Thursday, August 31, 2017

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 1 September 2017 - 7 September 2017

Labor Day weekend is always a weird one for movie releases to begin with, made a little stranger in Boston as the construction at Kendall Square keeping the local theater closed has a ripple effect north of the river. Still, there's a lot of unlikely stuff being shoveled into theaters this weekend while other stuff gets shuffled around and somehow nobody has a screen for The Villainess.

  • For instance, the Imax-branded screens are getting the first two episodes of The Inhumans, which will show up on ABC toward the end of the month, and it can't possibly hold up to the Wachowski-directed version in my head. It's at Jordan's, Boston Common (evenings only), and Assembly Row. Not limited to premium screens in general (but only playing them at some places, so check if you're on a budget or using MoviePass) is a 40th Anniversary re-release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which plays Boston Common, Fenway (RPX), Assembly Row, and Revere (XPlus).

    The biggest regular release is Tulip Fever, which is an odd one, with Dane DeHaan as an artist who schemes with his subject (Alicia Vikander) to raise money to run away by making a killing during the Amsterdam tulip mania - a real, crazy thing during the 1700s. It's at The West Newton Cinema, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux. There's also Hazlo Como Hombre, this year's Spanish-language film getting a Labor Day release in the U.S., this one a Mexican/Chilean comedy about two best friends, one engaged to the other's sister, except the latter has just decided to come out of the closet. It's at Boston Common and Revere.

    Boston Common, in particular, has a bunch of screens to fill, with the most promising of the other additions being Crown Heights, starring Lakeith Stanfield as a wrongfully convicted man trying to survive in prison while his best friend (Nnamdi Asomugha) strives to get the conviction overturned. There's also I Do… Until I Don't, with writer/director Lake Bell as a documentarian trying to show that marriage is an outdated institution (also at West Newton), and Valley of Bones, which stars Autumn Reeser as a paleontologist whose new find is in the middle of cartel territory.

    Studios trying to squeeze a little extra money out before the end of the season are re-expanding Cars 3, War for the Planet of the Apes, and Wonder Woman this week.
  • Summer's over, so The Brattle Theatre is back to something a little more like conventional engagements, although this week is kind of split three ways. IFFBoston alumnusIn Transit plays every day from Friday to Thursday, and is the final film of Albert Maysles, a look at the people traveling on the Amtrak Empire Builder, America's busiest long-distance train route. It's initially joined by The Ornithologist, a film from this year's Wicked Queer festival by João Pedro Rodrigues in which the title character is carried away by rapids and winds up rescued by Chinese pilgrims; it plays the late show Friday, Saturday, and Monday and a Matinee on Sunday. The evening shows for the rest of the week are new restorations of two Louise Brooks silents, with Beggars of Life on Tuesday, Diary of a Lost Girl on Wednesday, and the pair as a double feature Thursday.
  • The end of summer is marked in the usual way at The Harvard Film Archive: First, they finish up the two repertory series playing in style, with Friday featuring filmmaker/author Nicholas Macdonald introducing Grand Illusion, the last of the Jean Renoir films, and then the Ernst Lubitsch series finishing with an encore of Cluny Brown at 9:30pm. Saturday night, they make the projectionist work overtime with Night of the Vampire, starting at 7pm and running straight through to Sunday morning with Dracula's Daughter, Horror of Dracula, The Hunger, Near Dark, Nadja, Trouble Every Day, and Thirst. All of it is on 35mm.
  • With little coming from Hollywood, Apple Fresh Pond loads up on Indian cinema, leaving Vivekham to Fenway but keeping A Gentleman, ArjunReddy,Bareilly ki Barfi, and Toilet Ek Prem Katha while also getting Bollywood gold-heist adventure Baadshaho, Tamil-language thriller Puriyatha Puthir,Telugu-language action/comedy Paisa Vasool, and One Heart: The A.R. Rahman Concert Film.

    They also give half-screens to a couple of indies: Hare Krishna! is a documentary about Prabhupada, the swami who first introduced the mantra of the title to the west in the 1960s, and Goon: Last of the Enforcers has Seann William Scott returning as the title character in a hockey comedy sequel that has funny guy (and writer/co-star) Jay Baruchel making his feature directorial debut.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre picks up The Trip to Spain and brings back Step, and likely would have done the first even if Kendall Square was open and the film wasn't briefly homeless. They also kick off a September full of exploitation classics at midnight, going for gore the first weekend with 35mm prints of Two Thousand Maniacs (Friday) and Maniac on Saturday. Then, as has become traditional, they finish up the summer's near-weekly run of Big Screen Classics on Monday with Jaws in 35mm.
  • I am generally remiss about mentioning BUFF's "Dispatches from the Underground" series, which sets up shop in The Somerville Theatre's Micro-Cinema on the first Wednesday of every month and features either past hits or things they couldn't fit in the schedule. This month's is Imitation Girl, in which an alien arrives in the Southwestern USA and takes the form of a woman on a girlie-magazine cover, while the original back in New York is frustrated with the life she leads. Only about 30 seats there, so buy in advance (and if you had a pass for this year's festival, you can reserve tickets for free).

    The Somerville picked up Patti Cake$ on Wednesday, since it never wound up opening at the Kendall, while The Capitol picks up Menashe and The Trip to Spain from the Kendall with Baby Driver moving over from the Somerville. It's also looking like Wednesday will be the last day for Dunkirk in 70mm at the Somerville, as It moves into the main screen on Thursday.
  • The start of the month means an "On the Fringe" show at The Museum of Fine Arts, with this month's selection a 35mm print of John Carpenter's They Live. August's film programming bleeds into the weekend with the end of Feed Your Head: Films from 1967, encore screenings of The Trip (Friday) and Le Samourai (Saturday on 35mm). After that, they start having screenings of Hermia & Helena, about an Argentine theater director who relocates to New York and starts receiving mysterious postcards (Saturday/Sunday); Michelangelo: Love and Death, a documentary on the master artist (Sunday/Thursday); and Bertrand Tavernier's My Journey through French Cinema (Wednesday). They also start a repertory series on Thursday, "Una Lengua Muy Poderosa: Contemporary Queer Films of Mexico", with I Dream in Another Language.
  • The Joe's Free Films list is pretty barren as far as outdoor films are concerned with the start of September, although Friday features Fever Pitch at the Harbor Hotel and The Princess Bride at Fanuiel Hall, with Jaws at the Lawn on D Sunday night.

Got my ticket for Imitation Girl, and will make a valiant attempt at the vampire thing and Louise Brooks flicks around going for Tulip Fever and The Inhumans and catching up on Logan Lucky, Apes, and The Big Sick, though I've said that before.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Wind River

A good one, although I can't help but wonder what this movie would look like if a Native actor had played Jeremy Renner's part. It would alter a lot of things in small ways and maybe in larger ways, and you can kind of see an argument against it, as Renner's Cory seems to have just the right amount of distance from the Arapaho that the film can be about him internally versus him as an outsider or as a representative of his people.

It's a well-balanced movie in that way - every character is positioned perfectly in order to serve their purpose in the story, and that's something that writer/director Taylor Sheridan has done well in his brief career writing movies: As much as I'm disappointed that Emily Blunt will not be part of next year's Soldado, it doesn't make sense given how Sicario played out. Similarly, there's not much that isn't well-placed in Hell or High Water.

There are far worse things that a filmmaker could be known for as he expands his body of work.

Wind River

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 August 2017 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run, DCP)

On the one hand, you've got to wish there were more, meatier roles for Native people in Wind River; it's frustrating to see a crime story set on and around the titular reservation so driven by the actions of the white members of its cast. On the other, it's hard to find much fault with the film Taylor Sheridan made on its own merits. It's a smart crime story which lets the audience inside the heads of its investigators and then bides its time before cranking the tension to the max.

The film spends most its time following Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), who works for the Department of Fish and Wildlife, culling animals that pose a threat to people and livestock. Tracking a mountain lion that mauled one of his ex-father-in-law's cows, he finds the body of his late daughter's best friend Natalie (Kelsey Asbille). He radios Ben, the reservation's chief of police (Graham Greene), who calls in the FBI, which sends Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) from the Las Vegas field office. Young and inexperienced, she figures she's just there to handle the preliminaries until a full team can be sent, but since Natalie's death is not technically a homicide - the girl died of exposure fleeing those who raped and battered her - Jane is on her own, enlisting Cory to help her and Ben because he knows the terrain. Of course, as Cory tells Natalie's father (Gil Birmingham), he's a hunter, not a detective, and he's still carrying a lot of anger around from the unsolved murder of his own daughter three years ago.

After years of making The Hurt Locker look a bit like a case of casting a guy who fit a role perfectly, at least in his most big franchise roles (it is unfortunately easy for a drab [I]Bourne[/I] sequel being pushed for months to make one forget [I]The Immigrant[/I] as it comes and goes), Jeremy Renner delivers his second genuinely great performance in a row (after Arrival) as the even-keeled hunter who nevertheless harbors a powerful grief and desire for revenge. It's almost seductive how his seeming stability and genuine kindness can make the moments when he quietly wears a worn expression while acting on rage seem almost reasonable, a reminder that our darkest emotions don't always announce themselves with cold fury but seep out because they seem to make sense. It's an interesting pairing with Elizabeth Olsen's green FBI agent, struggling with her self-doubt and staying to master how to use the authority she wields over what are often more experienced people. It's really a supporting role, even if it can get mistaken for a lead because she's got the most screen-time of any woman in the cast, but it's a good one, and Olsen makes the most of it, creating a nice contrast between the fish out of water worried about accidentally giving offense and the smart agent who can follow a trail of clues even if she can't follow a literal trail.

They're supported by a strong cast, with Graham Greene especially fitting perfectly into the role of the fatalistic lawman with a dry, sarcastic sense of humor. Much of the rest of the cast comes and goes as Jane and Cory follow the clues, though Gil Birmingham is always great as the Natalie's father Martin, and separate leads bring the law to a spot populated almost entirely by strong character actors - Hugh Dillon, James Jordan, and Jon Bernthal - and a good group of young Native actors in Kelsey Asbille, Tokala Clifford, Martin Sensmeier. That they switch out highlights that Sheridan's film is not really a mystery or a thriller, but one that uses that sort of story to focus on characters and environment.

Full review on EFC.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Average (but odd) Asian Action: Birth of the Dragon & Midnight Runners

Alternate theme to this pair: Titles meant to evoke better movies. Not that I necessarily know what the Korean title of Midnight Runners means or if the people giving it an English name were specifically referencing Midnight Run, but, well, you can't not think of that one.

Personally, they were also both movies I fit in around other things, with Birth following the 3D release of Terminator 2 on Saturday, but not both in the same theater because just hanging around an area makes me itchy and there was a 4:30pm show in Assembly versus a 4:45pm downtown. Then on Sunday, I caught the silent film at Somerville and then figured Runners would be the best bridge between that and the Films of the Gate finale. Not necessarily great choices in either case, but not bad ones, and I'm kind of glad I've seen each, although those are choices keeping me from seeing better things in theaters.

Birth of the Dragon

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 August 2017 in AMC Assembly Row #7 (first-run, DCP)

Though the format is their bread and butter for their live shows and television programming, Birth of the Dragon seems to be the first film from WWE Studios that is actually centered around two guys talking smack about each other for a couple of weeks and then settling the matter with their fists in front of an audience; they've become a spot where directors the studios won't give big budgets can do decent, if modest, genre material whether or not they include a wrestler in the cast. That's the case here - George Nolfi's first feature since The Adjustment Bureau has its faults, but it does most of what it sets out to do better than a lot of things with bigger stars and budgets.

Before he was a star, Bruce Lee (Philip Ng Wang-lung) taught wing chun in San Francisco, with Vinnie Wei (Simon Yin) and Steve McKee (Billy Magnussen) as two of his more enthusiastic students. While Vinnie's gambling gets him in trouble with Chinatown gangsters, Steve finds himself smitten by Quan Xiulan (Qu Jingjing), a recent arrival looking to study western medicine but who has been put to work in a restaurant to pay off debts whose interest exceeds her salary. As this is going on, Shaolin monk Wong Jack Man (Xia Yu) arrives in town, an event that excites martial arts fan McKee but which Lee sees as a potential challenge and rebuke to his teaching white students as well as Chinese, leading Lee to challenge Wong to a fight - one which few witnessed but which became an integral part of Lee's legend.

