Friday, January 24, 2020

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 24 January 2020 - 30 January 2020

Well, this was going to lead off with Chinese New Year, but then some coronavirus shows up in Wuhan and suddenly all seven movies that were set to open in China for the holiday are just yanked from the schedule and a city larger than New York is basically quarantined. So we're mostly stuck with English-language stuff this week.

  • I'm not sure whether The Gentlemen has been in development so long that Miramax was a thing when it started or if the Qatari group that owns the library is actually making new movies. It's a return to gritty-but-witty gangster material for Guy Ritchie, with Matthew McConnaughey, Hugh Grant, Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding, Colin Farrell, and more, and plays at Kendall Square, the Somerville, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Causeway Street, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    Kendall Square and The West Newton Cinema also have The Song of Names, featuring Tim Roth and Clive Owen as a pair of foster brothers who met when one was rescued from the Holocaust as a child and separated when he (a talented violinist) disappeared before a performance. The Kendall is alone in picking up Color Out of Space, with Richard Stanley directing Nicolas Cage in an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft for a regular run. They also host the "Sundance Film Festival Live" presentation of The Climb, including the introduction and Q&A.
  • The other big-ish release this week is The Turning, which updates Henry James's The Turning of the Screw to the 1990s and stars Mackenzie Davis. It's at Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere. There's also The Last Full Measure, detailing the thirty-year campaign for a war hero to be recognized for his bravery, featuring a heck of a list of character actors. That's at Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Revere. 1917 takes over the Imax screens at Jordan's furniture (and probably Boston Common, which was going to have Chinese movies playing).

    Fenway has Kholop ("Peasant"), a Russian comedy about the child of a rich family (Milos Bikovic) who wakes up as a 19th-century peasant, on Wednesday evening.
  • Apple Fresh Pond gets a new slate of Indian movies this week, starting with Hindi-language Panga, starring Kangana Ranaut as a champion Kabbadi player. It looks like they're playing Hindi-language Street Dancer 3 in 2D despite the title having a "D" after its name elsewhere (it actually follows the ABCD movies, but apparently another studio owns that trademark), while Telugu-language Disco Raja is actually more a sci-fi action thing than dance. To further confuse things, Tamil-language Psycho looks to have nothing to do with the better-known film by that name aside from involving a serial killer. There's another killer in Malayalam thriller Ancham Pathira, which plays Saturday through Tuesday. They also have English-language film John Henry, starring Terry Crews as a big ex-gangster with a hammer, once a night.

    Dominican comedy Los Leones (retitled "Que Leones" for the USA) opens in Revere, while Japanese animated fantasy Weathering with You picks up a screen at Fenway which will mostly be showing it dubbed into English, with Boston Common showing it subtitled.
  • The Brattle Theatre starts a year of science fiction programming with "Things to Come: The Birth of Sci-Fi Cinema", which includes some early and overlooked entries in the genre. Friday pairs namesake film Things to Come (made with H.G. Wells's involvement) with Georges Méliès "A Trip to the Moon", while Saturday has a silent-film double feature of Metropolis & Aelita: The Queen of Mars. Sunday is a "mad scientist marathon" featuring Frankenstein '31, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde '32, Island of Lost Souls, The Invisible Man, and Bride of Frankenstein. Monday is Boris Karloff on 35mm day with The Man They Could Not Hang & The Boogie Man Will Get You, while Tuesday has a free "Elements of Cinema" show of The Day the Earth Stood Still and a 35mm print of musical Just Imagine, set 50 years in the future (from 1930). French silent L'Inhumaine is paired with short "Paris Qui Dort" on Wednesday, and it wraps with more 35mm mad scientists on Thursday as Mad Love and Dr. Cyclops play a double feature.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre brings back Pain and Glory for a couple shows a day on the GoldScreen, splitting that 14-seater with Les Miserables and Uncut Gems

    The 1988 remake of The Blob has Friday night's "midnight 35mm alien invasion" slot, with The Room on the other screen while The Thing has its last midnight show for a while on Saturday. There's a Soul Witness screening event on Monday evening and a Panorama presentation of No Small Matter on Wednesday, both of which will be followed with panel discussion.
  • The Harvard Film Archive continues "Find Without Seeking: The Films of Angela Schanelec", with "I Stayed in Berlin All Summer" (Friday 7pm with shorts), Afternoon (Friday 9pm), Passing Summer (Saturday 9:30pm), and Places in Cities (Sunday 7pm), all on 35mm film. There's a Weekend Matinee of Tito and the Birds on Saturday, before the first of two 35mm Silent Hitchcock restorations, The Farmer's Wife (Saturday 7pm) and The Pleasure Garden (Sunday 4:30pm). Monday evening, Benjamin Buchloch introduces the first of four programs feature The Films and Videos of Richard Serra, in this case shorts screening on 16mm film.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts ends the January calendar with more of the Festival of Films from Iran, including Untimely (Friday/Saturday), Orange Days (Friday), Just 6.5 (Saturday), and Old Men Never Die (Sunday). On Thursday, they get a head start on February's Boston Festival of Films from Japan with a free screening of Okko's Inn, including a DJ and koi kite making. Tickets must be reserved starting at 10am on the day of the screening.
  • The Regent Theatre has a number of film programs this week, starting on Friday night with Long Strange Trip, a four-hour beast of a documentary on the Grateful Dead. They've got independent horror Crypsis on Sunday afternoon and a screening of Fantastic Fungi with exhibits and post-show Q&A for those looking to learn more. It's back to music docs on Thursday, with the first of their three screenings of Rolling Stone: The Life and Death of Brian Jones.
  • Bright Lights starts its spring schedule on Thursday with a good one, Knives Out. As always, it's free to the public in the Paramount Theater's Bright Screening Room with post-film discussion from Emerson faculty.
  • The ICA appears to be getting a jump-start on the other places playing the Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts, with their first show on Thursday evening, and a schedule that implies we won't get to see the docs until just before the awards.
  • The Luna Theater has several shows of Parasite - one Friday, two Saturday, and one Tuesday, and one more of Uncut Gems on Saturday. Kubrick Sundays continue with a full-day slate of A Clockwork Orange, and there's a UMass Lowell Philosophy & Film show of The Outsiders on Monday. Plus, of course, the Sunday morning Magical Mystery Movie Club and Weirdo Wednesday.


I will mostly be living at the Brattle for the 1930s sci-fi, and haven't really started to figure out what I'll be doing with the time I was going to spend watching Chinese movies in Imax.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

This Week in Tickets: 13 January 2020 - 19 January 2020

Not a catch-up! What I actually saw this past week!

This Week in Tickets

Oscar nominations came out Monday, and though I probably should have done some catch-up - both for what was announced and what wasn't but might leave theaters quickly now that they aren't nominated for anything. But "I should" is tough and the new bus schedule combined with winter weather makes it trickier.

Still, Friday brought a new Makoto Shinkai movie to America, and Weathering with You is pretty darn good. Maybe not quite at the level of his best work, but if he's settling into a well-above-average groove, well, there's nothing wrong with that.

