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

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