Tuesday, January 30, 2018

This Week In Tickets: 22 January 2018 - 28 January 2018

Some late-ish nights at work, so no moviegoing during the week, but even if I were particularlly worried about falling behind my movie-a-day pace for the new year - which I'm not, really, at least not enough to binge if I start falling behind - I knew that there would be a busy weekend ahead

This Week in Tickets

Busy week writing code for medical reproting systems; funny how things that fail quickly early in the day run for a long time once three or four o'clock rolls around. It gives the resulting weekend a weird sort of purity, though, as it meant that everything I saw this week was on film, which is always a fun week, because film looks terrific.

Things started out at the Brattle with the first double feature of the Brattle's "Who's That Cutting My Film?" series on woman editors, and it was a pretty impressive start: Martin Scorsese's feature debut Who's That Knocking at My Door (edited by Thelma Schoonmaker) and Steven Spielberg's first theatrical feature The Sugarland Express (co-edited by Verna Fields). I found myself more impressed by the Spielberg, naturally - the man's just a natural storyteller and he's got more going on than it appears, even if Scorsese is kind of more obviously arty.

I didn't go home after that, instead, taking the Red Line to South Station so that I could take the 2:15am Greyhound to New York for Grady Hendrix's Hong-Kong-a-Thon. At first, it looked like I would get on an earlier bus and make it in well in time to get a good seat, but instead... Well, follow the link for transportation nightmares, sleep deprivation, and six crazy movies from 1980s and 1990s Hong Kong.

I got a little sleep on the ride home, and then, when I couldn't get into Padmaavat at Fenway (sold out all day!), I continued down the Green Line to catch Phantom Thread on 70mm film at the Coolidge. I may have to catch it again in 35mm, because I may have still have been a little woozy.

As always, quicker updates on my Letterboxd page, for those that like first drafts.

Who's That Knocking on My Door?

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen on 26 January 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Who's That Cutting My Film?, 35mm)

Huh, movie-fan know-it-alls have been a certain kind of obnoxious since would before the dawn of the internet and social media; it's hard not to cringe watching Harvey Keitel's J.R. pushing his talk of The Searchers and John Wayne on a girl who's just trying to read her French magazine in peace at the start. You're supposed to; he's a guy who thinks folks are interested in his opinion and attention by default, especially women, but he's got the shirt of smile that's just friendly and sincere enough to want to like him, at least enough to feel the frustration his girlfriend feels at the end.

Getting to that end, though... It's a bit of a struggle. Martin Scorsese builds his movie out of lords of little vignettes and images, seldom meant as events that change the direction of their characters, but examples, and it is very easy to feel the point had been made, and one more image of guys assuming control, gravitating to violence, or hypocritically enjoying sex and exploitation while expecting purity may just be too much.

The film screened in a "woman editors" series (on a crisp 35mm black-and-white print), and the importance of Thelma Schoonmaker's contribution is immediately apparent as she lets various scenes play out, inter-cuts J.R. meeting the girl with his hanging out with the boys, and makes the centerpiece flashback disjointed and panic-inducing. Some scenes are put together in a way that's clearly just meant to put a thought in the audience's head, and are at least interesting even if they don't push forward. It was the start of a long, fruitful collaboration, and it elevates what is often a short film's worth of material and an installations worth of artistic ambition to a feature worth watching all the way through.

The Sugarland Express

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen on 26 January 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Who's That Cutting My Film?, 35mm)

It's almost unfair how natural Spielberg is as a filmmaker from the very start. He'd done some fine work in television (including a TV-movie good enough to get a theatrical release overseas in Duel), but from the start of this one, he's quickly seeing up a precise atmosphere and whipping stars Goldie Hawn and William Atherton around to show the audience how this whole movie is going to alternate between crazed and dazed. He's coming up with ways to communicate right away and making it look so obvious that it looks like anyone can do it.

The funny thing is, it's sneakily a subversive, satirical film. A 1970s car- crash movie where the "heroes" are kind of morons, it also has plenty of time to snark at the excesses of American gun and instant-celebrity culture that are still terribly relevant for and a half decades later, and not just in a broad way that's so general as to be universal. Its jokes are pointed and sharp, and the firm, trustworthy authority figures are almost lost amid the insanity and impulsiveness of the rest of the cast. There are moments of sentimentality and sensibility, but they often seem lost or misguided. There's a woman who sincerely tells Lou Jean not to let anyone take her baby in a way that communicates personal experience, but the fugitive is far from a fit mother, and it makes one wonder about the woman who identifies with her.

And then, of course, there's everything else Spielberg does well: Carefully designed and perfectly executed action, striking visuals including crane shots that present what's going on with clarity, characters who are sympathetic if not always perfect. It's very much a 1970s film of the type he's often described as killing, with jumbled, overlapping dialogue, grainy film, and a quiet self-awareness, and it's maybe a little longer than it needs to be (those car chase movies it evokes were about twenty minutes shorter). It's still an impressive start to a great career, even if it's also something of an anomaly in that career.

Phantom Thread

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen on 28 January 2018 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (first-run, 70mm)

Impeccably produced, wonderfully acted, clear in its ideas... and, maybe, not really fascinating until it doesn't really have time to play it out. Daniel Day-Lewis's Reynolds Woodcock is a perfect distillation of male arrogance and how pervasive it can be even when placed in a fussy, feminine-seeming vessel, but filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson spends a great deal of time showing this before having Vicki Krieps's Alma start pushing back in interesting ways, and there just doesn't seem like enough time to explore that.

Maybe it's just me being groggy from the rest of the weekend's movie-going adventures, and a second viewing will set me right. I enjoyed Phantom Thread as it is (though i suspect the 70mm print outs not much better than a 35mm one would be), but suspect there could be greatness of it were more tug-of-war than setup.

Who's That Knocking on My Door? & The Sugarland Express
Phantom Thread


It's been a while since I've seen a Bollywood film, but a new movie from the director and stars of Ram-Leela, in 3D to boot? Sign me the heck right up, even if it does actually come out on a weekend where I'm going to New York for a draining Hong Kong movie marathon. But, I'm actually feeling pretty alert Sunday morning, so I figure I'll go down to Fenway, see the 12:05pm show at matinee prices, and maybe catch something else in the afternoon.

Sold out. All day. Which, admittedly, would be a bit more impressive if theaters like Fenway still packed 100+ people in and 164-minute movie didn't mean blocking the theater out for four hours per showtime, but, still, that's a lot of seats sold for a subtitled movie at 3D ticket prices that's got some controversy attached to it. Good for you, I said, and then went a little further down the Green Line and saw Phantom Thread in 70mm, figuring an all-film weekend was kind of virtuous anyway. I opted to try again Monday, even sucking up the $1.50 service charge on Fandango rather than chance getting there and finding it sold out again.

Some other folks weren't quite so lucky on that; I had seat B6 and the person sitting in seat B7 next to me asked if I'd mind switching with her cousin, since seats B8-11 had sold to a group between her buying her ticket and her cousin buying hers (kind of the only thing that I really dislike about assigned seating; it requires a little more organization when going to the movies could always be loosely planned before). Said cousin's seat was in the front row and a bit off-center, and in retrospect I suppose I could have said, hey, why don't you sit up there, since there was an empty set, but they didn't know the others hadn't been sold and the middle-aged white guy with that response wouldn't have been a good look. Besides, they're recliners and I like sitting close more than most people.

It wasn't ideal, although I kind of suspect that if it were a 4K DCP, it would have been better (presuming this was shot at greater-than-2K resolution, which I would hope was the case if they were targeting giant screens). It mostly looked pretty good, although some of the later scenes showed one of the weaknesses of the polarized 3D that is the industry standard these days, in that really bright white lights - like, say, fires and torches - seem like they'll just blast their way through the polarization, resulting in blurry blobs in the middle distance rather than these fires having distinct depths. It is, however, a pretty neat 3D movie for those of us that like 3D - so many of the relatively few musicals that have used that format traditionally just create a stage space, but the director is moving the camera here, getting the audience into those dance scenes in a way I don't think I've really seen before. I suspect The Great Gatsby had a similar energy, but it's not quite the same.


