Friday, October 26, 2018

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 26 October 2018 - 1 November 2018

It's been a kind of quiet lead-up to Halloween this year, in part because some places don't have the space and one big horror movie sucked all the air out of the room - and, weirdly, two things that could have been fun tie-ins (Suspiria '18 and Rampant) look to be delayed until next week.

  • Indeed, the big release this weekend looks like it's kind of being dumped, with Hunter Killer not a slasher villain but a description of an attack submarine, which has Gerard Butler and Gary Oldman sneaking into Russian waters and having to rescue the Russian president, and I'm not sure when in the past decade that part of the story made sense. It's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux. For something lighter, there's Johnny English Strikes Again, with Rowan Atkinson reviving his third-most popular role for more slapstick silliness. But, hey, Emma Thompson's in it too! That's at Boston Common and Revere.

    Halloween-week specials include duelling Disney flicks: AMC gets Hocus Pocus, playing at Boston Common, while Regal has The Nightmare Before Christmas at Fenway. There's also more screenings of Rocky Horror than usual - 9pm Friday, Saturday, and Wednesday at Boston Common, late Friday and early Monday at the Center for the Arts in Natick, and 8pm on Wednesday at the Somerville Theatre - and spots that thought they were done with Hell Fest (Boston Common, South Bay, Revere) are bringing it back for some late shows. Beetlejuice plays CinemaSalem Friday, on the Icon-X screen in the Seaport on Sunday afternoon and Monday evening, and another show at Revere on Tuesday night.

    In other one-offs, Spirited Away plays Fenway and Revere, dubbed on Sunday and Tuesday, subtitled on Monday. Showcase is using one screen for a selection of Illumination movies, with Despicable Me, The Lorax, The Secret Lives of Pets, and Sing playing in different arrangements all week. The version of Frankenstein with Jonny Lee Miller as the Creature and Benedict Cumberbatch as the Doctor plays Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere on Monday. Fenway (at least) has previews of the new Suspiria on Halloween, while Boston Common has a special Imax preview of Bohemian Rhapsody the same evening.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Kendall Square, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere all pick up Mid90s, which follows a 13-year-old who escapes a troubled home life by skateboarding in Los Angeles. The Coolidge also has two shows a day of documentary The Price of Everything, which looks at the role commerce plays in the art world, in the Goldscreen, aside from a special screening on Friday night with a post-film panel.

    Their After Midnite screenings this weekend include the only booking in the Boston area for the new restoration of John Carpenter's The Fog on Friday, and their overnight Halloween Horror Marathon on Saturday, kicking off with the 1953 The War of the Worlds, and Ridley Scott's original Alien, with five unannounced movies after that, the whole thing on 35mm - and then on Halloween night, they have a double feature of Carpenter's original Halloween and a 35mm print of Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. They also have an English dub of Kiki's Delivery Service on Saturday morning,
  • In addition to Mid90s, Kendall Square picks up What They Had, which stars Hilary Swank and Michael Shannon as adult children trying to deal with their father (Richard Forster) and mother (Blythe Danner), the latter of whom is suffering from Alzheimer's disease. They also have documentary Studio 54, which, as you may expect, covers the iconic disco in 1970s New York.
  • The Brattle Theatre opens a new restoration of Barbara Loden's Wanda, with Loden writing, directing, and playing the title character, a woman for whom a criminal scheme is the next piece of trouble in a life spinning out of control. It has most of the weekend, although there's also a 35mm screening of Gods and Monsters on Saturday, part of a tie-in to the Harvard Film Archive's Frankenstein weekend.

    On Monday, they've got a DocYard screening of Our New President, which tells the story of Donald Trump's election through Russian Propaganda, with Maxim Pozdorovkin in attendance. After that, it's the back half of Halloween series Strange Frequencies, with two days of double features - It! & Pi (both 35mm) on Tuesday and Donovan's Brain & The Cabin in the Woods (35mm) on Wednesday - before guest programmer Peter Bebergal hosts a special screening of a 1970s cult TV movie on Thursday.
  • The new Hindi movie at Apple Fresh Pond this week is Andhadhun, which looks like a bit of an Indian riff on Blind Detective, as a visually-impaired man and a pretty new companion solve a mystery. They also continue Badhaai Ho and Vada Chennai, with Kayamkulam Kochunni playing Friday through Sunday. They also have English-language indie Stella's Last Weekend, with Nat and Alex Wolff playing two brothers in love with the same woman; it's written and directed by Polly Draper, who also created the Naked Brothers Band series they did as kids.

    Elsewhere, some Spanish-language movies grab some screens at the multiplexes. Trabajo Sucio plays Revere, coming from the Dominican Republic and featuring a group of servants at a mansion who find a cache of money and likely turn on each other as well as their employers looking for more. El Pacto plays Boston Common, and from the name, it sounds like Belén Rueda is playing a woman who makes a deal with the devil to save her daughter's life. Cantonese-language Project Gutenberg looks like it may wind up with a whole month at Boston Common, a nifty surprise for us Chow Yun-fat fans!
  • The Harvard Film Archive is almost all about The Afterlives of Frankenstein on 35mm this week, with James Whale's classic version playing Friday evening and Saturday afternoon (a special $5 matinee with Tim Burton's original "Frankenweenie" short on digital), Hammer's The Curse of Frankenstein at 8:30pm Friday, Bride of Frankenstein Saturday at 7pm, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed Saturday at 8:30pm, Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein Sunday at 7pm, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man at 7pm Monday (on 16mm), a marathon reading of Mary Shelley's novel Wednesday morning and afternoon, and a special late show of Young Frankenstein at 10pm that evening.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has more of the Boston Palestine Film Festival, including The Man Who Stole Banksy (Friday), Writing on Snow (Saturday), What Walaa Wants (Saturday), an immigrants shorts program (Sunday), and Naila and the Uprising with the producer on-hand (Sunday). They wrap the October schedule with two more screenings of I Am Not a Witch (Saturday and Wednesday) while fittingly ending Let the Devil In: 50 Years of British Horror on Halloween with The Wicker Man and a 35mm print of Hellraiser.
  • Boston Asian-American Film Festival has a second weekend in the Bright Screening Room at the Paramount Theater this year, with director Adele Pham on-hand for her documentary featurette Nailed It (Friday), an "Altered Realities" shorts program (Friday), An American Story: Norman Mineta and His Legacy with director Dianne Fukami (Saturday), centerpiece show Fiction & Other Realities (Saturday), Antonia Grace Glenn with her documentary The Ito Sisters (Sunday), and closing night film For Izzy with director Alex Chu.

    Bright Lights brings back BUFF closing film Good Manners on Tuesday for some pre-Halloween scares, while IFFBoston co-presents Dawnland with directors Adam Mazo & Ben Pender-Cudlip discussing their film about Native Americans forcibly taken from their homes to be raised by white families on Thursday.
  • The Regent Theatre has a Harry Houdini Halloween Happening on Friday, with Jeff Rapsis accompanying Houdini's silent adventure feature Terror Island while magicians David Garrity and Matt Roberts perform magic and the traditional Halloween seance (Houdini always promised he would bring back word if there was an afterlife, but he never shows at these things). They also show Nepali film Chhakka Panja 3 on Sunday evening.
  • Belmont World Film has a two week mini-series celebrating the 100th year of Czech independence at the Belmont Studio Cinema, with this week's selection the Czech Republic's official Oscar submission, Ice Mother.
  • The ICA has a special pre-release screening of Julian Schanbel's At Eternity's Gate on Thursday, with Willem Dafoe as Vincent van Gogh and Oscar Isaac as Paul Gauguin in a film based upon Dafoe's letters. It's free, but museum members can reserve seats.
  • Cinema Salem hosts the Witch City Film Fest on Saturday.

Last chance to see First Man in Imax this weekend, so I'll probably head to the furniture store for that, trying to also catch up on Free Solo, The Old Man and the Gun the new Halloween, and whatever else I'm behind on while it's quiet.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Independent Film Festival Boston 2018.178: Wildlife and Border

Another year, another opportunity to point out that, despite it being as far away from the main festival on the calendar as possible, the Fall Focus is a bit part of what makes the Independent Film Festival Boston great. Folks don't just crave good film for one week a year, and it's great to recharge.

This year, because the Brattle had a lot of things scheduled around it, the whole thing was compressed to a very packed weekend, so I don't know how much Nancy was able to put themes and double-features into the program (you kind of just fit what you've got together). If I had to sell these two as going together, I'd say they were both stories about family secrets and the end of innocence, but that's an awfully broad category; you could probably fit some character from 95% of every narrative ever crafted into an "end of innocence" bucket.

What struck me as more interesting was that they are utter opposites in what independent film can do in terms of realism and risk taking. My review of Wildlife started from a fair amount of grumbling about how it's kind of the type of independent film you make when your goal is to make an Independent Film, the sort where people like Jake Gyllenhaal can say he took a pay cut or a producer credit so that he could make something real. It's what respectable grown-up movies are supposed to be, or so we're told, but there's not much spark to its meticulous construction and respectability.

Contrast that with Border, which is dark and creative. There are probably five or six things that would get the people pitching it laughed out of a Hollywood studio executive's office, but it delivers weird ideas that nevertheless resonate, it gets the absolute most out of its resources, and it's uncompromising as it makes its points while also building earnest interest in what's going to happen next. There is invention here, and I'll happily take that over respectable realism most days.

(Though I do wonder a bit if intersexed people might watch this and think "the closest thing that we get to representation in years and we're portrayed as grub-eating, baby-stealing trolls?" It's a sympathetic movie but kind of a rough metaphor!)

I did wind up liking both films more as I wrote about them, which is a good sign - there's something to be found, even if a movie doesn't really grab you by the gut. But, boy, it's better when they do.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 October 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Independent Film Festival Boston Fall Focus, DCP)

Wildlife is a sort of anti-blockbuster, almost to a fault, the sort of thing that is real and honest but in a way that can seem just as generic as the fantasies on the other end of the spectrum. Just looking at it, one sees that director Paul Dano cast a pretty Paul Dano-looking kid to play the main part, while Carey Mulligan often seemed to be playing Julianne Moore playing her character. It's a very familiar indie rite of passage, this sort of collapsing marriage period piece.

The collapsing marriage is that of Jerry Brinson (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his wife Jeanette (Moore); they have recently moved to Montana from Idaho, and that wasn't their only stop over the last few years, making 14-year-old son Joe (Ed Oxenbould) the new kid in school again. Jerry doesn't last long in his new job - he's headstrong in the wrong ways even when he's not drinking - and his pride has him pass up others in order to join a crew fighting a wildfire sixty miles away. Jeannette has already taken a part-time job teaching swimming at the YMCA, where she catches the eye of local businessman Warren Miller (Bill Camp), which could at the very least lead to a better job at his auto dealership.

It's an oft-told story in the general sense, and even the idea of telling it from the point of view of the kid who is right on the cusp of understanding what's going on has some miles on it. In this case, that perspective doesn't hold the filmmakers back in either a positive or negative sense, but it also doesn't contribute much - there's no aspect of the story that ever feels hidden, kept out of Joe's view, and relatively little sense of his life and how it's disrupted. That's no knock on Ed Oxenbould, the young actor with a certain resemblance to the director, who plays the part's sweet, admiring ignorance well and makes the frustrated, confused outbursts seem genuine; he's fine. If anything, he should have more to do; too often, Dano just cuts to him in the middle of a scene where what's going on with the adults is quite clear seemingly just to remind the audience that he's there and doesn't entirely know what's going on.

Full review at EFC.

Gräns (Border)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 October 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Independent Film Festival Boston Fall Focus, DCP)

Based upon a short story from the writer of Let the Right One In and adapted by the filmmakers behind Shelley, Border certainly has the pedigree to be fine art-house horror, though that's no guarantee - hitting the right balance of myth and metaphor is tricky business. Happily, this one is genuinely peculiar from the start and reveals more intriguing, resonant depths even as it builds its mythology in detail.

It introduces the audience to Tina (Eva Melander), who is not exactly the most welcoming face to be greeted with upon arrival in Sweden, but the local border guards keep her up front for a reason: She's got an uncanny ability to identify smugglers and those trying to evade customs, able to smell the shame and fear on them - most recently, finding a memory card full of child pornography that has the head of a task force (Ann Petrén) eager to have her help find the source. She's never wrong, at least until Vore (Eero Milonoff) passes by her post, sharing the same sort of features as Tina and setting off her radar in a way that her housemate and presumed boyfriend Roland (Jörgen Thorsson) does not. It raises a lot of questions that her father (Sten Ljunggren) has long avoided answering.

Though Border impresses in a lot of ways, the way it immerses the audience in its supernatural world by emphasizing details that are human and even almost mundane is key. That balance is established right away, as director Ali Abbasi takes something as familiar as customs and lets Tina be an odd part of it - lots of zooms to her lumpy face and frantic sniffing - and it not only grounds the fantasy in something real, but it establishes something important in how integrated and unquestioned Tina's abilities are; that may be in the background, but it's a crucial part of Tina's part of the story. Abbasi's approach lets him stretch and push the edge a little further, so that the audience is ready when the moments of horror and wonder come.

Full review at EFC.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

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

I'd scratch my head at how many screens the weekend's big release is on, but opening night of Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers is the craziest show I can remember from when I worked at a theater. Folks apparently like that series but it's been weirdly mismanaged (although that may have kept it from burning out).

  • But first, head over to the The Brattle Theatre for the Independent Film Festival Boston Fall Focus, their annual event midway between the last festival and the next one to catch up on some of what's coming out in the next few months. It's compacted to fit in between other things there, cramming ten movies into three days: Wildlife and Border on Friday evening; Cold War, Rafiki, Shoplifters, and Vox Lux on Saturday; and Roma (maybe your only chance to see it theatrically), Non-Fiction, Burning, and The Favourite on Sunday.

    After that finishes, the DocYard welcomes directors Michael Palmieri & Donal Mosher for The Gospel of Eureka, a documentary about gospel drag shows, which apparently is a thing. After that comes the first half of Strange Frequencies, their Halloween series, this year featuring Prince of Darkness & [REC] on Tuesday, a 35mm double feature of Poltergeist & The Innkeepers on Wednesday, and a single print of Kairo (Pulse) on Thursday.
  • Elsewhere, you can see Halloween (2018), which is really straining the screwy naming conventions of series that come back after a while - it's a sequel to John Carpenter's seminal 1978 slasher which ditches all of the continuity (or lack thereof) that came between, so this fork of the franchise has two parts, both named "Halloween", which isn't confusing at all. Anyway, David Gordon Green's sequel is all over the place, at Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport, South Bay (including Dolby CInema), Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema), Revere (including XPlus), and the SuperLux. If (like me) you've somehow never seen the original, Apple Fresh Pond is screening it late afternoon all week.

    Much smaller release for The Oath, a timely-sounding comedy hypothesizing a required loyalty oath to the president, due at Thanksgiving, and the havoc it plays at a divided family's holiday dinner - that's just playing Boston Common and the Embassy. The relatively small release slate also has three films expanding to more theaters: The Hate U Give is now at Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere; The Sisters Brothers at the Somerville and Kendall Square; with The Old Man and the Gun at the Coolidge, the Capitol, West Newton, The Lexington Venue and Kendall Square.

    In one-offs, Twilight gets 10th anniversary screenings at Boston Common, Fenway, and Revere on Sunday and Tuesday; BeetleJuice one at Revere for its 30th (and The Conjuring one on Thursday for its fifth; and last but not least, George Romero's Night of the Living Dead celebrates its fiftieth at Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere on Wednesday and Thursday. And while I generally don't list the live theater broadcasts here, an exception is made for the Danny Boyle/Benedict Cumberbatch/Jonny Lee Miller Frankenstein, playing Monday at Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere with Cumberbatch as the creature and Miller as the monster (and the roles reversed on the 29th).
  • Beautiful Boy opens at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, as well as Kendall Square and Boston Common. It features Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet as a father and his son who is battling addiction, taken from both of their memoirs.

    The Coolidge also opens Black '47, although it only gets two midnight shows (Friday and Saturday); it stars James Frecheville as a nineteenth-century soldier seeking revenge upon all those he blames for a disastrous famine and British crackdown, while Hugo Weaving is the soldier assigned to stop him. They also continue their "Jamie Lee Curtis: Queen of Halloween" series with a 35mm print of Prom Night at midnight on Friday, and wrap their run of midnight screenings of The Exorcist with a show on Saturday. Creepiness continues on Monday with a 35mm Big Screen Classics show of The Silence of the Lambs, with an optional before/after-show seminar. They also bring out a 35mm print of Hocus Pocus for Rewind! screenings on Thursday.
  • Kendall Square is at least the first place to get The Happy Prince, which Rupert Everett writes, directs, and stars in, playing Oscar Wilde in his later years, brought low by his imprisonment and still drawn to Alfred Bosie Douglas (Colin Morgan); Colin Firth, Emily Watson, and Tom Wilkinson also star. They also open Denmark's Oscar submission, The Guilty, a one-man-show for Jakob Cedergren, who plays a cop on desk duty responding to a call for help.
  • Aravindha Sametha Veera Raghava and Vada Chennai continue Apple Fresh Pond continues , 96, also opening Tamil serial-killer thriller Raatchasan. They also open Namaste England, a Hindi-language romantic comedy with Parineeti Chopra and Arjun Kapoor that apparently opens things up a little from Namaste London. There's also Badhaai Ho, also in Hindi, featuring Ayushmann Khurrana as a grown man who finds it more than a bit embarrassing that his mother is pregnant. There's also Tamil action sequel Sandakozhi 2, a Saturday afternoon screening of Marathi film Shubh Lagna Savdhan, and Malayalam adventure Kayamkulam Kochunni on Sunday.

    Project Gutenberg continues at Boston Common, which is a pretty nice run!
  • The Harvard Film Archive is one of the local venues collaborating on a Tony Conrad retrospective and exhibit (along with the Carpenter Center and the MIT List Center), showing a selection of his 16mm films at 7pm on Friday and following it up with Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present, Tyler Hubby's 2016 profile. They also welcome Albertina Carri for The Blonds (Saturday 7pm), I Won't Go Back Home (Sunday 4:30pm), and Cuatreros (Sunday 7pm); she is scheduled to be at the first and last, while the first two are in 35mm. Monday kicks off their 200th-Anniversary-of-Frankenstein series with a 35mm print The Spirit of the Beehive, where the monster is more an idea than a presence.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts opens their Boston Palestine Film Festival with The Reports on Sarah and Saleem on Friday, which includes discussion with director Muayad Alayan and writer Rami Alayan, with the former also scheduled for Saturday's encore. The festival also includes two short packages on Sunday, with one repeating on Thursday along with Soufra. Aside from that, they screen I Am Not a Witch on Saturday afternoon and two more in the Let the Devil In: 50 Years of British Horror series on Wednesday: The Innocents and The Wicker Man.
  • Boston Asian-American Film Festival has super-sized itself this year, running a full 11 days, mostly in the Bright Screening Room at the Paramount Theater, including Bitter Melon on Saturday, Centerpiece screening "Deported" on Sunday, and plenty of shorts packages; one of which is Thursday's Bright Lights presentation. They detour to the Pao Arts Center for two "Chinatown Presents" shows on Monday and Tuesday, and have a free screening of Finding Samuel Lowe, including an author talk at the Boston Public Library on Wednesday.

    Bright Lights also participates in the Palestine Film Festival, presenting The Judge.on Tuesday, with director Erika Cohn discussing her film about the first woman to be appointed as a judge in a Shari'a court.
  • The Regent Theatre plays Reach, in which a suicidal teenager makes an unexpected new friend who finds new ways to pull him out of funks and help him strengthen other relationships. Note that it plays once a day through Thursday and bounces between the main theater and the "Underground" space. One of the things it moves downstairs to make room for is Chet's Last Call, a documentary on the 1980s Boston punk venue, built around two 2016 tribute concerts, with several of the bands involved scheduled to play after the film. They'll also have their own "Frankenfest" on Wednesday, with the Edison "Frankenstein", Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, and Frankenstein Created Woman.
  • The ICA screens Where the Pavement Ends, a documentary about the history of Ferguson, Missouri, intertwined with that of Kinloch, the now mostly-abandoned town whose population was mostly black compared to the all-white in Ferguson during the days of segregation. Filmmakers Jane Gillooly, Khary Saeed Jones, and Aparna Agrawal will be present for the single show Sunday afternoon.
  • Silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis makes one of his regular visits to the Aeronaut Brewery in Somerville on Sunday for a live soundtrack of the Lon Chaney Phantom of the Opera.
  • Throwback Thursday at The Capitol is not a Frankenstein film - they're celebrating Halloween with a screening of Carrie.
  • Cinema Salem mixes some 2D shows of "The History of Halloween" in with the 3D ones, and also has the Teseracte Players in for The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Saturday, both at 8pm and midnight. Full Body Cast is (I believe) still doing that every Saturday at Boston Common.

I'll probably be living at the Brattle for the Fall Focus this weekend, although I don't want to jinx the Red Sox and say what nights I'll be watching baseball instead of movies this week.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

All About Nina

This was not entirely a movie chosen on the basis of start time, although that factored into it - I could have seen Bad Times at the El Royale at 7pm in a couple places passed on the way, but that would have meant waiting, whereas continuing on the Red Line to Kendall got me to this one just in time for it to start. In my defense, it was raining just enough to make the wait or walk less than ideal at the Capitol and Apple. On the other hand, this had the look of something that was only going to last a week at the Kendall with a large chunk of that week unavailable (as in, I'm writing this on a plane to Texas), so see the indie movie with Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Common while you can.

Not, ultimately, the greatest decision, but more low-grade disappointment than regret. I know that movies about the entertainment world are generally not my thing - probably going to have to be dragged into A Star Is Born - and this want exactly riding a wave of critical acclaim. I like both stars, but they've only rarely found parts where they can really shine rather than be the best part of an ensemble. That sort of thing. This isn't as completely blindered a movie as you sometimes see from the genre, but it is the sort that makes me wonder if the people making it have relatively narrow experiences to draw upon.

All About Nina

* * (out of four)
Seen 15 October 2018 in Landmark Kendall Square #7 (first-run, digital)

All About Nina is the sort of movie where you think, fifteen minutes in, that there's got to be some sort of really cruel sledgehammer blow coming, because otherwise it's just a movie about a stand-up comic who is not very funny and is kind of an awful person to be around besides. Sure, a lot of filmmakers will blithely make that sort of semi-autobiographical thing without realizing that is insufferable and dull, but even with a quality lead, there's a filter that prevents them from making their way to theaters.

So you spend the first half-hour or so of this movie waiting for the person who is going to draw something pleasant out of Mary Elizabeth Winstead's Nina Geld, whose routine includes gems like how she gets really bad diarrhea with her period and who doesn't really date so much as she has a thing with a married cop that she feels she must flee because he won't break it off - good thing there's an opportunity in L.A.! And, man, do things brighten up when Common appears on-screen and charms the heck out of everyone as Rafe, a contractor who usually doesn't go to comedy clubs but is recently divorced and likes the honesty she's showing on stage. He is basically perfect until the exact moment when the film requires him to be just selfish enough to make things a little bit harder, but not so much that it can't be walked back. It's calculated as can be, just enough to make the story not quite a complete fantasy.

There are times when the film itself resembles the most hackneyed stand-up comedy bits and inside baseball imaginable, with large chunks of the first act basically playing as extended "men are like this and so are women but they've got to pretend to be like that" and "wow, California is different from New York" bits. There's a laugh or two in them but it's so trite that it's hard not to wonder just why Nina is considered such a rising star. Writer/director Eva Vives doesn't seem to put a whole lot more into Nina's story than her comedy, either; she's just dropped into a much nicer living situation than she had back home, complete with eccentric but protective housemate, with no signs of needing a day job. A terrific boyfriend just walks up and introduces himself, and the big audition that drew her out goes pretty darn smoothly, especially since her post-set vomiting quickly became a running joke rather than something treated with real concern. It's maybe not quite easy, but between the cinema audience not laughing nearly as hard at her material as the people on-screen (or at all) and how demanding Nina can be, it begins to feel rather painfully self-indulgent.

Full review at EFC.FL

Monday, October 15, 2018

This Week in Tickets: 8 October 2018 - 14 October 2018

There was baseball and a birthday party this week, so this happened:

This Week in Tickets

There was a night or two when I might have been able to sneak something in there, but it was too rainy to hang around, waiting for the movie to start. So, yeah, nothing until Sunday afternoon, when Lost, Found slotted in right before the ballgame.

Don't know that I'll be adding entries to my Letterboxd much this week - there's a work trip that, at this writing, seems really pointless, and the playoffs aren't over yet - but attempts will be made.

Zhao dao ni (Lost, Found)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 14 October 2018 in AMC Boston Common #6 (first-run, DCP)

Though the listings suggest that Lost, Found is a drama built around divorce, it's actually a thriller that becomes a social-justice story, and it's just as confused as it sounds. It plays like the filmmakers only realized who the interesting characters were halfway through and had a heck of a time giving them the focus they deserved while also making the film they originally set out to make.

That would be a movie about successful lawyer Li Jie (Yao Chen), who came home from court and a work outing to find her daughter Duoduo and nanny Sun Fang (Ma Yili) have vanished. Divorced and in the middle of a custody fight, the irony is that she spent the day representing a husband who is trying to gain sole custody of his own child from a desperate mother and has taught junior associates that physical possession of the children creates leverage. That doesn't seem to be the case here, though - ex-husband Tian Ning (Mickey Yuan Wenkang) and his mother seem just as panicked as Jie, and it quickly becomes clear that she didn't know nearly enough about Sun Fang when hiring her.

The audience sees this unfold from Jie's perspective, and told that way, Lost, Found is a mystery story. It's not a particularly well-built one, unfortunately; writer Qin Haiyan throws the audience a bunch of red herrings early on but never actually uses them to deflect suspicion or misdirect for very long. That Jie will be victimized by things akin to her own aggressions and privilege is good material, but few threads actually come back to her, and other things are dismissed, little more than a momentary jolt. It works as well as it does because Yao Chen is fully committed to her part, never faltering as the career woman run ragged and plunged deeper into horror. She does a good job of landing on the spot where Li Jie can seem kind of callous but not actually cruel enough for this to play as some sort of comeuppance in flashbacks, with her harried moment of weakness that leads to hiring Sun Fang feeling different than the present-day parts of the movie, where a too-wide smile contorts into anguish and her determination becomes frightening.

Full review at EFilmCritic

Lost, Found

Friday, October 12, 2018

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 12 October 2018 - 18 October 2018

You know what would be awesome? If the Aquarium were still running full-length features in the Simons Imax theater. I don't know whether it's because Boston Common can claim exclusivity or if they just don't think it's worth doing, but while it would be great in general, it would be huge this week.

  • That's because part of First Man was shot using genuine horizontally-fed 65mm IMAX, and the scenes where it maximizes that stuff is supposed to be even more amazing when projected on film compared to the digital Imax. Still, I suspect that Damien Chazelle's story of NASA's question to put a man on the moon, with Ryan Gosling playing Neil Armstrong and Corey Stoll as Buzz Aldrin, will look amazing no matter what. It's at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Jordan's Furniture (Imax), West Newton, Boston Common (including Imax), Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay (including Imax), Assembly Row (including Imax), Revere, and the SuperLux.

    It doesn't leave much room for Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween to have fancy screens like the first did, and it doesn't seem to have many people who worked on both, and even Jack Black seems to be barely in it. Still looks like fun in the same way the first looked like fun, and can be found at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere. For a somewhat older audience, there's The Hate U Give, an adaptation of the acclaimed young-adult novel about an African-American teenager at a mostly white school reacting to a police shooting in her area. It's at Boston Common, South Bay, and Assembly Row (West Newton and Fenway next week).

    There's also Bad Times at the El Royale, the new film from Drew Goddard which serves as an entry in the "seven strangers meet in an out-of-the-way location but aren't what they seem genre", with the requisite all-star cast. It plays the Capitol, Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere. A number of places also pick up Free Solo in wider release - the mountain-climbing documentary opened at the Coolidge last week, and expands to West Newton, Boston Common, the Seaport, and Revere. Boston Common also has Bigger, which stars Tyler Hoechlin as Joe Weider, who was one of the fathers of modern fitness and bodybuilding.

    The last presentation of the Disney "Dream Big, Princess" series is the recent live-action Cinderella, playing twice a day at Boston Common, South Bay, and Assembly Row. There's a TCM presentation of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington at Fenway and Assembly Row on Sunday & Tuesday. A 12-episode binge of anime series Yur!!! On Ice plays Fenway Saturday, and Franco-Japanese animated sci-fi action movie MFKZ plays Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere on Tuesday.
  • Kendall Square has a busy week, opening three movies. All About Nina is the fictional feature, starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead as a stand-up comic trying to keep her life from falling apart. They also have two documentaries about artists in different media: Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable, as you might expect, tells the story of a groundbreaking street photographer, while Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. profiles the refugee-turned-pop star. There's also a third, with The Public Image Is Rotten playing one show on Wednesday evening. Their sister cinema in Waltham, the Embassy, is actually keeping Netflix movies Private Life and 22 July around for a second week.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre keeps the same mix of films but shuffles them around screens some. They also have a busy "midnight" schedule, kicking off with an outdoor presentation of the 1990 miniseries of It at the Rocky Woods Resort at 8pm on Friday before The Exorcist plays the main screen that midnight and the screening room on Saturday, shifted there by a 35mm "Queen of Halloween" show of Scream and star Greg Sestero hosting Best F(r)iends Vol. 2. "Science on Screen" keeps things spooky with Shaun of the Dead on Monday, featuring a lecture by Professor Colin Adams of Williams College on how calculus can help one survive the apocalypse.
  • Boston Common continues both Chinese Memorial Day movies from last week but flips the frequency, with Chow Yun-fat thriller Project Gutenberg getting full days and comedy Hello, Mrs. Money splitting a screen with Lost, Found, which features Yao Chen as a divorcing lawyer and Ma Yili as the babysitter looking after the kids caught in the custody battle.

    Apple Fresh Pond continues Aravindha Sametha Veera Raghava, 96, also opening Tamil serial-killer thriller Raatchasan. Malayalam-language adventure Kayamkulam Kochunni plays once on Saturday afternoon, and Tamil crime movie Vada Chennai opens on Tuesday.
  • GlobeDocs mostly moves over to the The Brattle Theatre for the weekend, with a full slate from Friday to Sunday, though they do close out with two at the Coolidge for closing night, including Lobster War.

    They fill the week out with a number of special presentations: Free screenings of documentary Jews Step Forward with filmmakers in person on Monday, Trash Night on Tuesday, The Eyeslicer Halloween Special on Wednesday (a limited theatrical release before a limited VHS release), and then a special opening night Boston Asian-American Film Festival presentation, The Joy Luck Club with star Rosalind Chao in attendance.
  • The Harvard Film Archive (note the new, faster address, although the website looks pretty much the way it did before) wraps up their Documentary Educational Resource, 50 Years Later series on Friday with two presentations: "Living at Risk: The Story of a Nicaraguan Family" & "The Phans of Jersey City" (16mm) at 7pm and Sailing a Sinking Sea (shown with 16mm short "Blue, A Tlingit Odyssey") at 9:15pm. $5 gets you a 35mm matinee of Jurassic Park on Saturday, and they wrap up the quick Alice Rohracher retrospective with her debut feature, Corpo Celeste, on 35mm that evening. They also finish Bergman 100 with a 35mm print of From the Life of Marionettes on Sunday afternoon, and start an Albertina Carri series at 7pm with Géminis on 35mm film. They have a free screening of Xu Bing's Dragonfly Eyes on Monday evening, with Xu delivering a lecture at Radcliffe the next afternoon.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts is almost all about Let the Devil In: 50 Years of British Horror this week, screening Don't Look Now (Friday/Saturday), The Omen (Friday/Wednesday), Symptoms (Saturday), Peeping Tom (Sunday), and The Innocents (Sunday/Wednesday). They also have an 11am show of 306 Hollywood on Saturday
  • This week's Emerson Bright Lights presentations (in the Bright Screening room at the Paramount) are documentary Recovery Boys with director Elaine McMillion Sheldon on Tuesday and the terrific First Reformed (with faculty discussion) on Thursday. Free and open to the public as always.
  • The Regent Theatre welcomes Victoria Price to talk about her father on Sunday afternoon, with her presentation "Vincent Price: Master of Menace, Lover of Life" including a screening of The Abominable Dr. Phibes. They also serve as a stop for the Women's Adventure Film Tour on Thursday.
  • The Capitol plays the Lon Chaney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame on Thursday, accompanied by Jeff Rapsis on the organ.
  • Cinema Salem continues "The History of Halloween" and Mandy while also continuing to host Salem Horror Fest through Sunday (it's "Weekend of the Witch"), though if you want more, animator Ben Wickey hosts two of his shorts at The House of the Seven Gables (including one by that name) on Tuesday

Busy weekend - a niece's birthday party, important baseball, and an annoying detour to Texas for work - so I don't know how much I'll get to. Probably Bad Times at the El Royale and maybe The Hate U Give, Free Solo, and/or All About Nina. Plus, I should probably watch the original Halloween before the new one comes out next week.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

This Week in Tickets: 1 October 2018 - 7 October 2018

Averaging a movie a day even with playoff baseball going on, the sort of schedule that kind of makes my scrapbook grateful they didn't send my a physical ticket.

This Week in Tickets

It was a good week to catch up with some of the stuff that has been getting good reviews, starting with BlacKkKlansman, the new one from Spike Lee. I liked it quite a bit - not quite the live wire of Malcolm X (which played the Somerville's 70mm/Widescreen fest a week earlier), but covering a lot of the same territory and winding up another reminder that Lee is ambitious and with some art-house-y impulses but makes awfully entertaining movies. Tuesday night I was considering splurging for my birthday, and then the fancy theater goes and charges $5 a ticket for their deluxe screen. Not strictly necessary for A Simple Favor, which never really has a handle on how to be properly nuts.

Also this week: A lot of Agile sprint planning at work, which meant a lot of time listening to other people talk on the phone - and on top of that, it got shifted to central time at the last minute, pushing the day an hour later, making it harder to get to certain things downtown. Fortunately for me, the Imax 3D preview of Venom was at a convenient time on Thursday and I kind of liked it. Not a good movie by any means, but fun.

Friday night was for watching the first game of the ALDS on TV (win!), which set Saturday up for a sort-of double feature of Chinese movies about faking something for greed: Hello, Mrs. Money and Project Gutenberg were both worth anticipating and catching, though a comedy from the Mahua troupe and a Chow Yun-fat action-thriller are an unusual pairing. It's not really a double feature if there's two hours between the end of one movie and the start of the next, I suppose, but that's how AMC scheduled it. Kind of a nuisance, that.

The second let out just in time to get me to Fenway Park for Game 2, and, well, that one wasn't nearly as fun as Games 1 & 3 for a Red Sox fan (not going to jinx Game 4 as I watch it). Let's move on.

I actually had a completely different plan for Sunday than what actually happened, planning on a double feature at the Coolidge, but when I made it to Park Street, the next C train was going to be 12 minutes and that doesn't get me to the theater on time, so I checked out what was playing nearby and decided to check out Monsters and Men, which got better on the train ride but wasn't necessarily grabbing me in the room. It was short enough that getting out to Brookline for Free Solo shouldn't have been an issue, but either they sold out screen #2 or I was confused about which movie was playing on what screen when, so I turned around and decided I might as well see something else, going for The House with a Clock in Its Walls, which is kind of a blast, though I don't know if my nieces would go for it, since it's actually scary at points. I am enjoying this run of Cate Blanchett having fun in big movies.

Next week should be slower between baseball and a belated birthday party for my niece, but I'll be updating my Letterboxd when I do see something.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 1 October 2018 in Landmark Kendall Square #3 (first-run, DCP)

Spike Lee does not have the patience for subtlety these days, if he ever did, and I wish more people were as entertaining when just laying it out there as he is. He makes this unlikely but based-on-actual-events story into a blend of police procedural and absurdist humor, because it almost has to be: Racists are dangerous and ridiculous in equal measure, and you can't confront them unless you acknowledge that.

For all that he hammers this home in the plainest possible terms, there's something just as impressive about the way he takes his time in some ways. He lets people speak even when the speech could be compacted, and lets other scenes play out to get a sense of who people are when their guard is down. There's pure beauty to Ron and Patrice and a whole club not just dancing but singing along, casual and heartfelt community. He ties a century and a half of white supremacist violence together, but resists making it monolithic. He's got style but isn't showy this time around.

It's interesting for me to see this just a week or so after Malcolm X, and not just because Lee was really smart to get Denzel Washington to clone himself right around that time so that Denzel 2.0 (going by the name "John David") can star in this one. There's a lot of the same thoughts kicking around both, and the flag motifs on the credits feel like bookends. Lee has maybe mellowed a bit in the intervening quarter-century, but he's still sharp and focused as anybody.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 4 October 2018 in AMC Assembly Row #1 (first-run, Imax-branded 3D)

Venom is a pretty dumb movie, but maybe it's just the right sort of stupid. It doesn't over-complicate things, and that's a strength more often than it's a weakness. It's weirder and funnier than it might have been, and seems self-aware without being too winky and silly.

And it's got Tom Hardy, who may not be the surly Eddie Brock of the comics to the point where the characters basically just have the same name, but who makes this one a fairly likable loser and does some pretty darn good physical comedy. He's not necessarily as good as, say, Bruce Campbell or Jackie Chan doing the same sort of thing, but he'll remind you of them. It's not typical action/superhero material - and it's much more slaptick than this character usually given - but fits well with relatively modest ambitions and is always entertaining.

Somewhere along the line, the filmmakers decided to play the symbiotes as being kind of goofy rather than just dark and badass, and that may not sit well with some fans (you can feel the movie steering away from its horror potential fairly often). It works for me, though, especially since the effects guys seem to be consciously referencing Todd Macfarlane's art style at times, and that tends to come across as exaggerated and over-noodly now even if it was the height of cool back in the 80s and 90s. That seems to be the filmmakers' approach throughout, recognizing just how quickly this style of comics became self-parody and maybe not leaning into it so hard that the fans feel attacked, but letting the silly stuff get a laugh.

It's a bit of a mess, the sort of thing where it's almost certain that nobody involved really feels like they made the movie they wanted to make. It uses Michelle Williams too much and Jenny Slate too little, alternates delightfully goofy action sequences with others cut to ribbons trying to avoid an R rating. It's kind of entertaining anyway, somehow, and probably not in a way that could have been achieved deliberately.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls

* * * (out of four)
Seen 8 October 2018 in AMC Boston Common #4 (first-run, DCP)

For all the jokes made about gorehound Eli Roth directing a kids' movie, The House with a Clock in Its Walls works as well as it does because he's not actually resisting all his horror-movie impulses as much as you might think. This thing has done genuinely creepy demons and disturbing moments, and that willingness to let his young audience have a nightmare or two is kind of terrific. A few genuine thrills are good for a kid, and I'm not sure anyone at a major Hollywood studio has really gone for it in this way since Something Wicked This Way Comes.

But, don't misunderstand, this is still a very kid-friendly movie, with Jack Black Jack Blacking it up in every possible scene, CGI creatures that allow for the cleanest possible poop jokes, and charmingly goofy fantasy and slapstick. It's got a wonderfully dry Cate Blanchett who both classes the whole thing up and plays directly to the eight-year-old kids in the audience. It never gets scary or self-aware in a way that leaves the kids behind.

It's a weird combination, enough that I may have to retire my jokes about what Takashi Miike directing kids' movies is like because a major studio has gone and done it, and rough in spots (Roth doesn't really know how to use effects for wonder as well as he does for action or scares). But it's fun, and things working when they really shouldn't only makes the more delightful.

A Simple Favor
Hello, Mrs. Money
Project Gutenberg
Yankees 6, Red Sox 2
Monsters and Men
The House with a Clock in Its Walls

Monsters and Men

This wound up being a second choice - the signs at Park Street made it clear that I wouldn't get to Coolidge in time for what was playing there, so let's see what's playing at this T stop - but certainly a better one than most movies chosen based on "what's playing right now". It was also basically free - MoviePass is one of the presenters, and they're counting it as a bonus movie, so if you haven't abandoned that program yet, you can catch it without it counting against your three for the month.

Coincidentally, the last time I used that card/app was for BlacKkKlansman, and watching this one in relatively close proximity, I've gone from believing that John David Washington is a secret clone that Spike Lee had made from Denzel's DNA so that he could have the same star forever to thinking that there's just a strong family resemblance, although it's going to take a lot for me to not see him as Denzel Washington Jr. It's sometimes not so much that they look and sound a lot alike at times, but that the son has picked up some of his father's mannerisms, like how his character sounds when irritated here. That's no bad thing, though - there are far worse legacies to live up to!

I do kind of wonder if my feelings of ambivalence watching this had to do with the fact that a trailer for The Hate U Give played before it, which appears to cover the same subject (community fallout from a police shooting) but with a more specific, singular perspective. If nothing else, curiosity about that being the case has put that movie a little higher on my list for this weekend.

Monsters and Men

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 7 October 2018 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run, digital)

I'm trying to get better about not judging movies exclusively on how effectively they tell a story, since the medium can do more, as well as just trying to absorb when shown things outside my own experience, no matter what the medium. It's a hard habit to break, or even bend, because Monsters and Men still had me fidgeting, like there's not much to it. It feels well-intentioned but unfocused, like the filmmakers had an idea but not a hook for the audience.

It doesn't open in a bad situation, introducing the audience to Manny Ortega (Anthony Ramos), a street hustler in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of New York City, although he's trying for something a little more stable so he can provide for his girlfriend Marisol (Jasmine Cephas Jones) and their daughter. He's either in the right or wrong place at the wrong time when he sees some cops arresting Darius "Big D" Larson (Samel Edwards) while he's selling individual cigarettes, recording the incident on his phone and racing home when the shot is fired. He knows he'll have the police on his back if he posts it, but Big D was a neighborhood fixture and it wasn't right. The fallout from that decision is felt by everyone in the neighborhood, including Officer Dennis Williams (John David Washington), an African-American policeman in the 74th precinct who knows full well that not everyone is treated equally and has a hard time reconciling his ideals and practical considerations. Then there's Zyric (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a high-school baseball phenom who walks past the memorial to Big D on the way home, and while he knows it's probably wise to keep his head down, it eats at him, until he asks an activist classmate (Chanté Adams) what he can do to help.

Each of these stories takes up roughly a third of the movie, with writer/director Reinaldo Marcus Green moving from one point of view to another with hand-offs that emphasize how relatively isolated these stories are from each other (although it's also worth mentioning that both changes in perspective involve Dennis as a passive observer, something of a quiet indictment of how much good cops can or will do). It allows all three protagonists to take center stage for a while, all displaying an impressive ability to let the audience see their minds work. Anthony Ramos is especially interesting to watch as Manny; he seems more in flux from the start, his charisma and confidence tested in ways that the other characters aren't, hints of panic making him feel a little more threatened and unpredictable. It's a more active sort of performance, admittedly, than John David Washington and Kelvin Harrison Jr., but Washington does good work as the cop who oscillating between quietly and tensely holding his tongue, while Harrison and Chanté Adams capture the cool determination of the new generation of activist teens.

Full review at EFC.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Chinese Counterfeits: Hello, Mrs. Money and Project Gutenberg

I was initially a bit grumpy when looking at the bookings for this weekend's Chinese movies, surprised at how few screenings there were for Project Gutenberg, which has been getting trailers for a while and which was looking like Chow Yun-fat doing what he does best (crime), compared to something I literally had never heard of until Wednesday in Hello, Mrs. Money. It made a little more sense when I saw the cast list for that other movie - it's the latest from the Mahua troupe, who made the very funny hits Goodbye, Mr. Loser and Never Say Die, both of which had Chinese National Memorial Day premieres as well. Yeah, bet on that one, I guess.

That doesn't necessarily seem to be how attendance worked out, though - the 12:30pm show of Hello, Mrs. Money was not bad for a matinee, but Project Gutenberg was in one of the 'plex's largest screens and was packed enough that latecomers wound up sitting in front of me, which isn't always easy to do given my fondness for using my peripheral vision. Sure, it may have been packed because there were fewer screenings (just 4:30pm and 9pm), but still, it's been a while since I've seen Chinese movies this crowded, and the theater would be putting an extra show on the schedule for Sunday.

Funny thing: I wound up liking the surprise more than the one I'd been anticipating for some time. Both have their flaws, but Hello is better at plowing past them while Gutenberg just lets them stick out until they'll be kind-of-explained. On the other hand, I'm kind of curious to see Gutenberg again - it may be an obvious bid to get the audience to see just how many hints they've dropped about an unreliable narrator, but that doesn't mean it's not effective.

Li Cha De Gu Ma (Hello, Mrs. Money)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 6 October 2018 in AMC Boston Common #9 (first-run, digital)

Hello, Mrs. Money is a classic cross-dressing farce, but it comes by that pedigree honestly - it's adapted from Brandon Thomas's stage comedy Charley's Aunt first performed in London back in 1892 and Broadway soon after. That its translation and adaptation from British play to Chinese play to Chinese movie to subtitling for worldwide release means that "Cha Li" gets referred to as "Richard" throughout the film is an amusing bit of extra trivia, but it's kind of fitting - the movie tends to find something funny even when it makes weird or screwy choices.

"Richard" (Song Yang) has come to Aman Island in Malaysia for a splashy engagement party where he'll officially propose to Lulu, the boss's daughter whom he's been seeing for five years. She's not enthusiastic, but father Andy Wang is having money trouble, and Richard has a rich but reclusive aunt who could make that go away. Also strapped for cash is Mr. Liang, the mentally unstable father of Richard's best friend Jerry (Allen Ai Lun), who also happens to be married to Lulu's sister Lily. He's ready to swim with the sharks so his son can get the insurance, but Jerry persuades him to try something else - there is a rich widow on the way, after all. That she apparently isn't could be disaster for everyone except maybe Huang Canghai (Huan Cailun), Jerry's assistant who takes the opportunity to crash in Aunt Monica's fabulous suite - until he's discovered and persuaded to impersonate the seldom-seen woman. This would probably be a bad plan even without the wild card where Monica (Celina Jade) has come ashore and disguised herself as a hotel maid to find out if Richard and Lulu are for real or just after her money.

It's a dumb plan, but it's the sort of dumb plan that makes for good farce, necessitating funny voices, trying to take a phone call from the other person in the room, being in two places at once, very much unwanted romantic attention, situations that look compromising because they're seen at the exact wrong moment, and all that good stuff. Writers Qian Chenguang and Wu Jinrong do an impressive job of taking all those building-block scenes and figuring out the way that they can stack up without collapsing, letting director Wu Yuhan and the talented cast play most of the movie fairly straight-ahead rather than twisting things around to keep them from falling apart. Sure, this story isn't exactly what one might call likely, but the unspoken assumption that people believe what they want or need to believe does a lot of work, as does just not having characters who could mess things up in a scene and letting the audience fill in why, if they care, rather than contorting things in a way that makes the viewer work.

Full review at EFC.

Mo seung (Project Gutenberg)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 6 October 2018 in AMC Boston Common #14 (first-run, digital)

Movie stars don't exactly age just like the rest of us - even the ones who don't go in for surgery have personal trainers and agents and paparazzi and on-screen persona who in some way give them a harder push one way or another than those of us who only gradually realize that we're not quite the way we see ourselves in our heads anymore. Some go gray and bulk up to become on-screen dads, some defy the aging process and keep doing what they're doing, and some, like one-time international superstar Chow Yun-fat, lose the soft features that made them baby-faced anti-heroes and become lean, weathered villains. It's a transformation that suits him for most of Project Gutenberg, although the rest of the film doesn't catch up to his comfort level until it's almost too late.

Chow plays Ng Fuk Seung, the head of an international counterfeiting syndicate known to law enforcement in the late 1990s only as "Painter", whose "Superdollar" is a replica of the U.S. hundred-dollar bill that is uncannily good despite the impressive new security measures that were added with its recent redesign. He's unknown in large part because everyone who worked with him has wound up dead, except for Lee Man (Aaron Kwok Fu-sing), currently rotting in a Thai prison, and he doesn't want to talk for fear Painter will kill them all. But Hong Kong detective Ho Wai-lan (Catherine Chu Ka-yee) is determined, and then there's Yuen Man (Zhang Jing-chu), an internationally famous artist whose fiancé was killed by Ng (as was Ho's boyfriend and colleague, in the same incident), but who was close to Lee back when they were starving artists in Vancouver and so offers to post bail. So, he begins there…

… and it's a strange, somewhat disjointed story that writer/director Felix Chong Man-keung has Lee Man tell, one which starts with art criticism and then dives into deep, likely fictitious detail about how one goes about counterfeiting a hundred-dollar bill before getting back to Painter's apparent obsession with making sure that Lee Man can reunite with Yuen Man, and then, just as the story is starting to catch up to the bloody events that made Painter a high-priority target all around the world, the story gets another wrinkle that is injected so casually that it's fair for the viewer to wonder if they missed something important in the middle of Painter's weird commentary on whether Lee has what it takes to be the leading man of his own story. It's a script that often seems much too crowded for its own good, with too much detail in some places and not enough in others.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, October 05, 2018

Fantasia 2018 Catchup 01: Madeline's Madeline, Hanagatami, Unity of Heores, True Fiction, Buffalo Boys, Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura, Cold Skin, Relaxer, and Heavy Trip

Okay, this is taking longer than expected, but, to be fair, there is a lot of other stuff coming out that needs/wants writing up. Maybe I'll pick up speed writing while watching baseball and as it gets cooler out, but I really wasn't expecting to have 30-odd Fantasia movies left at the start of October.

