Tuesday, September 29, 2015

This Week In Tickets: 20 September 2015 - 26 September 2015

Hey, if I'm not doing these in order, I might as well do a this week rather than a that week.

This Week in Tickets

Stubless: Bite in the living room on Sunday; a Red Sox loss on Tuesday.

I really should mark down what else I did on these days when I didn't see a lot of movies, because it wasn't unpacking stuff at the apartment. For instance, I suspect that I was seeping in and then doing grocery shopping on Sunday, but it sort of looks like a wasted day before heading out to see Sleeping with Other People - an enjoyably crude romantic comedy - and then returning home to watch the last of my Fantasia Festival screeners, Bite, which, was passable but could have used a little extra effort in the story department.

Tuesday night, the MBTA tried to keep me from using the last game in my season ticket package (though not the last ticket of the season), a loss that seemed to start promisingly - the Red Sox pitcher perfect through four, the Rays' guy forced to throw 30 pitches in the first inning an not looking sharp - but it wound up turning, as can happen.

After working from home Thursday, I probably should have gone to the last screening of Ricki and the Flash in Arlington, but opted to get ahead of the weekend with the day-early show of The Intern instead (what do we call the now-ubiquitous shows the night before the official opening day, which were cooler when they were at midnight and only movies that had people really excited had them? I guess they're technically "previews", but that doesn't seem right). Mostly cute.

Friday I tried to catch Lost in Hong Kong, but it sold out like crazy and nothing that was starting at Boston Common at around the same time really grabbed me, so I went back home and watched what turned out to be a great baseball game. Saturday morning, I hemmed and hawed too long and wound up not able to catch the right bus/train to get to the furniture store's upgraded Imax theater for Everest, so I wound up watching Lost then.

After that, I went to Union Square in Somerville for the Fluff Festival, which is a real thing. For those who don't know - I have no idea how popular this stuff is outside of New England - Marshmallow Fluff is a sandwich spread that is usually combined with peanut butter to make what we call a "Fluffernutter" which has close to zero nutritive value but is really good, especially if you're eight. It was invented in that area, and the annual celebration had games, concerts, and, of course, different snacks. The longest line (though worth the wait) was at Union Square Donuts's table, where they filled one of their great donuts with peanut butter and had Fluff spread on top; while waiting in that line, I had a "strawberry fluffernutter smoothie" from a misplaced food truck with "keeping Boston healthy" on the side. Not bad, but didn't taste that different from any other strawberry/banana smoothie.

With my schedule thrown off by not getting to Reading, I was at least able to check out the Somerville Theatre's 70mm screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which remains pretty great. I don't know if it's the same print they had in February (this one dates from the mid-1990s), but it looked great from the front row, and sounded even better. Projectionist Dave Kornfeld pointed out that the print had five magnetic tracks for five speakers behind the screen, which Somerville has, as well as Dolby surround, which they also supported ("when I started this install, some called me mad!"). He also reiterated that they are planning a big 70mm festival for 2016, which should be epic.

The Intern

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 September 2015 in AMC Boston Common #11 (first-run, DCP)

Leading up to the release of The Intern, a couple of folks I tend to like were spewing hate and anger at this preview online, and I honestly can't comprehend why. The idea behind it - a 70-year-old widower takes a job at a start-up run by a young woman - and the two main parts are played by a pair of popular and charismatic actors (Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway) at their most pleasant and charming. This thing exists to be liked; indifference should be as negative a reaction as it gets.

And, to be fair, I can see where someone could walk out relatively unimpressed; writer/director Nancy Meyers sometimes seems to run from anything that could add conflict to the movie - De Niro's Ben Whittaker is not resistant to working for a woman half his age or learning new things at all, and while Hathaway's Jules Ostin may be kind of wired, she's not faking anything; she's a good boss, a good mother, a nice person. For a large chunk of the movie, this is enough - De Niro and Hathaway are good actors who seem to be enjoying a screenplay that calls upon them to play unambiguously nice people without falling into the trap of them being boring, as do Rene Russo and and the parade of younger actors joining the ensemble.

As pleasant as that is, it trips Meyers up a bit when it comes time for the movie to point itself toward an ending. As much as a moment where it looks like Ben is about to have a heart attack coming to nothing is a good decision - everyone sees that coming a mile away and it wouldn't fit into the story - the conflict she eventually introduces is just as hoary, and the actual resolution is so low-key that it feels like Jules has basically put disaster off for maybe a few weeks. There's perhaps an interesting movie to be made around that circumstance - that this pressure never ends, especially for women - but Meyers has soft-pedaled it too much by that point.

As a writer and critic, I must admit to being kind of fascinated by how the desire to get the right message out can strongly oppose what the film needs for drama. Myers seems to be keenly aware that Jules compromising her work because of the strain in her marriage (or vice versa) is bad symbolism, but it leaves the movie nowhere to go in the last act, even though it's pretty clearly set up as a story about how trying to do everything just isn't practical. Ideally, this movie probably best ends with Ben promoted from "intern" to an executive position (maybe a VP of Operations or something), but despite an awkward scene or two at the end that are right on the border of being mansplaining, Myers is so keen to avoid this being a movie where an older male sets a younger woman right - that she can't actually give the movie the end that it needs.

So, instead, Ben winds up becoming little more than an encouraging father figure, and it winds up highlighting a kind of weird decision - Meyers makes anyone else who could be any sort of authority over Jules invisible. Her mother is an impatient voice on the phone, while the various potential CEOs she interviews never show up on-screen. It's an unusual choice, and leaves the audience with a movie that seems to have much less than it could.

Still funny and pleasant, and maybe if that's all Meyers was going for, then the other things that pop up are interesting side ideas that don't really need filling out. A little more ambition would have been nice, but it's an amiable film regardless.

2001: A Space Odyssey

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 26 September 2015 in Somerville Theatre #1 (special presentation, 70mm)

Confession: I don't know that my eyesight is quite good enough to really distinguish between 35mm and 70mm, even from the front row. Don't get me wrong, it looked fantastic, great enough to remind me why I sit close for film and a little further back for digital, and the sound was fantastic as well.

Of course, it's not just the visuals that put 2001 right at the top of the list of great science fiction films; the grand scope that Stanley Kubrick & Arthur C. Clarke place around what could be a sort of standard "computer run amok" story (although those weren't hugely common in 1968). It's a grand story, but what the characters are doing between "The Dawn of Man" and "Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite" is pretty easy to grasp.

One thing that always strikes me as I watch it is just how abrupt Kurbrick's transitions are; he's got no particular interest in transitions designed to smooth things over. Plenty of exposition to help build the future world, but the audience can fill in the typical blanks themselves. In some ways, though, that brusque editing style serves to highlight just how harsh and unforgiving space may be.

I've got more to say about this; and I think I did in the SF marathon write-up. Hopefully I'll find that when my tablet is repaired.

Sleeping with Other PeopleThe InternLost in Hong Kong2001 in 70mm

Monday, September 28, 2015

Lost in Hong Kong

I don't think Lost in Thailand was one of the Chinese movies that drew crazy crowds beyond what I'd expected based upon how the audience for some previous releases were me and two or three other people, but it was also one which hit the United States three months or so after its Chinese release, and that is plenty of time for pirates to kill its expatriate market. Heck, legitimate Chinese DVDs might have been available for import by then.

This one, though - I was kept at work for twenty minutes longer than I'd planned, and by the time I'd arrived at Boston Common, the 7:10pm show was sold out and a second screen had been added - and by the time I quit dilly-dallying about whether I wanted to hang around for another hour, the 8:10pm show had sold out, as had the first of the 10pm round. When I did make it to the 1:30pm show the next day, the crowd filled in pretty darn well by the time the previews were over.

Speaking of previews, one of them was for Hou Hsiao-hsien's The Assassin, and I really hope that this one plays at the Coolidge or Somerville Theater specifically, because the preview was in Academy Ratio and looked a little less impressive in the widescreen presentation. Looks nifty, and it's probably good that Well Go doesn't seem to be dressing it up as more action-packed than reports are that it actually is.s

Gang Jiong (Lost in Hong Kong)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 September 2015 in AMC Boston Common #10 (first-run, DCP)

Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamour made seven "Road to..." movies between 1940 and 1962, though this series was not sequels so much as a chance to make selling the audience similar plots on a regular basis a virtue beyond the proven chemistry. Xu Zheng is doing something similar with his "Lost in..." movies, although without the returning co-stars. So far, so good - Lost in Hong Kong is at least as funny as Lost in Thailand, a pretty decent madcap farce.

Though it takes a little while to get around to it, the situation is pretty clear: Xu Lai (Xu Zheng), an art student twenty years ago but now designing brassieres for his in-laws' company in Shanghai, is with those in-laws on a family vacation to Hong Kong, with wife "Spinach" Cai Bo (Vicki Zhao Wei) disturbingly focused on becoming pregnant with their first child and her younger brother Lala (Bao Bei-er) trying to shoot a documentary about the family, Xu Lai in particular. This is even more annoying than expected, because Xu Lai aims to sneak off for a rendez-vous with Yang Yi ("Jennifer" Du Juan), his first love who transferred schools during college and has since become a famous artist. And unbeknownst to any of them, Lala's camera caught a man falling out the window of the building across the street from the hotel, and the police would like to talk to them about it.

