Tuesday, December 10, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 2 December 2019 - 8 December 2019

Two different bits of "catching up" this week!

This Week in Tickets

To start with, I finally saw Bong Joon-Ho's Parasite, which I feel like I should have caught earlier, but it's one of those that is just long enough to get scheduled at weird times. It is, perhaps, not the masterpiece many people have treated it as being, but Bong is sure good at building something that pulls you in and makes you want to see more. I think that as much as anything else is why he has become the Korean director who crosses over internationally when it looked for the longest time like it would be Park Chan-Wook, who can dazzle visually but is just a bit more removed.

The next night, I decided to complete the back end of a silly pairing with that 3-D Blu-ray of 1982's Parasite. The movie is, well, not as good, but the restoration is nice after a shaky start (I wonder if there were issues with the first reel).

Working a bit late and the bus running a bit slow as winter approaches meant I missed what I was planning Friday night, but I was able to build a nice double feature Saturday out of The Aeronauts and The Whistleblower. The first is easily the better movie and one which I hope the Somerville Theatre eventually plays as part of its 70mm festival; it's a nice sort of throwback to that sort of eye-popper. The second is a capable enough thriller from China and Australia, and serves two masters as well as this sort of movie can.

I was originally going to try for a quad that day, but was kind of worn by then, settling for another double Sunday that went much better than it usually does when you choose movies by starting time: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is really surprisingly good considering how my brain just wasn't going for Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers in the trailer, and it gave me just enough time to get down the Red Line to Knives and Skin at the Brattle. I really liked that one at Fantasia and thought I'd reviewed it in time for the Boston Women's Film Festival, but apparently not, and after five months, I needed a bit of a refresher to get it written up while it's still playing there.

If you're following me on my Letterboxd page, you can see that I've managed to stretch my unplanned run of seeing films directed by women to four. Hurrah for 50/50 weeks!

Gisaengchung (Parasite '19)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 2 December 2019 in Somerville Theatre #4 (first-run, DCP)

The film has had a pretty decent run, so I feel like it's okay to talk a little about some of the reasons why people have been saying to go in cold, at least in a somewhat abstract way. There is a twist, and like a lot of movie twists, the thing that happens in the middle of Parasite is thrilling and exciting when director Bong Joon-Ho springs it upon us but also dilutes things a bit. It leads to Bong orchestrating the second-most brilliantly chaotic climax of the year (the exorcism at the end of It Comes is tough to beat), and the choreography is good enough that it's okay that he's introduced a wild card to a situation seemingly built to collapse in on itself.

It's still a wild, well-executed ride, with no individual member of the fine cast quite given as much to do as they deserve but none feeling underused, either. Three distinct settings become terrific, fitting playgrounds, each the scene of its own kind of chaos when things start to spin out of control. There's something intriguing about how father and son are the ones planning the family's scheme but mother and daughter seize on it with a true ruthlessness, although there's not quite enough room to handle all of it by the end.

This may not be Bong's masterpiece, but it leaves plenty to chew on and talk about afterward, and I suspect I'll like it more as I see it again and can connect details rather than just look at the big picture.

Parasite '82

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 3 December 2019 in Jay's Living Room (Parasites, 3D Blu-ray)

This is not as good as the other film named "Parasite" that I watched this week, to put it mildly. I suspect Kino and the 3-D Film Archive planned their video release to sync up with that film out of sheer cheek, and I kind of respect that.

But for all that it's a bad movie with some good people doing creature effects - the script is dumb and the cast is rough (though Demi Moore would get a decent career out of being this kind of very pretty) - it gives us as good a dystopia of the type imagined in the 1980s as well as any movie that is not actually Mad Max, building patiently and feeling more hollow and lonely as the film goes on, rather than not just being able to afford extras. There's just enough memory of how things were combined with the powerful having nice things to feel like things are going to hell but the world as it was isn't forgotten.

That doesn't make the movie good, but makes it more than just an artifact of the 80s 3D revival that has been nicely restored.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 8 December 2019 in Somerville Theatre #4 (first-run, DCP)

There's something really beautiful about how thoroughly the filmmakers commit to the idea of placing the whole thing inside an episode of Mr. Rogers's Neighborhood, shooting the film like pre-HD television, on 16mm film with tight close-ups and flat lighting, not quite over-stylizing things but putting the audience back in that time and mindset. It makes the moments that they do something a filmmaker could have done in that time and medium but probably wouldn't have stand out more, without really breaking things.

There's an impressive simplicity to the whole film which is fitting; it's not afraid to be earnest or look directly at situations people will often complicate out of fright and just let its main cast of Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi Watson, and Chris Cooper play it straight. And while there's no way Tom Hanks can quite completely disappear into the role of Fred Rogers, there's something fearless about how he's deployed - for all his great work with children, he doesn't always seem to know how to transfer that to someone like Rhys' Lloyd Vogel, and he can be uncertain. Little things like how he occasionally clutches his back remind one of his age in 1998, and a project of a different time, so you can understand that his advice may not be completely current (today we might be less inclined to tell people to let toxic family back into our lives).

I'm also kind of fascinated by how the last scene emphasizes that this hasn't been his story - Hanks is a supporting actor, not a lead - and we haven't gotten into his head, as he bangs on the piano in one of the ways that he has previously mentioned as being a way he deals with anger. There's a great documentary from last year to cover that, so people who came to this looking for the Fred Rogers story at least have somewhere to go.

Knives and Skin

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)
Seen 8 December 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (first-run, DCP)

There are brief moments when Knives and Skin seems to be pushing itself to become a little more mysterious and fantastical than it is, lest it seem too simple, but writer/director Jennifer Reeder has a good handle on how to use that surrealism to perk up audience interest and make the quirk go down a little easier without having it be the movie's whole thing. It's a tricky bit of alchemy, but one she manages.

It opens with a hook-up gone wrong, as Carolyn Harper (Raven Whitley) leads Andy Kitzmiller (Ty Olwin) to a secluded spot only to have a change of heart, angering Andy. That's the last time anyone sees her alive, although her body doesn't exactly stay in one place. Carolyn's mother Lisa (Marika Engelhardt), also the school's chorus teacher, immediately becomes a wreck, although her band-mates think it's kind of par for the course, while several students assumed to be Carolyn's friends say they haven't been close in a while. Meanwhile, preparations start for homecoming, a substitute teacher catches the fancy of Andy's sister Joanna (Grace Smith), and the kids' parents are generally not in great shape themselves.

Carolyn's disappearance is where the audience first starts watching these people, but it's not exactly the focus of the movie; though the various families have connections to it, this is mainly a way for Reeder to tie a number of small, but compelling storylines together without having too many of them become overwrought and off-putting. One never forgets Carolyn, but there's a moment early on where the cute substitute teacher mentions that a girl disappeared in high school, but can't remember her name when pressed. The Kitzmillers and Darlingtons have their own drama going on, her bandmate Colleen (Emma Ladji) is more concerned with the football player who likes her even though she's very much, in her mind, not someone who dates jocks and so on. That secrets come out now is somewhat incidental.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Parasite '19
Parasite '82
The Aeronauts
The Whistleblower '19
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Knives and Skin

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