Sunday, April 28, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 15 April 2019 - 21 April 2019

Yeah, it's been a whole week. Been busy.

This Week in Tickets

I think I get to one film at Belmont World Film a year, and this year it's Asako I & II, an interesting movie from Japan, although one where the presenter's description of itas a weird movie had me wondering which of us had the proper standards of what constitutes a weird Japanese movie.

That label kind of applies, a bit, to Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, the first big movie that's the work of Hayao Miyazaki, auteur, and it's kind of terrific. I really should have seen it before now,but I think I've purchased two copies on disc and not really made it all the way to the end of either because I tended to start watching it at a bad time. 35mm matinee fixes that. It was also just a quick bus ride to Assembly Row to catch the new Hellboy, which was rather less impressive. It let me minimize the time dealing with the buses replacing the Red Line, too.

Apparently they don't shut the subway down for Easter, though, so I was able to take the train to Kendall Square Sunday evening to put together a double feature of Little Woods & Wild Nights with Emily. Neither is a great film, but I wonder if that's because I'm not as accustomed to the focuses that these two female-directed and -centered movies choose, or as immediately connected. Can't hurt to watch more, though, to try and help adjust my perspective a little.

I'm currently filling in IFFBoston stuff on my Letterboxd page, as there's no way I'm going to get any of that reviewed in something close to real time.

Kaze no tani no Naushika (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 April 2019 in the Harvard Film Archive (weekend matinee, 35mm)

Does it count as a rewatch if I've put the disc in the player two or three times and then nodded off before it was done? I swear, I've chosen the worst times to try and watch this movie before jumping all over the HFA's subtitled 35mm matinee.

Obviously, I should have seen this sooner; it's a downright terrific movie which establishes its science-fiction bona fides from the opening frames and is grounded in Miyazaki's particular environmental take on the genre throughout. Miyazaki draws no line between world-building and adventure, and sketches out a larger world casually, without ever losing his focus on the title character and her village, even as every step forward implies a bigger world, larger stakes, and a sense of the apocalyptic. You see, from the start, the conflict between Miyazaki's dreams of amazing airships and an environmentally conscious world.

It's obviously an early work - the animation is a little rough at points, the villains are sometimes a little too casually sketched, and there were more than a few comments from the audience about how much of Nausicaä's bottom we were seeing (it didn't exactly look like the sort of post-apocalyptic future where the means to manufacture tights has survived). It's almost never less than intriguing, though, and I likely would have been astounded if it had played Portland, ME/been a thing my parents would have brought me to when I was 11. It still seems like an insane practically out-of-nowhere achievement, and I'm mildly curious to know whether a shot early in the movie of Nausicaä walking to the forest from her glider inspired an iconic image from Akira, vice versa, or if they were pulling from the same source.

Asako I & II
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
Hellboy '19
Little Woods
Wild Nights with Emily

Asako I & II

It's not actually that hard to get to the Belmont Studio when they have a special event like Belmont World Film's annual series - the 73 bus departs Harvard Square every few minutes - and it's apparently had a recent renovation to switch its previous seats out for couches, making for a fairly unique room. BWF itself is a neat event, with movies from around the world followed up by a discussion. Not necessarily with anyone connected with the film, but maybe someone who can speak to the subject matter. In this case, it was Shuei Kozu, who works at Boston Children's Hospital and teaches at Simmons, but who besides being from Kobe didn't necessarily have a lot of specific connection to this movie's subject matter.

She read the book to prepare, bringing her copy to show us - the density that Chinese and Japanese writing allows means that the book can be pretty compact compared to an English-language book of the same scale. Unfortunately, it kind of sounds like the book itself is a "Gen X dumping on Millennials" thing, with Asako a much less sympathetic character and Baku & Ryohei maybe not actually identical. The time frame was also changed, as the book was published before the big 2013 earthquake, and the film integrated it into the story. I suspect that I'd prefer the film if I read the book, but who knows?

One thing that was amusing was that she started out by talking about how this was a really weird movie, and I don't know about that. It's kind of a high concept movie, but maybe not truly bizarre in terms of what I've seen elsewhere It makes me wonder whether my conception of what constitutes a "weird Japanese film" is badly skewed from fifteen years of Fantasia trips and more before, or if the mostly-older crowd really needed to see Takashi Miike's Audition when it played the next weekend.

Netemo sametemo (Asako I & II)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 15 April 2019 in the Belmont Studio (Belmont World Film, DCP)

From what was said after the screening of Asako I & II that I attended, the film Ryusuke Hamaguchi made is rather different from Tomoka Shibasaki's novel, maintaining the basic concept but apparently giving the title character a more sympathetic characterization and otherwise moving things around. To whatever extent that's true, it seems to work out well; the movie version may occasionally be frustrating but only when meant to be, and it uses its concept of two apparently identical lovers to cover a lot of romantic ground without losing a sense of intimacy.

It opens in 2005, when Asako (Erika Karata) is a student in Osaka and meats Baku (Masahiro Higashide) outside an art gallery. Her friend Haruyo (Sairi Ito) immediately figures that Baku is bad news, even if she is classmakes with Baku's cousin Okazaki (Daichi Watanabe), but he is the sort that inexperienced girls like Asako fall for hard, no matter how clear the warning signs, and it ends when Baku goes out to buy shoes and doesn't return. Two years and a bit later, she's living in Tokyo and working at a coffee shop, collection some kettles from a meeting in a nearby office building when she meets Ryohei. He's a dead ringer for Baku but his polar opposite in personality - considerate, dependable, low-key in his charm - and immediately begins to pursue her, with neither her roommate Maya (Rio Yamashita) nor his co-worker Kushihashi (Koji Seto) understanding why she's being so weird about the whole thing.

There's an intriguing idea or three hidden inside Asako I & II that might work a little better if what I had expected to be the first half of the movie were given a little more space to play out - the film moves on from Baku and Osaka very quickly, and could maybe spend a bit more time giving an impression of who Asako is to start out with and maybe get Baku as solidly wedged into the audience's collective head as he is in hers. Being ghosted by her boyfriend messed with Asako enough to be positioned as this traumatic, formative experience but the impact winds up being a bit elusive for the audience. It's an understandable choice - first loves are powerful but this one in particular is pointedly superficial - but a little more of Asako pre-Baku or actually showing the breakup rather than a dry run could have helped a lot.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Friday, April 26, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 26 April 2019 - 2 May 2019

Only one thing going on at the movies this weekend, and we all know what that is!

  • That's right, it's the week of Independent Film Festival Boston, which started this past Wednesday and runs through the First, taking up all five screens (and, at times, the Micro) at the Somerville as well as the Brattle through Monday before moving across the river to the Coolidge for the last two days. Notable features include Jennifer Kent's The Nightengale, Justin Chon's Ms. Purple, Alex Ross Perry's Her Smell, Peter Strickland's In Fabric, Andrew Gibson's Gutterbug, Gavin Hood's Official Secrets, and Lulu Wang's The Farewell. There are also a ton of shorts, including former EFilmCritic/HBS writer Will Goss's "Sweet Steel" in the "Exeter" section Saturday-Monday.
  • So, we'll all be at that and not spoiling Avengers: Endgame to the people in line, right? I kid, but it's kind of a big deal, the three-hour Imax 3D culmination of 22 films across eleven years that became the biggest thing in pop culture despite/because of how it eventually expanded to include all the crazy comic book stuff that people often figured kept it from expanding into the mainstream. I don't think there's ever been anything quite like it, and it's got almost all the theaters: the Capitol (2D only), Fresh Pond, Jordan's Furniture (Imax 2D/3D), The Studio in Belmont (2D only), Boston Common (including Imax 2D/3D), Fenway (including RPX 2D/3D), the Seaport (including Icon-X), South Bay (including Imax 2D/3D and Dolby CInema), Assembly Row (including Imax 2D/3D and Dolby CInema), Revere (including XPlus and MX3D as well as some shows with Portuguese subtitles), the Embassy (2D only), and the SuperLux (2D only).

    It only leaves room for Family to play matinees at Boston Common, at least through the weekend, so if you want to see Taylor Schilling as a career woman looking after her juggalo niece, that's when it's playing.
  • BUFF opening night film Hail Satan? opens at The Coolidge Corner Theatre and Kendall Square, with subject and founder of the Satanic Temple in Salem Lucien Greaves swinging by for a show at the Coolidge on Sunday to answer questions. It's a fun documentary, although I don't know how persuasive it will be to the viewer who would otherwise be in church during those hours.