After a week of feeling kind of sluggish at work, I enjoyed some serious sleeping in over the weekend, mostly heading out to the Harvard Film Archive for the first couple programs in their "Silent Hitchcock" series: The Manxman and Champagne. Kind of liked the first, not so much the latter, looking forward to more this coming weekend.

The end of the second lined up nicely with getting back to Davis just in time to catch Little Women at the Somerville. I liked it well enough that I'm figuring that I'm going to have to go back and watch Lady Bird, even if it looked insufferable when it was out in theaters.

Probably not this week, but follow my Letterboxd page just in case.

The Manxman

* * * (out of four)
Seen 18 January 2020 in the Harvard Film Archive (Silent Hitchcock, 35mm accompanied by Robert Humphreville)

There's a weird moment in Hitchcock's last full silent that demonstrates how relatively little silent films relied on their title cards, as characters' lips move a great deal and the audience fully comprehends that the lady is pregnant by way of a man other than her husband, but it appears to be something one does not say aloud in 1929. Hitch isn't dancing around it, eventually - maybe he thought he was being coy - but you see how he could.

That aside, it's a fine, simple melodrama that tails off a bit toward the end but manages plenty of sympathy for the whole cast of characters and never feels like it's rushing through a very thick book. Anny Ondra is sneaky impressive as the object of two men's affections, never losing Kate's inner clarity even as the film had her go from playful to shattered and miserable (she was also, I cannot help but note, extremely attractive and looks like she would fit in perfectly pulled ninety years into the future). There's not much to it that isn't predictable in some way or other aside from how Kate will sometimes quickly move in a straight line when you might expect a little more hemming and hawing, but those moments are sharply dramatic while the filmmakers have a wry but respectful handle on how to make the bits in between work.

Champagne

* * (out of four)
Seen 19 January 2020 in the Harvard Film Archive (Silent Hitchcock, 35mm accompanied by Martin Marks)

Well, I guess something's got to be Hitchcock's worst movie. I'm not entirely sure that this is it - there are films of his I still haven't seen and, of course, the one that's lost - but it seems likely. It's a screwball comedy plot that's never screwy or terribly sympathetic to the people caught up in that mania, acted out with a bunch of characters that may be recognizable 1920s types but just seem completely undefined a hundred years later. What, exactly, is the appeal of Jean Bradin's boy to Betty Balfour's girl, aside from him being fairly handsome, and what makes him so objectionable to her father (Gordon Harker)? Why should the older man she meets on a transatlantic crossing (Theo Von Alten) become more than just some random man?

There's probably a pretty good screwball farce to be found if one makes a bit of an attempt to answer those questions; Balfour is equally good at plowing through a scene with the momentum of the obliviously rich and pretty or pouting at being treated poorly by her lights, and the writers come up with some entertaining scenarios to drop her into. Hitchcock stages physical comedy as well as he does darker set pieces, and can wink at the audience as he does so: He knows that the audience knows he's shaking the camera to create the appearance of rough water, for instance, but that this knowledge makes both the people stumbling about and Betty able to walk through it in high heels like an old hand at sea travel even funnier. He knows how to use the big, multi-level set of a restaurant as a playground.

He and his co-writers just don't give themselves or their cast a lot to do with this skill. Hitchcock isn't bad at directing comedy - Mr. And Mrs. Smith is charming and his thrillers often contain big laughs - but he isn't the guy you want coming up with the jokes.

Little Women

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 January 2020 in Somerville Theatre #1 (first-run, 35mm)

Not that I've got any idea what girls their age actually like, or if they've read the original book, but I'll bet that my nieces will eat this up. Mostly because they're smart, and it's a really good movie.

It is, from the start, vibrant in ways that both period pieces and adaptations of beloved novels often fail to be, energetic and funny and able to add details in every corner of something people are sure they know, from the ink stains on Jo's fingers to the precise but ramshackle design of every house in the film. It jumps back and forth between childhood and adulthood with grace and occasionally tries to overwhelm the audience with all of these people talking at once and never slowing down because, after all, they know each other so well.

And we do too. The four sisters are clearly family despite being very different, and the way Jo and Amy drive each other absolutely bananas seems very familiar, it not hurting one whit that Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh are two of the most talented young actresses working today. The way that writer/director Greta Gerwig handles these two really impresses, because Jo is the obvious center of the movie and Amy can be a piece of work, but Gerwig lets it feel like regular sibling rivalry rather than something bigger than life. I love the way Timothée Chalamet seems to be right on the line between kind of entitled and worth liking, believably in love with the whole family and the individual girls.

And then there's Chris Cooper, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep… If there's any fault to the film, it's that it gets a little arch in some of tits last scenes, maybe just a bit too impressed with how cleverly it plays with the novel's ending to make it a little more modern. That is very clever, though, and there's joy to it that matches the energy that the movie has throughout.


Weathering with You
The Manxman
Champagne
Little Women

Monday, January 20, 2020

This Those Weeks in Tickets: 15 April 2019 - 5 May 2019

Just posted the pages for BUFF, so obviously the ones which include IFFBoston 2019 are next.

This Week in Tickets

This Week in Tickets

This Week in Tickets

This three-week period actually started off with heading out to another series, the Belmont World Film Festival, for Asako I & II on Monday, 25 April. It's a neat little movie in a neat little series (at a venue I kind of dig), although in some ways the thing I remember most is the guest talking about how it was weird, leading me to think that my idea of Japanese films being weird must be awful skewed, because this was barely odd. Or, alternately, she needed to see the anniversary screenings of Audition at the Brattle that weekend.

I didn't; instead, my next bit of Japanese film was finally making it through Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind on Saturday, as the Harvard Film Archive had a subtitled 35mm print for one of their family matinees. Good, obviously, and I just hadn't seen it at the right time before. A much better choice than the thoroughly ill-considered new version of Hellboy than I saw later that evening.

The next evening, I would head to the Kendall for a split double feature of Little Woods and Wild Nights with Emily, liking them both, although the latter is the one that probably sticks in my head more, just because it is so unrelentingly odd and peculiar even as it is kind of ruthless in getting what it was going for across.

That was a good warm-up for IFFBoston, where did a (mostly) full schedule:


Posts for those were all over the place as I tried to finish writing BUFF up first but bumped things to the front of the line as they got released. And, yes, I did kind of wind up taking a day off, mostly because I got held up on the MBTA and sometime around Charles, I knew that I would not make it to the Coolidge in time for The Sound of Silence and decided to get off, watch Avengers: Endgame in 3D, and figure that the stuff that plays the Tuesday night shows at the Coolidge usually wind up getting regular releases anyway. Sadly, this turned out not to be the case for either movie playing there that night, but I'd at least get to see The Art of Self-Defense at Fantasia.

It's enough to make you want to do something else for a few days, but there's new stuff every week, and I hit Always Miss You and Savage on the weekend, even if they weren't exactly the two Chinese films I'd been hoping would open in Boston that weekend. Neither were particularly great, but there's at least something interesting in Savage that could have been really good but for the inevitable censorship.

I wasn't going to see them on back-to-back days, but getting out to Danvers to see Bolden is a tricky four-legged process if you use public transportation, so I had to divert on Saturday before finally making it on Sunday. On the one hand, not exactly a good enough movie to be worth that sort of day-eating effort; on the other, I'd been waiting almost nine years to see the dang thing after having it teased at the Apollo Theater in 2010, so I wasn't going to miss it on the one chance I had to see it on the big screen.

As you can see, it's especially important to follow my Letterboxd page during festivals, because they will just take forever to write up.

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

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 April 2019 in the Harvard Film Archive (Weekend Matinee, subtitled 35mm)

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

Obviously, I should have seen this sooner; it's a downright terrific movie which establishes its science-fiction bona fides from the opening frames and is grounded in Miyazaki's particular environmental take on the genre throughout. Miyazaki draws no line between world-building and adventure, and sketches out a larger world casually, without ever losing his focus on the title character and her village.

It's obviously an early work - the animation is a little rough at points, the villains are sometimes a little too casually sketched, and there were more than a few comments from the audience about how much of Nausicaä's bottom we were seeing. It's almost never less than intriguing, though, and I likely would have been astounded if it had played Portland, ME/been a thing my parents would have brought me to when I was 11. It still seems like an insane practically out-of-nowhere achievement, and I'm mildly curious to know whether a shot early in the movie of Nausicaä walking to the forest from her glider inspired an iconic image from Akira, vice versa, or if they were pulling from the same source.

Avengers: Endgame

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 April 2019 in AMC Boston Common #8 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

Funny how the better part of a year gives me an odd perspective on this particular movie - maybe no longer so keenly caught up in the hype to praise it as effusively as I did back in May, but also keenly aware of how Disney's Star Wars guys didn't quite stick the landing to their grand saga the way the Marvel team did. It is, as I figured after a second screening, one of the most satisfying movies of the year even if it's not the best.

I think it obviously being a piece of corporate IP hides a bit of what it does well: It's a smart story about wrestling with failure, on a super-hero-sized grand scale, and a fitting final evolution for what Robert Downey Jr. has been doing as Tony Stark for a decade. The plotting is shaggy when it can afford to be and clever when it needs to be, and for all that the grand finale is a bunch of CGI craziness, it's built and scaled to a sort of perfection, getting the audience caught up in the fight for it to actually feel desperate enough before reinforcements show up that you forget that's a possibility, even though it's been the point of much of the movie, and almost getting there again so that the audience can go "oh, right, Carol" when she shows up. The audience whooped and applauded for that, and it's tough to blame them.

I'm sure that Disney and the other studios are all trying to plan something as big and loyalty-generating as Marvel's Infinity Cycle (or whatever we wind up calling this stretch of Marvel movies when they're knee-deep into something else five years from now), but it may be a one-time thing. At least it ended as well as it could.

What I wrote back in May 2019


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



IFFBoston: Luce
IFFBoston: Them That Follow & The Death of Dick Long
IFFBoston: Pizza, a Love Story & Not for Resale
IFFBoston: We Are Not Princesses, Ms. Purple, When Lions Become Lambs, In Fabric
IFFBoston: One Child Nation, The Pollinators, Cold Case Hammarskjöld, For the Birds



IFFBoston: Shorts Exeter & The Rusalka
Avengers: Endgame
IFFBoston: The Farewell
Always Miss You
Savage '19
Bolden

This Those Weeks in Tickets: 11 March 2019 - 24 March 2019

Festival stuff gets drawn out, so the posts for the last night of BUFF 2019 (in March) got posted in July, and so I didn't have enough time to circle back around here at the time.

This Week in Tickets

This Week in Tickets

So this will just be another quick post to fill in some blanks. As you might expect from the previous post, I spent the next day on a plane back from Hong Kong, and from there it was back into old habits, although the first movie after getting back was in a different spot, as AMC booked Furie at South Bay rather than Boston Common. Maybe there's some sort of Vietnamese population in Dorchester?

I would have put Chinese movies aside, but two opened that weekend, More than Blue and The Crossing, and while the first has more or less fled my mind, the second was pretty darn good, and it was a different experience to "revisit" Hong Kong on-screen soon after being there.

After the second one of those, I headed down the C line to the Coolidge to catch Transit and Starfish, taking me right up to 2am or so because the latter had the director on-hand to talk about his film, what he was hoping for from Endgame, which made for a fun Q&A. I didn't quite love the movie itself, but I was certainly impressed by the effort.

Sunday afternoon was the annual Chlotrudis Awards. Folks had fun with their numbers, but I kind of wonder how it's going to go from now on. It's a small group that has in many cases embraced other interests and seen fewer films, so a couple of people really liking something at Provincetown or a Netflix film getting a broad release could skew the voting.

The one unfortunate movie-related downside to my vacation was not getting to see Apollo 11 in Imax, although I was still happy to see it at the Somerville on Monday and enjoyed the heck out of it. The next night it was off to the common for Triple Threat, a sort of all-star selection of action guys from Asia and the direct-to-video worlds that isn't great but does its thing pretty well.

After that, the Boston Underground Film Festival took me through the weekend, with an Opening Night of Hail Satan? and Clickbait; Industrial Accident: The Story of Wax Trax! Records and The Girl on the Third Floor on Thursday; Tone-Deaf and Mope on Friday; the "Bucket of Truth" comedy shorts, Nightshifter, Knife+Heart, and A Hole in the Ground on Saturday; and Assassinaut, the "A Lot Like Life" animation block, Canary, Happy Face, and The Unthinkable to close it out on Sunday.

By my standards, I did pretty well getting that festival written up in a mere three months, though quick reactions were my Letterboxd page at the time.


Furie
The Crossing
More than Blue
Transit
Starfish



Apollo 11
Triple Threat
BUFF: Hail Satan? & Clickbait
BUFF: Industrial Accident & Girl on the Third Floor
BUFF: Tone-Deaf & amp; Mope
BUFF: Bucket of Truth, Nightshifter, Knife+Heart, A Hole in the Ground
BUFF: Assassinaut, A Lot Like Life, Canary, Happy Face, The Unthinkable

Sunday, January 19, 2020

This Those Weeks in Tickets: 25 February 2019 - 10 March 2019

It's January 2020 and I just realized I left some big holes in this part of the blog, including this one. Not a lot of movies seen while I was on vacation, but a lot of tickets purchased!

This Week in Tickets

This Week in Tickets

As you may remember, I spent much of February doing marathons and catch-up for the Oscars, and by the time it was done, I had a couple of things I wanted to see on the big/3D screens ahead of vacation. Alita: Battle Angel was kind of what it was inevitably going to be with James Cameron trying to make the movie for years, never getting it to work, and finally hiring Robert Rodriguez to just get it done: A knockout visually, full of pretty capable action, but the story is just barely good enough. Crying shame more people didn't see it like this, because it's made for the giant screen. A couple days later, I hit How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World in 3D because DreamWorks movies are absolutely built for that, and this is a pretty good one regardless.

After that, it was onto a plane and to the other side of the world, seeing Hong Kong in person less than a week after taking in so many movies from the place. It's a long flight, but it was snowing when I left and beautiful when I arrived, and the street where my hotel was located was just Hong Kong as heck, looking lived-in with dried fish merchants and a tramway. I did get more frustrated by public transit than usual that first evening, and kind of dropped right away.



First order of business on Saturday was taking a tram up to the Peak, which is kind of surreal, in that it feels like the city has included roller coasters into its public transit (or at least, the creaky ascent part), and then you can actually look down on skyscrapers. After that, I spent the afternoon in Hong Kong Park - including their amazing aviary, which includes some birds I could swear were built by Jim Henson - before visiting the Man Mo Temple and the News Museum.



Sunday's activities started at the relatively nearby Sun Yat-Sen Museum and Museum of Medical Science, which were interesting if not quite so extensive an education on their very Chinese subjects as I might have benefitted from. After that, I went down to Central Pier, which included the very cool Maritime Museum and a nice little observation wheel, which I went on because that apparently is a thing I do when traveling now. The Museum included an exhibit on trade between China and the Northeastern United States, which was pretty cool to see as a New Englander.



Monday took me back to the pier so that I could get on a ferry and cross the harbor and see the exhibits and the Museum of History and Museum of Science, located right across the street from each other. The latter had a pretty terrific display of antique timepieces on loan. At the end of the day, I climbed aboard the Dukling above and watched the nightly laser-light show, which illuminates the skyscrapers in impressive fashion.



Tuesday, I took the cable car to Ngong Ping, and I've got to admit that I was a little surprised that the "cable car" that Google Maps included in my directions was a skyway rather than what they call a cable car in San Francisco. It was neat, but, boy, was the guy in line directly in front of me also surprised and not happy. Heck of a way to start a long day of walking around, being in awe at the Big Buddha and the ornate temples, with a detour out to the Tai O fishing village before coming back to see the Wisdom Path.



Wednesday wasn't exactly a bust - no day which allows me to walk around on restored vessels like the Alexander Grantham fire boat can really be called a bad day - but it was pretty rainy, the Hong Kong Film Archive didn't have a whole lot on offer that day/week, and another museum was closed for renovations. I bailed to see a movie, and practically the only thing playing was Captain Marvel, which I absolutely could have seen at home, although they're much more enthusiastic about 3D there than they are here. I did wind up going to the wrong place after buying a ticket online, but they were cool about refunding it.



Thursday started out nice, with a walk around Golden Bauhinia Square, although the Noonday Gun didn't fire when I showed up. After that, I went to the restaurant in the Blue House for lunch and made my way to the Police Museum, which is at the top of a hill (like several other stations converted to museums), and Hong Kong isn't kidding with its hills. If Google tells you that the walking directions and the bus directions take roughly the same amount of time, take the bus. I got off to look at the King Yin Lei mansion, although this was not one of the rare days when it was open to the public.



I spent a lot of the next day on the Ping Shan Heritage Trail, and I maybe should have joined an official tour; I got turned around and probably wound up a few places I shouldn't have been, as it winds through a residential neighborhood and the line between traditional halls (like Tak Tak Hall above) that tourists can look over and neighborhood shrines can be kind of hard to catch if you don't read Chinese. Nevertheless very interesting, and I had fun making my way to the Railway Museum and Tai Po Market later that day.



Saturday, I actually did spring for a tour, because that's kind of the only way you're seeing the GeoPark. We left from Sai Kung, a fishing town with a ton of massive seafood restaurants where you can either buy fish straight off boats and have the chefs work their magic or just point to the actual fish you want to eat. I must admit, I was kind of intimidated by these places, which really aren't set up for single tourists who don't speak Cantonese. The trip around the Geopark was pretty nifty, too - saw lots of great rock formations.



Sunday was my last full day and, man, I was all over the place in Kowloon, seeing the Avenue of Stars, the Yuen Po Street Bird Garden, the Tin Hau Temple, the Temple Street Night Market - where, yeah, I found a video store and loaded up with ten Blu-rays that I wouldn't have to pay shipping on to get home - and where I finally see an actual Hong Kong movie in Hong Kong, when I stumbled upon the Broadway Cinematheque and saw they were playing Three Husbands, the latest (at the time) from Fruit Chan, and probably more representative of his work than the action movie that opened later in the year. It was Hong Kong as heck, and a fine way for me to wrap my time there up.

As a result, write-ups for a couple of these movies have been confined to my Letterboxd page since March, which shouldn't happen again, but just in case...

Alita: Battle Angel

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 February 2019 in AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run, digital Imax 3D)

It only takes a few pages of the Battle Angel Alita manga to understand both why James Cameron was set on making it his next movie for some twenty years and why it took him forever to pound it into something close enough to filmable that he could give it to Robert Rodriguez, who can at least get a movie made without torturing himself over it not being perfect. This manga was probably unfilmable in technical terms when he started and building the tech exposed what a mess the story was.

And, boy, is this thing not perfect; it's half a story that keeps half of what's going on out of reach, but worries enough about backstory that it can't quite zero in on how Alita is a teenager with no experience but ironclad certainty of her indestructibility, and how she's got to learn her vulnerability. There's meat on that bone, but the film can't quite grab it. To be fair, there's a bunch in there about building your own identity and body that I didn't catch until I heard the film was popular in the trans community.

Still, it's a lot of fun. There's a spiffy cast, and between Cameron and Rodriguez, you've got two people who live this big 3D stuff and don't feel the need to compromise on the crazy cyberpunk visuals. The action is fast and fun and violent as heck, built in ways that defy normal human movement but still look real. For better or worse, it's Battle Angel Alita, or as close as American filmmakers can get.

Captain Marvel

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 6 March 2019 in UA MegaBox BEA Imax (first-run, digital Imax 3D)

It's a bit of a shame that Carol Danvers didn't get her movie until superhero films in general and the Marvel house style in particular got common enough that we can look at this and just see another smart-aleck hero in an outfit made a little more practical for the movie than it was in the comics, fighting an enemy who threatens the entire world but who can be despatched in one big, 3D-friendly fight at the end followed by some Avengers business. It's an good example of that, but I begrudge nobody saying "another?"

But it's got Brie Larson, who puts just enough chip on Carol's shoulder and builds the sort of foundation where she can go from "pushy alien" to rediscovering her humanity without a hitch or a lot of talk. She's also got a nifty crew, from an authoritative but playful Annette Bening to Samuel L. Jackson revealing the sidekick hidden inside his Nick Fury, along with an especially delightful Been Mendelsohn and Lashana Lynch selling the reunion with her best friend perfectly.

It's really cool to see Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck get to play with the big budget, never letting the movie bloat (perhaps to a fault at times) and making some fun choices. And I suspect it will unpack well with future viewings, as viewers have a chance to note how everyone (except maybe the Rambeaus) is both adversary and ally as Carol rediscovers herself and how to trust, or how perfect her finally cutting loose is at the end.

Yes, it's Another Marvel Movie feeding into Endgame, but it does that thing really well and stands on its own for those just coming to the party.


Alita: Battle Angel
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
The Peak
Maritime Museum



Dukling
Ngong Ping
Captain Marvel
Alexander Grantham
Blue House
Ping Shan
Sai Kung
Tin Hau Temple
Three Husbands

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Weathering with You

Do I like the new Makoto Shinkai film? Of course I do. You can search this blog or eFilmCritic and find fifteen years of me gushing over his most recent works, to the point where I'm not sure whether to cringe a little at the fanboying or sincerely hope for another filmmaker to come along whose work inspires this level of enthusiasm in me. More of the latter, I think. Shinkai is really good.

It's cool to see I'm not the only one that thinks so, with a pretty darn full house on Friday night. I actually pulled up the app to reserve a seat on Tuesday and immediately thought, well, it's a good thing I like sitting in the front section, because that's all that's left three days out. Boston Common has done well enough with some of these big anime releases that I'm a little surprised they haven't booked things more often, but I suppose that there's a fine line between the hits and the things that leave theaters empty.

I might even wind up there again. It looks like it just might be the sort of thing that reveals a bit more on the second time through, or at least makes everything else fit together a little bit better.

Tenki no ko (Weathering with You)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 17 January 2020 in AMC Boston Common #8 (first-run, DCP)

Weathering with You was quite possibly the most anticipated film to come out of Japan in 2019, director Makoto Shinkai's first film after Your Name was a somewhat unexpected (and deserved) smash. It's tricky to talk about what comes next after such a result, especially if the effusive praise you've given to Shinkai's previous films is a click away and your verdict is that Weathering with You is "only" almost as good as what it follows. Even if he can't quite surprise audiences with greatness any more, he's still made a heck of a fine movie.

As things start, it's been raining in Tokyo for months straight, though for 16-year-old runaway Hodaka Morishima (voice of Kotaro Daigo), that's as much a thing to be marveled at as a disaster. It's hard for someone in that position to get by in the city, but a fast-food counter worker gives him an extra burger when he looks especially hungry and a man he met on the ferry, Keisuke Suga (voice of Shun Oguri), offers him work and a place to stay, helping him and his sexy assistant Natsumi (voice of Tsubasa Honda) write stories of unexplained phenomena. One is the "sunshine girl", who seemingly can summon bit of nice weather at will. That turns out that the girl he'd met earlier, almost-18-year-old Hina Amano (voice of Nana Mori), who gained that power after happening upon a shrine while visiting her mother in the hospital and has been looking after her kid brother Nagisa (voice of Sakura Kiryu) since she died. Hodaka suggests she sell her services, and they start a website to do so, but while they're making days brighter one at a time, Keisuke and Natsumi are learning things about "weather maidens" that should make the teenagers nervous, with the more earthly issues that come with Hodaka being a runaway who crossed paths with gangsters while living on the street also hanging over him.

One knows what to expect from Shinkai at this point - earnest teenage characters, a smart fantasy premise, some thrills, and a knack for making his simply-drawn characters feel like they belong in an almost photo-realistic world. The latter is something that he's been building up since he started by rendering short films on his home computer, and having made the big time, it's something where he's currently maintaining a high level rather than topping himself. Still, it's amazing just how good his and his team's craft is at this point - compare the busy, modern Tokyo of this film to that of many other traditionally-styled animations: The detail is incredible without clashing with the foreground characters, and moments that throw Hina into the sky can create a dizzying sensation of vertigo despite her being rendered in a fairly two-dimensional style without a detailed background. And though it seems strange to talk about such things with regard to an animated movie where the cinematography is virtual, the lighting and coloring here is tremendous; the film would arguably fall apart if Shinkai, cinematographer Ryosuke Tsuda, and their team couldn't make the change from a cloudy, overcast day not just believable, but something miraculous.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Friday, January 17, 2020

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 17 January 2020 - 23 January 2020

So, for all of that talk about how ArcLight would bring more art-house films to Boston, it seems to be by taking a screen or two's worth of pressure off the AMC at Boston Common so that they can program some interesting stuff.

  • For instance, who's got Makoto Shinkai's new film, Weathering with You? The Common. The most popular film in Japan last year, it takes place in a Tokyo where it has been raining for six months straight, but there's a girl who brings sunshine with her. Said to be brilliant, a metaphor for both climate change and depression as well as a love story and an adventure. Shinkai has not let us down yet, and if it's as good as Your Name, well, let's just say it's really strange that it apparently didn't get an Academy-qualifying run during the fall.
  • Also looking pretty good is France's Oscar submission, Les Misérables, which is not particularly related to the famous musical, but instead follows a straight-arrow police officer who finds himself in the middle of a corrupt squad. It's at The Coolidge Corner Theatre (on the GoldScreen), the Kendall, and Boston Common.

    Another opening, The Wave, plays in the screening room at midnight on Friday and Saturday, featuring Justin Long as a lawyer who has quite a few misadventures after getting dosed with hallucinogens. Screen one's midnights are more alien invasions, with Slither on Friday and Carpenter's The Thing on Friday, both on 35mm. There's also a kid's show of the 1982 adaptation of Annie on Saturday morning.
  • Clemency expands after having opened in New York and L.A. (and playing IFFBoston's Fall Focus), with Alfre Woodard as a prison warden overseeing death row, facing another stressful day as a prisoner (Aldis Hodge) faces execution. It plays Kendall Square and Boston Common.
  • The two new releases are mostly sharing the premium screens. Doolittle tends to have them during the day, with Robert Downey Jr. as the man who can talk to animals on an epic adventure. It is, by all accounts, an ill-fated disaster, and not necessarily the fun kind. It's at Fresh Pond, Jordan's Furniture Natick (Imax), Boston Common (including Dolby Cinema), Causeway Street, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax), and Revere (including MX4D). Bad Boys for Life, on the other hand, gets the night shift, with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence - and Joe Pantoliano! - reuniting sans Michael Bay for another over-the-top case which is getting surprisingly good reviews for an eighteen-years-later sequel being released in mid-January. It's at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Jordan's Furniture Reading (Imax), Boston Common (including Imax/Dolby Cinema), Causeway Street (including Wide Screen), Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay (including Imax), Assembly Row (including Imax/Dolby Cinema), Revere (including XPlus), and the SuperLux.

    If your daughters have only seen Frozen 2 a couple times but memorized the soundtrack, Disney is offering sing-along matinees at Boston Common, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere. Also getting a screen-boost after Oscar nominations are Parasite (returning to Fenway and the Embassy) and Jojo Rabbit (returning to the Somerville, Kendall Square, Fenway, and the Embassy).

    The TCM big-screen classic for the month is An American in Paris, playing Fenway & Assembly Row on Sunday and Wednesday, with Revere also showing it for the second day. Documentary Force of Nature Natalia, following renowned dancer Natalia Makarova, plays Fenway on Tuesday. There's a preview/one-time show of Color Out of Space, Richard Stanley's adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's novel starring Nicolas Cage (which should, with those names lined up, be absolutely insane) at Kendall Square, Boston Common, Causeway Street, Fenway, and Assembly Row on Wednesday.
  • The Brattle Theatre continues (Some of) the Best of 2019 with separate-admission shows of Burning Cane and Takashi Miike's First Love on Saturday, Us on Saturday and Sunday, a Robert Pattinson double feature of High Life & The Lighthouse Sunday, The Last Black Man in San Francisco on Monday, Queen & Slim on Wednesday, and a twin-bill of Pain and Glory & Varda by Agnès on Thursday. If you spot a hole in that schedule, it's because Tuesday night is Trash Night.
  • After initially advertising it for last week, The West Newton Cinema has Three Christs twice a day this week, with Richard Gere as a doctor treating three patients (Walton Goggins, Peter Dinklage, and Bradley Whitford) who all believe they are Jesus. For something with that cast and a director (Jon Avnet) whose done some noteworthy things, it's taken two years for it to actually get into theaters.
  • The Harvard Film Archive starts regular programming again, beginning with the first entries in "Find Without Seeking: The Films of Angela Schanelec" - Marseille (Friday 7pm/Saturday 9pm), My Sister's Good Fortune (Friday 9pm), and Passing Summer (Sunday 7pm). They also start showing the new Silent Hitchcock restorations, with The Manxman (Saturday 7pm) and Champagne (Sunday 4:30pm) both being shown with live accompaniment. They also have a special presentation of Kasi Lemmons's Eve's Bayou at 7pm Monday. All programs this weekend are on 35mm film.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has more of their Festival of Films from Iran, including When the Moon Was Full (Friday/Saturday), Filmfarsi (Friday/Saturday), Cold Sweat (Sunday), The Warden (Sunday), Old Men Never Die (Thursday), and Just 6.5 (Thursday).
  • Belmont World Film has their annual Family Film Festival this weekend, with Danish adventure Hacker opening things up at the Regent on Friday evening. There's a slate of movies featuring animals at the Belmont Studio on Saturday - including a screening of Abominable with a post-film talk with the film's storyboard artist, who will also call in when her short is one of the ones screened back at the Regent on Sunday. The festival concludes at the Brattle for Martin Luther King Day on Monday with a program of "Making Peace and Friends". Though many films are subtitled, there will be headsets with simultaneous English translation for kids who aren't yet strong enough reades.
  • I'm not sure exactly what relationship The Regent Theatre has with Ed Asner - he's done a couple of plays there - but it continues as they play The Gliksmans, in which he and Cloris Leachman play a married couple whose routine is thrown off by a tailgater on their drive to the bank, once a day from Friday to Thursday. It's late on Friday and matinees during the weekend, with Sunday's show being in the Underground space.
  • The Lexington Venue has one last screening of Willie on Saturday morning, with producer Bryant McBride on-hand for a Q&A about the documentary about the NHL's first black player, with proceeds going to S.C.O.R.E. Boston, which sponsors hockey leagues for inner city youth.
  • The ICA is offering free admission on Martin Luther King Day, including the 92-minute short film program "A Wall Is a Wall" playing on a loop from 11am to 4pm.
  • The Luna Theater show Uncut Gems on Friday, Saturday, and Tuesday evenings, The Lighthouse for probably its last Saturday afternoon show, In Fabric later Saturday afternoon, and 2001: A Space Odyssey on Sunday, as I guess they're doing Kubrick this month. There are also free surprises at the Magical Mystery Movie Club Sunday morning and Weirdo Wednesday.

Nothing listed for Fenway's RPX screen, so maybe that's getting an upgrade as well. Not sure to what if so - 4DX or laser projection?


Obviously, I'm there for Weathering With You, but also the silent Hitchcocks, Les Misérables, and using the day off (first time I can remember the company has given us MLK Day!) to catch up on some of what I've missed. Kind of torn between Color out of Space and Queen & Slim on Tuesday, so will probably check to see if the former is going to actually get a regular run.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

This Week in Tickets: 6 January 2020 - 12 January 2020

You know what seems like it would be a pretty good idea, sometime? Choosing a day, not setting an alarm, and just getting to work when I get there, working until 7pm if that's what what gets me on a good schedule. Might get me back to Davis at a time when I'm not hanging around waiting for a showtime in the cold.

This Week in Tickets

Kind of a busy week, even down to taking a little more off the shelf than I put up. It got started with Adoring which is exactly the cute comedy about the intersecting lives of people with adorable pets in a pretty nice Beijing neighborhood. Or at least, I think it's Beijing; I'm not yet at the point where I can tell Beijing from Shanghai from the other large mainland cities. It's pretty disposable, like those Garry Marshall holiday movies, but I was kind of in the mood for cute doggies and kitties and piggies.

I was in the mood for some people getting punched in the face the next night, which my copy of Undercover Punch and Gun technically delivered, but it's a lackluster-enough movie that you can see why it's apparently been sitting on a server for a couple years. Good fighters in Philip Ng, Van Ness Wu, and Andy On, a cameo-filled cast, and an occasionally weird sensibility, but somehow it never becomes fun in the way it should.

A few days of weird work schedules later and I was at the Brattle on Friday for the first night of "(Some of the) Best of 2019", which began with the really quite good Atlantics. Not only did I see the Netflix movie without paying for Netflix, I didn't even have to shell out cash for a ticket because of my theater membership. Hardly a genuine bit of rebellion, but I enjoy it.

The next day had some errands including doing laundry at a different, closer, less-fancy-but-about-the-same-price place than usual, and man, no-one was there, there was a soft couch, and no TVs were blaring Spanish Lifetime or the like. Just blissful quiet. After that, I found a way to avoid the Red Line Shuttle to get to Boston Common to check out a couple of war movies: 1917 on the fancy new Dolby Cinema screen and Liberation on the screen physically closest to Chinatown. The first was better for not being flagrant propaganda, but the generally have complementary issues.

Sunday was a long one, but it was an absurdly nice day to walk around. Things started off at the Kendall, where the 3D screenings of Cunningham were down to one matinee a day, and I'm kind of curious about the kid toward the back and what his story was. Was a parent or a sister really into dance and it was decided that there was no need for a sitter what with the movie (probably) rated PG? He wasn't really disruptive, but you could absolutely tell that a 3D portrait of a titan of modern dance was not really his thing.

After that, there was plenty of time to get back to Harvard Square, use a coupon on the wrong sort of USB cable to replace the frayed on on my phone before something went badly awry, and visit Charlie's Kitchen for the first time, despite the fact that one would think that I would have eaten at a place billing itself as "The Double Cheeseburger King" at some point in the last twenty years. I had not, and it was a good, o mussing-around bacon cheeseburger. After that, on to a double feature at the Brattle, where I was happy to finally see Fast Color after it didn't have a regular theatrical run in Boston and its other special screenings didn't work with my schedule. It's good, I continue to love Gugu Mbatha-Raw and David Strathairn, and I'm looking forward to the series.

And then I hung around for Captain Marvel, and didn't realize that I'd never posted my review of it on the blog - but did on my Letterboxd page - because I was kind of busy elsewhere during that time.

Captain Marvel

* * * (out of four)
Seen 12 January 2020 in the Brattle Theatre([Some of] The Best of 2019, DCP)

I think the Brattle had some issues with projection, because the picture looked kind of dim compared to when I saw it in Imax over in Hong Kong. Kind of a shame.

Second time around, it gives off the same feel - absolutely Yet Another Marvel Origin Story, but an example of it being done very well indeed, and, seen eight months after Avengers: Endgame, it doesn't play as if it's just setup.


Adoring
Undercover Punch and Gun
Atlantics
1917
Liberation
Cunningham
Fast Color

Cunningham

That's two movies about modern dance and choreography, a subject I know remarkably little about but was drawn to because I do really like 3D movies and want to encourage theaters to play unconventional movies in 3D and continue to release them on 3D Blu-ray, even if those of us with compatible players and displays are dwindling in North America and, as far as I can tell, internationally. Stuff that used to show up in the UK and South Korea and Hong Kong in that format just doesn't any more (note to self: grab 3D Star Wars movies from the UK while you can). It's a shame that studios and exhibitors have, by and large, abandoned 3D outside of a way to add a surcharge to some tickets, because between this, the continued good work of the 3-D Film Archive, Long Day's Journey into Night, Alita: Battle Angel, and Gemini Man (and even the nifty conversion for Star Wars IX), there's been some really nifty use of the format over the past year, and it's by and large going to vanish once these films leave theaters
.
Hopefully this will come out on a 3D disc - and if it does, the folks who made Found Footage 3D should ask Magnolia what's up with them not getting one.

Chuningham

* * * (out of four)
Seen 12 January 2020 in Landmark Kendall Square #3 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

I wonder what sort of a minority I am in coming to see Cunningham for the 3D photography as much as the dance, and how many people who came for the dance were hoping for something a little more in-depth. It's the sort of documentary about an artist and his career that relies heavily on demonstration, and as such seems like a good introduction with an intriguing hook, albeit one whose gimmick will only be briefly available.

Filmmaker Alla Kovgan covers Merce Cunningham's career from 1942 to 1972, when he created some of his most famous pieces as a choreographer and dancer, often in collaboration with composer John Cage and designer Robert Rauschenberg. Rather than simply presenting period footage of varying quality, they often recreate the performances, sometimes on a stage and sometimes on location. More context is given with archival interviews, not necessarily contemporaneous with the black-and-white photos and footage shown. It's a clear demarcation - the vital material is in vivid, colorful motion, while the rest is supplementary, filling in the gaps.

Letting the dance and Cunningham's own words speak for themselves is a nifty choice, although I suspect that it doesn't present a whole lot of new information or special insight for those who already know something about dance in general and Cunningham in particular. What Kovgan chooses to include as writer/director/editor makes for an intriguing lesson plan, providing just enough information for even us laymen to start to examine the dance ourselves. From the very start, she's redirecting how viewers think of dance by including comments from Cunningham about divorcing the movements from storytelling and music, focusing on the technical more than the biographical. There is some of that, certainly, but as asides and jumping-off points. For better or worse, Kovgan builds the film around Cunningham's position that his dance is almost entirely about movement.

Full review on eFilmCritic

Monday, January 13, 2020

Fast Color

I was pretty disappointed when Boston wasn't on the list of cities where Fast Color played this spring - or maybe it was and I just wasn't checking times at the Liberty Tree Mall yet, but when you go out that far, is it still playing Boston? I have liked Gugu Mbatha-Raw in pretty much everything I've seen her in from Undercovers forward, and this sort of superheroes-meet-indie-film thing is my thing. Then I missed it at other times it played the area (as part of the Boston Women's Film Festival and Bright Lights) and more or less resigned myself to watching it on disc. I smiled big-time when I saw that the Brattle had not only included it in the "some of the best of 2019" program, but paired it with Captain Marvel. That's a potentially fun double feature!

So, yes, this worked out pretty well. It's always funny when I can move a disc from the "recent arrivals" shelf to the "stuff I've seen" ones, and while some might say it's a waste of money, it just makes it easier to push the disc into others' hands, especially if the movie vanishes from streaming services when the TV series version comes out, as movies are wont to do.

Fast Color

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 12 January 2020 in The Brattle Theatre ([Some of] The Best of 2019, DCP)

Their work is just one of the elements that go into making Fast Color a nifty little movie, but I'll bet that the visual effects crew had fun with this one. What they do is simple to describe, but great-looking, with detail and room for imagination. That goes for the movie, too, which marries B-movie sci-fi to personal drama in immensely satisfying fashion.

Meet Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw); she's been on the run across a near-future (or alternate-present) America which hasn't seen rain in years, capable of getting into trouble on her own but also hunted because her shaking fits correlate to earthquakes, and that's the sort of thing that gets sinister government types on your trail. For better or worse, her path has brought her back home to where her estranged mother Bo (Lorraine Toussaint) is raising Ruth's daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney). They've got gifts, too, though not nearly as powerful or out-of-control as Ruth's, and Bo is all too aware that Ruth coming home doesn't just mean the possibility of government agents more dangerous than Sheriff Ellis (David Strathairn), but the sort of upheaval that a mother with Ruth's troubled history might bring to nine-year-old LIla.

On a certain surface level, Fast Color is a ton of sci-fi pieces that viewers have seen before but put together just right; the synth-heavy music and the slow apocalypse in the background recall a time when independent genre filmmakers didn't have a ton of money to fill every frame and would let the emptiness or dirty little details like signs referencing the water shortage put the audience in that other place. The filmmakers use the sense of doom hanging over the world to enhance not just the personal stakes for the rest of the film but the paranormal ones surrounding Ruth; even if the audience is at a point where it takes government scientists hunting people with strange powers for granted, the world teetering adds a bit of extra urgency, even as its familiarity keeps it from blotting out the more personal stories.

Full review on eFilmCritic

War!: 1917 and Liberation

Will wonders never cease - AMC accidentally set the times for a couple of movies in such a way that you could build a thematic double feature without having to kill an hour in between!

It also gave me a nice chance to check out the new Dolby Cinema screen at Boston Common, which is basically the same as the ones at Assembly Row and South Bay, except maybe smaller - the screen's a good size, but it doesn't seem particularly deep, with just fifty or sixty seats. Not bad, considering they're recliners and all, and even the first row isn't right up under the screen, but kind of a shock when it pops up in the app, compared to the old-school auditoria next to it which seat a couple hundred.

After that, it was downstairs to screen 1, where I was apparently the only person catching the 10pm show of Liberation despite being right next to Chinatown. Not necessarily surprising, considering it's only playing three cities in the U.S. (New York, Los Angeles, and Boston); a good chunk of exhibitors must have taken a look and figured the audience would say "nah", even without a good number of movies hitting screen this week after the post-Christmas lull. I don't know how much it being obvious propaganda played into it, but it was kind of strange to be reading social media about the Taiwanese elections (a rejection of closer ties with the Mainland) and then seeing what would become the Taiwanese flag used for this movie's villains, even if most are played as misguided more than evil.

The previews were an odd batch, too; usually, when there aren't enough Chinese-language trailers on the hard drive, it's just big action movies, but this was mostly a reel of foreign-language films with award hopes. Most look pretty neat, especially Les Miserables, which I am surprised and delighted to see has more or less nothing to do with the musical. On the other hand, the last was for Dante Lam's new one, The Rescue, which looks like it's as big as Operation Mekong and Operation Red Sea, but which also had its trailer pretty badly dubbed into English. I wonder if the studio is going to try to push this particular Chinese New Year picture onto more screens around the world, even if I'm pretty sure that this particular theater will be showing it in Mandarin.

1917

* * * (out of four)
Seen 11 January 2020 in AMC Boston Common #14 (first-run, Dolby Cinema DCP)

It occurred to me, when I first heard this was put together a certain way, that I would have liked to go in without knowing, even though that's kind of an odd, meta way to approach watching and thinking about a movie. Still, it's very difficult to just get caught up in things the way one is meant to in these cases, rather than watching what the camera does and guessing how many objects in the foreground are effects meant to hide seams. Rather than drawing me in and not giving my mind time to jump elsewhere, it had me thinking about a lot of things that weren't on screen.

Maybe it improves on a second view, once that's out of one's system. I suspect that once you get past that and the often stunning cinematography/lighting/design, 1917 is a capable-enough war movie of the new school, careful to foreground the horrors lest the audience get too excited by the ticking clock. Sam Mendes wants the audience invested but not excited, and that's a very fine line for him to walk. The film often feels calculatedly random, like everything happens in such a way as to reinforce the idea of chaos, and outright cheats in others, such as how sound design is very important for much of the film but a whole division in trucks can just suddenly be right there.

It's still too good to dismiss, of course - Roger Deakins and company do amazing work, Mendes's decisions may be cynical but they're effective, and the cast is terrific up and down. There's something about the tendency to cast great, recognizable character actors as the officers in this, like we're expected to trust Colin Firth or Mark Strong rather than question things, although, again, it works; it's one of the best little roles Strong has had recently (he is so much more interesting when not playing villains).

Liberation

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 11 January 2020 in AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run, DCP)

Coincidentally arriving in a few American cities the same weekend that 1917 opens wide, Liberation suffers from opposing faults. It's busy to the point of frenzy rather than meticulous, rushing through every cheap play for audience sympathy it can with bigger firefights and explosions coming at a rapid pace just in case that's not enough. It's lurid but made to please crowds, even though the filmmakers aren't that great at making the action effective. It's one of the tackier bits of recent myth-making to come from the Chinese movie industry, which is saying something.

Starting out in January 1949, days before the Tianjin campaign that would serve as a turning point in the Chinese Civil War, it initially introduces the audience to a team of Communist soldiers aiming to infiltrate the city to help get artillery sightings, because the revolutionaries aim to take the city with relatively little damage. Cai Xingfu (Zhou Yiwei) has other reasons to lead this mission - wife Xiuping (Yang Mi) is still in the city. Among the Nationalists, Director Qian Zhuoqun (Philip Keung Ho-man) is especially cruel, lording his power over entertainer Yan Mei (Elane Zhong Chuxi) and locking up quartermaster Yao Zhe (Wallace Chung Han-Liang) for a ferry accident, though he is using the aftermath to attempt to push that Nationalists into a harder line. Zhe attempts to escape with six-year-old daughter Junlan (Audrey Duo Ulan-Toya) only to run headlong into Cai's mission, and the two would be at odds even if it weren't likely that Cai's son Jifeng was on the sunken ferry.

There's a lot going on and the filmmakers spew it at the audience in rapid-fire manner to start, efficiently and earnestly talking about firing solutions that will not in fact be a major part of the film, finding the hackiest possible way to reveal Yan's hatred for Qian, and letting major parts of the story just hang there uncommented upon. It puts Yao Zhe directly at the center of the action but doesn't particularly do much to establish his interests and loyalties beyond his daughter, to the extent that it's easy to initially peg him as a spy rather than someone pushed up against the wall. Things start to shake out later on, but initially viewers are likely to have their attention on the wrong things, and when characters show up later so that there can be action in more places, it's hard to be sure whether they've been introduced but offscreen until needed or if they're new.

Full review on eFilmCritic

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Atlantics

I've mentioned before that I feel weirdly victorious when I see a movie or TV show produced by a streaming service without being subscribed. It's silly - I absolutely know that I've spent more on certain things than just watching it the expected way - but maybe it sends a bit of a message to both them and the theaters to work together a little more.

Interestingly, this feature doesn't particularly look like an expansion of the director's short film of the same name from ten years ago. That one's a documentary about four young men who try to cross the sea to find better work, something which plays into this film but which also happens off-screen without any sort of flashback when what happened becomes less of a mystery. I'm curious as to whether it was a conscious decision to focus on the people left behind, if that story just didn't fit once the film started developing, or if it seemed strange to put something real into something so fictional.

Anyway, welcome to the blog, "Senegal" tag! I wasn't tagging countries when I saw Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love at SXSW ten or eleven years ago, but this seems less of an outsider view of the country than that.


Atlantique (Atlantics)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 10 January 2020 in the Brattle Theatre ([Some of] The Best of 2019, DCP)

It's a truism that small films like Atlantics focus on characters and performances more than their larger brethren, but that's almost literally the case in the early going, as every establishing shot of the town is a foggy gray while close-ups of the actors are suddenly bright and sharp. It's a level of focus that the cast earns, making things work even when it sometimes seems like filmmaker Mati Diop could do more with her ghost stories.

It starts at a construction site outside Dakar; Muejiza Tower is slated to be luxurious and full of amenities, but the workers haven't been paid in months, and leader Cheikh (Abdou Balde) is starting to make demands. Dejected, worker Souleiman Fall (Ibrahima Traoré) makes his way home, although his spirit lifts when he sees girlfriend Ada Niang (Mama Sane). They spend the afternoon together, but somewhat furtively, as she is meant to be married to well-to-do Omar Liang (Babacar Sylla) in ten days, and all of her friends from religious Mariama (Ndeye Fama Dia) to fun-loving Fanta (Amina Kane) tell her she shouldn't ruin a good thing - though, surprisingly, practical Dior (Nicole Sougou) isn't quite so sure. It may be moot, though, as Cheikh, Souleiman, and the rest of the guys take a boat to Spain to seek their fortune. The boat disappears, but on the night of Ada's wedding, Mariama claims to see Souleiman before a strange fire destroys the wedding bed, leading to an arson investigation led by Inspector Issa Diop (Amadou Mbow) - and the developer of the tower, Mr. N'Diaye (Diankou Sembene) finds himself with unusual visitors.

Ghosts make great metaphors, but Diop and her co-writer Olivier Demangel know that life is not a perfect series of one-to-one matches, so there's something enjoyably messy about the way they set this ghost story up. There's something oddly traditional about the spirits possessing the bodies of the town's young women to haunt N'Diaye; it can read as both the men atoning for their failure to provide for their wives and daughters (a specific complaint Cheikh makes to the site manager at the start) or them taking matters into their own hands when the men are wiped out. Diop stages these scenes with simple but spooky methods, the white contacts to indicate possession communicating the situation quickly while other things are more subtle: Silent women cutting across streets with purpose or occupying N'Diye's house with the sort of stillness that indicates quivering rage, like they're past human niceties but haven't forgotten their old lives.

Full review on eFilmCritic