Friday, November 30, 2018


I must admit to being kind of annoyed that Mirai is apparently getting the "three nights over a week and a half" treatment - Mamoru Hosoda's movies have been as reliably good as you get these days, this one is family-friendly, and I kind of refuse to believe that a market that kept Your Name in theaters for a month and has one of the country's largest anime conventions won't support a regular booking on top of that. It sure seems like it should get a week, but it sometimes seems like GKids is a little more timid than Funimation is where releases are concerned.

Still, it was crowded enough that I made sure to reserve my ticket at Fenway to make sure I got a good seat - though I frequently carp about other modernizations at theaters, I'm pretty neutral on reserved seating, not caring if a theater has it but not above making sure I get to be front-and-center-ish. Not a bad seat, but some early shots where the camera was panning over the city got fuzzy, and I wonder a bit if it's just panning too fast, something which always happens with digital, or if the Fathom presentation is something less than a proper DCP. It's also worth noting that Regal's added a whole bunch of menu options since I was there last. Maybe not as many as it looks - it's not that much harder to have 10 kinds of burgers than one - but I was squinting to read it as the screens above the concession stand refreshed (maybe I'll have to use my vision coverage next year). I found it amusing that they asked me what I wanted for a side with my pizza, and then what dressing I wanted for my fries. They did not ask whether I wanted, say, bacon bits sprinkled in my honey mustard, so it apparently only goes so far.

So, here we are, with two more days scheduled (subtitled on the 5th and dubbed on the 8th). Go see it, because it's a sweet, good-looking film that certainly creates enough of a delightful fantasy world that you'll want to get pulled into it rather than see it from a remove. It's niece-friendly, and may even lead them to The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.

Mirai no Mirai (Mirai)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 29 November 2018 in Regal Fenway #9 (Fathom Events, digital)

I'm guessing that a great many of us older siblings are going to watch Mirai and be amazed that our parents did not justifiably murder us. We almost certainly had it coming, even if we were toddlers at the time, and I don't know of many other movies that have focused so strongly on that particular stage of growing up, certainly not with the charm and visual whimsy that Mamoru Hosoda brings to this one.

That Hosoda is himself able to thread the needle between sympathy and awfulness is a huge part of what makes Mirai work, because 4-year-old Kun is an authentically horrifying kid not taking the arrival of his baby sister well at all, but he's drawn and animated in a way that reminds the audience that he's still learning how to act - him carefully navigating steps too big for him to use easily is actually adorable in addition to being a reminder of just how far he is from being mature. It's just enough to offset the natural inclination to ask what is wrong with him every time he does something bratty or worse, and also quietly establishes a baseline for him to grow from. One of the ways that animation can sometimes be more believable than live action is to make characters visually match going from kids to adults to seniors, but there's also a lot of difference between 4 and 5, and you maybe don't notice how much Kun's appearance and movement has changed over the course of the film until stills from the beginning run during the credits.

What makes him grow up? Well, time, but along the way Hosoda gives the family home a magical enclosed garden where the family dog can take human form and grumble about how he used to be the prince of the house, he can meet a fifteen-year-old Mirai, or follow a path that leads in the other direction to meet family members when they were younger. There's not necessarily a real-world explanation given for this, nor is one strictly necessary; I like to think the great-grandfather he meets is impossibly cool because that's how he's portrayed in the family's stories, even if it makes an earlier sequence of Kun, teen-Mirai, and human-Jukko seem unlikely (although, now that I think of it, maybe it didn't actually require reading…). It puts the story somewhere in between a fairy tale and a peek into how a small child whose brain has not yet fully grasped the difference between fantasy and reality learns and grows. It's just enough to stitch the various flights of fancy that make up the movie together, from and adult's perspective; maybe it seems a bit less cobbled-together for a kid, and I suspect this will seem more clear a second time through.

Full review at EFC.

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 30 November 2018 - 6 December 2018

The weekend after Thanksgiving, most of the multiplexes are just trying to shuffle things around, maybe give a screen or two to something because something else underperformed. But, there's still other interesting things going on if you can look.

  • For example, Apple Fresh Pond has two or three screens going for 2.0, S Shankar's sequel to 2010's Endhiran which has Amy Jackson and Akshay Kumar joining Rajinikanth in India's biggest movie ever, with 2D and 3D shows in three languages (Tamil, Telugu, and Hindi). If you want more Indian genre thrills, there is a screening of Bengali thriller Flat No. 609 on Sunday as part of Caleidoscope (more on that below).

    Another Asian star that should probably have a bit more name recognition, Ma Dong-seok (aka Don Lee), stars in Unstoppable, which looks like a pretty standard "guy demolishes the mobsters who kidnapped his wife" movie, but you absolutely want to see the guy who stole Train to Busan in that sort of thing. That's at Boston Common, which hangs onto A Cool FIsh, which is apparently a pretty big hit in China.
  • Over at The Brattle Theatre, Prospect gets a short run from Friday to Monday (it plays all week in the small room at Cinema Salem). It's the sort of sci-fi western mashup that has to overcome a small budget by running long on atmosphere and fine performances, and word has it that they do just fine on that account. On Tuesday, the Raiders of the Lost Ark in 35mm alarm goes off, with members of the Harvard Anthropology Department giving it an introduction (they do this about once a year, I'm guessing mostly because they want to watch one of the greatest adventure movies ever made). They close the week out with a special tribute to the late screenwriter William Goldman, presenting a 35mm double feature of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid & The Princess Bride on Wednesday and Thursday.
  • After a couple days of early screenings, The Favourite opens for real at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Kendall Square, and Boston Common,. It looks like maybe director Yorgos Lanthimos has harnessed his wit and fondness for absurdity into something genuinely crowd-pleasing this time around, with Olivia Colman as Queen Anne and Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone as the lifelong friend and new servant competing for her attention.

    The Coolidge continues to celebrate their namesake Award winner Michael Douglas this weekend with Fatal Attraction at midnight on Friday and Basic Instinct taking the swing shift on Saturday, both on 35mm, as well as a presentation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which he produced, on Monday evening. There's the monthly screening of The Room as well, also midnight Friday, while Saturday's other midnight is the first of four weeks of Gremlins on the big screen. A 35mm print of The Land Before Time plays as a "Science On Screen Jr." show on Saturday morning, with an introduction by paleontologist Katie Slivensky. GlobeDocs has a free screening of The Stand: How One Gesture Shook the World on Tuesday night, with directors Tom Ratcliffe & Becky Paige on hand (RSVP here).
  • The Favourite is not the only alumnus of IFFBoston's Fall Focus to open this week, as Kendall Square opens Hirokazu Kore-eda's Shoplifters, an impressive story of a makeshift family of petty criminals with a surprise or two inside. They also have a one-week booking of Becoming Astrid, which follows the early life of Astrid Lindgren, who would become known as the creator of Pippi Longstocking.
  • The big studios mostly lay low this weekend, with The Possession of Hannah Grace, a horror movie set in a morgue where something creepy may be going on with the body of a girl who died mid-exorcism, the only "major" new release, at Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere. Boston Common and South Bay give matinees on the Imax screen to Ralph Breaks the Internet, also bringing back Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween for matinees (seasonal!).

    Regal starts a series of Saturday Christmas movie matinees with The Polar Express at Fenway this weekend; Showcase counters with Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer in Revere. Fenway, Boston Common, and Revere have dubbed screenings of the new Pokemon movie ("The Power of Us") on Saturday afternoon, subtitled ones for Mamoru Hosada's charming new one Mirai on Wednesday evening, and return engagements for Burn the Stage: The Movie on Wednesday and Thursday (the K-pop doc has been huge). Fenway has 25th anniversary screenings of Sleepless in Seattle on Sunday and Wednesday, and Superman celebrating its 40th on Monday. Boston Common adds a new featurette to their 25th anniversary of Philadelphia on Saturday (man, did Tom Hanks have a year in 1993 or what?).
  • The Harvard Film Archive finishes their Tony Conrad series with a short film program on Friday evening; with a special sound performance at MIT's List Visual Arts Center on Saturday. The Early West German cinema program has an encore Friday night with a 35mm print of Chased by the Devil. Jiří Trnka, Puppet Master continues with A Midsummer Night's Dream (35mm Saturday 7pm), The Good Soldier Svejk, Parts I-III (Saturday 9pm), a $5 program of shorts at 4:30pm Sunday, and The Emperor's Nightingale (35mm Sunday 7pm); most include a short film as well. Finally, Christian Petzold visits to introduce and discuss two of his recent films - Transit on Monday and Phoenix on Tuesday.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts wraps the November schedule with their last shows of John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection and Milford Graves Full Mantis on Friday. The December schedule features New Cinema from Brazil in Vazante (Saturday), Pendular (Sunday), Rust (Sunday), and Good Manners and an Agnes Varda/Jacques Demy series that kicks off Thursday with Lola. They also welcome Gary Hustwit for a screening on his latest design-focused documentary, Rams, on Saturday; as you might guess, it focuses closely on famed designed Dieter Rams.
  • The Lexington Venue has a couple of special presentations this weekend: Locally-produced film The Mouse in the Bread plays Saturday morning, and Hindi film Turup (Checkmate) plays Thursday night as part of the Caleidoscope Indian Film Festival, which also has screenings at Fresh Pond, the Wellesley Community Center, the LTC Gallery in Lowell, and Rhode Island College.
  • Emerson's Bright Lights finishes the fall semester by welcoming 306 Hollywood directors Elan & Jonathan Bogarin to discuss their "magical realist documentary" on Tuesday and faculty discussion of Eighth Grade on Thursday. As always, it's not just for students; anyone can grab a free seat in the Paramount's screening room.
  • Friendly reminder: The "Slutcracker" burlesque takes over the big room at The Somerville Theatre starting Friday, so be ready for that crowd!

