Monday, March 25, 2019

Two at the Coolidge: Transit & Starfish

Hey, I made it through a midnight movie! Just took me being still halfway on Hong Kong time, having slept until two in the afternoon or so, and sucking down a whole ton of caffeine between the night's three movies (having started earlier in the evening with The Crossing), which is not exactly a repeatable plan. But if it got me to actually see what is likely the only time an independent sci-fi movie is playing Boston, well, glad it worked out. Heck, the timing was even good, with just the right amount of time to get from Boston Common to the Coolidge and then a quick turn-around between the night show and the midnight show.

It came with a visit from writer/director A.J. White, or Al, I guess. As you can see, I take lousy pictures from the front row, especially when I also want to get the wolf hat that Virginia Gardner wore through much of the movie in the picture.

As you might expect, this was a pretty personal work for him; he expanded on the dedication at the end of the film, talking about the friend who died young and the temptation to crawl within oneself after such a thing. It was kind of of the Q&A one sort of expects, especially at 2am, especially when the director kind of also wanted to talk about what might happen in Avengers: Endgame with a bunch of movie fans. But it was cool.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 March 2019 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (first-run, DCP)

There's something kind of fascinating about how, by setting his adaptation of Anna Seghers's 1941 novel in what appears to be the present day, Christian Petzold turns what was at the time a contemporary work into speculative fiction, a more concrete reminder that what had happened before can happen again than making it a period piece or something that pushes the action to some sort of specific future that could possibly be rebutted. It's a brainstorm that takes Transit far, and Petzold and his collaborators are good enough to get more out of the film than just the idea.

As the film opens, Georg (Franz Rogowski) is still in Paris even though the invading army is rapidly approaching and it soon won't be safe for the likes of him. A writer friend asks him to deliver a pair of letters to his colleagues Weidel, and in exchange he'll help Georg escape to Marseilles. The man is dead when Georg reaches the hotel, but one of his documents - an agreement to take asylum in Mexico - may be useful. So Georg escapes south, but reaching Mexico means not just acquiring passage on a ship, but convincing the American consul that he will not disembark when the ship docks there on the way. In the meantime, he befriends Driss (Lilien Batman), the soccer-loving son of his traveling companion, and the boy's mother Melissa (Maryam Zaree). He also finds his path crossing with Mtarie (Paula Beer), the strikingly beautiful wife of the man he is impersonating - and her heart is already divided between Weidl and Richard (Godehard Giese), a refugee surgeon.

It wouldn't be accurate to say that Petzold starts Transit without much explanation - there are two major scenes that are just people telling Georg specific bits of background in the early going, although they are focused on the immediate situation rather than the general state of the world - but there is an immediate sense of urgency while the film is set in Paris as the audience has to process the situation and keep an eye on the details in a way akin to how Georg does. Morally ambiguous actions are often happening in the moment, and the film crackles in a way worth the envy of those making thrillers. Many films have to build to this sort of suspense, and Petzold is soon moving on after making it look effortless.

Full review on EFilmCritic


* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 16/17 March 2019 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (After Midnite, DCP)

I wonder, sometimes, if I would have either the creativity or writerly discipline to come up with a really good delusion I ever break from personal tragedy, one where the metaphors are consistent and no surprises break the illusion, and maybe there's even a way for the outside world to break through when the time comes. I'm not saying that this is what filmmaker A.T. White is trying to do in this movie, but it's an obvious enough possibility that seasoned viewers of independent sci-fi movies to find themselves trying to decode the story as opposed to just running with it, even the first time through.

It starts with a funeral. Aubrey Parker's friend Grace (Christina Masterson) has died young, and Aubrey (Virginia Gardner) leaves early, not able to face anyone else, especially so soon after Christmas. She wanders the snowy Colorado town until she finds herself at Grace's apartment and lets herself in. When she wakes up, the power is out, and the town is eerily still, apparently empty, with monsters lurking around every corner. A package Grace left contains a message for Aubrey, saying Grace had been analyzing the signal that allowed these creatures to cross into their world, but "this mixtape will save the world", with six others hidden in spots important to them. But is she in any shape for that sort of quest, emotionally?

That's the hard thing about grief in general and using it as the engine to drive a movie like this in particular: It can be paralyzing, as there's nothing one can do about the situation and often precious little to be done in response. Grace can leave Aubrey with a quest, but a large part of the film's point is that even the fate of all humanity being on her shoulders can make it hard for her to do much more than wallow, sinking into the life of her lost friend and only reluctantly starting to look for the magic tapes when food and fuel start running low. It's honest, but often a test for the audience, because not only is Aubrey relatively inactive for much of the film, but White doesn't leverage that quiet time as well as he could - for all the time spent nesting in Grace's apartment, the viewer should have much than of a superficial sense of their friendship when Aubrey finally goes out and uses it to (hopefully) save herself and humanity. Instead, she seems to be following clues in tentative fashion, as disconnected as the audience rather than using her connection to pull others in.

Full review on EFilmCritic

No comments: