on that "all Hitchcock in order" project, maybe working my way up to Universal by the time their massive Blu-ray box arrives in a month.

BlackmailSox Win!DreddEnd of Watch

Cops on patrol: End of Watch and Dredd (and the Stallone version, too)

So, apparently, Dredd kind of got creamed in the USA this weekend, having the lousy luck to open opposite End of Watch (which hits a lot of the same sort of "lone cops against the cartel" buttons, especially in the last act, without requiring the audience to hear the phrase "Mega-City One") and Trouble with the Curve, starring Clint Eastwood, whose Dirty Harry contributed a lot of DNA to the original Dredd character. I don't necessarily know that a different weekend might have worked better, but I'm hoping that what I've heard about the film basically being profitable even before US rights were sold is true and it does well enough internationally to merit a sequel. I liked it.

It was somewhat weird to see it on back-to-back days with End of Watch, though. Seeing the two movies that are pretty similar in certain ways - the "ambush" section of End of Watch feels a lot like Dredd at certain points, right down to its atrium staging, and there's a thread through both about how even honest cops can be frightening when left unchecked - but which have markedly different feels created a strange feeling of déjà vu as well as serving as a reminder that it's not the material, but what you do with it, that's important.

Take, for instance, Dredd and the previous attempt to make that material into a movie, 1995's Judge Dredd. At nearly every chance it has, the makers of the new movie makes the opposite decision than was made seventeen years ago, and the interesting thing to realize is that while they've made a much better movie, that doesn't necessarily mean that the old decisions were wrong. Judge Dredd, in a lot of ways, pulled a lot more of the comic's imagery, backstory and mythology in, while Dredd dug pretty deep for the conceptual underpinnings but put an entirely new surface on it. The first movie tried to make Joe Dredd a main character with a typical arc, while the new one in many ways makes Cassandra Anderson the protagonist, while what Dredd goes through is much more subtle.

The thing is, give the first movie a better script, and those aren't bad choices. The gaudy set design, operatic scale of the story, and occasional bits of dark humor could have been pushed in a more satirical direction, and as much as co-creator John Wagner felt that this movie missed the point of the character by focusing on the dynastic ideas as opposed to how Dredd is, at heart, a beat cop, he wrote a lot of the stories that the movie pulls from. And fans love the Dredd epics which ofen leave satire in second position for an adventure that gets bigger with each new six-page chapter. Some of them, like the one that took center stage when I started getting 2000 AD at The Million Year Picnic a few years ago, actually take advantage of how Dredd has been aging in real time for the past thirty-five years and slowly growing as a character to the point where he can advocate for changes to the law rather than follow it blindly.

As I mention in the review, the new Dredd goes more for the character as a personification of The Law and a way to bring us into stories of "The Meg". I do think that it gets pretty smart about that as it goes on, though. The fascism that is inherent in the concept isn't really hidden - Cassandra's arc is basically that she has to toughen up, follow the rules even when she finds things like summary executions distasteful, because that's what stands between the city and chaos. Still, as Dredd confronts the corrupt judges, the comparison between them and Anderson becomes meaningful to Dredd: As much as Anderson is less qualified to be a judge in most ways that can be measured, the fact that she cares about people individually may be more valuable than the competence that the corrupt judges who show up at Ma-Ma's call show. They're capable and pragmatic, but too much so. Not having Dredd's true-believer devotion to The Law as an absolute part of their make-up, they can be bought. Anderson, for all her initial flaws as a street judge, is going to do the right thing, and at the end of the movie, Dredd can make allowances for that.

Maybe that's not deep, but it's in there solidly enough that it gets through, while Judge Dredd had to state its values rather bluntly and it still doesn't resonate the way Dredd does.

Or End of Watch, for that matter. Its message is even simpler - cops are human and can get in over their heads - but both let their ideas permeate the story rather than get called out, making for quite satisfying experiences.

End of Watch

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 September 2012 in Somerville Theatre #5 (first-run, DCP)

At the start, the main character of End of Watch expresses a very black-and-white opinion of the police and their role in society, and the way that the filmmakers acknowledge law enforcement officers toward the end of the credit roll certainly suggests that they share this view of cops as heroes. And yet, it never feels dishonest or like propaganda, but plays as a strong character piece that makes its simplicity a strength.

The uniformed police officer who makes the speech at the start is Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal), an ex-marine whose ambition has him taking a filmmaking class as a humanities elective as he studies pre-law during his off-hours. It also has him and his partner Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) very aggressive on patrol, pushing into situations that other officers would avoid or engage with more caution. But while Zavala and his wife Gabby (Natalie Martinez) await the birth of their first child and Taylor starts to get serious with his new girlfriend Janet (Anna Kendrick), their actions start to attract attention of malefactors well above local gangster "Big Evil" (Maurice Compte).

Though there's no question that Taylor is the film's viewpoint character - early on, the whole thing is implied to be his classroom project, and while there are scenes without him, they are dropped in from elsewhere rather than the picture leaving him behind - it's impressive how well-defined the other characters are with just a few relatively broad strokes. Take America Ferrera and Cody Horn, for instance, as the team that frequently serves as their backup; we get how much a pair of female partners maybe has to act tougher than the men to thrive in this job. Or David Harbour as a cop turned defensive and cynical (but also able to make a surprising second side to his character completely believable later on). Or Frank Grillo as their sergeant, who can officially push toward the straight-and-narrow while unofficially seeming to encourage the sorts of excess that give cops a bad name. Or Cle Sloan as a prideful banger, or Diamonique as a vicious but cunning lady gangster, or... Well, it's a strong, deep ensemble where almost every character feels like a complete creation, even if he or she only appears for a couple of minutes. Nobody is slacking off.

Full review at EFC.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 September 2012 in Regal Fenway #13 (first-run, 3D RPX)

While a fair amount of time has been spent assuring fans that Dredd is a more faithful adaptation of the strip appearing in 2000 AD than another movie from almost twenty years ago, that understates the case a bit: This movie is actually closer to the ideas behind the franchise than the strip itself, with some actual thought beneath its plentiful violence.

Near the turn of the twenty-second century, much of America is a barren wasteland, and Mega-City One stretches down the east coast from Boston to Washington. It's too small a place for eight hundred million people, so crime is rampant, and the justice system has been streamlined to fit on a motorcycle, so that the arresting officer is also a judge and, as need be, executioner. Judge Joe Dredd (Karl Urban) is one of the city's best,and today he's been assigned to evaluate rookie Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a borderline graduate from the Academy with psychic abilities that the Chief Judge hopes will make her a valuable asset. Their first call takes them to a triple homicide in the Peach Trees city-block (an entire blighted city packed into one skyscraper), which is controlled by Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) and the distribution center for all the Slo-Mo (a drug which causes people to experience time at 1% of normal speed) in the sector - and when Dredd and Anderson arrest one of her lieutenants (Warrick Grier), she seals the block and orders the judges killed.

Budget probably played a large role in how the producers chose to adapt Dredd this time around; too expensive, and you need an American studio behind it, and they'll demand it be watered down to a PG-13 and softening the characterization , asking to make Dredd less fascist and more heroic and missing the point. So instead of presenting Mega-City One as it is in the comics, with bright colors, gaudy designs, and a different future-shocking oddity around every corner, the filmmakers go for a gritty, impoverished realism that makes the judges a natural response to the world in a way that does not always come across in six-page bursts of sci-fi action and broad satire. Every element looks like an extrapolation of the present, from the city's brutalist geometry to the SWAT-inspired uniform and Dredd's dinged-up helmet. As much as Mega-City One has always been a world built to supply Dredd with challenges, it's more of a nightmare here, without the fanciful touches that make the comic as much cheeky black comedy as gritty action.

Full review at EFC.

Judge Dredd

* * (out of four)
Seen 24 September 2012 in Jay's Living Room (why not?, Blu-ray)

So, understand this: Judge Dredd isn't a very good movie. Sylvester Stallone, who seemed like obvious casting at the time, is pretty awful, not helped at all by a script that has him spouting a lame catchphrase and attached to an annoying sidekick. There's a lot of Rob Schneider as that sidekick, while Armand Assante chows down on every bit of scenery he can find as the villain. The script by William Wisher and Steven E. de Souza pretty much defangs the satirical elements of the property, replacing them with easily digestible comedy.

And yet, I've got to admit, there are times when I would kind of like the lift Karl Urban's Dredd and Olivia Thirlby's Cassandra Anderson out of the newer movie and place them in this one's world. From the very start, it's pretty clearly the Mega-City One I know from 2000 AD made real, and there's something very cool about how the artifice comes across when translating the comic book imagery directly to screen. Heck, I love the clunky-but-tactile Hammerstein that shows up even though I'm not a particular fan of the ABC Warriors. It's a gaudy, very 1990s feel, with the filmmakers trying to bring the comic directly to the screen and often looking silly but also feeling like they're doing very well with limited materials.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Fantasia Catch-up: Young Gun in the Time and more

If you're in Austin for Fantastic Fest this week, you could do a bit worse than to check out Young Gun in the Time today or Thursday (eFilmCritic has a rundown of the other films playing that festival that I and the site's other writers have seen here, though I was rather more fond of Graceland than Peter). It's a fun little movie, but don't forget the emphasis on "little"; though more ambitious than Invasion of Alien Bikini, it's still kind of makeshift. It's actually kind of interesting to see Oh Young-doo and company improving over the course of several movies, even if you are used to seeing movies where they are already "there", so to speak.

Some year or other, I'll probably go to Fantastic Fest, but it's tough for me to jump in - though it might have saved me from watching a fair amount of aggravation the past two years, there's usually exciting Red Sox baseball this week, and as you can see, if I want to review every movie I see in Montreal, it takes me right up to the start of the Austin-based festival, and I kind of like the idea of flushing the system a bit. Also, I'm a boring, uptight New Englander who would probably bristle at the circus aspect of FF, and I've only got so much vacation to use.

I'm not quite done with Fantasia, of course - Young Gun in the Time was a DVD screener (with an obnoxious little watermark to prevent it from just being slipped into one's collection afterward), and I've got three more of those to get through (Ronal the Barbarian, Sleep Tight, and Revenge: A Love Story, which knocked me out at midnight). Still, it is quite a relief to get to the end of the ones I saw a month and a half ago before I wind up looking at the capsules I wrote at the time and not recognizing them at all: Love Fiction, Hidden in the Woods, The Fourth Dimension, and Sunflower Hour.

Now to finish those last three. Does anybody know where you can find Oh Henry bars in the Boston area? I think I had about twenty of those during Fantasia screenings this year (the selection at the snack bar was somewhat limited and Kit Kats got awful melty) ad would like to make watching these last few screeners as authentic an possible without having someone introduce them in French.

Young Gun in the Time

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 September 2012 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia 2012, DVD screener)

I must admit that I wasn't a fan of Oh Young-doo's first feature, Invasion of Alien Bikini, but it showed enough promise to make me curious about what he came up with next; it also won a bit of prize money and got the attention of investors that he had a somewhat larger shoestring budget for this follow-up. It's a lot better, though still pretty small-scale and rough.

Young-gun (Hong Young-geun) is a small-time private detective in Seoul, and business is not great; landlord/secretary Ha Sa-jang (Ha Eun-jeong) is threatening to kick him out when Choi Song-hyun (Choi Song-hyeon) shows up, asking him to kill someone for her. Well, that's not what he does, but as soon as she leaves the office, she's kidnapped. Tracking down the photo she gave him puts Young-gun on the radar of assassin Tik Taek-to (Bae Yong-geun), and leads him to... Song-hyun? Who doesn't know him, but says her recently-murdered boss was researching some sort of ancient time machine - that either makes things much more or much less confusing.

Really good time travel stories are tough nuts to crack, and when Oh's screenplay gets right down to it toward the end, it's kind of a sloppy mess, switching from paradoxes to predestination almost randomly depending on what would be most dramatic or cool at a given moment. It's not especially lazy, just rushed and ad-hoc - this movie was made fast and cheap, maybe not to the extent of its predecessor, but without much opportunity for polish. Oh mostly knows his limitations and how to work around them, and has a good core team both in front of and behind the camera that he can count on.

Full review at EFC.

Leobeu Pikseon (Love Fiction)

* * (out of four)
Seen 6 August 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012, HD)

Love Fiction is a romantic comedy that never quite gels, despite a pair of fairly likable leads and Jeon Kye-soo's script having a quirky, individual voice. The trouble is that said voice is often using unusual words to say the same old thing: Guy meets girl, they fall in love despite their own baggage, guy selfishly does something she has specifically asked him not to do, and then must try to pick up the pieces.

The couple in question is Joo-wol (Ha Jung-woo), a writer racking his brain over his second novel who also tends bar and plays bass for a band called "Romantic Chimpanzee", and Hee-jin (Kong Hyo-jin), a film buyer who grew up in Alaska. They actually meet in Berlin, where Joo-wol's publisher (Jo Hie-bong) has dragged the German-speaking Joo-wol along to translate, and reconnect in Seoul. They've both got their share of quirks, but some of Hee-jin's make it into Joo-wol's pulp serial.

Ha Jung-woo and Kong Hyo-jin give Love Fiction what should be a fairly solid base; they're attractive folks with good chemistry on-screen and they are both able to take the eccentric characters that writer/director Jeon Kye-soo gives them and show quirk without making them the sort of weird or off-putting that makes the audience wonder how they function in society (at least, not for their basic personalities as opposed to some of their later actions). Especially early on, Ha does a nice job of communicating just how frustrating it is to not be making any progress on something you need and want to do, and how that connects with and reinforces every other bit of self-doubt in one's life.

Full review at EFC.

En las afueras de la ciudad (Hidden in the Woods)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 6 August 2012 in Concordia University Cinema de Seve (Fantasia 2012, HD)

The original Chilean version of Hidden in the Woods (an English-language remake featuring Michael Biehn from the same director is already in pre-production) certainly lives up to its introduction as a nasty, violent piece of work, and filmmaker Patricio Valladares often does an impressive job of making it into more than just sleazy exploitation. Not always, though, and while the film is very impressive at its best, it's often enough less than that as to leave me relatively cold.

The movie doesn't waste much time making the audience uncomfortable - it opens on a woman dying in childbirth in 1987, bearing a second daughter to Felipe (Daniel Antivilio), a backwoods hermit whose primary source of income seems to be watching over the drug stash of "Uncle" Costelo (Serge François). Not much to do out in the woods, so it's not surprising when older sister Anny gives birth to her own half-brother in 1998. It's in 2010 that everything comes to a head, and Anny (Carolina Escobar), sister Ana (Siboney Lo), and sister/brother Manuel (José Hernandez) wind up fleeing to an outside world they've had little if any contact with while Felipe and Costelo both wind up seeking their "property".

Valladares does not mess around with establishing this as a bad situation, spending the opening act going through every ugly image that comes to mind when you say "backwoods hermit" just rapidly enough for the audience to understand that this is just the set-up while lingering for enough time for the nastiness to sink in. There's a genuine sense of panicked desperation as things go from known hell to unpredictable hell. And while Daniel Antivilio is a big, imposing guy to start with, he becomes absolutely monstrous when one thinks back on his performance as the father.

Full review at EFC.

The Fourth Dimension

* * * (out of four)
Seen 7 August 2012 in Concordia University Cinema de Seve (Fantasia 2012, HD)

The makers of this anthology were given dozens of instructions that ranged from restrictive to twee, or so the legend goes, although ultimately they had a fair amount of leeway so long as they made a movie on the subject of "the fourth dimension". And while Harmony Korine's piece with Val Kilmer is likely the one that will jump out to English-speaking audiences in most listings, it's the other two pieces, by Silent Souls director Aleksei Fedorchenko and Polish newcomer Jan Kwiecinski, that take simple sci-fi-ish concepts and turning them into stories which resonate surprisingly well.

Things do start off with Korine and Kilmer, though, and "The Lotus Community Workshop" is kind of amusing. In large part, that's because Kilmer has reached the point of his career where there are no expectations but he still has just enough big-movie-star residue left on him to make presenting himself as very silly seem doubly amusing. He's clearly having a blast as "Val Kilmer", an inspirational speaker who mentions that you might remember him from the movies but is here to tell "awesome secrets" about the fourth dimension, although it mostly amounts to singing a goofy little song before roller-skating home to play video games with his girl Rachel (Rachel Korine).