Some will watch Birth of the Dragon and think that making the point-of-view character basically Steve McQueen (McQueen was already a star in 1964 and wouldn't train with Lee until later, but just look at McKee and listen to his backstory) just makes what is already a thin premise ridiculous, but there's something brilliant about it, really - if you're going to build a movie out of a thin story that was so poorly reported at the time that it immediately passed into legend, why not scrape every bit of unlikely but entertaining trivia into it, enjoying the tall-take excess of it? Screenwriters Stephen J. Rivele & Christopher Wilkinson take more flagrant liberties, which results in a film that is simple and relatively pat, but which flows easily and allows anybody to latch on, no matter how familiar they are with these people or martial arts in general.

Full review on EFC.

Chungnyeon gyungchal (Midnight Runners)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 27 August 2017 in AMC Boston Common #5 (first-run, DCP)

According to the subtitles, this film's credits end with a promise that "Midnight Runners will return", which seems kind of optimistic unless the young stars are very popular in South Korea despite not being in much that has hit the film festival/general release circuit in North America. They've done some TV, though, so maybe they're big on DramaFever. Still, that's a lot of confidence in a middling movie that's got a good premise but has trouble getting the most of it.

It opens in 2015, as roughly a hundred high school graduates show up to apply for the Korean National Police University, with the fearsome Joo-hee (Park Ha-seon), aka "Medusa", supervising the initial weed-out process. Somehow, Kang Hee-yeol (Kang Ha-neul), a nerdy germophobe who seems more suited for MIT than KNPU, and Park Gi-jung (Park Seo-joon), a cocky kid who can't afford to go anywhere else, wind up not just making the cut but unlikely friends. A year and a half later, though, they're frustrated, and a night of striking out with girls at a nightclub highlights how this path isn't going to lead to respect or financial stability. A pretty girl (Lee Ho-jung) catches their eye on the way back to the bus, though, and while they're doing rock-paper-scissors to see who goes to talk to her, she's pulled into a van. Professor Yang (Sung Dong-il) has taught them that the critical window for the kidnapping of an adult woman is seven hours, but when they report the abduction to the police, they're told the entire missing person squad has been detailed for the kidnapping of a rich man's son. The only thing to do, then, is to go back to the scene of the crime and see what they can figure out themselves.

That's not a bad premise for a movie at all, with the main problem initially being that the character introductions hint at a lighter sort of buddy-cop film than what eventually surfaces (that the English-language title brings to mind one of the all-time great buddy movies doesn't help). It is a surprisingly enjoyable "cop" movie when it gets moving - there's a likable determination to the way the students start tracking victims and suspects down with more ingenuity than evidence, and later on, a few good action bits that emphasize just how hard this is and how young and inexperienced the students are. That it's not exactly subtle in how it plays up its main characters are especially dedicated but kind of shrugs at the inefficiencies of the system isn't great - writer/director Kim Joo-hwan builds the plot around poor use of resources but the tone of the film sometimes has a hard time getting past mild frustration - but it's a solid foundation for the movie even when Hee-yeol and Gi-jung are uncertain.

Full review on EFC.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 25 August 2017 - 31 August 2017

Well, this is potentially inconvenient - half or so of this weekend's new movies are kind of boutique-y things, but Landmark Kendall Square is closed because of construction (either their own or the even bigger construction site all around them) at least through the weekend. So, if you see them listed, remember it's not at least until Monday (and if your plans for the weekend involved seeing Menashe, you can get to West Newton on the T, but I think they still only take cash).

  • One of my favorite things at Fantasia was Good Time, a fast-moving, surprising thriller featuring Robert Patiinson as a young bank robber frantically trying to raise bail money for his mentally-handicapped brother. It's exciting, unpredictable, and stylish as heck. It's at the The Coolidge Corner Theatre, the Somerville, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, Revere, and the Kendall. One I managed to miss at both Fantasia and IFFBoston is Patti Cake$, starring Danielle Macdonald about a Jersey girl with hip-hop aspirations. It's at the Coolidge, Boston Common, and the Kendall.

    Aside from that, the Coolidge does Die Hard-knock-off weekend at midnight, with 35mm prints of Passenger 57 (Friday) and Die Hard With a Vengeance. The projectionist will then work a bit of a marathon on Monday, as the Big Screen Classic is The Godfather.
  • Over at the multiplexes, they open Ingrid Goes West, in which Aubrey Plaza plays a social media obsessive who moves to Los Angeles to ingratiate herself with as "influencer" played by Elizabeth Olsen; hilarity ensues. It's at the Somerville, Boston Common, Fenway, Revere, the SuperLux, and Kendall Square.

    There's also Leap!, a French animated film given an English-language soundtrack for release here, with a would-be ballerina and her inventor buddy running away from their orphanage to make it big in Paris. It's at the Arlington Capitol, Apple Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere. And there's also Birth of the Dragon, about a legendary fight between Bruce Lee (Philip Ng) and martial-arts master Wong Jack Man (Xia Yu) that few witnessed but which supposedly legitimized Lee in the eyes of many. Amusingly, it comes from WWE Films, and is apparently the first thing they've made that is basically a couple of weeks of guys talking smack before settling it with a fight despite being in business for ten years or more. It's at Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    The relatively quiet week means it's as good a time as any for a re-release, and James Cameron hs not only restored Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but converted it to 3D. That's at Boston Common and Assembly Row (an AMC exclusive, apparently). It being the last weekend of the month, GKids has their monthly Ghibli/Miyazaki presentation, one of my favorites, Castle in the Sky. It's apparently been popular enough for there to be three shows from now on (English on Sunday and Wednesday and Japanese on Monday), playing at Revere and Fenway.
  • The Korean movie opening this week is Midnight Runners at Boston Common, starring Park Seo-joon and Kang Ha-neul as mismatched cadets at the police academy who witness a kidnapping and decide to thwart it on their own, although they're probably one decent cop between them. Surprisingly, no Legend of the Naga Pearls despite all the trailers; I'm guessing the distributor didn't expect Wolf Warrior 2 and A Taxi Driver (which they also released) to have this sort of staying power and wound up competing with themselves for screens.

    Plenty of Indian stuff, though, with Tamil spy thriller Vivekham playing both Fresh Pond and Fenway. Fresh Pond also has it in Telugu; Fenway is advertising it as subtitled and even getting some RPX screenings. Apple Fresh Pond also gets subtitled Bollywood romantic comedy Gentleman (aka "Reload") and Telugu drama ArjunReddy while keeping subtitled Hindi films Bareilly ki Barfi and Toilet Ek Prem Katha.
  • I don't know whether the Kendall being mostly closed affected this booking, but The Capitol and The West Newton Cinema are the places opening French drama The Midwife, with Catherine Frot as the title character who forms a reluctant relationship with her father's mistress (Catherine Deneuve), when the former usually only gets these things second-run. The Capitol also has their end-of-month "Throwback Thursday" show on the 31st, with Grease.

    Sister screen The Somerville Theatre throws it back even further on Sunday the 27th, with Jeff Rapsis accompanying the monthly "Silents Please" screening. This month is Get Your Man, with Clara Bow and Buddy Rogers falling in love in Paris in director Dorothy Arzner's romantic comedy. It's newly restored, though some bits are still filled out with stills. 35mm film, of course - they're still showing Dunkirk in 70mm, as well.
  • The Brattle Theatre hosts the Massachusetts Independent Film Festival from Friday to Sunday before starting the last week of the summer vertical programs: The Robert Mitchum series finishes with a 35mm print of The Yakuza on Monday (its double-feature partner, sadly, couldn't be booked) and a digital presentation of Dead Man on Tuesday. That one plays late-ish, though, as Tuesday also features the monthly "Elements of Cinema" program, this one the utterly delightful The Young Girls of Rochefort, with Jacques Demy directing sisters Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac as the title characters, who would like to leave the harbor town, but keep getting pulled back for lively song and dance. It will be followed by a visit from guest speaker Catherine Clark.

    Wednesday features a couple enjoyable single features to finish out the "Recent Raves" - Hirokazu Kore-eda's charming After the Storm and genuinely creepy Canadian horror flick The Void for the late show. Finally, Thursday wraps up the Agnes Varda series with Jane B. par Agnes V. and Kung Fu Master.
  • Jean Renoir takes center stage at the The Harvard Film Archive, with both 35mm prints of his films - The Crime of M. Lange (Friday 7pm) and The Rules of the Game (Sunday 4:30pm) - and the three-part series Jean Renoir, the Boss playing this weekend. Oddly, Jacque Rivette's documentary trilogy plays out of order, with part 1 playing Friday at 9pm, part 3 Sunday at 7pm, and part 2 playing Monday at 7pm. That just leaves Saturday for Ernst Lubitsch, with 35mm prints of The Marriage Circle (7pm, with accompaniment by Martin Marks) and Trouble in Paradise at 9pm.
  • It's all Feed Your Head: Films from 1967 at the The Museum of Fine Arts this week, with The Trip (Friday), The Graduate (Friday), The Jungle Book (Saturday/Sunday), You Only Live Twice (Saturday), Cool Hand Luke (Saturday), In Cold Blood (Sunday), Valley of the Dolls (Thursday), and Le Samourai (Thursday). The last is on 35mm, and the first may be on Blu-ray, but it's directed by Roger Corman, written by Jack Nicholson, and stars Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern, Dennis Hopper, and Susan Strasberg.
  • The Regent Theatre appears to be starting their own silent film series, with the hard-working Rapsis accompanying two from Buster Keaton on Friday. Three Ages spoofs Intolerance (and only runs half as long), featuring Buser in the Stone Age, Roman Age, and Jazz Age, and that's followed by Sherlock Jr., a comedy about a projectionist who enters a movie (and that simple special effect is still perfect 90 years later). They also partner with UXPA Boston for a free screening of Urbanized on Wednesday, the third part of director Gary Hustwit's "design trilogy" that also includes Helvetica and Objectified.
  • The 18-seat room at CinemaSalem has IFFBoston alum City of Ghosts, a fine documentary about the Syrian citizen journalists behind the blog Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently.
  • The Joe's Free Films shows multiple screenings of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and The Secret Life Of Pets this weekend, but the big free outdoor movie event is Films at the Gate, the annual Chinatown celebration of Chinese film which opens on Friday with My LIfe In China, hosted by director Kenneth Eng, before featuring two featuring Donnie Yen, who spent some of his youth there: Ip Man 3 on Friday and Butterfly and Sword on Sunday, with father Klyster Yen (kind of a big deal in his own right) introducing it after a demonstration by the students from mother Bow Sim Mark's school. (And, yeah, you can make it all Donnie Yen outside all weekend if you combine the two).

I've got some baseball to watch on Friday, but I'll be looking at Birth of the Dragon, Logan Lucky, Get Your Man, Butterfly & Sword, and T23D, at least, with lots of other temptations.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

In This Corner of the World

Check the Fandango and theater listings for this one carefully; AMC Boston Common, at least, is alternating subtitled and dubbed, and it's not always clearly labeled which is which. For right now, at least through Thursday (which appears to be its last day), subtitled shows get the "main" shows at 1pm and 7:15pm, while dubs are at 4:10pm and 10:20pm, which is not how things usually go there.

It's well worth checking out, although the PG-13 rating is about right; as much as I'm usually looking for good animated films with young-lady leads for my nieces, they will not be getting this under the tree; after a certain point, it's pretty constant sadness, and that's a tough gift. I'm kind of impressed that Shout! Factory got it into theaters; they are very much a home-video company. Weird to see the "Manga Films" logo right after theirs; I kind of figured that they quietly shut down in the late 1990s or aughts like a lot of specialty video companies did.

Kono sekai no katasumi ni (In This Corner of the World)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 21 August 2017 in AMC Boston Common #16 (first-run, DCP)

Movies like In This Corner of the World would like to sneak up on the audience, but that's almost impossible; the end of World War II had been thoroughly covered in history class and in film, and if you're watching this one, you've probably seen the story of the Japanese homefront covered (unless you're young, but I'm not showing it to my nieces). It's probably for the best, then, that it softens the emotional hammer blow that many films of its genre aim for, and not necessarily as a result of being animated, though it would be a shame to use these filmmakers' talents entirely, or even mostly, for graphic misery.

The audience first meets Suzu Urano (voice of Rena "Non" Nounen) in December of 1933, a girl of about eight in the Eba section of South Hiroshima; she's prone to daydreams but good at art, wearing her pencils down to nubs much faster than her classmates. She's sweet and helpful, not really changing between then and 1942, when Shusaku Houjo (voice of Yoshimasa Hosoya), a young man from Kure, fifteen or twenty miles away, she has only met once or twice, proposes to her. Suzu accepts, and though it seems that the families have an ulterior motive - mother San (voice of Mayumi Shintani) is frail, so they put Suzu to work right away - she quickly becomes fond of her new family; even if sister-in-law Keiko (voice of Minori Omi) was expecting Shusaku to marry a more sophisticated girl, her 6-year-old daughter Harumi (voice of Natsuki Inaba) takes to her new aunt fast. There is strict rationing at this point in the war, and As a strategic shipyard, Kure is the frequent target of American air-raids, but Suzu's upbeat and determined personality may be what the family needs to get through it.