The weekend shall start with Prospect, 2.0(*), and Unstoppable; I do not see myself ever passing up 35mm Raiders; I liked Barbara and Phoenix enough that I really should see Transit; and, yeah, I'll probably go to The Favourite despite having a somewhat contentious relationship with the director's previous films. Looks like it's getting to be the last call for A Private War, so that's on the list too.

(*) How good is dubbing on Indian movies, generally? Should I be thinking Tamil-or-bust, or are Telugu/Hindi acceptable options if they fit my schedule better?

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

This Week in Tickets: 19 November 2018 - 25 November 2018

Someone dropping a whole bunch of TV that comes from one of my favorite filmmakers explains why not a whole lot of scotch tape was necessary this week:

This Week in Tickets

AMC rolled out an old-school miniseries this week - three movie-length presentations on consecutive nights, the sort of thing that used to be the bedrock of network-television event programming during sweeps periods - and the thing that grabbed my attention where this new adaptation of John le Carré's The Little Drummer Girl was that the whole thing would be directed by Park Chan-wook, who has made one English-language feature but who has mostly worked in his native South Korea, creating strong, lush thrillers, and whose willingness to go dark certainly seemed like a great fit to le Carré's realistic, amoral spy stories. The only issue, really, is that this is a pretty sizable project, built as six 55-minute episodes for the BBC, so my reaction went something like this:

Night One: Whoever decided to hook Park up with all those garish late-1970s color schemes was a genius.

Night Two: Look, cable stations, it's one thing to have an episode of Justified run long by five minutes, but if this is going to run 161 minutes every night, start it at 8pm rather than 9pm - some of us have to work weekdays!

Night Three (watched Sunday morning because of travel and such): Okay, this last chunk is pretty great, but how much of the set-up do we really need?

This thing drags a lot, and I kind of wonder how often Park has had to work in a format where runtime is so strictly defined before. There are thrillingly tense moments and a sort of meta-thread showing how carefully rehearsed and planned everything that the actress played by Florence Pugh is, which everybody from the cast to the editors pulls off every time. Pugh certainly has next-big-thing potential, given how she enlivened Outlaw King and how much everybody liked her in Lady Macbeth, and Michael Shannon is never not watchable, but Alexander Skarsgård is kind of dull in a pivotal role. A lot of the folks around them, be they Mossad or PLO, feel like TV supporting characters who would really get fleshed out well given their own subplots and maybe a spotlight episode, but this isn't that kind of TV series.

I wonder what Park and his editors would get this thing down to if told to make it a show to be watched in one sitting or six episodes that didn't have to be any given length. I'll bet it would become much more digestible.

Digestion brings us to the rest of the week, which involved heading north to Maine for Thanksgiving dinner(s), an even crazier process than it used to be because everybody has multiple places to go on different schedules. It's a fair chunk of time on the bus and in loud houses, but my extended family is great and contains many people who are very good at making pie, so it's pretty good. It needed to do laundry when I got back (I'd already purchased one pair of pants to put it off a couple days this week) and local theaters are getting stingier with 3D screenings, so plan A was abandoned and I caught the new Robin Hood on Friday night, and that's a frustrating movie - not nearly as bad as I'd feared or as good as one might hope, and the annoying thing is that having competently-constructed action would likely not have gotten in the way of making a modern Robin Hood for the resistance one single iota. Saturday, there was plenty of time to get to Ralph Breaks the Internet - that one didn't disappoint; it's probably smarter than Wreck-It Ralph even if it doesn't hit me straight in the nostalgia gland the way its predecessor did.

That left me with a comfortable amount of time to get to the Brattle Theatre for Seven Samurai, and even though it started early, that one will polish off an evening. It's still a total classic, a lot to watch on a regular basis but the sort of thing that makes me glad some theater in the area will play it on 35mm once a year or so. Keeps me from feeling the need to upgrade it to a Blu-ray. Sunday was also a 35mm Kurosawa at the Brattle evening, with a double bill of The Hidden Fortress and Throne of Blood.

Monday's The Grand Buddha+ has already gone up on my Letterboxd page, and it looks like there's a pretty busy weekend on tap.

Shichinin no Samurai (Seven Samurai)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 24 November 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Kurosawa in History, 35mm)

I don't know that I've got a whole lot to add to what I wrote the last time I saw this (or at least, the last time I wrote about it). It's such a relaxed film even though it never loses track of its ticking clock and the desperation of the peasants who feel the need to hire a team of samurai. I wonder if that's a matter of Kurosawa identifying with the samurai as much as (or more than) the villagers. He gives the common people the opening act, but once their are samurai, they start to drive the narrative, stern and patrician and wise. The practicalities of battle are presented as just how things are, and the stubborn common men who will see their homes destroyed sadly impractical. Even Toshiro Mifune's central rant about how both peasants and samurai are terribly selfish only gets rebuked through the warriors' actions, and his characters' trying to put on airs and climb above his station is the cause of many problems.

What makes this a rich movie is that I sort of came to the opposite conclusion last back in 2014 - that Kurosawa was sneakily undercutting the image of the noble samurai. It's kind of fascinating that my reaction to this film seems to seek an equilibrium - it will undercut whatever assumptions one comes in with, and does so in a way that seems honest rather than like the filmmakers trying to cover the angles, even if it's often theatrical rather than strictly realistic.

What I wrote back in March 2014

Kakushi-toride no san-akunin (The Hidden Fortress)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 November 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Kurosawa in History, 35mm)

This movie has a bit of an inflated reputation because of the clear line one can trace from it to Star Wars, both from those who love George Lucas and those who aren't inclined to give him much credit. In truth,it's a very enjoyable adventure story but also kind of flabby in spots, and perhaps doesn't stop to think as often as it could or have that many impressive action bits. It's good, because even lesser Kurosawa with Toshiro Mifune and Misa Uehara as a fiercely memorable princess is a cut above most films out there, but you can see it doesn't have enough to fill its running time.

That's part and parcel of its gimmick of being both a movie about two hard-luck peasants trying to get home from war with something to show for it and one about a samurai trying to get a princess to safety. It's a fun idea, and the film does a good job of representing both their perspectives, although seeing it the day after Seven Samurai, which seemed a bit more even-handed about it, although both seem kind of hard on the peasants compared to the nobility.

Full review at EFilmCritic (from 2010)

Kumonosu-jô (Throne of Blood)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 November 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Kurosawa in History, 35mm)

I kind of wonder how this plays to folks who don't know Macbeth. I suspect it's still a great, thrilling picture; I just wonder if not seeing where Kurosawa is following a familiar structure makes certain turns more exciting or more peculiar. I certainly found myself wishing he had abandoned the supernatural after the ghost's initial appearance, just relying on the wife as a persistent voice of doubt, even as I also wondered what this Kurosawa leaving a straight-up horror movie would be like, as the moments where he goes for that sort of atmosphere are fantastic.

There's still a lot to love here, though, from the usual pleasures of a brash, arrogant Toshiro Mifune to how Kurosawa skillfully blends the conventions of the stage with those of the cinema. This movie is Shakespearean not just in its premise but in how it uses servants as a chorus, for example, while also leaning into how Kurosawa's samurai stories often seem to take place in a post-apocalyptic hell. Scenes will often take place in fixed locations, having people report in rather than necessarily showing action, but the setting of the scene and the impressive cutting and cinematography makes sure it never feels static and boxed in

This movie could possibly do with sticking a little less close to its source (said the guy who loves Shakespeare), but given the master and the masterpiece involved, wishing for something even better seems terribly conceited.