I'm a lot less comfortable with the actual content of the film; I danced around it a bit in the EFC review, again kind of not wanting to be the outsider scolding someone else's culture, though I must admit that I found a lot of the ways the culture influenced the story somewhat unsatisfying: Though it is built in such a way that Alauddin wants far more than just to glance Padmavati, it still treats seeing another man's woman (especially the king's) as a crime, and while the film speaks of her as having a sharp military mind, those looking for the story to lead toward her taking sharp action will likely be disappointed, though some of that is because of another woman taking her own initiative. Still, it's tough for the end not to leave an uncomfortable taste in my mouth; if it is a victory for Padmavati (as would be implied for describing it as a defeat for Alauddin), it is pyrrhic at best.

In some ways, that makes what writer/director Sanjay Leela Bhansali accomplishes in the moment more impressive - that scene feels stirring and heroic even though everything about it seems horrifying to me when I give it a moment's thought. I don't know that I necessarily like being impressed that way.



* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen on 29 January 2018 in Regal Fenway #9 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

Padmaavat is the first Imax 3D film from India, or so I've read, which seems like kind of a late arrival to the party, although I don't know how many other epics of this sort have been made on such a scale in Bollywood lately. It is, if nothing else, a feast for the eyes, with expansive desert landscapes, beautiful palace sets, and some dance numbers that suggest that the rest of us really haven't been using this technology properly. Whether it's enough more than great-looking to be worth a trip in spots where it won't necessarily be getting the big, deluxe presentation is a trickier question.

Based upon an epic poem that a disclaimer at the start carefully notes is "regarded as fictional", the film opens in 13th-Century Afghanistan, where Khilji warrior Alauddin (Ranveer Singh) has brought Sultan Jalaluddin (Raza Murad) and his daughter Mehrunissa (Aditi Rao Hydari) an ostrich when asked for a feather, an obviously cynical courtship that has the obvious aim of Alauddin becoming Sultan of Delhi himself. Meanwhile, the king of Mewar, Maharawal Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor) has come to Singhal to obtain some of its legendary pearls only to be shot in a hunting accident by Princess Padmavati (Deepika Padukone). They fall in love, and soon Padmavati returns to the fortress city of Chittor as queen. Her beauty enraptures even the royal guru Raghav Chetan, who winds up banished and vowing revenge - which he plots to achieve by convincing Alauddin that with the lovely Padmavati at his side, he could rule not just India but the world.

It's a shame that for all the epic, mythic scale of this story, it winds up being kind of a bore. It's not necessarily dull or listless - there's always something happening, and the movie seldom gets distracted or pads time with side quests - but crucial turning points are often as much a reflection of formalities as motivated decisions, declarations of honor and tradition as much as individual cunning. Like a western biblical epic, the film is often built around the statement of and adherence to virtues that while seldom presented in a sanctimonious way, can sound a bit like rote recitations at times. Padmavati's story can often come off as passive in a way that can't exactly be worked around without making this another story entirely, especially considering how active the title character is at the start, when she is her own princess rather than someone else's queen.

Full review at EFC

Grady Hendrix's Hong-Kong-a-Thon: Organized Crime Triad Bureau, Fong Kai Yuk, Expect the Unexpected, Cheap Killers, Kickboxer's Tears, and On the Run

Man, did I envy the people who were able to do this on a reasonable night's sleep and no travel issues. I zonked out quite a bit during every one of these movies, so I can't say a whole lot about them, but I can at least tell myself that I may have achieved what programmer Grady Hendrix was going for here: Eleven hours marinating in the energetic, violent world of Hong Kong genre cinema, mind coming out fried but happy, kind of flabbergasted at what I've seen and my head messed up. Sorry all you guys who did this sensibly missed out on the experience!

See, my plan was to take the 2:15am bus out of South Station, arrive at 9am, meet my brother Matt (visiting from Chicago) for brunch, and then mosey on over to the Anthology Film Archive and get there early enough to find myself a good seat. And it looked like things might go even easier, as I got there just after midnight, and there was a 1am bus. They actually let me on before it turned out the bus was sold out and I had to get off. But, hey, easy come, easy go. At least, until 2:15 comes and there's no driver. We're told the driver won't be there until four. That's our 10am brunch gone. Soon, it's five, I'm eying other lines (Megabus had a 6am departure but I couldn't find it on the site), they're saying any moment now, but I'm adding the 6.75 hours that the local takes thinking that would cut it close. I can't get them to switch me to the 6:30 local, which is sold out, but can get on the 6:45. It's a local that gets into George Washington Bridge terminal at 11 (instead of the usual Port Authority), which only has an A-line subways stop. I just miss it, it's fifteen minutes until the next one (less learned - you don't necessarily really need to pee), and then the train is slow, the stations are confusing, and the upshot is, I get to the AFA at 12:45 for a 12:30 show.

It's an unassuming building, a former courthouse without a concession stand and two screens, with the second presumably hidden somewhere behind the box office on the first floor. It reminds me of the Harvard Film Archive, not just because of the name and rules against snacks, but because it's got a fairly academic bent even though there's room for fun. The room is also pretty basic - it seats 208 because the rows are close together and the seats are not as wide as they could be, and a few quick glances up to the booth showed paired 35mm projectors and what looks like a presentation projector rather than a full theatrical model for digital. It's not church - especially with this rowdy group - but it's a place where you're going to see movies without a lot of bells & whistles, and I'm okay with that.

That's host Grady Hendrix, one of the founders of the New York Asian Film Festival whose Kaiju Shakedown column in Variety and Film Comment taught me a bunch about current Asian film and the context needed to understand it, and his column on Sammo Hung is an essential read, even if the links the the clips have been taken down since publishing it a year and a half ago. These days, he's also a horror writer pretty popular within his poppy niche. He also has a variety of very snazzy suits which makes him easy to spot if you've got questions about the event, or if you're just in a nearby pizza place, having a couple of slices and want to feel reassured that you haven't overstayed the dinner break.

I wound up zonking out a lot - I didn't make it through any of the movies without multiple instances of momentary passing out and then suddenly jerking back to consciousness - but this was one of those cases where the experience is just as important as the films, and not only was it fun, but it was neat to see a few of the folks I meet at Fantasia every summer midway between fests - not just Paul who co-founded NYAFF with Grady, but Kurt who came down from Toronto for a birthday weekend. He, by the way, flew into Newark without issue (heck, a 90-minute flight took 55) and had easy going getting in via the subway. So much envy.

Then it was off to the Port Authority to wait three hours to catch the bus back to Boston. Definitely something I'll be doing again next January if Grady makes this an annual thing, though I'm going to do it much smarter.

Chung ngon sat luk: O gei (Organized Crime & Triad Bureau)

* * ¾-ish (out of four)
Seen on 27 January 2018 in Anthology Film Archives (Hong-Kong-a-Thon, 35mm)

Soon after this movie, director Che-Kirk Wong would come to Hollywood, make The Big Hit, and apparently just drop off the map for a decade and a half. Not surprising, if that film and this one are both bonkers, careening over the top and out of control, filled with bad taste and violence. Soon, neither Hollywood nor Hong Kong would be looking for that kind of mania, and Wong apparently didn't have it in him to settle down and make stuff that could easily play mainland China or an America shifting more toward PG-13 blockbusters.

The movie itself leans into its crazy pretty quickly - Danny Lee Sau-yin plays the most renegade of renegade cops with the whole unit going along for the ride, like Wong and writer Lu Bing know the audience is down with this trope already and kind of just want to give them what they want without making too big a thing out of it. Wong's got a great knack for doing the reverse of what a lot of other directors would do in that while it's normal to skirt right on the edge of self-parody but always jump back, he's staying right over the line but able to jump back to "normal" in order to give the movie just a little bit of sanity. And, more than anything else, it's got Cecilia Yip Tung as Cindy, the villain's mistress, although it would be easy to assume she's his wife for much of the film despite a few lines of dialogue. She's a cheerfully competent villain but also a wonderfully loyal one, not Lady Macbeth but the terrific partner every gangster would want. It is, in fact, hard not to cheer for her; she easily outshines Anthony Wong Chau-sang as the nominal gangster in charge, and when all is said and done, it's her devotion and commitment that make this movie memorable, because we don't get characters like her in the average gangster movie.

Fong Sai Yuk (aka The Legend)

* * *-ish (out of four)
Seen on 27 January 2018 in Anthology Film Archives (Hong-Kong-a-Thon, 35mm)

I don't think Grady introduced Fong Sai Yuk with any sort of variation on "it will ____ your face off", which is just as well, because it actually happens and it's gross and not really indicative of what sort of movie this is. That it's not is kind of impressive, because this thing is already two movies mashed together in a kind of haphazard manner and neither of them are really face-ripping-off movies.

This one's at its best when it's a sort of kung fu bedroom farce with Jet Li a youth getting on the bad side of the rich new guy in town (Chen Sung-young) but falling for his daughter Ting-ting (Michelle Reis), whose hand in marriage has been promised to whoever can defeat her mother (Sibelle Hu) in a martial-arts challenge, which for some reason Sai-yuk's mother (Josephine Siao) enters as his brother, capturing the affection of her son's potential future mother-in-law… It's a goofy as heck story with kung fu that impresses in large part because it's slapstick fun and not lethal in the way it often is in Jet Li movies, and I suspect that only the spiritually dead don't want the two middle-aged women whose husbands don't really appreciate their eccentricity to wind up together. The thing is, it's connected to a story about an evil emperor and the secret society opposing him, and while director Corey Yuen and the writers do a pretty decent job sliding from one to the other, the best parts of the movie are the ones where nobody actually seems likely to get hurt. Even if it's more of a case of this starting out as a serious action movie that had enough comic relief injected to take over rather than an action-comedy given higher stakes than it needs, the funny stuff is the best and freshest material.

Fai seung dat yin (Expect the Unexpected)

* * ½-ish (out of four)
Seen on 27 January 2018 in Anthology Film Archives (Hong-Kong-a-Thon, 35mm)

I was half-in and half-out during bits of this movie, so maybe I missed something but… The big crime story with the plans to rob the Hong Kong Jockey Clubs, with nasty rapes and murders just to stake it out, never actually gets resolved, right? That's the whole wacky irony of the movie, that this really horrific thing is going on and the cops get too tied up in their own subplots and B-story to actually put a stop to it? If so, I can see why Expect the Unexpected supposedly received little love when it came out; it's the sort of satire that doesn't announce itself as parody and is close enough to the thing it's mocking - in this case, stylish Japanese ensemble dramas that were popular in Hong Kong at the time - that it can just seem like doing one badly.

On the other hand, looked at through that lens, there's something enjoyably skewed about it. Simon Yam and Lau Ching-wan have probably played these roles straight (both in hard-boiled cop dramas and lighter relationship-focused fare) that they can find the absurd border of the love triangle their cops share with a witness ("YoYo" Mung Ka-wai) and make each side convincing while highlighting what a goofy genre thing it being the focus is. Director Patrick Yau and his cast and crew do really impressive work sliding between tones and making each scene work as part of the side it's working, and when it does come time for the action to kick in, director Patrick Yau and action director Yuen Bun, working with producers Johnnie To and Wai Ka-fai, deliver some genuinely terrific over-the-top violence.

Does it work as a whole? I'm not sure, for more reasons than because I'm probably missing critical information on the plot. But as someone who has been known to snicker at movies who put relationship issues at the center of stories with life-and-death stakes, I kind of love the way this movie seems to both deliver and sneer at that convention at the same time.

(Huh, it's on Prime. May as well check it out un-fatigued!)

Yue doh laai yue ying hung (Cheap Killers)

* * ¼-ish (out of four)
Seen on 27 January 2018 in Anthology Film Archives (Hong-Kong-a-Thon, 35mm)

I swear, sometimes Hong Kong filmmakers just seem to be flipping coins a to whether a character survives an over-the-top action sequence or not, and Cheap Killers is the epitome of this; there were something like half a dozen times when something was set up as a potentially tragic moment and a character wound up with enough bullet/puncture wounds to ensure that, yeah, even in a crazy Hong Kong action movie, that guy's dead, and instead he's alive in the next scene (or several scenes later), maybe hobbling or wearing a cast, but still around. It is utter seeming randomness.

It's not necessarily random, but it's still messy enough that it's tough to figure out where writer/producer Wong Jing is trying to go with this movie other than trying to make it different from the several hundred other movies he's worked on. That, admittedly, is how you get hitman Sam Cool (Alex Fong Chung-sun) having a crush on his womanizing partner (Sunny Chan Kam-hung) only to have him fall for Ling (Kathy Chow Hoi-mei), the wife of a client (Ku Feng), who makes her way to the top of the crime world through some awfully impressive black widowing. That's a noir story, really, especially once you figure in the likable young would-be cop (Stephen Fung Tak-lun) who falls for Ling's teenage sister (Lillian Ha Ga-lee). There's ways to make it a serviceable big-time action movie, especially with what seems like a clear Miami Vice influence, but neither Wong nor director Clarence Ford really seems to be interested in that sort of nuance, leaving it all up to Alex Fong and Kathy Chow.

That lack of subtlety makes it work as a dumb/cheap grindhouse thing, though; it's unrelenting in its bloody violence and scenery-chewing villainy once the filmmakers have thrown their lot in with pulp, right down to the baddie trying to make an exit via helicopter at the end. High-minded, this movie is not, but it kind of works when concentrated on the lurid stuff.

Xin long zhong hu dou (Kickboxer's Tears)

* * ½-ish (out of four)
Seen on 27 January 2018 in Anthology Film Archives (Hong-Kong-a-Thon, 35mm)

I think I may have seen this one at a Coolidge Corner Midnight Ass-Kicking show but missed different parts of it; the opening pickpocketing scene seemed very familiar even though other parts seemed new. Maybe that opening bit was just lifted by another martial arts film that I did see (or vice versa).

Whatever the case, this was a pretty fun bait & switch on Grady's part in that he calls it a "girls with guns" movie and I don't think either Moon Lee Choi-fung's sweet nurse-practitioner Li Feng nor the surprisingly capable wife of the villain ever actually picks up a gun. Expecting the movie to go that way made it even more of a surprise when Feng suddenly breaks out the martial arts skills to rival her late brother's and just absolutely shreds a group of hooligans trying to mug her. She's a pixie who can get a surprising amount of leverage and do crazy things in mid-air, causing the audience's jaw to drop as a lot of big, musclebound guys struggle to keep up.

The fights choreographed by Siu Tak-foo are where most of the effort in the movie gets made, and even then, some of it can get dry - there's a long kickboxing match between Ken Lo Wai-kwong and Billy Chow Bei-lei that just starts getting good when Chow's trainers cheat so that Li Lung can die and Feng can have something to avenge. The script by writer/director Sam Daat-wai is just about entirely the standard outline, and the only moment that really stands out - Wilson Lam Jun-yin's abashed pickpocket admitting that the restaurant where they're eating is shabby because he didn't actually have a plan for when Feng said yes - tends to highlight the movie's cheapness. But the action is good enough to stand on its own, so it delivers the important stuff.

Mong ming yuen yeung (On the Run)

* * *-ish (out of four)
Seen on 27 January 2018 in Anthology Film Archives (Hong-Kong-a-Thon, 35mm)

Out of all the movies I saw this Saturday, this is the one I'm keenest to see again. It's got a plot that is just convoluted enough to be worth paying attention to, a bleak word-view that is very much informed by how, in the late 1980s, anybody with the means to establish residency outside of Hong Kong before the handover to China was looking to do so, and a trio of charismatic stars. There's Yuen Biao, not doing any martial arts but proving fairly capable as a cop looking at being left behind even before he's framed for the murder of his ex-wife. There's Charlie Chin Chiang-lin as the sneering, corrupt lover of said ex-wife who knows that the party is about to be over and just doesn't understand why anybody is bothering with attempted honesty. And there's Pat Ha Man-jik as the assassin in the middle.

Ms. Ha, we were told between the film, isn't someone most of the audience would be familiar with because she wasn't really an action star; she spent her time doing dramas (and television?), and you can sort of see how maybe she's out of place; Chui is a young woman who dresses in cute, stylish outfits and is friendly without it seeming like some kind of put-on mask. She's the themed killer who gets added to an action movie for color and doesn't seem to belong at the center where the contradictions that make her fun in small doses cause the whole structure to break down unless it's about examining her. On the Run isn't really that sort of movie, but Ha makes it work anyway, taking good care of the humanity that the screenplay by director Alfred Cheung Kin-ting and Keith Wong Wang-gei allows her but never letting the professionalism slip; she works in both the darker places and the lighter ones without making a joke of it.

The movie spends a lot of time in those dark places, doling out some awfully cruel ends and giving its shootouts a dangerous recklessness that seldom gets silly even as the violence escalates. Like Cheap Killers, it's the sort of movie where survival seems to be as much the result of caprice as logic or what works thematically, with the last act going all-in on that randomness without really leveraging it to get the maximum emotional impact from how people react to all those bullets flying around. The finale still packs a punch, especially as the end of the event: Though it's actually one of the older movies on the six-film schedule, its embrace of people fleeing the handover and the scorched-earth policy on the way out certainly works as a reminder that Hong Kong isn't the same place with the same hyper-productive movie industry that it used to be, which is why we don't really see the likes of these films any more.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 26 January 2018 - 1 February 2018

Oscar nominations came out this week, which sometimes means a lot of things moving around as things open wider or get shuffled off or suddenly grab a screen after not being on the radar, but Boston is in pretty good shape, so there's not a lot of changes.

  • The main opening, then, is Maze Runner: The Death Cure, the finale to a series of young adult adventures that apparently still has Patricia Clarkson along with a bunch of young actors who haven't done much else, plus Walton Goggins. It's at Fresh Pond, Jordan's Furniture (in Imax), the Embassy, Boston Common (including Imax), Fenway (including RPX), South Bay (including Imax and Dolby), the Seaport (in Icon-X), Assembly Row (including Imax), and Revere (including XPlus).

    Folks were likely expecting Hostiles to garner some awards nominations, but it didn't, which is kind of a bummer for them. It's pretty good, though. It's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common (still), South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere. Also expanding are The Shape of Water (adding South Bay) and Phantom Thread (adding Fenway), while Dunkirk and The Florida Project re-open at the Embassy.

    Fenway shows '85: The Greatest Team in Football History, documenting the time when the Pats lost Super Bowls. Revere has a subtitled screen of Cardcaptor Sakura: The Sealed Card on Wednesday and a dubbed one of Digimon Adventure tri.: Loss on Thursday (the latter also at Fenway and Assembly Row).
  • Apple Fresh Pond has two movies in small rooms that are also getting VOD releases, but why not catch them on the biggish screen, especially if you've got MoviePass or hit one of their many discounted shows? The Clapper stars Ed Helms as a paid studio-audience member who is suddenly thrust into the spotlight, co-starring Amanda Seyfriend and Tracy Morgan. American Folk, meanwhile, stars folk musicians Joe Purdy and Amber Rubarth as a pair of singers stranded in California after 9/11.

    Their big opening is the Hindi film Padmaavat, which has star Deepika Padukone reuniting with writer/director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, with Deepika starring as a queen whose legendary beauty attracts the attention of a brutal tyrant (Ranveer Singh). It's a big deal in a lot of ways - it was pushed back a month or two, came under attack during production and after for being disrespectful to historical or religious figures, but it's also the first film to Indian film presented in Imax 3D. Not here - it plays in 3D at Fenway and 2D in Fresh Pond. Fresh Pond also gets Telugu film Bhaagmathie, which stars Anushka Shetty as a woman interrogated in a haunted house to help solve a case of political corruption.

    If Spanish-language film is more your thing, Colao plays in Revere. It hails from the Dominican Republic, starring Manny Perez as a middle-aged coffee farmer who goes to the city to find love.
  • The Brattle Theatre's repartory series for the week is "Who's That Cutting My Film?", focusing on female editors. Editing was considered women's work at the dawn of cinema (folks figured they were good with scissors), but was, like much of the industry, taken over by men when they recognized it was important, although this series shows filmmakers doing work in the 1970s. Fittingly, it's mostly on 35mm, including a double feature of Who's That Knocking at My Door? & The Sugarland Express (Friday), another of Bonnie and Clyde & Night Moves (Saturday), The Hustler (format tbd) & Raging Bull on DCP (Sunday), single shows of Slaughterhouse-Five on Tuesday, the pair of What's Up Doc? and Paper Moon on Wednesday, and a print of Jaws on Thursday. The hole on Monday is filled by a DocYard presentation of Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart, a documentary on the playwright who wrote A Raisin in the Sun, with director Tracy Heather Strain there in person.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre wraps up their winter-based midnight movies with the Universal Monsters version of The Invisible Man on Friday and The Shining on Saturday, both on 35mm. They also use 35mm for the Monday "Stage & Screen" presentation of Mildred Pierce, with Michael Curitz's noir followed by cast and crew of the Huntington Theatre Company's production of Bad Dates. Tuesday's screening of Last of the Mohicans - part of the "Daniel Day-Lewis: I'm Finished" series - is digital.
  • The Harvard Film Archive opens the weekend with their monthly "Cinema of Resistance" film, screening The Gleaners and I on Friday with post-film discussion. It's also part of a mostly-35mm Agnès Varda retrospective that also includes Cleo From 5 to 7 (Saturday 7pm), La Pointe Courte (Saturday 9pm), and Daguerréotypes (Sunday 5pm on 16mm). They also continue their Frederick Wiseman series with Boxing Gym (Sunday 7pm on DCP) and Titicut Follies (Monday 7pm on 16mm). Wiseman will also give a lecture in the Sander Theatre on Monday afternoon.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has more of the UCLA Festival of Preservation, featuring The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean (Friday/Sunday), Good References (Friday/Saturday with live accompaniment by Kevin Madison), Trouble in Paradise (Saturday/Wednesday), Los Tallos Amargos (Saturday/Sunday), Sons of the Desert (Sunday), and The Lost Moment (Wednesday), all in 35mm. On Thursday, they start their February calendar, with a free dubbed screening of Your Name kicking off their Boston Festival of Films From Japan.
  • The Regent Theatre will screen the original silent version of The Wizard of Oz on Friday, with Jeff Rapsis providing the music for the main feature and Paul Bielatowicz accompanying the Georges Méliès shorts playing beforehand.
  • Bright Lights starts up again in the Bright Screening Room at the Paramount theater, with free screenings of mother! on Tuesday and documentary One of Us on Thursday, both followed by discussion
  • CinemaSalem has Vazante in their small room, with Adriano Carvalho as a slave trader in 1821 Brazil and Luana Nastas has his child bride.

After doing the double feature at the Brattle on Friday night, I will stupidly be taking an overnight bus to New York City for Grady Hendrix's Hong-Kong-a-Thon, and then another overnight back. Hopefully I won't be too wiped for Padmaavat and some catch-up after that.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

This Week In Tickets: 15 January 2018 - 21 January 2018

Check it out - actually getting through some of the discs I've accumulated over the past few years. Not sure that I'm actually outpacing the rate they're coming in, but it's more than I've done in a while.

This Week in Tickets

I opened the week playing with 3D Blu-rays again, with two 3D Infernos - a 1953 Technicolor noir and a 2013 Hong Kong firefighter action movie. Lots of space between them, but they're both interesting and good fun to watch.

After the Hong Kong movie, I stuck to the far East for the next couple shows - the "Special Premiere Event" of Mary and the Witch's Flower on Thursday and A Better Tomorrow 2018on Friday. The former was pretty darn good, certainly indicating that Studio Ponoc is capable of picking up where Ghibli left off (before Miyazaki decided he wasn't quite done yet). The latter suggests there isn't much point to remaking a movie that was a big deal unless you can do something similarly revolutionary with the new version.

Saturday was spent lazing around the apartment and then headed out to Fresh Pond forMom and Dad, and that was a bit of an experience. Fresh Pond has upgraded its seats to the power-recliner models in most, if not all, of its theaters, which cut theater #9 from something like 80 seats to 18 (plus a couple wheelchair spots), but for some reason unfathomable to me they built it with a center aisle. Center aisles in movie theaters are generally awful, but this arrangment made it impossible for three people to sit in a row (two seats on each side of the aisle), and there were three three-person groups at the show. Apple Cinemas also apparently doesn't just have the movies on a timer and sometimes they forget these smaller movies, so I had to go out at 8:15pm to get them to start the 8pm movie (which had 11 people in it, a pretty good crowd for something you booked in an 18-seat theater).

