Sunday, September 30, 2018

Golden Job

Caught this one early so that I could make it back to the Somerville, so I couldn't really get a feel for the crowd, but I'm kind of curious how this one is doing for Well Go. They didn't seem to advertise it as connected to Young and Dangerous the way they pointed out that City of Rock was from the maker of Pancake Man, and I wonder if that's a lesson learned: The Chinese-American/expatriate/fan audience is going to recognize the names and get excited, but some of us would just get frustrated by the fact that the referenced movies just aren't available legitimately or easily and pass it up.

Anyway, I was surprised how much I liked it - the trailer was kind of generic, with lots of guys who weren't big names to me being promoted like they were big deals, and this was already a busy weekend. But it's a fun, no-screwing-around action movie that taps into a lot of fun things but doesn't overdo them enough to be laughed at. I'd probably be trying to get my hands on the seven Y&D movies if I could after seeing this one; it's a shame that, even ordering from Hong Kong, only the third and the last before a 2013 remake are available right now.

Wong gam hing dai (Golden Job)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 29 September 2018 in AMC Boston Common #16 (first-run, DCP)

A chunk of Golden Job takes place in Budapest, because despite this movie's Hong Kong roots, that's where they make this sort of movie these days, with all of its car chases, explosions, and tortured brotherhood. It may not be a perfect example of that genre, in that it's a little too obvious about what it skimps on, but it's a satisfying one, especially for fans of the 1990s Hong Kong cinema it recalls. Happily, it doesn't lean so hard on nostalgia that those just looking for an hour and a half of action will feel shut out.

It tells the story of a crew of mercenaries who have been brothers since growing up together in an orphanage: Field leader Bill (Michael Tse Tin-wah), charming Lion (Ekin Cheng Yee-kin), tech guy Mouse (Jerry Lamb Hiu-fung), driver Calm (Chin Ka-lok), and all-around-badass Crater (Jordan Chan Siu-chun). Five years ago, a screwed-up job for shadowy operative Rick Rice (Sergej Onopko) got them cut loose, and since then, they've freelanced. Lion is ready to quit - he's met Zoe Chow, a nice doctor (Charmaine Sheh See-man) doing relief work in Africa - but Bill has a line on some stolen medicine, which should be an easy-enough job that they can bring their mentor, gangster Papa Cho (Eric Tsang Chi-wai) and even his daughter Lulu (Zhang Yamei) in on it. It does seem a bit more complicated than just a van full of meds, though, and when they get a look at the haul, it makes an even bigger mess.

Those coming to Golden Job with little else on their mind than watching some people, places, and things get knocked around will be plenty satisfied; the film divides into four parts set in different locations, each with a well-done action sequence at the center, and on top of that, director Chin Ka-lok knows the rhythms of these things better than most: He came up as a stunt performer and driver (it wouldn't be surprising if he took the part of Calm so that he had to shoot around doubles a bit less), and he knows how to tell a story with action: After the opening tease, he makes the Budapest heist light-hearted until it needs to twist, stages a fun, free-wheeling Japan-set segment where a great big goofy car chase is intercut with an old man played by Yasuaki Kurata having some pretty darn good martial-arts skills, playing it wonderfully straight but still having fun, and then gets grim and focused with the final assault in Montenegro. The staging of all these showcases is slick and exciting, but they build smartly, both within a scene and as the movie goes on, both in scale and complexity, with the emotional stakes clearly highest by the time the team is hunting one of their own.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 28 September 2018 - 4 October 2018

It's my birthday, and… Guys, I had only vaguely heard of some of these movies before tonight.

  • Okay, I have seen previews for Smallfoot, a cute-looking animated movie about a tribe of yetis for whom humans are legendary creatures, until one (voice of Channing Tatum) meets a hairless hiker (voice of James Corden). Some 3D shows among the mostly-2D ones at the Capitol (2D only), Fresh Pond (2D only), Boston Common, South Bay, Fenway, Assembly Row, Revere (including MX4D) and the SuperLux (2D only).

    The biggest release is probably director Malcolm D. Lee's Night School, with Kevin Hart as the regular guy who needs to attend night school to get his GED and Tiffany Haddish as the no-nonsense/possibly-insane teacher in charge of the class. It's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport, South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema), Revere (including XPlus), and the SuperLux. There's also Hell Fest, with a serial killer chasing a bunch of teenagers around a Halloween-themed amusement park while most of the visitors think it's just part of the show. Director Gregory Plotkin edited Get Out, Game Night, and Happy Death Day, so maybe he can do something with it. That's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    Surprisingly, this year's version of Little Women - set in the present day rather than as a period piece - only appears to being playing at Boston Common. Similarly, Fenway is the only place with Science Fair, a National Geographic-produced documentary about nine kids from around the world looking to reach the International Science and Engineering Fair with their projects. The 6:30pm show on Friday is listed as a "Q&A Event", although I can't find specific guests listed anywhere.

    Tangled is the week's entry in AMC's Disney Princess series at Boston Common, South Bay, and Assembly Row, while the monthly Ghibli show at Fenway & Revere is My Neighbor Totoro (dubbed Sunday & Wednesday, subtitled Monday). Documentary Above and Beyond: NASA's Journey to Tomorrow plays Fenway on Saturday and Fenway & Revere on Tuesday. Fenway and Revere also have a "Bloody Disgusting Retro Nightmare" of what look like two of the lesser Amityville films on Thursday. Revere also has Mean Girls on Sunday and Wednesday.

    Lots of places also have special early screenings of A Star Is Born on Tuesday and Wednesday, in addition to the regular night-before shows on Thursday
  • Colette features Keira Knightley as the French author who, having published under her husband's name, looks to take credit for her own work, and plays at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Kendall Square, West Newton, and Boston Common.

    The Coolidge has The Room in the main room at midnight on Friday, but the real After Midnite event is upstairs, where William Lustig will do a post-film Q&A of Vigilante (shown on 35mm), and then return on Saturday to receive the Coolidge After Midnite Award and have a panel discussion after Maniac Cop 2, widely considered his magnum opus. Monday has both a "Stage & Screen" presentation of Clue, but also a special "Wide Lens" screening of Fahrenheit 11/9 with one of its subjects, New York Congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, on hand for post-film discussion. They wrap the week up with a 35mm Cinema Jukebox presentation of All That Jazz.
  • Kendall Square also opens Hal, a documentary on seminal 1970s director Hal Ashby, and they've got a few special shows to go with it: The 7:15pm show on Friday has producer Christine Beebe and musician Al Kooper, who did the soundtrack for Ashby's 1970 film The Landlord. They also screen Ashby's Harold and Maude on Saturday morning and Being There on Sunday. They also have a subtitled screening of anime adventure My Hero Academia: Two Heroes on Tuesday.
  • Boston Common has two Chinese movies opening this weekend, both kind of curious: Golden Job reunites the stars of the late 1990s Young and Dangerous series (which is, of course, currently impossible to find in the USA) in a new movie, this time playing mercenaries deciding to pull one risky job in part as payback. That opens Friday; Fat Buddies starts on Sunday, and features Bao Bei-er (who also directs) and Zhang Wen as two secret agents who have kind of let themselves go, with part of the gag being that both are heartthrobs playing their parts in fat suits.

    Boston Common and Apple Fresh Pond both appear to be getting Sui Dhaaga: Made in India, which features Varun Dhawan and Anushka Sharma as, I believe, a married couple who find fame through pursuing traditional handcrafts. Fresh Pond also opens Devadas in Telugu, has Malayalam comedy Theevandi on Saturday, and continues Tamil drama Chekka Chivantha Vaanam and thriller Captain Nawab (with at least some screenings of the Hindi movie in Telugu). Fenway has an encore screening of Kannada-language film Sarakari Hiriya Prathamika Shale, Kasargud, Koduge Ramanna Rai on Sunday.
  • The Somerville Theatrehas the back end of their third annual 70mm and Widescreen Festival this weekend, with The Witches of Eastwick and The Thing on Friday, an afternoon "Odds & Ends" show on Saturday with Patton in the evening, and their brand-new, never-run-through-a-projector print of 2001: A Space Odyssey on Sunday (although I suspect Dave will preview it to make sure it's okay sometime before that). They also pick up Assassination Nation and Love Gilda for the other two screens open while renovations continue downstairs (including the Museum of Bad Art).
  • Boston Women's Film Festival runs through Sunday at The Brattle Theatre and The Museum of Fine Arts, with new films including Little Woods, All About Nina, What They Had, Dead Pigs, and Wild Nights with Emily, as well as retrospective screenings including Jennifer's Body and a 35mm print of Daisies.

    After the Festival concludes, the Brattle has guests: Penny Lane attends a DocYard screening of her film The Pain of Others on Monday, and several members of the cast will be on-hand for an IFFBoston screening of Mid90s on Tuesday. After that, they get a head start on picking up the baton for the Bergman 100, with Summer Interlude on Wednesday and Torment on Thursday.

    The MFA holds BWFF selection I Am Not a Witch over during October, starting with a screening Wednesday evening. Wednesday also marks the start of their Let the Devil In: 50 Years of British Horror series with a 35mm print of An American Werewolf in London, with the series continuing Thursday with Ben Wheatley's A Field in England. Thursday also marks the start of a run of 306 Hollywood, which blends documentary with surrealism as two siblings work to clean out their grandmother's house.
  • The Boston Latino International Film Festival also runs through Sunday, with screenings at Emerson's Paramount Theater, Harvard's Tsai Auditorium, Brandeis University's Wasserman Cinematheque, and Northeastern University.

    After that, the screening room in the Paramount is occupied by Bright Lights, whose free screenings this week are two IFFBoston alums: Generation Wealth on Tuesday, featuring a discussion with director Lauren Greenfield, and Sadie on Thursday, with director Megan Griffiths.
  • The Harvard Film Archive welcomes Ali Cherri on Friday, conversing with host Lucien Castaing-Taylor around a selection of his short films. After that, Bergman 100 continues with The Silence (Saturday 7pm), The Passion of Anna (Saturday 9pm on 35mm), Fanny and Alexander (Sunday 1pm), and Wild Strawberries (Monday 7pm on 35mm). They also start a short Alice Rohrwacher retrospective with The Wonders (Sunday 7pm).
  • The Regent Theatre has encore screenings of two rock docs this week: Joan Jett: Bad Reputation plays Friday night, and John Lyndon doc The Public Image Is Rotten plays Wednesday (it also plays the Kendall that night).
  • Cinema Salem has screenings of the 2018 edition of the Manhattan Short Film Festival, which features audience voting, throughout the week; it also screens at the MFA on Saturday. They also screen Nicolas Cage/Panos Cosmatos freakout Mandy

Sox-Yankees this weekend, and I've got a ticket for Friday, and a weekend full of 70mm and Chinese movies after that. The week could feature a lot of fun catching-up or going home exhausted and ready to crash after work.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

This Week in Tickets: 17 September 2018 - 23 September 2018

The good folks at the Somerville Theatre have broken out the big film,and I am there for it.

This Week in Tickets

Quiet toward the start of the week, though, with just Pick of the Litter, which is cute enough, what with all the puppies being trained as guide dogs, but I didn't quite love it as much as perhaps I should. It was frustrating that MoviePass refused to reserve me a ticket, because if they're not going to get me tickets at Landmark, what are they giving me for $10/month?

(Okay, complaining about MoviePass still sounds kind of whiny, even though they're down to extremely limited options and tickets. Getting close to it not sounding really selfish, though!)

This week's series to finish my binge was Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan, and I was hoping for the best, although I've probably written before about finding myself kind of estranged from Clancy's series at some point, having grown more liberal while Clancy seemed to become more of a reactionary conservative, something which showed in his books more and more as they went on, with a special animus for the Middle East with the odd exception of the Saudis. His co-written later books seemed a bit better, but still had some ugly moments.

The thing is, there's not a whole lot of reason to do what Amazon and Paramount are doing here, and what Paramount did a mere four years ago with Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, which is to restart the franchise with a modern-day origin story for Jack Ryan, because Jack Ryan was never James Bond. Clancy's books were never about the hero or the villain, but the hook and then the momentum he builds. The trouble with the new series is that it doesn't really have any of that, in part because it's built as an eight-episode series that makes some effort in the direction of each episode being an individual unit, so it takes too long for the plot to really reveal itself and never really gets up the head of steam that had me unable to put the mammoth The Sum of All Fears down. There's a germ of an interesting idea here in how characters like its villain are rejected by their home countries, but it's not sort of great concept that leaps out at you the way the plot for The Hunt for Red October did, and the fact that John Krasinski is kind of perfect casting for Ryan can't really make up for the fact that the Amazon show misses the core appeal of the series.

But enough TV… There were movies to see this weekend. Lots of 'em, even though the Somerville had to call off the first night of their 70mm/widescreen festival because one reel of Starman got held up in customs. That would have been a nice warm-up for the weekend, but you might as well just dive in with the double feature of Brainstorm and Lifeforce, both blow-ups of kind of loopy 1980s sci-fi movies. I kind of love the all-out pulpy insanity of Lifeforce.

All the stuff at the Somerville had me spending packing the new releases that would probably only last a week into one afternoon at Boston Common, meaning a double feature of The Great Battle& The Road Not Taken, both of which are a notch or two above average but short of great. No time to hit the Fluff Festival around that, especially if I was to get back to Davis in time for Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, which was shot on 65mm film and looks great in 70mm, even if it's thin as all heck.

They weren't able to get 70mm prints for Sunday's big movies, but the IB Technicolor print of El Cid was just incredibly colorful even if the movie itself didn't wind up a particular favorite. I loved Malcolm X, though, and I'm going to have to watch a lot more of Spike Lee's stuff.

More 70mm things this week, so watch my Letterboxd for some old-school film around the last baseball of the regular season.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 September 2018 in Somerville Theatre #1 (70mm and Widescreen Festival, 70mm)

Brainstorm is a messy, messy thing put together out of director Douglas Trumbull wanting to push some boundaries with filming it, the writers having a couple decent ideas that they couldn't quite link together, and Christopher Walken becoming the scenery chewing loony we have come to know and love since. Trumbull has a blast getting out the big cameras with the fisheye lenses to shoot the "Brainstorm" footage - imagine what a trip it would have been if he'd been able to play with high frame rates as well! - and though the computer graphics of the time are quaint, it's still unreal enough to get a viewer kind of excited and intrigued.

Story-wise, though, it's often too casual. That the filmmakers don't feel the need to explain every bit of character motivation is at times a relief, but it also sometimes means that they're taking obnoxious shortcuts to get to a payoff that's not quite that exciting. It leads to a weird, confused finale that plays up the worst impulses of 70s/80s adult sci-fi in how it wants to be both profound and gritty but can't make that essential connection..

Louise Fletcher still rules here, though.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 September 2018 in Somerville Theatre #1 (70mm and Widescreen Festival, 70mm)

Lifeforce always got mentioned for the Mathilda May nudity when I was reading rec.arts.movies back in college, which really undersells what great pulpy insanity it is. It's understandable; her doll-like appearance and the filmmakers' tendency to make sure she never bent or stood at an angle that altered her profile's curvy symmetry sells her as perfectly alien and exactly what gets teenagers' attention. Still, that glosses over how this thing is ten pounds of crazy in a five pound bag, with what sometimes feels like important bits skipped over so that they could do some great-for-1985 special effects in other parts, and some practical work that still looks very cool, though not realistic, now.

The cast is all over the place, from a playful Patrick Stewart to perfectly straight-faced Brits like Peter Firth to an admittedly terrible Steve Railsback as an American astronaut. It is, in this way, accidentally a perfect recreation of the Hammer films it's compared to - just straight enough to be taken seriously, just silly enough to be fun, and with plenty of sex and violence to keep your id in charge and not examining it too closely. The guys behind me for this 70mm screening were overdosing on irony - "this is terrible and I love it!" - and I guess it's that kind of movie now, but it's also perfectly enjoyable when met on its own terms rather than treated as something that's just tacky and kitschy.

Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 hours 11 minutes

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 September 2018 in Somerville Theatre #1 (70mm and Widescreen Festival, 70mm)

I don't know that this would be a three-star movie if seen at home, but on a big screen from a near-pristine 70mm print? This is a great-looking movie that shows what fantastic detail you would see in these elaborate, large-format productions, and while some matte work could be a little questionable, there is some fantastic aerial photography and meticulous recreation of 1910-era aviation. It's beautiful and sometimes eccentric, with an occasionally subversive idea on tap.

Unfortunately, once you get past "whoa, look at that!", there is really not much here - some basic stereotype jokes, a race that seems like almost an afterthought, and a love triangle that is so casual that I don't know whether to be grateful or let down - Sarah Miles is the most enjoyable performer in the movie, but the movie only lets her fully play the tomboyish gearhead briefly at the start, and though Stuart Whitman's working-class American is slightly more charming than James Fox's aristocrat, it's not enough to really create a rooting interest. It's made for a different era, when the likes of this sort of movie would come and go without much scrutiny, and it works well enough if you take it as a special visual treat and not much else..

El Cid

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 September 2018 in Somerville Theatre #1 (70mm and Widescreen Festival, 35mm)

El Cid is the sort of epic where, if one person displays some small amount of common sense, well, maybe things don't go differently in any sort of large-scale sense, but maybe that person lives a happier life. Like, don't force the woman who has come to despise you because you killed her father to marry you, even if she looks like Sophia Loren and was once the love of your life. Play nice with your siblings. Everybody, it seems, works a lot harder than they need to, and that's before considering the evil foreigner who rallies the troops like something is imminent in the beginning but apparently has a ten-year plan.

Still, that's kind of what makes this a bit more of an interesting epic than some others; it's kind of struggling with its morality, trying to advocate for forgiveness and unity but unable to resist the siren call of combat and conflict. It's a jumbled mess that way, not always the strongest of themes, but there's something honest to that, I think, although that's not the sort of introspection that Charlton Heston is great at - he's too naturally cynical and man-of-action for that.

It looks gorgeous, at least, the IB Technicolor print doing a great job of highlighting the blues, reds, and golds in the costumes.

Malcolm X

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 September 2018 in Somerville Theatre #1 (70mm and Widescreen Festival, 35mm)

I really need to shake off the thinking that Spike Lee's movies aren't really for me and see more when the opportunity presents itself, because it's very clear I've been missing out. I had wavered on seeing this one when the theater got a mere 35mm print rather than the expected 70mm blowup, but since I figured this wasn't going to get another theatrical booking any time soon, why not? It's just three and a half hours of time.

What makes it fascinating is how Lee uses that time. You might expect it to be concentrated at the end of Malcom X's life, where the events are most singular, but Lee spends a lot of time on the youth that is maybe like a lot of other stories of young black men, real or fictitious, but it's important that we see what formed this man, and that it not feel like just single crucial incidents. We all know it goes to hell in the end, just as Malcolm is achieving greater maturity by letting go of old hatreds and becoming a true leader as much as a follower, and the details of that aren't as important as the feeling of the walls closing in.

Denzel Washington is terrific here, in part because Lee brings out the best in him, allowing Washington to be a little theatrical even while his portrayal of Malcolm is respectful. It works in part because Lee himself isn't terribly bound by demands to be naturalistic. He'll not quite break the fourth wall but he'll weaken it, shift hard into a new style to make a point, be curt when it helps and appropriate old-school studio style to set a tone. It's often flashy but never a waste of time; this movie can be dense even when it's relaxed in pace, but it's always energetic and exciting.

Pick of the Litter
The Great Battle
The Road Not Taken
Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines
El Cid
Malcolm X

Monday, September 24, 2018

Double Feature: The Great Battle & The Road Not Taken.

Because of all the 70mm goodness at the Somerville, I had to fit both of these guys into Saturday, and missed the Fluff Festival. I know, it sounds rough. Experienced my first flakiness with the AMC A-List app, too. Life's hard.

The biggest exclamation point on this trip to AMC Boston Common, though, came from something I spotted out of the corner of my eye that I can't quite credit - what looked like a print-out of a pass for a screening of Bolden next Thursday that someone dropped. Bolden (or, as it was called then, "Bolden!") was what Louis was supposed to be a sort of a fun companion piece for, mentioned as coming "next year" when I saw it at the Apollo - back in 2010. I may not have even thought of that movie stuck in reshoot/post-production in a year, and I used to think of it a lot. I should have grabbed that slip and tried to sneak in.

Anybody wants to shoot me a legitimate invitation to that screening, please do so!

Back on topic (but kind of related), I'm curious about the apparent delay for The Road Not Taken - all the license plates say 2015 and 2016, and when I was digging around various sites for cast/crew information, I saw a poster or two which had a 2016 release date. It looks like it eventually wound up coming out in China this June, maybe getting a bit of a platformed release before eventually winding up here. I wonder whether this is a censorship thing or an "independent films can take forever to finish" thing. Tough to tell - there are criminals who get away and hints of corruption that you don't usually see in mainland movies, but it also seems to be first-time filmmakers not working in the big city, so who knows?

Based on the previews, we've got a couple of big Hong Kong actioners on the docket for the next couple of weeks, and apparently we're getting Rampant the same time as South Korea.

Ansisung (The Great Battle)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 September 2018 in AMC Boston Common #4 (first-run, DCP)

Somewhere in the middle of The Great Battle, I felt like I'd reached the point where these medieval Asian war movies just blur together. There was a heck of a battle going on, and I was duly impressed, but sort of felt like I was killing time. I'd seen the flights of arrows, the whirling swordsmen, the bickering lieutenants, the warrior princess, all in speed-ramped slow motion, and though this was pretty good it didn't really have anything new or astounding. It scratched an itch, no question, but could it do more?

It certainly starts with the sort of scale the title implies, as the Battle of Mt. Jupil pits a half-million-strong army from Tang Emperor Taizong and his "God of War" General Li Shimin (Park Sung-woong) against the 150,000 commanded by Goguryeo leader Yeon Gaesomun (Yu Oh-seong). It's a trap, leading Yeon to retreat back to the capital, with only the fortress of Ansi in the way. Trouble is, the commander of that fortress, Yang Manchun (Zo In-sung), did not support Yeon when he took power, so Yeon dispatches cadet leader Samul (Nam Joo-hyuk), who has roots in Ansi, not to rally the troops, but to assassinate him, though Samul soon discovers Yang to be a natural leader with a potentially defensible position.

The folks at Ansi are an enjoyable-enough group, with Zo In-sung in particular making a fine center of the film as Yang. He's a fairly simple paragon, but Zo brings the right sort of humility and nobility to the man, giving writer/director Kim Kwang-shik and his cast the room to build a supporting cast keeps things going between action pieces without Yang feeling too disconnected. These are somewhat minor and rote subplots, tending to have just enough to them to keep the audience from getting impatient but not enough to reach from one end of the movie to another. Sometimes that means things get finished and discarded as soon as they start to move; other times you can't help but think that there must have been a little more intended. Samul's secret mission is cast aside quickly, for instance, leaving Nam Joo-hyuk little to do, while the filmmakers really never figure out what they wanted out of the character Jung Eun-chae plays (a captured medium who was once engaged to Yang seems like she should be a bigger deal than she winds up being).

Full review at EFilmCritic

Wei Ze Zhi Lu (The Road Not Taken)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 September 2018 in AMC Boston Common #18 (first-run, DCP)

The Road Not Taken is one of those indie movies that could get filled under "crime" even though it isn't, really, but there's enough crime in it that if you want to push it as something of interest to more than just art-house audiences, you can fit it. It's more a story of a loser who winds up in the middle of a bunch of criminals and kind of floats through that situation for a while, at least until the filmmaker wants to end things. It's pretty decent, as those things go, giving you the good naturalistic acting and peeks at people just getting by you might not find in the crowd-pleasers, especially from China.

It opens by introducing the audience to Yong (Wang Xuebing), who's trying to start an ostrich farm on the edge of the Gobi desert, but he's in hock to loan shark Brother Five (Wang Xuleng), including a mortgage on the apartment in Taibailiang where his ex-wife Yan has been living for the past two years. Fortunately, Five isn't here to collect; he's just dropping off a kid (Zhu Gengyou) he describes as a nephew, with the implication that if Yong watches him a couple of days, it'll be good for his debt. It should be simple, but hearing another voice in the background when he calls Yan sets Yong off, and he's immediately into his truck, looking to confront her.