The Little Drummer Girl
Robin Hood '18
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Seven Samurai
The Hidden Fortress / Throne of Blood

The Great Buddha+

The Great Buddha+ is a true art-house film, and has had a release that fits that - New York and Los Angeles back in January, streaming, spots at festivals and other short bookings, and heading back to theaters for an end-of-year push, presumably related to it being selected as Taiwan's Oscar submission (and maybe or maybe not related to the HFA booking it for an evening). That it was selected is kind of interesting, in that it actually played Taiwan in October 2017; the calendar for Foreign Language Film releases runs October to September - presumably an artifact of when it might take months of negotiations, work, and booking to have the film ready for a release near the ceremony - so this is kind of like a movie released in January or February hoping to be seen among the more recent entries.

Will it get an actual nomination? Odds are long for anything to make the shortlist let along the final slate of five, and I don't know how much the Academy still tends to favor the genuinely boutique items like this in that category as opposed to something with more mainstream appeal on top of being kind of fancy. I, personally, don't really love it, kind of feeling a bit disappointed considering how much distributor Cheng Cheng had been talking it up all year; they'd released a few of the more interesting movies that crossed the Pacific quickly before that.

Worth a trip to the HFA even if there was the kind of rain that destroys my cheap shoes Monday night, and I was still saddened when the host for the evening mentioned David Pendleton in her intro. It's a $5 rental on Amazon right now, and likely worth that. It's specialty, cinema that often doesn't even get the sort of booking it belongs in a city like Boston, the sort of singular thing that has a hard time breaking out.

Da fo+ (The Great Buddha+)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 November 2018 in the Harvard Film Archive (special presentation, DCP)

Huang Hsin-yao's The Great Buddha+ seems like a movie that could use a little more context to be truly appreciated outside its own region, whether by seeing how it fits in with Huang's documentary work, what it adds to his short film "The Great Buddha", or just knowing a bit more about the part of Taiwan where it takes place. Taiwan's submission for the Academy Awards is an interesting bit of work, but likely richer with a bit more background.

It makes jokes about that on occasion, as one man answers a question about his background by describing the poster hanging behind him. Huang breaks the fourth wall like that from the very start, where his narration reads out the names of the companies and producers that put the film together and returns every so often in order to make a wry comment that sometimes adds a bit more information that might not come out otherwise but just as often serves to point out the film's artifice. There's a certain value in that - being reminded that this is just a movie may keep viewers honest about just how much they've learned about this place from watching it - but these moments do threaten to get a bit cute.

The place in question is the fringes of Taichung, where Pickle (Cres Chuang) works as a night watchman at a factory that makes religious statues, with the biggest current job a Buddha that will be used in an upcoming Dharma Assembly. He passes the time with his friend Belly Button (Bamboo Chen Chu-sheng), a scavenger who collects bottles to recycle and the expired food left outside supermarkets; they can't even afford to drink. Their latest way to pass the time is to watch footage from the dashcam from Pickle's boss's car, a weird combination of prosaic shots out the windshield and the sound of various young women performing fellatio on him. One of those women, Feng Ju Yeh (Ting Kuo-lin), was waiting for Kevin (Leon Dai) outside the factory, but they don't see her again until they're looking at more footage later, and then… Well, what can they do? The rich and connected have all the power.

Full review at EFC.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Fantasia 2018 Catchup 02: Being Natural, Neomanila, I Have a Date with Spring, The Vanished, Hurt, Under the Silver Lake, People's Republic of Desire, Cam, and Kasane

This is taking embarrassingly long - 9 reviews since the first catch-up post almost two months ago is a crappy pace, but it's been a busy year and there aren't enough people on eFilmCritic covering mainstream films, so I feel weirdly obligated. Good thing my notes and Letterboxd first drafts are holding up well so far. Looks like end-of-year is going to be an optimistic target.

Of course, if some stuff keeps getting pushed out, that might not be so bad. Under the Silver Lake, for instance, was going to come out during the summer, then got pushed to December, but now is scheduled for 19 April 2019, which may be a whole year on the shelf, which feels like it must be frustrating for all involved. Still, that's not the only one with a release coming about right now - People's Republic of Desire starts making its way into theaters on 30 November, with a stop at Boston's Brattle Theatre on 11 December, with guests present; Cam has already popped up on Netflix, which I guess is a fair place for it.

Being Natural

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, digital)

Before it takes a turn for the weird, Being Natural is kind of a low-key charmer, playing as a group of guys in late middle age growing closer, even though those bonds are not exactly of the strongest material. It's pastoral but not over-romanticized, as these things can sometimes be - indeed, not doing so is a good chunk of the point - enough that the satire can perhaps be missed right up until filmmaker Tadashi Nagayama pulls out the sledgehammer.

It introduces late-middle-aged Taka (Yota Kawase) as a bongo-playing oddball, acting as caretaker to his ailing uncle, which gives him a bed to sleep in and a little money from his extended family who don't exactly want to take on that responsibility themselves. It's the kind of arrangement that by its nature can't last forever, and when the old man dies, Taka goes to work at the family's fishing pond with his cousin Mitsuaki (Shoichiro Tanigawa) and their friend Sho (Tadahiro Tsuru), whose market was put out of business by a new supermarket, and things seem nice. Except the train from Tokyo has just disgorged the Kurihara family - husband Keigo (Kanji Tsuda), wife Satomi (Natsuki Mieda), and daughter Itsumi (Kazua Akieda) - come to the country to live a less artificial life. Satomi has always wanted to open a café in a traditional Japanese house, like the one Mitsuaki owns but hasn't really seen any need to kick Taka out of yet.

You can't really strip the entire movie down to Taka, Mitsuaki, and Sho, but there are long stretches where it's tempting to try. Yota Kawase and Shoichiro Tanigawa make a genial odd couple, with Tanigawa's Mitsu showing his age a bit more with a hint of drag in his step, coming across as both endearingly square and kind of prickly (he'd moved to the city when he was younger and isn't entirely excited to be back). Kawase embodies a certain sort of lazy eccentric as Taka, funny but kind of petulant, able to get the audience in his corner because he's able to needle someone without really being mean and because he's the one who is having his circumstances upended. It doesn't hurt that his flaws can seem relatively minor compared to Tadahiro Tsuru's Sho, who is more openly angry and impatient, deployed in quick bursts.

Full review at EFC.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

I wonder just how this crime flick plays in its native country, where the sort of vigilante killing at the center is a Thing That Happens rather than something as far outside the norm as it seems in North America. Is it just piercing rather than shocking? Or is it even that - maybe it feels like a well-made thriller that contains nothing that an observant person wouldn't expect.

Things center around Toto (Timothy Castillo), who may still be a kid, but who doesn't have the luxury of being an innocent any more than anyone else in the slums of Manila. He smuggles a razor to his brother Kiko in jail, and runs errands for gangster Ringgo, although he also goes to church, if only to meet girlfriend Gina (Angeline Andoy). Recently orphaned, he is taken in by Irma (Eula Valdez), a one-time friend of his mothers, who has a small pest-control business, and it's not just four/six/eight-legged nuisances she exterminates: She and partner Raul (Rocky Salumbides) are freelance killers given missions by a man they refer to only as "Sarge", and their newest target is Dugo (Jess Mendoza), the next man up from Kiko and Ringgo. Toto can get them closer and, indeed, wants to help, although he doesn't realize just who this new surrogate family has killed in the past.

There's not much light to be found in Neomanila; the whole city seems run-down and oppressive, the sort of place where the sun only comes out to remind people that they can't afford air conditioning, and it's easy to despair because there is no escape from the gangs and violence. Director Mikhail Red and his co-writers make sure that criminality infiltrates every facet of these characters' lives, with Irma's pest-control shop only briefly more than an ironic front for her other activities. Even Gina, who initially looks like she could be the good part of Toto's life, being pimped out (something revealed so casually that one can't really even be surprised for more than a second or two). It's the sort of environment where extrajudicial killings naturally arise because even if the police are clean, it's almost impossible to conceive of any institution not being tainted, or there being any other framework that functions.

It's not a healthy way to grow up or live, and an even worse way to grow up. You can see that in the faces of almost everybody involved; there's an air of resignation that seems to hang over nearly everybody that Toto meets, although the gangsters tend a bit toward paranoia. It hasn't quite completely set in for Toto yet, but Timothy Castillo is able to show it making inroads in muted responses and unfocused bitterness, chipping away at his natural instinct to trust . He's not beat, yet, but he's having trouble figuring out how not to be.

Full review at EFC.

Na-wa-bom-nal-eui-yak-sok (I Have a Date with Spring)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Despite I Have a Date with Spring being a jumble of dark wishes from depressed people as the world is about to end, or at least stories of such things, it's interesting that the connecting thread is not so much self-destruction or loneliness as much as people just looking for a respite: The rest of the world being evacuated or raptured away is not initially to be questioned lest the quiet vanish.

It is framed, somewhat, by the story of Lee Gwi-dong (Kang Ha-neul), a filmmaker who has not been able to actually make a film in the past ten years, and who has gone to an isolated spot in the woods to write a screenplay on his birthday - only to be interrupted by a woman (Lee Hye-young) with a fair-sized and devoted entourage. From there, there are other tales of people initially celebrating their birthdays alone: Teenager Lee Han-na (Kim So-hee) is an outcast at school whose eccentric neighbor (Kim Sung-kyun) offers her a ride home; 57-year-old professor Jeon Ui-moo (Kim Hak-sun) is celebrating alone (aside from a phone call from his mother who lives overseas) when he finds an ailing, disoriented girl (Song Ye-eun) in his classroom; Ko Su-min (Jang Young-nam) is overwhelmed and doesn't even have the day acknowledged by her busy husband and demanding child - not what she expected as a student radical in her youth, although a chance encounter with frantic Park Mi-syun (Lee Joo-young) brings some of the old time back.

All three (or four, including Gwi-dong) are at least partially looking to be left alone, even if they haven't voiced the desire out loud, and some force or another has granted their wish - it seems as though they have just missed some sort of call to evacuation, because aside from their new companions, the space around them is suspiciously empty. It makes the individual stories work as variations on a theme, especially since director Baek Seung-bin and co-writer Yoo Ji-young are fairly relaxed about how the various threads fit together: There could be some planet-wide disaster, Gwi-dong could be trying out variations on a theme, his visitors could be telling him stories, or any combination of those cases, with the actual movie the viewer is watching maybe or maybe not the end result. It kind of doesn't matter; as it slowly becomes clear that there's not really a mystery without a single point of convergence to be revealed here, there's a bit more importance given to how the characters are mostly just grasping in the dark. It makes some of the stories a little stretched at times, but does well to focus on their individual introspection.

Full review at EFC.

Sarajin Bam (The Vanished)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The Vanished almost seems too simple, with all the conclusions to be drawn from the available evidence made quickly, and most of the time used to hopefully shake some new information loose. The trick is seeing how long the filmmakers can tease that out, since it would seem everything will fall together as soon as the last puzzle piece shows up. That director Lee Chang-hee keeps it a great deal of fun until the credits roll is a pretty good job of juggling and knowing when to pay off and play against expectations.

Or that he's got a good template to work from. It's been long enough since I've seen The Body - the Spanish film he and his crew remade - that I can't rightly recall exactly how closely the plots match, but it's worth noting that if you dig around for that review on this site, you'll find words awful close to that paragraph, which I scribbled down as my first impression immediately after the festival screening only half-conscious that I'd seen the original. It's a fun coincidence, indicating that Lee and his team certainly knew what worked, but I suppose it also puts the lie to one of my usual complaints about this sort of thriller, that most people aren't predictable enough for intricate plans dependent upon others' reactions to work.

It opens at 8:10 in the evening at the South Korean National Forensic Service's headquarters, which is a creepy enough place to be patrolling as a guard even before the power goes out. When it's back on, one of the cabinets in the morgue is open and the body of Yoon Seol-hee (Kim Hee-ae), a pharma company heiress, has disappeared - and if you believe a freaked-out guard, gone on a little walk. The detective dispatched, Woo Joong-sik (Kim Sang-kyung), is a mess, but one doesn't necessarily send the top man to what looks like a distasteful prank. Seol-hee's husband Park Jin-han (Kim Kang-woo) is informed - the poor grieving professor has gone straight from the funeral to the apartment of student and mistress Hye-jin (Han Ji-an) - and doesn't like Joong-sik's theory that maybe Park didn't want a coroner to discover she didn't die of natural causes. Throw in a theory that Seol-hee was cataleptic rather than dead, a mysterious document in the hands of her lawyer sister, some more blackouts, and a boss who was ready to suspend Joong-sik anyway (he is a loose cannon), and it's going to be a long night.

Full review at EFC.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Hurt plays fair enough as it warns the audience that it's not necessarily telling the story they think, and that it's going to be inward-looking, but is that really enough to make up for switching so much out late? On top of that, there's the question of just how vigorously the filmmakers intend to bite the hand that feeds them by making a horror movie about how horror movies are problematic. Would Blumhouse really make a movie about how horror movies are more trouble than they seem?

Probably not, but it nevertheless finds an interesting angle in today's self-aware horror world by starting with - well, there's a prelude of sorts, so eventually getting to - Rose (Emily Van Raay), a woman who became a fan because of the man who would become her husband (Andrew Creer), getting really into it, and then having Tommy return home after time in the military and clearly not yet ready to see sudden noises and mutilated bodies as something fun again, despite it being Halloween. Things are tense at a get-together with Rose's sister Lily (Stephanie Moran) and her husband Mark (Bradley Hamilton), with a trip to the local haunted house and hayride serving s a tipping point.

Writer/director Sonny Mallhi displays an interesting sort of wary fondness for his genre as the movie starts - his pastiche of slasher films may be a bit exaggerated but it's also kind of good, enough so that a viewer might feel a little disappointment upon discovering that it's not a "real" part of the movie. It meets the audience on their own turf, establishing horror as good entertainment rather than a campy strawman. Still, you wonder about slasher movies being a thing little kids can just pull out of their pocket and watch, and Rose's enthusiasm is right on the line between mostly harmless fun and off-putting. It seems like a slower, more methodical build than horror movies that go meta usually are because it never goes out of its way to prove its bona fides or cast its heroes as outsiders. This stuff is mainstream here, even if some folks are a more into it than others.

Full review at EFC.

Under the Silver Lake

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

What an absolutely bizarre tall tale of a movie, filled to overflowing with impossible connections, revelations that don't necessarily mean anything but create a feeling of resolution, and utter pop-culture absurdity. I suspect people will be digging through Under the Silver Lake for months when they can do so at home, connecting references and finding themes, once it is bounced from theaters because it is the sort of strange that makes one suspect the filmmakers went down the same sort of rabbit hole as the characters and still haven't come out.

The main guy plunging down the rabbit hole is Sam (Andrew Garfield), who came out to Los Angeles to make it big, somehow, but doesn't seem to have chosen a field in which to do so, and is now five days away from being evicted from his apartment. That's when he finally meets his pretty neighbor Sarah (Riley Keough) and they seem to hit it off watching How to Marry a Millionaire. The next day, Sarah is gone, and Sam is certain that she didn't just move out in the dead of night like many would-be actresses behind on their rent. But while the police are searching for vanished mogul Jefferson Sevence, they're not going to spare the effort to look for Sarah on Sam's say-so, and he doesn't so much have clues as he does random bits of information that his brain sees as coded messages. Following them leads him to bizarre people and places, but does the trail lead to Sam - or is it even a trail?

That's the material for a good shaggy-dog story, with each new chapter somehow managing to be more absurd than the rest but also seldom feeling like writer/director David Robert Mitchell has taken an abrupt, unwarranted turn into impossibility. In fact, one might argue that it works because as each new revelation and seemingly random character appears, it is offering Sam some kind of explanation, and while the details may be ridiculous or seemingly impossible, it feels like progress away from not knowing, both for him and the audience. Mitchell may have his audience shaking their heads in disbelief, but he's careful never to just throw things at the audience randomly, and he is constantly tying the seemingly impossible conspiracy Sam's chasing into the ways that the audience already thinks of Los Angeles as weird anyway.

Full review at EFC.

People's Republic of Desire

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Documentaries from the Edge, DCP)

Us older folks should probably be paying much more attention to the cultures represented in this documentary, both online and Chinese, than we do; both are huge, misunderstood, and often dismissed. I'm not sure I truly understand it now, but I've got a better handle on what I don't know, and got some interesting stories to boot.

Take, for example, Shen Dan, a twenty-something singer in Chengdu; "Big Li", a comedian in Hebei; and Fan Yong, an 18 year old "diaosi" (Chinese slang for a low-mobility loser) in a factory town. All are livestream hosts on the YY platform, monetizing their internet celebrity from both small fan donations and larger gifts from "Tubao", described by some as having money but no culture. YY has exploded in recent years, to the point where there are trainers, managers, and syndicates sprouting up, as well as an annual competition to see who can get the most views and donations on one busy day. It's a boom-and-bust business that was new enough as director Hao Wu started shooting that nobody knew how to navigate it just yet.

These livestream hosts are not a uniquely Chinese phenomenon, of course; the West has its own YouTube celebrities whose popularity baffles the parents of their generally young audience and who can see their streams go from hobby to lucrative business to albatross depending on the site's monetization policies. As with a lot of things, though, the Chinese version seems accelerated, as these new means to have a voice and make (or spend!) some money are pounced upon by people without a whole lot of pre-existing ideas about the proper way to do this. The story Wu seems to be showing us most is one of how instant fame, in any medium, consumes the authenticity that initially gained someone an audience, and few know how to navigate that, either in terms of staying true to themselves or making their hobby into a small business - although there's plenty of space for the possessiveness of fans and how the people that make a platform like YY viable literally beg for money.

Full review at EFC.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Though I often lament the fact that impressive films wind up either funded or gobbled up by Netflix, it's worth noting when something like Cam comes along and seems like a natural fit for it or some other streaming service, not because it's in any way lower-class than something released theatrically, but because it's very much of the online world, and its plentiful thrills come from knowing how that world works and tapping into the fears around it.

Specifically, the film centers around online adult entertainment. Alice (Madeline Brewer) - screen name "Lola" - is a camgirl whose cheery online persona is not far removed from who she is off-camera. She works out of her apartment though colleagues Fox (Flora Diaz) and Princess (Samantha Robinson) have a bit of dedicated studio space, and though Lola is rising in popularity on the site which hosts them, they all grouse a bit on how effortlessly this seems to come to Baby (Imani Hakim), this site's #1 star. She's careful with how she engages fans like "Tinker" (Patch Darragh) and "Barnacle Rob" (Michael Dempsey), and while her brother Jordan (Devin Druid) knows what she does for a living, her mother (Melora Waters) does not. It's working out pretty well for her, until she finds herself locked out of her account, and not only is tech support not helpful, but a doppelganger is broadcasting on her channel.

The thing I like most about Cam (at least as a person whose day job is in software development) may be one of the smallest and dumbest parts of it, but I can absolutely believe a certain thing tripping things up because some developer didn't take that a user might do something ridiculous into account. We aren't lazy, but we've often got no idea what's a likely situation worth prioritizing. That is not the piece of the film's authenticity that matters most; screenwriter Isa Mazzei has worked in this business and has experience to draw on. Her first-hand knowledge gives the film an impressively grounded perspective that movies about sex work or online commerce often lacks; it all seems to fit together in tidy, unforced fashion, and that lets the more unlikely parts play out.

Full review at EFC.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Kasane is not exactly subtle with the archetypes it plays with, announcing them in big, bold capital letters as the title character progresses from one stage of the film to another, giving the audience whiplash and making them pause to say "wait, what?" multiple times. But a fantasy that takes place in and around the theater can work with melodrama, and this one certainly does. It feels like it could become a huge cult film if it can get in front of people.

Kasane Fuchi (Kyoko Yoshine) lives a lonely life due in large part to the nasty scar on her face, a cruel irony considering that her late mother was an actress famed for her beauty. What agent Kingo Habuta (Tadanobu Asano) approaches her, it seems like a cruel joke, but he knew her mother and about the special lipstick she gave to Kasane - the one that will allow the person wearing it to exchange faces for twelve hours with someone she kisses. Habuta has a client, Nina Tanzawa (Tao Tsuchiya), who is very pretty and well-aware of that but whose acting ability is not nearly at the level it needs to be for a production of The Seagull directed by the legendary Reita Ugo (Yu Yokoyama). Kasane is a prodigy, so Habuta proposes an arrangement. It doesn't exactly take into account the attraction between actress and director, and definitely doesn't take into account...

Well, let's stop there, because the movie has not one but two crazy, huge-stretch plot devices, and while the twist at roughly the halfway point is not bigger, it's roughly the same order of magnitude, and two big things like this is more than one generally lets a movie have for free. It is, however, a fantastic way to swerve once the audience picks their jaws up off the floor - the script by Tsutomu Kuroiwa has already made the necessary Cinderella references so it's not too much to make the leap to fairy tales that more directly involve kissing. More than that, though, it allows the filmmakers to shake up the story in interesting ways, closing the gap between the shallow and cruel Nina and the shy, exploited Kasane to a point where the audience's sympathies can be as fluid as the characters' identities, and the revelations that Nina digs up with time on her hands get to be enjoyably lurid without the movie having to lean too hard on how surprising or shocking even a cynical viewer might find them.

Full review at EFC.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Ralph Breaks the Internet

Fun thing watching the credits of this one: Apparently, Columbia Pictures owns Q*Bert. Not one of Sony's gaming divisions, but the movie studio, which made me wonder if whoever owned the Gottlieb titles a few years back chose to take a lump sum to sell the game rather than get royalties from Pixels. Apparently not; they've just owned the character since the 1980s. Go figure.

There's other reasons to stick around through the credits, including one of the most amusing trolls of the audience I can remember. I think a couple of my nieces are seeing it today, and if they do stick around to the end, well, they will be briefly very excited and then demanding an explanation from my brother.

Ralph Breaks the Internet

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 November 2018 in AMC Boston Common #9 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

Ralph Breaks the Internet may not be quite as delightful as Wreck-It Ralph, but that's probably because its clever bits are more likely to poke fun at the present rather than dip into nostalgia, with the Disney jokes maybe a little more self-serving than self-deprecating. That was easy goodwill for the first movie, and the second has to try a little harder. Fortunately, it manages what it needs to just as well, getting a lot of laughs even as it makes a bit of an unexpected turn.

It's been six years since the events of the first movies, but not much has changed for the video game characters at Litwak's Arcade since then, which suits Ralph (voice of John C. Reilly) fine, though best friend Vanellope von Schweetz (voice of Sarah Silverman) is looking for a bit more than racing on the same three courses every day. When Ralph's attempt to help results in real-world damage that might get Vanellope's game sold for scrap, they figure the only thing to do is head to the Internet via a newly-attached WiFi router to get the part on eBay - but paying for it means either swiping a car from Slaughter Race boss Shank (voice of Gal Gadot) or convincing streaming-site algorithm Yesss (voice of Taraji P. Henson) to make them viral.

Conflict is what drives a story, or at least that's what they teach you in school, and some of Disney's most memorable characters are its villains, so it's pretty impressive that they keep the movie going for a long time based on people working toward the same goal and genuinely liking each other. Pretty much every crazy situation Ralph and Vanellope get into is the result of good intentions not being backed up by experience, and even the characters who could potentially be bad guys with betrayal in mind tend to wind up doing what they say they will. It's easy to make friendship seem boring or undramatic, but that's something this movie happily avoids.

Full review at EFC.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Robin Hood '18

Give the makers of this movie credit: They've led me to discover that Robin of Sherwood is streaming for free on Amazon Prime, and I will be very disappointed if it's not the pretty great version of the mythology that I remember from PBS stations airing it when I was a teenager.

To be fair, I kind of like a lot of this movie, despite the low rating and the plentiful problems listed below - it's arguably a rare case of a movie exceeding expectations while still being, on the whole, bad. Somewhere in this movie is a take on Robin Hood that is legitimately angry about the present-day Sheriffs who protect the rich and powerful but squeeze the working man, and I think that if the filmmakers and studio had trusted their instincts on that and done well with the action (it's tragic that a Hong Kong production company is listed in the credits and the action is such a mess), this could have really struck a chord. Instead, it's going to be seen as the expensive 157th version of a public domain story with the silly-looking machine-stitched costumes, and I'm pretty sure it had ambitions beyond that.

Robin Hood '18

* * (out of four)
Seen 23 November 2018 in AMC Assembly Row #7 (first-run, DCP)

For all the ways that this version of Robin Hood has been easy to mock since previews started appearing, I find myself respecting where it comes from. The filmmakers want to draw as direct a line as they can from the rich and powerful he stole from to the present day, and while they have to wreck the legend in some ways to try and make it work, and never quite gets there, good on them for tapping into it as socially-relevant mythology rather than something tame and regurgitated. They absolutely have the right idea. Too bad they keep screwing it up.