Seventy years later, it can be hard to set a drama against the war and the years leading up to it without the sense that the filmmakers are following a checklist or having their characters submerged by history rather than being guided by it. Fortunately, director Sunao Katabuchi and co-writer Chie Uratani (adapting a manga by Fumiyo Kono) seem to be mostly aware of this. They show a lot of dates on-screen, which initially tracks Suzu growing up but not only come quicker as the film moves into 1945 and the war comes to dominate the story of an 18-year-old girl marrying before she is truly an adult. The film can't help but note the passage of time moving from something general, a measure of one's life that is somewhat universal despite the specific backdrop, to one where specific events change the course of that life in previously unforeseeable ways. It's generally done with care and the style shifts enough to not make it There may be lines about going home to Hiroshima where it's safer than Kure, but they're a bit awkward, the filmmakers too aware of how they sound to milk them for irony even if they can't have them play straight. The story itself is often built of small things, from disconnected childhood memories to the culinary legerdemain necessary to stretch tiny rations, that coalesce nicely.

Full review on EFC.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Fantasia 2017.04: Wild Blood, Outer Limits of Animation, Animals, Replace and Tokyo Ghoul

If it had just been one shorts program the first weekend of the festival, I might have been able to keep up. But two on consecutive days, and it's going to take me a long time to get those shorts written up, enough that it made sense for my process to just leave a hole in the blog and catch up later. So, here it is, later!

After scooting out of the apartment to get to Wild Blood - not really worth it, but I'd seen the other features and I hate to leave a hole in the schedule, because while I don't necessarily get a lot of hits per review, I'll try to write up everything - it was across the street for the Outer Limits of Animation, which is always one of the best shows, but as you might expect, the guests were Canadian as heck

First up were "Skin for Skin" directors Kevin D. A. Kurytnik & Carol Beecher (second and third from left, with Ruppert Bottenberg, director of the animation programs, second from right), who actually weren't local, but you could tell they were Canadian as soon as they opened their mouths, and they seemed please as punch to be premiering their short film about Canadian history at a big Canadian festival in Montreal, not far from the NFB/ONF (right down to making sure they used both English and French initials), during the 150th anniversary of the confederation. There were a number of people in the audience who had traveled specifically to see this short, including some educators. Everybody involved seemed pretty pleased, as well they should - it was clearly the centerpiece of the block, and exceptionally well-done, with a great deal of research behind it.

Truth be told, I wish I'd gotten more of a chance to get out and see some of the "Canada 150" (and "Montreal 250") stuff being done around the city; between the schedule of the festival, the schedule I set for myself, and the weather, I did relatively little but the festival this trip, and I tend to love learning about our northern neighbor's history, how it parallels and differs from that of the United States. We're like close cousins (with Australia and New Zealand a more distant branch of the family tree), and we should know each other better.

Also making an appearance was Lori Malépart-Traversy (far left, with Marc Lamothe, far right), who made the pretty darn adorable "Le Clitoris", and there's little screwier about words having gender than that one being masculine. Which is all the insight I've got from this mostly-French introduction. I liked how irreverently educational the short film was, though.

No guest for Animals, which wasn't surprising - it was an oddball European thing - and by the time it was over, we were being shuffled in and out of the room quickly enough that I don't think many of us had had times to check our phones before Mitch Davis came in to introduce Replace looking like he'd been punched in the stomach. He had just gotten the word that George Romero had died, and though I don't think I'll ever doubt that the Fantasia folks absolutely love what they do, seeing how gutted he was by this news should allay any future doubts.

He was a bit more composed afterward, introducing writer/director Norbert Keil, co-writer Richard Stanley, and co-star Barbara Crampton, even having a self-deprecating laugh at himself when he pointed out that the movie's star, Rebecca Forsythe, was the daughter of William Forsythe and the audience collectively couldn't quite recall him. As usual, he led a pretty good Q&A, although what struck me was what an interesting cross-section of genre film the guests were. Keil is the up-and-comer, directing what I believe is his first English-language feature, fairly excited to be collaborating with the other two but also carving out his own career. Stanley is sort of a fringe figure and iconoclast, because as much as folks may know the name, his movies are often an acquired taste and he's probably just as famous for being a very distinct personality and, as a result, not getting his big mainstream break. I swear he was wearing the exact same outfit the last time he had a movie playing the festival (that one about him more than created by him). Crampton, meanwhile, has probably handled a career that made her a horror icon impressively well; where a lot of actresses will probably resent winding up most famous for Re-Animator and the like, she seems to genuinely like the genre, making the festival rounds with enthusiasm and getting excited about horror movies she's got nothing to do with on social media. She'll probably wind up saying that, yeah, there's a lot of Jeffrey Combs's Dr. Herbert West in the mad scientist she plays in this one a lot as it makes the festival circuit, shows up on VOD, and is then released on home video, but she'll be gracious and sincere throughout.

Not a bad day, movie-and-guest-wise. Next up: A day in De Seve with Tom of Finland, The Honor Farm, The Senior Class, Shock Wave, and Free and Easy.

Vahsi kan (Wild Blood)

* ¼ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Théâtre D.B. Clarke (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Tribute to Cüneyt Arkin, HD)

Every few years, the festival will have a sidebar that is basically "movies that have an important place in pop culture history somewhere in the world, even though they're kind of objectively terrible", and it's probably worth checking one out so you've got some idea of that chapter of cinematic history in your head. But, don't look too much more closely than "right place, right time" for why these action movies were a big deal in Turkey; the likes of Wild Blood are not good movies, no matter how excited the people of Turkey were to see this sort of home-grown action at the time.

This one opens with a flurry of witnesses in a potential trial against Hasmet (Hüseyin Peyda) being rubbed out, mostly at the hands of son Osman (Osman Betin). Unfortunately for him, his most bitter enemy, Riza (Cüneyt Arkin), escapes from the military police escorting him, although not until after saving the lives of his guards. As he moves through the wilderness, making his way to Hasmet's well-guarded stronghold, he meets up with another escapee, the daughter (Emel Tümer) of one of the other witnesses.