    The Coolidge celebrates 4/26 being "Alien Day by running a 35mm print of the original film at midnight on Friday and one of Alien: Resurrection - the last chronologically - at the same hour Saturday. There's a "Stage & Screen" presentation of Disobedience on Monday before IFFBoston sets up shop on Tuesday.
  • Kendall Square also picks up Ramen Shop, in which a young Japanese man travels to Singapore to learn about his Chinese mother's family, and the natural way to do so is by learning be tutored in how to prepare a local dish. Even as someone who doesn't really go for noodles, I found myself salivating at the trailer.

    The Kendall and Boston Common also open Red Joan, one of those movies that puts a big picture of Dame Judi Dench on the poster but probably spends more time with Sophie Cookson player the same character in her youth, when she was allegedly stealing nuclear secrets for the Soviets, a crime for which she is arrested decades later.
  • After having mostly been cleared out for the festival, The Somerville Theatre is closed Tuesday and re-opens Wednesday with Wild Nights with Emily, Us, and Amazing Grace before resuming "Reel Films/Fake Bands" on Thursday with a 35mm print of Almost Famous
  • Similarly, The Brattle Theatre fills out its post-IFFBoston schedule with a short tribute to the late Stanley Donen, playing Funny Face on Tuesday
  • and a 35mm double feature of Royal Wedding & Singin' in the Rain on Wednesday. Then it's back on the festival horse with the opening night of the Women in Comedy Festival on Thursday.

  • The Harvard Film Archive welcomes artist and filmmaker Ja'Tovia Gary as part of a "Cinema of Resistance" program on Friday; she'll be presenting a pairing of two of her own recent shorts and a 35mm print of Med Hondo's West Indies. Saturday offers the conclusion of Japan's Other New Wave, with 35mm prints of The Warped Ones and The Age of Our Own, while the rest of the week finishes up Visions of RIchard P. Rogers, with two programs of his short films on Sunday and The Windmill Movie, his attempt to film his autobiography which was finished by student Alexander Olch, on Monday. The latter is in 35mm and will have Olch and Rogers's widow Susan Meiselas there in person.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts finishes their April calendar on Friday, with a final screening of The Wild Pear Tree and Mamacita concluding "New Cinema From Mexico". The May program starts on Wednesday with a program of MFA/Tufts thesis screenings, with Ferrante Fever kicking off "She Makes a Universe: Literary Luminaries" on Wednesday and Thursday. The month's "On the Fringe: Adventures in Cult Cinema" show is also a hold-over from April's "Gender Bending Fashion on Film" series, with The Man Who Fell to Earth being preceded by a set from The Wrong Shapes.
  • The Regent Theatre has a free screening of REUSE! Because You Can't Recycle the Planet on Friday evening. It's in the underground room and followed by discussion, with free tours of the Box Truck Tiny House (which I presume is featured in the film) in the Robbins Library parking lot from 4pm to 7pm.
  • The last show in this "Month of Sundays" at The ICA is Matangi/Maya/M.I.A., which plays at 1pm and is free with your museum ticket.
  • Belmont World Film moves over to the West Newton Cinema on Monday to wrap up this year's series with Sir, about a young woman who has no place in her village as a childless widow, moves to Mumbai to work as a servant and learn fashion design. West Newton also appears to be the first place in the area to get Nureyev, a documentary biography of the famed Russian dancer who defected after his individual fame became incompatible with communist principles.
  • Emerson's Bright Lights had its planned final show last week, but an earlier cancellation means they will squeeze in Three Identical Strangers on Thursday. As always, the shows upstairs at the Paramount of free, open to the pubilc, and followed by discussion.
  • Cinema Salem has Styx, which played the Coolidge a few weeks back as part of the Goethe-Institut series, in their screening room for a week. In Lowell, The Luna Theater has Steve Bannon documentary The Brink (reminder: not Max Zhang punching people underwater) on Friday, Saturday, and Tuesday; Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs on Saturday and Sunday; Apollo 11 and Jimi Hendrix: Electric Church on Saturday, with Sunday's The Devil's Rain giving Weirdo Wednesday a heck of a bar to clear this week.

I'm living at BUFF this week, with my plans looking like Pizza, A Love Story and Not for Resale on Friday; We Are Not Princesses, Ms. Purple, either shorts and Midnight Family, and In Fabric on Saturday; One Child Nation, The Pollinators, Cold Case Hammarskjold, and For the Birds on Sunday; either Shorts E and The Rusalka on Monday; The Sound of Silence and The Art of Self-Defense on Tuesday; and The Farewell on Wednesday. Maybe I go for Avengers Thursday, or maybe I just drop.

Ladies' Night: Little Woods & Wild Nights with Emily

I still see #52FilmsByWomen pop up as a hashtag every once in a while from people who are far more committed to making sure they see movies from a broad range of voices than I manage to be; if I get there, it's more or less going to be through volume - I'll get to 52 films by seeing 300 or something like that, and nights like Sunday, where I add a couple by figuring out the double feature at the Kendall that gets me home the earliest with the least hanging around between screenings, are more happy accident than goal. I kind of didn't realize that I was doing it - I hadn't particularly noted who was directing either, just that Tess Thompson being in a movie was usually a good sign and Wild Nights with Emily looked like a more playful take on the movie biography than usual.

Ideally, just showing up and having half the movies one sees directed by women would happen more often, and they'd be as seemingly-uncompromised in their perspectives as these two. Little Woods in particular centers things that might otherwise be relegated to the margins of a story. That's not really how it works, though, especially if you also like the big stuff, and I should probably spend a little more time checking out who's making the films that come out a given week and nudging my viewing accordingly. Heck, that applies to this coming week at IFFBoston; through the first two days, one of the three films I've seen was co-directed by a woman, and I'm not sure how the rest of the week sorts out, even when you figure some things are the only options.

Little Woods

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 21 April 2019 in Landmark Kendall Square #6 (first-run, DCP)

Little Woods is the sort of decent independent film that catches your eye more for the star who has been doing bigger things lately than anything else a preview or description can hook you with, and that's while sometimes that sort of movie will surprise you, this one basically does what it says on the label. It's the kind of straightforward, probably-authentic sort of rural lament that the rest of the country could probably do with seeing a little more often, and that's okay. It never becomes an exceptionally tense thriller or knife-twisting drama, but it tells stories that don't necessarily get their due fairly well.

The town of the title is in North Dakota, one of those places where all the money from the initial oil boom has wound up concentrated in the drilling company's hands and everyone else is striving to make ends meet. Oleander (Tessa Thompson) - "Ollie" for short - scrapes up the odd buck by doing laundry for the workers and selling hot coffee and sandwiches for less than the company cafeteria. She also used to sell pills, but she's kept out of trouble while on probation so she could take care of her sick mother. She's passed, but the house is about to be foreclosed upon, and Ollie might have a good prospect out in Spokane, but her sister Deb (Lily James) is living in an illegally parked trailer with her son Johnny (Charlie Ray Reid), and has just found out she's pregnant again. The only way to save the house seems to be that bag Ollie buried when smuggling their mom's medicine over the Canadian border.

The border is one of the first and last images that Nia DaCosta lays on the audience, and it's an unconventionally striking one, a sort of notch in the landscape and a bit of cleared space with a post in there, highlighting how artificial and arbitrary it is that you can get decent health care there but not here. The actual danger to crossing this clear but also kind of theoretical line is elsewhere, although DaCosta has built enough tension up in previous scenes for some to bleed over. It's the most overtly dramatic section of the film, and DaCosta plays that notch for all it's worth.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Wild Nights with Emily

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 April 2019 in Landmark Kendall Square #2 (first-run, DCP)

This genuinely peculiar little movie that does its best to correct the long-held and deliberately created impression that Emily Dickinson was a reclusive spinster is not just an acquired taste but also kind of a hard sell, and filmmaker Madeleine Olnek tends to concern herself less with opening this sort of highly-targeted movie to a broad audience than with the act of setting the record straight. It sometimes makes for the sort of movie where sometimes only one person in the room is laughing at a joke, but that one person is enjoying it.

Where does Dickinson's reputation come from? The film shows Mabel Todd (Amy Seimetz) giving talks on how she discovered the poet's work and letters in a trunk and brought them to the world, but there's obvious insincerity as she describes Emily as morbid and suffering from unrequited love. This would not be the case - as teenagers, Emily (Dana Melanie) and her friend Susan Gilbert (Sasha Frolova) fell hard for each other, and while Susan would marry Emily's brother Austin, it was in mainly to remain in Emily's orbit. Twenty years later, the relationship between Emily (Molly Shannon) and Susan (Susan Ziegler) was plain to see for anyone who bothered to look, with Susan doing whatever she could to help Emily get her poems published despite dismissive male editors. Of course, this wasn't necessarily a satisfying arrangement for Austin (Kevin Seal), which means that when Mabel came along and set her sights on him, things got contentious.

The film is an adaptation of Olnek's play, though one wonders a bit about how direct the adaptation is. There are quick tangents and asides that benefit from not having to shuffle people on and off a stage but which also pull the focus from Emily and Susan, such as a bit about a potential publisher's Civil War service that gets a laugh but seems like a bit of a detour for how much of a part he has in the movie compared to its short length and how the filmmakers sometimes skip over other material with a wink, as if to acknowledge there isn't room. The end credits seem to suggest that the film was shot piecemeal - entire crews are listed for specific scenes - so maybe Olnek just couldn't do more. If that's the case, she does well to pull together a lot of good bits into a film that doesn't just feel like a random overview.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Hellboy '19

So, with a bit of time to ruminate over it, I don't think Hellboy '19 is really a bad movie so much as it's below-average, and it could have really done with being better. It's so hard to separate it from the previous iterations, especially since the people involved with those movies had not exactly moved on.

Indeed, I suspect that I'm not the only person who came into this movie with mixed feelings that made it hard to judge it fairly. On the one hand, it's hard not to resent this one's existence considering that Guillermo del Toro and Ron Perlman were enthusiastic about making a third film and I do like conclusions (and I'm mildly curious to see if they would have written Selma Blair's MS into the film). On the other, it's kind of great to see Neil Marshall returning to the big screen, and the promise of a Hellboy Cinematic Universe is tempting as heck, even before you see Thomas Haden Church as Lobster Johnson.

I'm guessing that probably doesn't happen now; it's kind of a box-office dud and between the supernatural and the R rating it's not going to be rescued by the Chinese market. That just makes it a bigger bummer that we won't get del Toro's trilogy capper.

Hellboy (2019)

* * (out of four)
Seen 20 April 2019 in AMC Assembly Row #10 (first-run, DCP)

It's kind of a shame that this relaunch of Hellboy didn't light up the box office, not because it's a particularly good movie which deserves success - it isn't - but because the chance of sequels and spin-offs was the best argument for starting fresh rather than having Guillermo del Toro direct another one to complete his trilogy. There's just enough potential here that you could see it getting refined into something better with another bite at the apple, but now it can't help but be seen as anything other than a misguided disappointment.

Hellboy (David Harbour), as you may recall from the previous films or original comics, is a demon summoned by the Nazis during the waning days of World War II, although they did not expect to conjure an infant or have the ritual interrupted by the Allies. Professor Broom (Ian McShane) raises the red-skinned boy as his son, the pair spending their whole lives since investigating and containing otherworldly threats for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. Their latest case: Assisting their counterparts in the UK with a trio of resurrected giants, although this leads them to a greater danger: Resurrected 5th-Century witch Nimue (Milla Jovovich), whose attempt to spread a plague that would kill all human was only thwarted by King Arthur (Mark Stanley) and Merlin (Brian Gleeson) themselves.

Her new plan involves Hellboy himself, which isn't the greatest sign; Mike Mignola's BPRD and Hellboy comics tend to be strongest when he's digging into folklore or focusing on the characters' personalities; the stories built around his original mythology, like this one, tend to be the weakest. It's exacerbated by Andrew Cosby's script, which depends greatly on Hellboy's place in the world and relationship with his father, without the film doing much to establish these things, as well as a lot of talk about destiny and sudden shifts of attitude that don't necessarily follow from what the audience sees within the film. The villains want to do bad things, but the only one that actually seems to have any weight to him is pig-headed comic-relief henchman Gruagach (voice of Stephen Graham), seemingly presuming that the audience is bringing that baseline emotional investment in with them, presumably from del Toro's films or the comics.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Boston Underground Film Festival 2019.01: Hail Satan? and Clickbait

Ah, the first day of BUFF - you stand in line to get your pass, you stand in line to get your ticket, you stand in line for your movie. If you're very lucky, as with this year, it is not raining or snowing. So that's a win.

So first up…

Hail Satan? was a lot of fun, if sometimes maybe a little too chummy with its subjects and in-line with their activities to really give a thorough look at certain angles of the story, although on the other hand, it's not as objectivity is something one can truly expect. Filmmaker Penny Lane, subject Lucien Greaves, and the Festival's Kevin Monahan led an enjoyable discussion, although it was also the sort of Q&A where there's maybe not a lot of questions coming from the audience that wasn't mostly already in the movie.

(Though maybe a different audience when Greaves visits the Coolidge for their 2pm show on April 28th)

Afterward, a marching band led those who were going to the opening night party to the Hong Kong at the other end of the Square.

I didn't follow, instead stopping in Felipe's and back for the next movie, so I missed the restaurant realizing that they had a bunch of Satanists upstairs, maybe performing another black mass like the incident shown in the movie from a few years back, and kicking them out, which is probably the most appropriately underground way for the opening night of an underground film festival to end.

The underground nature was kind of in effect at the theater for the second movie, where festival regulars Sophia Cacciola & Michael J. Epstein were there with their new film, Clickbait, and I didn't take any pictures because I was honestly anticipating a more negative account of it, since I've pretty strongly disliked their two previous films that I saw at the festival and happily sleeping in for one because that seat might as well go to someone looking forward to it.

In a lot of ways, though, it's a me problem, although I suspect that a lot of us don't really know what to do with very-low-budget, homemade movies in an era where there is so much polished work at the theater and most of cinema history is readily available in one form or another. We kind of don't know what to do with movies that aren't designed to make money, even if there are more places for them now, whether on YouTube or Amazon or various other platforms. Maybe this team didn't make their movie entirely for their circle, but you have to look at some of these movies as like fanfic or local music - often kind of rough, easily exposed to ridicule when compared to people who have had more resources and ways to refine their craft, but satisfying for their audience and context.

It's tough for me to warm up to those unless they're a lot more squarely targeted at my interests (and, sure, I've got some YouTube channels I follow that are kind of objectively terrible but satisfying), but I'll at least try not to get so frustrated about them taking up my time.

Hail Satan?

* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 March 2019 at the Brattle Theatre #17 (Boston Underground Film Festival, DCP)

The question mark in the title of Hail Satan? does not truly indicate any sort of uncertainty; it is never unclear what sort of conclusions director Penny Lane wants the audience to draw where the Satanic Temple is concerned. Instead, it serves as the same sort of rhetorical device as the Temple itself - a quick, visible way to at least attempt reorienting one's perspective on something that can easily be taken for granted because it's so entrenched. It's a successful gambit, a good initial indication of how good both the film and its subject are at getting attention and making a point.

That may not be the entire point of the Satanic Temple, but watching them poke at attempts to give Christianity a place in secular American society (or to maintain and expand that place) is certainly the part of the film that is the most immediately entertaining. Director Penny Lane opens with footage of one of the Temple's earliest bits of activism, in which an actor stood upon the steps of the Florida State House and praised the governor for his work to return prayer to school, because it would, necessarily, include all prayer. Though that demonstration is a bit of a rough draft - founder Lucien Greaves would soon decide to represent the organization personally, rather than hiring an actor in a costume,for instance - they set the tone for later confrontations involving prayers at city council meetings, and an ongoing project of hauling out a majestic statue of Baphomet whenever someone considers placing a Ten Commandments monument on public land.

These segments amuse - director Penny Lane could spin them off into entertaining short films or magazine segments - although they could become repetitive and hollow if the film were nothing but smart-asses snarkily trying to punch back at presumptive Christians (though that does tend to be a lot of fun). The trick, both for Greaves and Lane, is to make Satanism compelling as more than just an extreme satirical counter-example, and that is arguably where the pair, in their individual ways, do their strongest work: Casting Lucifer as the embodiment of rebellion against entrenched authority and listing the Temple's Seven Tenets creates just enough of the basis for a workable belief system that even skeptical viewers may find themselves nodding along, acknowledging that it makes a sort of sense.

(Or at least, it did at this particular festival; it will be interesting to see how a broader audience reacts if the film gets on their radar.)

Full review on EFilmCritic

"Hashtag Perfect Life"

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 March 2019 at the Brattle Theatre #17 (Boston Underground Film Festival, DCP)

"Hashtag Perfect Life" pairs with Clickbait as a sort of complement, another movie about a woman trying to control her internet fame, in this case from having a video of her, shall we say, not at her best go viral. Maddie (Erin Lovelace) goes on some sort of low-rent cable talk show or newsmagazine to clear the air, although the rictus-like smile on the face of interviewer Todd Gacc (Todd Behrend) probably doesn't bode well.