It's all very silly, and director Korine pushes everything to within sight of being just obnoxious: The image is matted down to a ridiculously wide aspect ratio (three or four times as wide as it is tall), Kilmer babbles the sort of incoherent nonsense that makes one wonder if he's confused stoner philosophy with alien abductions, and there's certainly a hint of disdain for everyone playing along with this silliness under the surface. If Kilmer didn't play his avatar as so cheery and sincere, it could get really annoying (and likely will for many, anyway), but somehow, actor-Kilmer's awareness of character-Kilmer's childlike innocence twists the short into something featherweight but amusing.

Full review at EFC.

Sunflower Hour

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 7 August 2012 in Concordia University Cinema de Seve (Fantasia 2012, HD)

Even as mock-documentary movies go, Sunflower Hour looks kind of bare-bones, but partly by design. Of course, even when cheapness is part of the aesthetic, that doesn't mean a filmmaker knows how to use it - despite the number of people who say limited resources make one more creative, that's definitely not always the case! Writer/director Aaron Houston has a good handle on it that even when it doesn't work for him, it doesn't take much away from the times when things are utterly hilarious.

Sunflower Hour is a children's puppet show in Vancouver produced on the cheap by Donald Dirk (Peter New), whose background is mostly in porn, though his wife Melissa (Johannah Newmarch) is handling the initial stages of the search. They've announced that they want to add a new character and will document the process. The documentary follows four hopefuls: Leslie Handover (Patrick Gilmore), who sees the show as a great platform to preach against the evils of homosexuality; Satan's Spawn (Kacey Rohl), a goth teenage girl; Shamus O'Reilly (Ben Cotton), who speaks with a thick Irish accent despite his family not having been near the Emerald Isle in generations; and David Spencer (Amatai Marmorstein), a fan of the show and puppetry in general who gets bullied by his older brothers.

Melissa may have chosen this group just to torment her husband.

There are two important things to remember about puppets: First, everything is funnier when done by a puppet. Everything. Second, they can provide an intriguing glimpse into their makers' and performers' psyches - the puppets tend to be half who the puppeteer is and who the puppeteer wants to be. That's not particularly deep, but a broad, raunchy comedy doesn't have to be - it just has to be enough to make the characters feel a little more well-rounded without having to get overly confessional in between the jokes.
Full review at EFC.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 21 September 2012 - 27 September 2012

The end of summer on the calendar happens this week, and the recent end to the Toronto Film Festival means that the floodgates are going to start opening for more critically acclaimed films - indeed, this weekend is packed. Of course, there are still two comic-book movies coming out, though neither is standard superhero fare. Still, it's quite possible neither is the biggest release of the weekend.

  • The biggest release - quite literally, in one case - may be The Master, the newest film from Paul Thomas Anderson, who seems to be shifting from Altman-ish ensemble casts to examinations of big, charismatic characters and the people around them. This time, the character in question is Philip Seymour Hoffman's post-WWII cult leader who is not a thinly-veiled version of L. Ron Hubbard (or so they say), with Joaquin Phoenix as his right hand-man. Though it plays at Kendall Square (35mm), Boston Common, and Fenway (both digital), you want to see it at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, which is screening one of a dozen or so 70mm prints made. The movie was shot on large-format film and seeing it that way should be amazing. The Coolidge is committed to at least three weeks of 70mm screenings, and the opening weekend shows are selling out fast. Note that they will be charging a couple bucks extra.

    Over in the screening room, the Coolidge is opening Knuckleball!, which I saw and liked during IFFBoston despite never getting around to a full review (You embargo a film, I put off writing about it, and eventually it's been too long and I can't, no matter what all those late-arriving Fantasia reviews may make you think). It's an entertaining look at baseball's oddest pitch and its practitioners, particularly Tim Wakefield (in his last season) and R.A. Dickey (who is having quite the late career surge).

    There's also a nice chunk of special events playing. The main Friday/Saturday midnight film on 35mm in the main theater is Point Break; the upstairs theater has the monthly showing of The Room on Friday and five tall (every one over 5'10") Naked Girls Reading flash fiction aloud on Saturday night. The Master taking up residence on screen one means that Monday's 35mm Big Screen Classics show of Funny Girl plays upstairs
  • One of the big mainstream openings is Dredd 3D, a second go at bringing the iconic 2000AD comics character to the big screen. Work out of the UK is that it's an excellent translation, more loyal to the core of the character and world than the Stallone version (which hit more mythology/story points), and Karl Urban never takes the helmet off. The 3D is also said to be extremely well-used, as Dredd and rookie Psi-Judge Cassandra Anderson hunt down the purveyor of Slo-Mo, a drug that alters one's perception of time that is the latest threat to Mega City One. It plays the Capitol, Boston Common, and Fenway in 3D and Fresh Pond in 2D (Fenway & Boston Common each have one 2D screening daily).

    End of Watch, meanwhile, uses "found footage" for a crime drama, with Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as uniformed L.A. cops who get in way over their head when investigating a Mexican drug cartel. Director David Ayer did well with Training Day and has a nice cast to work with here; the movie opens at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, and Fenway. Also benefiting from a nice cast? Robert Lorenz, who gets Clint Eastwood to star as an aging baseball scout in Trouble with the Curve, despite the man supposedly being done behind the camera with Gran Torino and not having acted for other directors since, what, In the Line of Fire? He's joined by Amy Adams as his daughter, as well as Justin Timberlake and John Goodman. It plays the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Fenway, and Boston Common.

    It also looks like we're going to get a fairly busy Halloween season; this week's horror/thriller is House at the End of the Street, in which Jennifer Lawrence plays a teenager in a new town whose neighbor is hunky but whose house has a scary secret. It's at Somerville, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, and Fenway. Boston Common also keeps Bangkok Revenge around for one show a night and opens 10 Years, a high-school reunion comedy with Channing Tatum, Lynn Collins, Kate Mara, Anthony Mackie, Rosario Dawson, Justin Long, and some more folks who likely don't sell tickets on their own but add up to a nice ensemble. Boston Common also has a one-night screening of Dr. No on Monday the 24th; free posters for everyone and one "Bond 50" Blu-ray set will be given away.
  • The other "comic book movie" opens at Kendall Square shows how broad the medium actually can be; Chicken and Plums has Marjane Strapi once again adapting her own graphic novel with Vincent Paronnaud (they made Persepolis), though this time in live action with Mathieu Amalric as a musician who initially opts to wait for death when his violin breaks.

    They're also opening The Master on two screens, as well as Liberal Arts, which plays IFFBoston this spring and has How I Met Your Mother star Josh Radnor (who also writes and directes) visiting his alma mater ten years or so after graduation and meeting a cute/cool undergrad played by Elizabeth Olsen. Odds that she's the daughter of the professor (Richard Jenkins) whose retirement party he's attending? High. They've also got a one-week booking of Step Up to the Plate, a documentary chronicling legendary French chef Michel Bras handing his three-Michelin-star restaurant over to his son Sebastian.
  • The Brattle has a pair of interesting indies this weekend: For Ellen gets most of the showtimes, with Paul Dano as a musician on the verge of success or a crash who travels to the midwest in the hopes of meeting his daughter for the first time before formalizing his divorce. The 3pm and 9:30pm slots go to The Ambassador, a documentary in which a Danish journalist creates a persona as a diplomat in Africa to expose the corruption involved but could very well lose himself in the character he plays. Eye-opening and intriguing, but could maybe have used fewer Sacha Baron Cohen-type flourishes.