The basics are familiar (even if some of them have only been around since the 1980s Robin of Sherwood TV series) - Lord Robin of Loxley (Taron Egerton) goes off to fight in the Crusades, becomes disillusioned, but impresses a Moor (Jamie Foxx) who returns with him to Nottingham, where the Sheriff (Ben Mendelsohn) has consolidated power. With Robin believed dead, his love Marian (Eve Hewson) has married local activist Will (Jamie Dornan) while also conspiring with Friar Tuck (Tim Minchin) to act more directly. Robin and "John" start robbing the taxes that are being levied for the war effort, believing that putting pressure on the Sheriff and the church as "The Hood" while Lord Loxley ingratiates himself will bring them closer to the source of the suffering both in England and Arabia.

As cringe-worthy as the modern costuming, hairstyling, and the like may be when seen in stills, there is something vital and engaging about the early scenes where Robin, Guy of Gisbourne (Paul Anderson), and others move in ways that reference modern urban warfare with their leather armor looking like kevlar; it rapidly establishes that this movie is going to be direct in its allegory rather than placing the audience in a more abstracted, high swashbuckling adventure. Writers Ben Chandler and David James Kelly hammer at the idea that Robin is a soldier returning from a war in the Middle East that seems far less cut and dried than when he left to a home he no longer recognizes, while those in power stir up xenophobia so that they can squeeze more out of the commoners while they indulge. By the time the finale comes, a stand-in for centrist politicians is urging the rebels not be so provocative and the Sheriff's men are looking like modern riot police. Screw subtlety, this is a Robin Hood for the Trump-era Resistance, and that clarity of purpose gives it life.

Unfortunately, that clarity isn't always in abundance. A modern telling of the tale can't help but stumble when it comes to a noble leading a peasant revolt, and the fact that the filmmakers recognize and try to address the issue doesn't do much but call attention to it. There's no King John in this version, so the Sheriff seems to be scheming well above his level, and the vague plot between him, the Church, and someone in the Middle East (there are incriminating documents in Arabic) mostly doesn't make sense and what does seems to undermine the mapping to the present in order to have a conspiracy that can extend into sequels. The romantic triangle is the same - it sets up subplots for sequels that will never come, and is doomed anyway; Will is not nearly built up enough to feel like any sort of threat to Robin and Marian.

Worse that the troubles with the script is that the filmmakers seem to have absolutely no idea how to construct a half-decent action scene; this movie is a disaster on that count. They know "cool" - Taron Egerton shoots multiple arrows in rapid succession like a boss - but the simple mechanics of following the action from launch to impact, allowing it to have momentum, is utterly absent; a fistfight will change direction twice within the course of a single punch. This is unforgivable for a movie whose action is built around actual arrows. A wagon chase at the climax should be thrilling - it's got some quality stuntwork (and lower-quality CGI) and uses horses like motorcycles - but it never plays clearly enough to let the audience worry about what might happen next, occasionally sinking to the level where it's hard to tell who is chasing who.

The heck of it is, so much is done well, starting with the casting. Taron Egerton is pretty good as the film's namesake, projecting the right blend of cockiness and general decency, making the Bruce Wayne side of the character convincing enough. Ben Mendelsohn is an ever-reliable villain, and his monologue about the youth that made the Sheriff who he became is just perfectly angry enough to garner a bit of sympathy. Jamie Foxx makes an appealing Little John, grabbing the angry, more central spot and building an uneasy camaraderie with Egerton's Robin. Eve Hewson gets some silly costumes but her Marian has the forceful personality to pull them off (too bad she spends so much time paired with Jamie Dornan's bland Will). Tim Minchin's Tuck kind of feels like the filmmakers wanted Simon Pegg, but that's not a bad take.

Robin Hood may be the most frustrating bad blockbuster in a while - the right people are on screen, the anachronism feels pointed rather than pandering, the tone is the right balance between angry and fun, and given a moment to slow down, the film looks pretty nice. But the action is a killer, even more than the often messy script. The movie is at its best when laying it right out, and those shortcomings are impossible to overcome.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 21 November 2018 - 29 November 2018

Maybe not exactly a quiet Thanksgiving weekend, but the sort where you can probably just choose one or two things while digesting rather than feeling overwhelmed.

  • So, if you like the big 3D animated movies, Disney is offering Ralph Breaks the Internet, a sequel to Wreck-It Ralph in which the title character and Princess Vanellope head out to a wider electronic world than their arcade. That's at the Capitol (2D only), Fresh Pond (2D only), West Newton (2D only), Boston Common, Fenway (including 2D RPX), the Seaport, South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema), Revere (including XPlus), and the SuperLux (2D only).

    Perhaps the biggest opening is Creed II, which continues the story of Adonis Creed and his trainer Rocky Balboa by putting him face-to-face with the son of the man who killed his father in the ring back in Rocky IV. It's at Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema), Revere (including XPlus), and the SuperLux. There's also a new version of Robin Hood, with Taron Egerton in the title role that looks much slicker than it seems like it should, playing at Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    A new Pokemon movie, Pokemon the Movie: The Power of Us plays Fenway and Boston Common on Saturday, adding Revere to those two spots on Monday and Wednesday the 28th. Fenway plays the 1977 Superman on Sunday and Tuesday, with Revere again being added once the weekend is over. Documentary Meow Wolf: Origin Story plays Fenway on Thursday the 29th, which is also the first day of a special "premiere event" for Mamoru Hosada's new animated film Mirai. Fenway and Boston Common are listing both dubbed 7pm and subtitled 8pm shows that night; Revere only lists a 7pm show but doesn't yet show language information. Revere picks up The Front Runner (already playing Boston Common), and Boston Common and Kendall Square have extra-early preview shows for The Favourite on Tuesday and Wednesday ahead of the Thursday night shows before the release on the 30th.
  • Green Book expands to The Coolidge Corner Theatre, The Somerville, West Newton, Fenway, and Revere after having already opened in Boston Common. The Coolidge and Kendall Square also open At Eternity's Gate, featuring Willem Dafoe as Vincent van Gogh.

    The Coolidge also has a kids' show of The Brave Little Toaster on Saturday morning. Monday's "Science on Screen" presentation is a 35mm print of Taxi Driver, with Nobel Prize winner Michael Rosbash on hand to talk about circadian rhythms beforehand. They too have an early screening of The Favourite on Wednesday the 28th, and then give their annual Coolidge Award to Michael Douglas on Thursday the 29th, with a special 35mm screening of Wonder Boys (including Q&A) at 1pm, and an on-stage ceremony/conversation that evening at 8pm.
  • Kendall Square gets their new movies on Friday, with two documentaries: Maria By Callas tells the tale of legendary soprano Maria Callas in her own words, while Chef Flynn follows a 19-year-old already on his way to becoming a master chef.
  • The Brattle Theatre spends the holiday weekend with Akira Kurosawa, offering up 35mm prints of some of his greatest historical films: A Yojimbo/Sanjuro double feature on Wednesday and Thanksgiving, Seven Samurai on Friday and Saturday, a twin bill of Hidden Fortress & Throne of Blood on Sunday, Red Beard on Wednesday, and the pairing of The Lower Depths & Rashomon on Thursday. Note that some shows were moved or canceled to make way for other presentations: The DocYard welcomes diretor Shevaun Mizrahi for Distant Constellation (looking at the residents of an Istanbul retirement home) on Monday, while Tuesday features a special free screening of Black Panther presented by Film Comment magazine, followed up by director Ryan Coogler answering questions that the audience has sent him via Twitter.
  • The Harvard Film Archive concludes Early West German Film with a free screening of labor union films (Friday 7pm), plus No Way Back (Friday 9pm), The Miracle of Father Malachia (16mm Saturday 9pm), and Many Passed by (Sunday 7pm). As that ends, a retrospective of Jiří Trnka, Puppet Master begins with The Czech Year (Saturday 7pm), a special $5 matinee of Bayaya preceded by short subject "Song of the Prairie" at 2pm Sunday, and Old Czech Legends at 4:30pm Sunday. They also have one screening of Taiwanese satire The Great Buddha+ on Monday.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has more screenings of John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection (Friday/Saturday/Sunday), Monrovia, Indiana (Saturday), and Milford Graves Full Mantis (Sunday/Thursday), as well as single screenings of Sorry to Bother You (Friday) and The Miseducation of Cameron Post. Films from Pooh Corner wraps this weekend with Winnie the Pooh on Saturday morning and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh on Sunday morning.
  • Thanksgiving break is just long enough to trigger The Regent Theatre's school vacation programming, in this case the Sing-Along The Sound of Music, starting the night of Thanksgiving and then playing three times each Friday and Saturday and two more on Sunday
  • Students are traveling this week but Bright Lights returns on Tuesday with free screenings of a couple of the summer's more popular documentaries: Won't You Be My Neighbor plays Tuesday, with Junlei Li (who appears in the film and held a chair at the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning) present, and RBG on Thursday, with producer Nadine Natour skyping in to talk afterward.
  • Thugs of Hindostan and Taxiwaala continue at Apple Fresh Pond, but the big event for Indian film fans is the long-awaited release of 2.0 on Wednesday the 28th, as Superstar Rajinikanth & S Shankar's sequel to 2010's Endhiran finally has its effects done and looks absolutely bonkers. Amy Jackson and Akshay Kumar co-star, there will be dragons, it's playing both 2D and 3D, it'll be nuts. For Chinese film fans, Boston Common keeps A Cool FIsh going for another week.
  • Cinema Salem continues The Guilty through Thursday, and then are the first folks in the area to blay Weightless (in the 18-seat room) starting on Friday.

The plans are Ralph Breaks the Internet, The Grand Buddha+, Mirai, and hopefully some Kurosawa. I will almost certainly break down and watch Robin Hood when I should be catching up on the likes of Can You Ever Forgive Me? and A Private War instead. I'll probably wait the crowds for 2.0 out a couple of days.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

This Week in Tickets: 12 November 2018 - 18 November 2018

Some good stuff this week, but the one that made my phone blow up was the one I reviewed at Fantasia. Aidan Turner has some fans who will retweet the heck out of people who tweet that review you wrote.

This Week in Tickets

I started the week off with Intimate Strangers, which had me mildly curious and wasn't scheduled to play any more evening shows after that, because the Korean dark comedy is the thing that goes when a theater needs extra screens for previews and special presentations and the like. It's pretty good, although I am absolutely considering the "remake review" when the Mexican version comes out in January.

The next day was my first Bollywood movie a while, Thugs of Hindostan, which is not great, but it's got the basic swashbuckling stuff down. Barely got there in time, though, because the show started at 6:30pm rather than the 6:45pm I expected. Good news when settling in for a three-hour movie. I am starting to wonder why the Fresh Pond plaza guys don't put a real set of steps on the landscaping that even Google maps tells you to cut across, though - someone will eventually get hurt.

Worked a bit late on Wednesday so I could cut out early on Thursday and catch the last screening of The Old Man and the Gun at the Capitol, with just one late show left at the Kendall that night. Really waited until the last minute on that one, which is a shame. It did make for a pretty perfect double feature with The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot, which I was presented by Imagine Magazine, and they had some seats roped off, enough to send me to the balcony. Still a better view than I had in Montreal, though.

The most convenient thing on Friday evening was A Cool Fish, which has a few really nifty pieces that could fit together much better. Saturday's movie would be Burning, which is terrific, although I was taken a bit aback that MoviePass didn't work at Kendall Square that day. If it's no longer working at Landmark, I'm not sure I see the point of it anymore. It being a long movie, it didn't sync up with much else, so I made another dent in my last shipment of discs from Hong Kong with City on Fire. Grindhouse as heck.

I probably should have done laundry on Sunday morning, but instead headed out for Widows and then, for the second Sunday in a row, to Waltham for a Netflix movie, because that's good enough to say you're playing the Boston market. Sad, really, just a half-dozen or so of us in the theater, laughing like crazy at The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. It's too good for Netflix to make it hard to see with an audience, honestly.

What'll be on my Letterboxd page this week? Who knows, considering there's family to visit for Thanksgiving and Park Chan-wook directing a three-night miniseries.

The Old Man & the Gun

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 November 2018 in Capitol Theatre #3 (first-run, DCP)

Robert Redford has backtracked a bit on this being his last film, and it's natural to be of two minds on that: No film is going to put a better cap on his career even as it says to live your life doing what you know and love.

Redford is a delight, of course, the head of a cast of folks from Casey Affleck to Sissy Spacek all slotted into parts where they can do what they do best. There's a sort of joy to Redford's lifelong bank robber Forrest Tucker, who's got one toe over the line where devil-may-care maybe becomes a little dangerous that blends well with Spacek's basic good cheer and offsets Affleck's hangdog uncertainty just enough to bring them all into sharp focus. They get to stretch a bit as the film nears its end, just enough to stay true to their characters' selves while still showing what this pursuit has given them.

Filmmaker David Lowery tells the story in simple, relaxed fashion; it's never rushed but a lot happens in 93 minutes, while also leaving plenty of room for when little is happening and you can just watch these people. It's beautiful to look at, expertly recalling the films of Redford's prime without feeling like a pastiche and getting maximum mileage out of the cast's often craggy faces. Lowery also captures a lot of important details that ring true, like the way folks look askance at the white detective's black wife and kids (and how that family obviously adores each other), or how, even as people are charmed by this elderly stickup artist and put the best face on it afterward, they're clearly scared in the moment. Those moments tip the film just far enough from nostalgia when it counts that Lowery can indulge a bit later.

Above all else, this is a movie that puts a smile on one's face. It's small, it maybe won't receive awards because it doesn't necessarily challenge its cast, it maybe false-ends once or twice too often. But it's a delight, and if it's the last we see of Robert Redford, he left the stage reminding us why we like Robert Redford.

The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 15 November 2018 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Imagine Presents, DCP)

On a second viewing, I find myself a little more impressed by the sheer audacious oddness of this movie's makers in taking a pulpy premise and spending a lot of time pulling back and not necessarily using the crazy bits to stint on how people react to them. The film maybe doesn't have quite so much of the high adventure as I remember - the first time through, I got caught up in them, with the second time finding me examining details a bit more - but it holds up.

Mostly, though, I love Sam Elliott playing this thing straight as an arrow, even when in the moment when the movie gets a big laugh from him not believing that the government wants him to kill Bigfoot and the Canadian envoy isn't quite processing his WWII adventures. It's a wink that feels genuine even without the audience watching.

Full review at EFilmCritic (from Fantasia)

Lung foo fung wan (City on Fire)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 November 2018 in Jay's Living Room (recent acquisitions, Hong Kong Blu-ray)

It's been a while since I last watched City on Fire, if indeed it's one of the movies I watched when Hong Kong cinema was in vogue and repertory series were appearing on a regular basis, and it's easy to forget sometimes just what a shoestring these movies were made on back in the eighties, cranked out quickly and not really expected to last. It is one of many undercover cop films that came out around that time, and looks a bit rough when you consider what John Woo, Andrew Lau, and Johnnie To would do later, after having had what Ringo Lam does here as a model.

Even if he's building a prototype, though, Lam's still building something remarkably efficient and comfortable, showing what a difficult job the police have in getting cooperation from the public to make a dent in crime and making it feel like an ongoing issue without the detectives explaining it to some rookie and otherwise trusting the audience to know this song's rhythm and recognize when it's done well. Chow Yun-fat is maybe not best served when his character being kind of a lousy boyfriend/fiance is used for comic relief, but he's quietly terrific as he makes his guilt over that part of the character, highlighting how much his loyalty can serve as an anchor in the job he is unfortunately good at.

Of course, what arguably really sets this apart is that Ringo Lam is really good at violence: As much as the opening murder of an undercover detective is effectively nasty, it's a heist that goes from professional to excessive that really opens one's eyes. It's big and bloody and stops being entertaining just long enough to highlight its cruelty. Lam never really lets his audience purely enjoy the action as a welcome release - it's thrilling but has ugly consequences, right down to the orgiastic hail of bullets that finishes things off reminding the audience that excessive force in the hands of people who aren't professional has consequences just as destructive as the criminals. The bit after that is insanely 1980s and goofy, from the saxophone solo with the unambiguous lyrics to the contrast between goofy cheer and grim death, but it works, and makes it clear that Lam does, in fact, have a bit of a point to make behind the cops-and-robbers stuff.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 18 November 2018 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, DCP)

I'm not sure how much of what makes Widows great (and, admittedly, is the source of the odd weakness) comes from it having been adapted from a TV show, but that DNA seems important. The movie is full of interesting tangents while never feeling like it's got a wasted moment, as if writer/director Steve McQueen wouldn't allow himself to actually dispense with any subplot in the name of simplifying the story but instead boiled them down to just what the movie needed to not have anything left out.

So maybe you could have a little more of Viola Davis actually acting as a mastermind, but the audience instead gets to get a sense of her from how she treats people and how she professes unawareness of her late husband's business; it's the kind of great performance that doesn't have an obvious clip to pull out for an awards show. She's matched and complemented by Elizabeth Debicki, who never quite loses her willowy uncertainty but gains an impressive confidence anyway. And maybe you can excise Robert Duvall and Colin Farrell as the last couple generations of a political dynasty, but why would you do without Duvall in any situation, even if Farrell's smarmy, Mitt Romney-looking son was not most likely the best thing he's ever done with an American accent. Or Daniel Kaluuya as a stone-cold monster that makes Brian Tyree Henry look almost likable as his corrupt, opportunistic brother?

