Thursday, October 31, 2019


Sometime I'm going to have to go back and see just how often a movie being obviously four-walled at the Regent coincides with Indian holidays having Fresh Pond full up with imports and not able to give movies with this profile - festival appearances, small but not microscopic distributor, a few recognizable names - their two shows a day. It's Diwali, so Momentum has to go with the Regent as a backup, and there may have been three of us in a theater designed to hold much more than three. You can feel the contractual obligation in the release - I suspect the studio is subsidizing two employees, and neither one is even opening the concession stand

It's not a terrible movie, though. The basic topic is good enough that a similar short was Oscar-nominated this year, and it's the sort of passion project that gets noteworthy people to sign on and can make the folks involved raise their game. I don't know that I'd be terribly interested in seeing Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje direct another movie and I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't want to - he may really just have wanted to make this one - but he does enough here to make the possibility interesting. And I can't say I didn't get what brought me into the theater - Kate Beckinsale and Gugu Mbatha-Raw give strong performances; indeed, I'm not sure I've ever seen Beckinsale better.

Anyway, it's got one more day at the Regent and it's available on VOD (click below! I'm so close to a payout!), and it's something different. I certainly don't regret catching this one despite the low-ish star rating.


* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 29 October 2019 in the Regent Theatre (first-run, digital)

Farming is clearly a labor of love for filmmaker Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje - he's previous made it as a short and his name is all over the end credits - and you can see that he's got the ambition and drive to make a great film on a subject that is very important to him. Unfortunately, the story he uses to explore the broader subject may be a bit too much for an actor directing his first feature - between the sheer amount of what's going on and the main character who has difficulty communicating, the film never quite gets across everything that Akinnouye-Agabje wants to say.

The title comes from the practice where immigrants to the United Kingdom would place their children with white, working-class foster parents while they worked and studied (presumably in close quarters inhospitable to children). Enitan Bada was placed with Ingrid Carpenter (Kate Beckinsale) in 1967, when he was just six weeks old. By 1975, Enitan had half a dozen "siblings", and if he was a withdrawn, unusual child in the Carpenter household, he was utterly unprepared to return to Nigeria with his parents. He is sent back to Tilbury, and eight years later Enitan (Damson Idris) has so internalized the racism to which he's been subjected that he starts running with a group of skinheads, though leader Levi (John Dagleish) treats him more like a pet than a compatriot.

That "Eni" would wind up running with skinheads certainly seems like a great, powerful hook for the film - a similar story was Oscar-nominated in the Best Documentary Short category earlier this year - and Akinnouye-Agbaje plays that part of the film as raw as he can. He never lets the skinheads seem like people who ironically understand what it's like to be marginalized and ostracized in the same way that Eni does; they're monsters through and through, sometimes presented like zombies in the menacing way they surround their victims or how broken faces don't much faze them. Levi isn't charismatic in a way that is likely to attract the audience, but brutal enough to cow Eni, whom he regards the same way as his pet snake. John Dagleish captures that ridiculous and threatening sneer, and Damson Idris does a fine job of both showing Enitan imitating it and showing incoherent devastation as he is continually and inevitably rejected.

Full review at EFilmCritic

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

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

Hurrah for finally seeing things which everybody almost certainly would assume I've seen already!

This Week in Tickets

That probably doesn't include Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, which had more 3D screenings at Boston Common than I would have expected from how they've moved away from the format around here; hopefully that's a sign of things to come. The movie itself isn't exactly great, but like the first, it's kind of interesting in that the filmmakers seem to be pursuing darker, more mature themes than the original Sleeping Beauty and the general trend in these photocopies of Disney's animated classics. I think this particular movie needs to horrify children more, but I suppose that's a tough argument to make with the folks at the entertainment megacorporation that are putting you in charge of a budget in the $150M range as you're showing them various cuts.

A week of working and watching the World Series later - I find myself rooting for the Nationals despite kind of resenting them for no longer being the Expos, even if I don't have a leg to stand on there because the moves which put the Expos on the path to becoming the Nats also gave us the current Red Sox ownership and most of the people I know in Montreal would probably be all "is that some sort of sportsball thing?" if I brought it up, because the Astros had a demonstration of why they're one of the less-cool ownership groups in baseball a few days before - and I'm feeling lazy on the weekend. Plan A was to catch the movie being four-walled at the Regent, but I trusted Google Maps's "bus delayed" info too much, so I detoured to Boston Common to see Black and Blue, a pretty decent dirty-cop movie with a cast I like. It kind of amused me that it was showing all the way New Orleans was a mess while my brother and his wife were flying back home to Chicago from having a fine time as tourists there.

After getting kind of damp doing the grocery shopping the next morning, I hid out at home a little more than I'd planned before heading out to the Somerville Theatre for one of their Halloween Hullabaloo double features. I had never actually seen A Nightmare on Elm Street, because I wasn't really watching many R-rated movies as a teenager and didn't really get into horror until that genre was plugging a lot of holes at Fantasia and the late, lamented-mainly-by-me Boston Fantastic Film Festival, and found myself liking it quite a bit for what it is. The back half skipped most of the rest of the sequels to go straight to Wes Craven's New Nightmare, which I remember coming out while I was working at the Showcase Cinema in downtown Worcester (and, you know, going to college). I don't recall it being a particularly big deal there, although I was kind of intrigued by reviews saying Wes Craven had made the first postmodern horror movie. Like the best of Craven's work, it's interestingly ambitious, and if nothing else, it's neat to see how everybody was maturing in the ten years since the original.

Hopefully the next week's updates to my Letterboxd page will be evenly split between IFFBoston Fall Focus stuff and the movies I'm trying to cram in before/around it, but it's entirely possible I spend another week getting held up at work and not wanting to hang around for later shows..

Black and Blue

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 October 2019 in AMC Boston Common #11 (first-run, DCP)

Writer Peter Dowling and Deon Taylor seem to have a heck of a strong inspiration for their movie in the opening minutes as they zero in on how completely broken the trust between the police and the communities that they are supposed to protect is, especially among African-Americans. It's a topic that often feels too big and weighty for the action movie that they were looking to make, especially when the film is in the home stretch and people must very earnestly explain their values, even as the whole thing has been diluted by introducing gangsters and not exactly having the room to play with how this situation lets them run wild and also fill a void.

It's not that ambitious, but it's not bad at all within the bounds it sets for itself. The opening act does a very impressive job of setting things up, both in terms of establishing its setting (the neglected, less-touristy parts of New Orleans) and both pushing things into place for its rookie police officer to capture her colleagues executing a drug dealer the do business with and starting up the chase. There are wobbly moments, but they're the kind that mostly work in-story, playing on the villains' arrogance and how the good guys are kind of stumbling through new territory. Everybody gets a bit too clever later, so it's not quite as convincing, but it's still executed fairly well.

There's a nice cast, too, even if everybody does seem about five years too old given that Alicia West is supposed to be a rookie and others are supposed to be her contemporaries, even if she has been in Afghanistan for two tours. Nevertheless, Naomie Harris is very strong at the center of the movie; she gives the sense of someone who has grabbed onto her idealism hard without necessarily kidding herself to do so. Tyrese Gibson is interestingly against type opposite her, free of the bluster he often brings to a role and feeling a bit shrunken and beaten as a result. Frank Grillo and Mike Colter are familiar villain types, but they're pros - Grillo seems born to play this sort of scuzz with just enough badass sheen, while Colter seems to go from intimidating to slick with a part, and here he's the big, intimidating banger who's more fearless than clever. He's a stock character where you can see the entire story.

And a movie like Black and Blue needs those if it doesn't have bigger ambitions. It's only going to be an action movie, and maybe not a great one, but it's got the chops to sell what it's got.

A Nightmare On Elm Street

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 October 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Halloween Hullabaloo, 35mm)

People talk about Wes Craven cribbing from art-house cinema for Last House on the Left, but you can see him doing something similar during the first act of A Nightmare on Elm Street - there's an ugly nightmare feel to the opening, but that doesn't mean it's not also a dream, and it's got an ethereal vibe to it, just giving the audience Amanda Wyss's Tina and asking them to catch up, kind of leveraging the fact that he doesn't have a huge budget to make things feel a little out of joint, rather than truly phantasmagorical at first.

I wonder if Craven had that relatively tight budget in mind when making sure that everything he could do on the page held together or if he's just a solid filmmaker. There's a really solid coming-of-age film underneath the horror as Nancy learns to rely on herself and figure out how to solve problems, and it's buttressed by a lot of things - most of the kids come from broken homes, and it's not out of the question that the initial murder of Fred Krueger had a large part in breaking them, although Craven doesn't completely connect those dots, just leaving enough hints that this has all come full circle that the movie holds together so well that the whys and hows of Freddy being able to come at these kids through dreams doesn't matter, and neither does the fact that a lot of acting is kind of iffy at best, albeit in a "believably unpolished kid" way. It's the sort of thing that likely makes Craven underappreciated outside of horror circles - he knows what he's got to work with and can squeeze the absolute most out of it.

And in some cases, he's got pretty good material. The nightmares, for instance, are pretty darn fantastic, even when the effects work is rubbery or fake, and it's easy to see how Robert Englund's Freddy became an icon even if he did have to become meme-able to really take off - there's some genuine rage in there, and even when the movie gets to the point where Nancy is able to kind of beat the crap out of him because bullies aren't so much when their victim stands up, he doesn't entirely become neutered. Craven is even able to work in some genuinely good jokes, too; the bit with the coffee mugs and coffee maker is broad and goofy, but it's got a little sting to it. Even as you laugh, you feel Nancy's desperation, which is something that a lot of Craven's successors can't quite do - they're always shifting gears from one thing to another, while he's tying it all together.

Wes Craven's New Nightmare

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 October 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Halloween Hullabaloo, 35mm)

I'm not sure that there was anything quite like Wes Craven's New Nightmare when it came out; the idea wasn't necessarily new, but how often does something that had been a genuine phenomenon like the Elm Street series get used for this sort of meta-movie, rather than a stand-in? I can't imagine fans of the series, as much as they'd want more, were really looking for a fourth-wall-breaking take on the material that seems to think little of the intervening five movies (of which he was only involved in one). It almost feels like taunting.

It's not that deep, but there's an interesting idea or two in there. It is, at its heart, a defense of the horror story, positing that these stories trap evil, but hints that this trapping becomes less effective when those stories are diluted - say, by making Freddy a wisecracking monster whose horrific origins are downplayed, mugging for the audience at a talk show, connecting these ideas to primal monsters under the covers and eventually sending its scream queen to hell to rescue her son and confront the devil on his own turf. There are lots of other threads that don't necessarily come together - he's not quite so adroit at making every bit of the film buttress the other as he was with Elm Street - but every once in a while, Craven does something really clever, like having the audience go "hey, wait a second" the first time someone who really should know better calls actress Heather Lagenkamp by her character's name before making that line good and blurry.

Seeing it right after the first highlights how, in some ways, everybody has raised their game - Lagenkamp is solid, Craven gets things a little tighter in spots, and he's got a little more to work with. It's fun to see him remix memorable scenes from the first film, although the 1994-vintage CGI isn't always quite so impressive as the practical effects from 1984. It's maybe not quite the revelation it might have been twenty-five years ago (which had Craven's Scream movies among others), and not quite so brilliant as the one which introduced Freddy, but it's still good, smart horror.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
Black and Blue
A Nightmare On Elm Street

Monday, October 28, 2019

Fantasia 2019.19: Depraved, The Odd Family: Zombie On Sale, and Day and Night

Was Lary Fessenden in town the previous night to host Depraved the previous night? I don't recall, although I was a bit sad that I didn't get to see something in the museum.

Not a whole lot of exciting stories from this day - no guests at my screenings, which were spread out just enough to allow a little time for depanneur and food runs but not to really go far and have a sit-down meal. A pretty relaxing day, all told, and one bookended by a couple of my favorite movies of the festival: Depraved, as Larry Fessenden's take on Frankenstein, was pretty much aiming for me personally anyway, while Day and Night was a quality crime drama that never put a foot wrong. The Odd Family: Zombie On Sale between them wasn't quite a favorite, but it's enjoyably goofy at points, and any movie that at some point gets me to say it reminds me of Tremors is generally doing all right.

Not sure how long Day 20 will take; it's a long Tuesday and I don't have a lot pre-written, but it's smoother sailing afterward.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève(Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Depraved is "Larry Fessenden's Frankenstein" and he knows it, announcing his intentions from the start, when artsy colors and a do-it-yourself laboratory are punctuated by a bolt of lightning. That may not necessarily appeal to a large audience - as both producer and director of fright flicks, Fessenden has always leaned toward New York art-house stuff rather than buying blood by the barrel or Jason Blum's canny commercial instincts - but it makes even his take on one of the genre's foundational tales feel like something new.

The very start of the film introduces Alex (Owen Campbell) and Lucy (Choe Levine), a young couple barely scraping by in New York who fall into a stupid fight when she connects the way he looks after his grandmother to maybe being a good dad someday. He takes a walk to blow off some steam, only to get mugged. His life flashes before his eyes and there's a flash in the sky, and soon a stitched-together giant (Alex Beaux) is coming to in a laboratory. Former army medic Henry (David Call) then begins to see to educating "Adam" on walking, talking, and playing ping-pong in the small world that is this loft, but they won't be alone forever: Henry's girlfriend Liz (Ana Kayne) still has a key and drops by unexpectedly, and the pharma-company heir funding this work, Polidori (Joshua Leonard), thinks Henry is moving too slowly. Both men have also been a little lax about storing hints as to where Adam's various pieces - including the brain - have come from.

Fessenden grounds this story thoroughly in the present day, which allows him to play to his own strengths while also staying as faithful to the text as humanly possible. One of the clever things he does is recognize that none of these characters can help being aware of Mary Shelley's creation, to the point where Polidori makes a comment that his scientist being named Henry is "like in the movie"; even if they existed in a world without that book and the many movies, there is no way that what they were doing would be a new idea in 2019. Something that filled that niche by now, and that awareness shades the movie a bit differently - Mary Shelley could write about a scientist becoming obsessed and carried away, but in the twenty-first century, these people know what they're doing crosses lines from the start, and the compromises as such have a different character.

Full review at EFilmCritic


* * * (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

I have questions about every single silly detail about this short and its premise but I'm pretty sure that having them answered would just ruin everything.

Well, maybe not ruin, but "Cured" is fun in large part due to its randomness, with the elements not necessarily fitting together or holding up beyond its fifteen minutes. Writer/director Gabriel Villanueva Lamas plays with how a short can be anything from the start, letting the bouncy opening of Marcos (Phillip Garcia) salsa-dancing down the street with his machete and cooler and his wife Alma (Gemma Marin) dancing as she cooks the meat inside make the movie feel like it's going to be a musical of sorts, and the sudden change to something else as they stop dancing is a neat signal that this isn't entirely a fun fantasy.

It's still pretty funny, though - Garcia and Martin do the traditional horror thing where he's a gruff survivor trying just to look out for his own while she wants to help everybody, and they do it well enough that it works as intended despite the silly nature of this movie's plague. Villanueva Lamas and his cast manage a bunch of nifty tricks with tone, bridging the gap between things being ridiculous but also kind of awful, and allowing the finale to leave the audience in the same sort of "well, hell, I'm not sure what to do with this" place that the characters are. It's in some ways a frustrating way to end the movie - it highlights how things don't entirely hold together and doesn't offer a way out - but that's the sort of world it's creating, where life is strange and even funny but also unfair, with no easy answers to how to handle a situation like this.

Gimyohan Gajok (The Odd Family: Zombie On Sale)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Zombie movies are especially prone to running together as you see enough of them; like the undead creatures themselves, they've mostly got the same symptoms and eventually wind up breaking through as they arrive in a horde. I've probably seen dozens in the past couple decades just at genre festivals like this, and many of the ones that stick out come from South Korea. That's not necessarily surprising; lots of good genre film comes out of the Korean Peninsula, and the emphasis on black comedy is just the thing to send these movies in weird directions. The Odd Family may not be in the category of Train to Busan or The Neighbor Zombie, but it's at least different enough to remember.

The pharma company that created the zombie virus seems to have done a pretty good job of covering it up as things start, but one barrel containing a victim/vector (Jung Ga-ram) falls out near the town of Poongsan and starts wandering around. He crosses paths with one family in particular, the one that lives above the gas station but mostly runs tow truck scams because they can't afford to pay their suppliers. That mostly falls on older brother Joon-Gul (Jung Jae-Young), who runs the place with pregnant wife Nam-Joo (Uhm Ji-Won); brother Min-Gul (Kim Nam-Gill) is returning from the city where he has failed to make anything of himself, while kid sister Hae-Gul (Lee Soo-Kyung) is burying another rabbit because she has the absolute worst luck with pets. The siblings' widower father, Man-Deok (Park In-Hwan) lives in a trailer out back and dreams of visiting Hawaii. He's the one that gets bit, but contrary to what usually happens, he seems to become energized and healthy. Once the family figures out how that happened, the see a way to make enough money to open the station back up, since all of Man-Deok's friends notice the spring in his step.

Writer/director Lee Min-Jae often seems to be trying to do too much and not really going all-in on any of it for much of the movie; every character has an angle and things going on but not necessarily much room to do anything. It's the sort of horror-comedy that would maybe be much better served by narrowing down the one thing it wants to lampoon and concentrating on that, but it's got to be tough to throw any of your zombie comedy ideas out when you'll probably only ever get to make one. Lee spends most of the movie on eccentric gags that play into the family members' mercenary impulses, mostly pretty good, and seldom wearing out their welcome

Full review at EFilmCritic

Day and Night (Dei ando naito)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Day and Night opens like a mystery, its hero coming home to find a mess that he can't untangle and which nobody will talk about, but it's more practical than that, more interested in the truth of the present than that of the past. It's hardly the first movie to take this tack, but it's rare that one does such a fine job of letting a person sink into his dark side, convincing himself that he may still get out.

Koji Akashi (Shinnosuke Abe) is the man returning home for his father's funeral; mechanic Kazuyuki Aakashi (Hiroyuki Watanabe) committed suicide afer the town turned on him for reporting a defect in the cars made by Kotomochi Motors, the area's largest employer, and now it looks like the family will have to sell the garage just to give the employees back pay (Koji is, if anything, a cook, not a mechanic). The only person who seems to be particularly sorry for the family's loss is Kenichi Kitamura (Masanobu Ando), who runs the Windmill Orphanage and says Akashi senior was always good to them, building robot sculptures and helping out around the place. He offers Koji a job, and it's not long before Koji learns what keeps the place solvent: Kitamura runs a car-theft ring, and if Koji is going to be part of one venture, he is going to be part of the other.

The film doesn't quite start with comfortable absolutes, although there's a certain comfort in the dynamic between the honorable whistleblower and the self-interested corporation, even if the town doesn't see it that way, in part because the company led a fairly successful smear on Akashi. Soon, though, the filmmakers have gone in on how the good and bad are often found in the same person as Kitamura introduces himself and does not take long to show both sides, presenting Koji, something of a blank slate, with something of a dilemma: His father played by the rules and was hounded to suicide while Kitamura can at least present himself as a convincing Robin Hood. Would Nana (Kaya Kiyohara), the orphaned girl that Koji soon finds himself identifying with, be cared for without this place kept afloat by crime?

Full review on EFilmCritic

Friday, October 25, 2019

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

A lot of talk lately about Disney making it much harder for theaters to rent Fox classics, with the exception being The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but it feels like all the Boston-area theaters are booking it for Halloween anyway, just in case they don't get another chance, though there's also a lot of cool rep stuff that doesn't sound like audience-participation hell.

  • The only horror movie getting a wide release this pre-Halloween weekend is Countdown, in which an app can somehow tell people when they're going to die, but when people find out they've got days… Well, you know. It's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    Down the hall, many will be showing The Current War, being billed as "The Director's Cut", which is strange because it was never released before, and I wonder how many people really remember what the Weinstein-related deal was a couple years ago to need this reassurance? It's a neat idea for a movie, though, with Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, and Nicolas Hoult as Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and Nikola Tesla in the early days of electricity. That's at the Arlington Capitol, Fresh Pond, West Newton, Boston Common, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere. There's also Black and Blue, with Naomie Harris as a cop who discovers that much of her unit is corrupt and must escape with the body cam evidence. It plays Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    Two different artists have films taken from their new albums coming out, with Bruce Springsteen's Western Stars playing Boston Common, Fenway, and Assembly Row (including some Dolby Cinema shows) while Kanye West's Jesus Is King plays in Imax at Jordan's Imax, South Bay, and Assembly Row. Note that it's 37 minutes long, while Jordan's charges short-film prices, AMC is charging the same as a feature. If K-Pop is more your speed, BTS World Tour "Love Yourself: Speak Yourself" [The Final] plays Monday at Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere, while the Metallica/SF Symphony plays Boston Common and Revere on Wednesday for those who want the metal.

    The Dolby Cinema screens at South Bay and Assembly Row will be running The Wizard of Oz, although not necessarily for every show of the day. This month's Ghibli show is Spirited Away at Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, and Revere on Sunday (dubbed), Monday (Subtitled), and Wednesday (dubbed). One Piece: Stampede plays Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, and Revere on Saturday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. There's a special Fandango preview of Doctor Sleep at Boston Common, Fenway, and Revere on Wednesday, and Revere has two last midnight shows of Habitual on Friday and Saturday.
  • The Lighthouse expands to more theaters this week, adding The Coolidge Corner Theatre, the Somerville, the Seaport, the Embassy, and Revere to Boston Common. Parasite adds the Somerville, Fenway, and the Embassy to the Coolidge, Kendall, and Boston Common.

    The Coolidge has a 35mm print of Bram Stoker's Dracula at midnight on Friday and their annual midnight-to-noon Halloween Horror Marathon, this year featuring haunted houses, starting late Saturday. It's all 35mm and the first two films are The Amityville Horror and Poltergeist, with the other five surprises. Other Halloween-week specials include a kids' show of E.T. on Saturday morning (they do go trick-or-treating), a Big Screen Classic showing of the digitally restored The Shining on Monday (already listed as sold out), a "Panorama" presentation of Bong Joon-Ho's Snowpiercer with post-film discussion on Wednesday, and two 35mm "Cinema Jukebox" shows of The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Halloween night (tickets almost gone for the 7pm show, but another at 10pm).
  • Jojo Rabbit gets a three screens at Kendall Square, with Taika Waititi's satire about a kid in Nazi Germany who has Hitler as an imaginary friend while his mother hides a Jewish girl in their attic also playing Boston Common and Fenway. They also get the new film by François Ozon, By the Grace of God, about three adult survivors of abusive clergy banding together to expose their molester and how the Church keeps such people hidden, and also give a screen to The King, which features Timothée Chalamet as Henry V
  • Apple Fresh Pond opened Tamil movies Bigil and Kaithi on Thursday, but Diwali means there are lots more to open. Housefull 4 is the latest in a Bollywood series starring Akshay Kumar that aren't sequels but all focus on multiple romances; in this one, he's one of three brothers engaged to three sisters, only they're reincarnations of royalty from 600 years ago and realize that they are matched up with the wrong partners. Sounding less confusing are Made In China, which is also in Hindi and features Rajkummar Rao as a Gujarti businessman who relocates to China for a new start, and Saand Ki Aankh, starring Bhumi Pednekar and Taapsee Pannu as a pair of senior women with excellent sharpshooting skills.
  • The West Newton Cinema is the only place picking up Cyrano, My Love, with Thomas Solivérès as playwright Edmond Rostand, trying to write Cyrano de Bergerac on deadline.
  • The Regent Theatre actually has something akin to a regular run this week, with Farming playing twice a day from Friday to Thursday (though Friday's shows are in the "Underground" screen. The feature directorial debut of actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (adapting his own short), it stars Damson Idris as a Nigerian boy "farmed out" to a British family, where he becomes the leader of a gang of skinheads. Akinnuoye-Agbaje also appears, with Kate Beckinsale as the foster mother and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a teacher who sees more in him. There's also an encore of the ASN Roadshow program, with 22 oddities discovered by motion picture archivists around the world.
  • The Brattle Theatre will be playing Memory: The Origins of "Alien" once a day from Friday to Tuesday, though times may vary; it zooms in on the famous chestburster scene the way that director Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene dissected Psycho and its similarly memorable centerpiece.

    They fit an interesting group of things around it: A Saturday Morning Cartoon Cereal & Cartoon Party with all Halloween episodes on Saturday (naturally); a 35mm print of Lifeboat on Saturday and Sunday; The Rage: Carrie 2 hosted by the Strictly Brohibited crew on Monday; and a free Elements of Cinema show of The Tingler on 35mm on Tuesday. Wednesday is a special screening of documentary Strange Negotiations with director Brandon Vedder calling in for a post-screening discussion of his film about musician David Bazan. They have a Halloween double feature on Thursday, but it's the 2018 sequel and a 35mm print of Halloween III: Season of the Witch, the one where the studio tried to just make it an anthology series without necessarily including Michael Myers.
  • The Harvard Film Archive has more of "Uncomfortably Yours: The Films of Alex Ross Perry" with 35mm prints of his films Queen of Earth (Friday 7pm) and Listen Up Philip (Sunday 7pm), as well as Perry presenting Brian De Palma's Body Double at 9pm Friday. The weekend matinee on Saturday is Poltergeist on 35mm film, and I wonder if they're taking that print on the 66 bus to get it to the Coolidge that night. The rest of Saturday is B-Movies, with a 35mm print of Thunderhoof paired with Ride Lonesome for a double feature at 7pm and the Archive's copy of Plan 9 From Outer Space at 10pm. "The Transcendent Cinema of David Brooks" has an encore of short feature "The Wind Is Driving Him Toward The Open Sea" & short "Redcap or Peanut Butter on My Roof" on 16mm at 5pm Sunday and a program of 16mm short films on Monday. Their Halloween program on Thursday is a 35mm print of Aliens, also kicking off a "Make My Day: The Cinematic Imagination of the Reagan Era" series which they will share with the Brattle throughout November.
  • The Somerville Theatre continues their "All Killer, No Filler" Halloween Hullabaloo through Wednesday, with triple features on Friday (Fade to Black, Cutting Glass, and 35mm Psycho) and Saturday (35mm Firestarter, The Dead Zone, and 35mm Carrie); the pairing of A Nightmare on Elm Street and 35mm Wes Craven's New Nightmare on Sunday; Adam Green's Frozen on Monday, Tod Browning's Freaks on 35mm with short subjects on Tuesday; and Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on Wednesday. Halloween night itself they have the Teseracte Players with Rocky Horror. They also have an extended version of Once Upon at Time in Hollywood, though only matinees. Their sister cinema, The Capitol Theatre, will be showing The Creature from the Black Lagoon in 3D on Thursday, the first time I can recall it playing polarized around here (everywhere else always seems to get it in anaglyph).
  • The Bright Screening Room sees a lot of use this week, starting out as the home base for The Boston Asian-American Film Festival, with shows from Friday through Sunday, many with guests and discussion. Then on Monday, Emerson's "Films from the Margin" club has a free screening of 1961 thriller The Mask, with Bob Furmanek and Greg Kintz of the 3-D Film Archive on hand to discuss its restoration (though I don't know if the room is set up for polarized 3D or anaglyph). After that, this week's Bright Lights screenings are Fast Color on Tuesday and Us on Thursday, both with faculty discussion but free and open to the public.
  • It's the end of the month, so The Museum of Fine Arts is finishing up series. Boston Palestine Film Festival diverts to the Brattle to show Screwdrive on Friday evening before returning to the MFA with a short block and documentary The Apollo of Gaza on Saturday, wrapping up with documentary Four Colors and animated feature The Tower on Sunday. They also finish their "Exquisite Corpse: The Spirit of Hyman Bloom" program with Eraserhead and the Midsommar director's cut on Thursday.
  • In addition to their regular Imax and 4D shows, The Museum of Science will be doing an "immersive" screening of The Blair Witch Project in the Planetarium on Wednesday night.
  • Cinema Salem continues to do plenty for Halloween, with their original short documentaries "The History of Halloween" and "The True 1692" playing in 3D, splitting the small screen with indie horror Artik and Candy Corn. The Salem Horror Fest has a bunch of Steven King screenings there - the It miniseries on Friday' Cujo, Carrie, and Christine on Saturday (with Misery at the Salem Visitor Center); as well as The Dead Zone and the 1989 Pet Sematary on Sunday.
  • The Luna Theater also has the Teseracte Players standing between you and The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Friday, John Carpenter's original Halloween all day Saturday and Tuesday night, The Exorcist all day Sunday, and a special UMass Lowell "Philosophy and Film" presentation of Alex Proyas's Dark City on Monday. Oh, and the free Saturday Morning Cartoons, Sunday's "Magic Mystery Movie Club", and Weirdo Wednesday.

I will probably hit Parasite, The Lighthouse, Elm Street, The Mask, and want to get to Farming, Fast Color, and some of the spooky stuff, but that's kind of a lot!

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

You know, I haven't really loved these movies - this one especially kind of bored me - but you've kind of got to respect a series made for kids based on a Disney animated classic whose first entry is basically about a woman who has been traumatized by an awful physical violation by her boyfriend while the second features a genocidal queen who doesn't just aim to kill all of the fair folk in the neighboring kingdom, but plans to use a gas chamber. There is something dark as hell but inside both of them but I can't say I'm against giving the young girls their made for a chance to build their armor and their outrage against such things early.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

* * (out of four)
Seen 21 October 2019 in AMC Boston Common #4 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

I can't say that I exactly loved Maleficent when it appeared a few years ago, but it was at the very least interesting, and grew in relative stature as Disney followed it up with less daring live-action takes on their animated library. Maybe the sequel will follow a similar path, but its ambitions seem less impressive and interesting, a mere building out of the fairy-tale world that the first attempted to turn on its head.