This is the sort of comedy - and Xu Lai the sort of character - where clearing certain things up early on could spare him and the audience a whole lot of aggravation. It's never really clear, for instance, whether Yang Yi is hoping to meet up with an old friend or whether she's got the same thoughts toward their unconsummated affair of twenty years ago that Xu Lai does. That's still the case when she actually enters the picture, leading to a few really weird scenes as Xu Zheng (who directs as well as stars) and writer Shu Huan try to straighten things out for the homestretch. This sort of ambiguity isn't in and of itself a terrible idea, but it's something that Xu doesn't quite seem ready for as a director who is making a movie about people getting bonked on the head.

Full review on EFC.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

This That Week In Tickets: 22 February 2015 - 28 February 2015

Hey, TWIT template, desk calendar, tickets, scanner, and scotch tape: I've missed you.

This Week in Tickets

Yes, I'm skipping a couple weeks to start this bit of catch-up; it's a funny frustrating story I'll get to when I can (hopefully) post the middle weeks of February. Anyway, it's been a weird year, with four film festivals where I was catching at least two movies a day and trying to give them full write-ups before even getting to Fantasia, a lot more Chinese films to write up, and periods where, for whatever reason, I just couldn't get writing done on the bus at certain points, which has always been where I get the bulk of this done. I've accelerated over the course of the year, but it's been such a busy movie year that I'm just getting back to this seven months later.

This does, however, however, give me a chance to test out this tweet from the start of this week:



Verdict: Well, I do sort of remember falling asleep, but Dead Ringers doesn't exist in my head piecemeal, so I guess it merged the way I wanted it to. Pretty darn great movie, too.

Monday's movie was Kingsman: The Secret Service, and I didn't really like it at the time, although you can't discount the things that it does really well; some of the chaotic action scenes are amazing. I've since read interesting arguments that I really misread the thing I most disliked about it - that it wants to be about class but doesn't follow through. Maybe I'll revisit it someday, but it has a bit of a charisma void anyway.

I believe A La Mala on Thursday was one of those ever-more-common night-before previews that used to be reserved for big releases, which only describes this Mexican romantic comedy in limited circles. It's pretty charming.

Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal, Friday night's movie, had some charm of its own, although it's not quite as cool as I would have liked. Still, more Chinese action in 3D is something I'd really like to see.

Then, Saturday, I went for an odd double feature, starting with Paddington, which is adorable and which I eventually wound up getting for the niece who had received a Paddington bear for the Christmas after I went to London a copy. After that, it was onto the T and down to the Coolidge for Maps to the Stars, which wasn't on my list of favorite Cronenbergs; for a guy who had done such awesomely weird stuff, this is pretty bland Hollywood satire.

Whew. One week down, seven months to go.

Dead Ringers

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21/22 February 2015 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (@fter Midnite, 35mm)
Seen 22 February 2015 in Jay's (old) Living Room (fell asleep, Amazon VOD)

David Cronenberg at midnight can be pretty rough; he's strange and provocative but also at times very austere. Dead Ringers can take that to an extreme, especially as Cronenberg tends to spend a lot of time creeping the audience out conceptually while pushing the visible grotesquerie back just enough to keep it potential throughout the movie. It's a rather refined deviancy in many ways, with every somewhat twisted character coming off as a bit aloof, but just never in a familiar way.

As much as the idea is Cronenberg, the execution is in large part Jeremy Irons, who is quite brilliant as the twin gynecologists, always able to converge or diverge their characters as need be so that a scene is often charged with ambiguity and mystery but never completely beholden to it. It's an impressive job of playing both sides of a conversation at times, while also making scenes with Geneviève Bujold excite no matter which character he's playing, with many different sorts of energy.

Crying shame that there doesn't seem to be a North American BD release; it's one of Cronenberg's greatest - and important, being where his films started to shift from the fantastic to the purely psychological.

Paddington

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 February 2015 in Somerville Theatre #2 (first-run, DCP)

I could have sworn that Paddington was originally advertised as having a November/December release in the US like it got in the UK and many other parts of the world, and I'm not sure why the Weinstein Company pushed it back, as there wasn't that much in the way of kid-friendly movies last year to serve as competition, though I suppose either Big Hero 6 or Penguins of Madagascar could have wound up a juggernaut.

Hopefully that just wound up clearing an easier path for kids to see it, though, because it's delightful. Screenwriter/director Paul King does something kind of clever in setting the film in present-day London but compacting the history of the UK in a way that lets colonialism and World War II are still roughly a generation back, and it makes the explanation for why the taxidermist villain (Nicole Kidman) cares about capturing a talking bear brilliant, even if it means parents and kids may need to have some awkward conversations about how that cool stuff in the Natural History Museum comes from practices we really wouldn't want to encourage in the present.

That same sense of timelessness is what makes the film so much fun, though - it lets King create a slightly off-center world where broad slapstick and sly humor can both arise from a seemingly ordinary introduction, and while the animated Peruvian bear of the title is clearly the star of the show, the human cast is delightful, especially Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins as the heads of the family that takes him in. Bonneville is the epitome of English stuffiness, but with with and charm, and it's good to see kids introduced to Hawkins, who is always going to be Poppy from Happy-Go-Lucky for some of us and channels that uniquely positive energy into love and comedy in ways that few actors can.

Maybe this movie was too English to really do well in America, although that I could catch a matinee a month after it opened was a pretty good sign. I hope my niece likes the Blu-ray she got for her birthday.

Dead RingersKingsman: The Secret ServiceA La MalaZhong Kui: Snow Girl and the Dark CrystalPaddingtonMaps to the Stars

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 25 September 2015 - 1 October 2015

The Toronto International Film Festival has finished, which means awards season has unofficially begun, and the line between multiplexes and boutique houses starts to blur for a while.

  • Two of these semi-wide openings will be The Coolidge Corner Theatre. Likely the more anticipated is Pawn Sacrifice, which stars Tobey Maguire as American chess prodigy Bobby Fischer, thrust into the spotlight as yet another means of fighting the Cold War, as the Soviet Union dominated the game for much of the twentieth century. It's also at the Kendall, West Newton, and Boston Common. Those same theaters also open one of the more peculiar stabs for dramatic recognition - Roland Emmerich (best known for effect-driven movies of dubious quality) directing Stonewall, which purports recreate the Stonewall Riots of 1969, but in doing so appears to file many rough edges off the people he portrays.

    The midnights at the Coolidge are busy this weekend, with Arnold Schwarzeneggar in Commando and new indie horror Hellions both nights and the annual Serenity fundraiser/food drive on Saturday. Sunday morning has the first "Talk Cinema" screening of the new season, though the film has not yet been announced. Crumb is the 35mm "Big Screen Classic" on Monday, with art by local comic artists on display in the lobby.
  • At the multiplexes, Everest expands from its initial giant-screen opening to "regular" 2D/3D screens, meaning you can see it at the Capitol, Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy (2D only), Jordan's (Imax), Fenway (including RPX), Boston Common (including Imax), Assembly Row (including Imax), Revere, and the SuperLux. Note that several of the large screens that got the early release last week will be moving it to smaller houses on Wednesday to make room for an early release of Robert Zemeckis's The Walk.

    Also playing 2D & 3D: Hotel Transylvania 2. Three years ago, Genndy Tartakovsky being a talented director of animation made up for the fact that this is an Adam Sandler comedy in disguise; will that happen again? It's at the Capitol, Apple Fresh Pond, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Revere (including screenings in the "MX4D Motion EFX Theatres"). If you want your horror with more teeth, Eli Roth's The Green Inferno finally reaches theaters after two years at festivals, on shelves, and being bounced between distributors. That's at Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    I've seen folks recoiling from the trailer to The Intern like it was looking horrify, but it looks like a pleasant-enough comedy featuring Robert De Niro as a retiree who takes on an internship to fill his time and Anne Hathaway as his somewhat inexperienced boss. It's at the Capitol, Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.
  • Kendall Square, in addition to the larger openings, also picks up a number of movies that played local festivals earlier this year. Goodnight Mommy played BUFF way back in March, and it's good enough that this creepy thriller which gets downright nasty toward the end is Austria's unconventional submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. There's also two from IFFBoston - Finders Keepers, the bizarre saga of a man who found a severed leg in the grill he bought second-hand and the man who wants it back, and A Brilliant Young Mind (aka "X+Y"), a nice enough story about a mathematically gifted autistic boy with a nice performance by Sally Hawkins as his mother; that one is marked down as scheduled for a week.

    They've got another one-night show, too, Attack on Titan Part I, which I liked at Fantasia and hopefully should please fans of the manga; it will also play midnights at the Coolidge next weekend with Part II showing up later in October.
  • Boston Common holds both Office and Veteran over for fans of Asian films, and also pick Lost in Hong Kong up day-and-date with China. It's Zheng Xu's follow up to the hit Lost in Thailand, although apparently more in terms of having a similar theme and title and Xu back as director and star, this time as a former artist hoping to hook up with a former lover on vacation, but since it's Hong Kong, there's a crazy kung fu murder mystery.

    For fans of Indian cinema, Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond has Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon in subtitled Hindi, with Kapil Sharma as a man juggling three wives who is falling in love again. There's also Subramanyam for Sale for those who speak Telugu.
  • The Brattle Theatre has something nifty-looking in "The Quay Brothers in 35mm", featuring three short films by the surrealist masters of stop-motion animation along with a short documentary on their work directed by none other than Christopher Nolan. On Saturday night, their "Reel Weird Brattle: Animated Weirdness" series has a feature by someone similar, Jan Svankmajer, screening Alice on 16mm film.

    There are 6pm Harvard Book Store readings Monday to Thursday, bumping the film a little later, although there are no Quay screenings on Monday, with the monthly Elements of Cinema screening that night, so you can come see An American Werewolf in London on 35mm for free, with an introduction and discussion by programmer Mark Anastasio.
  • With Quay and Svankmajer at the Brattle, so it's only natural that The Harvard Film Archive starts a series about Guy Maddin, who will visit later on. It kicks off with The Saddest Music in the World (Friday 7pm with short "Send me to the 'Lectric Chair"), followed by Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary (Friday 9pm with short "The Heart of the World"), and Brand Upon the Brain! (Saturday 7pm). Sunday's "Five O'Clock Shadow" noir is When Strangers Marry, a William Castle-directed thriller. It's on 16mm, as is the group of experimental short fims by Paul Sharits at 7pm. Then on Monday, "Furious and Furiouser" continues with Larisa Shepitko's 1977 Soviet war movie The Ascent.
  • The Somerville Theatre kicks off the weekend with the 5Point Film Festival, a traveling selection of adventure films, at 7pm Friday night. After that, they break out the 70mm projector for afternoon and evening screenings of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I don't know if it's the same print they had as part of the sci-fi marathon, but it should look pretty terrific.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues to show last week's premieres: documentary Paul Taylor: Creative Domain (Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday) and New French Cinema selection Fidelio, Alice's Odyssey (the same days). On Sunday, they also have this year's edition of the Manhattan Short Film Festival, which plays across the country and lets audiences vote for the award-winners (it also plays at The Regent Theatre on Thursday). The MFA's next "New French Cinema" presentation, Mélanie Laurent's Breathe, start its run on Thursday.
  • Two free Bright Lights screenings upstairs at the Paramount this week: A preview of I Am Michael co-presented by the Boston LGBT Film Festival on Tuesday with director Justin Kelly in attendance, and documentary Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck on Thursday, with two Emerson professors on Thursday.


Did the preview of The Intern tonight, so I'm looking at Lost In Hong Kong, Everest at the furniture store, 2001, 35mm Quay Brothers shorts, Hotel Transylvania 2, Pawn Sacrifice, and one last Red Sox home game. Maybe catch up on Black Mass and Grandman.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Fantasia Catch-Up #06: Experimenter, Ninja the Monster, They Look Like People, The Crimson Whale, Hostile, and Bite

Unscrew the smuggled-over-the-border soda, the last Fantasia reviews are written! I believe this gets my count up to 89, not counting shorts or the Ugandan thing which I could not stay awake well enough to fake.

I would have liked to make it an even ninety, but of the five screeners I requested, I was only able able to watch three. The Dark Below was actually yanked from the streaming library very soon after its public screening, and Strayer's Chronicle... Well, I can't blame the producers for not keeping the link active seven weeks after the end of the festival because some database programmer with a blog opted to write up the stuff he had seen before adding more to his plate.

(I'm not completely done - I have screener links for four short films that played at Fantastique Week-end du Cinéma Québécois, which is technically part of the festival but often feels like a companion event, but those will be combined with another short for a "Things I Shouldn't Try to Review Objectively Because They Were Made By Friends" post.)

I don't particularly regret skipping the three I did wind up seeing; they're all things where the filmmakers show promise but could probably use more seasoning/resources. I appear to have missed an eventful premiere for Bite while I was taking in the Zappin Party across the street, with folks in the audience fainting, puking, and getting banged up because they slipped on the stairs while walking out (de Seve does get realy dark, especially for a movie as shadowy as Bite, although the computer I used to stream it outputs a pretty dim picture via HDMI as well). I suspect that some people making horror movies may like reports of a screening like that better than good reviews - no matter how well I explain what impressed me about it, there's something primal to seeing that the movie got to someone that way.

So, that's a wrap for Fantasia,although I've got plenty of other movie-related backlog for the blog to finish up for this blog, the earliest of which appears to be stuck on the tablet I broke while in Montreal. It probably won't come in strict order.

It doesn't escape my notice that I'm finishing this just as a bunch of friends are descending upon Austin for Fantastic Fest, which makes me kind of relieved that I won't be doing that this year, just in terms of starting the whole process again. I noted last year that, if I wanted to do another genre festival so soon after Fantasia, Sitges is just a week or so later and on the coast of Spain rather than Texas, and while I won't be doing that this year, I suspect I'll get that stamp on my passport soon enough.

In the meantime, though, I am considering a couple of vaguely-related trips: First, I'm starting to get a bunch of emais from the Ithaca International Fantastic Film Festival which happens in November and looks to have a nice sample of stuff I'll be missing in Austin. Anybody I know been there or have an opinion on it?

Also, my partial-season tickets package has me able to buy tickets for the Red Sox-Blue Jays series. Stade Olympique is famously not-great, but I'd love to support baseball in one of my favorite cities. Still, I'm going to check the social media feeds from the folks I follow in Montreal from around that time in the last few years, looking for words like "ice storm", "minus thirty", and "holy crap, it's cold out!"

Experimenter

* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

I really hope that this one opens fairly wide, because I'd like to give it a second look. I came out of it with an odd sort of ambivalence, liking almost all of what it did but feeling like there should have been more heft, especially with all the unusual techniques writer/director Michael Almereyda was using to make sure the audience was paying a little more attention. That's kind of unfair, though - isn't one of the things that usually makes biopics kind of eye-rolling the attempt to make a person's individual life a symbol of something else?

This one is a biography of Stanley Milgram (Peter Sarsgaard), a scientist studying social relations who is best known for the "teacher/learner" experiment, begun in 1961, where two subjects are placed in separate rooms and one is instructed to give the other a sort of quiz, administering escalating electric shocks for wrong answers - with the twist being that the "learner" (Jim Gaffigan) is a plant who is not actually getting shocked, because the experiment is meant to see how willing people are to hurt another human being simply because someone in authority tells them to. With the atrocities of World War II still fresh in the world's minds - the end of the experiment coincides with the execution of Adolf Eichmann - the results which show that most people will submit to authority are uncomfortable, but Milgram seems to become more infamous for having lied to his subjects rather than the truths he revealed, despite the interesting other work he does.

Most screenwriters would try to find some way for this experiment to become a metaphor for Milgram's life, and in some ways I think that Almereyda is explicitly trying to buck this trend: He spends a lot of time focusing on the Milgram's work, detailing experiments well beyond his most well-known project and pointedly mentioning that he wished he could be remembered for the quality and results of his work rather than the vaguely uncomfortable feelings it inspired in people who had not actually read it. This lets Almereyda stage intriguing sequences showing some of Milgram's other work, such as the "Lost Letter" and "Small World Problem" experiments, which are telling in their own way. Still, the approach at times feels paradoxical - by blunting the usual way to assess Milgram's life, the film sometimes lacks the sharpness to puncture those preconceptions.

Full review on EFC.

Ninja the Monster

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, HD)

Director Ken Ochiai was unusually candid in his Q&A after this film, and one of the things he mentioned was that Japanese movies like Ninja the Monster are made with more than an eye toward the foreign market, opening on maybe five screens back home and hoping to make more money on home video elsewhere, and one can feel it straining for accessibility and against budget.

It takes place in 1783; after the last war, the government has exterminated the ninja clans, as there is no need for entire clans of assassins and spies in peacetime. That is why the samurai Hikojuro is carrying a message from Nagano to Edo, a job previously reserved for ninjas, although what he encounters would challenge any sort of warrior. Some time later, another party is following the same path - Princess Koh (Aoi Morikawa), set to become a councilor's concubine in exchange for aid to prevent a famine, along with a retinue of samurai led by Choemon (Soko Wada), along with one other bodyguard, Denzo (Dean Fujioka), a bit of a mystery, though a skilled swordsman. As they reach the area where Hikojuro disappeared, the locals say that they should not approach the forest, but Nagano can't afford the delay.

The image of the ninja has become fairly well-established in pop culture over recent decades, which really never mad a lot of sense, considering that they were meant to be the invisible assassins of feudal Japan. Ochiai, writer Akijiro Dobashi, and their crew never put Dean Fujioka in a black bodysuit and bandana, and it's admittedly kind of odd: For all that, in real life, ninja were feared because they could be anyone and anywhere, Fujioka playing Denzo so low-key seems to leave something missing - we never see Denzo as an underdog, but he also lacks the aura of invincibility.

Full review on EFC.

They Look Like People

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

It feels a bit like giving the game away to say that They Look Like People is seldom the movie it's expected to be from the descriptions written in festival programs, which talks about how Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews) can see that most of the people around him are being taken over by aliens or demons or the like and is torn about recruiting his friend Christian (Evan Dumouchel) to the cause of stopping them. They don't hide that it's a "he might be crazy" movie, and if you don't want to hear more, just go watch it now - it's worth going in blind or well aware.

After all, "might" is pretty much superfluous in that description - and that's what makes it unusually fascinating. Filmmaker Perry Blackshear doesn't really try to play into the possibility that genre film fans might be so used to how these things play out - ambiguously-to-"he's right!", or with obliviousness leading to tragedy - that going a different direction might be a shock. From the very start, it's pretty clear where things stand, and Blackshear and MacLeod Andrews generally seem to see that their job is not to persuade the audience that the supernatural elements may be real, but to show how convincing his delusions are to Wyatt. The potential for tragedy is obvious, but there's a great deal of hope to the film, because Wyatt doesn't want to be that way, even if medication and treatment can feel like creating an illusion rather than dispelling it to him.

Andrews makes this work in large part by almost never overdoing the obvious signs of mental illness; most of the time,Wyatt could be withdrawn for any number of reasons. When alone, there's little joy in his preparations for the upcoming apocalypse, just an unusual combination of resignation and calm, like this might be tense work, but accepting it makes things smoother. Andrews varies his chemistry with the rest of the cast well, too - most of the time, there's friendliness and comfort, but the bad days are obvious.

Full review on EFC.

Hwasangorae (The Crimson Whale)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 14 September 2015 in Jay's (new) Living Room (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, Vimeo Screener)

Two animated features from the Korean Academy of Film Arts played the festival this year, and there's enough underlying similarities to make a viewer joke about them coming from the same class assignment or, more seriously, ponder how young filmmakers may have their minds in similar places: Both On the White Planet and The Crimson Whale ("Hwasangorae" in Korean) are 70-minute pieces of dystopian science fiction about outcast orphans different from their peers falling in with questionable people on a quest. The Crimson Whale is the more conventional one, although it's still a weird, sometimes uncomfortable piece of work.

Its orphan lead is Ha-jin (voice of Kang Wui), a pre-teen girl in the year 2070 who was born on an island but now lives in a Busan which seems to no longer bother rebuilding from the earthquakes the hit the Korean peninsula on a near-daily basis, selling drugs and picking pockets. She can talk to whales, though, which is why a group of pirates led by one-armed Baek Song (voice of Kim Sung-in) are looking to recruit her: They know the location of a gigantic lode of Uncentium, but it's located at the center of a volcanic island and guarded by a "volcano whale", and they will need this "piper girl" to call and influence this fearsome creature so that they can kill it.

Despite being a fairly short feature, it takes writer/director Park Hye-mi a while to get to the meat of it; there's a fairly lengthy first act showing Ha-jin's life on the streets of Busan that is a lot of introduction considering that the quick-witted, cynical girl of that portion will spend a lot of time seasick and otherwise following Baek Song's lead for much of the back end. It's far from wasted time - Ha-jin is a very entertaining "hard-boiled kid" character and Park does better than push the right buttons for her - although it's a bit of a relief when it's time to move on; the film is in nasty territory by then and there's no need to keep digging deeper.

Full review on EFC.

Hostile

* * (out of four)
Seen 19 September 2015 in Jay's (new) Living Room (Fantasia International Film Festival: Fantasia Undergroud, Vimeo Screener)

Hostile is probably the ultimate example of the dilemma one faces when reviewing the independent/amateur films that play festivals, where on the one hand the critic wants to tell potential viewers that they've probably got better options in most cases while on the other hand not wanting to discourage new filmmakers. Writer/director Nathan Ambrosioni was fourteen when making it, after all, which is the very definition of the very start of a career. It's one with potential, even if this first feature is very rough.

It starts out, mostly, framed as the production of an episode of SOS Adoption, a local television program that attempts to document and help with difficult assimilations into new families. The subjects are Meredith Langston (Shelley Ward) and the two sisters she has adopted, 15-year-old Emilie (Julie Venturelli) and nearly-14 Anna (Luna Belan), and the issues seem less psychological than paranormal. Producer/hostess Chloé (Anatolia Alleis), feeling out of her league, soon turns to an associate who claims some expertise in these matters (Magali Gouyon).

As much as I expected the production to be kind of feeling its way out, one thing that I was looking forward to is seeing just what a kid that age found scary. That's not necessarily there in general terms - the script bounces from one thing to another and values mystery over ideas that the audience can sink its teeth into in many spots, and goes in for a fair number of standard tropes of demonic possession and devil-worship. One does wonder, though, whether Nathan Ambrosioni himself was adopted, because even setting aside the moments when that becomes a clearly-labeled motivation, the film spends a lot of time shuffling the sisters from one caretaker to another, and there's something interesting to be made of this uncertainty, even if it is mostly subtext.

Full review on EFC.

Bite

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 September 2015 in Jay's (new) Living Room (Fantasia International Film Festival, Vimeo Screener)

Bite is the sort of horror movie that puts just enough effort into its characters and story that it initially seems like there might be something to it beyond the gross-outs. It's not quite up to that level of quality, but a whiff of ambition on what is basically a gore movie is always welcome, even if it doesn't quite come together into the sort of thriller that one can point at and say that there's more to it than initially meets the eye.

It starts out in what looks like found-footage territory, as three women on a bachelorette trip go to Costa Rica. Bride-to-be Casey (Elma Begovic) has colder feet than one might hope - she's not nearly as enthused by the prospect of having children as her finacé, for starters - enough that her friends are advising her to call the wedding off, though Kirsten (Denise Yuen) tends to talk about what's best for her while Jill (Annette Wozniak) about how it's not fair to Jared (Jordan Gray). They hear about a beautiful hidden spring, but appear to find the wrong one, and the bug bites Casey sports by the time they head home are probably worse than they appear.

Things shift to a third-person perspective when they get back north of the border, and as the size of the cast doubles - we also meet Jared's mother (Lawrene Denkers) and the elderly neighbor whose dog she walks (Barry Birnberg) - the average goes down a bit; this second wave of characters tends to be one-note or exaggerated. Sure, Lawrene Denkers does a commendable head-first dive into making Mrs. Kennedy the sort of potential mother-in-law that can make someone question every romantic impulse that led them to the cusp of marriage, but once things get back to North America, the natural-seeming interactions from before are replaced with plot that seems fairly forced.

Full review on EFC.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Sleeping with Other People

Not the movie's biggest problem, but for how specifically close in age their two characters are supposed to be - really, a maximum of one or two years apart - the age difference between Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie in real life winds up kind of distracting. She is actually the approximate age of her character (early thirties), he's about eight years older, and it really jumps out during the flashback to their college days, when she can pull it off and he has me wondering why a grad student is still in the dorms.

(Speaking of college, it was kind of weird for me how everybody referred to Columbia by name; I always say "at school" or "in college" rather than "at WPI"; am I just unusually deficient in school pride?)

I suppose seeing a few stories about how parts dry up for women quickly, with Maggie Gyllenhaal recently talking about how she was apparently considered too old to play against a man twenty years her senior. As such things go, this is probably pretty mild.

Sleeping with Other People

* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 September 2015 in AMC Boston Common #13 (first-run, DCP)

The romantic comedy genre has felt a little tapped out lately; the big American studios barely produce them any more and the independent productions like Sleeping with Other People are oddly self-aware. The trick that a filmmaker is trying to pull off when making one is to sell audiences the chemistry between a pair of potential partners but keep them "potential" as long as possible, and writer/director Leslye Headland just lays that out there without much in the way of misdirection, which means she's pretty lucky to have a cast that can make the plot-on-their-sleeves thing work.

That mainly means Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis, whose characters Lainey and Jake had a night together in college and then would not have their paths cross again for twelve years, when they wind up at the same sex-addiction meeting. They walk out of that but decide to be each other's sounding boards, though with strict rules against hooking up physically again. The trouble with this plan is that they may be perfect for each other.

Headland builds a fair number of scenes out of what are almost interrupted monologues, with one of the pair stretching out a subject and the other tossing in a line that highlights a funny bit or redirects it just a little, building to full back-and-forth banter as they go along. This isn't exclusively their domain - Jason Mantzoukas and Andrea Savage have nearly as impressive a banter game as Jake's co-worker and his wife - and that's a bit of a signal. Conversations with their significant others before their reunion strive for this rhythm and don't have it; Brie's scenes with Adam Scott as the married man Lainey can't quit are horrifically lopsided in comparison. A relationship that works, whether romantic or friendly, is pretty explicitly indicated by how well conversation flows - when to stand back, when to interrupt, the ability to say any raunchy thing going through your head but calmly raise a flag when you don't like where it's going.

Full review on EFC.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Office (aka Gorgeous Office Workers aka Design for Living)

As much as I love that we're getting new Chinese (and, increasingly, Korean) films very soon after their native release, I'm wondering if this speed is always for the best. Office, for instance, is being released by China Lion, which very much caters to the expatriate audience and those like me who get excited enough about popular films in Hong Kong that we might as well be part of that group.

I kind of wonder, though, if they maybe shouldn't shift gears with the release of Office. Johnnie To has, I think, gained a little cachet with the art-house audience in recent years, as guys who do good genre work with smart underpinnings for long enough tend to do. This one is unconventional and politically astute on top of that; I suspect that it could reach an entirely different audience at a place like Kendall Square after a few weeks. It's divisive among critics, but I suspect that it's of enough interest that its American release shouldn't just be a quick thing in multiplexes near Chinese communities that comes and goes practically before the folks who saw it at the Toronto International Film Festival can arrive home to tell folks to see it.

Of course, that sort of release probably wouldn't give me a chance to see it in 3D. I hope whoever eventually does the video release includes a BD3D option, although my system probably won't display it very well.

Still, I wonder if China Lion would give much consideration to doing what is almost two separate releases for some of their movies, aimed at those different markets. Most of what they do wouldn't necessarily be of interest, but every once in a while, amid the romantic comedies and Feng Xiaogang dramas, they get something that should be just as interesting to an English-speaking audience as a Chinese one.

Hua Li Shang Ban Zou (Office)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 18 September 2015 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run, DCP)

As a fan of filmmakers giving me something great that I don't necessarily expect, I was kind of already in the tank for Office (aka "Gorgeous Office Workers" aka "Design for Living") - who expected the first time that Chow Yun-fat worked with director Johnnie To in twenty-five years (during which time they both gained international renown) would be a musical rather than the action they are both best known for? On top of that, though, it's a good one, and eye-popping visually to boot. It's further proof that Johnnie To can apparently do any kind of movie he puts his mind to.