Everyone involved is good enough and has enough going on that it's impressive just how much this movie sings even with relatively little actual heist action, although the finale is, in fact, pretty terrific. McQueen has given the audience just enough prep to follow along but also keeps it from being particularly mechanical, both because he wants it to be about the ladies running the job and because by that point we don't really love the idea of success meaning that they successfully followed a plan that a man drew up. The movie pivots, smartly and fairly, from its ensemble to give Davis the climax, and it earns the heck out of the applause that the audience gives it.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 18 November 2018 in Landmark Embassy#3 (first-run, DCP)

It ticks me off that I'm not going to be able to add this to my Coen Brothers collection, and that it may not be easy to book for repertory theaters in the future, but Netflix did pay for this, and that does count for something.

The movie starts with one of the funniest things I've seen in a while - Tim Blake Nelson as a singing cowboy gunslinger who hates his violent reputation but doesn't exactly shrink away from finding situations where he can draw down on someone, and it is fantastic black comedy with a moment which rivals the not-an-inhaler bit from Intolerable Cruelty in terms of violent, hilariously terrible slapstick. The next segment is a similar sort of black comedy, but soon the film moves to darker, subtler sorts of humor. Even in the most serious, dark segments of this anthology picture, there's a sense of absurdity that this beautiful country is filled with such violence.

The Coens take to the omnibus format well, telling nifty little stories which have some depth but also great punchlines. Half of the six are excellent, but the other half are very good indeed, and that's a heck of a track record.

Intimate Strangers
Thugs of Hindostan
The Old Man & the Gun
The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot
City on Fire
A Cool Fish
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Monday, November 19, 2018


Whew - glad to see that I did not, in fact, play myself by not catching this at the IFFBoston Fall Focus, even though I was growing slightly more alarmed with each week it didn't show up at Boston Common. I'm apparently just not used to South Korean films being released under the old system where a distributor waits months to find a good, potentially award-friendly slot. Who does that anymore? And opening it at Kendall Square rather than Boston Common, where folks have started expecting Asian genre films to play? You trying to confuse people?

I jest, a bit, although I must admit that I am kind of curious about what effect this has on the audience. Last week, while commenting on Intimate Strangers, I wondered whether doing a release this old-fashioned way made the audience bigger or just shifted who was in it, and it's kind of tough to judge. Yes, the room seemed more full for Burning at the Kendall, but those were smaller rooms to begin with and now the seats are bigger, so it's easier for it to seem packed, and I was far from the only Caucasian person in the audience this time around. It's South Korea's official submission for the Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, so that will generate some interest, especially if it makes the short list or becomes a nominee.

However, here's something kind of interesting - it's getting more or less the same box office numbers as distributor Well Go got with The Wailing a couple of years ago - in fact, it's lagging a bit behind, week-to-week. Both of those are 2.5-hour "elevated genre" movies, with The Wailing more solidly in the horror category than Burning is a thriller. My entry from then indicates a good audience, but doesn't exactly have a demographic breakdown. A vaguely recall it being a split between Asian-American students and serious horror fans, although that involves a little presumption.

Anyway, I find myself genuinely curious about whether the foreign film/arthouse audience that saw Burning at the Kendall would have even known about it if it opened at the Common, and how many Korean-Americans or students or the like don't know there's a Korean genre movie playing in Kendall Square - or if they've already seen it in one way or another because it opened in Korea back in May. It must be noted that Burning was nowhere near the sort of hit in its native land that The Wailing was, so maybe it doing the same order of magnitude in ticket sales here is that much more impressive. It's still an intriguing case in terms of how there are these two distinct theatrical channels for foreign films nowadays, and I wonder how much distributors feel the need to choose one because trying to do both simultaneously would be difficult.

Beoning (Burning)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 November 2018 in Landmark Kendall Square #7 (first-run, DCP)

The title of Burning begs for it to be described as a slow-burn thriller, but it takes a while to get there and even then holds back a lot that makes a mystery story fun. It makes the puzzle almost irrelevant, but lets director Lee Chang-dong emphasize the things genre films are often about underneath the surface all the more clearly. It's an impressive bit of work, both despite and because of how it flips the way hope and despair usually work in this type of movie.

It maintains at least some efficiency in how it gets started, though, as young day laborer Lee Jongsu (Yoo Ah-in) is recognized by Shin Haemi (Jeon Jong-seo), a girl from his hometown of Paju doing the sort of promotional work that involves a bare midriff. They have a drink and make small talk; he's completed college and military service and is writing a novel, while she's been saving up for a trip to Africa and needs someone to feed her cat. He agrees and also starts looking after the family farm after his father gets in trouble. She comes back from Kenya accompanied by Ben (Steven Yeun Sang-yeop), who lives a pricey Gangnam neighborhood and also takes an interest in Jongsu. One night, smoking some weed on Jongsu's porch, Ben mentions he has an unusual - and illegal - hobby, but Jongsu soon finds he has something more pressing to worry about.

Unless, of course, they're the same thing. That's where the mystery starts to kick in, though Jongsu has already likened Ben to Jay Gatsby in how he's rich and genial, but doesn't seem to do much of anything in particular (South Korea has a lot of Gatsbys). Here, Lee doesn't just become less interested in efficiency but decides to skip even the usual signposts along a meandering path, allowing the audience to develop their suspicions alongside Jongsu, though, like him, that audience has no sort of formal indication that they are on the right track. The filmmakers also skip other rituals, such as the appeal to authority that is dismissed because of matters of class or standing or the lack of clear evidence, and it pushes the viewer to a profoundly uncomfortable place, where what has transpired is almost certain, but the specific details are lacking to the point where doubt is almost an obligation.

Jongsu is a fittingly uncertain protagonist for that sort of story; he aims to be a writer but at 24 has little experience to inform his writing, and is not exactly seeking more. He won't even look directly at Haemi until after Ben has shown interest in her. Yoo Ah-in makes this rigidity just harsh enough, an indication that there is cruelty in this guy but which leaves the audience unsure just how much. Jongsu is a bit more at ease when he's alone, but not quite the same way as when he's trying to pull clues and information out of people later on. He's learning how to handle his strong emotions, but not always in the most positive way.

If that makes Jongsu sound more like the villain than the hero, it's fitting, as Lee has Steven Yeun make Ben kind of beatific in his potential evil. He never smiles too wide or overtly flaunts his wealth, and even when he lets his mask drop enough to reveal he knows what sort of game he's playing with Jongsu, he's level, not giving any sort of impression that he's deliberately reining himself in. It's nevertheless clear that he fully knows his position relative to Jongsu and Haemi, and Yeun occasionally shows just a bit of smugness, most notably when Haemi is talking about her trip to the guys and some of Ben's well-off friends, just enough "look at the rube" to pick up on but not enough to be sure of.

Jeon Jong-seo's Haemi is also a reflection of Jongsu, similarly alienated and abandoned and occasionally checking out in her own way despite being around other people. Jeon puts a bit of loneliness into her every scene, but the tragedy of Haemi may be that she's not fundamentally a sad character; desperate as she is to be loved, she's also genuinely kind and has more curiosity than her two more educated suitors put together. She's not always exactly a ray of sunshine, but it's not hard to see why her absence even after a a fairly short reunion hits Jongsu hard, whether just because she's in the city with Ben or more inaccessible.

That's what makes Jongsu's own solitude more palpable and desperate, although Lee, as mentioned, skips a lot of the obvious, confrontational ways to show this. The moments that generate the most certainty are actually some of the more passive ones, including one of Jongsu trying to surreptitiously spy on Ben that I suspect will feel diminished on the small screen as the scale of the people and empty space around them won't seem right. Lee and cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo also make impressive, conscious use of the time of day - darkness falls as characters reveal their darker side, and scenes with the distinctive light of dawn and dusk impresses upon the audience just how much of Jongsu's time his new obsession is consuming. The soundtrack by Mowg takes grinding, persistent residence in the viewer's head.

It ends on a scene that certainly does all it can to sear itself into one's memory, offers what feels like a definitive sense of resolution, but doesn't undercut the ambiguity that led up to it. You can recommend Burning as a thriller - it doesn't dismiss the structure it's built on - but what makes it great and unnerving is far more than the question of whether Jongsu will solve a riddle.

(Previously at EFC)