On the other hand, I do sometimes wonder as I write these how much other people writing about film would like the luxury of being able to file their reviews without deadlines, with just a first draft and notes to go on. It's hard, sure, but it also makes you focus on what about the film is actually memorable. Plus, first impressions are important and true, but I found myself more impressed with some of the movies I didn't much like - Madeline's Madeline, Hanagatami, and Relaxer upon further reflection. I don't actually like any of the three now, understand, but it was easier to break down what was interesting about them, worth taking away.

I did like Heavy Trip, though, a lot, and am glad to see it's playing the Coolidge this weekend, although with two midnight shows in the screening room, not a lot of people will see it. Sell them out if you can, maybe it'll get another chance next week.

Madeline's Madeline

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 1 August 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

Well, that's me done with Josephine Decker. I don't want to be. There are some terrific performances to be found in this movie, a pretty decent core story, and moments that feel like something approaching self-awareness. As with her previous work, I can see great talent and potential there. I want to say nice things. And the thing of it is, if I hadn't come into this movie with a chip on my shoulder about certain things from her previous films, I'd probably be a lot more impressed, although it's not like the things that put that chip there wouldn't still be big negatives.

Things start with 16-year-old Madeline (Helena Howard) doing an exercise in an experimental theater program. She likes theater more than school, and it seems to be a good outlet for the things that had previously found her in psychiatric care. It's a situation that leads to her mother Regina (Miranda July) being rather high-strung, afraid of a relapse but worried about her daughter being swallowed by something she doesn't understand. Madeline, then, naturally gravitates toward Evangeline (Molly Parker), the troupe's leader who becomes fascinated by Madeline's story, moving a version of it closer to the center of the play that she's developing.

You can understand that; Madeline is a fascinating character given impressive life by Helena Howard. She has different faces for Madeline to present to her peers, her family, and her theater friends, but she connects them all with a desire to belong that both can have her shine dazzlingly bright when she sees a chance to connect and strongly suggests how dark her thoughts can get without actually showing her at her worst. She never shies from how Madeline is very much an adolescent, with both her impulsive and calculated actions showing a certain immaturity, so that even when she realizes something crucial and changes direction, it still feels like something where the consequences aren't completely considered; it's the actions of someone who is very bright but also troubled and who, even when she's figuring things out and focused, is still raw and clearly inexperienced. There can be a tendency to elevate the performances of young people that demonstrate maturity, but Howard's ability to show complexity without sacrificing Madeline being a teenager is something to watch for.

Full review at EFC.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 14 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

When Hanagatami starts making the next phases of its rounds - the film societies and art-house tours before the small specialty label gives it a home video or streaming release - take note of its length, and fortify yourself properly. As much as there is plenty striking in this intended farewell work by the director of House, and plenty to discuss, it is very much the sort of film that had festival-goers who saw it nodding to each afterward and agreeing that, whatever else it was, it was definitely 159 minutes long.

It follows the adventures of teenager Toshihiko Sakakiyama (Shunsuke Kubozuka) in a Japanese coastal town during the 1930s, before the United States had entered the war and it was mostly a somewhat distant concern. He has just arrived from Amsterdam, where his parents remain, and only really knows Mina Ema (Honoka Yahagi), a sickly girl whom it has been assumed he would marry since they were young. At school, he is making new acquaintances - class clown Aso (Tokio Emoto), monk-like Kira (Keishi Nagatsuka), and ready-to-enlist Ukai (Shinnosuke Mitsushima) - and it turns out that Mina's friends AKine (Hirona Yamazaki) and Chitose (Mugi Kadowaki) know the boys as well. And, indeed, there may be other darker forces in this quiet town besides the fact that most adult men are away at war.

Hanagatami is every bit as gorgeous as you might expect from Nobuhiko Obayashi, the director of not just House but a number of less-obviously insane but painterly productions he has made since - most notably, Bound for the Fields, the Mountains, and the Seacoast, another WWII-set nostalgia piece. There's not a shot in this picture that isn't exquisite, and he's long proven himself quite adept at using both location and obviously-constructed rooms to create settings that feel simultaneously genuine and dreamlike. He's careful, here, not to drown the viewer in fond nostalgia, but rather to hint at how Toshihiko and Mina see the world from a bit of an remove. There is no special innocence or clarity here, but there is beauty as well as horror, even if there is more of the latter than initially expected.

Full review at EFC.

Unity of Heores

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 14 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

That Unity of Heroes was made for a Chinese streaming service is no big surprise when you watch it; it's a movie that feels like it was put together by an algorithm, looks just good enough for a high-definition screen but maybe not a full-size cinema, and is a revival (of sorts) of something with a loyal fanbase. As with many American internet productions, it's familiar enough to be comfortable most of the time with a few scenes that nevertheless make it worth the time.

Vincent Zhao Wenzhou returns to the role of Wong Fei-hung, the legendary 19th Century martial-arts master he played in Once Upon a Time in China IV & V as well as a follow-up TV show from the same producers, but this is not an official sequel, and probably legally can't be. But it should be familiar enough - Wong is respected enough to not seek confrontation with newly arrived kung fu master Wu (Michael Tong Man-lung), which leaves the latter feeling a bit slighted. Other recent arrivals include Miss Mo Shijun (Wei Ni), a young in-law of Wong's who has been in Europe long enough to be out of place, and Duke Vlad, who has opened a new, Western-style hospital in town - but what is going on underneath?

The material is nothing that fans of the genre aren't familiar with, in many cases close enough to previous Wong Fei-hung movies to make this feel like a remake. It's clumsier, at times - the filmmakers can't quite make Master Wu work as Wong's peer the way that the best rival teachers do when these movies are working, and a mainland production today is going to have a different take on the increasing Western influence on China at the time than a 1990s Hong Kong production (a sharper anti-colonial attitude is not a bad thing, although it does often result in Mo being played more as a fool than a foil). The filmmakers also tend to promise more of a tall tale than they deliver: This was the second movie in a row at the festival that felt like it could have been much improved by the vampires that were clearly hinted at (the Evil White Guy is even named "Vlad"), and you don't establish exploding heads early to not have them at the climax.

Full review at EFC.

Sal-in-so-seol (True Fiction)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 14 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The hardest part of writing this sort of thriller must be hitting the point where you feel like there's enough, the point where paying attention has been rewarded but where the audience has not yet said "screw this latest reversal, it doesn't matter, because none of what we've been told matters!" True Fiction unfortunately blows way past that second point in its last act, although by then it's established strength enough that it can avoid losing some.

It starts with Lee Kyung-suk (Oh Man-seok), an unassuming-looking guy who has been tapped by the local political machine as the next mayor of Daechung, an he certainly seems to fit the part: Young, telegenic, a loyal party member, married to novelist Yeom Ji-eun (Jo Eun-ji), who just happens to be the daughter of Senator Yeom Jung-gil (Kim Hak-cheol). It's Jung-gil who tasks him with transporting some money to the senator's lake house, which should be easy enough, except that he decides to make it a sort of working vacation by taking mistress Lee Ji-young (Lee Na-ra) along in his wife's car, and being distracted enough to hit a dog on the way. The dog, it turns out, belongs to Kim Soon-tae (Ji Hyun-woo), who introduces himself as the property's caretaker, demanding restitution on top of making it more difficult to carry out Kyung-suk's original job.

The first half of the movie is delightful, a rapid-fire series of selfish decisions blowing up combined with the delight of someone having got one over on people who really deserve a comeuppance. It's just as fun as it is suspenseful, serving up a satisfying slow burn that promises an enjoyable explosion. The soundtrack is playful, the audience feels like things are on their level, and what happens next could be anything for human reasons; you can see people trying to figure out how to get up on the other guy. Writer/director Kim Jin-mook gets a constant string of laughs, and if you maybe sneer a bit while giggling, it's okay Kyung-suk deserves it.

Full review at EFC.

Buffalo Boys

* * * (out of four)
Seen 14 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: Action!, DCP)

Buffalo Boys is as loud and action-packed as you would hope for an Indonesian western to be considering just how enjoyably bone-crunching the country's bigger recent action movies have turned out. It goes big on the martial arts, gunfighting, and melodrama, and while it doesn't quite build itself into an all-time great of the genre, it's close to exactly what you would expect from that particular fusion.

It opens in the American west, circa 1860, where it turns out that at least a few of the "Chinese" fellows building the railroad actually hail from Java, and a spot of trouble involving a fight on a train has Arana (Tio Pakusadewo) thinking that maybe it's time he takes his nephews back to the land they haven't seen since they were children, their parents killed while fighting against the Dutch invaders. The man responsible, Van Trach (Reinout Bussemaker), is still there and running things, so brothers Jamar (Ario Bayu) and Suwo (Yoshi Sudarso) revenge on their mind, although they get a little distracted along the way, making their way to a village from which Van Trach is extorting tribute - which, naturally, include meeting a couple young ladies, pragmatic Sri (Mikha Tambayong) and rebellious Kiona (Pevita Eileen Pearce) - and learning there is more at stake than just their vengeance.

There are, admittedly, times when it could probably do to move it along; the story is simple enough that even with that prologue in California, some flashbacks, and the occasional side trip, director Mike Wiluan and co-writer Raymond Lee still have to pad it out a bit. Even taking that into account, once the brothers arrive in town, they seem to spend a lot of time waiting for an opportunity to get near Van Trach to present itself rather than really doing anything. There's a mean, cutthroat period before the final big action sequence that seems to be killing time rather than moving the story along.

Full review at EFC.

Destiny: Kamakura Monogatari (Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura is a cute fantasy romance that does a pretty nice job of building a magical world around its laid-back setting, but which is maybe too slight for its finale. The filmmakers never quite build up the connection between its husband and wife enough to convince us that the revealed scale and the big, epic confrontation at the end is justified. Then again, maybe asking for justification is snobby - an elaborate fantasy doesn't need earth-shattering stakes to be a big deal for those involved.

That would be writer Masakazu Isshiki (Masato Sakai) and his new wife Akiko (Mitsuki Takahata), who have come to Masakazu's home in Kamakura after a whirlwind romance in Tokyo, Akiko not having been informed that the border with the spirit world is thin to non-existent in this quaint town, so the first water imp she sees causes her to freak out. Soon she has made friends with Kin (Tamao Nakamura), who has been working for the Isshiki for decades, as well as a friendly grim reaper (Sakura Ando), although it takes a while to learn what products humans should not buy from the Night Bazaar. Masakazu, it turns out, is something of an expert on local folklore, consulting with the police when crime appears to have a supernatural element and researching the work of mysterious fantasy author Istuhiro Kataki. These connections may come in handy when a few less-friendly supernatural entities take an interest in Akiko.

Though the ultimate thrust of the plot is right there in the title, writer/director Takashi Yamazaki does not exactly push ahead with a singular focus, instead opting for an approach that likely comes from Ryohei Saigan's original manga, an episodic structure where smaller adventures have some useful bit of lore buried in them that will prove useful later. The main issue is that the most important ingredient, the True Perfect Love between the Isshikis that will inspire a unauthorized trip to the afterlife and which makes all the other romantic subplots resonate all the more, is kind of taken for granted. The audience never sees the love at first sight and courtship that brings Akiko to Kamakura, and much of the first half of the movie has Masakazu treating Akiko as something less than an equal, with unexplained rules about which rooms in the house she must not enter and the like. They're likable people, but this is the sort of movie and town that is filled with likable people, and this couple has a hard time becoming indivisible rather than individually nice.

Full review at EFC.

Cold Skin

* * * (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Cold Skin is maybe not quite as clever as it could be, but it's a nicely chilly/claustrophobic piece that holds up with two or three characters at a time - although its horror does involve a horde or ten. It's got a more literary feel than many horror movies, and the literature is that of a different era to boot. It does not always live up to its ambitions, but the attempt is usually interesting.

That era would be the early twentieth century, 1914, when a scientist named Friend (David Oakes) has accepted a post as "weather observer" on an Antarctic island, with months of recording the winds and tides and no company but the keeper of the lighthouse. That man, Gruner (Ray Stevenson), does not seem particularly friendly; he has not only decided not to greet his new neighbor but has made his tower a fortress. Why soon becomes clear, as an army of amphibious humanoids overruns Friend's station, forcing him into the lighthouse and an uneasy coexistence with Gruner. Which is to say, Gruner and Aneris (Aura Garrido), one of the creatures whom Gruner has captured, dressed in clothes, and treated as, well, a bit more than a pet.

But let us not use the euphemisms that Friend might have, should this story have been told in true Victorian fashion as entries in his diary - Gruner is having sex with that merwoman, even though he refuses to say that she is more than an animal. It allows the filmmakers (and, presumably, original novelist Albert Sánchez Piñol) to mash a number of high-minded themes together with traditional romantic structures in interesting ways, as the audience's growing belief that Aneris is, in fact, a thinking creature allows the hint of a love triangle to form, and although Friend is clearly preferable in that arrangement than Gruner, it also brings in all the baggage of colonial powers expanding into areas they see as populated by "savages" - the Gruners are clear in their desire to exploit or exterminate, sure, but the Friends can be at best patronizing, their professed love a chance to demonstrate their professed nobility and open-mindedness, which can certainly disappear when the natives decide they want no invaders on their island.

Full review at EFC.


* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

There is, I suppose, a good movie to be made about someone so dedicated to not being labeled a quitter that he just doesn't get off the couch until he has completed some sort of challenge, no matter how isolated it ultimately makes him, but this isn't it. It's just nasty and gross, never finding enough of its poor slob's ingenuity or enough pathos to make watching him interesting.

It starts in 1999, with Abbie (Joshua Burge) being bullied into a variation on the "drink a whole lot of milk" challenge by his brother Cam (David Dastmalchian) while playing Nintendo; it ends about the way you'd think. Cam soon has another challenge for him: Finish Pac-Man, through the allegedly-impossible level 256, on the Nintendo Entertainment System. No leaving the couch until he's done! There's money on the line, and Abbie doesn't have much else going on, so he calls a friend (Andre Hyland) to bring him some orange soda and the magazine which should give him all the tips and tricks he needs, but otherwise, he's mostly oblivious to the rest of the world.

And… That's pretty much it. The film continues on with various episodes as Abbie has the occasional visitor or faces new challenges in trying to get by, and there's an interesting sort of absurdity in play - the situation becomes desperate and disgusting, though not to quite the extent that it logically should be given the amount of time said to pass. Some of these bits have the nugget of a good sketch of sorts inside them, and it's probably better that writer/director Joel Potrykus is more inclined to see there is nowhere left for a scene to go and just fade out before starting the next one than he is to keep milking it, but there's not much that's truly inspired. Though individual bits have an underground comix sort of feel to them - dialogue either absent or profane as Potrykus pounds away at making sure every moment is gross and nasty - the movie is built to drag: Even if Abbie realizes this whole thing is stupid, he doesn't have the will to break out of it.

Full review at EFC.

Hevi reissu (Heavy Trip)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Though the "trip" part of the movie only includes a fiercely funny last act, that's no disappointment; this Finnish heavy-metal comedy is pretty much a delight throughout, mostly because our never feels like its characters being both big metalheads and lovable dorks is any sort of conflict that has to be resolved. The filmmakers are well aware that some parts of this type of music (and almost any hobby) are kind of ridiculous even if very serious, but doesn't disrespect it for that.

Turo Moilanen (Johannes Holopainen) and his friends have been playing metal together for ten years, but have never actually gone so far as to actually book a gig and play for anyone else. An orderly at a retirement/rest home by day, his bandmates are Lotvonen (Samuli Jaskio), the guitar player whose father's slaughterhouse provides a fitting, sound-proof practice area; Pasi (Max Ovaska), a librarian and bass player with a perfect memory searching for an original sound; and Jynkky (Antti Heikkinen), the drummer who throws himself so completely into whatever he sets his mind to that he's had to have his heart restarted twice. They're practicing when the organizer of a Norwegian music festival stops in to buy some reindeer meat, giving them his card, and when Mila (Minka Kuustonen) at the flower shop misinterprets this as the boys having landed a spot at the festival, Turo kind of rolls with it, especially since Jouni (Ville Tiihonen) - a used car salesman whose easy-listening band makes him a minor celebrity in town - is also around at the time.

The lie spins out of control, but the filmmakers are smart about this - though it's exposed a little later than perhaps it should be, it also doesn't last so long that the audience ever starts to turn on Turo. Part of it is that Jouni is the type of guy who can get under your skin without being truly evil, while Turo's impulse to impress Mila is initially more subconscious than deliberate, and the lack of ill intent helps a lot. On top of that, there's no denying that it motivates these guys to actually do something rather than be timid. It's the sort of storytelling that looks kind of cliched and not just effortless in a bad way but is actually just smart enough to keep things moving and let the filmmakers hang a lot of funny bits on the framework.

Full review at EFC.