The office in question is that of Jones & Sunn International, a Hong Kong corporation that is about to go public. Winnie Chang (Sylvia Chang Ai-chia) is the CEO, Ho Chung-ping (Chow Yun-fat) is the chairman of the board, and they have been having an affair for decades, one that is something of an open secret. Winnie is also alleged to be involved with her subordinate David Wang (Eason Chan Yik-shun), who is investing a lot of money in unstable investments on the eve of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy while also drawing closer to Sophie (Tang Wei), the serious comptroller whose dedication to her work has just about strained her engagement to a man back home to the breaking point. New to the office are Lee Xiang (Wang Zi-yi) and Kat Ho (Lang Yue-ting), and, yes, she is Chung-ping's daughter, though she tries not to advertise it, though if Xiang can see that something is up, the pair are too infatuated for him to notice.

In addition to playing Winnie, Sylvia Chang writes and produces, having also penned and starred in the play, which was apparently much more of a star vehicle than this ensemble piece. Even with this reduced prominence, she has created a heck of a role for herself and delivers on every facet; Winnie is formidable but not cruel, a respected leader although not the maternal type. It's in Winnie's dealings with Chung-ping that Chang does her best work; as much as their history is laid out for the viewer, it's from watching her that one sees how keenly aware she is of the bounds on their relationship even as she quietly desires more. She projects this impressive level-headedness when others are panicking without leaving any doubt at what she's feeling. She gets most of the scenes with Chow Yun-fat, who is similarly imposing as Chairman Ho although without the same sort of humanity; he's a stern one - baby-faced in his youth, Chow makes good use of the sharper lines his face has gained with age - although his half of the complicated relationship they share has some interesting nuance as well.

Full review on EFC.

Meru

Posting this between a Korean film and a Hong Kong fim, and while I'm very excited to see these big Asian films get actual American theatrical releases, I can't see everything, and one or two of those per week, plus spending a few more weeks in Montreal as I do in the summer has to come out of some other moviegoing, and that sadly tends to be the more boutique-house stuff. Heck, even Meru is pretty close to my summer-movie appetites, just being a non-fiction adventure movie rather than something dramatized.

But, then, fall's coming, so maybe things will start to balance out again.

Worth mentioning since I made a big deal of it the last time I saw something on this screen: The Kendall-6 blue pixel did not seem to be in evidence Thursday night; either they have fixed the projection or it simply doesn't pop against a white snow field the way it does in black shadows. Glad not to see it, though!

Meru

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 September 2015 in Landmark Kendall Square #6 (first-run, DCP)

The mountain that gives Meru its title is described within the film as "the anti-Everest", although as you might expect, that does not mean that it is a pleasant ascent even for those who get winded by the stadium seating we might have to navigate to see a movie about everything that could go wrong climbing one of those mountains on the big screen. Like many documentaries of this type, it's plenty thrilling, because even if the outcome is never in question, getting there takes a heck of an effort.

Meru Peak is called the anti-Everest because there are no sherpas to assist, but the nearly-vertical "shark's fin" route up it's central peak is extremely featureless even where it is not covered in ice; it requires several different types of expertise to navigate. When the party that this film follows makes their first attempt in 2008, no human had made the ascent. That group is Conrad Anker, one of the world's premier climbers; Jimmy Chin, his longtime partner (the pair have climbed Everest four times each); and Renan Ozturk, a younger mountaineer whose skills in online videos have impressed Anker. As if climbing over a mile straight up starting from a base camp at 14,500 feet isn't difficult enough, a storm has them staying in their portaledge for four days despite only having brought food for a week, and that is not the only challenge they will face.

Chin is one of the two credited directors, with the other being Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, and the two are both experienced in their own way: Vasarhelyi has made several feature documentaries (the one I'd seen previously, Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love, does a nice job of being entertaining and informative); Chin is an award-winning photographer of these extreme environments. Ozturk is also credited not just as a cinematographer alongside Chin, but as part of the editorial department. Chin's directing credit surprised me a bit, because this never felt like a particularly first-person sort of documentary, and his accomplishments seem neither overstated nor presented with false modesty. I'm curious how this collaboration worked - was Chin in charge of getting good footage during the climb while Vasarhelyi was in charge on level ground - but it seems to be an effective one, seeming to able play to both mountaineers and the rest of us without being too inside or oversimplified (note: the pair married in 2013, which may make things either simpler or more complicated).

Full review on EFC.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Veteran

Keep booking new Chinese and Korean films every week, and I'll get spoiled. I know that this being one of the relative lulls in the American release calendar plays into it a lot, but is it not nifty when it happens?

Weird night there, though - MoviePass gave me a little crap, although this time at least I was able to get there early enough that the phone call wasn't a tense "will this get through in time?" thing. A wee little mouse also scooted across the floor midway through the movie, which happens sometimes - city buildings with a lot of junk food on the premises will attract them - but I've been in older theaters more likely to offer rodents shelter and not seen them.

Fun movie, although kind of a bladder-tester, like a lot of Korean movies. Kind of beat the previous night at Kendall Square, where the soda hit my bladder after I had started walking to the subway station. That this is becoming something I think about more means I am getting old.

One thing more built into the movie that had me scratching my head and really wondering whether there were more issues with the editing than just the usual Korean-movie-runs-too-long thing:

SPOILERS!

Was Miss Bong initially supposed to be killed during the dockyard action sequence? She crashes into a metal cargo container hard slumps down, and when one of the other cops turns her over she's staring upward blankly and it looks like the blood coming out of her nose has stopped because dead people don't bleed, followed by the cop doing a "Miss Bong NOooooooooooooo!!!" My eyebrows kind of raised because that's a bit more hardcore than the movie seemed at first, and we don't see her for a while, but then she's back without any comment. This isn't a TV series where you can change things around because you like someone's performance, but even if it was, wouldn't you give her a bigger role than she has or not leave the bit where she looks dead in?

Of course, later on a guy seems to be back on the job just days after being stabbed in the stomach and others exaggerating previous injuries. Maybe there was a sort of self-mocking joke about how folks in cop movies seem to come back from ridiculous injuries quickly that just didn't connect with me, with the language/culture difference and all.

!SRELIOPS

Still pretty decent, although I'll bet there's a great 1:45 version.

Veteran

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 17 September 2015 in AMC Boston Common #19 (first-run, DCP)

Grady Hendrix made an off-hand comment in one of his recent Kaiju Shakedown columns that a certain movie was too long, but that was kind of a given because Hell will freeze over before a South Korean director cuts a movie with ninety minutes of material to within a half hour of that length. That is the biggest problem with Veteran - there's an entertaining action-comedy akin to Jackie Chan's pre-Hollywood output in here, but the bloat puts too much distance between the good parts.

One of those good parts comes early, as Detective Seo Do-cheol (Hwang Jeong-min) and his partner Miss Bong (Jang Yoon-ju) go undercover to bust a stolen car ring, which is done with a couple of fun action scenes that, in-between, have Do-cheol chatting with truck driver Bae (Jeong Woong-in). Bae is soon laid off along with many drivers for unionizing, without even back pay, and his protests have him called up to the office of corporate executive Cho Tae-oh (Yoo Ah-in), and, well, if Do-cheol didn't already dislike the twitchy young jackass he'd met at the wrap party for a TV show he consulted on, the phone call from Bae's five-year-old son at the hospital would seal it.

Writer/director Ryoo Seung-wan has made a number of fairly notable South Korean action movies, perhaps most notably City of Violence, but the opening scenes suggest a cop movie with the attitude of his modern martial arts fantasy Arahan - laid-back, funny, maybe a bit self-aware, with an entertaining antagonism between partners Seo and Bong. After that, it's a bit of a let-down to actually get to the meat of the movie, where things get rather more serious and slow down noticeably.

Full review on EFC.

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 18 September 2015 - 24 September 2015

It's not just a week where the studios finally seem to actually be releasing films more people might want to see, but where the presentation is worth a little discussion as well.

  • The thing I'm most excited for, though, is Office, which is, I believe, the first time that Johnnie To has directed Chow Yun-fat, and they are two of the biggest names in Hong Kong cinema over the past decades. The all-star cast also includes Sylvia Chang, Tang Wei, and Eason Chan, and the film has To dealing with familiar satiric themes. Oh, and it's also a musical. This should be interesting, eh? It's at Boston Common and Fenway.

    Because it seems we're getting both new Chinese and Korean movies every week, Boston Common also gets Veteran, a fun but kind of bloated action movie by Ryoo Seung-wan that features Hwang Jeong-min as a cop trying to take down a psychopath from a wealthy family played by Yoo Ah-in. Some nifty fight scenes, at least.

    Of course, India has been sending their movies across the Pacific quickly for years, and the one that arrives at Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond this week is Katti Batti, a romantic comedy starring Kangana Ranaut and Imran Khan as a couple who are together for five years until things are turned upside down. They also have Telugu-language action-comedy Courier Boy Kaylan and Tamil-language horror movie Maya, and though not actually in a foreign language, they'll be showing The Rocky Horror Picture Show at midnight on Friday with the Teseracte players doing whatever the heck it is people do during that movie. Whether they do it better, worse, or just differently than the Full Body Cast doing their regular show at Boston Common on Saturday, I have no idea.
  • Locally, the biggest opening is almost certainly Black Mass, starring Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger and a pretty terrific cast as the cops after him and his allies (Joel Edgerton, Kevin Bacon, Benedict Cumberbatch, Corey Stoll, Peter Sarsgaard, and others). You want to see it in the main theater at The Somerville Theatre, which is one of only ten locations with an actual 35mm print, because local theaters are awesome and if that screen does incredibly well, maybe studios will give them prints more often. Sure, it's also playing at Apple Fresh Pond, the Lexington Venue, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux, but, seriously, the Somerville has an actual print and the best prices.

    Everest gets an early release on premium 3D screens, including the newly-reopened Imax screen at Jordan's Furniture in Reading, which has 4K laser projection and upgraded sound. This spectacle film about an ill-fated trek to the top of the world's tallest mountain also plays on the Imax screens at the Natick Jordan's, Boston Common, and Assembly Row and the RPX screen at Fenway.

    The other big opening is Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, which apparently picks up right where the previous one left off, so if that made more of an impression on you than it made on me, you're in good shape. It's at the Capitol, Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere.

    Boston Common also gives War Pigs, a WWII action movie that stars Luke Goss,Doph Lundgren, Mickey Rourge, and Noah Segan, two shows a day. Revere, meanwhile, triples down on faith-oriented stuff with Captive, featuring David Oyelowo as a fugitive who holds a recovering addict played by Kate Mara hostage in her own apartment, although apparently her sharing The Purpose-Driven Life is going to set him on the road to redemption.
  • It's housecleaning time at Kendall Square, with four of the nine screens getting new movies, and it's a pretty interesting group. The most mainstream is Sleeping with Other People, with Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie as two people who can't stay faithful and, realizing this, decide to be just friends despite being perfect for each other; it also plays Boston Common. The other romantic comedy is actually a documentary, Meet the Patels, about an Indian-American actor who opts to film his parents' matchmaking on his behalf.

    They've also got the new François Ozon film, The New Girlfriend, in which a woman who, after her best friend dies, starts acting on her attraction to said friend's husband, and discovers he cross-dresses. There's also a one-week booking for Brazilian film The Second Mother, in which a live-in maid's daughter shows up and wreaks havoc on the implicit class system at the estate.

    They've also got a couple of single screenings: Arcade Fire: The Reflektor Tapes on Wednesday and an anniversary screening of Nashville on Thursday.
  • The Brattle Theatre has two new releases, including Güeros, an award-winner from Mexico about slackers who discover a legendary folk singer is dying and journey across the city to play their last respects. It plays Friday through Sunday, while Cooties has 9:30pm shows for the whole Friday-to-Thursday week; it's a fun zombie comedy in which only little kids get inected and a substitute teacher on his first day must fight his way out of an elementary school.

    They've got a number of special events, too - the new "Reel Weird Brattle" series is "Animated Weirdness", and kicks off late Saturday night with a 35mm print of A Scanner Darkly. There's a special presentation of The Business of Recovery on Sunday afternoon, while Bill Murray's birthday is celebrated on Monday night with Ghostbusters. Thursday is DocYard night with directors Josh & Benny Safdie on-hand to present Heaven Knows What, which is actually a fictional feature although one based on the life of star Arielle Holmes.

    The Battle will also be presenting the North Alston Outdoor Film Festival - take the 66 or 86 buses to the point where their routes diverge - with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Saturday night and A Fistful of Dollars on Sunday.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre opens Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, but only for a week and only in the 14-seat Goldscreen, so if you want to see it that way, get your tickets early. Contracted: Phase II also counts as a new release, although what I gather is an impressively gory horror movie will only be playing midnights on Friday & Saturday. A 35mm print of Kevin Smith's Mallrats also plays those midnights, on the main screen. Monday's "Science on Screen" presentation is also in 35mm, with human development researcher Joshua Hartshorne introducing Harold and Maude.
  • The Harvard Film Archive starts a new retrospective this weekend, Not Growing Old - Maurice Pialat's Cinema of Immediacy. It starts off with two single features Friday night - Naked Childhood at 7pm and We Won't Grow Old Together at 9pm - and then continues on Sunday with Under the Sun of Satan. The "Filmmakers' Nightmares" series continues on Saturday with David Lynch's Mulholland Drive (preceded by a 16mm print of George Kuchar's short "I, an Actress"). A "Five O'clock Shadow" series of noir programs started last week, and this week continues with Sunday's The Locket (at 5pm, naturally). Monday's "Furious and Furiouser" 1970s movie is Saturday Night Fever. All are in 35mm.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues to show 35mm prints from the UCLA Festival of Preservation, with this week's selections including Men in War (Friday & Saturday), Spring Night, Summer Night (Friday & Sunday), My Best Girl (Saturday), and White Zombie (Sunday). They also begin two runs come Wednesday: Paul Taylor: Creative Domain is an all-access look at the work of a somewhat secretive choreographer, while Fidelio, Alice's Odyssey is the next "New French Cinema" selection, with Ariane Labed playing a sailor who leaves her fiancé in port only to find that an old boyfriend is the ship's captain. Both play Wednesday and Thursday and into next week.
  • The two screenings in Emerson College's Bright Lights in the Paramount Theater's screening room are co-presentations, with the Boston LGBT Film Festival and Roxbury Film Festival bringing The Passionate Pursuits of Angela Bowen there on Tuesday, along with director Jennifer Abod, while director Karim B. Haroun will be there for Documentary Educational Resources's presentation of Mystic Mass, which depicts an intriguing rite in Lebanon.
  • The Regent Theatre has a musical documentary double feature on Friday and Saturday nights, with What's Going On - Taste Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 (which appears to cover the band's entire short history rather than just that one performance) and Jimi Hendrix - Electric Church. $10 each, $15 for the pair. They also bring Joe Swanberg's Digging for Fire back to town for one show on Wednesday evening.
  • The Institute of Contemporary Art presents Peggy Guggenheim - Art Addict on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon, documenting how the heiress was a major figure in the modern art movement.
  • The Boston Film Festival bounces around different venues, at the JFK Library Friday evening, the Aquarium's Imax theater Saturday, "Cinema 1" at the Revere Hotel on Sunday, and back to the Aquarium on Monday. Some potentially interesting stuff there, although I can't imagine that some of these things are going to look good on or use a big chunk of the Aquarium's 6-story screen.


I saw Veteran on Thursday, which means I'm looking at Office and maybe checking out the upgraded furniture store theater for Everest, maybe also looking at Black Mass and Sleeping with Other People.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Perfect Guy

There was a kid behind me and to the left who would not stop talking during this movie, at one point getting out some noisy Mickey Mouse toy and then crying when his mother took it away because she was trying to watch the movie and that was a line that she didn't want crossed. I know some people would get really angry at these people, but I can't really blame the kid - he's stuck in one place with a movie that's of pretty much zero interest to him playing, and his noise was kind of at the level that parents probably want most of the time, indicating mostly contentment some distance away from a meltdown but not so quiet that they get worried that some disaster is imminent. Ideally, this wouldn't be happening, but at least you can use it as evidence the next time someone tells you that going to the movies has gotten too expensive: One more ticket is clearly still cheaper than a babysitter.

That The Perfect Guy is not a particularly good movie doesn't enter into it, although, no, it's not a very good movie at all, and one I probably would have skipped if I didn't tend to think the weekend's top ticket-seller should probably have some sort of review on the site I write for. And, okay, if the cast wasn't people I liked. I haven't seen as much of Sanaa Lathan as I'd like, because while the past few weeks are hopefully getting Hollywood to see that black actors can bring an audience, that wasn't the perception during her prime years. Something similar can probably be said for Morris Chestnut, although he seems to be holding on to a leading-man appearance pretty well for a guy in his mid-forties.

And, yes, I did really like Michael Ealy on Almost Human. I was sad to be the only person in the theater to laugh when a cope described his character as "a robot".

At least it looks like the down period will be over next week, and it will be more about finding time for the movies I want to see rather than grabbing the likes of this out of vague obligation and mild interest.

The Perfect Guy

* * (out of four)
Seen 13 September 2015 in AMC Assembly Row #5 (first-run, DCP)

There's a thing that The Perfect Guy does, a fade-to-black when some necessary plot point in the stalker-movie script has been checked off and, as the scene has no further purpose, the film can move on. I almost imagine the filmmakers satisfied, having hit their goal for the day, and knocking off early rather than putting a little more work in.

You almost don't even need to hear the story described: Leah (Sanaa Lathan) is a successful lobbyist in Los Angeles with an equally-successful boyfriend, Dave (Morris Chestnut), but they break up over his reticence toward getting married and having kids. Eventually, she finds a new guy, Carter (Michael Ealy), a digital security expert who displays a surprisingly capability for violence at the slightest provocation. Her breaking up with him and going back to Dave? More than slight provocation.

How much variation can one really get from this basic story? Think of the movies which have added a twist to this plot, and how ridiculous they have often seemed; verging too far from the real dangers of this sort of obsession quickly leads to absurdity. Which wouldn't necessarily be bad; leaning into some insanity might at least make for good pulp. Instead, though, The Perfect Guy often seems lazy: Here's Carter telling us the part of his backstory that would indicate he's not going to take people leaving well. Here's Leah making sure he knows the way that he can ingratiate himself with her father. Here's Detective Hansen (Holt McCallany) telling Leah what to do to make sure that we have the expected climactic confrontation.

Full review on EFC.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Beauty Inside

When I write these reviews, I usually have a reference page or two open to make sure that I can get which actor played which role correct, or otherwise follow-up to interesting information. Given that the premise of this movie involves someone waking up with a new appearance every day, its IMDB page is hilarious but not exactly helpful. On the other hand, AsianWiki's page was at least kind enough to put these names (and pictures!) in roughly chronological order.