It's been five years since the events of the first film, and Aurora (Elle Fanning) has become Queen of The Moors, where the magical creatures live, rather than ruling her father's kingdom (the castle is said to have been given to the people, so maybe they are experimenting with democracy). Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson) has just proposed, a development that pleases Aurora's dark fae godmother Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) not at all, and that is before a disastrous dinner at the castle where King John (Robert Lindsay) seems genuinely proud of his son and eager for peace between these neighbors but Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer) is eager to provoke Maleficent and then have a servant shoot her with iron when she storms out. She is rescued by another of her endangered race, Conall (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who would coexist with humanity but is losing ground in fae society to the likes of Borra (Ed Skrein), eager for a fight before humans develop even more dangerous weapons.

There are the germs of interesting ideas in here, and some of the same topical darkness that made the first film interesting, perhaps enough ideas that the film cannot truly give them their due - in the dark fae, there is an indigenous population trying to survive in the face of an expansionist, technologically-superior foe, with Maleficent presented as an orphan making the first attempts to reconnect with her roots. Ingrith is a familiar sort of villain, the leader whose own early misfortune leads her to see the world as a zero-sum game and be willing to destroy her neighbors in order to win it, although it's a rare movie for kids that goes down the road of biological weapons and what is probably one of the more bizarre evocations of a Nazi gas chamber ever put on film. It's impressively heavy stuff, but there's so much of it that new director Joachim Rønning and returning co-writer Linda Woolverton never take the chance to lean in these themes: The fae's cavern is a neat location but not much else, and while it's always tough to figure out how much a movie like this should scare kids, the horrifying parts of the final battle are sanitized a bit too much to make the impression the filmmakers seem to be going for.

Full review at EFilmCritic

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

You ever wind up running late for a movie, slinking home frustrated, and then feeling weirdly vindicated when you really need to go to the bathroom right smack in the middle of when the movie would be?

No, me neither.

This Week in Tickets

Moviegoing time was also curtailed a bit by the arrival of some large packages with shelves to assemble inside, and I've got to tell you - after spending Tuesday night unboxing and assembling a new set of Blu-ray shelves and then getting everything into its new place, it is downright weird to see so much empty space rather than random piles of discs all around me. Almost unnatural. Of course, after I got everything alphabetized and shelved on Tuesday, Wednesday sees the delivery of The Art of Self-Defense, and I was very lucky that the second row (out of 17) had a little extra space at the end.

After that, it was time for "Buff-O-Ween", the first of what I hope will be an annual "and-a-half" program midway between editions of the Boston Underground Film Festival. A fair amount of it was things I had seen at Fantasia this summer, but the first night was a thing I couldn't fit into the schedule in Montreal, so I was very glad to catch up with Extra Ordinary, which I recall everybody up north loving. It's as funny as advertised, and kind of a shame that it won't get much theatrical play. The good news is, BUFF and the Irish Film Festival won't be the same weekend next year.

I'd also seen the first thing Friday night, so it was tough dragging myself back out of the house for the back half. Then on Saturday, I had an ambitious day planned - Lucy in the Sky at Fenway, The Captain at Boston Common, and then back to Somerville for more Buff-O-Ween, but… Well, no matter what the app says or how it seems to be a more direct route, never plan on taking the 47 bus from Central to Fenway, because if it's not late, it just does not show up. Fortunately, I had bookshelves to build, and was able to spend a pretty relaxing day getting them up before heading back to the Somerville and the new, gore-enhanced restoration of Tammy and the T-Rex, which is a pretty bad movie on the merits but plays out like a giant-sized 48-hour-film-project thing with an utterly ridiculous prop and a Denise Richards performance that makes one wish she'd had more chances to do sexy comedies.

Sunday, I made to to Boston Common for The Captain, a pretty fair crowd-pleaser that seems less like overt propaganda than most of what got released for China's National Day this year. That was followed by The Laundromat, which kind of feels like it wants to be propaganda but which is a little too self-aware and cynical to really sell itself. I believe it's the first time this fall that I've paid $9 for something I could watch with a Netflix account, but I'm old and not going to change.

It's looking like another slow week, but there should be updates my Letterboxd page even if it's just finally looping back to Fantasia reviews..

Zhong guo ji zhang (The Captain '19 aka The Chinese Pilot)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 October 2019 in AMC Boston Common #4 (first-run, DCP)

As near as I can tell, The Captain has been the most popular of the three big releases meant to stoke national pride for the 70th anniversary of the People's Republic of China, which is nice, because it is also the one that feels the least like obvious propaganda. Instead, it's the sort of solid tale of heroic competence that risks understating the extent to which its hero showed grace under pressure - or, in this case, incredibly low air pressure.

It dramatizes events of 14 May 2018, a day which started early for pilot Liu Changjian (Zhang Hanyu), getting up at 3am, promising his sleeping daughter that he'll be back for her sixth birthday party, giving eye drops to the rescue puppy that will be her present, and then heading to Chongqing's airport for a 6:30am flight to Lhasa. He will be joined in the cockpit by cocky co-pilot Xu Yichen (Ou Hao) and inveterate flirt Liang Dong (Du Jiang), with purser Bi Nan (Yuan Quan) overseeing a team of four young, single, and pretty flight attendants. At 7:12am, over the Tibetan plateau at 9400m above sea level, a crack appears in the windshield, and in almost no time after that, it has blown out, depressurizing the cockpit. Above 3000m, it is difficult to breathe without assistance, and the plateau is 4500m high, and on top of that, a storm has formed which will make it difficult to divert toward what would normally be the most convenient airport.

The very basic synopsis of this movie might get one to joke that it's the Chinese remake of Sully, but truth be told, it's set up to be a better movie than that from the start - what happened with Flight 3U8633, at least as is presented in Yu Yonggan's script, took place over more than the course of a couple minutes and therefore doesn't need nearly as much to pad it out to feature length the way the American film more or less manufactured a contentious investigation as a framing device. In fact, it is impressive how director Andrew Lau Wai-Keung (likely best known outside China for co-directing and shooting the Infernal Affairs movies and not to be confused with their co-star Andy Lau) and writer Yu Yonggan nip any excess melodrama in the bud. The audience is introduced to the crew and given a peek at what's going on with them, as well as a cross-section of the 119 passengers - it will not surprise you that there's a jerk in first class, a couple meeting cute, a couple scared kids and a few even more frightened adults, and a man returning his brother's ashes, and a sensible veteran - only to have them more or less serve as background color. Though it's an easy trap to fall into, Lau and Yu never make the personal affairs of any passenger bigger or more important than the potential disaster they are part of. Even a moment when Liu's thoughts turn to his daughter feels like a man dealing with more stress than he has oxygen to handle.

Full review at EFilmCritic

The Laundromat

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 October 2019 in Landmark Kendall Square #6 (first-run, DCP)

I've read that one of the lawyers portrayed in The Laundromat is suing for defamation, and without looking it up, I'm going to guess it's not the one played with rakish charm by Antonio Banderas. Sure, he and Gary Oldman make an often-entertaining pair of fourth-wall-breaking narrators, but Banderas is the member of the star-studded cast that gets the most mileage out of how not quite disappearing into the role is half the point.

After all, the point here is not really to tell a story, but to try to educate the audience on the way shell companies and other ways to hide money and responsibility pervert our world, although even with Oldman & Banderas being the first to appear and each chapter of the movie titled as a lesson, it's still somewhat disappointing when it becomes clear that the story of Meryl Streep's confused, indignant widow is not actually going to lead anywhere. It's just one of several anecdotes that show what kind of fraud is going on connected to the Panamanian law firm of Mossack & Fonseca, and they don't really tie together. Eventually other stories show up, and they're neat little shorts on their own, but the script by Scott Z. Burns just shrugs and stops at a certain point.

It's enjoyable enough - Steven Soderbergh never really let his retirement take and this film splits the middle between his more and less conventional work, and the really exceptional cast means that it's a rare scene that's going to fall flat. Unfortunately, the film invites comparisons to The Big Short, and it's never quite the explainer nor the narrative that film is.

Extra Ordinary
Tammy and the T-Rex
The Captain
The Laundromat

Monday, October 21, 2019

"Buff-O-Ween": Tammy and the T-Rex

This wound up being the only other "Buff-O-Ween" show I attended after Thursday's opening night, what with having already seen some things at Fantasia and having transit issues and the like, but I'm glad I did - Tammy and the T-Rex is exactly the sort of thing that the "rediscovery" portion of these events is for, something that meets and exceeds its reputation and whose insanity works the best with a whole audience unearthing it for the first time.

A thing I note in the review but which kind of took me by surprise as I watched it and pondered it afterwards was how much I liked Denise Richards in this movie. She's not any sort of good actress at this point in her career, but if she's sexy as hell and is willing not just to wear the sort of costumes that will grab eyeballs but put enough life into Tammy that she comes off as more than just a bimbo. She might have been good in farces and sex comedies, but they weren't making those in the 1990s, so she wound up doing movies that required skills she hadn't yet developed and became the butt of jokes. Maybe things go a lot different for her if there was something akin to Gentlemen Prefer Blondes for her while she grew into more serious roles.

(Although, don't feel too bad for her - she's worked fairly steadily, which is more than you can say for some who made a splash for being young and hot.)

Also worth mentioning: Both Richards and Paul Walker appear in midriff-baring tops for their first scene and while it's a goofy look for him, you've kind of got to appreciate how the filmmakers at least tried to serve up a little eye candy for the ladies as well as the guys. And their gay counterparts, even if the movie is kind of right at the point of knowing it should treat that portion of the population better but not really sure how to go about it - one of the mostly-likable screw-ups changes course halfway through a slur, like the filmmakers knew this was uncool but didn't know how to do better.

