Tuesday, August 20, 2019

IFFBoston 2019.116: The Nightingale plus Line Walker 2

The Nightingale isn't quite the platonic ideal of the movie I skip at IFFBoston despite trying to find reasons not to, but it's close: Already has distribution lined up, the cast and crew aren't traveling from Australia to Boston from for a Q&A, and just long enough that it's going to block two slots with movies I potentially can't see elsewhere. So I wait and see it playing smaller screens than the Brattle when it does show up.

And I might have waited a day or two longer, except the timing actually worked out really well to just roll right into there after Line Walker 2, which isn't perfect but has a Shaw Brothers logo as one of roughly a dozen vanity cards before the picture started, and that always feels good. It's far away from the cool one with the tinny horns and probably only appears because this series started out as a show on Sir Run Run Shaw's TVB network, but, still, it feels good to see.

Not that the movie had a lot to do with that show, other than both co-starring Francis Ng and being about long-term undercover cops; it's become yet another Hong Kong series which is more thematically connected than sequential. Not that I quite realized this until I got home and started looking things like my previous review up, to the point where I wondered how much I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't been trying to figure out how things fit.

(More amusing: For all that Hong Kong films are not shy about crediting the action director separately or bringing in specialists for certain kinds of action, I'm not sure what to make of the credit for "Rubik's Cube Director". Was someone standing out of camera range and telling or showing Louis Koo, Nick Cheung, and the young actors what to do? It actually makes a lot of sense, and I hope this person put it on his or her résumé!)

Anyway, that's the thing Well Go was able to book in Boston this weekend, though they couldn't find a screen for Fantasia closer The Divine Fury (EFilmCritic review here); this, I guess, says something about how the area has a Chinatown but not a Koreatown, with there likely being a lot more students and other expatriates here from China rather than Korea. It's interesting to note that the studio's trailer for Takashi Miike's First Love played in front of The Nightingale at the Kendall rather than in front of their own release at Boston Common, which I guess makes a certain amount of sense - the Kendall has played Miike before and I guess this particular movie is a step closer to the art-house stuff that plays there versus the Funimation stuff that hits Boston Common and Fenway. Weird that it seems to be more or less bypassing Fantasia, although maybe it's still in post and will just be ready in time for Toronto/Austin/wide-ish release. Weird having nothing by either Miike or Sion Sono at the festival this year, though.

After that, it was time for The Nightingale, and it lived up to expectations and then some. Funny thing about those expectations was that, when I go back and look at my review for The Babadook, it doesn't quite seem properly enthusiastic, and I wonder if that' just a case of the environment having an effect. I saw it at Fantastic Fest, which was not a great experience for me between movies, and though I thought I'd done pretty well in not letting that taint my opinions of the actual the films, maybe not. Or maybe it just grows in one's estimation as one has time to think about it.

There was an intriguing credit at the end of this one, which goes past the usual nice Australian practice of acknowledging the traditional residents of the land and explains that the Aboriginal dialogue in the film is in Palawa Kani, a twentieth/twenty-first century invention, because there are not nearly enough records of the various Aboriginal records spoken in Tasmania at the time to know how they would have spoken, and this generic reconstruction is as close as they can come. The film may be less Billy's story than Clare's, but it's a sharp reminder of the immense cultural violence that colonization has done to native peoples.

(And now, if you'll excuse me, I'll be off checking submissions at eFilmCritic because there have got to be better people than yet another middle-aged white guy to talk about that, the way rape is used in the film, and how Clare's continued lactation is a smart way to address her loss that the men who have often written these rape-revenge films would never have thought of.)

Line Walker 2: Invisible Spy

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 17 August 2019 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, DCP)

This only covers what's been released in North America, but Line Walker 2 is Louis Koo's third movie in as many months to be numbered like the second in the series without actually being a sequel, which is an impressively productive year but also very confusing, considering that the first Line Walker movie was explicitly a continuation of a TV series. Truth be told, I didn't realize this one wasn't connected until I got home and re-read my review from 2016, and now I'm wondering if maybe I wouldn't have enjoyed it more if I'd been treating it as its own crazy thing rather than trying to reconcile it with the previous story.

(Don't tell me a character played by one of the returning actors died last time; who remembers every detail of every movie they saw three years ago and has time to rewatch it even if it were on a service they subscribe to?)

This one starts by flashing back thirty-odd years to an orphanage in the Philippines, where two friends are inseparable until someone gets wind of just how brilliant they are. In the present, a financial CEO gets in his car and drives it into a crowd. The police are tipped off by Yiu Ho Yee (Jiang Pei Yao), a freelance reporter and hacker who has uncovered evidence of a global conspiracy - which has placed moles in the HKPD long ago. She was brought in by Central Intelligence Bureau's Ching To (Nick Cheung Ka-Fai), with Yip Chi Fan (Francis Ng Chun-Yu) spearheading the investigation, but Security Wing head Cheng Chun Yin (Louis Koo in-Lok) soon takes over, as it falls under his jurisdiction. She has more data with her colleague Bill (Liu Yuning) in Myanmar, but a joint operation between Cheng, Ching, and local SWAT goes south, leaving one missing, one wounded, and reverberations felt all the way in Madrid, where mysterious Mr. Tung (Huang Zhizhong) is masterminding the cabal's response.

You kind of have to respect this sort of movie's deep commitment, even if it's commitment to being dumb but energetic. There is not quite a new twist every ten minutes, but it can sometimes seem that way, especially when since they never quite seem done with the implications of the last one by the time they get to the next. The film is built around paranoia and puppet masters, and long term conspiracies playing out, but there's never quite time to marinate in this and have the characters look at each other sideways like they can't be trusted. You can sometimes justify this later by showing that characters knew things before it was obvious, but that just explains things retroactively (and often incompletely); the earlier scenes don't become more exciting retroactively. Eventually, it's kind of like the Rubik's Cubes the characters play with - you can twist them into a lot of arrangements but most are just gibberish, and the solution doesn't really mean anything.

Full review on EFilmCritic

The Nightingale

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 August 2019 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, DCP)

The nine-screen multiplex where I saw The Nightingale had a sign warning potential customers about the violence by the box office, and I spent a few moments wondering why it was the sole film to get this treatment recently. It's not a bad thing for the theater to have done that - it's a harsh film that could certainly dredge up traumatic experiences - it's curiosity at the application. Writer/director Jennifer Kent appears to have crossed a line that others tend to shy away from, but I don't know that I'd have it otherwise.

What's now called Tasmania was "Van Diemen's Land" in 1820, and Clare Carrol (Aisling Franciosi) is one of a number who arrived as convicts. By rights, she and her husband Aidan (Michael Sheasby) should be free, but she's got a pretty enough face and voice that Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin) hasn't put the paperwork in, and Irish convicts don't have any recourse, no matter what their "sponsors" do. Aidan thinks they should leave anyway, but the timing is terrible, as Hawkins has just been told he will not be recommended for a promotion and opts to go to the city to demand it, stopping at the Carrol shed to vent his frustration with violence that will leave Clare hell-bent on revenge, offering everything she has to Aboriginal guide Billy (Baykali Ganambarr) if he'll help her overtake Hawkins on the trail.

Many might start a movie like this by depicting some sort of idyll or peaceful equilibrium, but Kent is having none of that; for all that Clare and Aidan clearly love each other and their infant daughter, there's hate and intolerance at every level of society, with even the other young servants often begrudging any accommodation made for the baby or acting like Clare is putting on airs when she's made to perform for the garrison like it's her idea. She pointedly has Hawkins's sergeant Ruse (Damon Herriman) belittle the men under his command as "girls" and doesn't back off the contempt Clare has for Billy even if she'll need his expertise. There are people up the ladder who clearly find this distasteful, but are loath to do much about it and challenge the order that has them where they are.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Saturday, August 17, 2019

IFFBoston 2019.02: Them That Follow & The Death of Dick Long

So very late. Mostly because I've been busy with fun things, sure, and because I was trying to catch up with the previous festival, but also because the plan of doing quick write-ups on Letterboxd while waiting in line apparently didn't happen with these two, which just had star ratings. You'd think I'd have had time on the T ride I had to take after each one, but maybe the app was buggy. So this gets posted the day after Them That Follow closes in/around Boston.

A shame, because I liked the movie, and it was fun having one of the two directors (Daniel Savage, on the left) there for interrogation. One of the main topics of discussion was, of course, the cast; IIRC, Alice Elgort, probably the least-known of the main cast, was actually who they started with and built around, which surprised me a bit.