This is an obviously bad decision from the get-go, and the first part of the movie requires getting past a lot of wondering why we're watching either of these idiots. Yong literally forgets he's got a kid with him less than five minutes after the boy's been dropped off, and while the kid certainly has reason to be sullen, silent, and uncooperative once the plot reveals itself, his actions seem so random and counterproductive, designed solely to get him and Yong into bigger holes, it's frustrating enough to make a viewer forget that he's a kid and isn't necessarily going to act sensibly even under the best of circumstances.

Full review at EFilmCritic

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 21 September 2018 - 27 September 2018

Big film at the Somerville, but beyond that, there's enough unusual stuff opening around town that a new Michael Moore almost seems conventional.

  • As mentioned, head projectionist David Kornfeld will be working overtime at the
    The Somerville Theatre, projecting big film for their third annual 70mm and Widescreen Festival: Brainstorm and Lifeforce on Friday, Kong: Skull Island and Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines on Saturday, El Cid (on 35mm) and Malcolm X on Sunday, Spartacus on Tuesday, Khartoum (in 70mm Ultra Panavision) on Wednesday, and Starman on Thursday (delayed a week after a reel got held up in customs). All in 70mm except where noted, and it's entirely possible that something fills that Monday hole at the last minute.

    The big event pushes Sorry to Bother You to their sister cinema in Arlington; The Capitol is also the only place around town playing Bel Canto, starring Julianne Moore as an opera singer who takes a job performing at the birthday of an industrialist (Ken Watanabe), only to find it become a month-long hostage situation when local guerillas invade.
  • Blaze opens at the Coolidge, Kendall Square, and Boston Common, but it's The Coolidge Corner Theatre who gets to welcome director Ethan Hawke for the Friday screenings of his biography of Texas songwriter Blaze Foley, and what started as one Q&A at 7pm which quickly sold out became Q&As at 3pm, 5pm, and 7pm, plus an introduction at 9:55pm. Hopefully he gets a chance to enjoy a couple of Brookline's many fine restaurants in between those shows.

    They're also one of the places opening Fahrenheit 11/9, Michael Moore's latest which is apparently less about Trump than the mess made of American democracy that somehow led to his Presidency (Moore was one of the few who thought it could happen back in 2016). That's at the Coolidge, Kendall Square, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    Revenge is the name of the game after midnight, with Mandy continuing both Friday and Saturday while John Wick plays Friday. Magnum Force screens on 35mm Saturday night. There's a 35mm Science On Screen showing of Ace in the Hole on Monday with the MIT Media Lab's Deb Roy talking about the spread of misinformation. Wednesday's "Bergman 100" screening decamps to the Mount Auburn Cemetery as part of a double feature of Wild Strawberries and Stand by Me. Doesn't seem like a natural pairing, but maybe it fits.
  • The House With a Clock in Its Walls is an oddity, a family-friendly supernatural thriller starring Jack Black and Cate Blanchett as rival sorcerer neighbors directed by Eli Roth, whose work has been decidedly non-PG in the past, but it's supposedly pretty good! As an added bonus, Imax screenings will have John Landis's video for Michael Jackson's "Thriller" attached (supposedly converted to 3D, although the feature isn't screening in 3D anywhere). It's at Fresh Pond, Jordan's Furniture (in Imax), the Embassy, Boston Common (including Imax), Fenway (in RPX), the Seaport (including Imax and Dolby matinees), South Bay, Assembly Row (including Imax and Dolby matinees), Revere (including MX4d and XPlus), and the SuperLux.

    Life Itself, meanwhile, is getting some of the most venomous reviews of the year as a mashup of various different melodramatic plot threads. It's at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, West Newton, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux. There are better reviews for two movies about young women killing people: Lizzie retells the tale of Lizzie Borden with Chloe Sevigny in the title role and Kristen Stewart as the maid some speculate was her lover and motive for murdering her parents; that's at the Somerville, Kendall Square, West Newton, Boston Common, and Revere. Assassination Nation is contemporary, with four girls looking out for themselves after a hack reveals a great deal of a town's personal data. That one's at Kendall Square, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, and Revere.

    AMC's Disney Princess screenings continue with The Princess and the Frog at Boston Common, South Bay, and Assembly Row; the Harry Potter screenings at Boston Common finish with both parts of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on Sunday. TCM presents Rebel Without a Cause at Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere on Sunday and Wednesday. The week's big anime presentation is My Hero Academia: Two Heroes, mostly playing dubbed at Boston Common, Fenway, and Revere from Tuesday to Thursday (Wednesday's shows are subtitled; Kendall Square has a show on Thursday).
  • On top of the stuff opening elsewhere, Kendall Square has Love, Gilda, which tells the story of comedienne Gilda Radner mostly through her own words, taken from letter written all the way up to her death.
  • Korean war epic The Great Battle opens at Boston Common, starring Jo In-sung as a Korean general who held off and invading force for nearly three months. They also have Chinese movie The Road Not Taken, with Wang Xuebing as a divorced man trying to reconnect with his wife in the Gobi desert, saddled with someone else's kid.

    Revere has one from Brazil, although Moses and the Ten Commandments: The Movie is a 2016 film edited down from a 2015 television series, supposedly including new-then scenes and a different ending, which does not seem like something its audience would be too fond of.

    Fenway plays Kannada-language film Sarakari Hiriya Prathamika Shale, Kasargud, Koduge Ramanna Rai - about kids in a school threatened with closure - on Friday and Saturday. Apple Fresh Pond has Telugu romantic comedy Nannu Dochukunduvate and Tamil actioner Sammy 2. Malayalam satire Theevandi plays one show on Sunday, and then Tamil drama Chekka Chivantha Vaanam and Hindi thriller Captain Nawab open on Wednesday.

    They also have Little Italy, with Emma Roberts and Hayden Christensen as kids who fall in love despite their feuding parents who own competing pizza restaurants, which I honestly thought went straight to streaming a couple of months ago from how people were making a lot of noise about it.
  • The Brattle Theatre continues their run of Bisbee '17, a documentary of a town preparing to mark the anniversary of a little-known but infamous atrocity. They also keep Madeline's Madeline around for late shows through Monday.

    Sunday's Art House Theater Day presentation is a new restoration of John Landis's Schlock. There's also a free Elements of Cinema screening of Edward Scissorhands on Tuesday, and then on Thursday they have the opening night presentation of the new Boston Women's Film Festival with Family
  • Bergman 100 continues at The Harvard Film Archive with Persona (Friday 7pm), All These Women (Friday 9pm), Through a Glass Darkly on 35mm (Saturday 9pm), Scenes from a Marriage (Sunday 1pm), and Winter LIght on 35mm (Monday 7pm). On Saturday, they pull a rare Technicolor print of Singin' in the Rain out for a $5 family show at 3pm, and then look back at the Documentary Educational Resource program with Zulay, Facing the 21st Century at 7pm. They also present an Artist Talk from Ali Cherri in the bookstore on Thursday, a day before he presents a program of short films.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues Ryuchi Sakamoto: Coda with screenings on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Thursday. It shares the screen with Films from Pooh Corner, which includes both Disney features: 1977's The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (Friday/Saturday/Sunday/Thursday) and 2011's Winnie the Pooh (Saturday/Sunday).
  • The Boston Film Festival is still a thing - it actually had its opening night on the 20th - but it gets smaller every year, with two of its slots occupied by TV episodes. Most of the screenings are in the Paramount's Bright Screening Room, including Friday's The Etruscan Smile and A Boy Called Sailboat, but Saturday's Turning Point is at the Aquarium (first 100 seats free to those who RSVP) and Sunday's closing night screening of Grace is at the Icon in the Seaport.
  • The Regent Theatre has its second screening (of three) of John Lyndon doc The Public Image Is Rotten on Sunday, and then the first of two shows of Joan Jett: Bad Reputation on Wednesday (it also plays the Kendall that night). On Thursday, they have their first screening of the 2018 edition of the Manhattan Short Film Festival.
  • This week's Bright Lights screenings upstairs at the Paramount Theater are Lunafest (an all-female traveling film festival) on Tuesday and Estiu 1993 on Thursday, which opens the Boston Latino International Film Festival. The festival has another screening across the river that night, with Nuyorican Basquet playing in Harvard's Tsai Auditorium.
  • If you missed it it during BUFF or at the Coolidge last weekCinema Salem has the big, loud, feature-length shootout that is Let the Corpses Tan in their little screening room.

