Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Adventurers

I really wish I'd liked this one a bit more; it not only seems to really be right up my alley - I am fond of the entire cast, I like Hong Kong action capers, and I like the French action capers it's channeling - but it played Fenway as well as Boston Common, and while that's probably as much a case of Boston Common being overloaded with Asian films as anything - including this, there are four and a half screens out of 19 showing movies from China, Japan, and South Korea, most on at least their second weeks - I really like seeing those specialty films breaking out like that.

And I wouldn't be shocked if it played pretty well there, I was the only person in the theater for this five minutes or so before showtime, and I wouldn't be totally shocked if people went to Fenway rather than AMC - those that can often do, although I don't think there's that much difference between them. Might have just been not wanting to mess with Boston Common while what was expected to be a far less one-sided protest and counter-protest, with the Park Street station closed when I was heading down there. Certainly makes it tough to judge what the actual audience was.

Aside: As much as the Amazon links on here are basically to break up pages that are just walls since the readers never buy anything, sometimes they're also for my amusement, like finding and adding Switch for this case: Andy Lau and Zhang Jingchu also played a couple that has drifted apart but thrown back together by the theft of a priceless piece of art just four years ago. I admire the heck out of how hard these Hong Kong stars work, but maybe slow down a bit so you're not so obviously repeating yourself (even if these two movies are coming at it from absolutely different angles).

Aside aside: On my way to finding this, I found The Wesley's Mysterious File with Lau and Shu Qi, and how the heck have I never heard of that bit of insanity?

Zong heng si hai (The Adventurers)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 August 2017 in AMC Boston Common #6 (first-run, DCP)

It's kind of fun to have a car chase with Shu Qi doing some reckless driving in Cannes near the start of The Adventurers; as big a star as she is in the China region, her biggest stab at the world audience was The Transporter fifteen years ago, and it's fun to have her outside the trunk for director Stephen Fung's stab at doing something like a Besson-produced medium-sized action movie, even if he's not quite enough to elevate this star-studded picture out of the time-passer category.

It starts with Dan Zhang (Andy Lau Tak-wah) being released from a French prison after serving five years for stealing "The Eye of the Forest" (once part of a priceless necklace called "Gaia" given to China as a gift, now scattered around Europe in three pieces) - from the Louvre, and though he kept his head down, Inspector Pierre Bisette (Jean Reno) confronts him at the gate and has a team follow him. It's a good call even if Dan does shake his tail; his release coincides nicely with "The Wreath of Destiny" being auctioned in Cannes, and he's already got a crew ready to help take it: Hacker Po Chen (Tony Yang Yo-Ning) and con artist/getaway driver Red Ye (Shu). And though that should be the One Last Job, both Dan's mentor "King" Kong (Eric Tsang Chi-wai) and Pierre know that the third part of "Gaia", "The Rope of Life", will be impossible to resist, so while Dan's crew figures out how to get through the state-of-the-art security that Chinese businessman Charlie Law (Sha Yi) has installed in his Czech castle, Pierre recruits Amber Li (Zhang Jingchu), an art historian now working as an insurance investigator, to help track down her former fiance.

Fung and his four co-writers bait the hook fairly well at the start, knowing immediately what makes for a good caper: The opening narration establishes something potentially bigger and more heroic than simple thievery for the crew to aspire to, if they so choose, and while the opening scene of Pierre confronting Dan at the prison gate has been done a million times before, it's a bit of a thrill to see Andy Lau and Jean Reno doing it - they're both crime-film workhorses who know just how to get a little something extra out of this sort of boilerplate, and for fans of both French and Hong Kong genre cinema, it's a thrill to seeing them playing a scene as equals after twenty-odd years of doing similar things on opposite sides of the world. Fung and his collaborators don't particularly look to reinvent the wheel here, but they have enough of a sense of what the audience enjoys about a good caper and how to serve it up well. The story stumbles in some ways - it seems like the film could get a lot more out of what happened five years ago than it does, to the point where Amber seems to be marking time until she's a hostage in the last act - but its storytelling is polished in a good way.

Full review on EFC.

Marjorie Prime

I mention in the review that this movie would probably seem most at home on television or in a screening room - it seems perfectly suited to the Coolidge's GoldScreen and I'd be pretty thrilled if they picked it up in a week or two - although for as cavernous as the Regent Theatre in Arlington is, it kind of works because it's a place that only shows movies occasionally right now, so you're going out of your way to see something unusual. It's a weird thing, how that sort of context interacts with the actual movie in one's head, and especially appropriate here. It's arguably the sort of thing you shouldn't really consider when discussing or critiquing the film itself, but the fact that this is a movie that is often about memory that point out that our memory of something is often actually the memory of the last time we remembered it, and not just a clean dip into a pristine databank, and the where and how becomes important. Not that it's ever not important, but maybe I'm inclined to think a little bit more about it for having to go out of my way and see it with a small group in a big theater.

That said, it's good enough that I'd rather more people see it. Unfortunately, it's got the sort of booking that makes word of mouth almost impossible to generate; the fourth and final screening in the Boston area is at the Regent Theatre in Arlington at 4pm today, barring someone else picking it up. Check it out if you can; it's impressive enough to merit some eyeballs even if that location flies under the radar.

Marjorie Prime

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 19 August 2017 in the Regent Theatre (special engagement, digital)

Marjorie Prime doesn't seem like much to start (and seems misnamed to boot), a strange case featuring a director whose previous film seemed much more ambitious and a cast where many had been a big deal not so long ago only able to scrape together enough to do something that looks amateurish and flat. It never really escapes the shackles of its stage-bound roots - it even feels like the lights go down between acts - but by the end, that's something an audience may be willing to talk itself into as a positive, that a lack of filmic flourish allows the ideas to stand on their own.

Certainly, you can see where that's the plan, as the very opening scene gives a hint of how malleable memory can be, as Marjorie (Lois Smith), an 85-year-old woman whose mind is decaying, converses with a hologram whose AI is modeled on her dead husband Walter (Jon Hamm), and a dull conversation about going to see My Best Friends Wedding becomes an example of how the truth as people know it changes by accident and design. The film delves into this, talking about human and machine memory, subtly showing the AI being upgraded but never becoming perfect, performing a couple of hard twists as it finds other iterations of the premise articulated in that first scene. Writer/director Michael Almereyda, adapting a play by Jordan Harrison, doesn't try to sneak this in; he has his characters interrogate this new technology directly and among themselves, showing its flaws but also, in parallel, showing those of the human mind, very particularly these characters.

Marjorie is not along with Walter Prime, after all; daughter Tess (Geena Davis) and her husband Jon (Tim Robbins) have moved in with her, as has caregiver Julie (Stephanie Andujar), now that Marjorie needs twenty-four hour care. The film seldom expands beyond that circle - Marjorie's granddaughter is pointedly never shown - it doesn't necessarily have to; that core cast is pretty sharp. Jon Hamm gets the short end of the stick somewhat, only seen as the original Walter in one scene, and mostly spends the movie relatively flat and affectless; it's a capable portrayal of a computer program designed to project patience, but deliberately unvaried. Lois Smith also gets a more narrow than expected range of material as Marjorie, in that the audience never sees her swerve from good days to bad as her mind deteriorates, but rather the horror of knowing she is losing herself. It's careful, unglamorous work, though she does have some later scenes that make interesting contrasts to what both she and Hamm were doing before.

Full review on EFC.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 18 August 2017 - 24 August 2017

It's mid-August and the things being released during the usually dreadful dog days of summer look… Kind of good?

  • Likely the best film of the week opens at The Brattle Theatre on Friday, with Boston Underground Film Festival favorite Dave Made a Maze having the place to itself through Sunday and then playing 9:30pm from Monday to Thursday. It's a joyously creative, hilarious delight as the arts-and-crafts project in the kitchen swallows its creator and his friends, who have to somehow find their way out.

    The weekdays continue the summer's vertical repertory programming. The Robert Mitchum tribute shows this week are River of No Return (Monday) and Two for the Seesaw (35mm Tuesday), while Wednesday's Recent Rave is the utterly delightful kitty documentary Kedi. Thursday's Agnes Varda picture is a 35mm print of Vagabond
  • Hey, remember how Steven Soderbergh was only going to work in TV because there was no place for him in the film world any more? Lasted four years, but from the looks of Logan Lucky, that's a good thing, as it features Channing Tatum, Riley Keough, and Adam Driver as dimwit siblings trying to pull off a heist with a likely-annoyed explosives expert played by Daniel Craig, and a ton of good folks like Katie Holmes, Set MacFarlane, Katherine Waterston, and more around the edges. It's at the Somerville, the Kendall, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    Less well-heralded is The Assassin's Bodyguard, with Samuel L. Jackson as a hitman who has elected to testify before a war crimes tribunal and Ryan Reynolds as the guy tasked with getting him there safe despite a difficult history with the man; I'm guessing Gary Oldman is the villain and Salma Hayek the love interest. It's at Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway (including RPX), Assembly Row, Revere (including XPlus and MX4D), and the SuperLux.

    There's a final showing of Fairy Tail: Dragon Cry at Fenway and Revere on Saturday, while Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars, a likely less-satirical animated sequel (that has Casper Van Dien and Dina Meyer doing voice work), plays Monday at Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere.
  • Unless I'm miscounting - and I think I can count to nine - Kendall Square is back up to full capacity, and on top of Logan Lucky, they've got a couple of things from this year's IFFBoston opening this week. The Trip to Spain is the third time Michael Winterbottom has cut a 6-episode comedy series starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as fictionalized versions of themselves on a culinary road trip into a feature for the American market, and it's reliably good, as funny as the first two. Menache is the story about a recent widower in an Orthodox Jewish community who is given a last week to spend with his son, about to be adopted by in-laws because tradition says he must be raised in a home with a mother. It's also at West Newton.
  • Plenty arriving from Asia this week, including the relatively-rare full booking of an animated feature from Japan, although In This Corner of the World looks like something of a prestige piece, telling the story of an 18-year-old girl in Hiroshima who marries a soldier during the war and must try to care for her family as the tide turns against Japan (and, presumably, as the worst happens), and probably does well by it, as director Sunao Katabuchi's Mai Mai Miracle managed to mix optimism and darkness a few years back. It's at Boston Common, and between that and the fact that A Taxi Driver, Once Upon a Time (now with 2D and 3D screenings), and Wolf Warrior II have all been held over, they've only got room for a couple screenings per day of The Adventurers, in which director Stephen Fung (who has been working on Into the Badlands since Tai Chi Zero and Tai Chi Hero) has Andy Lau, Shu Qi, and Tony Yang playing a group of master thieves chased around Europe by Jean Reno, but don't worry, they're giving it a full slate at Fenway.

    They have plenty of new Indian films at Apple Fresh Pond as well, with two subtitled Hindi-language romantic comedies from Bolllywood: Bareilly ki Barfi stars Ayushmann Khurrana, Rajkummar Rao, and Kriti Sanon in a love triangle that looks to be set in the world of independent publishing, while Toilet Ek Prem Katha stars Akshay Kumar as a man whose new wife threatens to leave unless he installs a toilet in their home and good lord I don't know how you get 155 minutes out of what should be a really easy decision.. No subtitles are indicated for Telugu horror-comedy Anando Brahma or Tamil drama Taramani, but it can't hurt to ask. Spy thriller Vivekham (Prudence) opens Wednesday in both Tamil and Telugu.
  • The West Newton Cinema picks up The Only Living Boy in New York, Marc Webb's second (and apparently lesser) film of the year, featuring Callum Turner as a grad student beguiled by his father's mistress (Kate Beckinsale). Plenty of other interesting folks in there, including Jeff Bridges, Pierce Brosnan, Wallace Shawn, and Kiersey Clemons (it also plays Boston Common).
  • The Regent Theatre has 4 screenings of Marjorie Prime, with Jon Hamm as the hologram of the title character's dead husband used to help ease her dementia. I'm a bit surprised at the tiny release; you'd think something which also featured Lois Smith, Geena Davis, and Tim Robbins from the director of Experimenter might at least show up at the Kendall, but nope, just Friday night, Saturday afternoon & evening, and Sunday night out in Arlington.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre picks up Wind River, as do the Embassy, Fenway, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux; IFFBoston alum Step arrives in the GoldScreen (both are already at Boston Common and the Kendall). They also have a nice group of specials, with Speed and The Room at midnight Friday andBroken Arrow at that time Saturday. Monday's big screen classic is the annual The Big Lebowski party, while the "Cinema Jukebox" presentation on Thursday is The Blues Brothers. In between, there's a GlobeDocs screening of Beyond the Wall followed by a panel discussion with the filmmakers and a local "navigator" who helps recently released prisoners readjust. All of this week's special screenings except Beyond the Wall are on 35mm.
  • Lots of Ernst Lubitsch atThe Harvard Film Archive this weekend, with the retrospective to his works taking up almost the entire schedule: The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (Friday 7pm with accompaniment by Martin Marks), Ninotchka (Friday 9:30pm), Cluny Brown (Saturday 7pm), To Be or Not to Be (Sunday 4:30pm), "The Merry Jail" & "Romeo and Juliet in the Snow" (Sunday 7pm with accompaniment by Robert Humphreville), and Angel (Monday 7pm). That leaves precious little time for much else, although there is a $5 family screening of WALL-E at 3pm on Saturday and one selection from the Jean Renoir series - 1951's The River at 9:30pm that day. All are 35mm prints.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has more Feed Your Head: Films from 1967 with In the Heat of the Night (Friday), You Only Live Twice (Friday), The Dirty Dozen (Saturday), Valley of the Dolls (Saturday), In Cold Blood (Sunday), and The Graduate (Sunday). Thursday is a couple of the recurring presentations, with The Artist's Garden: American Impressionism and the Garden Movement in the afternoon and Slack Bay in the evening.
  • Hey, check it out - a special early entry in Emerson's Bright Lights program at the Paramount, with screenwriter Graham Moore coming to town on Tuesday to intro/Q&A The Imitation Game.
  • The 18-seat room at CinemaSalem has The Ghoul, in which a british cop goes undercover as a patient to investigate a psychotherapist, and things get weird.
  • The Joe's Free Films calendar has multiple screenings of Doctor Strange, and live magic and balloons in University Park on Tuesday and Thursday.

I have other stuff claiming the weekend (baseball and a niece turning seven), but I'll still go for The Adventurers, Marjorie Prime, In This Corner of the World, and Logan Lucky at the least. Certainly planning on hitting Dave Made a Maze again, because that one demands an audience.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Once Upon a Time

It's kind of reductive to talk about men's & women's films, but there's something worth talking about when you look at it as "things thought of as men's & women's films". I'm having a hard time thinking of any big effects-laden blockbusters from the west that are built as this kind of romance. It might just be a matter of timing - there have been movies like Upside Down, and I don't know how visually nutty Twilight got - but this is the first high-fantasy film I can recall where the romance is central, and the quest or fight is secondary.

I wonder, a bit, if there's anything like this on the drawing boards in the U.S. The "discovery" that women and girls will buy tickets for blockbusters in large numbers is predicated on action/adventure films with female leads, not stuff that is traditionally feminine but also visually lush, grand fantasy. There's Crimson Peak, I guess, now that I think of it, but that wasn't really a hit. But, I notice that we get a lot of romantic comedies/dramas from China, probably more than come from Hollywood and play mainstream theaters, and I wonder if they are just better at catering to the audience that, male or female, would rather watch people falling in love and struggling with it than beating each other up right now - and whether Hollywood will catch on.

Once Upon a Time (Once Upon a Time)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 12 August 2017 in AMC Boston Common #9 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

The trouble with reviewing something like Once Upon a Time on a platform that is pretty much all words is that sometimes a movie's story can be utterly ridiculous and its dialogue (at least in subtitle form) inartful at best, and it's easy to point that out, whereas the argument for the movie is "just look at this thing!" It's a fantasy romance of rare visual splendor, maybe just enough to overcome all of the other very real problems it has.

Royal Immortal Bai Qian (Crystal Liu Yifei) is the Empress of Qingqiu; a six-tailed fox in her spirit form and looking quite good for her 140,000 years, especially considering that she seems to be drinking a lot. She's betrothed to Ye Hua (Yang Yang), a crown prince who at a mere 50,000 years of age seems absurdly young to her. Nevertheless, they meet at a party in the Eastern Sea, although Qian first meets A Li (Peng Zisu), Ye Hua's "Little Rice Ball" of a son with a mortal named Su Su who threw herself off a platform and into oblivion 300 years ago. Qian, it seems, looks just like Su Su, leading the prince to make a more active attempt to woo her and thus earning the ire of Su Jin (Li Chun), the Princess Consort with enough of a crush on Ye Hua to conspire with demoness Xuan Nu (Gu Xuan), who aside from wanting to use A Li's body to resurrect her unborn child also wishes to free demon king Qing Cang (Kevin Yan Yikuan) from the Eastern Magic Bell where he was sealed by Qian's former master Mo Yuan, who is now frozen in a cave near Qian's home.

It would be easy enough to write a version of that last paragraph (or even cut a trailer) that emphasizes the latter half, playing up the monsters and grand battle scenes and suggesting that Bai Qian and Ye Hua are a warrior odd couple who will wind up together because they're the male and female lead, but for better or worse, the action/adventure is decidedly secondary: The bulk of the movie is Ye Hua feeling that his betrothal to to Bai Qian is destiny but wondering if his attraction is influenced by how he failed Su Su, while Bai Qian finds she is starting to like this impertinent young man but not only denies any connection to Su Su but worries about being unfaithful to to Mo Yuan, as she has waited millennia for his soul and body to reunite. It's a fantastically grand romance and would be even if one knocked the time frame down to a less grandiose level - despite the scale of it, the motives of everybody are pretty easy to grasp, whether Bai Qian is second-guessing herself or Su Jin is acting on simple jealousy. Like any good, expansive mythology, there are little sub-stories that could be spun out into their own entertaining movies: There's a great horror movie in Xuan Nu's desire to place her unborn son's soul in A Li's immortal body, and the outlines of something gothic in the flashbacks to a pregnant Su Su brought into the palace but placed among the maids.

For all the grand scale of the love stories that have the potential to coalesce into one - indeed, because of how eternal and powerful this romance is supposed to be - the film needs the central couple to work no matter how they are paired up, and that's an area where the film often falls short. Crystal Liu Yifei handles what is thrown at her fairly well - the recklessness and pettiness shown early occasionally allows a glimpse of dissatisfaction, and she invests what could just be fantasy big-talk with genuine introspection later when talking about how her long life breaks into phases where she barely feels like the same person. There's more spark between her and Luo Jin as the old friend who tends her kingdom's peach orchard than there is with Yang Yang's Ye Hua, though, and it's not just that Ye Hua is initially written as a jerk (girl says she's not interested, you don't just show up at her house with your kid and literally claim a place in her bed as your right, even if you are betrothed and the Crown Prince). Yang does a fairly good job of making Ye Hua more than his initial smarm and even eventually looking like he's got genuine rather than plot-mandated affection for Bai Qian, but it's kind of telling that the pair seem to display the most chemistry in the flashbacks of a younger Ye Hua with Su Su, scenes which have them posing under voiceover narration rather than doing anything back and forth.

Full review on EFC.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Fantasia 2017.30: A Taxi Driver

So, if Fantasia were still going on, this would have been day 30, and since I saw a Fantasia selection on this day…

Yeah, it's a dumb joke, but I'm really hoping to have the chance to beat it into the ground over the next few weeks, although right now only Brigsby Bear appears to be on the horizon.

Been a while since I really had a bad audience for a movie, with the start of this one marred by a bunch of folks who didn't realize it was Korean (and weren't tipped off by the previews playing before it, which all had Asian leads) and exited in noisy disgust. I wonder if they thought this was a revival of the Al Pacino movie. Probably wouldn't have liked this one anyway, although who knows; maybe when it actually got to the riot scenes they would have connected it to something in the present.

Oh, and speaking of that trailer package, it included a new, somewhat different trailer for The Villainess that actually has footage of the big crazy fight at the end, which makes me a bit sad, because it's a heck of a thing to not know is coming. I think it will still do the job.

One other thing I wonder when watching a movie like this, which is about the need to smuggle evidence that our "democratic" allies in South Korea were in some ways an improvement over their neighbors to the North mainly because the rulers were merely corrupt rather than insane, I wonder what sort of impact it made here. I was something like six-and-a-half at the time of the events, but I was probably already watching M*A*S*H reruns, so I know Korea wasn't something entirely out of America's sight, even if (by my memory) that show never really touched on the sometimes-problematic nature of that particular ally in the cold war.

Taeksi Woonjunsa (A Taxi Driver)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 11 August 2017 in AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run, DCP)

A Taxi Driver ends with the traditional footage of a real-life person portrayed in the movie from many years later, and though it's a bit of a cliche, it also acknowledges that while the story may at times seem a little too good to be true, there's apparently enough to it to be worth buying into. There may be liberties taken in the making of this film, but there's more than a bit genuine at its core, and it's a quality film as well as an important true story.

As it opens in May 1980, Kim Man-seob (Song Kang-ho) has the same opinion of student protesters that most people in Seoul do - they're in the way, making it impossible for him to drive his private taxi from point A to point B; they don't know what real work and hardship is, like when he spent part of his youth working in Saudi Arabia's blistering heat; they're naive about the threat represented by the North and the authority that the government needs to fight it. Meanwhile, German telejournalist Jurgen Hinzpeter (Thomas Kretschmann) - "Peter" for short - is starting to feel too comfortable after his eight years in Tokyo, so when he gets word that something is going down in the city of Gwangju, he flies into Seoul claiming to be a missionary and hires a cab to drive him cross-country for 100,000 won. Kim, roughly that much in debt, steals the fare despite not really being as bilingual as he claims. Neither of them are quite prepared for exactly what is going on within the southern city, which has had the phone lines cut and roadblocks everywhere.

The Gwangju Uprising is a pivotal moment in the history of South Korea, one whose importance derives as much from it becoming public as the actual horror, although there's plenty of that. It takes a while to get there, although it's an impressive work of pacing that an American viewer like myself who is less likely to know the history won't feel like anything is being skipped over or taken for granted, though it raises the question of whether a Korean audience will think director Jang Hoon and writer Eom Yu-na are over-explaining. On the other hand, it gives the audience a little time to (re-)immerse themselves in South Korea circa 1980, with its military checkpoints and sanitized news, enough that the sight of a locked-down Gwangju is ominous and the violence that erupts shocking. Jang and Eom make the conscious decision to spend most of the movie showing things from the perspective of working-class Kim and outsider Hinzpeter, hammering home just how the military crackdown seems not just unjust, but almost unfathomable, rather than showing what reasons (corrupt or paranoid as they may be).

Full review on EFC.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 11 August 2017 - 17 August 2017

I can only speak for myself, of course, but I find it weirdly satisfying when I skip a film at a festival and it shows up in regular theaters days or maybe weeks later. You get both the feelings of having managed your time effectively and and like the festival has stretched itself out a bit, and aren't those both kind of great?

  • Basically, this means I made a fair decision last week in not going for A Taxi Driver to close out Fantasia, because it opens at Boston Common this weekend. Folks really seemed to like it, and why not, with Song Kang-ho as an initially-apolitical cabbie who lands German journalist Thomas Kretschmann as a fare in 1980 and as a result winds up front and center at the Gwangju Uprising. Song is one of South Korea's best actors, and he's reuniting with Jang Hoon, director of Secret Reunion and Rough Cut. The same theater and distributor also opens Chinese romantic fantasy Once Upon a Time, featuring Yang Yang and Liu Yifei as celestial lovers who meet again after 300 years. Unusually, these days, it's playing in 3D only. On top of that, they're still keeping Wolf Warrior II around, bringing back up to a full slate of screenings every day.

    For those more into Indian cinema, Apple Fresh Pond continues to show Jab Harry Met Sejal in subtitled Hindi, as well as Telugu films LIE, Nene Raju Nene Mantri, Jaya Janaki Nayaka, and Tamil film VIP 2, none of which indicate subtitles on Apple's site.
  • Also skipped at Fantasia but opening in Boston: Brigsby Bear, in which a young man raised in a bunker finds out that not only was he kidnapped as a small child, but his favorite television show was made exclusively for him, leading him to make a Brigsby feature to make some part of his childhood real. It plays at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Kendall Square, and the Embassy.

    The Coolidge also once again has 70mm screenings of Dunkirk through the weekend before reverting to DCP on Monday (the Somerville is still all 70, all the time, and West Newton is 35mm). Other special programs there this week include midnights of Nighthawks (Friday) and Sudden Death (Saturday), a Big Screen Classic showing of Werner Herzog's Aguirre, the Wrath of God on Monday, special anniversary screenings of Reservoir Dogs (pardon the borken links, I'm working on them) on Tuesday and Wednesday, and a "Rewind!" presentation of Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet, all but the last on 35mm film.
  • Kendall Square seems to have its renovation almost done, at least as far as auditoria are concerned, as it is now up to eight screens and can thus add some stuff. Sticking with the festival alumni, IFFBoston documentary Step is one of them, following a high-school step-dancing team trying to win a championship and give the members the tools they need to make it to college; it's also screening early and late at Boston Common.

    They also pick up a couple more mainstream things: Wind River is a thriller starring Elizabeth Olsen as an FBI agent teaming up with game hunter Jeremy Renner to solve a murder on an Indian reservation (hopefully with a strong Native supporting cast); it also plays Boston Common. There's also a fairly wide opening for The Glass Castle, with Brie Larson, Sarah Snook, and others as the adult children of parents (played by Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts) who are somewhere between eccentric and dysfunctional. It's also at the Capitol, West Newton, Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.
  • That's honestly more screens than some of the late-summer multiplex filler gets, although to be fair Annabelle: Creation (a sequel to a spin-off of The Conjuring) is getting pretty good reviews, with Lights Out director David F. Sandberg at the helm and reliable Aussies Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto among the stars. That's at Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway (including RPX), Assembly Row, and Revere. Not getting particularly good reviews: The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature, a 3D animated thing which adds Jackie Chan to the voice cast as a mouse who helps the animal characters from the first prevent their green space from being turned into an amusement park. It's at the Capitol (2D only), Apple Fresh Pond (2D only), Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    Revere also has Catastrophico, a comedy-adventure from the Dominican Republic about a spoiled movie star whose private plane crashes on an isolated island with the screw-ups who attempted to kidnap her. There's also a fair number of one- and two-offs this week: Mune: Guardian of the Moon is a cute-looking CGI adventure from France dubbed into English by GKids (Saturday at Fenway and Revere); TCM presents 50th anniversary shows of Bonnie and Clyde (Sunday & Wednesday at Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere); there's a new DC animated feature in Batman and Harley Quinn (Monday at Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere); Fairy Tale: Dragon Cry is the latest entry in the anime series (Monday & Wednesday at Fenway and Revere); and, finally, racing documentary McLaren comes from director Roger Donaldson, who is pretty good at that sort of thing (Thursday at Revere).
  • The Brattle Theatre's year-long "series of series" celebrating women in cinema bookends the week, starting with a weekend full of 1980s Comedies: Desperately Seeking Susan (35mm) and the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer play separately on Friday, there's a 35mm double feature of Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Valley Girl on Saturday, and another double feature of Wayne's World (35mm) and Real Genius on Sunday. Robert Mitchum just gets one day this week, with an early-starting double feature of El Dorado & The Lusty Men (35mm) on Monday, so that Tuesday can be Trash Night. Wednesday's "Recent Raves" are both pretty fun, with My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea in the evening and then Free Fire at 9:15pm. The other repertory women in cinema series has another entry Thursday, with a double feature of Agnes Varda's Documenteur & Mur Murs.
  • The West Newton Cinema has two Boston Jewish Film Festival's presentations this week: A free preview of IFFBoston alum Menashe on Tuesday (only rush-line tickets available), and the final "Summer Cinematheque" screening, Moos, on Wednesday. At least, that's what the festival's site says; the theater's site shows special screenings on Wednesday and Thursday, so double-check.
  • It's still summer, so The Harvard Film Archive is chuggin on with its retrospectives. Ernst Lubitsch is represented by To Be or Not To Be (Friday 7pm), The Oyster Princess (Saturday 7pm with Robert Humphreville accompanying), The Merry Widow (Sunday 7pm), and The Wildcat (Monday 7pm with Andrew Simpson accompanying). Jean Renoir is the auteur of The Human Beast (Friday 9:15pm), "Baby's Laxative" (on video) & "A Day in the Country" (Saturday 9pm), and Le Bled (Sunday 4pm via DCP with Bertrand Laurence accompanying). All on 35mm unless noted.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues to screen Slack Bay (Friday), but also starts Feed Your Head: Films from 1967; that new repertory series features In the Heat of the Night (Friday), The Graduate (Saturday), Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (Saturday/Sunday), The Dirty Dozen (Sunday), and a special outdoor "Sunset Cinema" screening of Cool Hand Luke on Thursday, with a DJ and Tie-Dye lessons.
  • Jeff Rapsis will visit the Aeronaut Brewery in Somerville to accompany Fritz Lang's Metropolis (in its most complete version) on Sunday.
  • CinemaSalem is where you go to catch BUFF & Fantasia favorite 68 Kill.
  • The Joe's Free Films calendar shows multiple Lego Batman and E.T. screenings, but the Tuesday night show of the latter in Kendall Square includes puppets!

