Tuesday, July 03, 2018

This Week in Tickets: 25 June 2018 - 1 July 2018

Folks, I'm looking at the Fantasia schedule for this year and breathing a sigh of relief at there not seeming to be many midnights. I am getting old.

This Week in Tickets

But before getting to how I can't stay up like I want to, I at least demonstrated that I won't necessarily put something off forever, finally getting to First Reformed, which is pretty darn fantastic. I could have caught it at IFFBoston, but I think there was something else that I couldn't likely see again at the same time.

Just made it to that one because the 350 bus that gets me back to civilization after work has been iffy, and the next day was had the bus even later, which meant I didn't make it to the Red Sox crushing the Angels until after Mookie Betts had hit a home run. Fortunately, there were more in store en route to a 9-1 beatdown. It was a fun one.

No such issues on Thursday, when I got out in time for a movie but was feeling run-down enough by the week at work that it was a pretty easy choice to catch Uncle Drew rather than Sicario 2. Not a great movie, but big-hearted and sincere as heck.

Then the weekend. I was psyched as heck for the Coolidge's "Martial Art House" actually showing some long-lost 35mm from Hong Kong, but a delay on the green line (and, admittedly, a delay on me getting out of my apartment) meant I didn't get there until 12:15am, and even though I'd had hope that a guest being there might mean things wouldn't start until late, the box office was closed. Retracing my steps meant I wasn't home until about 1am, which is kind of late with no movie to show for it. Still got my Hong Kong in the next day, though, with Herman Yau's The Leakers.

I did make it to the Coolidge for the last show of the series, Shaolin Vs Wu Tang, and found the introductory bit by Dan Halsted, Head Programmer at Portland, OR's Hollywood Theatre, a delight - it was a bunch of detective work that took him from an Ebay seller to a surprisingly intact Shaw Brothers cinema in the worst part of Vancouver, where he found roughly 1,000 film reels underneath the stage, to trouble at Customs because one of the films they found was Dirty Ho, which is not porn, but a fun martial-arts misadventure about a sneaky guy named Ho.

That pushed things late, though, and that evening was the one time in the week that I chose to moderate my caffeine intake, so I was nodding off a lot during the second half. Shame, because it may be the only print left, and who knows when it will come back around, especially since the horror-to-kung fu ratio for midnight movies around here is annoyingly skewed. Caught the last 66 bus back to Harvard, but then there's still a half-hour of walking back home, so Sunday was a draggin' day. It left me in good shape to be pleasantly surprised by Animal World, which I figured would be fun - director Han Yan dropped some pretty great action fantasies in the middle of Go Away Mr Tumor, but it being this precise sort of delightfully weird was a pleasant surprise.

Anyway, check out my Letterboxd for early peeks at the next (hopefully) pleasant surprise.

First Reformed

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 June 2018 in Landmark Kendall Square #8 (first-run, DCP)

First Reformed may eventually settle into too slow a burn after a patient but consistently unnerving start, but at least it burns, which is not necessarily something a lot of other movies can say. Writer/director Paul Schrader invites his audience to sink into a despair that is both spiritual and temporal and not only doesn't suggest that one can save us from the other, but that they are linked, that humanity's lack of respect for the natural world and lost relationship with God are two sides of the same coin. It's a heavy, uncompromising message and there's never a point where he seems to enjoy delivering it.

But, boy, does he do it with incredible skill, from the beautiful opening fade-in that becomes the first of many narrow, static, but seemingly unsteady shots. That unsteadiness is more pronounced in most of the film's sympathetic characters; there's a genuine horror to scenes where Reverend Toller tries to counsel someone in crisis, as Schrader carefully illuminates both the good intentions and the missteps that can lead to disaster, but not in a cringe-inducing way. It's a quiet tragedy of the damaged trying to do their best for the too far gone.

Ethan Hawke is damn great as Toller, giving a performance that constantly suggests the self-flagellation of his narration but seldom gets close to an outburst. It's complemented by some genuinely impressive work by Amanda Seyfried, whom I've always loved despite never believing that she had something this good in her, playing the hope that maybe counters despair without ever becoming saccharine.

It does run on a bit, like Schrader knows he's got something to say about how America has conflated God, country, and the economy but flails. I also get the feeling that two or three images that don't work are a fine price to pay for something brilliant that comes out of what seems like nothing (apparently, Pepto + whiskey becomes something like a tumor). It's a movie that sometimes has more ideas than it can fit, but it comes close enough, and that's better than the alternative.

Shao Lin yu Wu Dang (Shaolin vs Wu Tang)

N/A (out of four)
Seen 30 June 2018 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (Martial Art House, dubbed 35mm)

Damn shame I was too sleepy to get through this properly, because, even dubbed, it's a decidedly fun, if kind of generic martial-arts movie It's not actually a Shaw Brothers picture, but between director/star Gordon Liu, the simple but nice-looking costumes, and the basic story of two martial-arts schools with distinct styles pitted against each other by a power-hungry governor, it's not hard for it to run together with all those movies. Even if you haven't seen this one, and even if you haven't heard it sampled in a bunch of songs by the Wu Tang Clan, it feels kind of familiar.

But it's the good kind of familiarity, the kind that makes for a comfortable watch when you need it. You can just sit down, enjoy the nifty choreographed action that breaks out every ten or fifteen minutes, especially since much of the movie is so darn pleasant, positing friendly rivals rather than enemies and seeming to spend the opening goofing and being a little self-aware. Even once the stakes get high, it's hard to shake the feeling of it being a genial thing that is basically a kung fu delivery system, and I don't exactly need it to be anything else.

First Reformed
Red Sox 9, Angels 1
Uncle Drew
The Leakers
Shaolin vs Wu Tang
Animal World

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