One thing that kind of amused me and once again reminded me that it's good for us to get out of our silos sometimes is the number of people who only recognized Olivia Colman in that cast and came for her. Blew my mind, it did, because these people clearly need to watch Justified to get good and familiar with Walton Goggins, who was admittedly the reason I came. Start with Season 2, which also features co-star Kaitlyn Dever and Margo Martindale, if you must. It also seems like more likely to pull people into this sort of movie than The Crown, but, again, silos.

Speaking of Dever, she's amassed an awfully impressive "holy cow, that's the same person?" career growing up, between Justified, Short Term 10, Them That Follow, and Booksmart. I've loved all of those and I think I maybe recognized her as being the same person in Justified and Them That Follow because the context was a bit closer. She's great and hopefully will soon be written off that Tim Allen thing as being away at college so that she can do more good stuff.

Two stops down, BUFF & IFFBoston teamed for The Death of Dick Long, which I think was the first movie to surprise me by having a studio logo in front of it at the festival. I generally try and choose what I see at festivals by what seems least likely to show up on the same screens again later, and this seems like a prime candidate for that, but apparently A24 is putting it out in September. I wonder if that's the inevitable future of second-tier festivals like IFFBoston - Amazon/Netflix/A24 are slurping up so much at Sundance and SXSW that these festivals become preview screenings with guests and local showcases. Which are both good things to have, and it's probably better that things get bought quickly rather than linger in uncertainty.

Anyway, here's writer Billy Chew, director Daniel Scheinert, and critic Jason Gorber, who wanted to lead the Q&A as a fan of the film. There was a lot of talk about The Thing That Happens but I don't recall it being much more than an attempt to push the envelope. Scheinert also assured us that "Daniels" wasn't broken up, but just doing separate projects.

Next up.... Probably day #5, as two movies from that have opened recently.

Them That Follow

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2019 in Somerville Theatre #5 (IFFBoston, DCP)

Movies like Them That Follow often have a hard time finding the right balance of respect and alarm in regard to the fringes of society where their characters exist, and in this case filmmakers Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage maybe veer too far toward the respectful. They've got too fine a cast to not make a good movie, but the naturally soapy elements get a bit blunted by not wanting to be insensitive and exploitative where its snake-handling community is concerned.

Lemuel (Walton Goggins) is the preacher for that community, seemingly sincere in his beliefs but also experienced enough with how the outside world reacts to them to lay low. He's got a daughter, Mara (Alice Englert), who has been expected to marry his deacon Garret (Lewis Pullman) for some time, though she's really got eyes for Augie (Thomas Mann); his parents Hope (Olivia Colman) and Zeke (Jim Gaffigan) are part of Lemuel's flock, but he doesn't attend. It's a situation that is only likely to become more tense as Lemuel takes in Dilly (Kaitlyn Dever), an impressionable young teen whose parents have abandoned her; a parishioner is bitten during services; and Mara misses a period.

There's not a whole lot of clutter to this film, which is likely part of the point. Though law enforcement is mentioned and some shuffling goes on to avoid Lemuel being charged with any injuries or deaths that occur at his services, they're not seen directly very often; Dilly's junkie mother is most noted for her absence and the mess she leaves behind. Maybe it's just summer, but there's no sign that Dilly is attending school, and though Augie clearly has things going on outside of this community, that side is similarly seldom glimpsed. It's an arrangement that can often diminish how cult-like this group seems, which should lead to a bigger impact when the more extreme facets of their faith become important, but more often just makes it feel like this story could take place in any community built around faith. The broad strokes apply to so many cases that this one could use being more specific at times.

Full review on EFilmCritic

The Death of Dick Long

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2019 in the Brattle Theatre #5 (IFFBoston, DCP)

Just enough time passed between my seeing The Death of Dick Long and getting around to fleshing my notes out into a full review that it took me a while moment to remember exactly what about it made it stand out among "dumb person crime" movies, and I'm not entirely sure whether that speaks well of it or not. One the one hand, it's an entertaining dark comedy even without the twist, but on the other, I've got to wonder what it says that the filmmakers couldn't get that image lodged in my brain. Of course, maybe it says something about me.

It opens with Zeke Olsen (Michael Abbot Jr.), Earl Wyeth (Andre Hyland), and Dick Long (Daniel Scheinert) wrapping up a garage session - their band Pink Freud doesn't play many gigs, but that's not exactly the point of getting together to jam - before one says "let's get weird" and they proceed to get messed up on something stronger than beer. We don't see how the night ends, but the next morning begins with Dick dead, Earl ready to cut and run, and Zeke having no idea how to get all the blood out of his car's back seat before driving daughter Cynthia (Poppy Cunningham) to school. It gets worse - Cynthia's teacher (Jess Weixler) is Dick's wife, and the body that is soon brought to the attention of Sheriff Spenser (Janelle Cochrane) is in rather alarming condition.

A big part of what makes this sort of movie fun - and makes the good ones work - is how they split naturally in two, with one half of the film covering how a couple of guys who aren't that bright and aren't exactly criminals by nature try to dig their way out of the mess they find themselves in while the other covers how the small-town cops try to reluctantly dig their way into it, and how a film handles that second part can make or break it - if this is dull in comparison to the hijinks, or makes the very idea of right and wrong look too foolish, or too fully turns the audience against the hapless guys they're chasing, it can be a real mess. That Janelle Cochrane and especially Sarah Baker are so good as the local constabulary thus becomes one of the best parts of the film. It's easy to map Cochrane's Sheriff Spenser as the equivalent of Frances McDormand's character in Fargo, although she's a little less casually good at her job and a little more jaded at her own position even if what's happened to this difficult-to-identify body still has her rattled. As much as she often seems like the only reasonable adult in this town, there's a bit of a weight to how people don't respect the authority of women in their fifties even if they radiate experience. She's also quite wary of "Duds" Dudley's enthusiasm, and it's understandable, but Dudley and Baker's take on her are a great complement - she's enthusiastic but not exactly a natural crime-solver, and the way she's often a half-step behind Spenser but also less intimidated by what they're getting into makes her a fun comedic foil. It also makes her very sympathetic; the viewer occasionally laughs at her but also identifies with how she's learning, and how in some ways she's not far off from the dopey guys in the other half even if her trajectory is different.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Friday, August 16, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 16 August 2019 - 22 August 2019

Mid-August, kids already back in school, studios getting the not-great stuff out.

  • A couple of these are getting surprisingly good reviews, though. Good Boys, for instance, has been getting great reviews, although the previews for this movie where 12-year-olds get into decidedly R-rated misadventures have been dreadful. It's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere. So is Blinded by the Light, the new one from director Gurinder Chadna, about a teenager in 1987 Britain who becomes a big fan of Bruce Springsteen. It's at Somerville, the Lexington Venue, West Newton, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema and a repeat of the "Springsteen Fan Event" on Tuesday afternoon), the Embassy, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    There's also Where'd You Go, Bernadette, the new film from Richard Linklater, starring Cate Blanchett as a suburban mom who needs some adventure in her life, at the Somerville, Kendall Square, West Newton, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux. 47 Meters Down: Uncaged comes from the same team as the first and is disappointingly not called "48 Meters Down", featuring four teenagers providing the sharks multiple targets. It plays Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere.

    Angry Birds 2 opened on Wednesday, and continues this week at the Capitol (2D only), Fresh Pond (2D only), Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere. Next Wednesday's opening is Ready or Not, a Fantasia selection featuring Samara Weaving as a new bride whose in-laws intend to kill her on their wedding night as part of some ritual, unless she can win a game of hide-and-seek. It will open at Boston Common, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and probably others.

    The Lexington Venue has 50th Anniversary screenings of A Boy Named Charlie Brown on Saturday & Sunday mornings, while Revere shows it Wednesday afternoon and the Regent in Arlington has it Wednesday afternoon and evening. Satoshi Kon's Millennium Actress plays Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, and Revere on Tuesday. Boston Common and Revere have Fantasia alum Kingdom, a fun Japanese take on China's warring kingdom period, from Tuesday through Thursday Fenway also has concert film Rush: Cinema Strangiato on Wednesday, and Revere has Taxi Driver on Thursday. Bring the Soul: The Movie continues at Revere through Sunday and Boston Common through Wednesday
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre picks up the The Nightingale, although on the smaller screens, which also hold over Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am.

    The midnights at the Coolidge this weekend come from Paul Verhoeven, with Showgirls on Friday and Starship Troopers on Saturday, both on 35mm. They've got a special screening of Sonic Youth: 30 Years of Daydream Nature on Sunday afternoon, followed by a panel discussion with Steve Shelley, writer Byron Coley, and Sonic Youth archivist Aaron Mullan. Monday's Big Screen Classic is the annual The Big Lebowski party. There's also a Tuesday screening of Dateline-Saigon with a post-screening discussion, as well as a (free/RSVP required) GlobeDocs screening of Behind the Bullet with director Heidi Yewman. Thursday's "Summer of '69" show is Medium Cool.
  • Kendall Square and West Newton open After the Wedding, with Michelle Williams as a woman running an orphanage who finds herself in increasingly difficult situations after meeting her benefactor (Julianne Moore). The two places also open Tel Aviv on Fire, a comedy that takes place behind the scenes of a Palestinian soap opera.

    The Kendall also opens IFFBoston selection One Child Nation (aka Born in China), in which director Wang Nanfu looks back at China's One Child policy as she has her first child and remembers how her family was ostracized because of her younger brother.
  • Apple Fresh Pond does a big refresh of their movies for Indian Independence Day, with Hindi-language Mission Mangal featuring Akshay Kumar in a film about the Indian Space Research Organization launching the Mars Orbiter Mission on a strict budget. Batla House is also in Hindi, an action movie based on a real-life 2008 raid. Ranarangam is a bit of "mobster who thought he was out but gets pulled back in" in the Telugu language. Also in Telugu is Evaru, with Adivi Sesh as an internal affairs officer investigating the murder of a high-ranking cop who had been killed by his alleged rape victim.

    Line Walker 2 opens at Boston Common, though it's maybe not a great time for a movie about undercover Hong Kong cops, although it looks less like a continuation of the TV series as the first was and more Francis Ng, Louis Koo, and Nick Cheung are fighting Taiwanese hackers. They also have night-time screenings of Chinese firefighting movie The Bravest.
  • The Brattle Theatre gives most of the weekend to a new restoration of Olivia, a 1951 film directed by Jacqueline Audry, one of the few female filmmakers working at that time. It follows a new girl at a 19th-century boarding school with two manipulative headmistresses. It plays Friday through Sunday, although the last show of the day at 9:30 is reserved for Booksmart, Olivia Wilde's hilarious comedy about two high-achieving girls trying to fit all the fun they missed into the night before graduation.

    Noirversary falls on Monday this week with the pairing of The Woman in the Window & The Mask of Dimitrios, both on 35mm, while Tuesday is Trash Night. Wednesday's Recent Rave is Joanna Hogg's The Souvenir; and Reel Music on Thursday is a two single showings, a special presentation of the "Buy Me Boston Video Loft" and Penelope Spheeris's Suburbia.
  • The Harvard Film Archive has a full slate of The Complete Howard Hawks this week, with seven prints: Rio Lobo (Friday 7pm), The Road to Glory (Friday 9:30pm), A Song Is Born (Saturday 7pm on 16mm), O. Henry's Full House (Saturday 9pm), Come and Get It (Sunday 4:30pm), Barbary Coast (Sunday 7pm), and The Crowd Roars (Monday 7pm).
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues two repertory series this weekend. "Space Exploration on Film" features Apollo 11 (Friday/Sunday) and the Tarkovsky Solaris (Saturday); "A Splinter in Your Mind: Films from '99" includes Magnolia (Friday), Boys Don't Cry (Saturday), and Election (Sunday), with the 1999 films all on 35mm.
  • Saturday's Midnight Special at The Somerville Theatre is The Song Remains the Same, and they're also starting to let other things share screen #1 with Once Upon a Time In Hollywood during regular hours. Sunday, for instance, features the return of "Silents, Please", with Jeff Rapsis accompanying The Woman Disputed, which stars Norma Talmadge in an adaptation of a Guy de Maupassant story about an adventuress who becomes a general's mistress to free hostages. "Play It Cool" returns on Wednesday with California Split, while Jack Attack continues on Thursday with Wolf. All of those repertory programs are on 35mm film. That's not likely the case with Wednesday's The Boston Underground Film Festival "Dispatches from the Underground", although that's still listed as TBA and so may not still be on this month.
  • The Regent Theatre has live performances much of the weekend, but Tuesday's presentation of Jiro Dreams of Sushi is free with RSVP and includes a small popcorn and soda. A Boy Named Charlie Brown plays Wednesday.
  • Cinema Salem has nifty Swedish science fiction film Aniara in the screening room this weekend, as well as screenings of Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am. The Luna Theater has Midsommar on Friday and Saturday evenings, Psycho Beach Party on Saturday afternoon, and Rosemary's Baby on Sunday, along with the free mystery boxes of the "Magical Mystery Movie Club" on Saturday and Sunday mornings and Weirdo Wednesday.
  • Joe's Free Films shows the outdoor films as very Marvel-oriented this week, with multiple chances to see Captain Marvel and Into the Spider-Verse along with at least one Black Panther, in addition to other mostly-family-friendly options.

I didn't catch The Nightingale last week, so I'll likely do that, Line Walker 2, Ready or Not, the noir, the silent, and maybe whatever one of the new releases is playing when I happen to be getting out of work.

Monday, August 12, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 5 August 2019 - 11 August 2019

Back from Montreal, and London not long before that, and Hong Kong a little while earlier, and I'll often say the MBTA isn't that bad, but, yikes, while those places aren't perfect, there's a certain basic level of reliability to their public transportation that I kind of miss

This Week in Tickets

Anyway, I'm leaving a gap here for Fantasia, and after getting my rest after the trip back, it was back to work and back to the movies on Monday, when I opted to catch Crawl because I'd heard good things online - which were pretty deserved; it knows what it's doing and does it well. And then, when I get home, there's a package with a new camera waiting, which is an ironic thing to get the day after arriving home from vacation.

The next night, I had a ticket to the Red Sox, and my encounters with the T went "the 350 bus is 20 minutes late", "the 350 bus breaks down and we wait by the side of the road for 20 minutes", "ten minute wait for the Red Line at Alewife", "two Green Line trains leave as I arrive at Park Street", and somehow I managed to avoid any more delays on the way to Kenmore (where it fortunately takes just a minute or two to buy some 35mm film for the camera). Once there, the game is not good; the Red Sox lose to the Royals 6-2, and I missed the first couple innings. What the heck happened to this team after last year, right?

Wednesday was for picking up a month's worth of comics (what the hell is DC doing these days? Who actually enjoys this "Year of the Villain" garbage enough for it to be in every damn book?), Thursday had me leaving work at a weird time, and then Friday's ride home just kind of wore me out and threw me off: I got to Alewife, and then actually got stuck in the tunnel between Alewife and Davis, eventually going back and moving to another train. I've gotta say, I kind of figured being on the train that held the whole Red Line up would be more exciting.

I briefly toyed with the idea of heading out to the Liberty Tree Mall to catch Nekrotronic, but guess I'll just settle for VOD after it took a few minutes longer than I'd allotted to get a haircut and I got cold feet at the times listed for transfers on Google, which could leave me all the way out in Salem and having to turn back. Instead, I caught Chinese firefighting adventure The Bravest early and then headed home, watched some baseball, and then caught Once Upon a Time in Hollywood in 35mm at the Somerville, a reminder that film looks great and giving it up for the same of easier workflow was a mistake.

Sunday was laundry day, capped with Fast & Furious Presents Hobbs & Show on Assembly Row's Imax-branded screen. Not bad, but a little try-hard, and it's kind of crazy how weirdly big the spin-off from what started as a pretty modest series (and isn't nearly this grandiose) wound up being.

Sadly, my my Letterboxd page has fallen behind because I couldn't keep up in Montreal, but I'll do my best to keep it current while backfilling the festival stuff.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 5 August 2019 in AMC Boston Common #8 (first-run, DCP)

This movie does what it's supposed to do with no fuss and does it less than 90 minutes, which is something more horror movies should aspire to. It is a killer-animal movie that knows its job and spends just enough time building everything up to make everything that plays out extremely satisfying. It is the sort of thing you go into knowing it's a large alligator movie, where you spend the first act scoping out the terrain of the house and thinking about just what sort of trouble a corner will be when the reptiles finally appear, and still go "holy shit, gator!" when one shows up.

Around there, it's smart about knowing just how cranked up to be. Kaya Scodelario's Haley and Barry Pepper's father aren't stoic - they react to huge alligators in their basement during a Category Five hurricane with a believable amount of alarm - but they feel like people who can survive and won't exhaust the audience in doing so. The filmmakers are also pretty slick at getting the most of their effects - the CGI gators mesh very well with the practical ones (he says, assuming there are practical gators), and there's just enough gore the get the audience to react without getting to the point where it's taken for granted. They do a nice job of getting the light and sky to feel right, too.

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 10 August 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (first-run, 35mm)

Quentin Tarantino has always been more than a bit heavy-handed, but something about this movie makes me wonder if, for all the ways in which he is a terrible human being, Harvey Weinstein had a knack for reeling him in just enough. There are a lot of scenes that run just a bit too long here, and cameos that feel just a little too cute in part because people watching the movie know who his rep stable is. Maybe he could use a producer who knows how to say "this is great, but..."

Of course, the movie is great in a lot of ways - Tarantino's pure love of Hollywood and the movies comes through in how Margot Robbie's Sharon Tate seems to be radiating pure joy most of the time on-screen, even as a bit about not being recognized at the box office of a theater showing a movie she's in hints at how fleeting fame can be, for instance. He gives the audience a couple of men who have made complete messes of their lives and lets the audience wonder just how worthy of second chances they are even while acknowledging that they can't just stop living and working. I don't know that Leonardo DiCaprio is quite playing against type here, but he vanishes inside the tough-guy actor who is in truth a mess of insecurities in a way that he has seldom done before. It's a performance that's almost too funny and bombastic to feel good, but it nevertheless plays as authentic.

And it's gorgeous, between how Tarantino clearly shoots this to be seen on film first and foremost, framing shots wide enough that even 2K high definition is going to lose significant detail and making great use of twilight, and how the crew puts 1969 Los Angeles together, both via visual effects and in terms of design, with the occasional wink toward how filmmakers make the past feel contemporary without being anachronistic. It's fun to see Zoe Bell graduate to full stunt coordinator here; this isn't an action movie, but her and Quentin being on the same wavelength helps out a lot when the time for action comes. There's a great sequence in the middle that does a fantastic job of making the Manson Family the stuff of horror movies but also showing how people can dismiss it and the like until it's too late.

I'll still probably be happy to catch it again on 35mm while my local place is still running it that way, even if it's not quite up there with my favorite Tarantino flicks.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 11 August 2019 in AMC Assembly Row #1 (first-run, Imax digital)

There are credits for 3D conversion on this movie, nestled among an honestly absurd number of mid/post-credit scenes, but we don't get 3D in America, which is kind of a shame: This big dumb movie that just doesn't know when to scale back and never has any heft despite always cranking up the scale could not only use a bit of fake 3D, it probably deserves it.

(Yes, I checked the Hong Kong movie times app that is still on my phone to see if they got it in 3D - they did - and did you know there is a sequel to Minuscule and a new movie starring Simon Yam and Weathering with You playing there?)

Anyway, for as much fun as the Dwayne Johnson/Jason Statham team-ups were in the previous F&F movies, a whole movie is a lot of two puffed-up headcases bickering, especially since the intended counterweight is Vanessa Kirby just wanting no part of their stupidity. They're all trying too hard to be cool but never get tested in a way that makes them overcome it. Meanwhile, Idris Elba is given a potentially great true believer of an antagonist but the script makes him muscle rather than mastermind - apparently they're saving the alpha villain for a sequel - and the two cameos that could have actually served as fun complements to the very serious stars are trying too hard to be scene-stealers.

David Leitch is still pretty good at action even when he doesn't have people as happy to get down and dirty as Keanu Reeves or Charlize Theron (that Statham is less tied up in being an unstoppable force than Johnson tends to make him more fun to watch), but he's got a solid sense of how things move and tug at each other, from Elba's motorcycle that seems like an extension of the cyborg assassin and seemingly wants to be with him to the finale which, while shown plenty in the trailer, is still a genuinely terrific set-piece, even if it seems as deliberate in the world of the film as it does as part of a film.

It's fun, even if its old-school James Bond villains seem as far removed from the later Fast & Furious movies as they themselves are from the first movie's plot that involved stealing a few VCRs. It's a big, dumb movie, but probably wouldn't have worked smaller and smarter.

Red Sox 2, Royals 6
The Bravest
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Hobbs & Shaw

Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Bravest

About the only thing I can really say about the firefighting in The Bravest - which was obviously never going to take the same sort of critical look at its characters as something like Rescue Me, and so maybe can't really be criticized that much from that direction - is that I don't think they used a ladder truck at any point in the movie. Is that not a thing in China? It felt like kind of a weird omission when the characters were going through the burning building to get to the third floor, and later when faced with a 20-meter tank on fire or seas of flames that they needed to get past.

Looking stuff up about the movie sent me down a small tech-spec rabbit hole, though - it really looks like something built to be seen in 3D, but I couldn't find any mention of stereographers or stereo conversion in the credits, and it's not listed in the credits. What is listed is that the film was apparently shot at 48fps and released that way on some screens in China, which is interesting. The relatively few big films released that way here have shown potential but also feel like it's a more challenging tool than filmmakers expect: Peter Jackson really only seemed to get the hang of it by the third Hobbit film (although regular 24fps 3D looked much less impressive after the first), and Ang Lee's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk got an interesting sense of heightened reality out of it, enough that I'm curious to see what he does with it in Gemini Man come October. It feels like it might have done hellish things to this movie's budget - that's twice as many frames of fire to render! - but with all the slow-motion, that could have been really different. That's the trick with high-frame-rate stuff - we've grown so used to 24fps as the standard, our brains aren't really ready to process it differently until the film's over, and then we probably won't have another chance any time soon.

A little way down the rabbit hole, I saw that Detective Dee and the Four Heavenly Kings was also released in 48fps, and I thought I was kind of missing out not seeing it in 3D (somehow, the film still hasn't come out on Hong Kong Blu-ray, so I haven't been able to get a 3D disc). The Detective Dee flicks aren't really martial-arts movies so much as action/adventures with plenty of fighting, but seeing what Tsui Hark and his crew could do with the sort of clarity a high frame rate affords has me really curious.

Lie huo ying xiong (The Bravest)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 10 August 2019 in AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run, DCP)

It seems like it would be hard to go too far over the top with a movie about heroic firefighters facing a massive but somewhat plausible danger, but The Bravest gives it a shot. The wall-to-wall firefighting action is more or less on point, but filmmaker Tony Chan Kwoik-Fai has trouble letting the heroism stand on its own, and there's sometimes an awful thin line between the moments that successfully make the audience stand up and cheer and the ones that try and get a snicker instead.

As it opens, Jiang Liwei (Huang Xiaoming) is the captain of the Bingang fire department's special response squadron, personally running into a burning hot pot restaurant to rescue a little girl in the top floor apartment - but also taking the fall when the fire flares up again after apparently being out. He's assigned to a smaller station while second-in-command Ma Weiguo (Du Jiang) takes his old job, and his psych evaluation suggests that he should retire as a result of his PTSD. A fire at the port will put all hands on deck - Jiang, Ma, Fire Inspector Wang Lu (Yang Zi), and her fiancé Xu Xiaobin (Ou Hao). Of principal concern is Tank A01, a hundred thousand cubic meters of crude oil, across the street from chemical tanks containing benzene, xylene, and cyanide. If it explodes, it could wipe out this city of eight million and create a far-reaching environmental catastrophe.

This seems to undersell the danger a bit; the fictional city of Bingang appears to be modeled on Tianjin, a major port with a population of twelve million. It is kind of odd that Chan and co-writer Yu Yonggan used a made-up setting for a film built to be one of three major flag-waving films coming out in China over the next few months, but there is only so much of this potential disaster that can be blamed on foreign negligence (though, make no mistake, that does appear to be the proximate cause of all this); you can make all firefighters heroes without implying that some actual city's public servants have been slacking on the job - or that someone like this film's harbor master would withhold information. It's an odd dance that must take place when making movies in an environment hyper-sensitive to that sort of thing, and truth be told, Chan and Yu handle the fact that people in the institutions one wishes to exalt must occasionally screw up in order to keep the movie going than many trying to do the same manage.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Friday, August 09, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 9 August 2019 - 15 August 2019

When does school start these days? Has it pushed back far enough into August that it makes sense to start downshifting what goes into theaters this early?

  • Maybe next week; it looks like the studios are trying to squeeze a little bit more out of kids and teens before they no longer have time to come to matinees. For the younger ones, there's Dora and the Lost City of Gold, which has Dora & Diego from Dora the Explorer around 16, with Dora not quite fitting into a regular high school and Diego and friends also winding up in the jungle. That's at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row, and Revere. For the slightly older crowd, there's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, in which a group of kids find a book of horror stories that come to life. Produced by Guillermo del Toro and directed by André Øvredal (who made Trollhunter and The Autopsy of Jane Doe), it's at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    For the older crowd, The Kitchen adapts a graphic novel about three mob widows (Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Hadish, and Elizabeth Moss) who decide to take crime into their own hands, with original artist Ming Doyle doing a meet & greet and autograph session at the Somerville Theatre on Friday night. It also plays Fresh Pond, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere. There's also an adaptation of The Art of Racing in the Rain, a romance with Milo Ventimiglia and Amanda Seyfried told from the perspective of their auto-racing-loving dog (voiced by Kevin Costner). It's at Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    Bring the Soul: The Movie continues at Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, and Revere; on the other end of the week, The Angry Birds 2 opens Wednesday at Fresh Pond (2D), Boston Common (2D/3D), Fenway (2D/3D), South Bay (2D/3D), Assembly Row (2D/3D), and Revere (2D/3D). Boston Common switches things up so that Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood takes the Imax-branded screen over from Hobbs & Shaw

    Hello, Dolly has anniversary screenings at Fenway on Sunday on Sunday and Wednesday (Wednesday only at Revere), while Woodstock celebrates the same birthday on Thursday at the Coolidge (where it's on 35mm as part of the Cinema Jukebox and Summer of '69 series) Fenway, South Bay, and Revere. There are Springsteen Fan Events for Blinded by the Light at Fenway and Revere on Monday. One of Satoshi Kon's best (not that he made any bad movies), Millennium Actress plays Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, and Revere on Tuesday.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Kendall Square, and Cinema Salem get IFFBoston alum Them That Follow, a nifty movie about a hidden community of snake handlers which has a heck of a cast - Walton Goggins, Kaitlyn Dever, Olivia Colman, Jim Gaffigan - supporting a pretty terrific Alice Englert. It's mostly in the small rooms at the Coolidge and Salem, as is Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, playing early shows in the Coolidge's Goldscreen to pay tribute to the recently-departed author.

    The Coolidge holds Luz over a second weekend of midnights in the screening room, and it's worth noting that this great little debut is compact enough that there is little need to fret about catching the 66 afterward, if not the Green Line. The midnights on the bigger screen upstairs are a 35mm print of Teen Wolf and a DCP file of Meatballs. Monday night's Big Screen Classic is a 35mm print of the delightful Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (with optional pre/film seminar). A five-week "Hitchcock in Hollywood" course starts in the screening room on Wednesday, and it's an evening course unlike many of the previous Coolidge Education series. As mentioned above, there's a 35mm print of Woodstock on Thursday.
  • Kendall Square is the first place in the area to get IFFBoston alum The Nightingale, Jennifer Kent's much-anticipated follow-up to The Babadook which is by all accounts a harrowing tale of vengeance in 1825 Australia. They (and Boston Common) also get the festival's opening film, Luce, which is a little too clever for its own good at times but still frequently engrossing in its tale of the adopted pride of the town who raises alarms with his teacher. I don't believe the festival had Piranhas, a tale of teenagers and would-be Mafia in Naples looking to move up to the big time when a power vacuum appears.

    The Kendall, Embassy, Boston Common, South Bay, and Revere also open Brian Banks, which stars Aldis Hodge as a prisoner who had once been a promising football prospect trying to prove he was wrongly-convicted.
  • The big release from China this week is The Bravest, in which a team of firefighters attempt to contain a fire threatening a chemical plant which could ignite and level the entire city; it's one of the movies that the government is really getting behind and pushing, but it looks good despite coming from a guy whose career has thus far been romantic comedies. It plays Boston Common and Revere. Boston Common also has Hello, Love, Goodbye, a movie set in Hong Kong but which takes place among its Filipino population, with Alden Richards as a bartender romancing Kathryn Bernardo's domestic employee.

    Over at Apple Fresh Pond looks to be turning over their whole slate of Indian films this week, with even more coming next. Hindi-language groom-kidnapping action-comedy Jabariya Jodi seems to be getting the most showtimes, followed by legal thriller Nerkonda Paarvai, a Tamil-language remake of Pink, and Telugu romantic comedy Manmadhudu 2. There's also a show a day of Kurukshetta, a Kannada-language historical epic, through Monday.and on Wednesday.

    They also get an English-language indie, Light of My Life, written by, directed by, and starring Casey Affleck as a father
  • It's all repertory presentations at The Brattle Theatre this week, starting with a weekend celebrating the Dino De Laurentiis Centennial: A double feature of Europa '51 and La Strada (35mm) on Friday before a 9:30pm show of Cat's Eye (35mm); a triple feature of Dune (35mm), Flash Gordon (35mm), and Barbarella on Saturday; a pairing of the 1976 King Kong and Serpico (35mm) on Sunday; and 35mm presentations of Blue Velvet on Monday.

    Noirversary on Tuesday features a 35mm double feature of Phantom Lady & Ministry of Fear; Wednesday's Recent Rave is High Life; and Reel Music on Thursday is a twin-bill of Her Smell & Smithereens.
  • The Harvard Film Archive keeps The Complete Howard Hawks simple this week, with 7pm shows from Friday to Monday - The Big Sky (35mm), Rio Bravo (35mm), Red River (DCP), and Sergeant York (35mm).
  • The Museum of Fine Arts and the Roxbury Film Festival welcome director Clennon King and his film Fair Game: Surviving a 1960 Georgia Lynching on Friday evening; the Festival also co-presents The Last Black Man in San Francisco on Saturday.. They also continue "Space Exploration on Film" with the original Solaris (Friday) and a free outdoor "Sunset Cinema" show of 2001 (Thursday), and "A Splinter in Your Mind: Films from '99 with The Matrix (35mm Friday), and screen An Elephant Sitting Still on Sunday.
  • The Somerville Theatre has a special 20th-anniversary run of Hedwig & the Angry Inch to go along with their 35mm run of Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood. For special presentations, there's a 35mm Saturday Midnight Special of Bring It On and a Jack Attack show of Hoffa on Thursday.
  • This year's Movie Night at Fenway Park is Tuesday, with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse showing on the Jumbotron, with the chance to walk the warning track before the show.
  • West Newton has the last 2019 Summer Cinematheque show from Boston Jewish Film in Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles on Wednesday, although the site marks it as sold out without mentioning whether there will be rush tickets or not.
  • The Luna Theater has The Last Black Man in San Francisco on Friday, Saturday, and Tuesday evenings, Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am and Psycho Beach Party on Saturday afternoon, and The Wicker Man on Sunday, with the "Magical Mystery Movie Club" back to both Saturday and Sunday mornings while Weirdo Wednesday continues to chug along. The AMC at the Liberty Tree Mall has crime drama ECCO and weirdo horror comedy Nekrotronic from the makers of Wyrmwood
  • Joe's Free Films show multiples of How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World this week (sometimes in two places at once), and you can also get two-thirds of the way through the Back to the Future trilogy with the original at Christopher Columbus Park on Sunday and the Coolidge's Greenway screening of Part II on 35mm Tuesday.

Down for The Nightingale, The Bravest, and some catch-up, trying very hard not to talk myself into heading all the way out to Danvers for Nekrotronic.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Fantasia Extra: Bodies at Rest

I joke about needing to ease out of Fantasia slowly rather than just doing four movies on Thursday and stopping every year, but I suspect I probably could. Someone just always happens to open something at the Cineplex Forum on that Friday that doesn't seem to be playing Boston.

Thus, Bodies at Rest, which seems like a really screwy release in that it seems to be getting a release in Canada, at least, alongside a mainland release that is listed as "Cancelled" on IMDB, with later releases scheduled for China/Hong Kong/Singapore listed (and also listed on Douban). It can't be coming out in Canada (and presumably the US) first, can it? Also, how the heck does a story which revolves around corrupt cops get a Mainland release while so much else seems to be swallowed up by the censors there? Or is it kind of nefarious, like it's okay to point out that there's police corruption in Hong Kong, and maybe make sure people keep getting reminded that it happens there (while depiction of PRC cops has them pure and virtuous) for the next time they're thinking of cracking down.

Of course, like I say in the review, perhaps the worst part of this screwy situation is that Harlin can't make the hard-R movie that this clearly wants to be. There's actually a pretty good chance that I would have responded to that movie in much the same way but for different reasons, but the fact of the matter is, this is a movie that is built around bodies getting torn up and treated like things and evidence rather than former people, and I think you kind of need to lean into that, kind of rub the repugnance of it in the audience's face, and let the way villains receive their comeuppance via the equipment used to examine the corpses resonate a bit. Not that such a version of Bodies at Rest would likely be that high-minded, but I do think a little blood and guts could do it some good.

Chen mo de zheng ren (Bodies at Rest)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2019 in Cineplex Forum #1 (first-run, DCP)

As near as I can tell from its online footprint and the credits, Bodies at Rest started as an English-language script, got picked up by a Chinese company, was rewritten to be set in Hong Kong but shot in Beijing (in Mandarin), directed by a Finn, after which point it seems to have sat on the server for a year before being finally getting what release it did, dubbed into Cantonese for at least its North American release. That it is kind of a mess is unsurprising; that it's still a fairly acceptable little thriller is a sort of testament to everyone knowing what they're doing.

It's Christmas Eve 2017, and the radio is warning of torrential rains in Hong Kong, so everybody should just stay home, buckle down, maybe have some eggnog. At the city morgue, forensic examiner Nick Chan (Nick Cheung Ka-Fai) is midway through his shift, aided by intern Lynn Qiao (Yang Zi), with "Uncle King" (Ma Shuliang) covering the front desk. That weather advisory and skeleton crew makes it easy pickings for masked intruders "Santa" (Richie Jen Hsien-Chi), "Rudolph" (Feng Jiayi), and "Elf" (Carlos Chan Ka-Lok), who want the bullet lodged in gunshot victim Ankie Cheng (Clara Lee). In and out in an hour, they think, not counting on how Nick is fairly driven to now have another murder sit unsolved like that of his wife.

As hooks for Die Hard-style sieges go, that's actually pretty clever, and if you're going to do that, you might as well get the guy who directed Die Hard 2 and has, of late, been plying his trade for Chinese studios with more screens to fill than they have journeyman directors to churn things out. It seems like a great fit, especially when you consider that Harlin also has roots in horror and has seldom been afraid to put more blood and guts into his action/adventure flicks than some of his contemporaries. If this were a Hong Kong thriller, he'd probably be free to go to town, but in a Chinese co-production, he's working with one hand tied behind his back. So he shoots around anything that might show too much of a corpse being examined or cut up, has one of the best kills of the film neutered, and is so cautious as other characters get maimed that I can't say as to whether a pretty specifically called out piece of mayhem in the last act wound up happening or not. Even as someone who doesn't particularly like that much gore in my movies, I'm not sure why you hire Harlin to shoot this script and then basically limit him to headshots that don't bleed until the victim is lying face-down on the floor.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Friday, August 02, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 2 August 2019 - 8 August 2019

Coming home! What's waiting for me?

  • Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, basically, in which Samoan Thor and two members of the crime family spawned by Helen Mirren try to keep some MacGuffin away from a genetically-enhanced soldier played by Idris Elba because, sure, why not? It's at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Jordan's Furniture (Imax), Boston Common, Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport, South Bay (including Imax), Assembly Row (including Imax), the Embassy, Revere (including XPlus), and the SuperLux.

    Those looking to catch up with It: Chapter One before the conclusion arrives next month, there are screenings at Boston Common, Fenway, and Assembly Row on Sunday and Tuesday. Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, and Revere will have a special 10th anniversary screening of Doctor Who: The End of Time, David Tennant's farewell to the part, on Wednesday. And Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, and Revere will have plentiful showings of Bring the Soul: The Movie starting on Wedesday; it's the latest concert film from Korean sensation BTS (which I honestly thought stood for "Burn the Stage" after their last film, but I guess they're just initials that can stand for anything).
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre and Kendall Square open Mike Wallace Is Here, a documentary on the famed television journalist who became famous for his ability to "ambush" unprepared people in interviews.

    The Coolidge also has a brief, tiny run of Luz, with midnight shows in their screening room on Friday and Saturday, but it's worth checking out; it's one of the most memorable movies I saw at last year's Fantasia Festival. It's there because Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood is long and the other midnight screenings pay tribute to Sharon Tate, with Valley of the Dolls on Friday and The Fearless Vampire Killers on Saturday, both on 35mm film (as is the Tarantino flick). There's a "Big Screen Classic" screening of Heat on Monday, and a Summer of '69 show of Easy Rider on 35mm Thursday.
  • Kendall Square and West Newton pick up David Crosby: Remember My Name, a documentary on the abrasive musician directed by A.J. Eaton and produced by Cameron Crowe (who also handles interview duties). The Kendall also gets The Mountain featuring Tye Sheridan as a young man who joins a quack (Jeff Goldblum) on a tour to try and re-establish lobotomies after they have been generally debunked. There's also a reissue of Paris Is Burning, the 1980s documentary about the Harlem Drag Ball.
  • The quick weekend release at The Brattle Theatre this week is Leto, a Russian film about the underground rock scene in Leningrad in the early 1980s. The weekend also features late Return of the Grindhouse shows at 9:30pm, and they look to be fun - Michelle Yeoh in Royal Warriors on Friday, Brattle co-founder Bryant Haliday in Horror on Snape Island on Sunday, and Big Guns (aka No Way Out) on Sunday. All three are on 35mm, with secret second features on Friday and Saturday.

    In the mostly-vertical part of the schedule, Monday's Noirversary movie is Laura with Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews, Tuesday offers a free screening of documentary Lobster War with filmmaker David Abel on-hand, Wednesday's Recent Rave is Rafiki, and Thursday's Reel Music show is Heaven Adores You, the latter a special 50th birthday celebration of Elliott Smith with Doug Tuttle, Mary Lou Lord, and more on-hand to play live.
  • Apple Fresh Pond opens Telugu serial killer movie Rakshasudu and Hindi comedy Khandaani Shafakhana this week while keeping Judgementall Hai Kya, Dear Comrade, and Super 30 around. There are also screenings of Marathi drama Smile Please on Saturday and Sunday.

    Boston Common makes one of their occasional forays into Thai cinema this week with Friend Zone with Naphat Siangsomboon and Pimchanok Luevisadpaibul as the inevitable pair of people who have been best friends since high school despite the torch he carries for her.
  • This weeks entries in The Complete Howard Hawks at The Harvard Film Archive are El Dorado on Friday (35mm), Red River on Sunday (DCP), and Man's Favorite Sport? on Monday (35mm). In between that on Saturday, they wrap their Moon Movies series with Fritz Lang's Woman in the Moon on Saturday, with accompaniment by Robert Humphreville on the piano.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has the first of a few showings of Walking on Water on Friday, following artist Christo as he tries to realize a long-gestating project, and also has two screenings of Senegalese filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambéty's 1992 film Hyenas, on Friday and Saturday. They start a new rep series, "A Splinter in Your Mind: Films from '99 with The Blair Witch Project (35mm Friday/Thursday), Election (35mm Saturday/Sunday), and Boys Don't Cry (35mm Sunday). They also continue their "Space Exploration on Film" series with a 35mm print of Gravity on Sunday and Thursday.
  • The Somerville Theatre has Saturday lined up so that you can see the regular screening of Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood at 8pm and Tarantino's Pulp Fiction at midnight. There's also a Jack Attack! show of A Few Good Men on Thursday.
  • West Newton hosts the weekly Summer Cinematheque show from Boston Jewish Film for the next couple of week's with this Wednesday's feature being Tel Aviv on Fire.
  • Cinema Salem has The Quiet One joinSword of Trust in their screening room this week. The Luna Theater has the excellent The Last Black Man in San Francisco on Friday, and Saturday evenings, Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am on Saturday afternoon, and Fight Club on Sunday, with the "Magical Mystery Movie Club" back to both Saturday and Sunday mornings while Weirdo Wednesday continues to chug along.
  • Joe's Free Films show multiples of The Lego Movie 2 this week, but also has outdoor screenings of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars with the Boston Lightsaber Stage Combat Club, Jaws, and more.

Fantasia is done, but you've got to ease out gently, so I'll be seeing a bit of Hong Kong action while I'm still up in Montreal, and then catching up on Crawl and Once Upon a Time on 35mm before trying to fit Hobbs & Shaw in.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Fantasia 2019.17: White Snake, International Short Science-Fiction Film Showcase 2019, Kingdom, Why Don't You Just Die?, and Les Particules

A long weekend day, built more or less around the short film program, though it started off with a Chinese animated movie, and it was the first time I can recall seeing a Warner Brothers logo in front of a mainland film. I hadn't realized that Warner Brothers (F.E.) - I presume the "F.E." listed in the credits is for "far east" had operations there.

It's a good thing I chose to take a picture of the filmmakers for the sci-fi shorts - from left to right, Anna Sobolevska of "Eternity", Colin West of "Here & Beyond", Kit Zauhar of "The Terrestrials", Brock Heasley of "The Two Hundred Fifth", and Ursula Ellis of "Ava in the End" - because it was a longer block than I thought, bringing me right up to there being just about no time to get across the street for Kingdom.

One thing I'm a bit curious about is whether a pretty good 50/50 split in gender for these filmmakers (four directed by men, four by women, one by a male/female pair) is a goal the programmers were looking to achieve or just a thing that happened naturally. There's no sense of a finger on the scale or anything seemingly chosen to balance out the program, but I'll be scanning the animation block when I write it up to see if it's a pattern. Either way, though, good for them; considering how much of the feature program relies on international films, it may not be practical to get that kind of parity in the most visible parts, but I'm glad they're managing it where they can.

Huh, somehow I've gotten this written up before heading out for the last day of the festival, where I will be seeing Judy and Punch, The Miracle of the Sargasso Sea, Promare, and The Divine Fury. Missbehavior is recommended; Night God is an acquired taste.

Baishe: Yuanqi (White Snake)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, DCP)

The White Snake story hasn't been as frequently retold as that of The Monkey King on-screen, although I can't help but feel there's been more in recent years than the one that came out in 2011 with Jet Li, Eva Huang, and Charlene Choi. It's a natural fit for animation, though I'd be a bit surprised if this often fun weird production manages to find much of a niche on this side of the Pacific.

It's an enjoyable enough fantasy, framed here as white snake-demon Verta/Xiao Bai failing to reach enlightenment after 500 years but becoming a better person when amnesia has her living among humans and falling in love. There's an evil admiral who is killing snakes to absorb their power, her closest friend being sent to stop her when it looks like she's sold out, and plenty of other fun stuff, including some big, entertaining bits of action. I'm not sure how much it deviates from the classic myth, but for the most part the simple story that has plenty of room for action and romance works well enough to overlook some very arbitrary plotting.

I haven't seen enough Chinese feature animation to judge how good this is in comparison, but while there's some impressive creativity (one villain rides what can best be described as a "cerberostrich") and nice staging, there's something a little off about it; character proportions are a little too exact and motions a bit too smooth and programmed. It can feel like Robert Zemeckis's Beowulf in terms of going a long way to make animated characters feel human and not quite making it, and what stylization there is (like the eyes bigger than the mouths) doesn't help them emote quite as much as it should. It's not a bad look, but it's one more thing about the movie that feels like it could use a little refinement.

"Face Swap"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: International Science-Fiction Short Film Showcase, digital)

I wonder who how alarmed Einat Tubi's and David Gidali's "Face Swap" has people who have likenesses they consider an asset, and by which part - the plot which has people in the not-too-distant future using real-time deepfakes to play at having sex with a celebrity or the fact that an independent short without a huge budget (IMDB says $25K) can semi-convincingly have George Clooney and Rachel McAdams on-screen, albeit after a big up-front disclaimer. It's an impressive technical achievement.

It initially makes for a bit of a clunky movie, though, spending a lot of time on the characters oohing and aahing over the technology. The good news is that it's something of a punchline short, with the somewhat drawn-out buildup leading to a very quick but impressively funny tear-down. It's almost over too fast, but fortunately Tubi & Gidali give it just enough time to hit and work before rolling credits.

"Ava in the End"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: International Science-Fiction Short Film Showcase, digital)

"Ava in the End" has a simple premise (woman "awakens" as an uploaded consciousness inside a virtual world, awaiting download into a clone body) and puts a nice twist on it, but what makes it work is just how well everything in it clicks together: There's a lot of foul-mouthed, trash-talking comedy up front as Ava and the computer bicker ("I'm offering you calorie-free dark chocolate with bacon, are you fucking kidding me?") that eventually reveals a very human layer of fear, loneliness, and need for companionship, though "Bae" never says this. It's built so that the conversation about how Ava is surprised and kind of mocking that someone didn't have something like prepared has a neat inversion by the end, as life is precious even if the circumstances of her resurrection are kind of cruel.

Director Ursula Ellis and Elsa Gay do nifty things with Addison Heimann's script, especially as they switch the tone up midway through. Allie Gallerani seems to be having fun as Bae's voice as well, giving her a personality that seems real after starting out as just programmed affect.

"The Five Minutes"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: International Science-Fiction Short Film Showcase, digital)

The gimmick of "The Five Minutes" requires a fair amount of in-story gyrations in order to work - director Shange Zhang and writer Nichole Delaura have to manually cut off any way that its plot device of making a phone call to the past could actually change things - but it handles this fairly well, mostly by having Demi Ke play the person explaining them as kind of salty and not particularly interested in holding her client's hand through the process; maybe she's done it too much. Zhang also has a bit of a tendency to highlight the melodrama, framing the man calling his late wife like the movie is going to be about how he figures out a way around this, lighting the phone booth where he makes his call in ominous crimson.

Despite all that, though, the core works. I've seen an interview where Zhang talks about seeing it as a particularly Chinese story before hearing from others that it's more universal, and I don't think anyone would disagree that the spouse being so focused on being a good worker that he doesn't see how his absence deprives the person he's doing it for of something to hold onto is not particularly limited to one culture. The cast gets it, with Eon Song impressively illustrating wife Luli's fragility what Zhan Wang is quite good at having Yu Cheng both not see it and not able to see anything else later. Especially toward the end, it's really quite an excellent take on the theme of desperately wanting more of the person you've taken for granted and the utter impossibility of retrieving what has been lost to the past.

"The Two Hundred Fifth"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: International Science-Fiction Short Film Showcase, digital)

Brock Heasley's "The Two Hundred Fifth" is a pretty nifty short film that seems like it could benefit a bit from either being pared down further or being expanded into a feature. There's a lot going on with its premise of a young woman who has been repeating her life with memories intact for centuries that comes through nicely as she spends an eventful last day with her best friend - how being different can make her detached, seeing many of those around her as less than true people and seeing consequences as something to explore rather than to be feared. Ema Hovarth plays her as hardened but kind of aware of that; you can see how she gravitates to the people who help her retain her humanity without her ever saying so, and Audrey Neal plays the best friend as genuinely freaked out but also a solid anchor.

The problem, to the extent there is one, is that Heasley has bigger ideas for the premise, and you can't really blame him for it - these people would form an intriguing Illuminati, with a mechanism to push their power back in time and potentially ruthless power struggles that never end but also never leave the present moment. Heasley opens the door to that in the short's closing minutes, and while it's fun to speculate about and try to imagine, it's also not really what this movie is about. Truth be told, I don't know if you could really make it into a movie - even as a book, you'd need a diagram like the one in the American edition of All You Need Is Kill, and I don't see how the thing ever ends unless Maxine gets erased by a repeater whose timeline overlaps with hers. It's a weird switch at the end of the movie that dangles something the film has no room for in front of the audience.

Might as well indulge it, though; it's not likely to show up elsewhere and Heasley is able to tie it into the smaller story he can tell. Better a good film that recognizes that there's more going on than one that collapses under the weight of its too-grandiose premise.

"The Slows"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: International Science-Fiction Short Film Showcase, digital)

A bunch of intriguing ideas collide in Nicole Perlman's "The Slows", from the way native populations are treated by colonizers to just why childhood is important and needs a certain lack of structure at times, and it eventually becomes something of a jumble, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, I suspect that a huge part of why it works is that lead character Eryn, a journalist looking to document the remaining tribes who still conceive and grow to adulthood the old-fashioned way, herself seems to have a hard time fitting all of it together, but just knows that she's seeing something that deserves to challenge her notions.

Or maybe that's the most generous take on how Eryn can sometimes be hard to get a handle on; Annet Mahendru finds a fairly believable take on what this five-year-old adult might be like, but I idly wonder if Gail Hareven's original short story gets in her head more rather than having her just become a little less alien. It might help, as she's kind of an incidental observer through much of this movie, with all the bigger things happening around her, right down to a final bit of visual effects that harnesses the ways it is sometimes less than perfectly smooth to be a little more unnerving. It's as good a way of showing the conflict in her mind as any, though, and that's a nice little bit of ambition.

"The Terrestrials"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: International Science-Fiction Short Film Showcase, digital)

It would be selling Kit Zauhar's "The Terrestrials" short to dismiss it as having the kernel of a good idea, even though it does sort of bury what makes it interesting under a fair amount of filler and stretched metaphors - for instance, narrator Lucy's rambling about Voyager's Golden Record is the sort of thing that sounds like it's trying to elevate the short but could be excised because it doesn't add that much. Once it gets to the core of the idea, the film is so self-consciously spartan, much taking in an empty virtual space with just the two characters and a bed, that you can't really say that the kernel is buried.

Still, it's kind of waffly when it gets there, wanting to grapple with the idea of what matters in real and virtual spaces without ever having a reckoning about it. Zauhar's given the audience an interesting set of perspectives - Arabella Oz playing a hurt woman with harsher principles and Henry Fulton Winship as a guy perhaps too ready to dismiss online interactions as not counting - and the cast does well to make them people as well as avatars for how we think about these interactions. The film could use a little more passion and maybe action, though - it's hard to escape that it's about two people talking in an empty room without either really changing their perspective that much.

"Here & Beyond"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: International Science-Fiction Short Film Showcase, digital)

There's a casually chilling bit early on in "Here & Beyond", when aging widower Mac (Greg Lacey) is told that, as his brain is starting to deteriorate, he should start to purge his home of any reminders of the past that aren't around in his present, likely starting with his late wife. It's horrifyingly practical, but I found myself wondering why filmmaker Colin West put it in there, as Mac doesn't actually do that and never seems to suffer from the sort of dementia that has him confusing Ruth (Christine Kellogg-Darrin) with new neighbor Tess (Laurel Porter), a teen herself unmoored because her family moves every few months. It's the sort of thing that you can't really say and not act upon.

Fortunately, there's enough to like about the short to like even absent that bit of follow-through; Lucey and Porter make an enjoyable odd couple that don't seem cleverly mismatched even though they also don't exactly give each other what they need directly, and the warmth between Lucey and Kellogg-Darrin seen in the VHS tapes of their old children's science program is a real delight, one which West doesn't dilute or confuse by showing them together in other environments. The spot in the end where it seems to drift into fantasy is a bit weaker, although you can sort of see where West is going with it in Mac returning to the woman he loved and Tess taking something from one of the people who entered and left her life quickly, but it's not quite as strong as just watching everybody play off each other without that extra layer.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: International Science-Fiction Short Film Showcase, digital)

Henry Boffin's "Lavender" is another short that threatens to tie itself up in a knot in order to establish its hypothetical situation - a virus that puts its victims in a permanent vegetative state combined with meat becoming unaffordable leading to those afflicted being processed into "Brawn" foodstuffs, which have a grouping system to prevent one from eating family - and I don't know that it's really worth the effort. There are stories to be had here about how to deal with loved ones disintegrating mentally and how we're probably engaging in a lot of self-deception in maintaining our protein-rich diets, but I don't know that the movie is really big enough to cover all that.

It tries, though, and Ellen Bailey does a good job of letting all of that play across her face as the daughter who finds out her father has fallen victim to the "hobodus" virus as she's about to grill up a Brawn steak, and later becomes uneasy as she tours the facility where her father will await harvest. She handles the flashbacks where we see that Heather and Clive didn't have as much time together as either would like, and those moments are also great for how John McNeill shows just what has drained from the father, as are the ones where we see him as a younger man giving young Heather a strong foundation. And, hey, credit to Joel Pierce for making Heather's husband seem like kind of a jerk in this situation but not one that makes her look bad for marrying him.

It's ambitious, and I suspect that the tug-of-war between Heather dealing with something that feels individual and making more general points is always going to go to the first if the filmmaker wants to make a movie that resonates emotionally. It's just kind of unfortunate that it leaves the rest a little underdone.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: International Science-Fiction Short Film Showcase, digital)

I suspect that I would have liked to hear director Anna Sobolevska answer questions about "Eternity" more than just about any other film/filmmaker in the program; it's got a strong concept and often looks striking but has the fuzziest plot of any of them, although that may be on me; I've often struggled with Eastern European science fiction/fantasy that is big on scale but short on specifics, especially if that would get in the way of showing how tortured the characters are. Oleg Moskalenko's Ian is tortured as heck after an accident leaves his lover Marie (Daria Plakhity) on the border of life and death after he talked her out of a consciousness-upload plan, and everything else is gravy.

It's a harrowing scenario, but one which Sobolevska sometimes seems to dance around; there's a detour with Ian entering the mind of someone else in a similar situation and an odd sort of bargaining that requires a lot of technical talk that isn't really explained. As filmmaking that does more than just tell a linear story, though, "Eternity" is often impressive - Moskalenko makes Ian truly torn apart, and the glimpses of these virtual afterlives being built and tested as the system is being adopted makes them feel like well-intentioned purgatories. The scenes of Ian and Marie when they were still alive and trying to live life to the fullest are especially beautiful, sumptuous enough to feel real and warm even though the virtual worlds are doing their best to replicate them.

I can certainly see where "Eternity" is going and like the general direction, but I must say that the path is sometimes tricky to follow.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

I wonder how often non-fans encountering manga, anime, and their adaptations find themselves tripped up over how the protagonists will have earnest enthusiasm, loyalty, and commitment as their best qualities, valuable traits to be sure but not as important in American stories as figuring things out. Kingdom, for instance, is about a guy who kind of blows past having wound up ignorant through no fault of is own by having grown up a slave to be kind of dumb generally, but he's the one we're supposed to identify with and root for.

And there's worse ways to go; Kento Yamazaki dives into Xin and gives him a passionate purity that falls short of "useful idiot"; he isn't quite so unaware that he can just be pointed at things indiscriminately to tear them down, and he's got enough sense of self and loyalty that his ambition to become a great general isn't entirely frightening. It helps a lot that he's surrounded by a strong cast of entertaining allies - Ryo Yoshizawa, Kanna Hashimoto, and Masami Nagasawa all connect on the same wavelength to make for the sort of tight-knit cast that can mix melodrama with high adventure and inspire audience loyalty.

Drop that in the middle of a big, slick movie and you've got an entertaining couple hours. Director Shinsuke Sato's latest blockbuster manga adaptation is historical adventure rather than the usual urban sci-fi/fantasy, but this gives him and his team a lot more room to play with the big action scenes than usual, as the fighting can spread out and feature lots of impressive swordplay and wire-fu without it having to feel like it fits in a real world that the audience knows well. It's big and boisterous action, and the production design crew does a fine job of either transplanting some of the manga's more peculiar designs or creating a world that feels like it could have come out of a comic. It is a bit odd to see a movie about China's warring-states period where everyone is speaking Japanese (even if I only really know this because I recognize a few more phrases in that language than Mandarin), but it's a fun example of the genre.

I'd kind of like to see a European studio hire Sato to adapt Vinland Saga, although I don't know if I can imagine it actually happening.

Full review at EFilmCritic

Papa, sdokhni (Why Don't You Just Die!)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

This pitch-black comedy may be the most action-packed film of the festival, a bloody mess of a movie that maintains a breakneck pace for much longer than one might expect and manages the neat trick of having several of its characters doing corrupt, violent things while still maintaining some level of sympathy, which is kind of the only way this sort of free-for-all works. It's kind of unfortunate that this mostly applies to the men in the film, with the women pushed to one emotional extreme or another, but it keeps things hopping.

And hop they do, because writer/director/editor Kirill Sokolov throws his characters through the wringer, drenching the set with red as he quick-cuts to build up speed but tends to follow a smashing blow through, dropping down to slow motion to let viewers "savor" the impact. There are two or three top-shelf action bits in this movie, and a lot of them are set up by making the audience hyper-aware of just where exactly everything is and then sent careening in new directions by weird, violent slapstick. It feels even more absurd confined to one fairly small apartment, and Sokolov manages to heighten things well past when most people would be dead while still having the blood loss take a believable toll.

It slows down necessarily when it leaves the apartment for flashbacks, showing where the characters are coming from and why everybody is eventually going to want corrupt cop Andrei dead. It seldom seems quite enough and sometimes takes a while to circle back, but it's hard to see how Sokolov could do that better even as he's mostly doing what needs to be done. The film also starts to run out of steam a bit in the end, but he at least seems to sense this and finish up quickly.

Les Particules

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

I suspect that there are bits of Blaise Harrison's coming-of-age film that I don't quite catch; aside from my having been a lame asexual teen who has trouble connection with these movies to begin with, it kind of seems like the film taking place on a border might have struck a chord more with European audiences: Does going to an apparent international school with both French and Swiss students make a kid more likely to feel like they don't fit in? It seems like it would, but it's not something I was able to see playing out here.

Of course, it wasn't as flashy as the strange effects P.A. (Thomas Daloz) sees playing out around him, presumably from the Large Hadron Collider which is located below the town. That becomes a potent metaphor, something beyond his teenage aimlessness that he can't yet grasp, distorting reality itself. It's often on the periphery, and it would probably take another viewing and some mulling over to see how far Harrison is going with this - the final shot suggests things coming together and smashing into more basic pieces, which may be how young people feel these days, placed in situations out of their control to see what happens, although it doesn't necessarily fit the rest of the film. Maybe it's something simpler, like understanding the world is founded on unknowable mysteries but that moving ahead means trying to solve what you can anyway.

It's a tough thing to embody, but I like the way Daloz manages it. P.A. is not an especially active, charismatic character, but Daloz and the filmmakers give him worth to go along with his doubt, a good heart even as confusion often results in pettiness. He plays well off Salvatore Ferro as a similar best friend and Néa Lüders as the girl who starts off as his second choice but proves quite winning. They integrate well into the world Harrison gives them, full of advanced but banal science and seemingly inexplicable mysticism.

Definitely one I'd like to see at a better hour and not just the fifth show in a very long day.