I'd have been useless if I tried to wait even overnight to write the review, though, much less the kind of delay that some of these Fantasia reviews are getting. Still, I do find it kind of interesting how what is pretty much a tidal wave of Korean character actors in this movie made me react, especially once I started looking up names. The people I thought were vaguely familiar often weren't in anything I'd seen before, while clicking through for relatively random people would get me thinking "hey, I loved her in that - why didn't I recognize her?" I think a big part of it is not seeing them out of character very often; without award shows, interviews, and the like, I seldom have familiarity with them outside a certain part unless they're someone I've seen in a lot of movies.

Anyway, that's odd. I liked the movie, though I have to admit that if I were in charge, I'd probably focus on the weird stuff a lot more.

The Beauty Inside

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 12 September 2015 in AMC Boston Common #19 (first-run, DCP)

I remember hearing about "The Beauty Inside", a short webseries produced by various tech companies with some sort of social or interactive content attached, but forgot about it almost immediately. Apparently it made more of an impression on someone in South Korea, resulting in this feature version which isn't bad at all. This version itself has been deemed noteworthy enough to get a fairly quick North American theatrical release. If nothing else, it deserves credit for pulling off a premise that could have sunk it from the start.

That premise is the protean nature of Kim Woo-jin, who has, ever since his eighteenth birthday, been a different person every time he woke up - sometimes old, sometimes young, sometimes male, sometimes female, sometimes not even Korean. He makes his living by building high-quality furniture customized to one's specifications, with childhood friend Sang-baek (Lee Dong-hwi) handling sales. With only Sang-baek and Woo-jin's mother (Moon Sook) knowing his secret, it's a lonely life. Dating is even stranger - when he meets the beautiful Hong E-soo (Han Hyo-joo), he waits until waking up with a handsome face (Park Seo-joon) before asking her out, but his initial plan of never sleeping again is not going to cut it.

The credits list 122 actors as playing Woo-jin, although only a couple dozen are there long enough to make a distinct impression. Interestingly, the fillmmakers use women for a number of noteworthy moments - perhaps to emphasize just how everything in his life is made more difficult by not being his true self - and they don't falter: Both Chung Woo-hee (of Han Gang-ju) and Ko Ah-sung (of Snowpiercer) handle their pivotal scenes with aplomb, while Park Seo-joon and Lee Jin-wook turning the charm up high during their segments, which are tilted more toward romantic comedy. Those four are joined by many others, and that this large group pulls off something approaching a consistent characterization. To a certain extent that's accomplished by allowing the actors to be free to do more than imitate whoever is chosen as the "prime", implying that a bit more than just Woo-jin's appearance changes day to day, although not so much as to lose continuity or change motivation.

Full review on EFC.

Wolf Totem

I mentioned in this week's "Next Week In Tickets" post that I was surprised by some of what was playing instead of other things, and Wolf Totem was high on the list; I presumed that Boston Common would get the Imax re-issue of Mad Max Fury Road the same as Assembly Row did, but instead they got this, and they're probably going to take a bit of a hit at the box office for it: I was the second person in the multiplex's largest theater when I arrived pretty close to the start time, and it didn't exactly fill up as what seemed like a half-hour of previews (both an "indie" block and an "Imax" bock) played. Rough show for a Friday night; there wasn't even anyone manning the concession stand.

I'm grateful that they did open it there, though - I can see Fury Road further up the Orange line this week, but this is a movie that, while it probably look nice on Blu-ray, really demands the big screen and looks terrific in 3D. I was glad to support it playing that way with money, and hope that more people do before Everest takes over the screen Thursday night.

(Plus, it's an early contender for Oscars in at least the foreign-language category. That itself seems kind of unusual, since it would probably be China's representative there, despite being directed by a French guy.)

Wolf Totem

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 11 September 2015 in AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run, digital Imax 3D)

I've got a rule of thumb that may not apply to everybody, but which has treated me fairly well: When a foreign, documentary, or otherwise limited-release movie plays on a 3D or Imax screen usually reserved for much more mainstream fare, check it out. Someone felt strongly enough to prioritize the merit of that sort of big-screen experience over putting something closer to a sure thing on that potentially profitable screen, which probably means that it is in some way extraordinary. That got me into Wolf Totem, and it holds true - this movie is not your usual anchor-theater fare, but there are bits you wouldn't want to see any other way.

Based upon the novel by Lu Jiamin (under the pseudonym Jiang Rong), it takes place in 1967, the second year of China's Cultural Revolution. Beijing college student Chen Zhen (Feng Shaofeng) has volunteered to spend two years in Inner Mongolia, teaching the nomads of the plains to read, write, and speak Mandarin. He and fellow student Yang Ke (Shawn Dou Xiao) will also learn about their culture from chief Bilig A'ba (Basen Zhabu), which starts with a healthy respect for the Mongolian Wolves that hunt in the area, as they are not only dangerous, but part of an ecological balance that representatives of the Central government such as Bao Shunghi (Yin Zhusheng) would do well to respect more. Chen becomes fascinated by these creatures, as well as the idea of capturing a cub and raising it so that the animal can be studied more closely.

Arguably one of the most astonishing things about this film is that not only was it made in China, but by one of the state-run film bureaus. In ways both obvious and subtle, it portrays the Chinese government in a fairly negative light - the government official played by Yin Zhusheng is either an arrogant fool who destroys systems he doesn't understand or a cowardly toady for such people, and there are plenty of examples of poor environmental stewardship by that government leaving species and ecosystems devastated , not all forty-five years in the past. Rather than justify, the film lets the audience draw obvious conclusions.

Full review on EFC.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Fantasia Catch-Up #05: Port of Call, Antisocial 2, Cherry Tree, Scherzo Diabolico, The Golden Cane Warrior, Battles without Honor or Humanity, Poison Berry in My Brain, and Nina Forever

Folks, I am close enough to the end to taste it. Literally, as there are two bottles of Crush Creme Soda (which, near as I can tell, you can't get in the United States) that I save for the complete and final end of the festival chilling in my fridge for when I get to the end of this annual project.

Three more to go, and then I see how many of the screener links I've been sent are still valid. Kind of bummed that I know one isn't, because I scheduled other things around knowing that something was on the list.

(Of course, there's always the box full of physical screener discs from various festivals and years somewhere in this apartment, but I'm sadly probably never getting to them...)

Port of Call

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Port of Call looks like it's going to be a police procedural, and certainly acts like one during the early going. But then the answer to "who killed Wang Jiamei?" presents itself, and Aaron Kwok's Inspector Chong keeps investigating. At first it seems like he thinks Ting Tsz-chung (Michael Ning) may not have done it, or maybe this is another girl, but, no, he just wants to know why. But can one ever really understand this?

It's a gruesome murder, naturally, and a sordid one, with Jiamei (Chun Xia) a teenage girl who had only just immigrated to Hong Kong from Shilong, a rural town in Guangdong Province, though her mother May (Elaine Kam Yin-ling) and sister Jiali (Jacky Choi Kit) had arrived some years earlier, and her inability to fit in at school and aim of being a model was taking her down a dangerous path. With no body, initially the only indication that a murder has been committed is the amount of blood - with no apparent connection to Ting at all.

If Port of Call were primarily a mystery, the way that writer/director Philip Yung Chi-kwong goes about revealing what happened might be unsatisfying, but it's clear from early on that this is not his intent. Instead, he uses the form to bring out te history of Chong, Jiamei, and Ting. As that happens, the movie transforms, becoming a film about loneliness and isolation. Language, appearance, or obsession can be the source, but the emotion looks similar on all three characters, even if none of them is even in a situation where there are no other people in their lives.

Full review on EFC.

Antisocial 2

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

When you see something like the pretty-decent 2013 film Antisocial at a festival with the filmmakers there, someone always asks about a sequel; it's almost as obligatory a question as "what was your budget?" and "how much was improvised?" The response is usually a description of something bigger and different, although everyone there knows that it's not actually going to happen. Sometimes it does, and as a result we sometimes find out that this may be a bad idea.

In this case, the filmmakers posit that the "mimetic virus" that appeared on the Redroom social network on the previous New Year's Eve went global, enough that much of the world is zombie-like "users", with the uninfected calling those who have survived via emergency trepanation "defects". That includes Sam (Michelle Mylett), the first film's survivor, who turns out to have been pregnant and is about to give birth as the action starts. A religious fanatic (Kristina Nicoll) takes her baby and leaves her to bleed out when labor comes. She doesn't, and her search for her baby leads her to cross paths with Bean (Josette Halpert), a teenage runaway from a nearby army base where her father Max (Stephen Bogaert) will do just about anything to stop the upcoming "upgrade". He also seems to consider defects subhuman, with Bean no exception.

Why is a sequel a bad idea? In this case, it's because there's just not really a level on which this thing makes any sort of sense. As neat a concept as a social network which swallows its users might have been, getting more detail reveals that this thing that tapped into a modern fear doesn't make conceptual sense as when examined closely: Zombies who don't create original exploitable content are a bug, not a feature as far as this sort of website is concerned, and while the feared "upgrade" actually leading to more user autonomy would be a neat ironic ending, the script has not been imbued with that sort of cleverness.

Full review on EFC.

Cherry Tree

* * (out of four)
Seen 31 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Cherry Tree starts out kind of silly but promising with its tale of dark-age witches whose evil has been stored in the roots of a cherry tree in the Irish town of Orchard for centuries, and it becomes a pretty enjoyable little horror film, with tough choices, solid relationships that will cause things to hurt when terrible things happen, etc. But the back end - oof. The film squanders goodwill in impressively thorough fashion, to the point where it's easy to forget having liked it at the start.