    Weekdays are filled with "Recent Raves". Monday has a double feature of Farewell, My Queen and The Queen of Versailles; the former tells a tale of Marie Antoinette and shoots at Versailles, while the latter features a wealthy couple looking to emulate Versailles with their new mansion only to have the financial crisis severely diminish their fortune. Safety Not Guaranteed runs Tuesday; it's a pretty charming comedy that may (or may not) involve time travel. IFFBoston alumnus Dark Horse plays Thursday; Todd Solondz's latest is a rather different take on the underachiever with arrested development who meets a girl. Note that Safety was originally scheduled to play Wednesday and bumps Polisse from the theater's schedule; the calendar had to be shuffled to make room for a (private) special event.
  • The MFA continues three documentaries - Detropia, What Time is Left, and China Heavyweight - at various times over the weekend; the first two will still be playing on Wednesday and Thursday, when You've Been Trumped replaces China Heavyweight. It has a Scottish village clashing with Donald Trump, who has won the opportunity to build a resort in the middle of their coastline. Thursday night (the 27th) features Jake Mahaffy's 2008 film Wellness, in which a salesman must overcome disaster to pitch a questionable service. It's preceded by a collection of Mahaffy's short films; another film of his, War will play on the 28th.
  • The Harvard Film Archive shifts from India to Germany this week, collaborating with Goethe-Institut for The Passions of Werner Schroeter, an avant-garde filmmaker most active during the 1970s, although the program has films from 1969 to 2010. This first week includes The Death of Maria Malibran and Council of Love on Friday, Love's Debris and The Black Angel (preceded by "Argila") on Saturday, Elia Katappa on Sunday and The Kingdom of Naples on Monday. Goethe-Institut will have two other screenings at 170 Beacon Street, Boston, on Wednesday (Mondo Lux and Der Bomberpilot).

    Silent film fans may want to stop by for a couple of free screenings - The Last Days of Pompeii plays with live piano accompaniment at 4pm on Sunday afternoon (at nearly two and a half hours, it's an epic for 1926), and there is a VES screening of Fritz Lang's Metropolis and 1903 footage of "Coney Island at Night" on Wednesday. Note that the HFA's site does not list which cut of Metropolis VES will be screening.
  • ArtsEmerson appears to have Hamlet coming up soon on their main stage, so the next few weeks are direct and indirect adaptations of the Bard's work - mostly Hamlet, but other Shakespeare as well. Friday features Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (6pm, DVD) and Franco Zefferelli's Romeo & Juliet (9pm, 35mm); Saturday has The Lion King (1pm, DVD), Stage Beauty (6pm, DVD), and Shakespeare in Love (9pm, 35mm); and Sunday has Olivier's Hamlet (1pm, DVD).
  • Barfi! continues at Fresh Pond, although starting on Friday it splits the Indian screen with Heroine, a behind-the-scenes Bollywood story featuring Kareena Kapoor as a big star who nevertheless has to negotiate a great deal of behind-the-scenes politics and backstabbing to remain a success in the movie industry.
  • The Boston Film Festival continues through Monday, with a lot of very sincere, earnest-looking films playing at the Stuart Street Playhouse's Theatre 1 space. Some noteworthy selections: The Oranges at 9:40pm Saturday, a preview of The Sessions at 7pm Sunday, and a restored print of The Shining (with a panel discussion) at 9pm Sunday.
  • The Regent Theatre will be showing the Queen concert film Hungarian Rhapsody again on Sunday the 23rd (as will Kendall Square, which also has it on the schedule for Thursday the 27th). There is one other Sound Cinema screening this week: Wednesday the 26th features Pat Metheny: The Orchestrion Project shows Metheny creating an orchestra out of computer-controlled acoustic instruments, using his guitar to program every one. Thursday the 27th, they play host to the Reel Rock Film Tour, which features a number of short films about rock climbing. Could have some nifty cinematography.
  • This looks like the last week for The Dark Knight Rises in full genuine IMAX at the Aquarium, and the Jordan's Furniture screens sadly seem to be downgrading to digital this week. See some real IMAX while you can.
  • A little second-run shuffling is going on, with Celeste & Jesse Forever moving from Kendall Square to the Somerville Theatre, Lawless moving from Somerville to the Arlington Capitol, and The Imposter opening at the Capitol after also playing Somerville. Also, note that The Dark Knight Rises and The Campaign won't play in Somerville on Saturday so that the stage can be used for the Boston Comedy Festival.

My plans? Man, it's a crusher. I'm seeing baseball with my folks on Sunday, so I'll try to fit Dredd, End of Watch, Chicken and Plums, and Trouble with the Curve in around that, possibly waiting a week on The Master in 70mm as it will be really hard to get to those 6:30pm showtimes after work. I may give the Boston Film Festival another shot, although nothing that won't play is really moving the needle for me.

I will also start going through the four screeners I got from Fantasia, at least in part to get a review of Young Gun in the Time up before it plays at Fantastic Fest down in Austin.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

This Week In Tickets: 10 September 2012 - 16 September 2012

Busy week! Again! And, honestly, it could have been more so, except that I was still operating under the peculiar idea that Yankee-Red Sox games are worth watching.

This Week In Tickets!

Actually went to one of those games. The Red Sox lost, of course (it feels like they're even worse than their record when I attend), and, man, Sox-Yankees games are just not fun when the two teams aren't particularly close in the standings. There's more booing, and tension, the sort that makes sports not fun.

The moviegoing, at least, was interesting: Samsara is utterly and completely worth seeing on 35mm film while you can, and it's a shame this shot-on-65mm documentary doesn't have large-format prints playing. Bangkok Revenge wasn't very good, but, amusingly enough, my two-star review was quoted in an email the publicity company sent out earlier today. Yay, out-of-context quotes! The next day, I opted for the RPX screen for Resident Evil: Retribution, because director Paul W.S. Anderson shoots 3D pretty well and it was only playing in 2D in Somerville. Not the greatest entry in the series - it sort of peaked with 2010's Afterlife - but darn if this thing didn't find another way to grow on me.

The rest of the weekend was spent on a couple of short-film festivals - Etheria at the Somerville Theatre and Boston Action at the Regent. That's six hours of 30 short films which is... a lot. It's also a lot of fun, though; a few good shorts make up for the bad ones in a way that a bright spot in in a feature doesn't quite make up for its slow spots. It's also great to see up-and-coming filmmakers showing what they're capable of.

Resident Evil: Retribution

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 September 2012 in Regal Fenway #13 (first-run, Sony digital/RPX 3D)

As I mentioned when the last one came out, this silly series grows on you, and in this case it actually happens within the movie. The first half, after a nifty opening that plays in slow-motion reverse before reaching the end of the last movie, is kind of a drag at times, rehashing bits from previous movies and kind of archly playing on how directly the series is descended from video games, though not as well as Extinction did (this lays the limited environments Alice must clear and pass out flatly). As much as Anderson and cinematographer glen MacPherson make good use of 3D - the white room toward the start is especially spiffy - things just feel limp. The new characters aren't memorable, the returning ones aren't much better (honestly, did anyone miss the computer from the first movie?), and a franchise whose charm was how anything goes seemed conservative.

Things pick up pretty well, though. Li Bingbing showing up in a Chinese take on the dress Jovovich wore in the first movie? Made me smile. Anderson has fun with the cloning introduced in an earlier movie, giving the audience two Michelle Rodriguezes despite her character being killed off in the first film (and Colin Salmon, whom I hope got paid nicely for what is barely a cameo here). The "Moscow" car chase is delightfully insane and destructive, and despite the presence of zombies and monsters, Anderson continues to move the series more toward science-fiction action than horror. It's got a terrific sci-fi moment when the little girl they pick up along the way realizes what's going on and is just paralyzed in shock and horror. And, yes, it ends on another big (but satisfying) cliffhanger that promises a last stand.

Retribution could, I think, be a lot better if it got crazier earlier. That's kind of hard when a series is at this point, but if the finale is serious about the whole "last stand" thing, this one has a chance to go super-nuts in part six.

SamsaraSox Lose AgainBangkok RevengeResident Evil: RetributionEtheria Film FestivalBoston Action Film Festival

Short Stuff: The Boston Action Film Festival

Another day, another package of short films of varying quality but unquestionable enthusiasm. The Boston Action Film Festival is the brainchild of Jeff De Biase, a local martial-arts instructor and filmmaker looking to encourage independent production of this sort of action movie and drum up interest in martial arts generally. It's actually a niche worth filling; these sorts of shorts have some occasionally impressive craft but don't necessarily fit into programs at the Boston Underground Film Festival or Independent Film Festival Boston.

The first BAFF was three or four years ago, and in the meantime, De Biase seems to have acquired a lot of submissions; I expected to be out of the 2pm show sometime around four-ish; it was actually around six. There was a bit of a delay getting started, a stand-up (who seemed like he was having a little trouble adapting his material for a daytime audience), a demonstration, and a raffle, but there were definitely moments when things could have stood to be broken up more or even split into two programs. Heck, you could make a "real" film festival out of this like they do in Ashville, NC, although that would require a lot more resources and be sort of drifting from the mandate.

What the best of these short films showed, though, is that there is a fair amount of talent available in America and elsewhere that can do good cinematic action, so it's kind of a shame that Hollywood so often does things relatively badly, with visual effects substituting for displays of skill and athleticism, fight scenes badly choreographed, and the results cut to incomprehensibility. Doing the basic stuff right isn't easy, but there are clearly folks around who can do it on a shoestring, so imagine what they could do with some real money and a story to surround their work.

One bit of horrible photography and then to start looking at the sixteen short films screened:

David Lavallee Jr. & Jeff De Biase, Local Boston filmmakers & martial artists David Lavallee Jr. & Jeff De Biase

That's Jeff De Biase on the right, demonstrating escrima, the Filipino fighting system he and Dave Lavallee Jr. adapted for "Dalibor 2: Rivals". Unlike a lot of martial-arts demonstrations I've seen at festivals which focused on showing what folks could do, this was fairly instructional and interesting for that, focusing on what the principles behind escrima as a combat system are, how a fight between two people trained in the system would proceed, and how to adapt it into something visually interesting for a movie.

Anyway, I hope it's not another three years before the next one, and if there is a next time, it perhaps evolves into something a little bit punchier and less likely to wear the audience out. The results were pretty good for a show run by a small crew taking submissions up to the Friday before, after all.

Boston Action Film Festival

Seen 16 September 2012 in the Regent Theatre (Boston Action Film Festival, mostly DVD)

Sixteen shorts in this program, broken up 10/6 by the demonstration. That's a long sit, but there were some gems to be found.

"The Paper Pushers" (Eric Jacobus) - This first short, for instance, might have been the best all-around short in the festival. It's got a simple, amusing premise - a man applying for a job as a hitman is asked to give a demonstration - that the main performers have enough acting talent and charisma to pull off with genuine wit, plus martial-arts action that is quite well-choreographed and shot. As demo reels go, it's an impressive bit of work, showing off a complete package.

"We Are Blood" (Darren Holmquist) - A very strong effort. The opening titles have a warning about the bullying depicted in the short, and while those scenes aren't quite so wince-inducing as one may fear, the montage is effective at getting its point across. It shows what can be done by a good editor, because the acting in the movie isn't that great, although it's acceptable enough when what the cast members can do physically is taken into account. Holmquist and company choreograph and shoot their action with strong intent - two people sparring feels different than one trying to hold off a pummeling. The end, well, it's kind of iffy, but still not a bad little movie.

"Pobudové (8 Idiots in a Gas Station)" (Jon Truei) - One of the relatively few shorts on the program that weren't really going with martial arts, this one is more a bloody farce about a robbery and hostage situation that neither the cops, crooks, or hostages handle very well. It's energetic although obviously cheap in spots, and could maybe use a little more room to give its characters more individual personalities.

"Five Minutes Flat" (Nathan Quattrini) - Quattrini does a nice enough job here of building a Cormanesque sci-fi bit quickly, although it's one where you can really tell that getting two or three fights squeezed in was the priority (and pretty clearly the cast's strength). It also relies pretty heavily on the villain setting minions against each other or killing them for minor offenses, which strikes me as something whose value as motivation doesn't balance its costs.

"Ground and Pound" (Paul Dreschler-Martell) - Mr. Dreschler-Martell could maybe use a bit of a primer on creating sympathetic characters, or at least giving the audience what they want. Personally, when I see a white suburban kid dropping the n-word into every sentence to sound street (as the director's character does), I want him punched in the face repeatedly, but the movie is set up like this is something to be avoided, which makes it hard to get a real emotional release at the end of the big tournament. Give the short credit - despite not really having the extras or location to sell it, the tournament is an impressively-edited sequence, getting seven fights in without making any feel rushed. They're mostly pretty good, too, even if his promoter character is given too much focus compared to the fighters.

"Bullet with Butterfly Wings" (Fernando Jay Huerto) - Sometimes, you've really got to appreciate a movie that just goes for broke. The filmmakers here really don't have a lot of resources, but they play this short like a compressed version of a feature, with a team of mystery women in masks trading bullets and blows with a gang while shadowy machinations go on in the background. It's built around the warehouse they've got access to for an action scene and cribs shamelessly from John Woo, but does so with the kind of enthusiasm that makes it pretty easy to overlook the lack of resources and shaky acting. I don't know if I'd want to see a feature version without some upgrades, but the clear fun the participants are having and willingness to go big makes up for a lot.

"Pit of Despair" (John William Noble) - Sad to say, this entry from Scotland is just not very good. It's only got one or two action scenes that don't really stand out compared to the other entries, and those are smothered in a story that is utterly unmemorable and which the actors really don't have the chops to pull off.

"Labor Day" (Hyun Supul) - This one was made for the Brattle's Trailer Smackdown a year or two ago, and I'm guessing it did not win the contest. It's not that the animation is weak (which it is, although I'll bet a lot of effort was put into it; animation is hard and time-consuming), it's just bad parody. There's one pretty good joke, when a character notes that several of the adjectives in the description of the villains aren't really compatible, but a awful lot of explaining that this is an anime spoof and heavy-handed political swipes. Just weak all around.

(Although the professional comedian behind me loved it to a guffawing, seat-kicking extent. Make what judgments you will from this.)

"The System" (Ian Grant) - Interestingly, this shares a writer with "Labor Day", and while it's not so bad, it's still kind of weak. It's got the sort of compressed storytelling and cutting that is typical of the fake-trailer style, but tells a more-or-less complete story. Unfortunately, it leans on a lot of voice-over to do it, and a twist that is telegraphed a bit too well

"Dalibor 2: Rivals" (Jeff De Biase) - Actually, I don't think there was a "2" in what was shown, but it ultimately turns out not to matter that much; it's a pretty straightforward and self-contained film. It's a mash-up meant to be both futuristic and influenced by classic Hong Kong stylings, and is pretty fun. The action is well-done, although you can see the seams in other spots.

(much-needed break)

"A Study in Change and the Perception of Performance" (Matt Loughe) - Not a whole lot to this one; Loughe is a photographer and basically does a bit with composition before a quick action bit within a static 2-shot. Neat to look at, but quick.

"Yo Soy un Hombre Loco" (Vladislav Rimburg) - As you might expect for a movie produced by the stunt team, the action here is pretty good. As much as what's going on is stylish and theatrical, the story is more or less left out.

"The Frontiersman" (Joel Loukas)- This one's a nifty sci-fi picture. Director Joel Loukas and company do a nice job of adding just enough effects to build a world without breaking the bank, and there's a nicely gruff personality to the title character that really works when the shooting starts. It might have been nice if the filmmakers could have found a different sort of location; the wide-open field doesn't give a whole lot of cover to make the shootout a little more interesting and force some tighter camerawork; this is what seems like a rare time when filmmakers could do well by zooming in more rather than showing so much at once.

"The Breakout" (Tyler Williams) - The first of two in a row by Williams and his Toronto-based Eye of the Storm Pictures, and while it took a little time to grow on me, I was actually really fond of it by the end. Pretty simple set-up - three escaped convicts, two chained together, one bag of money - but it's executed very well indeed. Williams extends the fight scene for almost the entire 10-minute run-time of the movie, and the result gets chuckles for how it's still going on but is still exciting. That's really impressive, and it's technically very nice, too, with stylized cinematography and well-chosen music.

"All-In" (Tyler Williams) - Good on you, Mr. Williams, for shooting your new one on 16mm film. The picture looks good in a way that "The Breakout" sort of had to fake. Williams also stars this time, as well as writing dialogue, and while he does okay - the final moments have a bit of charm after the nastiness from earlier - he's not playing quite so directly to his strengths as the all-action "Breakout" did. Still, a very polished picture; I'd actually be interested to see how Williams would do with a feature.

"American Chop Suey" (Nathan Quattrini) - Quattrini directs David Lavallee Jr. again, and sad to say, this isn't exactly ending on a high note. The short's sort of got one gag (kung-fu-movie-obsessed David imagines himself much cooler and a good fighter), and while it works okay once or twice, it's played much too broadly at others, falling flat on its face. It's a disappointing end to the festival, and a reminder that just being nice and personable as Lavallee seems to be doesn't necessarily translate to being funny on screen.