I shall be living in the front row of the Somerville much of this week, only skipping Saturday afternoon for The Great Battle & The Road Not Taken. Maybe catch The House with a Clock in Its Walls on Monday, depending how/if the Somerville fills that space.

Pick of the Litter

Long day at work on Wednesday, so a movie about puppies seemed like just what the doctor ordered. Shame that MoviePass was being a problem that evening, because if it's only good for three movies a month, it had better work those three times. I can shrug off it not working when I'm getting ten movies out of it, but if this might have been my only ticket, that's not so cool.

So maybe that's why I was kind of looking askance at this one, a bit - you can read the review and think I'm some sort of extremist who doesn't think humans should use animals for anything, but that's not the case at all; I particularly love service animals, and though I joke about how a nearly-blind co-worker seemed to really trust his dogs when walking in the middle of the street with his Walkman on one winter, that's 80% amazement that he really can trust his dogs like that. Still, as filmmaking goes, if you're going to make a movie about puppies becoming guide dogs, hiding all the training behind cuts kind of makes it look like there's something to hide.

Makes for a kind of bougie movie, with that perhaps reinforced in my head a bit by the trailer package that played before it, which was all previews for documentaries about artists and actresses, all of which seem more reassuring than enlightening.

Pick of the Litter is getting a second week, though it will be splitting a screen with something else. Not bad for a movie that is apparently already playing on demand.

Pick of the Litter

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 September 2018 in Landmark Kendall Square #4 (first-run, DCP)

The description for Pick of the Litter talks about following five puppies on "their quest to become guide dogs", but it's important to remember that they're puppies; if they have a quest, it's for scratches on their heads and treats in their bellies, with scratches on their bellies also very welcome. It can sometimes make for an odd experience for the audience, as it can sometimes be hard to keep one's eyes on the long-term goal.

It starts with five Labrador puppies being born at the Guide Dogs for the Blind kennel. Given a set of alliterative names - Potomac, Patriot, Phil, Primrose, and Poppet, they'll spend the first two months of their lives at the kennel before being farmed out to volunteer puppy-raisers, who will do some training but mostly help the dogs get used to being around people. At about 16 months, those who have not been weeded out of the program - only about 300 of the 800 GBD puppies born in a year make it all the way to being guides - will return to the kennel for more advanced training. If they pass their tests at the end of that time, they will be matched with visually-impaired people like Janet (whose third dog has recently retired) and Ronald (blind since birth and looking to live a more active life).

It's a testament to the skill of the filmmakers that Pick of the Litter often winds up just the right amount of disconcerting, in that it will often show how wonderful it is that dogs are bright and adorable and energetic while the story being told is of how guide dogs are, in a way, manufactured, with a rigid process that pulls some out to be breeders and makes every bond for the first two years of these dogs' lives temporary and oriented to a measured, serious end. It's absurd enough to talk about dogs being "career changed" that you almost root for them proving to be bad guide dogs: Go sniff those other dogs' butts, Potomac! You're still a good boy even if this organization decides you're not cut out for a job you never asked for!

Full review at EFC.

Monday, September 17, 2018

This Week in Tickets: 10 September 2018 - 16 September 2018

Man, this weekend did not go as planned.

This Week in Tickets

The good news - Tuesday's baseball game was a lot of fun, a nice night, the score tight until it wasn't, the first game with Sale back from injury, enough 9/11 commemoration to be respectful but far from going overboard. Didn't even stick "God Bless America" into the seventh-inning stretch, and I'm wondering if maybe we're starting to see that sort of thing start to fade away as the ramifications of its excess start to sink in

I also finished Miss Sherlock during the week, and I find myself mostly fond of it but with reservations. The cast is great, especially Yuko Takeuchi as Sherlock - she's more manic than cold, taking a genuine delight in solving weird crimes and growing attached to Wato-san in prickly, believable fashion that leaves me hopeful this won't become the Cumberbatch/Freeman Sherlock redux - but I have to admit that I'm so used to a more active Watson readily accepted as Sherlock's peer that Wato-san seemed like something of a throwback. The show's take on Moriarty seemed like a bit too much as well, but what can you do? Doyle's "Napoleon of Crime" at the center of a web is just a gangster or a garden-variety conspiracy theory these days, and while I think this show was on the right track for how to update the archetype for the Twenty-First Century with radicalization, it seemed a bit on a Rube Goldberg set-up and played into the weak-Watson issue.

Am I still hoping like heck that HBO/Hulu Asia make another series? Oh, yes.

I had big plans for the weekend, but right around 4pm on Friday, something hit me like a wall, and the next day and a half was basically my body telling me that I was going to lie down and half pay attention to the ballgame and maybe, if it was feeling generous, it would give me enough mental energy to read a comic book. Not the greatest state to be in when you've brought some work home, have errands to run, and there were something like four or five movies that looked worth seeing over the weekend. Nope, you're not going to be up for that until Sunday night, when things had progressed to "mostly feeling okay but everything tastes terrible".

That served as a good enough excuse to check out the room AMC had upgraded to "Dolby Cinema" at Assembly Row. Unlike the one at South Bay, it's not really a big room, just a bit larger than average for that multiplex, with a screen to match - but it feels tony, with no pre-movie ad package, dim LED lighting, lots of black. I'm mildly amazed that black levels are the big selling point for Dolby Cinema, even more than the Atmos sound; it just seems so esoteric, not as easy a sell as brighter colors or the rumble you feel in the seat. I suppose it goes without saying that those blacks aren't quite as black as you might find with actual film, but pretty darn decent as far as digital goes.

Fair enough spot to see something like The Predator, which doesn't quite demand overwhelming power but is still a bit of an upgrade on standard projection, especially if you're paying the same because of Stubs A-List or the like.

Much busier week planned now that I'm feeling up to writing this from the RMV lobby. Follow along on my Letterboxd, or just wait for the blog to be updated.

The Predator

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 September 2018 in AMC Assembly Row #2 (first-run, Dolby Cinema DCP)

Predator had no business spawning a franchise at all, and yet Twentieth Century Fox keeps trying because, while there's nowhere to take it without losing the sheer 1980s muscle-headed appeal of the original film, it's just too damn merchandisable. So roughly every ten years the try again, and it's not like they don't give it their best shot, but digging deeper into the mythology behind a dumb action movie is something of a fool's errand. This attempt to do so is pretty capable, in a disposable-paperback way, but even by those standards could have been more.

It opens with one alien spaceship chasing another, the first taking damage as it escapes to Earth through hyperspace, crashing to Earth in the middle of an op where sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) is in the middle of an operation south of the border. McKenna fares much better than most do when faced by one of these "Predators", but he's canny enough to know that seeing this has likely made him a target, and tries to get himself some insurance. Back home, his pre-teen son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) is being bullied for being on the spectrum, and Project Stargazer operative Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) is recruiting biologist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) to investigate what McKenna has found. Oh, and speaking of McKenna, he was right to be worried about what the government would do with the only living witness to a UFO crash, as they've put him on a bus to a VA psychiatric hospital with a bunch of traumatized soldiers.

Though director Shane Black and his occasional partner-in-crime Fred Dekker are the only credited writers on this film, it's got the feel of one of those projects where a studio solicits a bunch of different pitches and then tries to Frankenstein the best parts of them into one movie. Any single one of these stories - the secret government agency, the team of traumatized veterans, the chance for some Black & Dekker holiday mayhem with a monster running around the suburbs on Halloween - could play as a new take on the Predator story, and given that the series has by circumstance never had much in the way of film-to-film continuity, there's nothing stopping the studio from just lining them up one after another, especially if they can be done on reasonable budgets. Throwing them all together like this, the plots wind up in competition to the point where the characters from the various threads are trying to kill each other for no good reason. It's not just frustrating in that none of the threads feel like they play out properly, but it takes some exceptionally dumb plot devices and Macguffins to hold them together.

Full review at EFilmCritc

Sox Beat Blue Jays
The Predator

Friday, September 14, 2018

Fantasia 2018.22: Piercing, The Field Guide to Evil, What Keeps You Alive, Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum, and Brothers' Nest

Bonus day! At least, it feels like a bonus day, though I'd have to check to see just when my emails went from describing the festival as running through the first to ending on the second. I think it was before the schedule was announced, although I didn't notice it until I had paper in hand. Still, it was kind of cool that the 22nd annual festival had 22 days, even though that's a lot of film festival and I was kind of wiped out by the end, to the point where I kind of dragged for my two free days in the city.

So let's take some time to thank the festival's volunteers. It would be interesting to see how much turnover there's been - while the programmers and such have stayed pretty consistent, the volunteers at this festival tend to be a young group, and you move and pick up other obligations in your twenties. The old front row crew is almost gone too. Still, Fantasia remains a fantastically-run festival, better than the more corporate ones I"ve been to and really astonishing for the scale of it. Normal festivals don't run three weeks, and seeing so many of these people here from beginning to end just underscores what a labor of love this is - it's a big commitment during the summer when you could be doing a lot of other things with your afternoons and/or evenings for the better part of a month

The schedule was almost entirely repeats, with the sole exceptions being the two screening at Hall that evening, one of which had already had a limited release (although given that Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum didn't hit Boston, I don't know if it hit Montreal), while Lords of Chaos wasn't announced until midway through the festival. It got a lot of good press, but having already really liked Heavy Trip, I kind of felt like I was set in terms of my metal consumption for the festival and way ahead in my metal enjoyment. So I ended the festival across the street with Brothers' Nest

That's Brothers' Nest director/co-star Clayton Jacobson on the right, and he really is the exact sort of laid-back, chatty Aussie you want to ease you out of a 22-day festival, and he himself seemed low-key honored to have the last film of the festival even if it wasn't officially the closing film. Like, we've all been here a while, but we'll stick around a couple hours longer for his movie. Kind of fit my mood at that point more than Mitch earnestly screaming his excitement across the street would have.

It was a fun Q&A afterward, too. He pointed out that he and his brother are often confused with each other back home in Australia, although you really wouldn't necessarily think so to watch their movie. The film itself was one of those odd little indie shoots where everyone is basically living in the house that serves as the film's main location, since it's kind of out of the way, far enough that the city-based actors thought it was kind of unnerving. They shot in sequence so that they could make a mess, and did a lot of nifty things that might be worth a closer look (for instance only one brother makes the floors creak).

(I have a note from this Q&A just labeled "Movie 'Rams'", which I guess is the Icelandic one about a pair of brothers trying to save their flock. I should either take more detailed notes or not let these things age a month before writing them up.)

That's not quite a wrap on the festival - I've got to circle back and the write up all the other stuff that just got Letterboxd-sized capsules - but it's the end of my time at Fantasia for the year. I'll be back next year, even if I may try to find a way to make it less overwhelming, and I can't wait to see everyone I only see once a year and a bunch of sometimes great, but always interesting movies again.

"Clean Blood"

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

There are like three or four things going on in "Clean Blood" that could make for an interesting short genre film, from the opening moments that seem like a flash-forward to a slasher-style ending, the fact that one of the main characters is an exceptionally pregnant man and nobody seems to be saying boo about it, and the otherwise-contentious scene at a family dinner that would, if none of the other things were going on, make this entire clan remember it as "The Christmas with the Really Stupid Argument". It's like writer/director Jordan Michael Blake had a bunch of ideas that he could see connecting but kept cutting down so that he could achieve some sort of artistic minimalism.

It almost works, I think - you can see every single bit of that working, and Blake does a nice job using structure to build a sense of unease, with title cards and act breaks that suggest the little eyebrow-raiser from a moment ago was even more significant, along with a handheld camera that feels like a person rather than a machine. There's skill, and if the goal is just to make the audience feel an odd combination of off-balance, worry, and the mixed emotions of family, it hits that. If there's a more solid storytelling goal, it doesn't quite come together for me, even though it feels like it's teasing, introducing, advancing, and climaxing in all the right places.


* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

It does not particularly surprise me to see that this comes from a novel by Ryu Murakami, the same author who provided the source material for Audition. One can see a lot of the same DNA that went into that here, though expressed in a garish, colorful manner that's fun to watch in the moment but which never comes together into much more than screenwriter/director Nicolas Pesce showing us just how much affection he has for film and the genre.

Reed (Christopher Abbott) and Mona (Laia Costa) are new parents, which is an exhausting state to be in, and you might not be surprised to find out that Reed is anticipating an upcoming business trip just a little bit. The trouble is, he seems to have snapped - the baby has looked at him and said "you know what you have to do". He's got to sacrifice a prostitute, and one who speaks English so that he can't shut her suffering out. He's already called an escort service for the second night in the hotel, but when he decides he wants to get it over with a night early, the service sends him Jackie (Mia Wasikowska), who is groggy, detached, and not really what he had planned for at all.

There may, someday, be more promising casting for this sort of material than "Mia Wasikowska as a young woman who is more/other than what she seems", but not at the present time. She is, as usual, an exceptional pleasure to watch, playing up Jackie's muted, possibly depressed exterior like it's a thick garment that even her more shockingly unstable moments don't entirely pierce. She never entirely drops a sex worker's reticence to reveal her whole self, which makes the violence that eventually emerges more fascinating - the audience is never quite sure whether it's a reaction or something that was there all along.

Full review at EFC.

The Field Guide to Evil

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

The Field Guide to Evil is not a bad horror anthology, really - it probably averages out to something a notch or so above average by the time all eight countries in its world tour of frightening folklore have checked in. It's just that it quite possibly peaks with its first entry, and even some of the better ones that follow never quite live up to how smart and thrilling that one is.

That first one is Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz's "The Sinful Women of Hollfall", a take on an Austrian myth that at least seems to subvert its folkloric roots while still cranking up some tension. It follows Kathi, a young woman (Marlete Hauser) who witnesses another drawing blood so that she can at least temporarily hide her pregnancy by showing stained undergarments when the village women do their laundry; they grow closer, a danger in itself, as Kathi's mother warns that it will draw The Trud out of the woods. Franz & Fiala engage with what makes this fable frightening on a gut level, but also find ways to interrogate and question it, recognizing both its original intent but also the power myth has over a community itself, and how one can fight those forces.

Turkey's Can Evrenol attacks similar material in "The Haunting of Al Karisi the Childbirth Demon", which features Naz Sayiner as another woman less than satisfied with the slot she is expected to fill, in this case a miserable mother-to-be caring for her bedridden mother-in-law, her possibly abusive husband mostly absent, while a dark force calls from the well. Evrenol creates a palpable sense of menace, and Sayiner a compelling anti-heroine, enough to make this an effective little horror story on its own. It's simply hard to miss how traditional its interpretation of the myth is compared to its predecessor, despite this being the one set in the modern day. This becomes more acute in the next segment, "The Kindler and the Virgin", which plays like an attempt to compact its story into ten or fifteen minutes without highlighting any specific aspect; a disappointment considering director Agnieszka Smoczynska made The Lure.

Full review at EFC.

What Keeps You Alive

* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

I haven't perused the listings for the local LGBTQ festival as closely as I have others in recent years, but I don't recall many entries that seemed as unrepentantly pulpy as What Keeps You Alive. It doesn't exactly have main characters who just happen to be gay, but it's also not a niche film, or an introduction, or really outside of the mainstream in any way. It's just a darn good thriller that shows that everyone should watch their backs when they go out to the pretty country with the spotty cell phone reception.

That's where Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson) and wife Julie (Brittany Allen) are headed, to a really beautiful lake house that has been in Jackie's family for years. It's not entirely idyllic - the boathouse seems to have collapsed over the winter, for a start - but Julie is impressed, looking forward to a nice, relaxing weekend. She's excited to meet Sarah (Martha MacIsaac), a close friend from Jackie's childhood, and her husband Daniel (Joey Klein), although it's a little odd that Sarah called Jackie "Megan".

Writer/director Colin Minihan lets that stew for a while, letting the audience file it back in their heads as something where they are expecting another bit of related information so that when the two connect, there's that thrilling "oh, shit!" moment before things go to hell. Instead, he jumps straight to the violence, kicking things into high gear early and not leaving a whole lot to be explained. Details will be filled in, sure, but for now, it's about running, hiding, recovering from what may be the year's second-nastiest fall after the one in Revenge, and trying to out-think an exceptionally crafty opponent. It's not a completely streamlined thriller, but it doesn't waste time on building sympathy for its villain or trying to build a metaphor. It is what it is, and it's good enough at being that to not feel like it's just going through the motions.

Full review at EFC.

Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Before anything else, Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum is a good horror movie, one that gets the audience to jump at the right times and does a fair job of creeping them out in between. It also arguably represents the evolution of a certain part of the genre, either a transitional step between found-footage movies like The Blair Witch Project and screenshot entries like Unfriended or an impressive job in cross-breeding the two. It's a good enough haunted-house movie that the format never feels like a cheap gimmick.

That format is a live horror webcast hosted by Ha-joon, where a few of his collaborators along with some randomly selected fans will spend the night inside Gwangju's Gonjiam Psychiatric Hospital - closed for twenty years, infamous for a 1979 mass suicide during which the director disappeared, and rumored to have been a site where prisoners (both political and North Korean) were tortured. Nobody, it is said, has been room 402 on the top floor since it was shuttered. The group heading out there includes site regulars Je-yoon and Seung-wook, along with nursing student Ah-yeon, major fan Ji-hyun, Korean-American Charlotte (who has been visiting haunted sites while part of a touring dance crew), and Sung-hoon. They're well-equipped with plenty of maps, cameras, and flashlights, but sometimes even the smallest things can freak you out - and some things don't seem so small.

Once upon a time, something like Gonjiam might have been trying to fool an audience into thinking it was real, or at least been standing back in half-convincing mock surprise that one would accuse the filmmakers who cast unknowns playing eponymous characters in a movie shot on consumer video equipment of that, but the audience has seen too many of those movies while the drones and 4K cameras available at any electronics store are good enough to blur the line between amateurs and professional, at least on the surface level. Gonjiam plays into this, both by establishing early on that this group has enough gear on hand to never really worry about missing anything and by blurring the lines between truth and fiction in different ways, notably by Ha-joon being as much showman as genuine paranormal enthusiast, with eyes on monetizing a video stream that certainly aims to be a more professional production, to the point where the characters are often making sure to create multi-camera set-ups and wear camera harnesses that also capture their faces, driving the visual language of a found-footage film back toward the more conventional.

Full review at EFC.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

"Bloom" was, if nothing else, an extremely well-programmed short at this festival, serving as a perfect appetizer for Brothers' Nest. Both Australian, both featuring tight casts that allow the filmmakers to focus on one strained relationship, both defined by their space. Both pretty good.

It's immediately and darkly funny, as director Kieran Wheeler establishes mood with cigarette butts and empty beer cans all over a messy little house, so that when star Andrew Faulkner enters the door and seems to match the environment more or less perfectly, the audience immediately gets just how his immediate reaction to seeing rose petals strewn about is to jump to extreme jealousy - this just does not fit! It becomes a row when the audience meets the girlfriend (Emily Wheaton) who insists that there's nothing going on, hot and cool by turns until…

Well, that'd be telling. The climax is as stupid as the fight, which is completely fitting, but Wheeler and his group don't just make this a movie about yelling; this pair is enough of a mess by this point to just not be working when they're at the kitchen table, although it's clear that insults and shouting aren't far behind. They get plenty of laughs out of it, including a nasty one or two at the end, and then get out before it becomes heavily tragic.

That, in this case, is the sort of thing a short saves for the feature.

Brothers' Nest

* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

There should, by now, be a name for the class of crime film that starts as a screwball comedy but ends far from it in either feeling or deed, so that one can say a movie is this thing in just a few words and the person to whom it has been recommended won't feel misled. Whatever you call it, Brothers' Nest is an impressive example of that thing, dark as heck but often roaringly funny.

It starts with Australian brothers Jeff (Clayton Jacobson) and Terry (Shane Jacobson) surreptitiously approaching the family homestead in Victoria. The family has, individually and as a whole, fallen on some hard times lately, with the father's death, the mother's cancer, Terry's marriage falling apart… It's a whole bunch of things. So Jeff's come up with a plan, established an alibi, and now they've just got to wait until old farmhand and family friend Rodger (Kim Gyngell) comes by to groom the family's horse Freddie (who will be handed to a new owner next morning). But when he comes early, and their mother (Lynette Curran) is in the car, that messes everything up.

There's a pleasant idiocy to the way Jeff and Terry play off each other, the sort of poor planning that manifests as excessive complication and each brother pointing out something obviously foolish that the other is doing in turn. It's reliably funny stuff, and everybody involved is careful not to lose the fact that most people are just not naturally gifted in criminal situations as the movie darkens. There's bloody slapstick and dumbfounded double-takes, and even though it becomes less inherently funny, things going to hell in an absurd way still bring a reluctant chuckle and a shake of the head, because these guys, right?

Full review at EFC.

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 14 September 2018 - 20 September 2018

Why do you not want me see the crazy cult movies on the big screen, MBTA? It's weekends like this that I wish I wasn't total crap on a bicycle, because BlueBikes seems like the only practical way to get home after a Coolidge midnight.

  • That's what you've got to consider when the After Midnite crew is driving the new release ship at The Coolidge Corner Theatre: Fantasia Closing Night film Mandy, featuring Nick Cage as a man hell-bent on revenge on a murderous cult from the maker of Beyond the Black Rainbow, plays screen one at midnight on Friday and Saturday but also gets evening shows in the two smaller rooms all week, while BUFF favorite Let the Corpses Tan is on screen two for weekend midnights, but also gets some afternoon and evening time in the Screening Room and Goldscreen. Corpses is short enough to catch the 66 or Green Line late, but Mandy is not, but you might want to reserve tickets early for the other smaller rooms.

    The Coolidge also has two Bergman 100 screenings this week - Autumn Sonata with Coolidge Award Winner Liv Ullmann for post-screening discussion on Sunday and Cries and Whispers on Wednesday, both on 35mm. Monday's Big Screen Classic is also on film, with a pre-film seminar for Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up, while there's a party at Osaka after the Thursday 35mm "Rewind!" screening of Mean Girls.
  • Dumping time seems to be over at the multiplex, which is good - it's been a rough few weeks. It looks like Shane Black is shaking his formula up a bit for The Predator, in that it's set at Halloween rather than Christmas, but it's still got a giant alien monster going a-hunting in the suburbs. That one plays Fresh Pond, Jordan's Furniture (in Imax), Boston Common (including Imax), Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport (in Icon-X), South Bay (including Imax and Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax & maybe Dolby Cinema), and Revere (including XPlus).

    Those looking for a thriller with less stuff blowing up might go for A Simple Favor, starring Anna Kendrick as a suburban mother who becomes fascinated by her glamorous neighbor (Blake Lively), and then pulled into intrigue when she disappears. That's at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    There's also White Boy Rick, about a 16-year-old kid who winds up joining a Detroit gang and then informing to the FBI; Matthew McConaughey plays the boy's father. It plays the Somerville, Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux. That one looks like it might have had award ambitions at some point, while Unbroken: Path to Redemption appears to be an in-name-only sequel to Angelina Jolie's film, more blatantly faith-based and only returning a couple supporting characters. It plays Boston Common and Revere. Boston Common also has Where Hands Touch, the new one from Belle and A United Kingdom filmmaker Amma Asante, featuring Amandla Stenberg as a teenage girl with the crap luck of being biracial in Nazi Germany.

    AMC and Warner Brothers have grown pretty good about getting tribute screenings ready quickly, so you can watch Smokey and the Bandit at Boston Common. They're also starting a series of Disney Princess screenings, with the live-action Beauty and the Beast playing Boston Common, South Bay, and Assembly Row; the next two Harry Potter movies, Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince, play Boston Common Sunday. Lots of anime TV spinoffs this week, with Dragon Ball Z: Broly - The Legendary Super Saiyan Saturday at Fenway and Assembly Row, adding Revere for Monday's second show; Digimon Adventure Tri.: Future at those theaters on Thursday; and Haikyu!! The Movie: Battle of Concepts at Revere on Wednesday. There are 25th Anniversary Screenings of Jurassic Park at Fenway (Sunday & Tuesday), Revere (Tuesday & Wednesday), and Assembly Row (Sunday/Tuesday/Wednesday). Mountain-climbing documentary The Dawn Wall plays Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere on Wednesday.
  • Kendall Square gets a couple of documentaries that look awful darn charming: Pick of the Litter, which follows five adorable Golden Retriever puppies as they are trained to become guide dogs for the blind, and Kusama - Infinity, which introduces audiences to Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, whose colorful installations can be a great change of pace in otherwise staid museums (I saw one in Melbourne; it was a delight).
  • Fenway gets two Indian movies this week, with Telugu-language Sailaja Reddy Alludu starring Naga Chaitanya Akkineni as a man who must win over both his love and her mother, while Manmarziyaan (aka "Husband Material") looks to be a Hindi-language love triangle starring Abhishek Bachchan, Taapsee Pannu, and Vicky Kaushal.

    Apple Fresh Pond continues U Turn (with both Tamil and Telugu shows), Sailaja Reddy Alludu, and Seema Raja for those looking for Indian cinema, and has their first "a couple shows in a small room" booking in a while for Don't Leave Home, a nifty little movie about creepy things happening in an old Irish mansion that I mostly liked at IFFBoston even though I was tired as heck, and which may deserve a second look.
  • The Brattle Theatre gets Madeline's Madeline, which features newcomer Helena Howard as a teen with mental issues who finds expression in a New York theater group, but it soon becomes clear there's some two-way exploitation going on. It played both IFFBoston and Fantasia, but it caught me with exactly the wrong attitude. It's got a full schedule all weekend, but just a single afternoon show Monday through Thursday. Writer/director Josephine Decker will be present at the 7pm show on Saturday.

    What bumps it? Plenty of other guests! Saturday morning, there's a premiere of nuclear power plant documentary Power Struggle with plenty of guests for post-film discussion, while Monday's DocYard presentation welcomes Sandi Tan and her film Shirkers, a profoundly meta documentary where Tan hunts down her own recently-resurface first short film. No official guests for Tuesday's Trash Night, while there's a special screening of Eighth Grade on Wednesday. Then, on Thursday, they start next week's run of Bisbee '17 a day early so that filmmaker Robert Greene can be there in person.
  • Renate Sami visits The Harvard Film Archive on Friday to present a program of her films on 16mm, with a panel discussion afterward. After that, it's a weekend of Bergman 100 screenings, featuring The Magic Flute (Saturday 6pm), The Devil's Eye (Saturday 9pm), and The Virgin Spring (Sunday 7pm), the latter two on 35mm film. They host a Directions in Documentary Sound panel at the Harvard Art Museum on Monday at 6pm, which possibly overlaps with their free preview screening of The Sound of the Bells at 8pm in the usual Carpenter Center venue..
  • The Museum of Fine Arts concludes their runs of Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf and Scarred Hearts on Friday/Saturday/Sunday, and those of I, Claude Monet and The Chronicles of Anna Magdalena Bach on Wednesday. They start one of Ryuchi Sakamoto: Coda on Thursday, which is also the day they kick off "Films from Pooh Corner" with Disney's 2011 Winnie the Pooh.
  • The Regent Theatre has a lot of movie presentations this week, starting with Records Collecting Dust II on Friday, with the vinyl-collecting documentary followed up not just by Q&A, but live performances. Wednesday features a one-night return of IFFBoston selection Rodents of Unusual Size with co-directors Chris Metzler & Jeff Springer on-hand, and Thursday is the first of three screenings of The Public Image Is Rotten, a documentary on Sex Pistols & Public Image founder John Lyndon. Oh, and one of their Boston Comedy Festival shows features noted movie parasites Trace Beaulieu & Frank Coniff,
  • The ICA screens the 2018 edition of the "Black Radical Imagination" program on Sunday afternoon in conjunction with their "We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women 1965-1985" exhibition.
  • School's back in, so Bright Lights is back to showing two free movies a week in the Bright Screening room at ArtsEmerson's Paramount Theater, open to the public and followed by discussion. Tuesday's movie is How to Talk to Girls at Parties, and Thursday's is Leave No Trace (with producer Linda Reisman on hand)..
  • The Somerville Theatre has enough live events in the coming week to effectively be down to two screens, but they kick off their annual 70mm and Widescreen Festival on Thursday with John Carpenter's Starman.

I'm looking at fitting Mandy, The Predator, A Simple Favor, and Pick of the Litter in, at least, and probably catching Starman on Thursday (I saw it at the sci-fi marathon a few years ago, but the audience that thinks they're part of the entertainment did not help). It will be nice to potentially max out A-List and MoviePass after not using them for a week or two.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

This Week in Tickets: 3 September 2018 - 9 September 2018

Kind of a boring week at the cinemas, but one where I finally caught up with some of the stuff I'd been meaning to see for a while.

This Week in Tickets

I mentioned being a slug all last weekend, at it lasted through Labor Day, when I finallly caught a new release and The Little Stranger wasn't very good, which was frustrating because you could see all the things it could have been saying but which it never really went for.

The middle of the week was good for catching up, with Crazy Rich Asians at Fresh Pond on Wednesday and Sorry to Bother You at the Somerville on Thursday. That's kind of a fantastic run for the latter, really - I think it opened just as I went to Montreal in July and is still kicking in a few theaters two months later. Part of that is that this theater is not opening a lot with construction going on and the big 70mm fest coming up, but it's outlasting bigger, more recent things.

After that, another weekend where not a lot opened, and then pretty much all of Sunday was spent getting too and from Revere to see Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms, which I'd missed here for being at Fantasia and missed at Fantasia, but which I wound up really liking. It makes a nice bookend for the week with The Little Stranger, both being fantastical end-of-an-era stories, but the anime wound up looking better the closer you examine it, while the British one just didn't come together.

More coming up on my Letterboxd, including stuff I just didn't get the chance to do back in Canada..

Crazy Rich Asians

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 5 September 2018 in Apple Cinemas Cambridge #2 (first-run, DCP)

Crazy Rich Asians doesn't stray far from the romantic comedy template, but it seems like it's been so long since Hollywood produced one of those that standing out isn't necessary. You've just got to do it wil enough to not trip over your own feet, and you'll be good. And it does, right from... okay, maybe not quite the unnecessary prelude at the start, but it quickly establishes a bunch of charismatic characters, an entertaining situation, and slick enough packaging to make it watchable, and then gets out of the way.

And, really, why wouldn't you just get out of Constance Wu's way here? She's charming and funny even while leaving most of the actual gags to other characters, and nails the right expression and emotion in every moment. She's got a pretty darn good cast to play off of, most notably Awkwafina and Michelle Yeoh, but it goes all the way down to people who are just in one or two scenes, doing something in the background that amplifies what's working up front.

Plus, there's a really enjoyable level of romantic fantasy to it - the filmmakers know that these movies with a touch of Cinderella to them need nice things, but they're good at pivoting away from tacky consumerism except when the grossness of it is going to figure into the story. Director John M. Chu not only gets scenes playing out in snappy but not artificial fashion, but also frames shots really well - he uses space and crowds to focus attention just right, but never in an artsy, ostentatious way.

There's a mid-credit teaser for a sequel, and that one will be a tougher sell, with a less immediately-likable main character and heightened expectations. But that's 2020's problem; this is just a solid old-Hollywood romance.

Sorry to Bother You

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 6 September 2018 in Somerville Theatre #1 (first-run, DCP)

The neat thing about Sorry to Bother You is that, while it does quickly become just as weird as it promised to be from the previews and opening scenes, it winds up feeling a little less peculiar than it maybe should. There's a talented cast that plays it fairly straight, and beyond that, the filmmakers always make sure that the audience knows where they're coming from. It's mostly good folks navigating a strange world.

But never one so strange that it's disconnected. Sometimes filmmaker Boots Riley hammers things down hard, although he kind of has to (simply advocating for a labor union seems radical in this day and age). Sometimes he takes a hard turn into the bizarre, and you have to just gape in wonder at the lengths he'll go to talk about how capitalism seems determined to grind humanity back to slavery, with people of color on the front lines. Among other things - he's got a lot to talk about and stitches it together well.

And there's always someone or something entertaining in front of the camera. Lakeith Stanfield (dubbed or otherwise) makes an entertainingly too-cool-for-his-own-good semi-hero, paired with a series of great foils from Danny Glover to Tessa Thompson (who should be in all the things) to Armie Hammer. He and the crew build a surreal world that never quite seems to go full Gondry, and the script always seems to be at a perfect spot between snappy and deadpan.

I'm sorry I put this off so long and glad my local theater kept it. It's a great big-screen movie though one I'll probably also love going through on disc.

The Little Stranger
Crazy Rich Asians
Sorry to Bother You
Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms