Monday, February 05, 2018

This Week In Tickets: 29 January 2018 - February 2018

Two handwritten notes on the calendar means I actually watched two of the Blu-rays that have been sitting on my shelf long enough to have moved at least once. On the other hand, nine came in the mail, which is not really a sustainable pace.

This Week in Tickets

The week started off with a trek to Fenway to catch Padmaavat after not being able to catch it the day before. It's a bunch of fun, and I think my opinion of it has increased in the meantime. It's also always fun to talk about movies with the Indian folks at work on their home turf, so to speak.

My current kick on making a dent in the movie collection is watching the entries in series that I haven't seen yet, more or less making a pile of those discs in alphabetical order, and that left Zebraman 2 on top, which is fair enough; it's from early enough in the days of HD discs that it's packaged like a DVD that has a high-def disc as a bonus feature. It's a system that I made an exception to late Saturday night, since I figured there was no way I would get to The Monkey King before the third entry comes out on the 16th, especially with a week of film festival in there. Not that it's really necessary to catch up, since I saw #2 a week before this disc arrived and the series was revamped before that one.

Wednesday and Thursday were busy in the usual way- basically, I hang out at the comic shop while my DVR records about six hours of stuff on Thursday and then try and watch it on Thursday - and then Friday was given to BPM (Beats Per Minute), a pretty terrific picture from France that won a bunch of awards at Cannes and had a few folks I know claiming it was robbed in the Oscar nominations. It is pretty good.

I was going to go for a double feature on Saturday, but laundry and other chores pushed the front half to the next day, but I still made it out to Assembly Row for Winchester. The 90 bus is direct, but almost always late. Decent enough movie, although I wanted to like it a bit more, given my fondness for the directors.

I did the double feature on Sunday, starting off with Till the End of the World, a solid, interesting survival romance from China. The back half wound up being I, Tonya as I try and catch up with some things before Oscars despite having a couple of weeks of time booked between now and then.

That one is actually being published here just before on my Letterboxd page, so if you're reading this right after it went up, you may actually be ahead of that! A rare, rare occurrence.

Zeburâman: Zebura Shiti no gyakushû (Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen on 30 January 2018 in Jay's Living Room (finishing the series, Blu-ray)

Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City came out three years before The Purge, and that you didn't hear the fans of Japanese pop culture in general and the prolific Takashi Miike in particular grumble is that the thing they have in common is an indication of just what a shotgun approach Miike can take to making movies: Though he had slowed down from his earlier insane pace, he was still cranking out two features a year, and not all of them are exactly carefully crafted. Zebraman 2 bounces between ideas and gags like Miike's career as a whole does, but at that scale it's more randomness than variety.

After the events of the first Zebraman movie, titular superhero Shin'ichi Ichikawa (Sho Aikawa) has become a hounded public figure, unable to return to his job as a disrespected third-grade teacher and abandoned by his family. One day, he finds himself in the grasp of a mad scientist, spun in a bizarre centrifuge, and then he wakes up fifteen years in the future, amnesiac, and wouldn't you know it, it's almost "Zebra Time" - the five minutes at 5am and 5pm in Zebra City (the former Tokyo) when all crime is legal and even encouraged. He's found riddled with bullets by Junpei Ichiba (Naoki Tanaka), an actor who used to play Zebraman on TV, and taken to a clinic run by Kohei Asano (Masahiro Inoue), one of his former students. There he's told that mad scientist Kozo Aihara (Guadalcanal Taka) is mayor and his daughter Yui (Riisa Naka) is the city's mascot, a pop-star "Zebra Queen". Ichikawa and Yui are connected somehow, and the latter is looking for Sumire (Mei Nagano), a little girl who still has one of the green alien parasites Zebraman defeated fifteen years ago inside her.

It's not hard to see where Miike and writer Kankuro Kudo (who also wrote the first) are going with this, because they are not shy about dropping dialogue about needing to balance black and white, or separating evil elements from good, throughout the entire movie. It's not a bad way to go with the idea, especially with Ichikawa having an all-white costume while Yui is in black for much of the movie, but it's something that probably has to be given a bit more thought than color choices which themselves are more or less abandoned in the last act so that Zebraman can have a cool black costume rather than the deliberately silly but memorable one from the first movie. It's the sort of superhero-movie philosophy that sounds kind of weighty - you can scratch your chin and say, yes, Kudo and Miike are trying to say something here - but is actually kind of an inch deep and jettisoned when it comes time to actually examine how Zebra Time supposedly decreases overall crime or when some other shiny object crosses their paths.