To be fair, that opening description of the evil witch tree leads to Sissy Young (Anna Walton) apparently killing an old friend so that she can have her job as the local high school's field hockey coach. Once it introduces fifteen-year-old Faith Maguire (Naomi Battrick) and the characters in her orbit - leukemia-stricken father Sean (Sam Hazeldine), motorcycle-riding best friend Amy (Elva Trill), cute-boy-that-likes-Faith-though-Amy-saw-him-first Brian (Patrick Gibson) - and Sissy starts insinuating herself into Faith's life, things start to get interesting.

They're interesting in large part because that cast of characters is good enough for a movie that doesn't have weird supernatural stuff going on. Naomi Battrick is a great discovery as Faith; she's got an easy appeal, coming across as smart and kind without being bland, capable of wit but never losing track of the weight resting on her. She's got particularly nice chemistry with Sam Hazeldine as her father; there's both ease and desperation to their closeness. Patrick Gibson is given a somewhat generic boy to play as Brian, but he and Elva Trill give their characters a bit of personality. Anna Walton, on the other hand, dives into her wicked-witch role without looking back, making Sissy unhinged but never out of control.

Full review on EFC.

Scherzo Diabolico

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 31 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

A nifty thing about Scherzo Diabolico: It feels like a black comedy for much of its running time, but you'll likely struggle to remember any actual jokes afterward. The comedy is almost entirely from the discomfort and absurdity of the situation, adding sparks to a sort of two-part thriller: The first half dry and methodical, the second frantic, both nicely done.

They both center on Aram (Francisco Barreiro), a hard-working cog in a nameless company whose hard work is recognized and cheerfully exploited by his boss Cranovsky (Jorge Molina), though the fact that it doesn't translate into promotions or even overtime pay is what gets noticed at home. He may have figured out a way to move up, though: That methodical, detailed mind has hatched a plan to kidnap Cranovsky's daughter Anabela (Daniela Soto Vell) at a time when her father's attention reallly needs to be on the business.

I wondered, at times, if Aram was meant to be working for a criminal organization of some sort; there are indications that he's dealing with shady people whom his work has kept out of jail, and he doesn't seem to be a lawyer; at a certain remove from the immediate work of dealing drugs or intimidating businesses, such a group looks like any other corporation. I don't think that's where director Adrian Garcia Bogliano was going - otherwise more suspicion would probably fall upon Aram when he starts using crime to get ahead - but it opens the door to thinking about how the inverse is true: The hierarchies and pressures in a business are like those in a gang, meaning that the best way to advance is to think like a criminal and take out the people higher on the org chart.

Full review on EFC.

Pendekar Tongkat Emas (The Golden Cane Warrior)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 31 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival: Action!, DCP)

I talked to folks who passed on The Golden Cane Warrior because the martial arts looked unimpressive in the trailer, which I suspect may be kind of unfair; they were probably cut to ribbons, and even if I am not quite knowledgeable enough to always tell okay from good from great, this movie looked pretty good and had Xiong Xin Xin doing action direction. It suffers more from some of the story around those fight scenes, honestly.

Not all of it; there's a simplicity to it that's actually quite appealing: World-weary "Golden Cane Warrior" Cempaka (Christine Hakim) intends to step down as the head of her school and must pass leadership, the eponymous weapon, and the knowledge of the ultimate "Golden Cane Encircles the Earth" move to one of her four students. Three of them - Dara (Eva Celia Latjuba), Gerhana (Tara Basro), and Biru (Reza Rahadian) - are children of vanquished opponents she brought in; the fourth is but a child (though Angin is a prodigy). She chooses Dara, probably the least talented of the group, which incenses Biru and Gerhana, setting them on a path of betrayal and retribution. Not knowing the ultimate technique, Dara and Angin must go on the run, looking for a hidden teacher who can help them even the odds.

It works, mostly, although the story soon becomes dangerously lopsided: While Biru & Gerhana are consolidating power and doing terrible things, Dara spends a lot of time looking kind of useless, not training until later in the game and only becoming anguished at what her former "brother" and "sister" are doing because she herself manages to bring bad attention to innocent people. In a classic kung fu movie, the audience feels the heroine's frustration that perfecting her technique well enough to fight oppressors or take her revenge takes so much time, even as her spirit matures, but co-writer/director Ifa Isfansyah delays that too much here, even detouring into a long, unnecessary flashback rather than doing the work with Dara.

Full review on EFC.

Jingi naki tatakai (Battles Without Honor or Humanity)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 1 August 2015 in the Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival: Retro & Restorations, DCP)

There's a pretty good mob movie in the middle of Battles Without Honor or Humanity, but it is with the ends that make it brilliant: It starts with images of the mushroom cloud and Hiroshima in the immediate aftermath of the war, but then jumps into images so frantic that it's almost impossible to absorb them fully - even when they're freeze-framed, it's on a blur. Director Kinji Fukasaku is making introductions, but most characters will need a second appearance to be recognized. It finishes with a funeral, as it must with all the violence being handed out, but one where the disgust at all the violence can't overcome how it is the only thing some of these guys, including the one making the statement, know.

In between, Fukasaku and the writers tell a story that plays like a rapid fire recitation of events - dates appear on-screen, narration fills in gaps, as the yakuza wars in Kure City, Hiroshima, play out over decades, with this film seeming to only have time for the highlights. It's mostly seen from the perspective of Shozo Hirono (Bunta Sugawara), a former soldier who was jailed after killing a gangster who raped a local girl. There he shares a cell with Hiroshi Wakasagi (Tatsuo Umemiya), a captain in the Doi organization, and a favor for him gets Hirono a place in that family. He becomes an ally of Yoshio Yamamori (Nobuo Kaneko), and goes with him when Yamamori starts a new organization. Hirono is a loyal man, but loyalty is only so prized in groups like this.

Though Hirono is the film's main character - it starts with him, it ends with him, and the filmmakers generally tend to reflect his mindset, whether directly or ironically. In some ways, this is even true when he disappears from the film for an extended stretch in the middle; for all that screenwriter Kazuo Kasahara and director Kinji Fukasaku are making sure that the audience recognizes the events that shape the Kure City yakuza while Hirono is in prison, the full effect in terms of actual change don't crystallize until Bunta Sugawara is on-screen again. He may have heard the news while behind bars, but that's different from experiencing it.

Full review on EFC.

Nounai Poison Berry (Poison Berry in My Brain)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 1 August 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

I'm not sure when Inside Out opened in Japan, but I do wonder how many folks there saw it as less incredibly creative and insightful compared to their American counterparts, considering that the Poison Berry in My Brain manga has been running since 2009 and this live-action adaptation came out in May. The similarities are obvious - a female protagonist with a committee of five personality fragments debating over her next actions in her head, and some similar imagery - although I suspect that the romantic comedy plot gives it much less heft than Pixar's movie made for a younger audience.

In this case, we follow Ichiko Sakurai (Yoko Maki), a smart and attractive woman of twenty-nine whose odd mix of impulsiveness and indecision have recently cost her a job, although she is choosing to see it as more time to work on her novel. She has a harder time than usual making decisions, because seemingly every one must pass through a committee in her brain - thorough chairman Yoshida (Hidetoshi Nishijima), optimistic Ishibashi (Ryunosuke Kamiki), pessimistic Ikeda (Yo Yoshida), impulsive Hatoko (Hiyori Sakurada), and meticulous record-keeper Kishi (Kazuyuki Asano). Something else overrides them when she meets young sculptor Ryoichi Saotome (Yuki Furakawa), pulling her into a relationship that likely wouldn't be easy even if she were good at making choices.

There are times when being a romantic comedy makes Poison Berry rather frustrating - it keeps what is going on in the head of Ichiko too focused on one aspect of her life when there is clearly more going on; for example, that she's writing a novel sometimes seems more like a way to bring an alternate suitor into her life than a major deal on its own. It also obscures that her near-paralysis when it comes time to make decisions is perhaps the root of her problems, which should make the "internal" story focus more on how her various personality traits can work together, and the screenplay by Tomoko Aizawa doesn't have a great grasp on that. It seems even more unhealthy in terms of how it deals with Ichiko's sexuality, although that may come from Setona Mizushiro's source material.

Full review on EFC.

Nina Forever

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 1 August 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Ben & Chris Blaine have a heck of a great idea for a movie here - when Rob (Cian Barry), who tried to commit suicide after the death of his girlfriend but failed, starts seeing Holly (Abigail Hardingham), there are certain weird things about the relationship, but none more than how the bloody, back-broken, naked Nina (Fiona O'Shaughnessy) starts appearing when they have sex. That is something to get past.

Aren't ghosts always, though? I've mentioned before that ghosts are best used as the past given form, and Nina fits that description perfectly - Holly is attracted to Rob in large part because of her romanticized perception of his tragic history, which all but assures that this particular baggage is an integral part of their relationship. It's a really neat trick - as much as hauntings and sex are often connected in horror movies, it's usually immediately violent either in terms of murder or rape (because she doesn't realize who/what she's actually sleeping with at that moment), while Nina mostly brings hurtful words and major cleaning issues. She's emotional pain that a girl like Holly sees herself as rising to the occasion and dealing with.

Nina is no silent specter who is maddening as much for her lack of explanation as anything else, either - the film eventually goes into interesting places with where her presence comes from, and she's quite willing to chat about why she disdains both Rob and Holly. The words that the Blaines give her really nail how the past can be both tremendously cruel and utterly uncaring at the same time.And while I stumbled a bit on O'Shaughnessey's accent (the North of England can be tough on American ears), her physicality in the role is kind of incredible - she moves a bit, but it's mostly flopping around, feeling like a dead thing without rigor mortis-induced lurches that seem rather ridiculous after seeing this.

Full review on EFC.