... and with that, there was a whole bunch of stuff given away in the raffle. For once, my number was drawn, but as it was something I couldn't use, I kept quiet. Hopefully whoever got the lessons makes good use of them.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Short Stuff: The Etheria Film Festival (and a tiny bit of Fantasia catch-up)

The Etheria Film Festival, a day sci-fi/fantast short films (and a documentary feature) that are all directed by women. It's a sort of spin-off of The Viscera Film Festival, an L.A.-based event that does the same thing for horror, later sending a package of its films on tour. A third festival, "Full Throttle", focusing on action movies created by women, is planned for next year in Austin.

The most important thing you can say about the festival is that it presented good films; the fantasy package, especially, was very strong. Not everything is great - some, honestly, were farily amateurish, while others were quite polished. The subject matter, while featuring predominantly female characters, was not necessarily about women specifically.

There was something interesting about the subject matter chosen for each program, in a different way. The fantasy program, for instance, features a great deal of fairy tale inspiration, parituclarly Little Red Riding Hood (the first and last films of the package are takes on that story, and the second initially looks to be). It's not a story I think I've ever given a lot of thoguht to, but given its basic structure - a young woman targeted by a stalker - it's not surprising that it would resonate more with female storytellers than with me.

The other thing that struck me was how much more seriously fantasy and fairy tales seem to be taken than science fiction. It sort of ticks me off on a certain level - I find sf far more interesting than fantasy - and a bitter, sarcastic part of me thinks it's because most writers are only really interested in the genres' surface trappings, and fantasy is all trappings, while science fiction can have some heft to it. That's not entirely true, but the weight has different varieties. Good science fiction has extrapolated ideas, but the genre itself is too young to really be imbedded deep in a culture the way fantasies and fairy tales are, and the science-fictional ideas that have been around the longest go out of date with later discoveries.

Science fiction has that problem as a genre in general; it's not unique to Etheria. It's just that seeing two programs of films, selected by the same people from a similar pool, makes for an interesting contrast of how the two genres are considered.

Anyway, here's a chance to skip the Horrible Photography and go straight to the rundowns of the packages. Where I can find an official link, they're included. Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and a somewhat-fitting bit of Fantasia catch-up: Despite the Gods, in which a fine female filmmaker chronicles another female fantastical filmmaker .

Michele Galgana & Danishka Esterhazy, Hostess Michele Galgana & "The Red Hood" Danishka Esterhazy at Etheria

Michele Galgana leading the Q&A with Danishka Esterhazy, who mentioned that she is working on another fairy-tale-based project, "H&G", which should be ready just around the same time Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters comes out (this one appeared right around the same time as last year's Red Riding Hood feature. Good or lousy luck, depending on your perspective).

Michele Galgana, Alana McNair, Mike Snoonian, Hosts Michele Galgana & Mike Snoonian and "Imminent Danger" filmmaker Alana McNair

Ms. G again, this time joined by All Things Horror's Mike Snoonian to introduce Alana McNair after the sci-fi section. I must admit to liking her film more than loving it, but she was a nice guest.

Etheria: Fantasy Package

Seen 15 September 2012 in Somerville Theatre #4 (Etheria Film Festival, Blu-ray)

So, in order, then:

"She Wolf" (Francesca Reverdito) - The first appearance of Red Riding Hood, although it winds up feeling more like a vague idea than a story. It redistributes the roles of Red, the Woodsman, and the Wolf, but at the end has gone for both cuteness and horror, but hasn't had time to do much with either.

"The Stolen" (Karen Lam) - This has one of the same problems as "She-Wolf" - a "wait, what?" ending - that comes from wanting to use fantasy tropes but not really defining them that well. The movie takes a hard right turn into fantasy, but doesn't have room to show whether this is a good or bad thing. Also, unless you've got actual British people in your cast, don't give your fae characters the accent; you likely can't handle that level of fake.

"The Maiden and the Princess" (Ali Scher) - Exception: When you've got David Anders in the cast. This short, possibly the best of the night, features Anders as a fairy tale narrator in trouble with his superiors (including Julian Sands) for deviating from traditional fairy tale styles , and given one last chance. He can't bear to reinforce rigid gender roles for a little girl who kissed another girl rather than the expected boy on the schoolyard, though, and it leads to a freewheeling story about not being ashamed of who you are. Anders is wonderfully dry and arch throughout, and Scher takes her material just seriously enough to be able to poke fun at it.

"Prita Noire" (Sofia Carrillo) - I saw this one at Fantasia last year, but it's a repeat I don't particularly mind. It's an impressive bit of stop-motion animation of a doll that contains the spirit of its owner's stillborn twin sister (or at least that's one way of looking at it), and while the imagery is often macabre, there is a definite sense of wonder to it.

"The Hunter and the Swan Discuss Their Meeting" (Emily Carmichael) - What starts out as another fairy tale story (though one with an overtly sexy side) takes a turn for the modern fairly quickly, as a literal fairy tale romance hits a snag in the modern world. This one's quick and funny, and does a good job of not digging too far into its mythology.

"Oowie Wanna" (Bridget Paladry) - It's something that you find a reason to say every year or two when watching low-budget indie horror and fantasy, but Karen Black is kind of awesome; She just never stopped working, even when the leading-lady roles dried up, taking quirky parts in smaller films because she liked acting and doesn't just talk the talk about wanting to work with young directors with unique visions. She's got a small part here in a story about a little girl who gets teased for her birthmark and finds a magical land inside a dryer at the laundermat. It's a cute piece with a likable cast, even if you can see the seams.

"Seamstress" (Gracie Otto) - Huh, is she one of the acting Ottos of Australia, or part of the family? At any rate, I like this one; even though it's another that just sort of piles on more weirdness at the end, it's got a nice build-up (the strange we get is different strange than came before), and there's a quiet but funny gag of an old man using increasingly large binoculars to spy on the lady across the street that can go on for a little bit before the audience catches on.

"The Red Hood" (Danishka Esterhazy) - Back at Red Riding Hood again, with the Gradmother an off-screen presense and Esterhazy also deciding to put a modern, liberated, twist on the relationship between Red, the Woodsman, and the Wolf. It's nicely executed, placed in a frontier period and eschewing dialog in favor of first-person narration that actually pushes the fairy-tale feeling away a bit by making it personal rather than universal.

Etheria: Sci-Fi Package

Seen 15 September 2012 in Somerville Theatre #4 (Etheria Film Festival, Blu-ray)

More! As I said above, as much as I am somewhat impressed with the technical execution of these shorts, I've kind of got some issues with how most play with sci-fi surface elements without necessarily showing a real grasp on what made them originally effective.

"Slashed" (Rebecca Thomson) - The idea here is cute enough: A receptionist and the difficult visitor at a clinic hate each other, but the latter is a fan of the "slash fiction" the former writes (the name comes from sexy fan-fiction abbreviated from "Kirk/Spock"). That's a reasonably funny premise, for a short film, and this one kind of slips a bit because Thomson deviates from it more than a short should: The parallels between the main characters and the hero & villain of their favorite TV show get a bit diluted by the weird stealing and an actually pretty funny joke about lying online. oth of those threads are close enough to the main plot to work, even if it's not quite as punchy as it could be.

"Laura Keller, Non-Breeder" (Maureen Perkins) - Hey, it's a familiar genre face in Amber Benson! She's in the middle of a nice little story about a future where overpopulation has led to fertility being governed by a lottery, and as a med-tech who extracts birth-control implants, the strain of being on the front line is starting to wear on her. The short is good enough to be expanded; Perkins does a nice job of poking around the premise without dredging up contradictions, and the story could thrive if fleshed out.

"Imminent Danger" (Alana McNair) - This one's got a goofy premise and dotty characters that make it fun enough, although its world-building tended to be a little too zany for my taste. Not necessarily a bad choice if the idea is to pack as many weird jokes into ten minutes as you can, although I think it trips up a bit at the end by getting a bit too self-aware (a character points out that the main character is acting on silly and selfish motives, but has to go out of character to do so). Cute homemade production design for those that like the goofy sci-fi worlds.