My plans: A Taxi Driver, One Upon a Time, Dunkirk, Wind River, and one or two other things.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Fantasia 2017.21: Indiana, Le Manoir, Kills on Wheels, and The Night Watchmen

I've been coming to Fantasia for twelve or thirteen years now and I think I've only ended on the big closing night film once or twice. The first year or two, I wasn't doing the whole thing; for many years, they added encore screenings after the official end of the festival; and then, other times, you have years like this, where I wind up in de Seve all day, right until the end because the big Hall films are going to show up in Boston. Almost wasn't the case - when Well Go first announced where A Taxi Driver was opening, the list didn't include Boston, so that got prioritized, but then Boston got added, so I could see The Night Watchmen.

Interestingly, that movie was one of the fastest to sell out, probably a bit of a combination of de Seve being relatively small, the 9:45pm time marking it as the very last film of the festival, and looking like the sort of thing that could cut a good trailer. It was a quick-enough sellout that they added another screening at 7:30pm. I kind of wonder if that annoyed anyone thinking they were getting the premiere Canadian Premiere, so to speak, but I can't see any practical reason why it should. Still, people get weird about that.

Filmmakers showed up, too, with Fantasia programmer Tony Trimpone (left) talking to producer Jeffrey Allard, director Mitchell Altieri, and producer Cheryl Staurulakis. Altieri has had some other films at Fantasia as half of "The Butcher Brothers", but this is (as far as I can tell) his first time not working with Phil Flores and, indeed, working from someone else's script. They talked about how being able to shoot the movie in Maryland was a bit of a challenge, because while some things shoot there - they said half their crew was from House of Cards - there aren't a whole lot of tax credits, and they got the last one. It was also apparently pretty cold (by Annapolis standards, if not Montreal standards), and while there weren't a lot of exteriors, it was not a whole lot of fun for the folks drenched in fake blood with Kara Luiz in a miniskirt and open-toed shoes despite there being a fair amount of snow on the ground when they were on the roof. One thing I did love is that they gave the short that played before their film props. It's a small thing for the audience, but I love when folks attending a festival aren't so entirely focused on how their own film is received that they can spare a few good words for other things.

Next up… Well, I actually have to go back to days #4 and 5 because it took a couple days to write up the animation package and when that was done, I decided to just jump forward. I'm tempted to do go to the Old School Kung Fu Fest at the Metrograph in New York in August, but I'm guessing there's a niece's birthday party and it'll be fun to just stay home for a few weeks.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017: Fantasia Underground, DCP)

There are three or four kind of fascinating stories in Indiana which are not so much vying for time as falling short of quite pushing each other hard enough to get to the same place. This makes for a generally decent movie, and for some a genuinely great one, although I suspect that it would have to hit you just right to get that reaction.

After some black-and-white interview footage with (presumably) Indianans who have had some sort of encounter with the paranormal, we're introduced to the "Spirit Doctors": Michael (Gabe Fazio), a somber fellow who works as an executive by day and is feeling the desire to quit while Josh (Bradford West) displays unshakable belief even though any connection he has to the paranormal looks terribly unconvincing unless one is primed to believe (and may not have ever worn a suit in his life). Meanwhile, an old man (Stuart Rudin) runs out of gas on an abandoned road, but this is either a ruse to get a neighbor to take him to the middle of nowhere so he can exact some form of revenge or an opportunity he won't miss.

There's a moment when Michael and Josh appear on a radio program with a skeptic who asks if it's unreasonable to expect even a single bit of evidence to have an angry Josh shoot back "yes!", and it's staged in such a way that it's easy to take this as just a joke at their expense, or something that illustrates the growing wedge between Michael and Josh. Director Toni Comas and co-writer Charlie Williams certainly use it for that, but even as they do, they're also setting up how relying on measurable evidence often can't reflect utterly subjective pain people are feeling, and while maybe Josh doesn't consciously recognize that severing "demonic attachments" or UFO-related activity is the placebo effect in action, the idea that people need something to grab onto so they can assert some sort of control is at the center of the film.

Full review on EFC.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017, DCP)

It would be easy enough to add a frantic epilogue to "Ratskin", although I'm not sure I'd want to mess with the quiet coming of age vibe that the film features at that point. Jade Charbonneau's Emma is realizing that some things are irreversible, and even if she's still got a chance to change something (and we as the audience want her to), that's not the right way for this story to end emotionally.

Going into the sort of dark, somewhat-exaggerated territory that Michael Charron's movie does means you run that risk, though, but Charron and his mostly-young cast handle it well. Charbonneau plays Emma as dry and withdrawn, but not particularly without affect, which is a a fairly crucial difference in this story. The way she says "poor thing" when referring to a dead pet mouse or her realizing what her father's avoidance on the phone means is the difference between the audience thinking she's on the route to being a more caring, responsible sister and her seeming destined to be a serial killer, and it's managed adroitly. There's an impressive precision to how Charron lays out a bunch of the signs, both ones we know might matter mean something and ones to be dismissed, without necessarily being too obvious about what he's doing. He gets good work from young Simon Brousseau as the little brother who clearly clings to his big sister, too; it's also a subdued performance but not a carbon-copy of Charbonneau, and Charron pairs these kids with images that are just still enough to create a short that is just eerie enough for the audience to feel something is off but not quite so much that they're waiting for something overtly blood-spattered to break out.

Le Manoir (The Mansion)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017, DCP)

How did we, as Americans, let France and/or Belgium go full raunchy comedy with their Scream knock-offs before we did? Hollywood probably hasn't completely overlooked this opportunity, but I'm having trouble thinking of something like Le Manoir ("The Mansion") that works as well as it does. It's a bonkers slasher movie with even more comedy than those going for arch irony tend to have, but it doesn't quite play as a spoof. The blend of broad laughs and plentiful blood may not play for everyone, but the often-mean French sense of humor goes fairly well with a killing spree.

It's the end of the year, and the highly-organized Nadine (Nathalie Odzierejko) has rented a mansion in Belgium for a big "Party Like It's 1999" shindig with boyfriend Fabrice (Marc Jarousseau) and their friends - would-be Hollywood star Djamal (Yvick Letexier), uptight ginger Bruno (Ludovik Day), weed & mushroom enthusiast Drazik (Vincent Tirel), recent police academy grad Jess (Delphine Baril), party girl Sam (Vanessa Guide), her ex-boyfriend Stephane (Jerome Niel), and Sam's teenage cousin Charlotte (Lila Lacombe). Should be fun, even if Stephane hasn't gotten the message that he and Sam aren't just "on a break" and doesn't want to dress the part. And they've been told not to go up to the second floor, or in the basement, or into the nearby woods. And there's no cell phone service. And, okay, they couldn't see the maid who was killed in the pre-credits sequence…

It takes a while to get to the first murder/maiming after that; director Tony T. Datis and the four writers are having enough fun with these ten characters - Enzo (Baptiste Lorber), the guy Sam cheated on Stephane with, crashes the party - that they're reluctant to not just start culling the cast of characters, but to take the one that has gone missing completely seriously. It's understandable because having that many characters to potentially knock off means either spending a fair amount of time building them up or not having their death and/or disfigurement mean something, giving the opening a bit of a learning curve until it transitions into things really starting to get nuts.

Full review on EFC.


* * (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017, DCP)

I'm going to guess that "[CRIES IN SPANISH]" hits a nerve or a funnybone or something if you've spent a little more time in places like its setting, a drab, dirty restaurant/bar with a karaoke machine right out in the open where the main character - a tween-ish girl - doesn't really want to be there and certainly doesn't want to get up in front of a mostly-disinterested audience and sing no matter how much Mom pushes. Director Giancarlo Loffredo does well enough in establishing a bit of familiarity for the audience - it's very easy to see where this girl is coming from - but the movie doesn't really go anywhere from there. The end feels basically random; possible from what's been happening as the camera jumps around the room, but if it's going to be the next thing in the story, it can't also be the last; there's no benefit to it.

It makes the short a weird one - moody and precise to certainly show that there's talent and vision to the film, but not a whole lot of point unless the film is going to continue on to something else.

Tiszta szívvel (Kills on Wheels)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017, DCP)

One can look at Kills on Wheels as extremely high-concept or just simply a film about an extremely-underserved audience, and a great deal of its success is in how it moves from being the first to the second: Someone can come in based on the pitch of wheelchair-bound hitmen and come out quite fond of the characters as people and not hugely concerned with their missions. The combination makes some generic crime material fresh and adds excitement to what could be very self-serious and earnest.

Much of the action takes place around a rehabilitation center where Zolika (Zoltán Fenyvesi) and Barba Papa (Ádám Fekete) have spent much of their young lives - Barba with what appears to be cerebral palsy, Zoli with a worsening curvature of the spine that will, within a few years, crush his internal organs. An expensive operation in Berlin could help, and Zoli's father (who now lives there) is willing to pay for it, but Zoli is reluctant to accept charity from the man who abandoned him and his mother Zita (Mónika Balsai) when he was small. Another option may be appearing, though - newcomer Janos Rupaszov (Szabolcs Thuróczy) is just out of prison and doing odd jobs for Serbian gangster Rados (Dusán Vitanovics), and a share of the money he'll pay for eliminating rivals could certainly help. Of course, Rados doesn't exactly want more people knowing about the details of his activities, and that's without knowing about the indie comics Zoli and Barba are making based upon their adventures.

Kills on Wheels is noteworthy in that the majority of its handicapped characters are played by actors with the same physical challenges, and as such it winds up being very conscientious of what those entail. There's no pushing through something because that's what the story wants even if it's not actually likely, for instance, and difficult things are presented as everyday challenges. Writer/director Attila Till takes care to let the subtext of being handicapped inform a lot of the characterization without often resorting to monologues and direct explanations; Rupaszov's anger and confrontational nature is likely different from Zoli's in large part because he lost the use of his legs rather than never having it, and he's more likely to blame the rest of the world for things than himself. Much of these characters' stories is left to the audience to extrapolate, and it's not hard.

Full review on EFC.

"El Peste" ("The Plague")

* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017, DCP)

Describing "The Plague" too much threatens to ruin it, because what writer/director Guillermo Carbonell does is take a few things that are sort of staple horror ideas, find a clever but not necessarily immediately brilliant twist on one, and put it in a very relatable setting before quickly wrapping it up in a way that has the concept fully encapsulated but suggests that he could do a lot with it with a feature-sized budget and running time. Sure, that's what a lot of short filmmakers are trying to do, but Carbonell actually manages it without a lot of obvious fuss.

He does that by keeping things lean without seeming to particularly dash from one thing to another. Maybe the opening sequence feels a little extraneous at the time, but it does a decent job of establishing that there's something unnerving and dangerous out there, before it's introduced us to Gabriela Freire in a thoroughly domestic setting that doesn't immediately connect. Carbonell sets her home-invasion story with a memorable obstacle (Walter Rey as a father suffering from dementia) up quickly and in satisfying fashion, playing it out at the sort of pace the audience is used to from features before cutting things a bit short.

The trick at that point is not to make it feel like things were cut short, but to get the audience to an entertaining place to finish, and Carbonell and his cast & crew manage that well. If they want to do more of this, I doubt many who have seen the short would mind, but even if they don't (or can't), they've put some familiar pieces together in an enjoyable way.

The Night Watchmen

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017, DCP)

It's telling that this movie isn't named "Vampire Clowns", because if you're going to tell your friends about the crazy horror comedy you saw the other night, the vampire clowns are what they're going to pick up on even if you purposefully don't lead with that. It's certainly a bigger hook than night watchmen, but ultimately the name is honest, because this movie does wind up being more about the wacky antics between the inept security guards than the actual vampires trying to suck their blood.

They're guarding the Baltimore Gazette, with a new guy(Max Gray Wilbur) - whose last job was fronting a heavy-metal band but seems to be going for something more grounded now - starting and doing all the grunt work for tough-talking Ken (Ken Arnold), dorky Jiggetts (Kevin Jiggetts), and mysterious Sicilian immigrant Luca (Dan DeLuca). There aren't a whole lot of people working the night shift; aside from Willy the janitor (Matter Servitto), just some folks working on the magazine section, and it says something that Ken using the security cameras to follow his crush Karen (Kara Luiz) while ignoring her friend Penny (Diona Reasonover) isn't nearly as off-putting as nearly everything Randall (James Remar) is doing. It's a quiet night even when delivery men drop a crate meant for the biological research lab down the road off. Never mind the question of why such a place would be awaiting the coffin of Blimpo the Clown, the popular local entertainer whose entire troupe mysteriously vanished in Romania.

Whether the filmmakers are going for extra-gory splatter or just having everybody call the new guy "Rajeeve" because that's what the nametag on the uniform he's given says despite his being pretty darn white (although it's arguable that the African-American Jiggetts is even more whitebread), tt's really, really, really broad humor. The writers will go for the easy joke at every opportunity that presents itself, but that's not the worst thing a comedy can do: If a joke is just sitting there, these guys don't feel too proud to pick it up and run with it, especially if it's not going to get in the way of the really good one that might take a little more work. And while director Mitchell Altieri has mostly done straight horror, he's got the rhythms of this sort of rapid-fire comedy down. It's briskly-paced enough and filled with enough splatstick that if one joke doesn't land, one of the next three might, and he's willing to move along to the next one quickly rather than something hang in the air with the stink of death on it.

Full review on EFC.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Wolf Warriors 1 & 2

Not quite a "you've got to get yourself off Fantasia slowly" night; I went from one Asian action movie on Sunday to two on Monday, so it would be going in the wrong direction. No, I was planning on giving Wolf Warrior 2 a pass because Fantasia did have me worn out and, besides, in its second week in Boston it was playing at off-hours. But then I caught a news item saying that this was a massive hit in China, set to break box office records set by The Mermaid, and that demands a bit of attention. And since the only screenings left this week were at 9:40pm, that meant there was time to stream the first one before getting on the T for Boston Common.

Neither, it turns out, is really great, although there is marked improvement between the first and second that's not entirely about how watching a movie on the big screen is an order of magnitude or three better than doing so at home. Wu Jing should probably not be writing his own material yet, but he's showing a little room to play in more than one mode here, and a little more potential as an actor, although he's got a way to go to be in the same category as the other martial arts superstars who got to build their careers in Hong Kong (Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Donnie Yen), and I don't know if he can necessarily get there by writing and directing himself. He's still pretty raw.

On the other hand, the $200M or so this will make in China is a pretty great argument for other people there (and internationally) starting to see Wu as a genuine leading man rather than a henchman who gives Donnie Yen a run for his money, and given that I've written a number of reviews talking about how that's a hurdle he hasn't quite seemed able to clear, that's pretty good to see.

And, hey, maybe it will start a chain reaction, as this film is the third time I've seen stuntwoman Heidi Moneymaker in a role of her own rather than doubling for someone else in the past year (roughly), and it sure seems like putting her in a well-made action movie would show she's well-named.

Zhan Lang (Wolf Warrior

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 7 August 2017 in Jay's Living Room (catch-up, Amazon Video)

Western movies like Wolf Warrior used to crowd direct-to-video racks, promising heroic soldiers fighting evil foreigners with much less nuance than flag-waving, and probably still do once you scroll past the bigger-studio options on a VOD menu (heck, there's a mini-industry of direct-to-video sequels to more ambitious war movies). The main difference an American will see for much of the running time here are that the flag is different and the mercenaries speak English; it's still a dead-simple plot that involves a lot of concealing oneself outside, a command center, and some pyro effects.

The difference is, it stars Wu Jing as the headstrong-but-always-right special forces guy and Scott Adkins as the chief merc, which means that at some point toward the end, these two are going to run out of ammo and start punching and kicking each other, and that scene is worth a rental fee. It's not the most creative or exhilarating fight scene either has been part of, but these guys are good at that part of the job, and as the film plays out, each one's action scenes serves to whet the appetite for the final confrontation. It's enjoyable enough to watch them get put through their paces even if the result is an utterly foregone conclusion.

The story itself is thin as heck but has a potentially fun kernel at its center: Strip away all of the getting there and the truly goofy macguffin revealed toward the end, and you've got the Wolf Warrior squad in the middle of a training exercise - and thus without live ammunition - suddenly having to face down a group of well-armed mostly-foreign mercenaries who are supposedly hunting down Wu's Leng Feng as revenge for the incident where he disobeyed orders and as a result got promoted to the team (yes, there's some severe cognitive dissonance about Feng needing to learn to be part of a team even though every big action sequence rests on him being super-awesome individually going on). That's a good action-movie engine, but Wu and his co-writers can't make it stand, switching things up a couple times in the second half and unsuccessfully trying to give Feng subplots involving his late father and being attracted to his commanding officer.

Full review on EFC.

Zhan Lang II (Wolf Warrior 2)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 6 August 2017 in AMC Boston Common #16 (first-run, DCP)

Wolf Warrior 2 may not exactly be a great action movie, but it's bigger and better than its predecessor in just about every way possible aside from the villain, and the deficiency there is more a matter of hand-to-hand combat skills than screen presence. Like the first, this is some clear, unvarnished Chinese nationalism, but it's at least creative enough in its action to be enjoyable if that's not your particular form of patriotism.

Though Feng Leng's headstrong ways got him assigned to China's elite "Wolf Warrior" squadron at the start of the first film, they also get him cashiered when he goes more than a little overboard dealing with a group of greedy developers trying to tear down the home of a fallen comrade; at about the same time, his former commanding officer and fiancee Long Xiaoyun (Yu Nan) is lost on a mission to the border. Three years later, he's working in the merchant marine in Africa, foiling pirates but also making friends with the locals while also trying to uncover the mystery of a distinctive bullet found at the site of Xiaoyun's last mission and linked to this portion of the world. That's a hard enough quest as it is, and then the country erupts into civil war with the insurgents also having a team of military contractors led by "Big Daddy" (Frank Grillo) on the payroll, and while China is able to evacuate many of its citizens from the capital, renowned research scientist Dr. Chen is at an isolated research hospital while forty-three Chinese citizens are at a factory. The People's Republic can't just send the army in after them, but a discharged special forces guy like Feng (Wu Jing)

The original Wolf Warrior didn't have nearly as much going on plotwise, and Feng didn't truly stick out of a cast full of best-of-the-best special forces types. Getting Wu Jing's Feng Leng out of the military frees him up to have a little more personality, and puts him in a generally more interesting group. Wu hasn't yet become a good enough actor that one can enjoy the scenes between fights like Donnie Yen or Jet Li did, but he's an amiable enough screen presence as Feng, and he's got a more interesting crew to play off: He's got more chemistry with Celina Jade's energetic Dr. Rachel Smith than he did with Xiaoyun in the first one (and, admittedly, more opportunity for it to come out), for instance, and the factory gives him a chance to play off both Wu Gang's veteran security chief and Zhang Han as a rich-kid military enthusiast. It's fun to watch him play off Nwachukwu Kennedy Chukwuebuka as an African "godson" who follows him around.

Full review on EFC.

Monday, August 07, 2017

The Battleship Island

Every year I make a joke about having to ease out of Fantasia slowly as I spend the next weekend or week watching things that either played Fantasia or are the sort of thing that would have but just didn't play festivals this close to their release, but it's kind of nuts this year - it seems like there's both a Chinese and a Korean film opening every week during August, both because of opportunity (the American studios ease off late in the summer) and supply (China is locking Hollywood out right now, so there are more Chinese movies available for day-and-date releases, and given that Korean releases come a couple weeks to a month or so after being released in South Korea, we're getting their summer material now). I may do a split double feature tonight as part of that catch-up.

I must admit to being kind of surprised I got through it. My concession to getting older this year is taking the overnight bus home on Saturday rather than Sunday, which would have involved arriving in south station, taking the T to my apartment, showering, and then taking it to work; instead, I gave myself a day to recover. It felt really necessary during the afternoon, as I dragged during the ballgame and figured I'd turn in early, but some caffeine hit me around 6pm or so and I headed out for the 7:20pm show. Got through it pretty well, although I noticed that in my absence AMC Boston Common had moved some stuff around (tickets are now ripped upstairs, and it looks like they're trying out assigned seating for the Imax screen, though not the rest). Got through to the end, which was no guarantee.

Now, to see if I'm up for Wolf Warrior 2, despite that being down to only later shows...

Goonhamdo (The Battleship Island)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 6 August 2017 in AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run, DCP)

The Battleship Island advertises itself as being based upon true events, and it's messy enough for me to buy that even if it's also got the sort of finale that seems a bit too good to be true. It's a fairly brutal war movie at times, especially when it gets elbow-deep in both torment and double-crosses, although it walks the line between being gratuitous and honest in its horror.

Japan's Nishima Island is shaped like a battleship, but it's got a coal mine where the engine would be, and during World War II, that mine was operated in part by conscripted Korean labor. The latest group being brought from the mainland is a motley one - famous gangster Choi Chil-sung (So Ji-sub), grad student Oh Jang-woo (Jang Sung-bum), escaped comfort woman Mal-nyon (Lee Jung-hyun), and a nine-piece band led by Lee Gang-ok (Hwang Jung-min) that includes his pre-teen daughter Sohee (Kim Soo-ahn). No escape attempt from the island has been successful, but that may change this time out - Allied Intelligence has learned that Korean Liberation Army leader Yoon Hak-chul (Lee Kyoung-young) is among the miners, and has sent OSS agent Park Moo-young (Song Joong-ki) in to extract him.

Writer/director Ryoo Seung-wan wastes no time in making Nishima a vision of hell in a sweaty black-and-white opening gambit that establishes that aside from grimy, sweaty conditions, the miners must deal with venting gases in shafts that have been dug underneath the sea floor, with cruel humiliations awaiting those who die trying to escape. It's not the kind of environment that calls out for subtle work, and Ryoo doesn't have a lot of nuance to give, which generally serves the film pretty well. Even considering that this was a historically bad place, combining the worst aspects of Dickensian labor and wartime atrocities, there are times when the movie seems to be pushing it: Manager Daisuke Shimazaki (Kim In-woo) looks like a cartoon villain even standing next to the more thuggish Yamada (Kim Joong-hee), and early scenes of Sohee being grouped in with the comfort women can sometimes feel like they get their tension from how far Ryoo is going to push things rather than how far the characters are going to go.

Full review on EFC.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 4 August 2017 - 10 August 2017

Sorry for not doing these the past few weeks, but Fantasia is kind of all-consuming, even more so than usual this year; really just no time to even take a morning/afternoon to hit the tourist spots, let alone blog about anything but the movies I've seen in the last 24 hours, some of which will be hitting this list in the next few weeks.

  • Detroit is the week's big opener, with Kathryn Bigelow taking on the Detroit riots of 1967; it plays at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, the Capitol, Apple Fresh Pond, West Newton, Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    The Coolidge has a couple of classic thrillers on 35mm for their midnights this weekend, with The Taking of Pelham One Two Three on Friday and Black Sunday on Saturday. The Big Screen Classic on Monday is My Neighbor Totoro, and it gets a rare two shows that night - dubbed in English at 7pm and subtitled at 9:15pm. They'll also be lugging 35mm projectors to Boston's Greenway for their last outdoor screening of the summer on Tuesday (or Wednesday in the case of rain), when they'll be showing the original King Kong. Speaking of film, note that though Dunkirk was scheduled to have its last 70mm shows there on the 3rd, they'll be running it on 70 for most shows through Sunday, although it looks to be a DCP after that.
  • I'm the only person in New England to be saddened by the poor reviews The Dark Tower is getting because it's the work of Nikolaj Arcel and Anders Thomas Jensen, aren't I? Ah, well. It features Idris Elba as the Gunslinger and Matthew McConaughey as Randall Flagg, but the trailer doesn't really make it look like the epic fantasy King's fans make the series out to be. It's at the Somerville, Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway (including RPX), Assembly Row, Revere (including MX4D & XPlus), and the SuperLux. That one took forever to get made while Kidnap took forever to get released; it was finished back in 2013 or 2014 but the guys that made it went bankrupt so Halle Berry as a mother trying to chase down the people who took her son just sat on the shelf. It's at Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    With screens to fill and some of the summer's kid-oriented movies not necessarily having staying power, Boston Common and Assembly Row will be running The Lion King for a week. Note that they will be alternating regular and sing-along screenings, so choose whichever seems best for your family and/or sanity.
  • Kendall Square is apparently only back up to 5 screens, but that's room enough to give two to An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, with former Vice President Al Gore catching the audience up on the struggles to fight and manage climate change in the past decade, with the election supposedly causing it to take a less optimistic tone. It also plays at West Newton, Boston Common, and Revere.
  • It looks like August is going to be packed with Asian films, both Korean and Chinese, for a variety of reasons (look at the uninspiring group of things Hollywood is putting out a few paragraphs up), and The Battleship Island arrives in the U.S. just a week or so after opening big in South Korea, with director Ryu Seung-wan reuniting with Veteran star Hwang Jung-min for a WWII thriller about Korean's forced to mine coal plotting an escape from their Japanese captors; it also features So Ji-sub and Kim Soo-an (the little girl from Train to Busan). They also keep Wolf Warrior II around on half a screen, for those of us that didn't get to see Wu Jing and Frank Grillo mess people up (hopefully reliable action guy Grillo isn't playing the evil white dude).

    Both Apple Fresh Pond and Fenway keep Mubarakan around for matinees, but they actually get different Indian movies for new releases. Apple gets Bollywood romantic comedy Jab Harry Met Sejal, which is apparently not a remake of When Harry Met Sally… but a road trip movie as Shah Rukh Khan's Harinder helps Anushka Sharma's Sejal find the engagement ring that she lost in Europe. Fenway gets Darshakudu, but I can't find anything about that other than it being in Telugu. Apple also has a midnight screening of Rocky Horror on Friday with the Teseracte Players, while Full Body Cast does the shadowcast thing at Boston Common on Saturday, as usual.
  • The Brattle Theatre has been celebrating Robert Mitchum's Centennial all summer and for the weekend of his actual birthday, they've helped fund the new DCP of The Friends of Eddie Coyle, long considered one of the best Boston crime movies ever made, and will be running it Friday through Sunday. The regular vertical takes over as the work week begins with 35mm double features of Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison & Macao (Monday) and The Story of G.I. Joe & The Enemy Below (Tuesday). The "Recent Raves" series running on Wednesday pairs David Lynch: The Art Life with Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and Thursday's Agnes Varda film is The Gleaners and I. They'll also have a special IFFBoston preview of Good Time on Sunday night, and not only is it a pretty great thriller, but directors Josh & Benny Safdie will be there and they do a great Q&A.
  • The West Newton Cinema continues the Boston Jewish Film Festival's "Summer Cinematheque" on Wednesday with Cloudy Sunday, a WWII-set film with a Christian man falling for a Jewish woman as German law is being enforced.
  • The Harvard Film Archive was doing That Certain Feeling… The Touch of Ernst Lubitsch when I left, and they're still at it, with Anna Boleyn (Friday 7pm accompanied by Jeff Rapsis), The Shop Around the Corner (Saturday 9pm), and Sumurun (Sunday 4pm with accompaniment by Martin Marks). They're still doing The Complete Jean Renoir, too, with Toni (Saturday 7pm), Life Is Ours (DCP) & "Salute to France" (Sunday 7pm), and The Golden Coach (Monday 7pm). They also finish "The Innermost Limits of Pure Fun: Psychedelic Surf Films, 1966-1979" on Friday, with 16mm short "Bondi" playing before another surreal Australian film, Dalmas. All but those two and Life Is Ours are on 35mm film.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has an eclectic group of films this weekend. The monthly "On the Fringe" show is a 35mm print of The Lost Boys on Friday, though that's the second film of the evening, with French black comedy Slack Bay playing earlier in the day and also on Thursday. They also have a four-film Inuit Stories series on the weekend, with Angry Inuk & Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner on Saturday and Searchers & Circus Without Borders on Sunday. Documentary The Artist's Garden: American Impressionism and the Garden Movement also plays twice, Sunday morning and Thursday evening.
  • The Regent Theatre has a special screening of Janis: Little Girl Blue on Thursday evening with post-film Q&A from Dave Getz and Peter Albin, founding members of Big Brother & The Holding Company, Joplin's original band which will be having a live show on the next day.
  • The Joe's Free Films calendar shows a lot of people playing Moana outside, with the most unusual item Zarafa at the Egleston Square Peace Garden on Wednesday.

Not actually back in Boston until Sunday, but I'll probably find time for Dunkirk on 70mm and The Battleship Island, and maybe some Mitchum or catching up on War for the Planet of the Apes and The Big Sick before they go. Looks like I might have to hit Cinema du Parc to see A Ghost Story because it came and went while I was up here. What the heck, Boston - a movie having an Affleck in it used to mean something!

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Fantasia 2017.20: Spoor, The Endless, and Prey

Tuesday was a pretty short day, but it got a lot of bang for the buck, as Spoor was one that Paul Kazee was playing up throughout the festival and delivered, while The Endless was perhaps my personal most anticipated, since I quite liked Resolution and absolutely adore Spring, and the latest from the folks who made those was a must-see.

It's worth noting that The Endless was one of the press screenings I didn't have a conflict with, but the Q&A the filmmakers did for Resolution was one of the most informative and entertaining I'd seen at a festival, so why not wait until they'll be there? So here's Fantasia's Mitch Davis with the film's Justin Benson (center) and Aaron Moorhead (right), and as expected, the pair were very funny while also talking pretty openly about the film, from how it actually started as a comedy, then was supposed to be a bit smaller in scale, but eventually built up. There was a lot of talk about how crucial sound design was to the film, because some scenes went from terrible to great once they got the ambient sound right, and they drove themselves nuts with some sounds near the end, because every time they tried to get something out of a library, it didn't work - great sound effect, but it sounds like Star Trek.

It was a really fun Q&A, but there's a lot that shouldn't be repeated until The Endless manages to find distribution and release, because of a lot of the discussion and enthusiasm was for something that shows up in the back end of the movie which made the audience absolutely go nuts when we realized what we were seeing, and it would not be fair to deny other people that discovery.

It's a good one, though. Once again, can't wait to see what they do next.

The Q&A for Prey, on the other hand, wasn't exactly a bummer, but you could clearly get the sense that it didn't go the way Mitch was hoping - the name of Dick Maas (right) just didn't ring a bell with much of the audience when Mitch tried to get us revved up, really not until he mentioned that Maas wrote and directed Sint. After the movie, he was pretty frank about how making films like this in the Netherlands was becoming exceptionally difficult - Prey had a $3M budget, compared to the $1-2M most Dutch films have, and as he pointed out, a single sequence would have taken over a million dollars in CGI if he'd gone to one of the big international effect houses. It also didn't do nearly as well as expected in the Netherlands, so he was sounding pessimistic about getting something similar off the ground in the future.

On the other hand, Mitch being astounded that the wheelchairs in the movie (one with tank treads that could climb stairs, one a Segway-derived design) were real things was kind of delightful.

Last day today, and since the big-name shows in Hall have already got dates in Boston, I'll be spending it in de Seve watching Indiana, Le Manoir, Kills on Wheels, and The Night Watchmen

Pokot (Spoor)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 1 August 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017, DCP)

My first impression of Spoor was not quite that it was a "when animals attack" movie told from the point of view of the eccentric old woman that the young protagonists initially disbelieve, although that was certainly in my head once we had enough twenty-something characters for a love triangle. I've got no idea whether that was something the filmmakers had in their heads at any point, and suspect they didn't, especially if you figure that they really weren't making a horror movie, but instead a genre movie that was actually interested in older people - which is something they've done exceptionally well.

The principle one is Duszejko (Agnieszka Mandat-Grabka) - not "Janina", not "Ms. Duszejko", just "Duszejko", if you please - a former civil engineer who likes the fresh air and open spaces of the small Polish town near the Czech border to which she's semi-retired (she teaches English part-time at the elementary school and the kids love her), but hates the hunting culture that surrounds her, which is part and parcel to a larger tolerance for cruelty and indifference to animals. When a neighbor dies, her first impulse is to describe him as a cruel poacher, and she's got little but disdain for Jarek Wnetrzak (Borys Szyc) and the fox "farm" he runs, though she's quite fond of his girlfriend Maria "Good News" Chica (Patrycja Volny), hoping she'll see the crush Dyzio (Jakub Gierszal), the local police department's IT specialist, has on her. Of course, when she and Dyzio find a dead body in the snow, he isn't much more ready to give credence to Duszejko's observation that there are deer tracks leading to the body than anybody else. But as more bodies of hunters pile up during the ensuing months, it starts to look like she may be onto something.

You'll find characters like Duszejko in a lot of horror movies, hanging around the margins, tragically sacrificed as their warnings aren't heeded, and seeing her at the center is an interesting perspective. Even considering that, it's almost shocking when, midway through, a character we've seen a couple times and maybe not given a great deal of eastern looks at her with actual interest, then she later clicks with the older entomologist who discovers one of the bodies... And it doesn't get particularly contentious because they're too old and have been through too much to waste time like that. It seems genuinely exciting to see a movie like this built around people who are at retirement age without making a joke or point of it; they're just the characters the filmmakers saw as interesting people, and not just because they're sensible and experienced: They're individuals informed by their age, but not entirely defined by that.

Full review on EFC.

The Endless

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 1 August 2017 in Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU/Théâtre Hall (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017, DCP)

Aaron Morehead & Justin Benson have not only not made a bad movie yet, but they're 3-for-3 in making fantastic films that at some point make the viewer's eyes bulge with delight at one point or another when it becomes clear that they are doing something really clever. The Endless is no exception, building tension in an almost conventional way and then making sure that both the things that build mystery and resolve it are genuinely thrilling.

Benson & Morehead also star in the movie, and they wind up doing pretty well there too, nailing a great dynamic as brothers who escaped from a cult ten years ago and have never been quite right since, and they work well with the folks who do this for a living. It's fun to watch them play off each other.

And then... well, can't tell you. But sharp-eyed horror fans will love where this goes.

"Health, Wealth & Happiness"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 1 August 2017 in Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU/Théâtre Hall (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017, DCP)

I'll be curious to see how "Health, Wealth & Happiness" fits in with the other two "Albion Tales" shorts when they wind up placed next to each other and even edited together into a single work. This one is good enough, a three-wishes story with an ironic ending that doesn't really go into surprising places, with even the twisting-of-wishes gotcha being something it feels like we've seen before.

On the plus side, though, is a very nice two-person cast who take these very familiar parts and give them a little more personality than they might have. MyAnna Buring plays this sort of aggressive, not threatened by any man role a lot, but she's exceptionally good at it, and Alex Hassell takes a plain sort of role and does a great riff as he discovers that he's got a posher accent to go with the spiffy clothes he accidentally wished himself into. It's funny and weird and more real than you might expect, even as the rest of the film is kind of straightforward.

Prooi (Prey)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 1 August 2017 in Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU/Théâtre Hall (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017, DCP)

Prey is, make no bones about it, a silly extra-large-animal-attacks-humans movie, but it's one that is exceptionally well aware of precisely what audiences want from that sort of picture. There not really a single sequence that doesn't play out with exactly the beats that one might expect for this sort of B-movie, and the film in general plays out as you'd expect.

Fortunately, director Dick Maas is a B-movie pro, and he hits the right notes at the right moments, so that while the film never really has great moments of surprise and shock, it's very satisfying in terms of execution, there's a certain comfort to knowing that this is what a killer-animal movie is supposed to do and this is what it does, with the moments of black comedy feeling more genuine than ironic.

And, for a small-budgeted movie, he does all right. The cast is by and large capable and amiable (even if the boyfriend feels utterly unnecessary), and the lion effects are decent. The CGI lions aren't necessarily quite up to having daylight scenes, but they work well enough when there's some shade and cover, while the animatronic lions are pretty good. Gore moments are effective without being excessively gruesome.

Folks who like Maas's work and killer-animal movies should fond it pretty good, and I know there's more than a few, so enjoy, guys!

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Fantasia 2017.19: Night Is Short, Walk on Girl; Deliver Us; Lu Over the Wall; and Blade of the Immortal

Check out the rare "Q&A by the same director for different movies twice the same day" stuff going on!

I mean, how does someone even have two animated films come out close enough together to have them both play the same festival, let alone have them be released a month or so apart in theaters? I suppose part of it is one being held until there's an open spot on the schedule, and maybe anime production isn't exactly dealing with American unions in terms of overworking people. Dunno. These aren't 75 minute features, either.

In between: Exorcism documentary Deliver Us, which I kind of knew I wasn't going to like because it was an exorcism documentary that didn't have "fraud", "con artists", or "using superstition to abuse the mentally ill and maintain Church hegemony" in its description. I didn't expect it to be so dull, though; I wasn't far from nodding off throughout, although that may not be entirely on the movie; I think I basically feel that way for every second film when I sit down for a long movie-watching day, starting with the second. It happened again during Blade of the Immortal, and that's not dull at all, although it seems that they may have streamlined the story to the point where a lot that isn't action gets lost. Fortunately, there's a ton of great action.

I am a bit sad about the modifications the last-minute addition of Blade to the festival made to my schedule (and that of others) - it pushed Mon Mon Mon Monsters! to a smaller screen and probably sucked a lot of audience away from it, and while I had my issues with that one, I bet folks would have liked it. Doing that pulled Indian action-comedy Double Barrel off the schedule entirely, moving me to Lu Over the Wall in that slot and thus knocking my movie count down by one since I had it penciled in for the second screening the next day. Or I could have done the CineClub/Film Society screening ("Sherlock Holmes vs. Charlie Chan"), which is always fun, but a third Miike is a temptation I couldn't resist.

So, that leaves my second-to-last day plans a little shorter than they were: Spoor, The Endless, and Prey. Lu Over the Wall is recommended, Deliver Us not so much, and I'm kind of sad that there aren't English subtitles on Going to Brazil.

Yoru wa Mijikashi Arukeyo Otome (Night Is Short, Walk On Girl)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 31 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017: Axis, Blu-ray)

The first of two animated films by director Masaaki Yuasa at this festival is a delightful, fast-moving story of alcohol, used books, guerilla theater, and the possibilities of youth, right up to the fantastic and seemingly impossible as college students try to arrange their own fates. It's exhilarating to watch even if that sort of thing isn't necessarily one's cup of tea; Yuasa packs its ninety minutes with energy and imagination that constantly surprises but always has something that feels real at its heart.

It starts at a wedding reception in Kyoto's Ponto Town with two students at tables on the opposite ends of the room: The Girl With Black Hair (voice of Kana Hanazawa) is a friend of bride Noako and close to the main table; an upperclassman or senpai (voice of Gen Hoshino) who has had a crush on her for the past two years, staging "accidental" meetings so that she would eventually think them seeing each other everywhere was fate, is across the room, scheming to be seated at her table for the after-party. She doesn't go to that party, though, instead finding a bar where she is first accosted by older lech Todo-san (voice of Kazuhiro Yamaji) - easily dealt with via the "friendly fist" - and then joins up with classmates Higuchi (voice of Kazuya Nakai) and Hanuki (Yuko Kaida) for a night of bar-hopping that will involve a drinking contest with the mysterious Rihaku (voice of Mugihito), a trip to the open-air book fair, and meeting other friends at the school festival, with enough madness to make this night seem to cover months, while Senpai frantically follows and finds his attempts to gain attention and favor foiled by increasingly bizarre circumstances.

That The Girl and The Senpai aren't given names is an indication of how quickly-sketched many of the film's characters are, but they nevertheless become more they seem at first glance. That's a good thing, because Senpai initially comes off as a stalker while The Girl is rather idealized even without the story being told from his point of view. Still, screenwriter Makoto Ueda (working from a novel by Tomohiko Morimi) makes sure that nobody is just there to be a creep or perfect, something that especially comes to the fore in the last act, when what seemed like a tossed-off line about "Don Underpants" (voice of Ryuji Akiyama) not changing his shorts until he finds the girl he fell for at first sight actually starts driving a lot of the plot but it's okay, because these side characters make the same sort of impression as the leads.

Full review on EFC.

Libera Nos (Deliver Us)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 31 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017: Documentaries from the Edge, DCP)

Throughout Deliver Us, I couldn't help but wonder if its simple fly-on-the-wall approach did the people involved a disservice. Though someone watching with my general point of view (that this is dangerous superstition that hurts the mentally ill in order to position the Church as the only thing one can depend upon) will certainly see moments that support it, I can't help but feel that not questioning this actively can't help but make the practice seem acceptable, covering upon it a sort of legitimacy.

Is it fair to ask a documentary that simply shows the daily practice of a priest who includes exorcism at pay off his repertoire to do more? Perhaps not. However, this quiet film, by not apparently asking any questions until the editing process, winds up feeling not just accepting, but dull. Father Cataldo and those who come to him do much the same thing repeatedly, and it's just not very involving after a while.

Yoake Tsugeru Lu no uta (Lu Over the Wall)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 31 July 2017 in Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU/Théâtre Hall (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017, Bu-ray)

The second Masaaki Yuasa film of the festival (and day!) is a different sort of delight than Walk On Girl, in some ways a conventionally unconventional coming-of-age fantasy in terms of the story with magical creatures helping a lovely kid find his place and save the town.

But that's the basic plot, it's the way that this story sometimes gives Yuasa the chance to suddenly jump into something new, from the sudden jump to a bouncy theme song (and similar later number) to the seemingly random, surprising entrance of Lu's father that leads to things suddenly getting downright weird. The animation will go from semi-conventional amine style to indie distortion akin to Yuasa's Mind Game or Jazz-Age American cartoons and the later things inspired by them.

It's an energetic movie that nevertheless always finds time to do right by its characters, especially a few that could easily be overlooked, even when the action of the climax sometimes gets too big and strange for the audience to catch everything on the first time through. I'm not sure whether my nieces (and other American kids) would be more likely to respond to the great bits of music and cuteness or be thrown by how genuinely peculiar bits of it are.

Mugen no Junin (Blade of the Immortal)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 31 July 2017 in Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU/Théâtre Hall (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017, DCP)

Blade of the Immortal is being advertised as Takashi Miike's hundredth movie (looking at the IMDB, the numbers don't quite seem to align, but, hey, close enough), and I suspect that his biggest hit outside of his native Japan is his remake of 13 Assassins, which demonstrated that while he may be known as the guy who does the weird stuff, he's one of the best action filmmakers out there when you strip that away. He returns to big samurai action with Blade of the Immortal, which gets to be even bigger and bloodier.

Fifty years ago, samurai constable Manji (Takuya Kimura) was declared an outlaw for actions which may or may not have been justified, but more importantly, was given immortality when 800-year-old nun Yaobikuni (Yoko Yamamoto) placed "sacred bloodworms" in his body, allowing him to heal from nearly any injury and even reattach recently severed limbs. He's lived a life of seclusion, but Yaobikuni seems to have found a way to entice him back into the world, advising Rin Asano (Hana Sugisaki), a teenaged tomboy, to seek him out as a bodyguard on her quest for revenge against Kagehisa Anotsu (Sota Fukushi), the man who killed her father. Anotsu has been attacking dojos all through Edo, insisting they join his "Itto-ryu" clan or perish, which not only indicates that he is a formidable opponent, but that he has surrounded himself with other lethal swordsmen - and now the government has taken notice, extending an offer of legitimacy where he would train their warriors.

Screenwriter Tetsuya Oishi seems to have streamlined Hiroaki Samura's manga in order to fit thirty volumes of comics into 140 minutes, and it's a fair job of compression - as much as some threads occasionally seem to be running behind others, it never has the feeling of having to get this, that, and the other in with no time left over to show what effect this all has on Rin and Manji. Miike and Oishi are good at showing just enough to get the important things moving - we don't need the full story of how Manji's actions not only branded him a criminal but emotionally devastated his sister Machi, just enough to see how that would hang over him for decades, and the quick glimpse of Rin's happy home life before Anotsu destroyed it is enough (while his eventual explanation of his own motivations is satisfying without realigning everything). That other things are fleshed out a bit less in order to give Manji, Rin, and Anotsu more people to fight in the end is perfectly okay.

Full review on EFC.