Full review at EFC

Xi you ji: Da nao tian gong (The Monkey King)

* * (out of four)
Seen on 3-4 February 2018 in Jay's Living Room (finishing the series, 3D Blu-ray)

I'm not sure whether Monkey King Sun Wukong has been more ubiquitous as an on-screen character in recent years or if it's just a matter of more Chinese films coming to international audiences' attention and the guy suddenly seeming to show up every six months. That seems more likely, because one would think this film being a DC-movie type disaster (not well-liked but making too much at the box office to be considered a failure) would otherwise put the kibosh on not just Cheang Pou-soi's planned trilogy but other planned takes on the story; instead, everybody else kept going while Cheang found a way to make The Monkey King 2 but basically start from scratch. It's certainly not hard to see why the filmmakers more or less discarded everything about this movie before making its two sequels; this version of The Monkey King just does not work and even though some of its most visible elements aren't really the problem, you kind of need to show that you're making changes rather than doing it quietly.

This one starts out well before the "Havoc in Heaven" part of the Monkey King mythology, with a war between deities and demons that the former eventually wins, with the Jade Emperor (Chow Yun-fat) casting would-be usurper the Buffalo Demon King (Aaron Kwok Fu-shing) down into a fiery hellscape. Heaven has been so damaged, though, that goddess Nuwa (Zhang Zilin) changes herself to crystal in order to pull it back together, with one fragment falling to Earth and birthing a powerful demigod with the form of the monkeys in the area. Seeing the potential for both virtue and vice in this Monkey King (Donnie Yen Ji-dan), the sage Master Puti (Hai Yitian) takes him on as a pupil, naming him "Sun Wukong". Still alternately egotistical and naive, Wukong is able to be convinced by the Buffalo Demon King to demand his place in Heaven, which would give disaffected guardian Erlangshen (Peter Ho Yun-tung) a chance to lower the defenses and let the demons attack again.

The star would be the most visible change when the sequel came out, but it's worth mentioning that Donnie Yen doesn't really make a bad Sun Wukong here. He's buried under a ton of prosthetics, but he nails the childish combination of innocence and petulance that the Havoc In Heaven phase of this character needs, and his emoting through all the latex and fur sells the film's last act. He doesn't really get a chance to show off his martial arts prowess as well as one would hope, despite being both star and action director - the movie is so larger-than-life and full of CGI and wire work that it's tough to see choreography in the fights - but his physicality works for the character. It's not hard to justify switching him out for Aaron Kwok in later movies, since Kwok's Buffalo Demon King is the best thing inn this one, projecting self-assurance and righteousness as he tricks Wukong and recites his grievances even while still maintaining the sneer that makes him clearly the film's villain.

(It ultimately worked out for the best; Kwok played a more mature, hardened Wukong well in #2, and maybe if Yen is making Monkey King movies, he doesn't do Rogue One, and who'd want that?)

Full review at EFC

I, Tonya

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen on 4 February 2018 in Somerville Theatre #5 (first-run, DCP)

I'm not sure I, Tonya really needs or benefits from the fourth-wall-breaking, unreliable-narrator conceit that gives it its title, especially at the beginning, because it comes across as a thoroughly capable and interesting conventional biography. It is zeroed in on the idea that, whether Tonya Harding was knowingly complicit in the attack on Nancy Kerrigan or not, her background made her easy to cast as the villain, because she is not what one expects an Olympian to be, with a large side-order of how those that look down on Harding cannot conceive of the desperation the situations she and others starting out at a disadvantage find themselves in. That material is fantastic, and the meta-material seems like a distraction.

It's necessary, though, as advancing that point of view means suggesting that Harding herself is innocent, a controversial position not widely believed. It is necessary in order to get at that truth of how nobody ever truly have Harding her due for doing things as a figure skater that no woman before her had because she didn't fit the profile, and the fact that she and everyone around her are quite capable of living down to expectations muddies the waters but also challenges the audience. It also gives Margot Robbie some of her most obviously entertaining moments as she looks right at the audience and lays Harding bare. I don't know, necessarily, that moments like that are more interesting than the ones where she feels that she has finally achieved the respect she deserves.

The film is plenty entertaining, but sometimes too obvious, from the very familiar songs on the soundtrack to how it makes such an effort to establish Tonya's role as ambiguous and then presents her version of the story above all others. As a character says early on, it's a story that says a lot about America, even if the filmmakers can't quite decide which parts deserve the most emphasis.

Zebraman 2
Beats Per Minute
Till the End of Time
I, Tonya
The Monkey King

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