It's barely seconds into the film before the audience is struck by how choppy the editing of this movie is, especially for something made in the early 1980s, bouncing all over the place, with random cuts to weird angles and a tendency to leave a conversation midway through, but without a pause to indicate it's a bit of a cliffhanger moment. It seldom reaches the point of complete incoherence, but it reflects a "throw it all together" feel, content to explain some bit or piece of Riza's deal whenever they get around to it. There aren't very many transitions or bit of exposition in the movie that aren't somehow bumpy, like it doesn't matter how things are connected so long as they're all there.

Full review on EFC.

"Il Etait 3 Fois"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Outer Limits of Animation, DCP)

My French has apparently atrophied to the point where I can't quite understand what little kids are saying, even with visual aids. It's sad.

Still, this short is cute as all get-out, looking and sounding like it was animated to a group of toddlers trying to one-up each other improvising a story of kings, princesses, and knights, leading to absurdity and physical comedy. The art is the sort of colored pencils you associate with children even if most kids that age struggle with getting lines that straight and scales that consistent, at least a bit. Charmingly chaotic.

"Birdy Wouaf Wouaf"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Outer Limits of Animation, DCP)

Another quick but funny cartoon from France, "Birdy Wouaf Wouaf" tells the tale of a baby bird that gets booted out of the nest because his tweets occasionally come out as barks, stumbling around the area until he finds a friend with a similar speech impediment.

Good, funny stuff with a spare style that really helps focus on just how frantic things are for the poor little bird, with pauses just brief enough to prime for the next disaster and spots of greater detail that hint at horror. Director Ayçe Kartal is also sharp in terms of building and undermining expectations of just where things will go as the bird meets cats and dogs. Generally, just a lot of fun.

"Untamed Truths"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Outer Limits of Animation, DCP)

A spiffy-looking bit of cardboard-cutout-style animation that seems like a conventional bit of animal ABCs with fun facts until you get to "D", which is about how even though dolphins have flippers, they do have one member that can actually grip things, and then parents might start rushing kids out of the screening. It's funny stuff, and more fun besides because most of what it talks about is kind of interesting well beyond the combination of cute pictures and gross-out material.

"Skin for Skin"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Outer Limits of Animation, DCP)

The block's centerpiece and standout is easily "Skin for Skin" by Kevin D. A. Kurytnik & Carol Beecher, a downright gorgeous tale of "The Emperor of the North", as the head of the company that controlled much of the fur trade in Canada was called when he toured his territory, checking the books in 1832. It is a perilous journey, as you might imagine, with dangers aplenty and revelations to be had.

The mythology they synthesize eventually chooses the crow as its particular trickster god, serving as pest and beacon before shooting one purges the rest of the trip into horror. It's a genuinely striking, unrelenting horror show, sometimes not entirely clear that it is supposed to be metaphorical to some extent, with imagery of bones and mayhem and disaster indicating the sort of damage that unbalanced, unwavering profit-seeking can do to a place but also just effective on their own, It's genuinely nightmarish, especially for how it leaps to the fore after a stiff sort of opening to reflect the Emperor's dour character.

The animation is impressively styled, too, with plenty of detail and weight to its 3D rendering, not just going for parallax but an expansive world to roam. The often-brown palette suggests autumn and potential endings with the need for later renewal, as well as giving the look of faded history while still being sharp on its own. The sound design is very nice as well, with the traditional songs on the soundtrack gradually verging closer to dirges as the film goes on.

Educators in the audience reported coming out to get a look at this, so I wouldn't be surprised if the NFB makes sure it has a life beyond the festival circuit. It certainly hits its targets well enough to impress.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Outer Limits of Animation, DCP)

More fun knowledge to be gleaned here, as Atelier Collectif presents five twentieth-century inventions that were suppressed or diminished for commercial or political reasons - the aero-train, durable nylons, safe cigarettes, the water engine, and bio-resonance. It's not necessarily the best medium for this - compacting this much contrariness into an eight-minute short can make it look like the work of cranks and diminish even the factual material - but it's still impressive work of presenting the information in a concise, easy-to-understand way, even with the sarcastic end to each segment about how it's all for the best.

It's also a very nice bit of playing with style, though, as each of the "avoided inventions" is presented with a different look, but this never prevents the short from feeling unified as a whole. It feels like the sort of anthology whose bits could be scattered throughout a program, but also unified enough to work as a single short.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Outer Limits of Animation, DCP)

Léo Verrier's "Decibels" certainly has one of the most striking visual looks, with huge heads on small bodies making for a hyper-expressive group at a party trying to take control of the soundtrack, with our sad-sack-looking hero always pushed away even though he's got a really good mix on his USB drive. It's a nifty design, and that Verrier pulls it off is more impressive than it looks at first - those tiny bodies don't seem particularly suited for dancing, and a lot of things have to be designed just so for the hands to be able to get past the heads and manipulate it.

Someone who responds to music a little more than I do will probably get a bit more a kick out of some of the jokes that run along those lines, but it's not needed to really enjoy this - it gets a lot of good character animation in and does a nice job of telling a compact story.

"First Snowfall"

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Outer Limits of Animation, DCP)

It's a bit strange to see something as thoroughly commercial as "First Snowfall" in the middle of a program of what is not necessarily independent animation, but not really promoting anything else - the Mattel logo on either end doesn't even suggest that this "Masters of the Universe" piece is a fan film like we used to see when "Square Jaw Theater" was a regular part of the fest. Take that away, though, and it's a pretty decent piece, with He-Man and Skeletor battling in a snow storm with a decidedly different animation style.

It's not a whole lot more than a fight, and while it's nicely staged and animated, it's not quite a nifty enough bit of work that it would work for me despite my not being a fan of those particular toys and cartoons. It will be worth looking out for some of director Sam Chou's other work, though.

"The Absence of Eddy Table"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Outer Limits of Animation, DCP)

I've not seen any of Dave Cooper's Eddy Table comics (and I've probably skipped right over Cooper's stuff in the comic shop generally), so I've got no idea how well this adapts them. It is, on its own, a pretty surreal bit of animation, starting off looking like a somewhat awkward attempt to convert something two-dimensional to three. It's surprising how Cooper's curvy, rounded characters don't look quite so right as you'd think when CGI'd, although director Rune Spaans puts Table into an environment rendered beautifully. It feels like a small world whose curve you can see and feel, with everything made of little thriving nodes, and it's impressively if unevenly enveloping.