It's an odd little short, the sort that takes about 10 minutes to build to a reversal gag, not so much in terms of the situation reversing as much as suddenly going blunt after dragging things out. Filmmaker Michael Paulucci and his team do a nice job of making the internet and social media specifically a sort of low-level buzz that permeates one's life, getting louder and more insistent when it starts focusing on us specifically. Erin Lovelace does some nice work as Maddie, capturing the way people can find themselves straddling the line between being rightly stressed or aggrieved and kind of awful. Todd Behrend maybe overdoes the creepy/predatory bit as Gacc, but he delivers the best line.

This movie kind of shrugs at times, like there's no definitive thing to say about situations like this, and while "what can you do" is not the most satisfying note to end on, but it's where the world is in some ways.


* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 March 2019 at the Brattle Theatre #17 (Boston Underground Film Festival, DCP)

I haven't exactly warmed on Clickbait in the days between seeing it and sitting down to write about it - I certainly don't want to watch it again - but I've perhaps grown to begrudgingly accept that what came across as weaknesses may not entirely be so, especially for those whose ages and experiences are closer to those of its characters. It's got the same energy as the YouTube videos it comments on, and maybe that just can't translate to a feature-length film.

Not that YouTube is ever mentioned; college student Bailey (Amanda Colby Stewart) makes "flashes" for "Str33ker", her shy roommate Emma (Brandi Aguilar) often the one behind the camera. Pretty and irreverent, Bailey is popular online, but it can be hard to maintain that position especially after having broken up with fellow Str33ker star Brayden (Cedric Jonathan). To make matters worse, she's got a stalker, and the detective assigned to the case, Frank Dobson (Seth Chatfied), is lazy at best and a more or less complete moron, leaving Emma to figure out who's coming after her often-ungrateful friend.

There's a thing going on in the background where a product called "Toot Strudel" (radioactive Pop-Tarts in wacky, unappealing flavors) is sponsoring some sort of contest where Str33ker users compete to make the most popular testimonial, and it's as good an example as any of how Clickbait can often be authentic and satiric but not exactly good: Yes, it does a capable job of highlighting and exaggerating how willing internet celebrities are to monetize their work and how businesses are willing to offer them a pittance to do so, but these gags stop the movie dead and aren't very funny; they require the audience to stop and sort of performatively laugh at how they recognize the broad, knowing absurdity of it. It's dead-on in portraying a certain type of YouTube video, but whether mere replication is enough in this case is a fair question.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Friday, April 19, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 19 April 2019 - 25 April 2019

Man, so much nothing coming out this weekend, you'd think Lionsgate would have actually given Under the Silver Lake an actual release rather than the bare minimum in NYC/LA before it hits VOD on Tuesday.

  • But, hey, it's Independent Film Festival Boston time! It kicks off Wednesday with Luce at The Somerville Theatre, expanding to a full six-screen slate on Thursday, with the five at the Somerville including Shadow, Monos, and Them That Follow while Running with Beto and The Death of Dick Long at the Brattle.

    That means the Somerville is shuffling some stuff off screens and playing down a screen at times, which they fill with a few more from their Jack Attack retrospective: Five Easy Pieces plays Friday night and a double feature of A Safe Place (on 35mm) & King of Marvin Gardens on Sunday.
  • Some stuff actually came out on Wednesday: Disney's annual Earth Day documentary for 2019 is Penguins plays at the Capitol, West Newton, Jordan's Furniture (Imax), Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay (including Imax), Assembly Row (including Imax), and Revere. We've also seen the last preview for Breakthrough, now playing at Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere (why the movie about having to beg a supernatural entity for the life of your child played mostly in front of family films rather than horror movies, I don't know).

    The big release for Friday, apparently, is The Curse of La Llorona, which is apparently a new spinoff of The Conjuring that pulls a Mexican folktale into that universe. That's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common (including Imax), Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport, South Bay (including Imax and Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax and Dolby Cinema), and Revere (including XPlus). There's also Teen Spirit, which stars Elle Fanning as a teenager with a great singing voice looking to become a star. It plays the Capitol, the Lexington Venue, Kendall Square, Boston Common, and Revere.

    This week's new Japanese animation is Okko's Inn, in which an orphaned girl comes to live with her grandmother and discovers she can see spirits; it gets a two-day run at Boston Common, Fenway, and Revere, with Tuesday's shows subtitled and Monday's dubbed at Fenway and possible the Common. Revere will also show Mission of Honor (aka Hurricane), featuring Milo Gibson (who looks unnervingly like his dad) as part of a squadron of Polish pilots who flew in the Battle of Britain. And while everybody is getting early shows of Avengers: Endgame on Thursday, only Revere is booking a Marvel Marathon, which starts at 11:30am on Tuesday and runs roughly 60 hours to finish with the big climactic 22nd movie. They will be providing shower stalls, spots to nap, and the like.
  • Kendall Square turns over a fair amount, and I wonder if they're picking up a lot of female-led films to counter-program the big superhero thing next week. Aside from Teen Spirit, they get three more. Wild Nights With Emily stars Molly Shannon as Emily Dickinson, portraying her not as a bitter spinster but a funny, playful romantic.

    Also playing there is Little Woods, starring Tessa Thompson and Lily James as sisters whose already precarious condition in a tapped-out North Dakota town is thrown into even more chaos after their mother dies. They also have matinees of Girls of the Sun, the story of an all-female battalion in Kurdistan.
  • The Brattle Theatre has a pair of new restorations this weekend, with Icelandic fairy tale The Juniper Tree playing Friday to Sunday and Audition at 9pm Friday and Saturday, as well as a presumably-archival print Wednesday at 8pm.

    The Cambridge Science Festival has a pair of events there Sunday afternoon, and fills the time before IFFBoston settles in Thursday with a couple programs: The DocYard presenting Turkish/Kurdish film Meteor Monday night, with director Gürcan Keltek skyping in afterward, and then a Trash Night presentation of Solarbabies on Tuesday.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre picks up High Life, but also spends some time on Coolidge Award winner Julianne Moore, with a midnight 35mm screening of Hannibal on Friday, an evening show of Far From Home on Tuesday, and a special show of Gloria Bell on Thursday afternoon before the special award presentation that evening (with the other screens dark for the day),

    Regular midnights include 35mm prints of two seminal Japanese movies - Takashi Miike's Audition on Friday (possibly the same print the Brattle has), and Takashi Shimizu's The Grudge on Saturday - and Super Troopers on Saturday. There's also a special screening of Holocaust documentary Who Will Write Our History? with director Roberta Grossman on Sunday afternoon. There's also an Earth Day/Big Screen Classics screening of Princess Mononoke on Monday, including the short film "Plantae".
  • Apple Fresh Pond opens Kalank, a Bollywood drama set during the 1940s partition of India, and Telugu sports film Jersey, with Nani as a cricketer reaching the end of the line. There's also more scattered showings of two thrillers, Kavaludaari in Kannada (Friday/Saturday/Wednesday), and Malayalam film Athiran (Friday/Sunday/Monday), as well as Tamil-language horror-comedy Kanchana 3 (Saturday).

    P Storm continues at Boston Common, while Finding Julia opens in Revere; that one tells the story of a hapa acting student in New York having nightmares about the Vietnamese mother she never knew.
  • After his talk on Thursday, The Harvard Film Archive presents Amar Kanwar's film Such a Morning on Friday evening, with the director in attendance. Much of the rest of the weekend is given to Japan, with Miyazaki's breakthrough film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind playing as a $5, 35mm family matinee on Saturday and then several from The Other Japanese New Wave - The Samurai Vagabonds on Saturday, and two screenings of The End of Love, one Saturday night and one Sunday afternoon; both on 35mm. A Richard P. Rogers retrospective starts Sunday evening with a 16mm print of A Midwife's Tale, and a program of post-Bauhaus experimental films plays Monday evening.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues their run of The Wild Pear Tree with screenings Friday and Sunday, as well as their New Cinema From Mexico program, presenting Roma on Friday and Our Time on Saturday. "Gender Bending Fashion on Film" also continues, with Colette (Saturday), A Simple Favor (Sunday), Black Panther (Wednesday) following a lecture by fashion designer Walé Oyéjidé, and Orlando (Thursday). They also have their annual program of short films by the students at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts on Wednesday evening.
  • "Month of Sundays" continues at The ICA with McQueen, playing at 1pm and free with admission to the museum.
  • Belmont World Film presents Hendi and Hormoz, an Iranian film built around the custom on the island of Hormuz about arranged marriages for teenagers, at The Belmont Studio (which seems to have gotten a recent seating upgrade) on Monday.
  • Emerson's Bright Lights has Seder-Masochism, the newest by Nina Paley of Sita Sings the Blues fame, on Tuesday night, with Paley on hand for a Q&A afterward. The program of free screenings at the upstairs screening room in the Paramount Theater also includes If Beale Street Could Talk on Thursday.
  • Cinema Salem keeps The Heiresses around for a second week in their screening room, while The Luna Theater has Apollo 11 (Friday/Saturday/Tuesday), The Wiz (Saturday/Sunday), Jimi Hendrix: Electric Church (Saturday), Purple Rain (Sunday), The Fountain (Monday), and Weirdo Wednesday.

