Thursday, January 31, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 21 January 2019 - 27 January 2019

I didn't exactly think I'd go all year without overlapping tickets thanks to this new, larger calendar/scrapbook, but I thought it would last until I got to Icon for the first time.

This Week in Tickets

Once again, I would like to praise short features, as the 35mm double feature of Werewolf of London and the classic Universal Monsters The Wolf Man started at seven o'clock and was done in time to get to the comic shop before it was supposed to close at ten (Tony tends to keep the Million Year Picnic open late on Wednesdays, but I figure it would be rude to count on that). That's in part because they were establishing the mythology that every werewolf story in every medium would start from and didn't need to embellish beyond that, but in part they're just efficient.

The next night of the Brattle's "Dead of Winter" kind of got into the embellishing, starting with Neil Jordan's The Company of Wolves and, in a separate feature, Ginger Snaps. The latter was a "Strictly Brohibited Presents" show with the screenwriter doing a Skype chat afterward, but SB lets guys into their shows at the Brattle, although the non-men in the audience get first dibs on asking questions, and it's worth noting that the one guy who did raise his hand toward the end "had more of a comment", so this is a good move on the presenters' part. There was a fair amount of telling the people in the audience that, yes, the thing they noticed was on purpose, the result of a decision while writing, but those questions often led to interesting tangents, like talking about how, when making this sort of horror movie, people do start thinking of sequels and prequels fairly early on, and it's tricky to leave a good hook without undercutting the story you're telling. The main thrust of the talk was about how she saw the film as being about breakout out of an abusive relationship with a sibling, which is the sort of thing that is clear in retrospect but not a direction I'm necessarily inclined to look.

Is that enough wolves? It is not enough wolves! So, Friday, I headed to the Brattle for Wolf Guy, and came to the conclusion that legal weed has the potential to ruin cult movie screenings in Massachusetts. I mean, sure, it could have just been beer, or people who spent too much time watching the parasites on MST3K (or Trash Night at the theater), but there was a lot of chatter, exaggerated guffaws at anything sort of campy, and, yes, the guy who makes sure to stand up at the end so that he can be seen to be ironically applauding the mess he just watched. Don't compete with the movie, folks - just be the audience.

It was kind of heartening to hear some other folks saying the same thing on the 66 bus to Coolidge Corner for a midnight show of Eastern Condors, if only something along those lines on the 66 to Coolidge Corner, so I'm not completely suffering from early-onset curmudgeon syndrome. Given that attitude, I'm guessing they were upstairs with me seeing Eastern Condors rather than The Room downstairs. Being younger, I'm guessing they were able to get through without drifting off, but that's not be now, I guess. So I got lucky catching the last bus back to Harvard and then walked home, and when I woke up, I decided to try and do the thing where I watch it again and hope it blends into one viewing, even if one was dubbed and one was subtitled. Didn't quite work that way, but seeing that kind of great action twice isn't something to complain about.

After that, I headed out for The Kid Who Could Be King, although I screwed up and got on the wrong bus initially, winding up at Lechmere rather than Assembly Row. Ah, well, easy enough to get to Boston Common from there, especially for a movie that looks like that much fun. I'd be back the next night for Serenity, which is something. I'm kind of hoping that the rest of 2019 continues this trend of movies like Glass and Serenity looking like normal genre movies but actually being deeply weird. It's not likely - there aren't a lot of M. Night Shyamalans out there, and between the January release date and the studio I don't think I've ever heard of releasing a movie starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, Serenity is kind of an outlier.way outside the mainstream.

Still hoping for more like that, though, with first reports on the Letterboxd page.

Werewolf of London

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 January 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (Dead of Winter: Tales of the Beast, 35mm)

Werewolf of London may not be first werewolf movie, but early enough that the film being far from refined is more than forgivable. It's basic stuff - even in 1935, it's hardly the first monster movie that has an obsessed scientist, a significant other that is going to serve as a target, and no memory of the previous night's serial killing - that has a certain amount of Bride of Frankenstein to it in its second mad scientists and its side jaunts into moon lamps and carnivorous plants. It could probably do without Warner Oland playing a Japanese character, but at least he's less a stereotype than the people he meets.

The makeup is also not that impressive, but the film benefits quite a bit from Henry Hull's beady-eyed creepiness. There's something off-putting about him before he starts transforming, and his sunken, unexpressive eyes do much more to sell his monstrous nature than the extreme widow's peak that often seems like the most prominent part of his transformation midway through. Hull's Dr. Glendon is a weird one, with the film never really sure whether he should be tragic or maniacal, which means the swings between the devotion of his pretty wife (an amusingly chameleonic Valerie Hobson) and her attraction to an old flame can get strange.

The Wolf Man

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 January 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (Dead of Winter: Tales of the Beast, 35mm)

You have to love those early Universal Monster movies that, not having to embellish or expand, just get things done in a little more than an hour. The Wolf Man is simple as heck, but it's efficient, has some nice work by Lon Chaney underneath a classic makeup job, and a better-than-average supporting cast. Heck, Chaney does good work without makeup, even though by all rights he shouldn't fit into this setting at all as the American-accented returning son of a wealthy British family, but that winds up working in the movie's favor: His pairings with both Claude Rains as an intellectual father and Evelyn Ankers as a proper English girl work better for the contrast.

It's the wolf people know the movie for, of course, and there's a reason why this, rather than something like Werewolf of London became the template people remember. Jack Pierce's makeup is canine and fierce, but leaves Chaney room to act, and reminds the audience that the film is a tragedy about a good man trapped inside a monster rather than his darker impulses surfacing. There's something simultaneously goofy about the wolf man running around fully clothed three quarters of a century later - we've grown used to them splitting to let the beast out - but also more iconic. The wolf is a character, not just a force.

The simplicity doesn't always work in the film's favor - it could use a little more twisting and irony in the home stretch, for sure - but overall, it plays like a B movie doing better than expected rather than just a rough draft that others would build on. Simple pleasures, but everyone seems committed and up to the job rather than just picking a clock or looking to move on to the next, better thing.

The Company of Wolves

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 24 January 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (Dead of Winter: Tales of the Beast, 35mm)

No matter what else I've seen by him before or will later, I suspect that this will be the film I think of when someone mentions Neil Jordan's name, sensual and supernatural and digging into something mythological underneath reality. Plus, it is so utterly eccentric that it's clearly undiluted.

He wasn't the only person making movies like this at the time; it seemed to be a thing for a year or two (despite the more adult content, it reminds me of something Jim Henson might have done, not that far from The Storyteller in spirit). But this might be among the best, a fairy-tale world clearly constructed on a soundstage which nevertheless feels more real than the world above or below from which it is being dreamed, enough that it's a jolt whenever he cuts back to the modern-day framing story the film started with. Jordan only does half a wink when others would do more, and Angela Lansbury grounds things just enough with her tart Granny, whose stories let Jordan and co-writer Angela Carter adapt more than just her take on Red Riding Hood. It makes for a fairy tale that plays for adults without losing the properly adolescent feeling of discovery as Sarah Patterson gives a quietly nifty performance as a meek kid sister.growing into a perceptive young woman. It's earnestly sexual and properly gory withouand t seeming exploitative, and Jordan has been trying to capture that frank, spooky, sexy magic his entire career.

Ginger Snaps

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 24 January 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (Dead of Winter: Tales of the Beast, 35mm)

Ginger Snaps was the right movie at the right time for a lot of people around the turn of the millennium, and the fact that it never got a proper U.S. theatrical release probably helped its cult-movie cachet a little - folks had to find this thing and discover that it spoke to them, which only helps one love it more. Fortunately, it's genuinely delightful, clever enough to see the changes in one's body-menstrual cycle-lunar cycle-werewolf circle but also smart enough to not get trapped there.

It starts out as one of the few horror movies that works with a cast almost entirely composed of sarcastic teenagers, in large part because Ginger and Brigitte aren't generic wiseasses; they've got specific interests and attitudes and often seem like they need the armor considering how lousy some of the people around them can be. It's not an entirely healthy sort of sisterhood, but even when Ginger is taking advantage of her brainy kid sister (or otherwise being awful), it's easy to see why Brigitte's instincts always circle back to that relationship, even as she's gained a new friend and Ginger is becoming increasingly dangerous.