"Undetected" (Kristen Anderson) - For most of its length, this feels like a smoothly-executed if mild take on the redneck-cannibal horror subgenre, but it kind of gets held prisoner by the twist: Anderson and company aiming at what happens in the last couple minutes keeps really clever things from happening before, and upending what the audience assumed doesn't really place them off-balance enough to justify it.

"The Provider" (Brianne Nord-Stewart) - Here, the twist is more in the setting (the film posits a world where Japan retaliated with biological warfare after Hirohsima), but it leads to a story that could take place in any post-apocalyptic setting: Guy finds safe haven, notices it's weird, discovers it's not much of a safe haven at all. Nord-Stewart does a nice job of creating some eerie moments and creepy environments, though.

"Kaboomtown" (Jakqui Schuler) - Here we have science fiction being used for satire; it takes so much time to do paperwork that you can't even do the thing that the paperwork is for! It's stretched and exaggerated to an extreme degree, though, to the point where I foundmyself wondering more what the rationale of it was than appreciating the point being made.

"Volcano Girl" (Ashley Maria) - Things finish up with a fun little superhero story where a heroine in her twenties gets fired and moves back in with her mother and sister. Pretty well-done, nice cast, kind of goofy ending, but that works for it.

Despite the Gods

* * * (out of four)
Seen 6 August 2012 in Concordia University Cinema de Seve (Fantasia 2012 Documentaries From the Edge, HD)

There are many warning signs, but when the person hired to get electronic press kit/making-of footage for a movie comes to the producer and asks if she can hang around more and keep her footage because she thinks she may have a feature, it's generally not good for the main production. Sure, it may mean that a masterpiece for the ages is being created, but for the likes of Hisss, a trainwreck is more likely. Despite the Gods isn't the most spectacular cinematic crash-and-burn you'll ever see, but it is both one of the most unusual and one of the most inevitable.

Hisss, initially known as "Nagin", was created with notions of being a crossover hit in both India and the west; its story of a sexy snake demon in the modern world starred Mallika Sherawat and Irrfan Khan (who manages to duck this documentary's cameras), recruited American Jennifer Lynch to write the script and direct, and had Hollywood gore masters KNB doing special-effects makeup. As soon as the cameras roll, things start to go wrong, from a technicians' strike to bad weather to an almost entirely male local crew not working well with a female foreign director. The production stretches out to eight months, an incredibly long time for this sort of picture.

The interesting thing about Despite the Gods is that it doesn't necessarily feel calamitous, but rather more like something that just got stretched out for no definitive reason until so much had been invested in it that it could neither stop nor possibly be a commercial success. It doesn't chronicle a full-scale meltdown like Lost in La Mancha, or feature a singular moment of collapse, but instead shows how many little compromises and sacrifices get made along the way, both to other people and factors completely outside of human control.
Full review at EFC.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Bangkok Revenge & some Fantasia catch-up

The funny thing about this movie's walkouts - and, yes, it is kind of sad that blogging about China Lion releases inevitably has a "Walkout Watch" section - is that the first couple seemed to come right when they realized that there were going to be subtitles. If they'd stuck around, they would have seen just how much of the movie turned out to be in English. As I say in the review, this is actually a pretty big issue because only the star really seems conversant in the language, and when they do switch from Thai to English, there are no subtitles, so you miss what's being said in the seconds it takes for your brain to start getting dialogue from your ears rather than your eyes.

Others later abandoned ship because the movie wasn't very good. The whole deal with China Lion distributing this one in America - and seeming to give it a lot more publicity than they did the superior movies opening on either side of it, The Bullet Vanishes and Vulgaria - is kind of weird. It's a French/Thai co-production that's mostly in English, and while star Jon Foo himself is hapa-Chinese, I'm not sure how much this appeals to the expatriates that make up much of CL's target audience beyond everybody liking martial arts action.

Also: The "Bangkok Revenge" title is one of the more obvious renamings for the American audience in recent memory; the distributor just put a title card on the front of the movie, while actually keeping the "Bangkok Renaissance" titles in the opening and closing credits, subtitling them "Rebirth". Weirdly half-hearted.

Anyway, don't let this disappointment keep you from seeing Vulgaria if it plays Boston (or wherever you may be reading this from) in a couple of weeks; I saw it at Fantasia and that is some funny stuff. Other things I saw at Fantasia and am just now finishing full reviews of: New Kids Turbo, Dead Bite, Blood-C: The Last Dark, Columbarium, Poongsan, Hail.

Bangkok Renaissance (aka Bangkok Revenge, aka Rebirth)

* * (out of four)
Seen 14 September 2012 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, Sony Digital 4K)

Some martial-arts action flicks are all-around great movies, and many are capable, if not exceptional. A distressing number, though, are one trick ponies, with good action scenes being held together by connective tissue that is given so much less attention than the fights that the movie practically becomes a tug of war. Bangkok Revenge's action makes a good effort early, but eventually the awful in-between material wears it down.

Twenty years ago, an honest Bangkok cop and his wife were murdered in their bed by a gang of corrupt officers, one of whom is sent into their ten-year-old son's room to finish the job. He does, but Manit miraculously survives the bullet to the head, and is taken by nurse Chanticha (Aphiradi Phawaphutanon) to be secretly raised by herself and a martial-arts master in a small village. The fact that Manit's brain injury seems to have left him without empathy doesn't stop the master from teaching him potentially lethal hand-to-hand combat, which will come in handy when Chanticha gives the grown Manit (Jon Foo) what she has learned about his father's murder on her deathbed. He decides to finish the job, with reporter Clara (Caroline Ducey), Inspector Andana (Pream Busala-Khamvong), and French boxer Simon (Michael Cohen) occasionally joining the quest.

Jon Foo is not yet a big name in the martial arts world, but he's working his way up; he's spent time on Jackie Chan's stunt team, and occasionally been a featured performer when Chan or Tony Jaa needs to take on several guys at once. So it's not particularly surprising that the early action scenes, especially, are a lot of fun to watch. Foo's an athletic guy with a nice balance of raw strength and agility, and much of the movie's first half has him moving straight from one fight to the next, taking on large crowds by taking a bunch down hard (the prosthetic-limb guys had to build a lot of broken legs) and moving quick on others. There are some impressively staged fights, especially in close quarters: Foo gets to show his stuff in an elevator, an automobile, and a subway car, in addition to some battles on more open turf. Another is shown in shadow.

Full review at EFC.

New Kids Turbo

* * (out of four)
Seen 3 August 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012 Action!, DCP)

After New Kids Turbo, another festival-goer and I off-handedly discussed which bit of incessantly-repeated profanity was less likely to fly with an American audience. For a certain group, that sort of broad-spectrum political incorrectness is an asset not matter what, but those with a limited tolerance for uncouth morons should steer clear, as this movie's got more than than it knows what to do with.

Well, it's got at least five: Richard (Huub Smit), who somehow has managed to attain a place of his own and a dog; Rikkert (Wesley van Gaalen), who has a pregnant girlfriend he has probably never had sex with; Barrie (Flip Van der Kuil), the local pot grower; Gerrie (Tim Haars), a loser idiot even by loser idiot standards; and Robbie (Steffen Haars), the one without a mullet. They're more or less unemployable, especially in this difficult economy, and when they beat up bill collectors after being kicked off welfare for behaving like violent idiots, Richard declares that he's not paying for things any more. When this starts to become a movement, folks hig up in the Dutch government decide that they must be silenced, even if their hometown of Maaskantje is collateral damage.

When I saw the movie has more uncouth morons than it knows what to do with, I mean that literally - the movie does very little with Barrie and Robbie. Presumably Steffen Haars and Flip Van der Kuil are too busy off-screen to carry much of a burden in front of the camera - both are credited as writers, directors, and producers, with Van der Kuil also editing - though for all I know, they only had small parts in the original internet videos and TV series. That there are excess New Kids is indicative of a level of excess that works for the group often enough; even those who likely don't want to admit it will, when pressed for the truth, say that they laughed during the movie, sometimes pretty hard. Go for broke often enough and some of the gags will pay off, especially when you're talking about slapstick targeted at the very deserving (of course, you'll also get comedic dead zones like a painful breaking of the fourth wall). Haars & Van der Kuil also do a pretty good job of escalating things; the gags get bigger and more absurd with the story.

Full review at EFC.

Gancore Gud (Dead Bite)
* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 3 August 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012, HD)

There's actually a pretty fun movie inside Dead Bite doing all it can to get out, and it could be just as happily trashy as the one we got. After all, it's got a charismatic-enough lead (and director, and co-writer) in Thai rapper JoeyBoy, a potentially fun ensemble in his group Gancore Club, and all the other ingredients for B-movie fun: Bikini girls, gleefully bloody mayhem, and fun monsters. The beautiful Thailand scenery doesn't hurt at all. But, wow, does it get away from him.

For those of us not hooked up to Thailand's hip-hop scene, JoeyBoy (given name Apisit Opasaimlikit) is the frontman for Gancore Club, and as the movie starts (well, after a framing sequence), they're a little dissatisfied with their last concert, as only ghosts showed up. Their manager attempts to placate them with a music video shoot on the coast with plenty of pretty girls in bikinis, but when they take a boat out to Mermaid Island... Well, things go bad, as they've got a group of savages in the forest led by apparently-immortal Payee (Lakana Wattanawongsiri) and aquatic zombies coming from the sea.

As I said, I don't know anything about Gancore Club, and I suspect that the movie plays a whole lot better for fans. There's a half-dozen or so members in the group, and the filmmakers don't do a whole lot to establish characters and personae for newcomers like me. JoeyBoy seems confident but kind of shy for a big hip-hop star; Golf's a big guy with a big personality; and... uh, Teng likes fishing. They're a likable enough crew - even non-fans will enjoy them well enough - and I imagine if they're your favorite band, seeing them chased by monsters or getting turned into zombies probably makes things a lot more fun.

Full review at EFC.

Blood-C: The Last Dark

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 5 August 2012 in Concordia University Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2012 AXIS, HD)

I wouldn't recommend seeing Blood-C: The Last Dark at all, but above all else, do not go in to see this movie cold. Seriously, don't do it. I am pretty sure that this would be a tiresome excuse for a movie with overly frantic action, a protagonist completely devoid of personality, and a laughable finale even if I had seen Blood: The Last Vampire recently or had picked up any of the multimedia tie-ins between then and now, but not having the Blood mythology in one's back pocket doesn't help.

The film opens with a couple of men stalking Mana Hiragi on the subway. They hulk out into vampire-on-steroids monsters and corner her at the station, only to find Mana probably wasn't the one they should be concerned about; Saya Kisaragi (voice of Nana Mizuki) was also riding that train, and Saya is a vampire-human hybrid who has been fighting monsters for far longer than the school uniform she wears implies. It turns out that Mana is part of a team investigating these "Elder Bairns"; this "Sirrut" group believes that they are connected to industrialist Fumito Nanahara (voice of Kenji Nojima).

Nanahara also seems to have something to do with draconian curfew laws in Tokyo that affect the teen-age heroes. To be fair, the filmmakers do a decent job of laying out just enough mythology that a new or lapsed fan can grasp the important elements without smothering the audience with exposition, at least on average. After all, while Blood has amassed a fair amount of details, the broad strokes are familiar enough - long-lived vampires gathering power behind the scenes, their victim/creation seeking revenge, the time to unleash an occult force of unspeakable power drawing nigh.

Full review at EFC.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 5 August 2012 in Concordia University Cinema de Seve (Fantasia 2012 Fantastique Week-end, HD)

Columbarium is not quite one jettisoned gimmick away from being a perfect little thriller, but it's tight and suspenseful enough to impress as it is, telling a good little story without much in the way of fat at all. It's a shame that even high-profile Québèçois films don't seem to make their way out of the province very often, because this one's a little gem.

Joe MacKenzie (Gilbert Comptois) was imperfect in life and remains so in death, as his will states that in order to inherit, his sons must spend a week at his lake house in rural Québèc building a columbarium for his remains (a sort of elaborate shrine). Both men have good reason to do so - older son Mathieu (David Boutin) is in dire financial straits from his work on Wall Street and the gambling he did in Vegas to make up the shortfall, while younger son Simon (Maxime Dumontier) could use the money to kickstart his current dream of heading to Los Angeles to become an actor. Of course, the MacKenzie boys have other issues, and the combination of alcohol, energy drinks, blackouts, and biblical quotes that mysteriously appear only serves to bring things closer to a boil despite the chill in the air.

Maybe Columbarium is a ghost story; maybe what happens is the endgame of the brothers' longtime issues; maybe executor Marcel (Pierre Collin) is playing them against each other. One thing is for sure: Writer/director Steve Kerr isn't going to tip his hand very much until absolutely necessary. This does not mean that he and the film are spinning their wheels, though; instead, he's built a situation where a great deal can be implied - the very fact that their father asks his sons to build him this shrine says as much about him and the inevitable relationships of the family as many flashbacks could - and where seemingly small things can crank the tension up a notch or two. Not bad for an indie filmmaker working with a small cast and mostly staying in one location, and he's got the skills to make small steps work.

Full review at EFC.

Poong-san-gae (Poongsan)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 5 August 2012 in Concordia University Cinema de Seve (Fantasia 2012 Camera Lucida, HD)

I sometimes wonder if Kim Ki-duk has a whole cache of unfilmed scripts on his laptop, turned out quickly because not writing dialogue for your main character saves a lot of time. It makes for a distinctive style, so that even what might otherwise be a straightforward spy movie actually directed by Juhn Jai-hong undeniably has Kim's stamp.

Though the border between North and South Korea may be the most heavily guarded such line in the world, there is one man who passes through it regularly. Leave a note on a bulletin board near the Imjinak bridge, and this anonymous man (Yoon Kye-sang) known only by the Poongsan-brand cigarettes he smokes will smuggle messages and small items to the other side. The governments are mostly unaware of him, at least until some of his clients are busted selling smuggled artifacts. Then, the KCIA contacts him; they've got a North Korean defector (Kim Jong-soo) who is dragging his feet until he is reunited with his young lover In-ok (Kim Gyu-ri).

Main characters not talking may be a Kim Ki-duk signature, but it works to fairly good effect here. Mostly, that's because it is more or less impossible to get any sort of information on the background of this "Poongsan" guy; though he's clearly well-trained, there's no way to find out whether he was originally born in the North or the South, whether by admission or accent, something which the South Korean intelligence officers obsess over. It's an interesting question as to whether this makes him Korean-without-an-adjective or a man without a country. It makes for interesting comparisons with other characters who have crossed the line: In-ok considers herself North Korean and doesn't seem to consider how difficult it might be to go back; the defector is trying very hard to make himself South Korean; some members of an undercover NK team may be going native. As much as stories like this generally focus on how Korea is naturally a singular entity, the pessimistic read here is that too much time may have passed: The message Poongsan carries in the beginning is between two very elderly people on their deathbeds, and there seems little common ground otherwise.

Full review at EFC.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 5 August 2012 in Concordia University Cinema de Seve (Fantasia 2012, DCP)

The word "hail" can mean a number of things, and for some reason I kept thinking of the wrong ones until about halfway through the movie, when some bad weather follows a bad event, and the sound as much as anything seemed absolutely right. After all, there are a lot of figures of speech that use rain to indicate unfortunate events in one's life, but for some people, it comes down harder and you don't always have shelter.

Take Danny (Daniel P. Jones); in and out of jail all his life, his last stint has ended a few days early, allowing him to surprise longtime lady love Leanne (Leanne Letch). This time, he resolves, he's going to stay on the straight and narrow. He is humble as he goes to various auto body shops to ask for a chance to show what he can do. He really seems to have it together most of the time, and even the friends who have been part of the problem before are encouraging. But...

Star Daniel P. Jones knows this role; it is him in almost every way. Director Amiel Courtin-Wilson had previously made a short film ("Cicada") of Jones relating a personal story, and for Hail he combed through five hundred pages of Jones' reminiscences to immerse himself in this man's life and world. Leanne Letch is Jones' real-life girlfriend, and many other cast members are playing themselves or fictionalized versions thereof. The locations add to the verisimilitude and Courtin-Wilson's experience as a documentary filmmaker shows; even in intimate shots, there's a sense of the camera being out of the way as the subjects go about their lives.

Full review at EFC.