There will be camping out at IFFBoston, of course, and I've got a poorly-timed Red Sox ticket the night before that (Seder-Masochism is otherwise very tempting), but I'll also try and hit Little Woods, Wild Nights with Emily, Nausicaä, and Hellboy as well.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 8 April 2019 - 14 April 2019

You know what's kind of great? Weekends where everything you do for entertainment is actually pretty darn entertaining.

This Week in Tickets

The work-week started with Dragged Across Concrete, which makes me ponder the calculus of movie-theater booking - it's got a guy who used to be a big star, but it's also coming out on VOD the same day, there's something else that doesn't need every showtime, it's 139 minutes and thus awkward to schedule… Anyway, I'm glad the Capitol picked it up, because even if it cost a bit more, it kind of benefits from being seen without distraction.

Tuesday was treated as a holiday, as it was the Red Sox' home opener, which was fun for the rings being passed out and such but later got out of hand scoring-wise and also very cold. Not ideal. Things got better on Friday, as the Red Sox won, it was moving at a good clip, and lots of fun things happened, including Jackie Bradley Junior making an amazing catch. The Sox have been bizarrely not good this year, considering how excellent almost the exact same team was last year, but baseball is fun.

After that, it was a pretty darn enjoyable weekend at the movies, because pretty much everything for the next couple of days was a solid example of its genre, and that much pretty darn good doesn't exactly require masterpieces. Saturday, for instance, started with Master Z: Ip Man Legacy finally arriving in North America, and it was filled with good screen fighters being put through their paces by Yuen Woo-Ping, and maybe it's the movie that makes Max Zhang a star rather than the guy the star fights. After that, it was time to head to Harvard Square where the Brattle had a double feature of Jackie Chan's Police Story and Police Story 2, where Jackie left no piece of glass unsmashed and pulled out a few just amazing fight scenes. There may be certain weak parts to these movies, but what he does well, he does very well indeed.

Sunday was another sort of split double-header, each half of which hit a certain part of my brain in a good way while indulging certain specific favorites. Missing Link, for instance, indulged my loves of animation (stop-motion specifically) and well-used 3D, while The Chaperone gave me Haley Lu Richardson as Louise Brooks, and that is pretty fantastic casting of one favorite as… well, maybe not quite another favorite, exactly, but an icon whose work I tend to enjoy.

That's a good run on my Letterboxd page; here's hoping for more before IFFBoston eats my life.

Dragged Across Concrete

* * * (out of four)
Seen 8 April 2019 in Capitol Theatre #2 (first-run, DCP)

I'm not sure which scene in this movie gets across where it's coming from most clearly - the one where a television in a convenience store runs a news report about two cops being suspended for behavior that doesn't see too far out of line, relatively speaking, while a robber cruelly and systematically kills everyone there? The one where their lieutenant warns the senior partner that he's becoming too cold but doesn't quite link it to the political correctness the roll their eyes at? The scene in a car where the two partners talk about how they can't make ends meet and are backing into a life of crime? Or another random murder of a relatively minor character on the heels of careful work to build her vulnerability up, the people around her understanding and helping with her brittle nature? It's a dark set of scenes even before it gets into a methodical bank robbery and low-speed pursuit that stretches out the rest of the movie.

It's weirdly hypnotic, though - filmmaker S. Craig Zahler stretches everything out a bit longer than many would, using the almost complete lack of a score to let the audience stew a bit. People draw out sentences, speak both a little more plainly and more elaborately than necessary, and feel a bit detached even when they're basically being decent and there should be a feeling of empathy. Zahler and cinematographer Benji Bakshi use spare compositions to isolate characters, placing them in empty spaces that make it hard to connect, the cast all seeming relatable but often just a bit off. It's like the people involved aren't quite human except for maybe the kids who have not yet been beaten down by the world, and it takes effort to push themselves in the right direction - and some have a hard time realizing it at that.

This one's never going to become a favorite and likely won't get a rewatch anytime soon, but there's something to its dissatisfaction and disconnection that plays as celebrating toughness on the surface but maybe some concern about how it can leave a person empty and going through the motions of doing right underneath. It's interesting, if nothing else, enough so to get me a little more interested in getting that copy of Bone Tomahawk off the shelf and into the disc player.

Ging chaat goo si (Police Story)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 13 April 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (Special Engagement, DCP)

I slept through bits of it at the Coolidge's midnight screening a couple months ago, and I think I might have missed different parts this time, but all together, it's clear why this is considered a sort of masterpiece; it's got some of the best action scenes ever shot, are the plot is kind of dead-simple but functional, and everybody is just chewing the appropriate amount of scenery.

Also, I couldn't help but giggle at how, in 1985, apparently a criminal enterprise was running on Atari 8-bit computers, with the big boss having a 64K 800XL on his desk (attached to a 1050 disk drive) while the witness printed out a SynCalc spreadsheet from a 48K Atari 800 attached to a model 825 dot-matrix printer. Not sure how many others in the audience would be quite so delighted, though.

It's a blast, and I'll probably hit it again when the Blu-ray arrives next week.

Liked it back in February, too

Ging chaat goo si juk jaap (Police Story 2)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 13 April 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (Special Engagement, DCP)

Jackie Chan kind of puts too much story and not enough action into this sequel, but that just makes it a bit of a step down from the first. It's still got a couple terrific fight scenes, a continued vendetta against any piece of glass that may find itself in Jackie's vicinity (down to the camera lens!), and a couple of the guy's best pure comedy bits.

Sometimes it feels kind of confused, like how it kind of doesn't know what to do with Ka Kui's girlfriend May, who is a lot of fun when she's giving as good as she gets but less so when she's bitter and issuing ultimatums. The finale is fantastic, as well.

And, three years later, they've upgraded to PCs!

Dragged Across Concrete
Red Sox 5, Blue Jays 7
Red Sox 6, Orioles 4
Master Z: Ip Man Legacy
Police Story 1 & 2
Missing Link
The Chaperone

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Chaperone

I don't recall seeing a preview for The Chaperone before it popped up on Kendall Square's schedule, but I must have; when I looked up the film while making a "Next Week" post, I distinctly felt that whoever made the preview had buried the lede by not making it clear that Haley Lu Richardson was playing Louise Brooks. It probably doesn't really matter in terms of the actual story, but that's a combination that gets my attention.

What I'm saying here is, I would like another movie or two with Haley Lu Richardson following Brooks's career, from Hollywood to Germany to maybe rediscovering herself as a writer. Not necessarily from the Downton Abbey people, but it's such a great matching of character and part that it would be a shame to just have her as the background to someone else's fictional story.

The Chaperone

* * * (out of four)
Seen 14 April 2019 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, DCP)

The Chaperone is cheerier and more effervescent than it sometimes seems like it should be; it tells the story of a woman who finds happiness and otherwise makes a less-than-ideal situation better in small, pragmatic ways in a way that's faithful to its 1922 setting despite the modern instinct to want more confrontation and a sharper edge. This movie is pleasant and accommodating even when it seems like it maybe shouldn't be, but that's hardly a mark against it - it's a modestly delightful story that makes a virtue out of finding the best way to look at difficult situations.

It starts in Wichita, Kansas, with the aptly-named Norma Carlisle (Elizabeth McGovern) attending a charity event with her husband Alan (Campbell Scott). The first piece of entertainment is pianist Myra Brooks (Victoria Hill) playing while her teenage daughter Louise (Haley Lu Richardson) dances. Both are talented, with Louise accepted to study at a prestigious group in New York City, though her parents are reluctant to send her away without a chaperone - it's not hard to see that she has the potential to be more trouble than even the average 16-year-old. Norma volunteers, which seems unusually impulsive, but it turns out she's got her own reasons - she was born there, but adopted by midwestern farmers at the age of three, and is looking to track down her birth parents. The nuns at the "House for Friendless Girls" are not much help, but German handyman Joseph (Géza Röhrig) is taken with her and helps her sneak into the records room.

The filmmakers appear to take some liberties with Laura Moriarty's novel, which in turn likely takes some liberties with Louise Brooks's life; someone coming to this film on the promise of one of this decade's most interesting young actresses playing one of the silent era's should probably take note of the title. Screenwriter Julian Fellowes and director Michael Engler put enough of that in to that this part of the audience won't feel short-changed, but mostly they focus on Norma and her sort of coming-of-middle age story. Her name has been changed from "Cora" for the film, presumably to underline how she enters the film taking a lot for granted - about her home life, the good intentions of her neighbors, her own history. The story throws challenges to her orderly, proper life.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Missing Link

I suppose I should have expected the relatively low turnout after going to the same multiplex to see Master Z on Saturday and seeing a guy in a pretty nice Mister Susan Link costume, almost certainly sent out by the studio, just kind of awkwardly standing in the hallway, without any kids around to pantomime for. Like I say in the review, I kind of get why Laika's films haven't yet managed to click with audiences - they're eccentric in a way that probably captivates longtime animation fans and film critics more than the Pixar and DreamWorks films that, either through incredible instinct or careful engineering, almost-unfailingly manage broad appeal. I figured maybe Spider-Verse might have stoked a little more interest in unique animation style, but not this one.

Or maybe it's just blurring in with the other animated yeti/sasquatch movies; it's six months after Smallfoot and about that long before Abominable, so maybe it's not quite so close. But maybe people felt like they'd already seen this before, although it sure looks like it's the best of the group. It's weird to see a preview for one of these in front of the other, though; makes the whole thing feel like some sort of relay race.

The audience was small enough that it was easy enough to pick out the four- or five-year-old girl who was watching it and into the movie enough to have questions. I kind of love that; part of watching a movie with a crowd is hearing how the crowd reacts, and a kid who does this with enthusiasm is reacting just like someone laughing or screaming. A year or two older, and it's not quite the same, but that sheer enthusiasm is delightful. Her mom or dad took her out before the movie ended, unfortunately; maybe some of the other folks in the audience just figured talking was talking.

Ah, well; hopefully whoever puts Annapurna's movies out on disc will do it up with a 3D/4K bundle. I say it all the time, but it deserves both. Part of the real shame of how theaters have killed the goose that laid the golden egg with 3D is that it looks like this will only be showing in 2D after just seven days, when though it's part of a pretty impressive string of films that are very much using the third dimension with purpose rather than just doing an obligatory conversion after the fact.

Missing Link

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 14 April 2019 in AMC Boston Common #5 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

There were only a handful of people in the theater for a 3D screening of Missing Link on a Sunday evening two days after it opened, and while there are potential reasons for sparse attendance in the description, I'm starting to wonder what more Laika has to do to get people to come out for their movies. Missing Link is, as is customary with this company's productions, whimsically designed, big-hearted, impeccably voiced, precisely and beautifully filmed one frame at a time, and just generally everything one might wish a movie for the whole family to be. What else do these guys have to do?

Admittedly, there are ways in which one can understand some skepticism. As much as one almost cannot help but be impressed by the sheer labor-intensive nature of shooting a stop-motion feature, the result often lacks the smooth, friendly looks of digital or hand-drawn animation (at least that made with kids in mind); these movies often have the vibe of weird nineteenth-century toys come to life. And Laika has never made it particularly easy to get past that; their design sense has often been eccentric at the very least and often unnerving: Breakout picture Coraline is unabashedly creepy at points, and while most recent film Kubo and the Two Strings is in many ways an astonishing achievement, its ambition and oddity are, perhaps, more than many in the audience were prepared for.

In many ways, this movie is a bit of a reaction to that. The story is relatively straightforward - would-be late-1800s explorer Sir Lionel Frost (voice of Hugh Jackman) aims to make his mark on the world by making great discoveries in the field of cryptozoology, but his recklessness and questionable priorities have made him a laughingstock among the circles he wishes to join. A letter he received from Washington State hinting at a chance to find a sasquatch may be his last chance. It's not what he thinks, though - the ape-man (voice of Zach Galifianakis) sent Frost the letter himself, hoping the explorer could guide him to what he presumes are his yeti cousins in the Himalayas, so he would no longer be alone. Two issues with that: First, the only map to Shangri-La is in the hands of Adelina Fortnight (voice of Zoe Saldana), a young widow still angry at Frost over past encounters, while Lord Piggot-Dunceby (voice of Stephen Fry), head of the exclusive club to which Frost is seeking admission, has hired an American gunslinger named Stenk (voice of Timothy Olyphant), to see that no evidence of this evolutionary intermediate ever comes to light.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Monday, April 15, 2019

Master Z: Ip Man Legacy

I was kind of surprised to see a trailer for Ip Man 4 already attached to Master Z; I knew Donnie Yen and Wilson Yip were working on another entry, but August is a bit earlier than I was expecting to see it. The franchise is kind of stretched at this point, to the point where it's easier to be excited about the more purely fictional spin-off. It looks like we might wind up with two with Yen at Fantasia, then, with that and Enter the Fat Dragon both coming out around then.

One thing that's a bit when watching these movies is how I'm not sure who's a big star in China/Hong Kong and who isn't. Having seen Chrissie Chau in 29+1 a couple years ago, I kind of got the impression that she's a big star/lead there, but she's in fairly secondary roles in both the films she's currently got playing here and there.

One thing to note, at least in the Boston area: Though made in Hong Kong and listed as being in Cantonese on some sites, AMC's app has it in Mandarin, and there do seem to be some slight lip-sync issues, although as someone that doesn't speak either language, it's something I only noticed on occasion.

Yip Man ngoi juen: Cheung Tin Chi (Master Z: Ip Man Legacy)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 13 April 2019 in AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run, DCP)

That Master Z took a few months to cross the Pacific means that the distributor was able to attach a preview for Ip Man 4 to this spinoff from the previous film in the series, and while it might just not be a great trailer, it wouldn't be surprising if fans were more enthused about seeing this track continue than the main one. Less boxed-in by history and blessed with a top-notch cast, this "Ip Man Legacy" film doesn't have quite so much weight on it and can just be good martial-arts action.

At the end of Ip Man 3, Wing Chun master Cheung Tin-Chi (Max Zhang Jin) fought the Grandmaster behind closed doors and lost decisively, and has since quit both teaching and acting as a fist for hire, instead opening a small grocery store and ensuring to be a good father. The fire never entirely left him, though, and when he comes across two women fleeing from the gang operating an opium den, he throws himself into the fight, making an enemy of Tso Sai Kit (Kevin Cheng Ka-Wing) in the process. A dangerous one - Kit opposes the plans of sister Tso Ngan Kwan (Michelle Yeoh) to take the family's crime organization straight, secretly joining forces with outwardly-charming American restaurateur Owen Davidson (Dave Bautista) to introduce heroin to Bar Street. And since that's where Tin-Chi has just taken a new job waiting tables for Fu (Xing Yu), one of Miss Kwan's former men… Well, it could get all kinds of ugly.

It's a classic sort of martial-arts movie plot, simple enough not to get in the way but with enough pieces that the filmmakers can mix and match a bit in the fight scenes. It works because everything in Master Z is better than you might expect for this sort of genre spinoff. Though the Ip Man films need to have at least a toehold in the real world even when being distorted into nationalist myth-making, this one can happily embrace the sort of bright, heightened aesthetics of the comic books that the Cheung's son Fung devours, and it seems freeing for director Yuen Wo-Ping, who (along with his action team led by Yuen Shun-Yi) stages a couple examples of the fight scenes that made him internationally famous. The neon sign fight, in particular, is the sort of physics-defying but impactful wire fu where he excels, and the whole film kicks into a higher gear when the punches start flying. Or even when they're not; a highlight of the film is watching Zhang and Yeoh pass a glass of whiskey back and forth without spilling it, adding something delightfully physical and visual to a scene where they're otherwise just probing each other with words.

Full review on EFilmCriticHong

Friday, April 12, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 12 April 2019 - 18 April 2019

Tons of stuff coming out this weekend, enough that it will be easy to overlook some that are well worth looking for.

  • For instance: Laika's stop-motion animation always gets fewer butts in seats than they deserve despite being kind-hearted, technically astonishing, some of the best uses of 3D, and otherwise terrific. So don't sleep on Missing Link, in which the last North American sasquatch goes on a quest to find his Yeti cousins in Shangri-La. It's at the Capitol (2D only), Fresh Pond (2D only), West Newton (2D only), Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row, and Revere.

    Also on offer is Little, in which a magic spell regresses executive Regina Hall's character to middle-school age, forcing her assistant (Issa Rae) to take her in. That plays Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere. Skewing older is After, a nice-girl-falls-for-dangerous-boy story most notable for starting as erotic celebrity fanfic before having its names changed to get into print and thus adapted for film. It can be found at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    And then there's the new adaptation of Hellboy, which subs in David Harbor for Ron Perlman and Neil Marshall for Guillermo del Toro, and even though both of them are pretty good, those are big shoes to fill and early word isn't great on that count. It's at the Somerville, Fresh Pond, Jordan's Furniture Natick (Imax), Boston Common (including Imax), Fenway (including PRX), the Seaport, South Bay (including Imax), Assembly Row (mostly Dolby Cinema), Revere (including MX4D and XPlus), and the SuperLux.

    Fenway will be showing The Goonies Saturday afternoon and Monday evening. There are pre-Easter 60th Anniversary screenings of Ben-Hur at Fenway and Assembly Row on Sunday and Wednesday (with Revere also showing it on the second day), with animated Christian film The Pilgrim's Progress at Fenway and Revere on Thursday and power-of-prayer drama Breakthrough opening at Boston Common and Assembly Row Wednesday. That also lines up with Earth Day, which means Disney's Penguins documentary will be opening at Jordan's Furniture (Imax), Fenway, Assembly Row (including Imax), South Bay (Imax), and Revere on Wednesday. Note that some places may just not have put Wednesday openings on sale yet, so they may be playing wider.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre is one of several places opening Amazing Grace this weekend - it also plays Kendall Square and Boston Common - but they're the only one bringing in gospel choirs to perform before two shows (Friday 7pm and Sunday 4pm) of this long-unfinished documentary of Aretha Franklin recording and performing one of the most popular gospel albums of all time. Those three theaters will also be opening Peterloo, Mike Leigh's expansive new dramatization of the 1819 Peterloo riot, a pro-democracy demonstration crushed in Manchester, England.

    The Wind plays a couple more midnight shows on Friday and Saturday, while there's early cyberpunk on the screen both other nights - a 35mm print of David Cronenberg's Scanners on Friday, and a new restoration of Akira (shown dubbed into English) on Saturday. Weekend mornings include a kids' show of Fantastic Mr. Fox on Saturday and a Goethe-Institut presentation of Wackersdorf (in which the Bavarian town pushes back against plans to build a nuclear reprocessing plant there) on Sunday, with director Oliver Haffner doing a Q&A afterwards. They also begin their program of tributes to Coolidge Award recipient Julianne Moore, with a 35mm print of Magnolia on Wednesday.
  • Kendall Square also gets The Chaperone, which stars Elizabeth McGovern as a rather non-free-spirited woman who volunteers to accompany an impulsive local teenager - future film star Louise Brooks (Haley Lu Richardson) to New York City. They (and Boston Common) also open High Life, Claire Denis's interesting tale of a death-row inmate one a spaceship. They also have a screening of Monty Python's Life of Brian on Thursday.
  • It's already out on disc in Hong Kong, but that just means that there's already been a lot of talk that Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy is pretty darn good. Master Z, if you remember, was the fellow played by Max Zhang who made the big throwdown at the end of Ip Man 3 memorable, who is here joined by Michelle Yeoh, Dave Bautista, Chrissie Chau, and Tony Jaa with legendary fight choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping directing. It's at Boston Common and South Bay. Chau, by coincidence, also plays the whistleblower whose information sends Louis Koo undercover in P Storm, hanging around Boston Common.

    Apple Fresh Pond opens Chitralahari in the Telugu language, with Majili sticking around in that language as well. Malayalam action-comedy Madhura Raja plays Saturday and Sunday, while a Malayalam comedy about confusion coming when three people with the same name enter each other's lives on Sunday. Yet another biography of an Indian politician, the Hindi-language PM Narendra Modi, plays Tuesday. A lot of these coming out with the general election, I guess.
  • The Brattle Theatre shows the new restorations of Jackie Chan's Police Story & Police Story 2 as a double feature Friday to Sunday, a boon for those of us who just couldn't stay up until 2am when they were at the Coolidge a couple months ago. Saturday afternoon also has the Hub Student Film Festival, a program of shorts made by undergrads at Boston-area colleges.

    For Patriot's Day, they've got the now-traditional Muppet Movie Marathon Monday, a mostly-35mm quadruple-feature that can either start or end with The Dark Crystal and has a sing-along version of The Muppet Movie (DCP), The Great Muppet Caper and Labyrinth either before or after. After that, they play host to Cambridge Science Festival After Dark: Global Warning, with a double feature of The Birds & The Last Winter on Tuesday, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (subtitles) on Wednesday, and The Host on Thursday, all on 35mm
  • If you didn't get enough of The Boston Underground Film Festival, at the Brattle last month, they've got a special "Best of the Rest" show in The Somerville Theatre on Wednesday, and this month they get out of the Micro-Cinema. Aside from that, they continue their "Reel Films/Fake Bands" series on Thursday with Velvet Goldmine on 35mm film
  • The Harvard Film Archive concludes their New Thai Cinema series this weekend, with Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady on 35mm Friday and Phuttiphong Aroonpehng's Manta Ray Saturday (note that the director's visit has been canceled). The rest of the weekend is Japan's Other New Wave, with Good-for-Nothing on 35mm Sunday afternoon, a pairing of short features The Tragedy of Bushido & Only She Knows that evening, and Blood Is Dry on 35mm Monday. There's also a free artist talk with Amar Kanwar at the Carpenter Center on Thursday, before his film Such a Morning screens the next night.
  • The monthly-ish "On the Fringe: Adventures in Cult Cinema" returns to The Museum of Fine Arts on Friday with a 35mm print of Death Becomes Her. They sort-of-kind-of extend the Turkish Festival with a run of The Wild Pear Tree, playing Friday, Wednesday, and Thursday. "Hollywood Scriptures" continues with IFFBoston alumni Three Identical Strangers (Saturday) and Generation Wealth (Sunday), and "New Cinema from Mexico" returns with Roma (Sunday). The Rembrandt "Exhibition on Screen" shows on Wednesday, and they start a "Gender Bending Fashion on Film" series on Thursday with the, uh, interesting Liquid Sky.
  • It's still "Month of Sundays" at The ICA, with Studio 54 on tap as this week's "Beautiful Trouble" documentary; it plays at 1pm and is free with admission to the museum.
  • The Regent Theatre isn't going big for sing-alongs for April Vacation, but they will have a screening of 1776 on Monday afternoon for Patriot's Day. It's a free screening, but reserving a spot is recommended.
  • Asako I & II is the week's Belmont World Film entry at The Belmont Studio on Monday, with Erika Karata as a young woman who falls in love with two identical-looking men (Masahiro Higashide).
  • Emerson's Bright Lights series of free screenings upstairs in the Paramount's screening room has a pair of documentaries this week. On Her Shoulders plays Tuesday, and follows Nadia Murad, a young refugee feeling someone overwhelmed as advocacy becomes her entire life, and then on Thursday they show The Feeling of Being Watched, in which filmmaker Assia Boundaoui investigates suspicions that her Muslim neighborhood outside Chicago was the target of blanket government surveillance.
  • Cinema Salem has The Heiresses in their screening room for most of the week, but go an entirely different direction than most everyone else in celebrating Easter by playing giant-rabbit horror flick Night of the Lepus on Thursday. The Luna Theater, meanwhile plays The Last Unicorn on Friday, Saturday, and Tuesday, Singin' in the Rain on Sunday, and who knows what for Weirdo Wednesday.
  • Not strictly a movie event, but on Saturday the Million Year Picnic in Cambridge is hosting Colin Cantwell, who designed most of the spacecraft for Star Wars and built many of the models used in filming, which is just part of a career that included working with Stanley Kubrick on 2001, feeding Walter Cronkite information during the moon landing, and more. Autographed prints are $25. That's a good place to note that The Boston Pops will be performing live to Star Wars from May 10th to 14th, including a matinee on Saturday that's 50% for the kids. It's probably the Special Edition, but it's not like this shows nearly as often if it should, even if it is priced like a concert rather than a film.

So much this week! Top priorities are Master Z, Missing Link, the Police Story double feature, Asako I & II, and The Chaperone, and good luck finding room for Hellboy, Amazing Grace, and Peterloo in there.

Monday, April 08, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 1 April 2019 - 7 April 2019

Huh. That "go to movie, come home, watch west-coast baseball game" plan didn't result in me seeing a lot of film this week. Go figure.

This Week in Tickets

I was able to make it to the Brattle for High Life on Monday, feeling a little bad (but not really) about walking right past everyone who had apparently been waiting since before I got out of work to see Claire Denis, but, hey, I just re-upped my Brattle & IFFBoston memberships tonight,and that's what did it. It's worth noting, I guess, that for all that I occasionally see comments about how only seniors go to boutique theaters, that wasn't the crowd for this one.

For the next couple of days, I had food in the fridge I didn't want to go bad as I was eating concession stand food, but I also had to make a dent in my DVR, which is running 97% full these days, and I really ought to figure out what shows I'm behind on and which ones I no longer watch. I wound up being kind of caught flat-footed that P Storm got a no-kidding Thursday release, with shows all day rather than just a couple evening previews the night before. It's a fun-enough little Hong Kong thriller, the fourth in a series whose makers have already committed to "G Storm", and I've got to admit that I probably enjoyed it a little more because of my recent vacation there, but since I wanted to go in large part because I like Hong Kong movies, it comes full circle.

I planned to see more movies over the weekend, but between feeling sluggish from all those nights staying up late watching the Red Sox lose and the MBTA deciding to run buses instead of trains on three routes made that tricky - I wound up having to switch theaters when it became clear I wouldn't get to Shazam! in time for the 3D show I'd booked, and then on Sunday an hour and a half wasn't enough time to get to the Coolidge in time for The Wind. Maybe Tuesday.

If so, what I think will probably be on my Letterboxd page first, even if there is a big festival-sized hole there I need to fill in.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 7 April 2019 in Regal Fenway #9 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

For the longest time, this movie seems to exist because Warner wants to crank out superhero movies at something approaching the same rate Marvel does, Billy Batson is one of their most recognizable characters, and they've been planning it so long that it's acquired a sort of inevitability. There's not really a whole lot new to say here, with a lot of things seeming to happen because the film has reached the point where those things happen, not because it seems like the inevitable next step. Despite having one of the best hooks in comics and one of the best sets of core villains, the movie is a full slog of half-developed ideas to modernize the concept, Mark Strong going through the motions as the villain who is nothing but his designed-to-be-relatable origin story, and blandly nasty-looking monsters which are vicious enough to scare kids but don't evoke the sins they're supposed to in particular and kind of indistinct (they're almost never seen well-lit).

On the other hand, it's got Zachary Levi, who injects a ton of energy into a version of the character that's all "kid in an adult body" without much of the Wisdom Of Solomon. Levi and Asher Angel, who plays the kid who can become Captain Marvel Shazam by saying the magic word, don't really evoke each other much, but they each do well at what they are going for and Jack Dylan Grazer winds up being the secret MVP in making that work; his Freddy Freeman is paired up with both and serves as the connective tissue the movie needs.

The filmmakers are also really smart to focus on the Marvel Family aspect, because the foster parents and siblings that Billy picks up are more or less instantly delightful, and the way it pays off feels like the best possible inversion of a superhero trope. Recent superhero movies and shows have often tried to move past the silliness of lying to protect one's loved ones, but don't really explode it like this one does, even though the secret identity is one of the most fun. It's a nice surprise for a movie that has spent a lot of time being stunningly casual about its comic-book world but only really clever in that last act.

(Also, I know the planned spinoff is Dwayne Johnson as the not-yet-truly-introduced Black Adam, but the one I want right now is one with Faithe Herman & Meagan Good. Heck, build some comics around them, too!)

High Life
P Storm

Sunday, April 07, 2019

This Last Week in Tickets: 25 March 2019 -31 March 2019

Never fails - festivals and vacations force me into catch-up mode and then "screw it, I'll just pick up from last week".

This Week in Tickets

I was just coming off BUFF, so while I had some plans to do something Monday night, most everything was at weird times so I just hit the grocery store and went home. Still, stuff needed to be seen, so I stuck around work for a little while so that there was no stopping at home (or elsewhere) on the way to Ash Is Purest White on Tuesday, and then pointedly didn't stay late for Climax on Wednesday. Not huge crowds either night, and with Ash, it's kind of interesting to me that this film being released in the sort of traditional foreign-film pattern didn't get quite the same audience as the Chinese films getting day-and-date releases.

After that… it was opening day of the baseball season, but the Sox opened on the West Coast, which meant a lot of staying up late and then kind of staying at work late because I was dragging from that… It's a vicious cycle, especially with only one of those games a win and really worth staying up late for.

Sunday wound up being doppelganger day, entirely by coincidence, although isn't it just a little more satisfying when movies about doubles come in twos? It should be that way, right? Anyway, first up was Us, which I'm obviously behind the rest of the world on, to the point of trying to dodge spoilers on social media where you can't exactly mute every tweet with "us" in it.

After that, I would wind up here:

Jeff Rapsis has been doing occasional shows accompanying silents at the Aeronaut Brewery for a while, which is somewhere between tempting and not - Jeff's great and silent films are fun, but bars are horrible places full of noise, too many people, and beer, which smells bad, tastes worse, and makes people loud and stupid. Still, Mystery of the Eiffel Tower is not something you see all the time, arguably for good reason (it's kind of bloated for a silent). It's at least a neat-looking and unusual environment to see a movie, although I've got to wonder about the lady next to me who was looking at her phone through the first half of the movie. On the one hand, I kind of get that I'm in a bar and can't necessarily expect the same sort of focus, but, geez, it's a silent movie! If you're not looking at the screen, why did you pay $10 to sit in that part of the bar?

That one isn't on the Letterboxd page, because it's not in their database, but otherwise I try to update that page as rough drafts for this one.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 31 March 2019 in Somerville Theatre #3 (first-run, DCP)

Even more than with most horror movies, there's a lot going on just out of view in Us that would probably cause things to fall apart if they were actually explained - it almost feels like there should be another movie in the series and the feeling that this was a surprise sequel akin to Split and Unbreakable, and that movie would not make much sense. One only really notices because Jordan Peele has ambition enough for the audience to really want it to hold together as something brilliant.

It may not be that, but it is pretty darn good. Peele knows how to build this sort of movie, making it funny enough to keep the audience off their guards but not making it a joke, and how to play into the idea that there's something fundamentally wrong with the world while keeping a tight focus on the heroes. It's shot extremely well - Peele and cinematographer are good at getting the picture to sink into the screen and using the red of the doppelgangers' outfits to suggest something bloodier than what is being shown on-screen - and has an escalating tension that will likely be just as impressive on a second go-round.

Plus, it's got Lupita Nyong'o in the best of the film's many double roles, an exceptional combination of steadying and on-edge as Adelaide and smoldering rage as Red. Winston Duke threatens to steal every scene he's in as the earnestly dorky dad, but completely changes his body language to feel hulking and dangerous as Abraham. The whole cast is kind of great, making every bit that might not otherwise quite work impressively tense.

Le mystère de la tour Eiffel (The Mystery of the Eiffel Tower)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 31 March 2019 at the Aeronaut Brewery (Silent Film Club, projected DVD)

The intertitles on this (on a DVD of a French film made from a Flemish print subtitled in English) suggest that it was originally meant to be broken into two or more parts, whether as a serial or a feature with an intermission, and that seems like it would be a better way to experience it. 129 minutes is a whole lot of silent film, and this one spends a lot of time going back and forth, recapping prior action, kind of ignoring what happened a fifteen minutes ago. It feels like binge-watching a series that was absolutely not designed for that.

It also sometimes feels like two movies mashed together, in one of which a man who plays one half of a set of "Siamese Twins" in a local circus steals the identity of his unrelated "brother" to inherit a twenty-billion franc fortune (no idea how that translates to modern dollars), but as a result gets caught up in a mystery involving the "Ku-Klux-Eiffel", a mysterious European crime syndicate that broadcasts directives to its people from the Eiffel Tower. It's outright bonkers, bigger and pulpier than life and sometimes kind of weirdly abstract, like the French filmmakers involved don't know specifically why the KKK are monsters rather than just people in weird robes, or what exactly these villains are going for other than vanilla villainy.

It's got a heck of a climax, though, as everybody pursues each other up the Eiffel Tower, and while it's kind of chaotic, it's also genuinely exciting. Some of the shots in this film certainly seem to clearly be shot in a manner akin to Safety Last!, carefully choosing angles to make it look as if it was shot further away from the ground than it looked, but some certainly seems to be insanely dangerous, enough to feel a little dizzy. Pair that with the over-the-top pulp and you've got a heck of a finale, and it just would have been nice if it were a bit more compact.

Ash Is Purest White
Mystery of the Eiffel Tower