The ongoing transformation and mayhem is a bunch of fun - aside from being great make-up effects and impressive blood & guts, the filmmakers and actress Katharine Isabelle manage to have it bring confidence and shame, even as it adds up rather than reverses the way werewolf movies often do. The last act gets a little drawn out - even once mayhem and death has brought the story back to a tight focus on the sisters, it spins its wheels a bit - but it still earns a last scene that drives home that this particular monster movie was about more than just prosthetic makeup and nasty kills.

Urufu gai: Moero ôkami-otoko (Wolf Guy)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 25 January 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (Dead of Winter: Tales of the Beast, DCP)

There are five or six points in this movie when Shinichi Chiba seems downright puzzled by how he wound up there, and you can hardly blame him. Wolf Guy is enthusiastic trash that wants to be a werewolf story but seemingly can't actually afford any makeup at all and can't decide what it actually wants its story to be, cramming what seems like three manga story arcs into an hour and a half one after another rather than making them work together. It's a bloody mess, to the point where you sort of get the folks who came to whoop and show their ironic appreciation.

But, even when he doesn't seem to know what's going on any better than the audience, Chiba is a tremendously charismatic guy who dives into the action scenes with ferocity while playing other scenes stoic enough to make me wonder if he's ever played Golgo 13; he has that look. The film is often cheap-looking, but it's got visual style, with shots that seem pulled straight from a quality manga without seeming too showy, and surreal moments like Miki, a drug-addled singer who burnt out young, seemingly cradled by a wall-sized photo of herself. Chiba is wonderfully ferocious when it comes time to bust out the karate, especially as his "wolf clan" survivor grows more powerful with the phases of the moon.

It's goofy as heck and an artifact of its time and place - just the way the music will go from zero to blaring and back again without warning it kind of nuts - but it's plenty better than a thing you watch to mock. There's just enough done well to make the cut corners stand out.

Dung fong tuk ying(Eastern Condors)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24-25 January 2019 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (After Midnite: East Meets West, dubbed 35mm)
Seen 25 January 2019 in Jay's Living Room (After Midnite: East Meets West, DVD)

I don't know if I've seen very many movies like this where Sammo Hung was just an action star - when paired with Jackie Chan, filmmakers were often playing on his size, and now that he's been around a while and action fans know his accomplishments behind the camera, he's often treated him like an elder statesman, a mentor or villain or other character where the audience's knowledge that he's a living legend is kind of assumed. Even My Beloved Bodyguard, the last thing I saw where Sammo was the actual star, plays into that. Maybe it's just a matter of what has and has not been exported to the US, and there's a trove of great action waiting to be discovered.

He's great, of course, as is the whole cast of this 80s action romp. It feels enough like a machine-gun-toting American action movie of its time period for long stretches, only to suddenly have Hung or Yuen Biao do something amazingly acrobatic and crazy, turning it up a notch or three in the last act when Yuen Wah shows up and gives them a truly worthy adversary. It's doing some of the same "heroic bloodshed" melodrama that John Woo was perfecting at the same time (writer Barry Wong would arguably hit the apex of the genre with Hard Boiled), and maybe has a bit too much of it, in that there are too many characters for every one lost to actually make an impact, but it winds up working surprisingly well for all that the early, pre-action scenes feel like a movie that's not going to do much beyond the action.

(Note: I watched a dubbed 35mm print at the Coolidge and then a subtitled DVD from 2003 the next day to fill in the blanks from dozing off during a midnight screening, and, boy, were those experiences rough in different ways!)


* * (out of four)
Seen 26 January 2019 in AMC Boston Common #18 (first-run, DCP)

At the start of this bizarre, over-caffeinated movie, I wouldn't have bet against it being about a man seeking revenge on the tuna that killed his son, but it's actually far weirder than that. Unfortunately, filmmaker Steven Knight never actually seems to figure out to do with his screwy idea, and you can see the characters in the film just stall out trying to wrestle with it. Then the end comes, and Knight just has no clever way to connect them at all.

Fortunately, Matthew McConaughey is cool with weird; he tunes right into the film's wavelength, and if he doesn't make it work, he certainly creates a bridge between his character's frustration and that of the audience. Nobody else quite manages it - they seem like they signed on to a script with a great idea that they were sure would be developed further by the time the movie actually started shooting, with Anne Hathaway the closest to recognizing that she's a femme fatale who knows what femme fatales are and nice performances out of Diane Lane and Djimon Hounsou breathing life into intentionally limited characters. There is an odd feeling of satisfaction that every detail that seemed sloppy in the first act kind of has an explanation, but that's not actually a whole lot of satisfaction to get out of this sort of movie.

Werewolf of London & The Wolf Man
The Company of Wolves
Ginger Snaps
Wolf Guy
Eastern Condors
The Kid Who Would Be King

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Kid Who Would Be King

In a couple years, or maybe a generation, there's going to be some interesting film writing about the British family movies being made as the older generations fight over the country leaving the European Union. It's not something that ever comes up explicitly, in that you won't hear "Brexit" mentioned during those films, but it's hard not to notice that there's a certain emphasis placed upon Paddington being an immigrant in the new films and living in a neighborhood with many others, while this film certainly makes a lot more noises in the direction of Britain lacking effective leadership and the country being ready to implode. Indeed, the end has Merlin telling the kids that the country is going to need their leadership, and it's a bit different than the usual version which concentrates on how the kid has proven himself or herself worthy.

Or maybe I've just read way too much commentary on social media that seems way too familiar.

Anyway… That second film can be a bear to get done, can't it? It's been eight years since Attack the Block, which may not have been a hit, but which certainly Joe Cornish him on a lot of people's radar, and the only credit he got in that time was as a co-writer on Ant-Man, which could very well have predated Block. How that doesn't get you right back to work - and how not getting back to work doesn't drive you mad to the point where you find some more obviously productive way to make a living or create art (he's apparently not the photographer of the same name) - is something I can't fathom.

I had to admit, I was a little surprised that the guy who made Attack the Block was following it up with a kids' movie, but he was one of the writers on Adventures of Tintin, so it's not like making fun movies for kids came out of nowhere.

The Kid Who Would Be King

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 26 January 2019 in AMC Boston Common #8 (first-run, DCP)

There's a fascinating urgency in this film's opening scenes that you don't often see in family movies - most go for an optimistic timelessness even when presenting their young heroes with a dire threat, rather than being grounded in the present anxiety. It doesn't permeate the movie, which is for the best, but the fact that it's there and comes and goes as needed certainly marks this as a bit better than a lot of what gets made for kids.

It opens with an animated retelling of the King Arthur legend before introducing Alexander (Louis Ashbourne Serkis), who is probably second-lowest on the totem pole in his middle school but, to his credit, tends to stick up for Bedders (Dean Chaumoo), the one guy below him and his best friend, rather than passing any bullying he receives along. That mostly comes from Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris), and it's them chasing him after detention that causes him to stumble upon an actual sword in a stone in the middle of London. He is able to draw it, not quite realizing what he's stumbled upon, at least not until the undead start chasing him at nightfall and a weird older kid calling himself "Merton" (Angus Imrie) shows up at school, warning that Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson) is close to returning to Earth - a solar eclipse in four days time is just the thing to make it happen - which sends the four kids on a quest to learn how to combat her evil and learn why the sword chose him.

In case the name doesn't give the game away, The Kid Who Would Be King is aimed squarely at the young members of the audience, not sneaking jokes for the adults in, making its points and point of view very clear, and having definite lines in terms of intensity that it will approach but not cross. It is not looking for the grown-ups to think it's clever, even though it is - though he'll spend some time pointing out obvious deliberate parallels with the classic Arthurian myths, it also becomes very clear by the end that he knows the perils of offering up a chosen-one narrative in this day, and that he knows kids Alexander's age deserve a more honest narrative than one that blames the shaky state of their home on some supernatural cause that can be vanquished with the proper sword (it's a different thing to say that such instability opens the door for other dangerous threats). He navigates the fuzzy border between the overt fantasy in this movie and the sort kids construct that must be punctured carefully with grace even as adult viewers might be inclined to ignore that because the kids are talking about a round kitchen table.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 25 January 2019 - 31 January 2019

If a movie got nominated for an Oscar or three, there's a good chance that it's found a few new screens or is coming back to theaters, even if it's already out on disc. Might as well catch up if there's things you want to catch up on.

  • But if you're like me and you've already seen most of what you care to see, it's still a pretty interesting weekend. The Kid Who Would Be King comes out, and while a movie about a London kid who finds Excalibur in a construction yard may not seem like something with broad appeal, it's the new film from Joe Cornish, whose debut Attack the Block was pitched to a different audience but was awfully clever with solid-as-a-rock action. The new one is at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    There's also Serenity, which is not a re-release of the movie that followed up TV series Firefly, but what looks like a film blanc starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway but which the reviews are indicating is actually much crazier than that. It plays Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere. Stan & Ollie also has its official wide release, adding the Capitol and Boston Common to the Kendall and West Newton.

    Dragon Ball Super: Broly chugs along at least through Wednesday at Boston Common, Fenway (Friday/Tuesday), South Bay (Friday-Sunday), and Assembly Row (Friday-Saturday/Tuesday), Revere (Saturday), with the AMC theaters giving it full slates the days it's playing. Speaking of imports that do rather well in those screenings, a new Burn The Stage concert film, "Love Yourself in Seoul", plays Boston Common, Fenway, and Revere on Saturday, with Boston Common giving it more shows than the major-studio releases that day; Saturday also has 2pm preview screenings of The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part at Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, and Revere. Going from not-yet-released to 80-years-old, The Wizard of Oz has Sunday/Tuesday/Wednesday anniversary screenings at Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere (Wednesday only). Animated teen drama A Silent Voice makes another swing through theaters, subtitled on Monday and dubbed Thursday at Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere. The Least of These: The Graham Staines Story, is being called a "sneak peek" on Thursday at Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere, but whether that's the start of a run or just one night is unclear.
  • Kendall Square opens Capernaum, the Lebanese nominee for best foreign-language film that tells the story of a hardened 12-year-old, already in jail for a violent crime, suing his parents for "giving him life".
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre extends their 70mm run of Roma, but only through Sunday. At midnight, they conclude their East-meets-West series with 35mm prints of Sammo Hung's Eastern Condors on Friday and Kill The All and Come Back Alone on Saturday (and The Room on Friday if you're into picking on the slow kid). There's a Science On Screen presentation of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou on Monday, with Dr. Katy Croft Bell introducing the 35mm print. On Wednesday morning, they start their five-week "Coolidge Education" series on Jonathan Demme.
  • The Brattle Theatre continues "Dead of Winter: Tales of the Beast", with a program that is mostly but not entirely werewolf-related: The Werewolf vs The Vampire Woman (35mm) & Wolf Guy on Friday; weekend matinees of Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit; The Curse of the Werewolf & An American Werewolf in London (35mm) on Saturday, both versions of The Fly on Sunday (the Cronenberg on 35mm); the 1982 Cat People on 35mm Tuesday, with the 1942 original paired with a 35mm print of Island of Lost Souls on Wednesday; wrapping up with a 35mm twin bill of Altered States & Night of the Bloody Apes on Thursday. They also bring back Oscar-nominated documentary Hale County This Morning, This Evening for a couple shows on Monday and have a free, 35mm "Elements of Cinema" screening of 42nd Street on Tuesday evening.
  • Apple Fresh Pond keeps F2: Fun and Frustration and Petta, but also picks up a bunch of other Indian films. Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi stars Kangana Ranaut as the title character, who was a major part of the 1857 India Rebellion; I believe it is playing in Hindi. Telugu romance Mr Majnu also opens, starring Akhil Akkineni & Nidhhi Agerwal, as does Thackeray (which may be in Hindi or Marathi) and Tamil-language comedy Charlie Chaplin 2, which is apparently a sequel to something from 2002; I'm not sure how much connection it has to the silent film star. Fenway has another week of Uri: The Surgical Strike, while Boston Common has The Gandhi Murder on Wednesday.

    If one's tastes run more to Spanish films, Dominican romantic comedy Qué León plays Revere.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has more of their Festival of Films from Iran, including A Man of Integrity (Friday), Feast of Sorrow (Friday with director Pourya Azarbayjani & Saturday), The Graveless (Saturday/Sunday), and The Charmer (Sunday). They also continue runs of Museo (35mm Wednesday) and The Mystery of Picasso (Saturday/Sunday/Wednesday/Thursday), ending the month by welcoming director Aaron Kopp and producer Sakheni Dlamini to discuss Liyana, the animated opener to last year's Roxbury International Film Festival,.on Thursday.
  • The Harvard Film Archive has the bulk of their "Poets of Pandemonium" series this weekend, pairing films by Humphrey Jennings and Derek Jarman this weekend, including Jarman's Blue & Jennings's "Listen to Britain" (35mm) as part of "Cinema of Resistance" at 7pm Friday, Jarman's The Last of England & Jennings's "The Dim Little Island" (both 35mm) that night at 9pm, Jarman's The Angelic Conversation & Jennings's "Words for Battle" (35mm) at 7pm Saturday, Jarman's Sebastiane & Jennings's "The Silent Village" (35mm) at 9pm Saturday, and Jarman's Jubilee & Jennings's Fires Were Started (35mm) on Monday. They also have a $5 Saturday family matinee of Mamoru Hosoda's terrific debut feature, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, on subtitled 35mm, while also wrapping up the Jacques Becker series with The Hole on Sunday evening.
  • Last week's snow postponed some parts ofBelmont World Film's annual Family Film Festival last weekend, but the live "Circle Round" podcast recording will now be at the Regent Saturday afternoon while Ballad for Tibet and The Witch Hunters will play The West Newton Cinema on Sunday afternoon.
  • The Lexington Venue screens short film "Well Water" on Saturday morning, with local filmmaker Sharisse Zeroonian in attendance.
  • The Regent Theatre has documentary Who Will Write Our History? in the Underground Theatre on Sunday, followed by a discussion live-streamed from UNESCO headquarters in paris
  • Cinema Salem has Vox Lux in their 18-seat screening room; it also has Friday/Saturday shows at The Luna Theater in Lowell. They also have weekend matinees of Muppets From Space, Shoplifters (Saturday), Never Ending Man (Saturday/Tuesday), John Carpenter's The Thing (Sunday), Get Out (Monday), and whatever they decide on for "Weirdo Wednesday".

I will absolutely do The Kid Who Would Be King and Serenity, probably catching up with Vice and Can You Ever Forgive Me? as well. Manikarnika and some more "Dead of Winter" presentations are also tempting, and, sure, I'll try to do Eastern Condors.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 14 January 2019 - 20 January 2019

Ah, nuts, first lost ticket stub of the year.

This Week in Tickets

Short features are fantastic Take Monday, when I got to the Coolidge at 7pm for Detour, enjoy a nice 70-minute movie, leisurely bus ride to Harvard Square, with time to get a burrito before sitting down in the Brattle for a 9pm You Were Never Really Here. That one is 85 minutes long, which meant I could do a split double feature and be home in Davis Square by 11pm. It does not usually happen that way these days.

The rest of the week was devoted to catching up on M. Night Shyamalan's "Eastrail 117" series before catching the latest one. I started off on Tuesday with Unbreakable, which is still pretty darn amazing, although it was funny to see all the "check out Blu-ray, it's amazing" promos on this early disc, especially since Thursday's viewing of Split was on the format's 4K UltraHD successor. I was going to keep the two-day pattern going, but on Friday, the MBTA dropped me in Davis right on time for the 7:15pm show of Glass on the Somerville's big screen, so I went with that. It makes for a weird series, peaking early but never not interesting.

Saturday, then, was given to Friday's original Plan A, Stan & Ollie, which is genuinely delightful and deserves a bigger audience than it's likely to get now that it's been shut out of the Oscar nominations that it's release was designed to exploit. There would be no Oscar shut-out for Roma, of course, which was playing the Coolidge in 70mm, a good enough excuse to check out one of 2018's best.

Follow the Letterboxd page for the first look at the werewolf stuff at the Brattle, among other things.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 14 January 2019 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (Big Screen Classics; DCP)

Some of the folks who reflexively laugh at old movies because they're not as polished as something contemporary were present for this screening (not sure why), but I think they wound up getting this one right by accident: It is, eventually, darkly absurd, a comedy of errors that has turned deadly. It's ridiculous in how it plays out but so dead serious about it that one can't help but feel sympathy for its beleaguered hero.

