Monday, December 03, 2018

This Week in Tickets: 26 November 2018 - 2 December 2018

The theme for this week: Use the chance to see something in theaters wisely.

This Week in Tickets

What that means is that when The Great Buddha+ shows up on the Harvard Film Archive's schedule after you've been seeing the distributor tweet it up for a year (though somehow never registering that it's on Amazon to rent), you go for it. Maybe you don't love it, but it's still big-screen worthy.

Similarly, when you see that the new animated film by Mamoru Hosoda is only scheduled for a day here and there, you book tickets for Mirai a week in advance and then tell other people reading your blog about it. Hosoda is a pretty reliable guy, and he's made another pretty darn good animated film about youth and family, and I'm a bit surprised the distributors aren't giving him a bigger push beyond anime fans here. Much like Mary and the Witch's Flower at the start of the year, this feels like something that could have done okay alternating dubbed and subtitled shows at Kendall Square (as some GKids productions have), or even cracked the regular lineup at Boston Common (as happened with The Boy and the Beast, Your Name, and A Silent Voice.

That was Thursday; Friday was the first night of Prospect at the Brattle. That sci-fi western turned out a whole lot better than I'd expected, although it turned out my expectations were low, as I'd seen and like the original short film version four years ago but not connected it with the new trailer.

Saturday I got up relatively early for 2.0, anticipating a big crowd for the Enthiran sequel, and wanting to see it in Tamil, the language it was filmed in, and 3D, which I just like though it turns out that it was captured that way. It wasn't the complete "what the heck is going on up on screen and why is the audience going so nuts for it?" experience of the first, but, honestly, what can compare to going to Enthiran and not knowing that Rajinikanth is a whole thing? Sadly, there wasn't quite the same dedicated fanbase for Me Dong-seok aka Don Lee when I saw Unstoppable that evening, with just a handful of us in the theater. Too bad, because it's a good, if modest, dumb action movie.

There were plans for Sunday, but it rained, and after coming back from the grocery store, I wasn't really in a mood to turn around and go back out. So I decided to shrink the pile from my last delivery of movies a bit and watch the UltraHD Blu-ray of Helios. Not a particularly great thriller, but serviceable, and the 4K transfer looked fantastic, like "why isn't everything released on this because now regular HD is ruined for the next few days" great. I don't actually use the 4K abilities of the player and TV that often, since I mostly watch new stuff and most of the high-res discs I get are stuff I've seen in the theater. I do kind of wonder why more people aren't releasing these - Hong Kong seems to lag a couple months behind the Blu-ray release (frustrating!), and the guys who make specialty discs are relatively slow to embrace it, aside from Lionsgate figuring that there might be another fifty bucks to squeeze out of those of us who keep buying the Evil Dead movies. Still, after having seen some of the limits of 2K projection with Mirai a few days before, it was cool to see just how good something can look.

Not sure what will go my Letterboxd page today, but keep watching it for blog previews.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 2 December 2018 in Jay's Living Room (recent acquisitions, Hong Kong 4K Blu-ray)

Helios is a slick, well-staged thriller that ultimately winds up being completely inconsequential. Sure, some characters don't make it to the end and Hong Kong doesn't get obliterated, but there are at best momentary thrills. It shows us a shadowy world of arms dealers and capable agents, but there's no larger tension, just people playing a fast-paced game of chess, and where you can pick the double agent out not because he actually makes sense but because (he does not!) but because he keeps showing up despite having nothing to do.

Maybe it plays differently in Hong Kong, where this sort of nuclear thriller can be especially high-stakes because something as powerful and portable as the DC-8 that serves as the film's Macguffin could basically erase what they consider to be their entire country on the one hand while on the other they are feeling the pinch as China uses them for their own purposes. It's interesting and maybe telling that much of the movie and especially the finale seems to show the HK-based police seeing their South Korean counterparts as friends and allies but look at the representative from Beijing with suspicion (kudos to Wang Xueqi, who makes Song An professional, sincere, and just a smidge arrogant in how he's always considering the bigger picture).

Still, for all that this movie is a bunch of very serious people in suits (and slightly more colorful villains) striding purposefully, it can work pretty well in the moment. It is that sort of urgent, cut to feel like it's laser-focused with no wasted moments and shot with a steely color palette, making fine use of drone cams to get into the canyons of Hong Kong's streets, giving a great view of the action. And, as in the filmmakers' Cold War movies, the action is top notch, with a fight scene between Nick Cheung Ka-fai and Janice Man Wing-san a particularly terrific example (also, the ladies don't ever fight each other).

I've read somewhere that there's a sequel in development, and maybe that will give it more resolution - although given that the filmmakers have done Cold War 2 and are supposedly working on Cold War 3 before Helios 2, I wonder if that's a little white lie they told their Chinese investors to be able to leave things more open-ended than usual. Without something like that, it's kind of like the recent Jack Ryan series - well-made, never actually boring, but also not leaving you with hair standing on end when it's done.

The Great Buddha+

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