Then, an hour and a half later, it ends on a bit of an odd note - and how could something this nuts end otherwise - and as I'm getting up to move out, someone from the audience comes back in, says that the movie's not over, the disc just skipped to the end credits, and there's another half hour, because the movie is 2 hours long. So we get back to our seats, and the folks in the booth start skipping to different chapters, rewinding, and so on until, ten minutes later, we get to the end. They're giving out refunds and passes at the ticket desk, figuring there must be forty minutes missing, but let me tell you, there is no way you can tack forty minutes onto the end of that movie. What we figure out is that this movie is 83 minutes long - or 1:23 - and someone typed "123" in as the running time in a few places (including IMDB), so folks thought it should be 2:03.

So, on the one hand, I got to watch something that would otherwise just be on VOD in a theater, which is good, and support a small local business, which is also good. On the other... Man, everything about that could have been done better!

At least that was only one T stop away; 15 minutes between trains on the Red Line on Sunday (with a busker in Davis playing what felt like the same song on Spanish guitar the whole time) meant I couldn't make it to Coolidge in time for the 70mm Phantom Thread, and instead saw Den of Thieves at Boston Common. Based upon the number of Oscar nominations Thread received this morning, it was not a great substitution. Amusingly, the show I watched on the DVR afterward had a similar plot but a better cast.

After that, I pulled the top Blu-ray off the pile and checked out Sha Po Lang: Parado, since it was the central feature when I ordered a bunch of things from Hong Kong and I figured I should try not to delay. It's interesting, at least, and it's got me started on a "watch the parts of series I haven't seen yet" jag.

As always, quicker updates on my Letterboxd page, for those that like first drafts.

Mom and Dad

* * (out of four)
Seen on 20 January 2018 in Apple Cinemas Cambridge #9 (first-run, projected Blu-ray)

A numer of folks in the audienct thought that this film was not 1 hour 23 minutes long, but 123 minutes, and though they had fair reason to epect that, there's no way this film has another half hour in it despite all the places I've seen listing it as just over two hours.

Because, to be honest, 83 minutes is stretching it. This thing takes forever to get going, is padded out by some really pointless flashbacks, and never really finds a good pace with that. Writer/director Brian Taylor also never quite seems to figure out if he wants to play up how utterly unthinkable his plot of parents suddenly attacking their children is or if he wants to play it as a dark fantasy, the impulses apparently zapped into parents' minds bringing barely-buried impulses rather than inserting new ones. It may be why the action is cut to near-incomprehensibility, even by his standards, and why he's weirdly stingy with the blood and gore. It's weird (at best) to want parents murdering kids more graphically, but being so obvious in pulling away when half the point is bring on the edge does him no favors.

On the other hand, there is Nicholas Cage going full Nic Cage on this thing, impressively finding a higher gear even after establishing his character as a weirdo. He's almost upstaged by Selma Blair, though, who makes the other half of the titular pair more reserved in her initial resentment and more deadpan in her insanity. They give the movie exactly what it needs, and however much of a mess the film may be on the whole, they make damn sure it's got its moments.

Sha po lang: taam long (Paradox)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen on 20 January 2018 in Jay's Living Room (finishing the series, HK Blu-ray)

So far as I know, no North America distributor has yet bought up the rights to the latest entry in the "Sha Po Lang" franchise, renamed it Kill Zone 3, and waited until nearly a year after its Hong Kong release to release it, and that's both kind of surprising and kind of not: As much as noteworthy Chinese movies have been getting same-day (or at least quick) releases abroad in recent years, and this series is certainly noteworthy, this entry is a different beast, less focused on the martial-arts action and more on the dark, underlying themes.

It continues the series' tradition of starting fresh with each entry, with characters from the previous film in different roles. In this case, Louis Koo Tin-lok plays Lee Chung-chi, a Hong Kong detective who tends to still think of his daughter Wing-chi (Hanna Chan Hon-na) as a little girl, although she's not that pre-schooler any more, breaking the news that she's in love and pregnant as Chung-chi is buying her dinner for her sixteenth birthday. Inspector Lee does not take that well, and soon Wing-chi has run off to Pattaya, Thailand, to visit a friend who works there as a tattoo artist (Iris Lam). She goes missing, and Lee convinces local detective Chui Kit (Yue Wu) to let him tag along on the case. It turns out that she's been kidnapped by organ traffickers led by ex-mercenary Sacha (Chris Collins), and the mayor needs a new heart.

Louis Koo is a big star in Hong Kong, but he's not primarily a kung fu guy like the previous stars of these movies (Donnie Yen, Wu Jing, and Tony Jaa). He can play intense with the best of them, and doing so forms the backbone of this movie, from the tightly-coiled rage as Lee discovers just how grown-up Wing-chi is to his determination upon discovering who is responsible for the horrific ordeal she's been put through. It's not a terribly broad range of emotion to play, but Koo finds the right nuance for each scene to keep Lee from just being a set-jaw robot with one operating mode; whether Lee is pushed further into despair or given a temporary glimpse of hope, it feels authentic right down to a moment visiting Chui's wife in the hospital where he still seems focused but not unable to grasp what others are also going through. The crime film industry cranks out enough cops like Lee Chung-chi every year that it's tough to make a new one stick out, and while Koo may not manage that, he doesn't often misstep and the movie gets the job done because of him.

Full review at EFC

Inferno (1953)
Out of the Inferno
Mary and the Witch's Flower
A Better Tomorrow 2018
Mom and Dad
Den of Thieves
Sha Po Lang: Paradox

Monday, January 22, 2018

Den of Thieves

I didn't plan on this being my only theatrical film for the day - I was going to catch the 70mm Phantom Thread at the Coolidge at 4pm - but I wound up waiting for a train for fifteen minutes in Davis, and when it reached Park, it was pretty clear that I wasn't going to make it to Brookline on time. So, since Den was going to be my evening show, I got off the train there, killed some time replacing shoes that were falling apart, and went to the Boston Common theater. Mildly surprised that there was a non-tiny audience, because (stereotype alert!) I would have figured that most of the people who wanted to see this would be home or at the bar watching the Patriots game. I mean, aside from just looking like a football-fan movie, there's actually dialogue where folks in the robbery crew playing high-school football together is treated like a bond just as strong as being in the Marines together.

Anyway, it gave me a little more time to watch other things when I got home, including starting my "finish the series" binge with Sha po lang 3: Paradox and pulling the last episode of The Blacklist off the DVR - where, coincidentally, Red got involved in a plan to rob the Denver mint of tens of millions of dollars of currency meant to be destroyed. Roughly a third of the length of the film, and admittedly starting from a position of familiarity, now does the TV version of this story have James Spader and Nathan Lane while the big screen settles for Gerard Butler and Pablo Schreiber?

Den of Thieves

* * (out of four)
Seen on 20 January 2018 in AMC Boston Common #18 (first-run, DCP)

140 minutes long, this thing is, and that doesn't even include the line from the trailer about the crew being addicted to heists. What the heck is up with that? Sure, sometimes a moment that can seem too on-the-nose in the film can be great for selling it, but other times it can seem like a clear sign that the movie won't just get to the point, and that's the case here. Den of Thieves is a thriller that spends a lot of time screwing around but not much actually thrilling.

It starts off promising enough, with a well-organized crew robbing an armored car with overwhelming force when it stops at a donut shop, at least until one of the guards twitches wrong and a shootout begins. "Big Nick" O'Brien (Gerard Butler) of the L.A. County Sheriff's Department's Major Crimes Squad catches the case, finding it odd that a team as well-organized as this one seemed to be wouldn't know the van they stole was empty. Still, he recognizes the style as that of Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber), an ex-Marine whose recent time in prison corresponded to a drop in the number elaborate robberies like this. Surveillance footage leads them to Donnie (O'Shea Jackson Jr.), a bartender with a couple of auto-related convictions whose fear of a third strike should get him to inform and allow Nick's crew to catch Merrimen's in the act. But Donnie says they keep him out of the loop until game day, which means they don't know Merrimen's target is the insanely-secure Federal Reserve building.

There are a bunch of other characters floating around - a pretty generic bunch, all sowle and shaggy and tattooed in the same way - but those three are the only ones of any consequence, and ideally they'd be more than enough. Gerard Butler is, admittedly, pretty good as a dirtbag cop, unpretentiously smart and casual in his entitlement. Nick's the guy you're kind of rooting for by default, and Butler makes sure that he doesn't seem particularly righteous but also never particularly burdened by guilt, he snaps crude lines off to show he's quick-witted but not exactly deep. O'Shea Jackson Junior looks like he could be a bigger star than his dad, showing an easy charm and able to play Donnie as realizing he's in over his head but still pushing through on confidence. It's not particularly Pablo Schreiber's fault that his third leg of this troika, Merrimen, is pretty much a non-entity - the script by director Christopher Gudegast and Paul Scheuring gives him even less than his co-stars - but he really doesn't project any sort of consistent personality at all. The movie needs a master thief, but Merrimen never seems compulsive or greedy or bored and only excited by planning a tricky operation.

Full review at EFC

Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Better Tomorrow 2018

Hey, new trailers for Monster Hunt 2 and Monkey King 3! I've been seeing the same teaser for that first one for a while. Bummer that the theater hasn't been picking up the Korean movies that have been coming out lately, because 1987 looks great and I really should have the opportunity to put the new one from the director of Save the Green Planet and Hwayi: A Monster Boy in front of my face.

That Monkey King trailer has me planning another movie binge, trying to catch up on movies where I've seen one part of the series but not the rest, even if I might miss MK3 between vacation and the SF marathon.

Got a decent crowd, though, some of whom really got into moments that I missed, and it's been too long since I've seen the 1986 version that I didn't really know whether it was recognizing a callback or some contemporary Chinese culture thing. It was, generally, weird to see actual posters from A Better Tomorrow in the movie; it's way more than tipping a cap.

Ying xiong ben se 2018 (A Better Tomorrow 2018)

* * (out of four)
Seen on 18 January 2018 in AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run, DCP)

What, I ask, is the point of remaking A Better Tomorrow without John Woo and Chow Yun-fat? It's admittedly a fine enough crime story that under normal circumstances it could stand a new version that adapts it to a different time or place, but as the movie that paired those two Hong Kong action legends, it's legendary itself, and it's therefore not good enough for a remake to just be competent. You've got to offer more than the same basic material in Mandarin rather than Cantonese and people using cell phones to make it worthwhile.

Instead, it's pretty much the same, maybe sanitized a little. Zhou Kai (Wang Kai) is a sailor who has a profitable sideline in smuggling on the route between Qindao, China and Tokyo, although he and best friend "Mark" Ma Ke (Darren Wang Ta-lu) are basically avoiding customs rather than moving anything truly illegal, which is less than some of their associates want, particularly Cang (Yu Ailei), godson of money man Ha Ge (Lam Suet), but Kai has the list of contacts. Some think it might be handy that Kai's brother Chao (Ma Tianyu) has become a cop, although Chao doesn't know about his brother's sideline and is too straight an arrow to get caught up in it. Unfortunately, the surveillance assignment he's just pulled really has the potential to ruin this family reunion.

Put the 1986 version of this story out of one's mind (either by editing your memory to forget it exists or by simply not having been aware of it before), and you've actually got the skeleton of a decent movie. Screenwriter/director Ding Sheng plays the story out well enough, finding a few details that reinforce each other nicely (the Zhous' father having early-onset dementia makes a nice sort of metaphor for how family members might not really know each other, and also creates a sort of duality when he's caught in the crossfire later on, both innocent victim and bearing the burden of the way he raised his son. One can snicker a bit about how the floor show at a club in Qindao stoically continues performing when a fight breaks out while the one in Tokyo flees in panic, but it's also worth noting that Ding does a fair job of threading the Chinese-film needle where crime doesn't pay but it also has to be appealing and stable enough for people to turn in that direction.

Full review at EFC

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Mary and the Witch's Flower

Well, that's one birthday present for my niece that loves Harry Potter sorted in a few months, which is a big part of what I wanted from this movie. Look, with four nieces and not wanting to repeat presents between them too much, a well-made movie with a pre-teen girl as the lead is a precious thing.

I was kind of expecting it to get more of a release than it seems to be getting, though - for a while, the emails from GKids were implying a wide release on the 19th, so I put off buying tickets for the special preview event until it started to seem like there wouldn't be a wide(ish) release, not even at just Boston Common or the Kendall. It meant I had to scramble to buy tickets, and pretty much all that was left was the very front and somewhat off-center or toward the back. Being me, I go for the front row and, yeah, that's not quite ideal. But I got to see it, at least.

I'm kind of surprised this isn't getting a wider release; it's pretty darn good and looks a darn sight better than at least half of the stuff you see getting previews before other family-friendly movies. I mean, honestly, parents, would you rather your kids had the opportunity to see this or Sherlock Gnomes, to say nothing about that awful-looking Peter Rabbit movie?

Mary to majo no hana (Mary and the Witch's Flower)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen on 18 January 2018 in AMC Assembly Row #10 (Fathom Events, DCP)

Though it's generally unfair to compare every cel-animated film that comes out of Japan to those of Studio Ghibli, especially if they made with kids in mind, this one invites it: Not only is the style fairly similar, but the filmmakers worked at Ghibli and built their new studio to do the same kind of work once that studio shifted to maintaining their catalog rather than producing new material. Also, I'd lay money that one character, a wise but curmudgeonly gardener, was modeled on Hayao Miyazaki. So it's not entirely unfair to watch the opening and tag it as Kiki's Delivery Service with a bit of Castle in the Sky mixed in, or flip those proportions when describing it later. What's important is that it turns out to be a worthy successor.

That opening gambit has a witch sneaking out of the building she's just burgled, chased by flying octopi as she escapes on her broom. She and her cargo eventually fall from the sky, her broom lost as the magical seeds dropped cause it to be swallowed by the woods. That broom will be found by Mary Smith (voiced by Hana Sugisaki in Japanese and Ruby Barnhill in English), a clumsy but well-meaning girl with unruly red hair who has moved to this small town ahead of her parents. The only other kid around is Peter (voices of Ryunosuke Kamiki and Louis Ashbourne Serkis), who teases her when running errands for the neighbors. Soon, a black cat has led Mary to the broom and a strange blue flower, with the broom launching like a rocket and bringing Mary to a school for magicians high above the clouds. There, Madam Mumblechook (voices of Yuki Amami and Kate Winslet) and Doctor Dee (voices of Fumiyo Kohinata and Jim Broadbent) tell her that she must be a prodigy to have found her way there - but down on earth, gardener Zebedee (voices of Ken'ichi Endo and Rasmus Hardiker) is telling Mary's Great-Aunt Charlotte (voices of Shinobu Otake and Lyna Baron) that Peter has gone missing.

I'm curious how much of Mary Stewart's novel The Little Broomstick director Hiromasa Yonebayashi and co-writer Riko Sakaguchi have altered in their adaptation, and how much they tried to leave as-is. At times, the movie shows a little bit of awkwardness that may be attributed to going from an English-language novel to a Japanese movie that was later subtitled in English, or maybe the filmmakers giving much more time to exploration than explanation. Wherever it comes from, though, they have an interesting tendency for what can seem like a half-twist, neither entirely sticking to the expectations that come with a kid who doesn't quite fit into the regular world discovering she may be meant for more nor completely subverting them. The filmmakers may occasionally stumble when embracing that sort of ambiguity, but it makes Mary a more interesting character and Endor College a more interesting place.

Full review at EFC

Friday, January 19, 2018

3D Infernos

About a week and a half ago, I posted about a couple of Japanese movies I bought as part of larger orders, pointing out that the other things in that order would make for a tremendously specific themed post, and here it is - two 3D movies named "Inferno", made sixty years and half a world apart!

Both, in a way, were "what more can I buy" purchases - Out of the Inferno was found while I was just digging around DDDHouse, looking at what was relatively cheap on 3D Blu-ray because, when you're ordering from Hong Kong, you might as well pack as many things as you can into a single order to save on shipping, and "3D movie from the Pang Brothers" raises an eyebrow for me. Then, of course, it sits on my shelf for a while because that's what 70% of the movies I buy do, as they're both a compulsion and a hedge against not being able to watch them the day I do feel like it because video stores no longer exist (or, at least, the nearest non-Redbox one is roughly an hour from my apartment on the T) and who knows if it will be on a streaming service I have a membership for the day I want to see it. Not that I'm likely to suddenly feel the need to watch this movie on short notice (especially when I didn't know it existed five minutes before ordering it), but it's the principle of the thing.

Similarly, I was on a 3D Blu-ray buying kick on Amazon, looking deep in the "people who bought X also bought Y" stuff when I found Inferno, though I was a bit alarmed at the price (something like $50 from resellers). It looked good enough to chase down elsewhere, though, which is how I eventually found Twilight Time's site and now will likely order a couple movies a month for them for the foreseeable future.

Both, thankfully, wound up pretty good, or at least good enough for a couple evening's entertainment. This pair of movies is also a kind of fun side-benefit to me liking 3D and kind of obsessively hunting it down (admittedly, partly due to necessity) - it's leading me to some fun places. Oftentimes, this sort of focus can get you into ever-more-narrow niches, but it's cool that even though it led me to this super-specific list (two 3D movies with the same name, at least in terms of what's on the front cover), the end result was two reasonably different movies.

Inferno '53

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen on 15 January 2018 in Jay's Living Room (watching 3D stuff, 3D Blu-ray)

"3D", "Technicolor", and "film noir" are not three things that traditionally go together, and that's a large part of what makes Inferno such a nifty discovery: It really is all three, and not just that, it's good at all three. It takes an intriguingly gritty crime story, transplants it from the city to the desert and strips it to the bone, and gets a heck of a lot of impact from its visuals.

When it opens, Geraldine Carson (Rhonda Fleming) and her new paramour Joseph Duncan (William Lundigan) have already abandoned Gerry's husband Donald (Robert Ryan) in the desert and are covering their tracks. It's a crime of opportunity; Donald has a reputation for wandering off on his own, and if he falls and breaks his leg while Joe is showing him a mine to invest in, well, Gerry at least is able to convince herself that not rescuing him is different from actual murder. The trouble with that plan is that while they go through the motions of telling Carson's business manager Dave Emory (Larry Keating) that the boss is missing and misdirecting the search party, Carson is demonstrating more will to live and ingenuity for survival than most would credit the soft heir with.

That the audience never really sees Carson as the unimpressive, abrasive gadabout that the other characters describe leaves a bit of an empty spot in the film, but the nifty performance by Robert Ryan as the inconvenient husband is nevertheless a strong enough base to hold up the rest of the film. There's a sneering hatred and self-pity to him that gives way to the makings of a less grudging admiration as the tenor of his voice-over changes and his physical performance shows more assurance; the audience may not witness the entirety of Carson's arc, but we get enough to extrapolate the rest, and Ryan does a nice job with it. He's a little theatrical when on his own for much of the film, but he slides into a more natural mode when playing against co-stars later, and it feels like both what the movie needs to be entertaining and growth.

Full review at EFC

Tao chu sheng tian (Out of the Inferno)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen on 16 January 2018 in Jay's Living Room (watching 3D stuff, 3D Blu-ray)

Brothers Danny and Oxide Pang made a splash on the Chinese film scene with The Eye and Re-Cycle, and have worked steadily both on individual projects as a team since, but the movies they have made don't seem to be booked at a lot of genre festivals any more. Maybe it's because they're like Out of the Inferno (aka "Inferno" and "Out of Inferno" depending how the title is translated) from 2013 - well-made enough but not unique. Hollywood makes things like this, and the Pang's good eyes roughly making up for the difference in effects budget between there and Hong Kong doesn't quite grab one's attention, even if it is a perfectly fine movie about heroic firefighters.

Four years ago, brothers Mak Tai-kwan (Lau Ching-wan) and Mak Keung (Louis Koo Tin-lok) were both offered jobs in the private sector; Keung took one, while Tai-kwan stayed with the Guangzhou Fire Department. Now, both of their lives are at a turning point; Tai-kwan has decided to leave the department so that his expectant wife Lam Si-lok (Angelica Lee Sin-je) doesn't have to worry about every day and Keung intends to propose to his girlfriend (Gillian Chung Yan-tung) after an event launching the company's fire-suppression products. Given that they are in use in the high rise where the company is headquartered - and, coincidentally, where Si-lok's OB/GYN (Wang Xue-qi) has his office - it's not going to be a great advertisement, as a set of unlikely circumstances will carry the flames through the entire forty-plus story building.

It's kind of a shame that this plot requires Keung's technology to be something of a spectacular failure; neither the script nor actor Louis Koo portrays him as particularly foolish or full of hubris. On top of that, it makes it a little harder for the filmmakers to talk about the practical difficulties firefighters in cities like Guangzhou face with skyscrapers growing like weeds, too high up for ladders to be stable or water pressure to be sufficient. The moments when the Maks have to solve that sort of problem are some of the film's most thrilling and intriguing, far more exciting than the familiar subplots about a lost kid and an opportunistic crime. Tai-kwan and Keung having different ways of approaching the same problem, and friction about how one is valued monetarily while the other is lionized (something that applies to a lot of fields where risk is involved) might be a much more interesting way to create tension between them than the late introduction of issues involving their father's death.

Full review at EFC

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 19 January 2018 - 25 January 2018

It's not really a great week, but it's one where a couple trailers that have been playing in front of seemingly every movie for the last month come out, so that's a relief, even if you don't go to them.

  • So, say goodbye to the trailer for 12 Strong, which features Chris Hemsworth as a U.S. soldier who led one of the first missions in Afghanistan after 9/11, going into enemy territory on horseback. Yes, it's the U.S. Army as the low-tech underdog against Afghan rebels at the start of a never-ending war! It's at Fresh Pond, the Capitol, the Embassy, Boston Common (including Imax), Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport, South Bay (including Imax), Assembly Row (including Imax), Revere (including XPlus), and the SuperLux. And no more of the trailer for Den of Thieves, with Gerard Butler as the head of an elite unit of cops chasing down a similarly skilled group of robbers, both prone to excessive force. It's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay (including Dolby), Assembly Row, and Revere.

    There haven't been quite so many trailers for Forever My Girl, and I wonder if this would be playing (as many) theaters if star Jessica Rothe hadn't had a pretty decent hit in Happy Death Day, although here she's playing the high school sweetheart of a country star who is now returning home after ten years. It's at Fresh Pond and Boston Common.

    Boston Common also opens A Better Tomorrow 2018, a remake of the Hong Kong classic that first saw John Woo work with Chow Yun-fat. Ding Sheng directs this one with a group of up-and-coming young stars.
  • The Brattle Theatre almost has a conventional schedule this week, with Thelma playing all day from Friday to Tuesday and the latest shows on Wednesday and Thursday; it's a pretty nifty film by Joachim Trier about a young woman, away from home for the first time at college, who discovers that she may have uncanny and dangerous abilities. The 7pm shows on Wednesday and Thursday are A Woman A Part, with director Elisabeth Subrin on-hand to introduce her film starring Maggie Siff as an actress re-evaluating her life.
  • Apple Fresh Pond has no Indian films this week, but they do have a couple of American genre films that you'd otherwise have to catch on VOD. Mom and Dad features Nic Cage and Selma Blair as parents who are affected by a strange phenomenon which compels them to kill their kids. Written and directed by Brian Taylor, who's been doing nutty things on Happy! and also was half of the Crank team. There's also Small Town Crime, with John Hawkes as an ex-cop solving a brutal murder. Heck of a supporting cast on it.
  • Kendall Square gives half a screen's worth of showtimes to The Final Year, in which documentarian Greg Barker had incredible access to the Obama State Department in 2016.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre continues the 35mm "Snowed In" midnights with Let the Right One In on Friday and The Shining on Saturday; the monthly screening of The Room on Friday is apparently sold out, and that pushes The Midnight Man, featuring Robert Englund and and Lin Shaye. They keep Phantom Thread in the big room on 70mm film (except for one Sunday matinee), and further commemorate Daniel Day-Lewis's coming imminent retirement with a 35mm print of My Left Foot on Tuesday. They also have a special screening of Soul Witness: The Brookline Holocaust Witness Project on Thursday
  • The Somerville Theatre and West Newton Cinema both add Phantom Thread this week, with Somerville getting a 35mm print. The Somerville also programs two documentaries later in the week - Unrest, Jennifer Brea's film about her chronic fatigue syndrome, and 42 Grams, in which Jack C. Newell follows celebrity chef Jake Bickelhaupt as he makes his dinner club into a Michelin-starred restaurant.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has screenings of Canaletto and the Art of Venice Friday, Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday afternoons. They also continue the UCLA Festival of Preservation with He Walked by Night (35mm Friday/Sunday), Open Secret (35mm Friday/Sunday), Desert Hearts (Saturday), The Murder of Fred Hampton (35mm Saturday), Sons of the Desert (35mm Wednesday), Stranded (35mm Wednesday/Thursday), and The Lost Moment (35mm Thursday).
  • The Harvard Film Archive is the latest place in the area to have a Frederick Wiseman series, with 16mm prints of High School (Friday 7pm), Hospital (Friday 9pm), High School II (Saturday 7pm), and Primate (Monday 7pm). They also continue their 35mm The World of Bob Fosse program with a $5 matinee of The Little Prince on Saturday, Kiss Me Kate (Sunday 4:30pm), and Cabaret (Sunday 7pm).
  • CinemaSalem once again books two movies in the 18-seat room - not only are they the place to go if you don't want to wait until midnight for The Midnight Man, but they also have Freak Show, the first narrative feature directed by Trudie Styler, in which a male high achiever at a conservative school opts to run for prom queen. Fun cast list, even if most are likely cameos.

I'm down for A Better Tomorrow and Mom and Dad, maybe seeing the stuff I'm behind on and further drilling into my unwatched disc collection.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

This Week In Tickets: 8 January 2018 - 1 January 2018

Not quite doing a movie every day, but keeping up a pretty good pace - and saw movies in seven different places!

This Week in Tickets

This time, it meant starting at home, finishing up the second half of a pair of Japanese films with The Bullet Train, which was not quite so good as Confessions or Speed, the movie it inspired, but its still an interesting one. Tuesday, meanwhile, had me finding the last place in the area to be showing Downsizing in the early evening in the Boston area. Not necessarily worth prioritizing, really.

Thursday had me planning to see one movie and check out a new theater, but the T dragged me down. Fortunately, it got me to Paddington 2 at Boston Common, and that would wind up being the best movie of the weekend.

Friday was a break from new releases, catching a double feature of two from last year (Good Time & The Florida Project) at the Brattle. I'd enjoyed Good Time at Fantasia, but wanted to see it both from a better spot and on film, and had heard a lot of good things about The Florida Project, even if it somehow hadn't really penetrated that it was in large part a movie about kids.

Saturday, I finally got down to the Seaport to check out the new Showplace Icon theater there, with my first show there All the Money in the World, which isn't the greatest. A bit of a missed opportunity in not opening Proud Mary at that theater, as much of it takes place in the Seaport area. Instead, I had to catch it at Fenway.

I did laundry and lazed around the apartment on Sunday, although I walked out in the cold to The Commuter. Not good at all, but when I got home, I figured I might as well check out my UltraHD Blu-ray of Blade Runner before letting a friend borrow it and, guys, that's both a great movie and a fantastic-looking disc.

Not a bad way to end the week. As always, quicker updates on my Letterboxd page, though this week may be a bit slower..


* ¾ (out of four)
Seen on 9 January 2018 in AMC Assembly Row #10 (first-run, DCP)

Alexander Payne has a neat sci-fi idea in Downsizing, and a mind to use it both as a metaphor for the difficulties of changing one's habits to make the world a better place and as one for starting anew. He does not, however, really have a story, filling time with lots of set-up but not really putting anything in it that matters. Someone really good at creating a fantasy world could build it on the fly and not fiddle around with stuff that really will not wind up mattering. And, man, for everything he seems to get right about small-city/town people, he seems to stumble hard when he tries to widen his view.

You can see the clumsiness here, with every "XX years later", the way a possible environmental message always seems just out of the filmmakers' grasp, like it's an idea meant to push people into something but not something to really examine, the way the last act seems like just every random idea Payne had left glued together because he knew he wouldn't get another shot. It's a mess that leaves Matt Damon and Hong Chau kind of stranded - Damon's kind of great at being this whitebread guy searching for something more and it can kind of look hollow rather than sincere (he's at his best when he gets to be a guy who is able to offer something concrete but overlooked), and Chau's character often feels like she's right on the line of stereotype and authenticity.

And while in many ways this isn't quite so important as the other character/storytelling flaws, it seems tremendously disappointing to me that the filmmakers seldom really have fun with the scale changes that are the whole visual hook. There are long periods when you would never know these characters are just inches tall, and while that's in many ways the point (getting small hasn't really changed their thinking that much), it often seems like the filmmakers have been very careful in calculating cube roots but never figured that the physics of this world might be different - no example of the square-cube law in action, no consideration of how liquids behave differently at that scale, no idea of how if the small folks can have fingernail-sized cell phones, things must be different on the macro scale (just think of how much thicker fabrics should look, too). Even when the characters are getting into the outside world, it seldom looks enormous.

There's just damn little to fire the imagination in Downsizing, and its metaphors and satire are not nearly clever enough to fail on what should be it's most enjoyable high concepts.

Blade Runner (The Final Cut)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen on 14 January 2018 in AMC Assembly Row #10 (first-run, DCP)

The UltraHD disc I ordered because I was getting the sequel in that format and, hey, might as well get the original in 4K resolution, even if I don't necessarily watch it often enough to make it worth having another copy. Heck, I may not have ever actually watched the HD-DVD version I'm upgrading because this shows up at local theaters relatively often, and, yeah, that's "HD-DVD", so it's been a while.

I have seen it fairly often, because I do try and catch it when it plays, what with it being kind of terrific. Which cut doesn't really matter - it's fantastic all the way around. the revelation this time around was just how amazing the transfer on this disc is - it looks like it came straight from a pristine film print, and shows how it's a crying shame that most of the 4K discs that come out are recent films which have probably been through a 2K digital intermediate at some point, because this higher resolution is really going to look its best on something like this, where you can see every detail of the miniatures and the fine-grained film used to shoot the thirty-five years ago.

More classic movies on this format, please!

The Bullet Train
Paddington 2
Good Time & The Florida Project
All the Money in the world
Proud Mary
The Commuter
Blade Runner

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Commuter

Disappointing finish to a weekend of new releases, although not expected - stuff doesn't come out in January unless it's expanding or getting dumped, with just a few exceptions (not enough people went to see Paddington 2 this weekend!), and the Somerville Theatre had it in one of the even-numbered rooms despite what you'd think would be less mainstream stuff also playing. It wasn't going to be good.

Still, it was disappointingly bad; you expect a certain amount of competence from Neeson & Collet-Serra, and this thing was just dull nonsense

The Commuter

* ½ (out of four)
Seen on 14 January 2018 in Somerville Theatre #4 (first-run, DCP)

I've long repeated the adage that you can make any thriller something like 20% better by setting it on a train, but The Commuter challenges that rule in the strongest manner possible. Maybe it doesn't apply to stories that can only take place on a train, or maybe this story would be even worse transplanted to a stationary location, but either way, it's a remarkably stupid movie that wastes a lot of time before it even has a chance to become the entertaining sort of silly.

It gives us Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson), a sixty-year-old former detective who has been selling insurance for the past ten years, taking the train into New York from Tarrytown every day, filling his time by reading along with his son's assignments for English class. At least, until today, when he's fired and can't quite bring himself to tell his wife Karen (Elizabeth McGovern) right away, meeting his former partner Alex (Patrick Wilson) for a few drinks before taking his normal 6:22 home. That's when he meets Joanna (Vera Farmiga), who tells him that there is twenty-five thousand dollars hidden in the bathroom and another seventy-five in it for him if he can find someone headed for Cold Springs - not a regular - code-named "Prin" and put a location tag on their bag. Michael soon figures out that this group means to tag Prin for assassination, but if the money is the carrot, a threat against his family is the stick, and there are people on the train watching to make sure he complies.

This is a ridiculously complicated plan, which is not necessarily a terrible thing in and of itself, but it's a complicated plan that runs far too obvious a risk of failure - what if Michael just can't figure out who the mystery person is? - and which doesn't really give anybody enough to do. Heck, even without Michael having a phone of his own, it could probably be thwarted by him walking from car to car and loudly announcing what's going on. Instead, he walks from car to car, acts kind of squirrely, does much less effective things that backfire, but never really seems to be solving a puzzle, but even getting him to do that requires a conspiracy with enough manpower on and off the train to make Michael utterly unnecessary. It also creates a bad rhythm for the movie - with stops every four minutes in the city and just slightly less often as the train moves to the suburbs, there's a stop-and-go pace that never lets the film build up any sort of momentum.

Full review at EFC