Well, hero-in-quotes, perhaps. Tom Neal's Al Roberts narrates, and the story lets the audience wonder about him. He's almost certainly never lying, but both his actions and the way Neal always has him nervous and looking for a way out makes a person wonder if maybe there's something in his past that he's desperately holding onto or racing toward a lovely, innocent girlfriend lest he fall into some mire. Instead, he winds up saddled with Vera, with Ann Savage giving a snarling performance of pure malice, not just the one person he could have met that would know his sin but delighted to exploit it. Neither of them are given a lot of backstory to work with, but they don't need it; it's enough that he's kind of bad at being good and she's better at being bad (if not particularly geat at long-term planning).

You wonder, of course, just to what extent Al's downfall is a self-fulfilling prophecy; would a person who started out less cynical have kept a clear head and made it through? No way to tell; maybe he was trapped as soon as he was in Charles Haskell's orbit, too desperate and afraid to walk away from a bad situation no matter how it plays out. It's farce as murder drama either way, earning big laughs from its doom.

You Were Never Really Here

* * * (out of four)
Seen 14 January 2019 in the Brattle Theatre [(Some of} The Best of 2018, DCP]

And to think, looking at the description, I thought Lynne Ramsay was going to be doing something resembling a conventional thriller, but no chance of that! Instead, she gets into the damage necessary to become the sort of avenger at the center of one of those story, and it's just as uneasy as I should have expected. Ramsay tells the genre story - there's a missing girl, a bunch of thugs holding her, and a bigger conspiracy to uncover - but shuffles a lot of the action beats to the side or background, spending time on in-between moments. The scenes with Joe and his mother are probably closer to the true heart of the movie than the ones of him smashing pedophiles with a hammer; they're filled with decency but also a certain amount of doom: She's declining and isolated, and caring for her lets him do good without engaging with outsiders or opening up, with the final scenes involving her strange and sad, incredibly meaningful but indicating that there's no-one else to worry about her. It links to his mission in more ways than one, as we see in the flashbacks, via shared trauma

I don't know if it's necessarily a great performance by Joaquin Phoenix or if he's just got a sort of naturally-haunted face that works well in this sort of minimal-affect role, but it's certainly an effective one. The film's also got a nice way of moving from crisp exteriors to shady, uncomfortable spots where Joe feels at home and the creeps he hunts operate without being too showy about it; there's a definite forgotten-spaces vibe that she finds in various locations that cuts across the whole picture.

It's a tight little package; even in the most basic moments, there's at least the feeling that Ramsay is always doing two things at once, and she uses that efficiency to keep the film compact rather than have it sprawl in every direction. That's a good plan for a movie focused on intensity; two hours of this would have been far too much, since just 85 seems like it could push some to a breaking point.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 15 January 2019 in Jay's Living Room (catching up, Blu-Ray)

Does watching Unbreakable for the first time in years (maybe not since its original release) help get a person excited for Glass? Yeah, absolutely - if nothing else, it highlights what a genuinely great director M. Night Shyamalan is when he's on. This movie is genuinely creepy at spots, but has plenty of room for a kid who desperately needs to believe in his father and a father who needs to prove himself. It builds little things up into a simple but effective origin story, and that it's taken 18 years for it to get a proper sequel is kind of madness.

What's kind of surprising to see is just how ahead of the curve Night was in some ways: This movie was winking and meta at points, from the twisted superfan villain that would later become popular to self-deprecating comments about ghost stories and twist endings . One thing I kind of love is how, at the time, it looks like someone taking superheroes seriously and realistically, but look at it - every "villain" Dunn encounters is wearing some bright, monochromatic outfit, and Elijah Price is in purple supervillain outfits throughout the whole movie, gaudiness just basely restrained; they even make his wheelchair and leg brace look like something in a tacky 1990s costume. It's right out there and a lot of us watching the movie at the time weren't really able to see it.

As much as I loved the first big "kitchen scene" when I first saw the film, the one toward the end seems just as powerful now; the desperation of Joseph Dunn to believe the best of his father, and to finally be proven right, is so central to this movie in retrospect, despite how at the time many saw him as a bit extraneous, a not-quite-Haley Joel Osment side character meant to create a certain comfort by emulating Shyamalan's first big hit.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 January 2019 in Jay's Living Room (catching up, 4K Blu-ray)

Split doesn't exactly become a different movie when you go in knowing it's part of a certain extended universe, but it's kind of difficult to treat it like a horror movie the way I did when I saw it in a theater as its own thing. It still works, and superhero universes contain horror stories, but it's a bit smaller and parallels in structure to Unbreakable start to show up now that you know to connect it to that specific part of M. NIght Shyamalan's history specifically.

It's still a decent little thriller, with nice work by James McAvoy and Anna Taylor-Joy (the producers had enough of a good eye for talent to cast Haley Lu Richardson, too). As a thriller, it could probably do with a little more going on - credit to Shyamalan for not being too prideful to do Blumhouse movies, but it can be an odd fit: The budget seems to constrain him, but in actual fact he's probably just doggedly going down the path that interests him, and if he's not meeting one's final-girl-fight expectations, that's not necessarily his fault.

Still, even knowing it's coming, the best Marvel-style button since The Avengers if not Iron Man counts for a fair amount in terms of leaving happy; Split may not have been a great movie, but a second viewing sure did have me ready for Glass.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 18 January 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (first-run, DCP)

What a bizarre way to end one of the most peculiar voyages in film, leaving me genuinely confused that he'd go this route for something that exists in large part because people were genuinely excited about a callback to a 15-year-old movie. Or maybe not - M. Night Shyamalan has been overambitious and yet oddly self-aware, so an out-of-nowhere ending that tries to do too much is the most him this finale could be.

To be fair, it's not as if he denies the audience the stuff that got the blood pumping at the end of Split; the opening sequence of Bruce Willis's "Overseer" from Unbreakable hunting the escaped supervillain from the second movie is a lot of fun, and when they do finally bust out of the asylum where most of the film takes place, it's a pretty nice brawl, if one on something of a Blumhouse budget. I also found myself weirdly delighted to see Spencer Treat Clark's name in the opening credits and see the kid desperate to believe his father a superhero had grown up to be a quarterbacking sidekick - the same guy, but not hemmed in by who he'd been as a child. There's also something delightfully goofy about the idea that Samuel L. Jackson's Elijah Price had made himself a supervillain outfit to be arrested in, which is the only reason why I can imagine for it to be in storage at the asylum.

But, boy, is the asylum boring. You can see what Shyamalan is going for by the end, but it's a situation that results in the characters not really doing anything for the longest time, and Sarah Paulson just doesn't seem to be the right person to anchor it. She just doesn't give off any sort of misguided idealism or malevolence as the doctor treating folks with delusions of superpowers, and with Jackson's title character mostly inert during this run, it feels like Shyamalan is just killing time until the climax. He's not - this is the meat of the movie - but it never feels exciting, and between the excess of characters and the static situation, the movie drags like heck here, putting way too much distance between the bits of fun on either end while not really doing enough to set up the overambitious twist ever further down the road.

It's definitely a weird one, that's for sure, a bit oddly unaware of how comics and superheroes have taken a more prominent spot in pop culture despite it being very likely that's why it exists at all and deflating at the end. I kind of wonder if this is just his first or second movie started with a release date in mind and as such could have used more tinkering, because there's so much in here that's good and has the potential to be better without major surgery. It's not there, though, and there's no way to tell whether this movie that follows up two that sprang from the filmmaker's strengths must have inevitably circled back around to his weaknesses..


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 January 2019 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (first-run, 70mm)

I liked it back in October, and maybe I don't really need to say more than what I wrote out at the time. It was a treat to see it from the front row without having to crane my head around the head of the tall, big-haired guy with excellent posture who was sitting in front of me, not missing any subtitles at all. I did, somewhat amusingly, note that a lot of the things I picked up as Things Cuaron Did Differently aren't quite so universal as I thought (he has plenty of people moving left to right before the end).

One thing that I did notice was that it looks nice on the 70mm print, but not "huge upgrade" nice, like even seeing a 35mm movie blown up to 70mm. The Alexa 65 camera Cuaron used is nice, but it's still digital, and printing it on fine-grain film doesn't make it look like film. Which is not, I guess, bad in and of itself, but was not exactly what I was expecting from special 70mm shows.

You Were Never Really Here
Stan & Ollie

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Stan & Ollie

For a guy who often feels like a character actor or ensemble player, John C. Reilly played a title character in four different movies in 2018 (The Sisters Brothers, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Holmes & Watson, and Stan & Ollie). Eric Snider captured half of that in his always-entertaining piece on end-of-year stats, but the full list kind of amuses and impresses me, because it's a pretty broad range of movies in which Reilly is, on the one hand, always himself, but in at least three cases, not so at the detriment of the film, which is especially impressive in this one, where he's playing a real and very recognizable person. I guess that's arguably the definition of a great character actor, but you don't often see that put to use as that sort of lead.

Kind of a shame that none of those parts got him nominated for an Oscar this year; The Sisters Brothers was a great performance in the middle of a middling movie, and this one is pretty darn nice. I really hope the fact that Sony Pictures Classics positioned it as an award contender with the Christmas limited release, slow expansion keyed to the awards announcements, etc., doesn't work against it as a bunch of theaters that would have booked it on this coming Friday decide, no, we need to bring A Star Is Born back.

Stan & Ollie

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 January 2019 in Landmark Kendall Square #7 (first-run, DCP)

Stan and Ollie is an affectionate film about a couple of people who, by all appearances, seem to deserve that affection, and that's not as easy to pull off as you might think. It's easy to wind up making something too lightweight, or insert too much external strife to create drama. This film rearranges things, but never loses track of how a great deal of what made Laurel & Hardy work on-screen is also what makes their real-life relationship compelling.

In 1937, Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly) were one of Hollywood's biggest draws, although their contracts with Hal Roach (Danny Huston) kept them on a leash. By 1953, they were yesterday's news, although they had plans for a comeback picture, a take on Robin Hood. To drum up interest, they booked a tour of Great Britain, although promoter Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones) is only able to book them into small venues. Hopefully they'll be doing better by the time their wives (Shirley Henderson & Nina Arianda) arrive in London.

There have always been two Stan Laurels and two Oliver Hardys, and the makers of this movie seem to love both versions equally, and base their entire approach to the film on this. Stanley Laurel was a sharp comedy mind who planned their gags meticulously and agitated for a better deal rather than a simpleton while Oliver "Babe" Hardy doesn't have his onscreen persona's short temper, but their alter egos fit them like gloves, and when they arrive at their first (rather small) hotel, they enter doing a bit. It's a delightful comic moment that does a lot - it lets Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly to do some Laurel & Hardy-style comedy without simply recreating something from one of their films, it gives the audience an idea of just how practiced these guys are, and the generosity of it goes a long way to establishing the audience's fondness for the guys. They're giving away a bit of what they do for a living, for an audience of one woman at the front desk, when a lot of people who still think of themselves as big stars would instead be demanding.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 18 January 2019 - 24 January 2019

It could be a pretty great weekend, although who knows - the big release could be terrific or a disaster.

  • After all, who knows what to expect from M. Night Shyamalan sometimes? Glass follows up both an early triumph in Unbreakable and the more uneven Split, with Bruce Willis & Samuel L. Jackson from the first and James McAvoy & Anna Taylor-Joy from the second. Could be a blast, could be a disaster, and it'll probably wind up nuts either way. It's at The Somerville Theatre, Fresh Pond, Jordan's Furniture (Imax), the Embassy, Boston Common (including Imax), Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport (Icon-X), South Bay (including Imax/Dolby CInema), Assembly Row (including Imax/Dolby Cinema), Revere (including XPlus/MX4D), and the SuperLux.

    Dragon Ball Super: Broly is technically a "special screening", but it's playing a full schedule Friday through Wednesday at Boston Common, and anything from one to five shows a day at Fenway (Saturday/Monday-Thursday), South Bay (Saturday/Monday-Thursday), Assembly Row (Monday-Thursday), Revere (Friday-Thursday). They Shall Not Grow Old returns for a full day of shows on Monday at Boston Common (3D), Fenway (2D/3D), the Seaport, South Bay (3D), Revere, and the SuperLux. Fenway and Revere also have The Final Wish, a horror movie with the likes of Lin Shaye and Tony Todd in the cast.
  • Kendall Square and The West Newton Cinema get Stan & Ollie, with Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly as Laurel and Hardy on a late-career tour of the UK, facing health issues, fear that they're has-beens, and issues with previous attempts to go out on their own.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre, the Kendall, and Boston Common all get Cold War, the new film from Pawel Pawlikowski based upon the story of how his parents met, a story of doomed love set against the 1950s and 1960s, with fantastic black-and-white photography.

    Speaking of fantastic black-and-white photography the Coolidge also starts a quick one-week run of Roma in 70mm, which should look kind of amazing. Check times and book early. They also continue their East-Meets-West midnights with Enter the Dragon on Friday night and Sabata Saturday, both on 35mm; Saturday also offers Parts Unknown, a locally-produced wrestling-based horror film. Sunday morning offers Kid Flicks One, a selection of shorts from the New York Children's International Film Festival, while a Wide Lens presentation of The Florida Project plays Wednesday, including a new 35mm print and a post-film panel discussion.
  • Oscar-shortlisted documentary Hale County This Morning, This Evening plays The Brattle Theatre from Friday to Monday, the first feature from RaMell Ross, looking at the "Black Belt" of the American south. It splits the screen with Mandy, which plays in the 9:30pm slot.

    They briefly return to the "(Some of) The Best of 2018" program on Tuesday, showing a double feature of BlacKkKlansman & Sorry to Bother You that had previously been postponed. Then on Wednesday, they start the annual "Dead of Winter" series, this one focusing on "Tales of the Beast", with a double feature of Werewolf of London & The Wolf Man that day and The Company of Wolves & Ginger Snaps on Thursday; the series runs through the end of the month.
  • Apple Fresh Pond continues their runs of F2: Fun and Frustration, Petta, Simmba, NTR: Kathanayakudu, and Viswasam; Malayalam drama Ente Ummante Peru plays Saturday. The big Bollywood opening is actually yat Fenway, with Uri: The Surgical Strike chronicling a 2016 counterattack on a terrorist base.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues the Festival of Films from Iran with Oscar submission,No Date, No Signature (Friday), Pig (Friday), 3 Faces (Saturday), Invasion (Sunday/Wednesday), and Sly (Sunday), The Charmer (Thursday), and A Man of Integrity (Thursday). They also continue runs of Museo (35mm Saturday/Wednesday) and The Mystery of Picasso (Wednesday).
  • The Harvard Film Archive continues Rediscovering Jacques Becker with Paris Frills (Friday/Saturday), Rue de l'Estrapade (35mm Friday), Montparnasse 19 (Saturday), The Adventures of Arsène Lupin (Sunday), Touchez pas au grisbi (Sunday), and The Hole (Monday). In the middle of that, they have a $5 family matinee on Saturday, Fatih Akin's teen road-trip movie Goodbye Berlin.
  • Belmont World Film has their annual Family Film Festival from Friday to Monday, with a George Méliès Cine-Concert at the Regent in Arlington on Friday evening, and "It's Only Natural" program at the Belmont Studio Cinema on Saturday (including the annual Weston Woods Studios show and Tito and the Birds), "Brave and Amazing Kids" back at the Regent on Sunday (including Serbian fantasy The Witch Hunters), and "Dreaming of Dr. King" at the Brattle on Monday.
  • Bright Lights won't be back for another week or two, but ArtsEmerson shows Theatre of War, a documentary about Argentine and British veterans discussing and recreating the Falklands War in collaboration with writer/director Lola Arias on Friday evening; it's free with an RSVP and Arias will be present for a post-film Q&A.
  • The ICA has 1pm & 3pm screenings of films from the 2018 Ottawa International Festival of Animation on Saturday and Sunday.
  • In addition to the festival, The Regent Theatre will show the silent 1924 version of Peter Pan at 3pm on Monday, with organist Peter Krasinski providing the music and actress Lindsay Crouse serving as the benshi (so even kids who can't read intertitles should be able to follow the movie).
  • Cinema Salem holds Shoplifters over for another week in their 18-seat screening room; that also plays at The Luna Theater in Lowell on Saturday and Tuesday. They also have Never Ending Man on Saturday, The Neverending Story Saturday through Monday, Beautiful Boy on Saturday, Misery on Sunday, Martin Luther King day screenings of Selma on Monday, and the weekly, free "Weirdo Wednesdays" mystery show.