Tammy and the T-Rex

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 19 October 2019 in Somerville Theatre #3 (Buff-O-Ween, DCP)

If I'd seen Tammy and the T-Rex when it came out twenty-five years ago, rated PG-13 and the first feature for the two cast members who would go on to bigger things, I'd have slagged it pretty mercilessly, calling it misguided at best, and I almost certainly wouldn't have dropped eleven bucks to see the restored, gory version. But here we are, with me kind of admiring its no-budget insanity and preferring its honest camp to the knowing irony of its spiritual successors.

It starts in conventional-enough territory, with handsome football star Michael (Paul Walker) wanting to go out with pretty cheerleader Tammy (Denise Richards), but she won't because she's afraid of her possessive ex Billy (George Pilgrim) and his gang of reprobates attacking anyone who comes near her. It turns out to be a justified fear, and when Billy lands in a coma, he becomes of interest to Mr. Wachenstein (Terry Kiser), who has built a robotic Tyrannosaurus Rex and aims to use a human brain as a control unit rather than the bulky computer system, but decides to knock off early with his busty assistant Helga (Ellen Dubin) before actually lobotomizing Mike's brain. When the sedative wears off before they return, Michael has revenge on his mind, while Tammy enlists her friend Byron (Theo Forsett) in finding her boyfriend a new body.

This is a completely ridiculous movie built around having access to an animatronic dinosaur but not a whole lot of time to write a script, and it shows. Aside from the less-than-inspired things that come out of people's mouths, there are two or three separate points where the action turns on someone fainting, and when you've got three "you're not going to believe this, but it was a dinosaur" bits back-to-back, you need to vary them or build to something in a way that writer/director Steward Raffill doesn't manage. The fact that Tammy and Byron don't seem particularly alarmed by Michael in any way after his murderous rampage is only salvaged by Denise Richards's performance, believe it or not. This movie was destined to be silly but it didn't necessarily have to be this dumb.

Given the crazy constraints that this was made under, it winds up playing like one of those 48-hour film project shorts, and that kind of works more often than not. There are a number of shots that the filmmakers shouldn't have even tried, such as every time they try to animate a full-body shot of the dinosaur walking, but when Wachenstein uses a power tool that clearly isn't the sort of bone saw that an actual surgeon would use, it feels like improvisation that they're selling rather than something that requires a meta-comment to be tossed at the audience. The same goes for the often-goofy slapstick that often involves a puppet hand reaching far further than the t-rex bot's could; the way Raffill and his crew shoot and cut this says that they know the joke doesn't make sense, but it works.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Saturday, October 19, 2019

"Buff-O-Ween": Extra Ordinary

As I've been saying when IFFBoston does their Fall Focus every year, local film festivals doing "and-a-half" series to screen the movies that would play their main event except for how films don't stay on the festival circuit for that long anymore is a downright fantastic idea, and the Boston Underground Film Festival having this horror-centric one in October is especially great. Many of these things are not going to hit the big screen otherwise, and they deserve a chance to be seen.

(Selfishly, it's really convenient for me, being able to pick off a couple that I couldn't make work for my schedule at Fantasia like this one, while also including others that I did see so that I can not have this one event eat my entire weekend like IFFBoston's Fall Focus will in a couple of weeks.)

Speaking of scheduling and other festivals, this one was co-presented by the Irish Film Festival of Boston, and while introducing the movie, representatives for both fests talked about how the various organizers are trying to coordinate and work together better, which means that next year the Irish and Underground festivals will not be held the same weekend, but one after the other. As someone who has regretted missing some of the Irish movies, I find this to be genuinely great (and long-overdue) news.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 October 2019 in Somerville Theatre #3 (Buff-O-Ween, digital)

I remember John Cleese once saying that the secret of Monty Python was that they eliminated punchlines, so they never had to reset and it was harder for a sketch to become retroactively disappointing because someone didn't like how it ended. I don't know if that's what David Guerrera was thinking while making "Raspberries", but it seems to be a necessary part of the plan. I can't think of an ending that would actually work here, but there are a couple minutes of laughs to be mined from the odd situation he chose.

It's one that most viewers will recognize - the odd family tradition that makes a newcomer uncomfortable - and Guerrera mines just the right amount of confusion and exaggerated eccentricity out of it before quickly cutting bait and forcing the audience to have an opinion on who was being unreasonable. It means that there's kind of not much here, but I suspect that when you consider it in its natural environment (as a YouTube video for a channel that delivers quick off-kilter hits), it's going to work pretty well.

Extra Ordinary

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 17 October 2019 in Somerville Theatre #3 (Buff-O-Ween, digital)

I suppose movies like Extra Ordinary are the domain of the streaming services now, but there should be theaters in every city that show movies like Extra Ordinary for relatively cheap, making it easier to experience them with an audience. It is built to be a cheap and memorable date, with plenty to make the audience smile, and even if someone somehow doesn't like it, it's just off-kilter enough to let you talk about how screwy it was.

Rose Dooley (Maeve Higgins) can talk to ghosts, but chooses instead to work as a driving instructor in her small Irish town, ever since the death of her father (Risteard Cooper) in an exorcism-related incident when she was younger, though they were just the level of locally famous that people still call her with their strange noises. Martin Martin (Barry Ward) has rather more than strange noises; his dead wife has been haunting him for eight years and is as pushy and, really, kind of abusive as ever; daughter Sarah (Emma Coleman) says she's moving out unless he does something about it. And Christian Warner (Will Forte), an American one-hit wonder who moved to town for tax reasons years ago, is looking to make a deal with the devil to jump-start his career, but after an unfortunate incident with his wife Claudia (Claudia O'Doherty) and their planned sacrifice, he's going to need another virgin, and the omens lead him directly to the hardware store where Sarah works after school.

One of the clever things filmmakers Mike Ahern & Enda Loughman do right in the VHS-tape-exposition drop that opens the movie is to establish that, compared to a lot of supernatural comedies, the stakes are likely to be fairly low; most ghosts, we are told, can't really establish enough of a toehold in our world to be more than extremely minor nuisances. Controlling ambition can be useful for this sort of movie - it keeps the visual effects budget under control and means you don't have to work too hard to sell that all this supernatural stuff can be happening in a world we find familiar. The next step is maybe even more impressive - deciding that small doesn't necessarily mean petty. Heroes and villains alike have modest enough goals that it feels like a situation the audience can fall into.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Friday, October 18, 2019

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

Get ready for some subtitles this weekend, folks; a couple of the world's most revered filmmakers have new ones opening this week.

  • First up is Parasite from Bong Joon-ho, and let's give a big hand to everybody around the world who didn't blab about everything that happens even though they got it weeks or months before the United States. It apparently starts out as a scheming family running a grift on a wealthy one, but supposedly takes a lot of turns along the way. It's at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Kendall Square, and Boston Common. Those same theaters (along with West Newton) also open Pain and Glory, a new picture from Pedro Almodóvar with long-time collaborator Antonio Banderas playing an aging film director (hmmm) whose body and inspiration are both failing him.

    As Halloween approaches, the Coolidge continues to not mess around with their midnight program, kicking this weekend's festivities off at 8pm Friday at Rocky Woods with a double feature of Sleepaway Camp & The Blair Witch Project, while those of us who are not even going to consider watching that second one out in the middle of the woods can choose between From Dusk til Dawn and The Room at midnight on Friday while the original 1954 Godzilla plays Saturday. Monday's 35mm "Science on Screen" presentation of Purple Rain with producer and professor of music production Susan Rogers is apparently already sold out, but there are still tickets available for Thursday's "Rewind!" showing of I Know What You Did Last Summer on 35mm with an after party across the street.
  • It's mostly sequels at the multiplexes for English-speakers, and they're both head-scratchers. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil follows up a first part that inverted its source material in interesting ways but seems like it's just universe expansion here. It plays the Capitol (2D only), Fresh Pond (2D only), Jordan's Furniture (Imax 2D), Boston Common (including 3D), Fenway (including 3D & 2D RPX), the Seaport (including 3D Icon-X), South Bay (including 3D & Imax 2D) , Assembly Row (including 3D, Imax 2D & Dolby Cinema) , the Embassy (2D only), Revere (2D only), and the SuperLux (2D only). Zombieland: Double Tap follows up a movie I didn't love that seemed to play out its joke, but still has a pretty terrific cast. It's at the Somerville, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport (including Icon-X), South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema), the Embassy, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    Some of the multiplexes have extra screens to fill, with Boston Common the first place in the area to get The Lighthouse while locally-produced indie horror movie Habitual opens in Revere.

    Bruce Springsteen's performance film of his new album, Western Stars, has preview screenings at Boston Common, Fenway, and Assembly Row on Saturday and Wednesday before its official opening next week, while Neil Young's documentary on his latest album, Mountaintop, plays The Regent Theatre and Revere on Tuesday. If you like filmmakers more than musicians, Quentin Tarantino doc QT8 plays the Seaport, Assembly Row, and Revere on Tuesday. Interesting-if-messy anime Human Lost plays the Kendall and Boston Common Tuesday (subbed) and Wednesday (dubbed), while major franchise entry One Piece: Stampede has its first shows at Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, and Revere on Thursday, with scattered shows for the next week. Faith-based actioner The Reliant plays Fenway, South Bay, and Revere on Thursday with a whole cast of people who may or may not deserve better, while Revere has the first of a couple shows of The Goonies on Thursday.
  • In addition to the big foreign movies, Kendall Square has a couple documentaries. Midnight Traveler has Afghani filmmakers Hassan Fazili and his wife Fatima Hussaini putting together their iPhone footage for their escape from Afghanistan after the Taliban put a price on Fazili's head. They also open IFFBoston alum Jim Allison: Breakthrough for a couple shows a day, with director Bill Haney following Allison, one of the foremost researchers in the fight against cancer.
  • The Boston Underground Film Festival continues their 2019-and-a-half Buffoween festival at The Somerville Theatre this weekend, with Fantasia's "Born of Woman" program and Fatih Akin's The Golden Glove on Friday, the restored (and now gory rather than PG-13) Tammy and the T-Rex and Blood on Her Name on Saturday, and Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life and Ghastly Death of Al Adamson (with director David Gregory on hand) and Daniel Isn't Real closing it out on Sunday. The Somerville also has a Friday night Slaughterhouse Film Club entry of A Nightmare on Elm Street on 35mm with burlesque pre-show, a special screening of movie palace documentary Going Attractions on Sunday afternoon, the Reel Rock action-sports shorts on Wednesday, and the first entry in their "All Killer, No Filler" Halloween Hullabaloo on Thursday, with a double feature of Battle Royale & Ju-On: The Grudge. It's also worth checking their site, as some screenings of Joker are still 70mm and some of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood are 35mm.
  • The Captain opened in China for National Day back at the end of September but just makes it to North America now as distributors stagger their releases a bit. This film built to stoke national pride stars Zhang Hanyu as the pilot of a plane that had a loss of cabin pressure six miles above Tibet, with Andrew Lau directing. My People, My Country is also sticking around.

    The Sky Is Pink and War continue at Apple Fresh Pond for those who go for Indian movies; they also show indie horror movie Candy Corn on Saturday and open Tamil movies Bigil and Kaithi on Thursday.
  • The Brattle Theatre and The West Newton Cinema have The Elephant Queen, a documentary on Kenyan elephants narrated by Chiwitel Ejiofor, ahead of its premiere on Apple TV+ (insert jokes about the only chance anyone will have to see this movie here!).

    The Brattle will mostly have it as matinees with other features getting the later hours. For the weekend, that's their new "Film and…" Festival, which includes The Man Who Laughs with a live score by Jeff Rapsis on Friday, Nicholas Ray's Bigger than Life with (and without) live commentary by authors Jonathan Lethem & Susan Choi on Saturday evening, a screening and poster release for the director's cut of Midsommar later than night (with two special metallic versions award as door prizes), and director Julie Smith and subject Eugene Mirman on-hand for a special screening of IFFBoston alum It Started as a Joke on Sunday.

    Special events continue through the work week, with the DocYard planning to welcome directors James Blagden (in person) and Roni Moore (via Skype) for their film Midnight in Paris on Monday. The Goethe-Institut welcomes German filmmaker Andreas Dresen with his film Grill Point on 35mm Tuesday before showing his latest Gunderman on Wednesday. The Brattle then hosts opening night of the Boston Asian American Film Festival with two screenings of Lucky Grandman on Thursday. BAAFF also presents 9-Man at the Newton City Hall on Sunday, before the festival proper begins.
  • The Harvard Film Archive starts series for two contemporary filmmakers this weekend. Uncomfortably Yours: The Films of Alex Ross Perry features Listen Up Philip (35mm Friday), The Color Wheel (35mm Saturday with Perry also inflicting Herschell Gordon Lewis's The Magic Land of Mother Goose on the audience). Four Films by François Ozon features Swimming Pool (35mm Saturday) and Ozon in person for a preview showing of his latest, By the Grace of God, on Monday. Going back a bit further, they start "The Transcendent Cinema of David Brooks" with a program of short feature "The Wind Is Driving Him Toward The Open Sea" & short "Redcap or Peanut Butter on My Roof" on 16mm Sunday. B-Movies also continue with a double feature of My Name Is Julia Ross (35mm) & So Dark the Night at 9pm Friday and 4pm Sunday.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has their final screening of I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians on Friday afternoon before kicking off their annual Boston Palestine Film Festival on Friday afternoon. Screenings for that include It Must Be Heaven (sold-out Friday/tickets available Saturday); Emwas, Restoring Memories (Saturday), Hurdle (Sunday), The Journey of the Others (Sunday), You Come From Far Away (Sunday w/director Amal Ramsis), On the Doorstep (Wednesday), Gaza (Wednesday w/director Ahmed Mansour), Between Two Crossings (Thursday), and Samouni Road (Thursday).
  • Ahmed Monsour and the Palestine Film Festival are also upstairs at the Paramount on Tuesday for a free Bright Lights show of his film Brooklyn Inshallah. Thursday's screening is Gloria Bell, co-presented by the Boston Latino Film Festival.

    Before that, ArtsEmerson hosts the second annual Baltic Film Festival, with The Foundation of Criminal Excelency (Friday 6pm), Mystery of the Old Garden (Saturday 10am), Back to the Dreamland (Saturday 12:45pm), The Little Comrade (Saturday 3pm & Sunday 10:20am), Ahto: Chasing a Dream (Saturday 5:40pm), Summer Survivors (Saturday 8:30pm), The Mover (Sunday 3:30pm), and And All Their Men (Sunday 6:30pm).
  • Boston University's annual Tournées Film Festival has it's final entry, Tazzeka in the Photonics Center on Friday evening.
  • Cinema Salem is still all-in for Halloween, with indie horror film Trick playing in one of the larger rooms while their original short documentaries "The History of Halloween", "The True 1692", and "The Spirit of Salem" occupy the smaller screen, the first two in 3D. They also welcome the Teseracte Players for two screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Saturday (with Boston Common's weekly showing at 9:30pm that night as well; I don't know if Full Body Cast still accompanies those). The Salem Horror Fest hibernates for a week before next weekend's Steven King blitz.
  • The Luna Theater has one of their simpler schedules, with three shows of The Craft on Saturday, three of Hitchcock's Psycho on Sunday, one last show of documentary Wrinkles the Clown on Tuesday, plus the free Saturday Morning Cartoons, Sunday's "Magic Mystery Movie Club", and Weirdo Wednesday.

Lots to take in, including Buff-O-Ween, Parasite, Pain and Gain, The Captain, and some things that I'll probably hit because they're almost gone or at convenient times.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Fantasia 2019.18: Full Contact, Homewrecker, Moon in the Hidden Woods, Circo Animato 2019, Freaks, and American Fighter

10am for the first show. Ten. Ay. Em! Doesn't seem like much, but some in the audience might have been at the midnight "Fantasia Retro" show the night before, and I'm guessing that the people looking to watch these older movies like Full Contact don't necessarily sleep as fast as we used to. King-Wei Chu apologized, sheepishly saying that they found themselves with too many movies. He then asked if we'd like to hvae the festival make 10am shows a regular thing, and I think the answer can be summed up as "no, but (heavy sigh) we'll come anyway".

The 35mm print they got hold of was nice, though, which is good because it came from the Academy archives in Los Angeles and is apparently the only one in circulation. That presumably means it's the same one I saw in New York during the February Hong-Kong-a-thon, which is kind of neat on the one hand, although being the only print also makes the archive very reluctant to let it out and I don't know if there's a decent DCP available for those who can't sweet-talk the Academy. Fortunately, it was just reissued on Blu-ray in Hong Kong as part of the trickle of Ringo Lam discs that have been coming out since his death.

After this, every show had someone show up:

Next up in the same room was director Zach Gayne and Precious Chong of Homewrecker (with Justine Smith), which packed DeSeve a couple of times in part based on how Canadian a film it is. It's frequently very funny even if I don't love the direction it winds up going, but it is very much their (and co-star/co-writer Alex Essoe's) film. The basic idea had been kicking around Gayne's head for a while since reading an old news story, eventually resurrected when the group started looking around for a way to work together on something bigger than the Funny or Die videos Chong and Gayne were making. They wound up shooting it in Chong's house the week her husband and son were on vacation, right before a remodel - an important consideration, since the script involves a sledgehammer, which gave her husband some pause in the lead-up.

They got the "how much was improvised?" question, and had to be really insistent about having shot the script (which Chong & Essoe co-wrote). It's pretty hard to mess around when you're paying crew by the hour and have a hard deadline for being out of the house.

Next up, director Takahiro Umehara of Moon in the Hidden Woods, which was a last-minute detour from me because I went for the more fantastical flick rather than the The Island of Cats, which just looked eccentric, apparently forgetting entirely that one of my favorite movies at the festival last year was a cute Japanese thing with kitties. It was maybe not the best choice; this movie might play better to kids or otherwise seem like a really nifty semi-steampunk reimagining if you've got a better background in South Korean folklore than I do, but it wound up not being a great mid-day film for me. The director was a quite likable fellow, though, seemingly a journeyman getting a chance to direct a feature by going to Korea and eager to embrace its culture in creating the film. He also seemed to dig Montreal, heading down to the old city and only making it back a couple minutes before he was supposed to introduce this one.

The animation program used to have a lot more local filmmakers showing up, but it seems as though those movies wound up at Fantastique Week-Ends this year. Or maybe it's just a blip. This year's guests were Neil Christoper & Daniel Gies of "The Giant Bear", Cristina Sitja Rubio of "Strange Creatures", Kim Myung-eun of "The First Class", and Han Seong-heun of "Barchestra". As with the previous day's Science Fiction Showcase, the filmmakers for the package were, if not an even male-female split, pretty close, and good on 'em for that.

Christopher & Gies were especially up-front about how "The Giant Bear" took a lot of work, reconceptualizing it a few times, figuring out music, working with the descendants of the First Nations man whose recorded telling of a folktale served as the basis of their film. Getting it just so was very important. Rubio mentioned that "Strange Creatures" was based upon a children's book, but they opted to make the designs something close to the complete opposite. Kim Myung-eun's "The First Class" is another really nifty one, although she seemed a bit dismayed that the movie she made about the issues with the Korean education system is fairly universal.

Next up (across the street) was Zach Lipovsky and Adam Stein of Freaks, who made a nifty little movie and one that I'm really glad that I saw cold, barely even having skimmed the description in the program, because it's possible to get a ways into it without knowing just exactly what it's about that way, while the preview I would see a week or two later more or less lays everything right out. Par for the course these days, I guess.

Without saying too much, they did talk about how there are ideas kicking around in their head for more, because it is the kind of scenario that immediately feels too big for just one movie or point of view.

Finally, I went back across the street for American Fighter, which was supposed to be in Hall but got bumped so that the big screen could have a second show of The Cop, the Gangster, and the Devil, pushing Harpoon to the new Cinema de Musee. Guests were production coordinator Brian Kennedy (not 100% sure on the name), director Shaun Paul Piccinino, and co-star Sean Patrick Flannery, who despite having played young Indiana Jones way back when didn't quite grow up to be Harrison Ford. Apparently he got into martial arts, though, and runs schools in Hollywood and elsewhere when he's not in front of the camera. I had no idea - has this ever been part of his acting career before? Maybe he's done a bunch of straight-to-VOD fare where this figures in, or maybe he's better at actual sparring than choreographed work.

The folks involved all seemed pretty enthusiastic about the stuff they were making together, cranking out small-scale flicks that aim to be pretty decent rather than pushing any envelopes. Love your job, right?

As expected, writing up a day with a dozen short films took a while, plus I finished up my IFFBoston posts before getting back to Fantasia, so here's hoping that it doesn't take until April to give everything the full review it deserves.

Xia dao Gao Fei (Full Contact)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève(Fantasia International Film Festival: Fantasia Retro, 35mm)

I wonder, idly, how much chance I'd have to see Full Contact right now if not for director Ringo Lam's recent death. I'm not sure if ever heard of it before a couple folks mentioned it in tweets about his best movies, and then two events play it as a tribute and a new Blu-ray comes out as part of a steady re-release of his catalog in Hong Kong. You've got to wish there were better reasons, but I'll take the movie anyway.

After all, it's a great deal of fun, a double-barreled crime movie with an absurdly good cast - Chow Yun-fat, Anthony Wong, and Simon Yam being the big names - intense action, and a level of style one doesn't automatically associate with Lam. In a lot of ways, it's a simple action script, but the way that the filmmakers set the two crews up as mirror images of one another, from Chow and his righteous cool the being the absolute opposite of the flamboyant psycho Yam plays on down, and then have Wrong as the wild card, is a great example of how these guys knew how to make them resonate at a gut level so that the operatic action fits. It's not complicated, but it pulls you in just enough for the violence to mean something.

And it's great, fun action, from how a flirty coat flip reveals a weapon in the opening to the bullet's-eye-view Lam uses in the finale to make a shootout feel as personal as a fistfight. It's bloody and nasty and mean, but also thrilling and exciting, with blackly comic beats keeping things from getting exhausting. Ringo Lam was a damn master, and is a crying shame he won't be giving us the likes of this any more.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

Science fiction film has a tendency to extrapolate one thing forward but assume the rest will stay the same with a more future-y paint job, and the way that filmmaker Steve Yager sees the increasing use of digital assistants and America's ever-messy health-care situation converging deserves at least a little credit for focusing on convergence, even if it's of the pessimistic variety. Heck, on first blush, I was kind of tempted to nit-pick an Alexa (here given the non-infringing name "Nova") having the apparent capabilities of a medical tricorder from Star Trek, although I've come around to thinking that these things having heat/infrared scanners fine enough to spot appendicitis and the like that are always passively observing and recording (along with a couple of the other alarmingly powerful tools) probably is the future.

Hopefully that doesn't mean that the situation brought up here - Nova can detect an appendix about to rupture but everything outside one's convenient bubble is so awful that do-it-yourself HomeCare™ is the best option. As a sketch, though, it's pretty darn funny, especially since it's often able to find a way to tell a joke so that Mason & Emma are both kind of with the audience in terms of being shocked and appalled but also kind of weird future people who take what's still mostly unthinkable to us in stride. It's big and broad but also filled with fine comic timing, and let's all hope it doesn't come to this.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Beware being too drawn in by descriptions, because while the way this movie was listed as being a lesson about being too polite and accommodating, that's actually just the hook; eventually, other things have to push the movie forward, and it never works quite so well as a story driven by specific intent than a riff on a lunatic who preys on good intentions. The less random it becomes, the harder it has to work.

It seems to start out pretty random, with two women crossing paths in various fitness classes often enough to recognize each other. It gives middle-aged Linda (Precious Chong) just enough familiarity to sit across from Michelle (Alex Essoe), who is having one of those "so this isn't the month we find out we're starting a family" moments. Linda notices that Michelle is an interior designer, something she's been looking for, and gets the younger woman to come look at her house. Once there, it becomes difficult for Michelle to politely extricate herself as Linda makes more and more demands on her time disguised as hospitality.

This seems more like the premise for a short film than a feature, even the filmmakers seem to work their tails off to make it to 75 minutes. They're nevertheless able to start strong, immediately butting Linda's long-arrested development against Michelle's accommodating but sensible nature, and while that gives Precious Chong a lot to work with. She's kind of generally intrusive and Chong (who co-writes with director Zach Gayne and co-star Alex Essoe) gets most of the big comedic moments and milks the heck out of them, initially making Linda big and crazy enough to unnerve but seeming just lonely enough to earn some sympathy and make it easy enough to see why Michelle doesn't just bolt. She's an intriguingly modern take on the old trope of the deranged spinster, one that plays differently in the current nostalgia-choked age where the old pop culture never goes away and there's so much pressure (and ability) to push the aging process back.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Sup-e Sum-eun Da (The Moon in the Hidden Woods)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, DCP)

South Korea has been a spot where the frame-by-frame grinding out of animation is done for a long time, but has seldom been a place where notable animation is initiated; I cannot remember a Korean animated feature getting much notice since Wonderful Days (aka "Sky Blue") fifteen years ago. The Moon in the Hidden Woods probably won't be the one that remedies this; it looks rougher than theatrical animation from other countries and while imaginative, the storytelling leaves something to be desired.

It follows Nabilera, a princess of sorts, but one who is not interested in being a child bride for Count Tar at all, despite being told that this may be the only way to return the moon to the sky from which it has disappeared, replaced by Muju, the red night sky. She flees and meets Jang-goo, a meteor hunter from a small village, as well as rival Guntheir from a neighborhood village. She is right not to want any part of Tar - he is in league with Muju in a plan to plunge the world into darkness - but it may be too late to rally the mystic forces necessary to stop their plan.

Visually, The Moon in the Hidden Woods takes most of its cues from Japanese animation, but looks like a theatrical anime from twenty or thirty years ago, or perhaps a lower-budgeted television show (where director Takahiro Umehara has done most of his work), with flat colors and broad shots where you can see scads of background characters standing dead still. The character designs feel like a similar sort of throwback in their bold simplicity and with their oversized accessories. They are still interesting for coming from a different cultural place, though far enough removed to not necessarily feel specifically Korean to a foreign audience. It often seems as if they are hoarding their resources, saving their best work for the climax and mostly able to allow the creativity, from making street music a game to moon fairies appearing as mammoths, to make up for what it doesn't have technically.

Full review on EFilmCritic

"The First Class"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Circo Animato, digital)

The neat thing Kim Myung-eun pulls off in "The First Class is how charmingly bouncy it feels at first, letters from the Korean alphabet dancing to suggest the joy of learning, only to have the more serious concepts start to sneak it. First it's almost a joke - the different shapes allow some to catch more of what drops from above than others - but it's not long before one sees how serious she is about it, as these things are sorted and judged and reassigned seemingly based upon things they have no control over, the animation eventually becoming more overwhelming and detailed but never losing the plot.

It's an impressive work of satire all around, not just for how it sort of sneaks its point in without initially seeming too eager but for how broad-ranging it turns out to be: Kim made it to specifically reflect the South Korean educational system but it fits issues students and parents have in the United States just as well, and anyone stuck in a system that values specific metrics over individual experience can probably relate. It's quite an impressive debut.

"Strange Creatures"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Circo Animato, digital)

At some point, "Strange Creatures" will be translated into English to play to viewers too young to deal with subtitles, and it will only be 80% as good because the narration by Álvaro Morales is a huge part of what makes it great, even if one is following it via subtitles. It's such a warm, charming voice that it easily balances how Cristina Sitja's and Cristobal León's take on the material can be a bit unnerving. According to Sitja in the Q&A, they went in the complete opposite direction of the original children's book visually, and while it works - the papier-mache models shot in flickering black-and-white look great - it's almost a bit too sinister, and can really use Morales's comforting tones.

It's good that it all balances like that, because Sitja & León walk an interesting line, telling a story of deforestation from the point of view of the animals, with a cynical underpinning that nevertheless seems to turn optimistic by the finish. There's fun whimsy in how they present the forest animals' "houses", and if maybe the film seems a little too optimistic in how it ends, there's something kind of lovely in that sense of hope in a film at least partly made for kids.

"Mofumofikushon" ("Fluffiction")

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Circo Animato, digital)

There are worse ways to spend seven or so minutes than in the world of Imazu Yoshiki's "World of Fluffy Animals", which presents a world where cute, fluffier versions of animals from our world wander throughout the countryside and the cities; it's a thoroughly charming ecosystem and his approach to it does not limit the audience to a single story, instead presenting it as an educational film but making it feel like open-world gameplay in some ways as Imazu leaps from one to another, changing scale effortlessly without creating the sense of a break.

It's a charming piece all around, introducing something new and fun every twenty seconds or so and nice narration, which is chipper and entirely suited to its elementary-school lecture style without seeming patronizing or the like. It feels like it could go on a little longer, or be developed into something big and elaborate like Detective Pikachu, but which is also quite satisfying on its own.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Circo Animato, digital)

What's nice about Lisa Fukaya's "Mimi" is that it's not particularly charming; it's got soft colors and pictures made up almost entirely of round shapes, but it's unsentimental and serious, a movie where the discovery of a pimple makes the title character sour rather than panicky. It grows surreal as it goes on, naturally, and does a fine job of getting into how terrible this is for a kid but also playing on how dismissive kids at the age for pimples get.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Circo Animato, digital)

Han Seong-heun's short is about a minute long, but it's great use of that little time, building itself a musical identity, letting shapes morph and show personality to the rhythm, and letting the visuals play on how a lot of bartenders are would-be performers. Neat stuff.