Then Eddy spots a will-o-the-wisp, and some super-curvy girls, and they lead him to some genuinely creative and bizarre horror material, although it often plays out as other genres in cartoony fashion. I don't know if Spaans and Cooper quite hit the emotional beats that they're going for, but it doesn't matter that much, as the singular, oddly-well-connected strangeness works on its own

"La Bite"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Outer Limits of Animation, DCP)

"La Bite" is, in many ways, French satire at both its best and worst - fearless, anti-authoritarian, and happy to be vulgar if it gets a point across, but also so full of blanket cynicism and "both sides though" that it might as well not be saying anything. So it is here, where cops beat up a jackass spray-painting a penis onto a wall, get caught on video which goes viral until… Well, you can guess how it turns out.

It's fun, and directors Jérôme Leroy and Pierre Tolmer have a genuine knack for zipping through casual violence and vulgarity to make them play as well-timed jokes; there's a lot of laughs and you can't say that much of the cynical viewpoint isn't well-earned. But "hey, everyone's awful eventually" isn't really that clever a statement, and getting there leaves things a bit hollow.

"Richard Twice"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Outer Limits of Animation, DCP)

Matthew Salton's film is in that odd "animated documentary" genre, and it's an interesting-enough story - an interview with Richard Atkins, who was half of the title duo that made one album and then walked away, with Atkins becoming a woodworker and not performing for 40 years. It's an interesting story backed up by some good music and the further hook of Atkins having lost a leg in a motorcycle accident some years earlier.

The animated nature hurts it, though - maybe finding footage to use or recreating it would have been prohibitive, but the squiggly, not-particularly-striking style used here never really feels like showing things that the filmmakers otherwise can't; it's more off-putting than intriguing. It also never makes the incident that ended things seem like the watershed moment it was. That may be fair - the point of the story may just be that sometimes show business is just that random - but it doesn't really communicate that, either.

"Le Clitoris"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Outer Limits of Animation, DCP)

Another animated documentary, albeit on a somewhat different subject. This one is an appropriately cheery thing, as would seem appropriate for "the only organ devoted exclusively to pleasure", though writer/director Lori Malépart-Traversy is sneakily clever on that one - an early comment about how the clitoris has been "repeatedly rediscovered by men" gives a bit of hint to how, while Malépart-Traversy will mostly focus on basic biology that both men and women in the audience may not be aware of, there's an important undercurrent to what she's saying about how science and knowledge are often defined in terms of male experiences and how it fits into cultural norms, making this sort of basic primer more necessary than it should be.

All that, and it's a cute, fun picture to watch - it may technically be a lecture, but it's an enjoyable one.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Outer Limits of Animation, DCP)

Things stayed sexy with "Vibrato", a somewhat unconventional narrative that focused on the Paris Opera House through the eyes of architect Charles Garnier's wife, who points out that they made love just about every one of its many nooks and crannies as it was built, breathy narration not normally used for architecture and generally more metaphorically for music. It's an odd but clever choice - architecture is an art form that can easily be reduced to mathematics or appreciation for scale, and this pushes the viewer to experience it on a more raw, direct level.

The animation is beautiful, naturally, but more often impressionistic than detailed, occasionally making use of interesting transparency to show multiple layers. It also shows mechanical marvels within the building, and allow reminders that this is a performance center rather than a cathedral accrue.

You can see all the architectural details in photographs or in person; this is about showing the building as a living place with an energy of its own.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Outer Limits of Animation, DCP)

The program finishes up with "Yin" by Nicolas Fong, a funny and striking short which opens on a cosmic scale, zooming in on coupled gods before finding the one grumpy, solitary one at the center. He goes on to create a world with one creature with male and female halves, splits it, and then devises various obstacles to the pair reuniting. The message: Patriarchal monotheism is a path to misery.

Well, not the only message, but I suspect that would be a fun place to start when pulling apart the symbolism in Fong's movie, which seems delightfully deep but also charmingly whimsical - it gives the viewer a vast, beautiful universe to consider even if it puts the focus on a small corner, and then plays with big ideas and emotions with a smile. As the male and female figures pursue each other despite their miserable creator's attempts to keep them separate, they're occasionally separated as much by scale as distance as something that goes in a door small comes out large because this is no simply physical portal. The temple they climb is an Escher-like edifice even without the creator's interference; take the message about how faith and ritual can create both obstructions and connections as you like.

But mostly, enjoy the fun, upbeat atmosphere, the black-and-white visuals which incorporate and eschew grey scales as necessary, and the general sense of fun. There's a brain and a heart to "Yin", but never without a smile.

Tierre (Animals)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017, DCP)

Greg Zglinski at times gleefully dispenses with basic narrative logic and consistency in Animals, and often seems to taunt the viewers who would be inclined to to navigate it on the basis of symbolism or some sort of dream logic besides. Instead, he takes a simple-seeming situation, loads it with inconsistency and alternate realities, and tells the audience good luck with that. But for all that his movie is peculiar and self-contradictory, it's never exactly confusing, letting the audience both digest and laugh at its strangeness.

It opens with a set of quick snapshots - popular chef Nick (Philipp Hochmair) chatting with customers at his restaurant, his wife Anna (Birgit Minichmayr) practicing asking him about the affair she's sure he's having, and a woman throwing herself out the window of her apartment. The camera implies she disappears before hitting the street, though, and soon we're seeing Nick and Anna preparing for a six-month working trip to Switzerland, where Nick will collect local recipes and Anna will work on her first novel for adults after many successful children's books. Mischa (Mona Petri), a friend of a friend of Nick's, will apartment-sit. All well and good, except for the furtive call from Nick's depressed lover Andrea (whose familiar window is directly above their own), the sheep Nick hits with his car on the way, and how, after Andrea finally does jump, her ex-boyfriend Harald (Michael Ostrowski) comes to Nick's apartment to confront him, only to be certain that Mischa is actually Andrea.

There's more strangeness on tap - more doppelgangers, missing time, memories that seemingly come from the future rather than the past, doors in both Mischa's borrowed apartment and the cottage rented by Anna and Nick that don't open, etc. - and though Zglinski initially seems to offer a logical explanation in how both Anna and Mischa have sustained a head injury that they don't necessarily tend as well as they should, that soon proves not to be enough; the men are also seeing double. And yet, as the movie goes on, the idea that there might be some sort of in-story explanation becomes less important. After all, as the potential concussions remind us, human memory is not a perfect mechanism. Maybe, when we see things from Anna's perspective, she's confusing faces because in her mind, the two people already both represent her husband's infidelity. Things are shown, shown not to have happened, and then happen later, but that can represent a struggle - Andrea seems depressed the one time the viewer sees her, and it's not hard to see her as contemplating suicide every day, and this is the day she finally goes through with it. Maybe what seems prophetic is just a coincidence, or influenced by the earlier impression. On top of that, Anna is writing a book about a woman who kills her husband. Life is a series of reflections, roads not taken, and things which seem inevitable at the time, imperfectly recorded by a process we do not truly understand.

Full review on EFC.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017, DCP)

A genuinely nifty little short that I'd like to see expanded into a feature, as writer/director Mamady Condé hits the same sort of intersection between superhero and horror material that M. Night Shyamalan did with Unbreakable and Split, giving us Lindsey Shaw as the title character, narrating to a friend how she survived a disaster while on a cruise with her family which should have been impossible. It's found-footage, doing a quick build to a sort of inevitable reveal, but Condé, co-writer Kyle Meade, and Shaw do a nice job in keeping the tone appropriate, remembering that Emily is grieving even as they build to an exciting finale with potential for different directions.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017, DCP)

Replace has a creepy, au courant premise for a horror movie about a woman afraid of losing her looks to the aging process - in fact it's got two, and that may be its biggest issue - though the two attack the same idea, they do so from decidedly opposite directions, and combining the two, as necessary as it seems for the plot, often has the movie feeling like it's at cross-purposes, and not in a way that creates interesting moral ambiguity.

That young woman is Kira Mabon (Rebecca Forsythe) - she's hot and knows it, letting tonight's boy Jonas (Sean Knopp) know he's lucky to get her into his crappy apartment. It's a funny thing, though - she barely seems to have left when she finds herself coming back, like it's her apartment and she's been there a while with no sign of Jonas. That's the way her next-door neighbor Sophia Demeraux (Lucie Aron) seems to see things, and that's not the only strange thing going on - the skin on her hand is decaying, and the spot seems to be spreading quickly. The researcher she's referred to, Dr. Rafaela Crober (Barbara Crampton), prescribes Kira some drugs, but Kira discovers something else - her skin will quickly integrate with that of someone else, although the tissue needs to be fresh. So, just how badly does Kira want to stay young and pretty?

Director Norbert Keil and co-writer Richard Stanley seem to have come up with two answers to that question - one where she goes out with a knife and gets replacement parts and another where she unwittingly trades something precious for it in a way that explains her missing time, and while that may seem like too much for one movie, the links Keil and Stanley build between the accelerated decay that leads to the violence and the missing time are tantalizing, especially since Kira needs to be doing something while she and the audience figure out what is going on in the part of the story where she's relatively passive. They just seem to have a problem stretching things quite far enough - they're almost there on the desperation that leads to Kira taking other women's skin but never quite manage for there to be consequences - murder-for-beauty may be graphically presented, but remains a sort of moral abstraction when they need to have Kira as a protagonist and victim of someone else's horrific machinations later.

Rebecca Forsythe generally seems more comfortable doing the latter, in part because that's when her material makes a bit more sense - though most people will accept the reality that they are presented in most situations, there's something more immediately easy to believe about how Kira picks at the corners of her life later on; Forsythe has a way of communicating that her character is perhaps more curious out of obligation, that her youthful self-centeredness needs cracking to get to the better woman inside. She's able to sneak an impressively sympathetic performance out as the film goes on, convincing enough when communicating horror, fear, and regret that the fact that she was a bit flat earlier on is a bit of a positive: She wasn't so convincingly monstrous that a viewer can't get past it.

Full review on EFC.

Game of Death (2017)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2017 in Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU/Théâtre Hall (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017, DCP)

Even when manga adaptations like Tokyo Ghoul start to seem like they are covering the same territory - it's not hard to read the description in the festival program and think "wait, didn't we just have two Parasyte movies last year?" - they at least tend to have enough off-center to not just be another secret-monster-society riff with slight difference. Even this one, which comes pretty close to being familiar mopey-vampire fare, it occasionally gets just weird enough to be worth it.

Ghouls, in this case, are human-looking folks who live in hidden communities, are pretty damage-resistant, have at least one hidden limb that tends to be useful in a fight and, of course, can't eat much besides human flesh. They are mostly urban legends to the general public, although there is a Commission of Counter-Ghoul Operations that fights them in the shadows. Ken Kaneki (Masataka Kubota) doesn't know much about any of that; he's a bookish college student who only winds up on a date with longtime crush Rize Kamishiro (Yu Aoi) because his friend Hideyoshi Nagachika (Kai Ogasawara) pushes him into it. Thanks a lot - Rize is a ghoul and the only thing that stops her from finishing him off is a very convenient industrial accident, and when Ken wakes up in the hospital, he finds out his life was saved by transplant organs… from a ghoul. Now stuck with a glowing red eye and an unseemly appetite, he's fortunate to find "Antieku", a coffee shop run by Kuzen Yoshimura (Kunio Murai), a ghoul who tries to ensure his people have a low impact on the human world, joining Toka Kirishima (Fumika Shimizu) on the wait staff. Unfortunately, his senpai Nishiki Nishio (Shunya Shiraishi) is a ghoul who isn't so inclined to defer to humans, and CCG agents Amon (Nobuyuki Suzuki) and Mado (Yo Oizumi) are following a trail of bodies that can't help but reach Antieku eventually.

It's a bit surprising to see that Sui Ishida's manga comprises relatively few volumes, as these things go, because that is a whole bunch of characters to juggle, and it doesn't even include the regulars at Antieku, supporting cast at both the school and CCG, and so on. It's a setting that seems more apt for an ensemble-based television show, and the film does eventually feel like that - once Ken settles into Antieku, it has the feel of a status quo, where stories will start, characters will meet, and where everybody will regroup before the next thing gets started. As screenwriter Ichiro Kusuno and director Kentaro Hagiwara are getting the audience familiar with the ghoul world, it's not exactly a bad arrangement; they're able to ground things in the familiar while still popping in a gross image or two, pushing things forward bit by bit. It does, however, lead to a movie that perhaps seems to stop more than end, with the characters who are still left around more or less in the same in-between position as they were two or three times before, with what had read as hints of secrets still simply potential, waiting for the next episode.

Full review on EFC.

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.