Looking hard at Glass, Stan & Ollie, and Roma on the big film, maybe trying to get to some werewolf movies by the end of the week, and catch up on other things in between. Ginger Snaps and Touchez pas au grisbi seem like major holes in what I've seen, after all.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Fantasia 2018 Catch-Up 03: The Traveling Cat Chronicles, The Outlaws, Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires, Knuckleball, Fireworks (2017), Lôi Báo, The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion, Parallel (2018), I Am a Hero, Luz, The Witch in the Window, and Inuyashiki

So it's been (quickly checks Blogger) just about seven weeks to write up these twelve reviews, with another thirteen to go before I can drink the last Canadian Crush that I brought back from Montreal. It's really kind of absurd, especially considering that I haven't spent that much time since then writing up new/mainstream releases for eFilmCritic. But I've got confidence that I'll make it to the end before the next big, time-consuming blocks of movies. That rate isn't so bad, considering I'm working from Letterboxd first drafts and notes taken in darkened theaters. But we really should get more people on that site so that I can try and blitz through them more.

I don't know that a little more time and ability to consider things has changed my opinion of anything drastically. A bit more clicked together with Luz, The Witch in the Window, and Inuyashiki, but those were ones I'd already liked. I think all three benefit a little from me having a little time to ruminate and find some more universal themes - I don't know that I would have necessarily seen the demon in Luz as basically everything that tries to control women like the title character without more time, for instance. On the other hand, I like to think that it was just the act of writing that revealed The Witch in the Window as about a certain type of loneliness making ghosts out of people, or Inuyashiki playing with how people of different ages interact with technology. In some cases, it might be stretching to try and find more to write about than surface thrills that aren't quite so fresh six months later, but who knows

One thing I wondered about with Luz was whether its small scale does more to make every decision meaningful than would perhaps be the case in a bigger story in the same genre. I am, in general, less than enamored with how movies with big stakes will reduce the action to something small and relatable, but Luz never really does that; instead of making the fate of the world hinge on what's happening to one young woman, she's buffetted by forces in large part outside her control, and the pettiness of those around her is more relatable than trying to make one person's life connected with the greater world.

Luz is the one in this batch I hope gets to make the biggest splash in North American come 2019, but it's not alone - I;m sure that many of the folks who get stunned by Korean action films when I dig them up would love The Witch Part 1. And I must admit, every time I saw the trailer for A Dog's Journey Home this December (and even more so when I saw the reviews), I wanted to drop The Traveling Cat Chronicles on an American audience and really let an animal-voiceover picture tear at someone's heart.

Tabineko ripôto (The Traveling Cat Chronicles, aka Tabineko Report)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The Traveling Cat Chronicles was the first film to play the festival lineup on this day, and it was a canny bit of scheduling not just because this was a more family-friendly movie than what makes up the bulk of this genre-heavy schedule, but because it's unapologetically sentimental in a way few other movies playing the event are. So, fine, let's get the day's crying done early and have fun with the rest of the movies; it's not like that will be unearned.

The film is narrated by a once-proud stray cat (voice of Mitsuki Takahata) who mentions that she as yet has no name, though has been living with Satoru (Sota Fukushi) since he found her on the side of the road. Satoru is a young man, at a point where one's life is often in flux, and there is no space for a cat in this next phase, but he's also a cat lover who wouldn't dream of not making sure Nana does not find a good home. So he travels up and down Japan meeting with childhood friends Kosuke Sawada (Ryosuke Yamamoto), who is recently divorced, and Yoshime (Tomoya Maeno), who has recently adopted a kitten; former classmate Sugi Shusuke (Takuro Ono) and ex-girlfriend Chikako (Alice Hirose), now married and running a pet-friendly B&B; and his aunt Noriko (Yuko Takeuchi), who raised him after his parents' death and whose itinerant work as a judge prevented Satoru from having a pet as a child. None of them, unfortunately, are quite able to take in a cat who has grown attached to her human.

There has, obviously, been a fair amount of tragedy and upheaval in Satoru's life already, and each time Satoru visits a friend there is an accompanying set of flashbacks to how Satoru met them, how they were separated, and some story about how they bonded over a cat. The stories inevitably fall into a bit of a pattern, but director Koichiro Miki makes that a good thing, telling some funny stories that glide into a bittersweet place; they point at where the film is heading while still misdirecting the audience a bit. Where the story is heading is both a surprise and not by the time it gets there, but that doesn't matter; the film is generally about taking both animals and people who need it in, even when it's difficult and leads to some heartache, and never loses sight of that.

Yes, this is the sort of movie that tries to soften a blow with cute animals, but since it's cats instead of dogs (as is more common), it's kind of no-nonsense about it. Nana is smart and not sentimental in her narration (or his; the subtitles use male pronouns despite the female voice, but I suspect that will be fixed if this gets any sort of official release), with Mitsuki Takahata giving her a default tone of annoyed indignation that matches the feline performer without ever seeming aloof (and occasionally being quite emotional). It's just enough tartness on top of a sort of simple, child-like vocabulary to feel like a cat. There are some other animal voices (though mostly confined to the present where Nana can relay them), but Takahata's performance sets the tone.

Full review at EFC.

Beomjoidosi (The Outlaws)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The Outlaws is a basic as heck cop movie, the sort that starts with its cops and hoods on casual terms with each other and doesn't really start getting intense until the very end, even though the outsider invading the territory is constantly bringing the violence. The filmmakers know how these things are shaped, and are willing to give the fans what they like without a whole lot of new ingredients.

It's based upon "The Heuksapa Incident" of 2007, a concerted effort to crackdown on crime in Garibang, Seoul's Chinatown. As the film starts, the Venom and Isu gangs are constantly scuffling over territory, but cops like Ma Suk-do (Ma Dong-seok) and Park Byung-sik (Hong Ki-joon) tend to keep it tamped down because they're either trustworthy locals or the right kind of mildly corrupt. That changes with the arrival of Jang Chen (Yoon- Kye-sang) and his Black Dragons, notably the vicious Wei Sung-rak (Jin Seon-kyu) - Jang is quick to play the established gangs off each other and decapitate and consolidate what's left. It leads to a level of violence that the police can't ignore, although by the time they're ready to act, Jang has dug in enough to make it difficult.

There's not any sort of particular twist in the offing, and that's fine; a lot of people are just at a genre film to enjoy the familiar and maybe laugh at the moments when people just assume that everything will be all right, and this supplies it. There are dry-witted cops, frustrated gangsters, and the occasional lady just trying to make a living working in the casino's back rooms. It's the sort of gangster movie that celebrates equilibrium, where the new arrivals aren't just more violent but also a threat to a mostly functional system, and filmmaker Kang Yoon-sung does well to not be entirely pragmatic about it: There's just the right amount of discomfort around the old gangs that the viewer gets the sense that this sort of system is always going to be ready to fall when someone gets too ambitious, even as the new influx of greed and violence obviously demands a response.

Once that time comes, the film has a good time letting it play out. Kang and co-writer Lee Seok-geun rightly figure that if The Heukspa Incident was big enough to be named, it deserves the sort of overview where the audience can see what's going on while still playing out at a one-on-one scale when it can. There are shootouts, yes, and fights where getting slashed with a knife seems like it's mostly irritating, and they do well to stage them to feel both larger-than-life and grounded in the reality of the true story. Then there's the big throwdown where the big guys let loose, making a mess of everything around them. It's not an all-timer, but it's fair material for a movie mostly intended to do well on VOD.

Full review at EFC.

Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: Action!, DCP)

Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires does the thing where it spoofs dumb, tacky movies by being dumb and tacky in the same way only much louder, trying to legitimize a guilty pleasure by slathering a lawyer off irony on it so someone can say they like how it mocks those attitudes. It's not really fooling anyone, if it's trying; if you're inclined to react to the real thing with "not cool", you'll likely have the same reaction here, and the same likely goes if you delight in that sort of over-the-top excess.

As you may expect, "Chuck Steel" is the name of a cop who plays by his own rules, to the immense frustration of his captain Jack Schitt and whatever poor bit of cannon fodder is assigned to be his partner. His wife has left him and the department wants him to shrink Dr. Alex Cular, but he's the only one noticing that there's something really weird happening with the local homeless population aside from British weirdo Abraham Van Rental, who claims to be a vampire expert (well, "trampire" expert, specifically). And what's this all got to do with the governor, who wants to outlaw booze?

Is Chuck Steel (both film and character) more than a bit crass? Oh, yeah, it leans pretty hard on getting laughs based on political incorrectness and gross-out humor, with the gags based half on being unexpected, whether because it seems like kind of a non-sequitur or because one doesn't expect the filmmakers to follow through on the crude potential of a set-up. It's not entirely shock-based humor that falls apart once you're expecting it, and it kind of works to filmmaker Mike Mort's advantage that he doesn't exactly go small: The gray area between "obviously a spoof of a thing" and "basically that thing" is huge, but he does all he can to get into the spot where it's obviously a joke.

Full review at EFC.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Knuckleball is a solid little thriller that gets an occasional raised eyebrow for how ruthlessly capable its young main character can be; it makes some thematic sense at the end and has been hinted at, but, still, hmmm. That goes a bit for the plot in general, which has an awful lot of stuff that probably comes as a package more often than you'd like in real life, but seems a bit excessive for a movie.

It starts with Henry (Luca Villacis) being dropped off at his grandfather's house; he hasn't seen Jacob (Michael Ironside) much; the old man lives out in the sticks and Henry is the sort of kid who loves his phone. His parents don't have any place else to put him while they're at a funeral, though, so it's just for a few days. The trip is shaping up to be a mixed bag, between the forgotten charger, the chilly house, the chores, and, on the other hand, the discovery that Jacob played minor league baseball back in the day and might teach the kids something, but then his neighbor Dixon (Munro Chambers) stops by, and he seems kind of sketchy. A half-overheard conversation between the neighbors sounds really sketchy, and then…

Well, you can guess some of the basic shape; it's not the sort of movie built around people sitting down, having a heart-to-heart, and finding forgiveness for long-buried secrets. No, this is the sort of movie where the secrets use an axe to escape whatever cupboard they've been locked in, which is all well and good, but there aren't a whole lot of moving pieces for much of the movie. Filmmaker Michael Peterson and his co-writers have opted to keep the core very lean, and even getting to the film's 88-minutes-including-credits length means it occasionally has to be goosed a bit. It's the sort of movie where calling the cops or having some other neighbor come by may bring about enough violence to keep the viewer from wandering away but won't materially chance the course of the story; it's just keeping things moving until the big finish

Full review at EFC.

Uchiage hanabi, shita kara miru ka? Yoko kara miru ka? (Fireworks)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, DCP)

Go figure - a couple years ago, we were talking about whether Matoko Shinkai could be the new Miyazaki, and now Fireworks is being promoted in large part by how it's like a Shinkai movie and from a Your Name producer, though it's also noteworthy for being based upon a TV-movie made by Shunji Iwai. Time sometimes marches on fast! It may not be quite at the same level as those filmmakers' best, but it's an enjoyable youth fantasy that should certainly appeal to fans of those filmmakers.

It takes place in the small town of Moshino, starting just before summer vacation. There will be fireworks, and middle-schoolers Norimichi (voice of Masaki Suda), Yusuke (voice of Mamoru Miyano), and Jun'ichi (voice of Shintaro Asanuma) have been having an argument over whether they explode in the shape of a disc or a sphere, plotting to climb to the top of the town's lighthouse to see what they look like from that perspective. There's also Oikawa Nazuna (voice of Suzu Hirose), a girl not long for their class, as her divorced mother is about to remarry and move away; spotting Norimichi and Yusuke at the school's swimming pool, she challenges them to race, saying she'll meet the winner that night during the fireworks. She finds a strange bauble at the bottom of the pool, but it's Norimichi who will eventually discover its strange power.

It's a plenty charming story, though it's not quite Your Name. It's a cute, likable tale of young love and potential separation, but its fantasy isn't quite so sharp - compared to Your Name or Penguin Highway, the fantastical parts of the story seem a bit more grafted on as opposed to being part of the natural part of the world these kids inhabit. It fits with the story the filmmakers are trying to tell; the alternate timelines and attempts for the kids to change their destiny are able to show both how small changes can send young persons' lives in different directions and how those young people can be powerless. The relaxed pacing often feels like repetition and padding that doesn't reveal quite so much on second glance as one might necessarily hope.

Full review at EFC.

Lôi Báo

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: Action!, DCP)

For a movie whose basic premise is goofy enough to include head transplants, this doesn't play as nearly the bit of madness it could have. Granted, you've got to scale expectations down a bit for Vietnam - the effects budget it's not going to be huge - but there's still a feeling of rather mild ambition here, of taking the superhero stuff in stride because you know the beats.

After a sort of misdirecting opening depicting a scene from a comic book Tam (Cuong Seven) is writing and illustrating, the audience gets to know him a bit better - he's pretty well-liked in his neighborhood, although people do make a few comments about how his wife Linh (Tran Thi Nha Phuong) is supporting Tam and their son with her coffee shop. It seems likely to be his last; he has terminal cancer, although it turns out that Linh's Uncle Ma (Hoang Son) is doing more than creating a few hybrid crop strains on his farm, and an otherwise-healthy man about Tam's size has been shot and killed nearby. It's a miracle and then some, because Tam has inherited athleticism and fighting skills that he uses to rescue people and fight crime, disguising himself as his character "Lôi Báo" - but this "cellular memory" also pulls him toward the dead man's home and girlfriend Dr. Tue (Ngoc Anh Vu). What he finds in the house leads him to believe that this Nghia fellow was not a good person, working for organ smuggler Mr. Dao.

Does this make any sort of sense, science-wise? No, not really, but it is by and large the kind of dumb pseudoscience a viewer can roll with; it hits the right wish-fulfillment buttons and taps into the right fears about losing oneself in a new role that seems to be everything one has always wanted. It's not an especially clever story - twists, connections, and betrayals happen almost exactly on schedule, and for a movie with a genuinely loopy premise, it's got a fairly boring, conventional set of villains. Genuinely evil and vicious, sure, but if Tam gets to be something more than himself, maybe the bad guys should as well.

Full review at EFC.

Manyeo (The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Well, okay, you might think as you watch the awkwardly named and punctuated The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion, this is kind of an okay young-adult riff on genetically engineered superhumans, but I kind of feel like I've seen it all before, with the shadowy agencies and people in black suits and the hiding things we can kind of predict. Then there's a sudden, extremely violent action scene, and you remember, oh, that's right, this is a South Korean action movie. You still might not be ready for just how much all hell breaks loose in final act, at which point your eyes will probably go really big and you'll want to now why you can't get "Part 2" right now.

To be fair, it starts in dark, bloody fashion, revealing the aftermath of something allowing two children to escape from some sort of lab with security types in pursuit, with the kids' safety not apparently their first concern. The boy is recaptured but the girl, apparently gravely injured, is found by a childless couple on a farm (Choi Jung-woo & Oh Mi-hee). She doesn't remember anything, but grows up smart and athletic, kind of shy until accompanying her friend Do Myung-hee (Go Min-si) a auditions for the Birth of a Star show. Suffice it to say, when someone sees Koo Ja-yoon (Kim Da-mi) on TV, alarms get set off and it's not long before ruthless hunter Mr. Choi (Park Hee-soon) and his ruthless team of teenagers are showing up at the Koo farm.

There was a point where one might have idly wondered just how popular American superhero comics and their tropes are in South Korea when seeing a movie open with a powerful child being found and taken in by a couple salt-of-the-earth farmers, but by now it's probably pretty safe to assume that yeah, everyone in South Korea knows exactly what writer/director Park Hoon-jung is riffing on there (amusingly, the film was actually made by DC Comics parent Warner Brothers's Korean division). As you might expect from the "subversion" in the film's English-language title, Park is not particularly content to just do an upbeat Korean take on Superman, although the route he does go is also kind of familiar, from the wardrobe to the general mad-scientist set-up, right down to there being someone out there who knows there is more to Ja-yoon than even the person in charge of the program today knows. Park is nimble enough that he never seems to be slavishly following a blueprint or undercutting his intent by being self-referential.

Full review at EFC.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

Parallel sometimes feels like two or three high-concept sci-fi films sewn together, not always cleanly, and then accelerated with certain bits taken out to increase the suspense in the second half. It's kind of exhausting at times, to be honest, a puzzle box that keeps inventing new rules lest the characters solve it to fast. Still, it's kind of impressive that it doesn't become just frantic.

It takes place in Seattle, where a software development team lives and works together in the same house where something weird happened before the opening credits: Noel (Martin Wallström), the business-savvy team leader; Leena (Georgia King), his girlfriend and the team's UX designer; Josh (Mark O'Brien), kind of a doofus with a big crush on a local bartender (Alyssa Diaz) but a good coder; and Devin (Aml Ameen), a more grounded programmer. They discover a hidden staircase in their house, leading up to an attic which includes a weird mirror that lets them walk into parallel worlds. Not weird, "what if the Nazis won WWII" worlds, but ones almost identical to their own, but with a few caveats - the mirror never takes them to the same alternate universe twice, and time runs 180 times faster there. So, if you've got a deadline in four days rather than the four weeks you'd planned on, you may find an opportunity there, as well as all sort of other temptations.

Tech and software development are certainly not the only places where something like this will get misused, but there's a certain fitting ingenuity in setting it there; the freelance workers/contractors, impossible deadlines that require cramming more man-hours than is strictly legal into a week, and frequent decision to outsource development to people in what may as well be another world will likely seem especially familiar to people in that business, as will the sense, in later parts of the movie, that other people see you as a replaceable body, and that people do not know what comes next but are certain that "disruption" is good. Director Isaac Ezban and writer Scott Blaszak seem to have a better grasp on it than a lot of filmmakers do (writers and artists have a different sort of grinding, freelance/gig economy to deal with).

Full review at EFC.

I Am a Hero

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

I kind of expected the title if this to be a bit more ironic, both from what I've heard of the manga and the way the opening act played; my increasing unease with zombies and the rules that go with them becoming mainstream certainly had me hoping that the filmmakers would be doing something subversive. They don't, but the pretty much standard but well-done zombie action at least makes it one of the bigger and better takes on the material.

Hideo Suzuki (Yo Oizumi) has not exactly been preparing for the zombie apocalypse, but he's probably more ready than most in Japan, owning a licensed shotgun and carrying around some resentment in his job as an art assistant to manga artist Koroi Nakada (Jin Katagiri), having also been awarded a "best newcomer" prize 15 years ago. Kicked out by girlfriend Tekko (Nana Katase) he's thus got his weapon with him as the virus spreads, eventually winding up in a cab with schoolgirl HIromi Hayakari (Kasumi Arimura). They make it out of the city to an outlet mall where nurse Yabu (Masami Nagasawa) seems to take a shine to him, while the charismatic young leader of the group taking shelter there, Iura (Hisashi Yoshizawa) thinks they may be helpful, but they've got a secret - Hiromi has been bitten, though she has apparently contracted a mild strain of the virus.

Not having read Kengo Hanazawa's original manga, I can't speak to whether the title was meant to be something Suzuki grows into or hopefully grows out of, and the script by Akiko Nogi isn't terribly definitive on this point, either. It's a question that gets down to what a film in this genre is about - is Suzuki justified in hating the world and seeing those within as enemies, or is he going to be able to tap into a buried humanity in the face of the pure misanthropy of a zombie horde? A filmmaker can have most of the same things happen but make two very different movies depending on how they answer that question, although most of the time they take the same bits from column A and B, and have since the first time George Romero put a bunch of frightened people in the same cottage. I Am a Hero is a little more flagrant about trying to have it both ways, and that limits its ceiling: It can be a well-made genre film, but not the type where something buried within it gets the viewer thinking.

Full review at EFC.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

Tilman Singer's Luz is the sort of film that I suspect makes other filmmakers envious: How many of them, when they were students and able to be a little self-indulgent, were able to make something good enough to cause a stir at festivals? This one is a heck of a nice bit of art-house horror without that qualifier, but for the work of someone explicitly learning the ropes (beyond how everyone is always learning as they create), it's a heck of a starting point.

The film's own starting point is attention-grabbing - closed-circuit footage of a young woman stumbling into a police station and starting trouble, practically begging to be locked up. She's Luz Carrara (Luana Velis), a Chilean immigrant who now drives a cab in Berlin. The police oblige and call in Dr. Rossini (Jan Bluthardt) to give her a psych examination where she recalls a seance she and friends did back in Catholic school when her friend Margarita (Lilli Lorenz) thought she was pregnant, but was actually host to something else - something which has followed Luz to Europe and is now possessing Rossini.

Hypnosis is often treated as a sort of magic in horror movies (and elsewhere), a way to hack into a person's mind and reveal something hidden or plant a trojan horse, though that sort of powerful mesmerist is out of vogue. What makes Luz a nifty, disorienting sort of horror movie is the way in which it combines hypnosis and possession, blurring the lines between Rossini's therapeutic tool and the entity's supernatural abilities, creating a sense of lack of control and disconnection that many other films like this may not necessarily lack, but do limit. It's a fascinating way to make what seems like a very small threat into something tremendously tense, but it's not just the supernatural element that is amplified here; Singer connecting these two elements in this particular way amplifies the underlying situation, where a woman who has been violated and attacked finds herself forced into a similar situation in the place where she is supposed to be safe, the line between the clinically intimate and the invasive eventually being obliterated.

Full review at EFC.

The Witch in the Window

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Thumbs up to The Witch in the Window being a 75-minute horror movie, which is almost always the best length for movies in the genre to be. May filmmakers' increasing recognition of streaming services as their ultimate landing spot keep them from adding fifteen to twenty unneeded minutes going forward. It's not always going to result in something as naturally compact and effective as this, but that's something to strive for.

For Finn (Charlie Tacker), the horror starts with father Simon (Alex Draper) dragging him north from New York to rural Vermont, where there's no cell phone coverage and the house they're staying in is a fixer-upper that Simon plans to flip; as pretty as the area is, it's not exactly a city kid's ideal summer vacation. Still, he hasn't seen his dad much since the divorce, it is kind of nice to have this much room to himself, and the neighbors seem nice. Still, Louis next door (Greg Naughton) isn't exactly eager to help Simon with the wiring, and eventually the electrician explains why: The previous owner, Lydia (Carol Stanzione), had been sitting in her chair by the window dead for the better part of a month before someone called the police, and that's the sort of story that makes people feel like she never really left.

Despite the film's brief length, writer/director Andy Mitton doesn't push the scares too hard, trying to get to jumps and escalating the danger quickly. He favors the scene where the viewer realizes that there's somebody else in frame when it's quiet enough for the eye to wander, and the question is less when Lydia showed up (she's always there), but what exactly is making Simon or Finn receptive to seeing her. Milton lets the characters' fear drive the story as much as the actual presence of a ghost, letting it spiral, as a frightened kid leads to a father afraid he can't protect his son, and a frightened father makes it worse for a kid.

Full review at EFC.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

As much as the usual position of a fan is to look for fidelity in an adaptation, I was rather hoping that the feature film version of Inuyashiki would fix up a few problems the manga had, most importantly that the creator apparently found himself more interested in the villain than the title character. The filmmakers cut out some of the fat to be sure, but what they've come up with turns out to be a pretty faithful adaptation, warts and all. It's still kind of a blast, and who knows, maybe sequels will let them have a freer hand later.

Ichiro Inuyashiki (Noritake Kinashe) is younger than he looks, but that still leaves him in late middle-age, not as far up the corporate ladder as he probably should be, a disappointment to his wife (Mari Hamada) and an embarrassment to daughter Mari (Ayaka Miyoshi) and son Takeshi (Nayuta Fukuzaki). They don't much like the stray corgi he let follow him home, either. While walking Hanako one night, he winds up very much in the wrong place at the wrong time, as a spaceship crashes right on top of him. Fortunately, the alien tech is quite capable of repairing itself and the park, leaving no trace of itself - but part of what it repairs is Ichiro, who wakes up feeling better than he has in years but having no appetite for anything more than a little water. That's because he's a highly advanced android now, incredibly strong, able to interface with any technology, even equipped with weaponry and the ability to fly, although as a timid and non-confrontational man, he's nervous to test these abilities. Trouble is, he wasn't the only one at the park, and Hiro Shishigami (Takeru Satoh) is a teenage outcast mad at the world.

Director Shinsuke Sato and screenwriter Hiroshi Hashimoto don't change much from the manga, and perhaps one of the most notable changes of necessity likely doesn't seem very big: The film's Ichiro is not so extremely old and feeble as the manga. He's certainly not exactly bursting with vitality and comes across quite beleaguered, but that gives star Noritake Kinashi room to put the focus on Ichiro's attitude, rather than just his capabilities. Kinashi projects a simple, genuine decency compared to the villain's detached sociopathy. It's a good but not preachy version of the much-retweeted quotation about not knowing how to explain you should care about other people, and also superhero 101, but effective.

Full review at EFC.