"Giant Bear"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Circo Animato, digital)

Sometimes, you can find yourself being a little too precious about something like "Giant Bear", based on an Inuit legend with dialogue in Inuktitut and a bit of emphasis in the Q&A on making sure that the source material was respected. It's the sort of thing that marks it as good for you and lets you feel proud that you've learned a bit about another culture's mythology. And, yes, it has its moments where you can feel the importance of it, where you're feeling more proud of the filmmakers (and yourself) than pulled in.

Fortunately, there are more times when it's stunning to look at, a visual treat as the filmmakers create a dazzling skyover a barren land, an iconic hunter taking his place and a bear so massive that it becomes a monster. They create a stunning underwater world and the revelation of the bear underwater is terrific and eye-popping. The music is rousing ,and the sparse narration by sets a tone even with subtitles.

And, by the time it ends, the viewers find themselves surprisingly engrossed. It's the sort that has a key moment where something is maybe about to happen, and one may be surprised just how close one has gotten to the edge of the seat.

"Le Vol" ("The Flight")

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Circo Animato, digital)

Alain Bidard's Battledream Chronicle was a nifty curiosity as an animated feature from Martinique mostly created by one guy, but in some ways you've got to be a little more interested in "Le Vol". It's four minutes long, but it creates a space that clearly represents something and is intriguing to look at without context, and tells an emotional story in a compact, near-worldless manner. It's important to him and you can feel that.

A bit at the end mentions that it's based on Hurricane Maria, and that tracks. It's an impressive, solidly built short film, and I hope Bidard brings some of the earnest emotion he gave this to his to his next larger project.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Circo Animato, digital)

Frédéric Doazan's "Hurlevent" initially seems like it's mostly a neat bit of visual trickery and while that's not nothing - the animated book pages in the middle of a live-action world are a thing you've seen before but which usually impresses - it's familiar. It's still fun and done well and you get the feeling that Doazan is going somewhere with it, and the text changing to 1s and 0s at spots sort of gives you an idea, although it feels kind of late to be raging against that.

It is, nevertheless, one that keeps building up well - the animation spills the bounds of the page, there's a Tower of Babel, the rain smears everything and makes one wonder about just how permanent these written words will be. It's not new, but it's playful and does have something to say.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Circo Animato, digital)

Science fiction, baseball, and animation in a single short film? Chiara Sgatti made this thing just for me.

It's not a particularly triumphant take on the material, though - the former ballplayer has MS and she isn't taking her diminished capability well, watching video of her glory days and only having her caretaker robot for company. It's sometimes melancholy at best and despairing at worst, with even the more upbeat moments having an element of the temporary to them, the rain is unceasing, and the city outside her apartment is sketchy, almost unreal. The different style for the memories and video of the games is effective, not sketchy like the outside but lacking detail.

And it's also kind of a horror movie, not with the traditional malevolence but with a scary thought of what the autonomous AI caretaker is doing out of well-intentioned programming, either because it's got poorly balanced priorities or because it does have just enough humanity to only think of the short term when seeing its charge suffering. It's genuinely creepy at moments and delivers a bit of food for thought.

"Love Me, Fear Me"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Circo Animato, digital)

Veronica Solomon's "Love Me, Fear Me" is one of those entirely visual animations that just drops an idea on the audience in such pure fashion that it can handle being almost completely detached from a story. Here it's the multiplicity of personae that a single person can assume over time, shown via its clay-animated avatar sloughing off layers and reshaping itself several times over five or six minutes. Eventually, she walks off a stage arguably herself in her final form, not quite winking about how it's a bit of a relief to not be those other things on demand right now.

What's really impressive here is how smooth and casual it seems to be - you can often see the filmmaker's fingerprints in a short like this, literally as well as figuratively when clay is the medium, but there's a flow to how the changes blend in with the motion to keep one's eye on the art rather than the craft, and a recurrence of dance and performance to underscore the themes without defining this character as some sort of performer. It's a genuinely impressive job of expressing something abstract visually.

"My Moon"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Circo Animato, digital)

Ah, the joys of coming full circle - humanity starts out seeing the heavenly bodies as personified gods, eventually learns about them, and then eventually depicts them as people as art, in part to help visualize what we know scientifically. Lee Eusong's "My Moon" is the latest to present the motion of the Sun, Earth, and Moon as a courtship and a dance, although it's clever enough to see that it works both ways - we best understand the motions of celestial bodies in human terms while human relationships can often seem to fly in pre-ordained orbits. Humanity and the gods reflect each other.

Lee puts it together nicely, too - the characters start out geometric and retain those rounded shapes even as they become human, and there's a smoothness to how they move that suggests a vacuum, like they pull at each other with gravity but not friction. It's an interesting choice to have them seem to speak with recordings of human voices rather than their own, with an eclipse leading to the traditional madness down below. The film stumbles a bit there, like it had been fine communicating without words up until that point but needed something else when the characters start talking.

Still, it's another striking, entertaining short with appealing pastel colors and all sorts of other charm.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Circo Animato, digital)

Yves Paradis describes "M52" as an improvised, animated experiment, each segment animated in a week with relatively little long-term planning, so it's perhaps appropriate that it feels like a film about the learning process. Its fish-eyed characters explore, experiment, and solve puzzles, splitting in two and recombining, discovering more about their strange world in much the same way their creator is finding out about them.

A little math will tell you that a ten-minute short with 52 shots has them each running ten or twelve seconds, so Paradis is seldom letting the grass grow under his feet; he's making a fast-paced cartoon that could suffer for not having any one moment given more attention than others but never actually does as he jumps from one idea to the next without ever forgetting where he left off or what he did before. The presumably after-the-fact music by Alexander Hohaus ties everything together and the simple but surreal design ties everything together: The greens that dominate tend to be vibrant rather than sickly, and the impossibly wide eyes give the impression of there being more to see.

It's not quite as straight-ahead as its characters are after an enormously powerful energy drink, but it certainly drives them forward and never actually feels like the unconventional production it's eventually revealed to be in the credits.

Watch at the director's website


* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

As much as I do like previews even beyond the way that they give one a heads-up that certain movies even exist, there's a real delight to be found in going into certain movies cold. The one for Freaks, for instance, probably needs to show as much as it does in order to draw its potential audience in, especially in an environment when similar-sounding but much larger things have huge studios behind them to suck up all of the oxygen in the room, but I'm glad I didn't see it until after I saw the movie. I kind of figured it eventually had to go a certain way, but it was thrilling to never be sure which way the movie would jump.

It centers on Chloe (Lexy Kolker), eight years old and living with her father (Emile Hirsch) in what are clearly not the best conditions - squatting in a run-down house, windows covered in newspaper, eating canned goods and being vigilant about outsiders. He drills her on a cover story and doesn't let her watch TV, but she's a clever and curious girl, and has started sneaking out during the rare hours when he lets himself sleep. That's how she meets "Mr. Snowcone" (Bruce Dern), who seems to have positioned his ice-cream truck on this quiet corner just to find her.

The nifty trick here is that filmmakers Zach Lipovsky & Adam B. Stein don't create an idyllic or "normal" setting that they can later reveal as hiding something darker, but instead decide to set off alarm bells from the very start, and then make the audience a little more nervous or queasy with every new piece of information: None of this seems healthy and even once new information starts coming out, there's still a lot of question as to whether it's necessarily unhealthy or compounded bad decisions. They create more uncertainty by telling the story from the point of view of an eight-year-old girl, keeping details out of sight and maybe part of an active imagination. Eventually, it's all out, and audiences will have seen a fair amount of what the filmmakers do before, but the details can still be surprising, and it's built to make knowing who to trust difficult all the way through. It's a layer cake of not being quite sure how to feel next.

Full review at EFilmCritic

American Fighter

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Action!, DCP)

American Wrestler is, I'm told, a more or less autobiographical story of an immigrant who came to America in the 1970s and integrated through sports, but this sequel isn't what happened next. It's what could have happened, if things had gone a bit differently, and for all that this particular alternate history is capably produced and enjoyable enough if you go for this particular genre, I kind of wonder why you'd stay so close to such a standard template if free to make up a whole new set of circumstances.

It picks up the story of Ali "Al" Jahani (George Kosturos) some time after the first film, now a freshman at Northeastern California University, looking to prove himself on a new wrestling team. He's got more to worry about than most of his teammates; though he has spent the last few years in California with his Uncle Hafez, his parents were just leaving Iran when they were taken off the plane and his father shot. A guy Hafez knows says he can get his ailing mother to America, but it will cost $30,000, an amount that seems impossible for them to raise. Ali's teammate Ryan (Bryan Craig) may know a way, though - there's a guy, McClellen (Tommy Flanagan) who runs underground fight clubs, and though this is the sort of thing that gets you booted off the team if anyone finds out and even cutman Duke (Sean Patrick Flannery) says not to trust the guy, what other options are there?

There is, I suppose, some impressive craft in how everything fits together smoothly enough to have come out of a particularly well-calibrated machine: Yes, there's a super-likable roommate who has an uncle who is just the right amount of shady to be running underground fighting matches, employing a cut-man who is just the right amount of disillusioned but sympathetic, but director Shaun Paul Piccinino and co-writer Carl Morris are good at presenting this sequence as the natural order of things rather than something that should shock viewers who have, more than likely, been watching movies like this since its early-1980s setting. The betrayal comes at the exact moment you expect, and that's the point at which things get a little more strained, as school almost vanishes and the scale of McClellen's operation becomes fuzzier. There are girlfriends who serve little purpose other than making sure one doesn't read too much into how readily Ali's friend is putting his body and place at school on the line for him and some of the most polite and downright apologetic coyotes you'll ever meet.

Full review on EFilmCritic