Tuesday, March 31, 2020

"The Haunted Swordsman" and Bacurau

Believe it or not, this past weekend would have been the Boston Underground Film Festival, which vanished in a puff when the folks at BUFF and the Brattle recognized that it would not be physical-distancing-friendly at all. It would have been a bummer to let it pass completely unnoted, but, fortunately for me, one of the selections for the animation program is a short film I could access because I'd contributed to its Kickstarter, and "The Haunted Swordsman" is pretty darn good.

It also made a good pre-film short for Bacurau, one of the first films announced as playing the Virtual Coolidge Corner Theatre, and one that's been getting a fair amount of acclaim from various quarters. The good news is that it lives up to a lot of the hype, and even though it's pretty long for the sort of film in question, you don't much feel it, and it often feels like a good movie for this particular moment.

Not an exact match, obviously, but it's got an oddly utopian kernel to its desperate near future, something you can sort of see in the empty streets outside and the DIY mask projects people with the skills and equipment to do so are doing in their homes. It's a weird time and it makes sense that a weird movie would be the one that has some insight.

"The Haunted Swordsman"

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 March 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Kickstarter reward, Vimeo via Roku)

Time's funny; it's been less than five years since I saw "The Mill at Calder's End" at Fantasia, long enough to be filed in the "a while ago" part of my brain, but also apparently just enough time for director Kevin McTurk and writer Tab Murphy to get a script, do some crowdfunding, go through the stop-motion process, and start going through the festival circuit again with their 17-minute short. At the scale they're working at - bigger than "one guy's garage", smaller than Laika - that's a lot of crazy detail work.

It's worth it, though, from the opening shot that establishes scale in defiance of the part of the audience's brain that knows these aren't real mountains to the fantastical creatures and the impressive way that McTurk and company are able to ramp up the fantastical elements until the final shot is impressively far from where the movie starts, even though the swordsman hasn't actually moved very far. The design all around is top-notch, seeming to do a good job of creating its Japanese yokai and onis without seeming to do much in the way of exaggerated pastiche. The fight choreography is a smart mix of larger-than-life fantasy and how most of cinema's great samurai battles actually involve a lot of circling, sizing things up, and striking quickly.

The character work is just as good, both on the side of the nifty voice cast (James Hong and Christopher Lloyd are recognizable while Jason Scott Lee and Franka Potente are just as solid) and animation/design. One thing I really like is how McTurk seems to lean into how stop-motion can be a bit stiff and kind of limited in animation for the Swordsman, giving him rigid and disciplined body language, while other characters and creatures are allowed a little more motion and to bend impossibly. Another nifty thing is how "The Navigator", a severed head serving as the swordsman's guide, is perhaps the only character to regularly blink, but because he's missing an eye, it could be a wink, and it's timed so that it could also be some sort of nervous tic. It's one of the easier pieces to demonstrate how the filmmakers are doing a lot of linked things to make their short work - impressive technically and combined with smart storytelling.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 29 March 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Coolidge Corner Theatre Virtual Screening Room, KinoNow via Roku)

For a film set in the near future where government is apparently on the verge of collapse, allowing a group of sadists to terrorize the less fortunate, Bacurau is relatively light on violence over the course of its 131 minutes (though what's there is intense) and doesn't particularly go in for complex world-building. What it's got is a strangely reassuring blend of properly directed anger and recognition that anger alone isn't enough. It's a movie that suggests that civilization isn't necessarily doomed just because things are going to hell.

And they are; as Teresa (Bárbara Colen) and Erivaldo (Rubens Santos) drive a truck back to the village of the title, there are people buying and selling the coffins that have scattered across the street after a traffic accident, a price has been put on the heads of revolutionaries Lunga (Silvero Pereira) and Pacote (Thomas Quino), and the river that is the local source of potable water has been dammed upstream; Erivaldo will have to several miles out of his way to fill his tanker up. Teresa is there for her grandmother's funeral - nonagenarian Carmelita was beloved by most and even those that clashed with her like Doctor Domingas (Sonia Braga) had a grudging respect. At first, it seems as if her death has knocked the world off its axis; Bacurau has vanished from online maps and a flying saucer follows a deliveryman on the road. Soon, though, it becomes clear that there are darker force than grandstanding and corrupt district mayor Tony Jr. (Thardelly Lima) converging on Bacurau, led by a mysterious expatriate (Udo Kier).

The previous feature films of co-writer/co-director Kleber Mendonça Filho have apparently been focused on specific small slivers of communities, and the strength of this movie can be found in the way this film immerses its audience in the small world that the predators threaten. Carmelita's funeral is allowed to play out in seeming full, the rituals given the importance they hold for the locals, even if they are ragged and unusual at various points. The town has a museum, and its modest building is allowed to feel more like the center of town than the church (which is historically made to be such), solidifying the connections to the community rather than some outside authority. And while on the one hand the way the town retreats and shuts Tony Jr. out when he comes to campaign is meant to foreshadow how a later sequence will continue, their rejection of him is immediately contrasted with the way the community shares his laughable largesse. There's dignity, cooperation, and a sense of shared purpose in how they handle things, and the presentation of that feels practical but also utopian in a conscious, organized way, compared to the usual community of outcasts grasping at each other.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Whistlers

Back "at" the Virtual Coolidge Corner Theatre last night, planning for a double feature but not realizing that the second half would be fairly long. That will be tonight's entertainment, as it's scheduled to be around for longer than this one. It's worth noting that Magnolia is donating the entirety of your virtual ticket sale to the Coolidge (or, if you live in some other metropolitan area, the local independent cinema of your choice), so that's a pretty good way to help keep them going while getting an hour and a half of decent entertainment.

I must admit, the way I thought about the movie and wrote the review shifted more than a little bit when I decided to go and see what else I'd written about the director's previous films, particularly his previous film about cops and crime and surveillance, and saw that star Vlad Ivanov was also in Police, Adjective - and suddenly his supervisor's reference to his being "the boss" back when something else happened in another city clicked into place. It's not a perfect connection - Sabin Tambrea would in that case be playing a character played by someone else in the previous movie, and it's a bit odd that the lead characters in both movies are both named "Cristi", although Ivanov's character was apparently only given a surname in Police, Adjective (which is mentioned here). That the two are potentially in the same continuity isn't actually important, in that I got through it without confusion despite there being no references, and may just be a fun easter egg for those who saw the two ten years apart to pick up on.

Still, I can't exactly un-see the connection now that I've seen it, and now I am tempted to go back and re-watch to see just to what extent it makes sense as this movie's backstory, and whether or not it should color how I view this one - did it enhance what disappointment I felt compared to the clever bits I like, make me wish that things that had been alluded to was given more time, or anything else?

Well, it's not like we don't have time.

La Gomera (The Whistlers)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Coolidge Corner Theatre Virtual Screening Room, Vimeo)

For all that some rightly complain about filmmakers being pigeonholed, there are times when filmmakers seem to do it to themselves. Take The Whistlers, which has a clever premise for a heist, a nice cast, and an intriguingly twisted network of surveillance and corruption - and a writer/director in Corneliu Porumboiu who seemingly can't be satisfied to just make an entertaining genre movie. He acknowledges their appeal, references them, and otherwise sets up bits of meta-commentary, but doesn't capture the actual excitement of such movies.

Which is odd, because while Porumboiu's previous films have fit comfortably into art-house niches - they are restrained and often built around people talking dispassionately, somewhere between arch and dry - they have seldom been dull. His work has always had a sly wit and a way of circling around the point he was looking to make like a tiger ready to pounce before methodically disassembling their prey. The Whistlers occasionally drops hints that it's a sequel to one of those movies - Police, Adjective is referenced in a couple of oblique ways - although it's more something to investigate afterward than necessary prerequisite.

This one opens with Inspector Cristi Anghelache (Vlad Ivanov) arriving at La Gomera in the Canary Islands, there to meet Gilda (Catrinel Marlon) and learn the local "whistling language", which will play a part in Gilda's scheme to break her partner Zsolt (Sabin Tambrea) out of prison. She warns Cristi that what went on back in Bucharest was just her playing for the surveillance cameras. And there were plenty there, as Cristi did his best to work both sides while investigating how Zsolt was apparently using his mattress factory to launder drug money - though who isn't, as Zsolt was caught in part by lead detective Magda (Rodica Lazar) encouraging Cristi and partner Alin (George Pistereanu) to plant evidence.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Next Week in Virtual Tickets: Films sort of playing Boston 28 March 2020 - 3 April 2020

Can you imagine what this post is going to be like the day the cinemas reopen? Might be, like, August, but just all new releases all the way down. In the meantime, here's what the local places are doing to keep you entertained

  • Boston Jewish Film's ReelAbilities Film Festival has its last few days from Sunday to Tuesday, with a block of international shorts, and feature documentaries Heart of Glass and Once Upon a Boy playing over the three days. One "show" each, so register now.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre cheats a bit by having more virtual screening rooms than actual ones, but we'll allow it. Saint Frances, Bacurau, and Fantastic Fungi continue their runs - and they are runs, with what look to be relatively solid end dates. They also add a couple from Magnolia where the whole "ticket" price goes to the Coolidge - Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band and the new one from Corneliu Porumboiu, The Whistlers, a heist movie which on the one hand seems pretty mainstream for the Romanian director, but on the other reminds one that he's always made fairly entertaining films even if they showed up at the art house. Those two are only there through Thursday the 2nd.

    They're also doing a "Coolidge Education" Rear Window seminar - when you register, you'll get a link to a pre-film lecture on Tuesday, then rent/stream it from your service of choice, before joining a Zoom discussion at 8pm on Thursday.
  • The DocYard's programming at The Brattle Theatre was one of the first cancellations to come down the pike, but they will be presenting No Data Plan online for a week starting on Monday, with a Q&A on Tuesday.

    They also kicked off a new virtual series, "Keep Your Distance", for members to watch along with, including The 39 Steps & The Lady Vanishes; The Lavender Hill Mob & Big Deal on Madonna Street; It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World; Single White Female; The Conversation & Blow Out; The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie; Daisies; Throw Momma from the Train; Planes, Trains, and Automobiles; Detour; and Blade Runner. The Hitchcocks were technically yesterday, but so what? The discs are still on your shelf or the file is still on the server! Time and schedules basically don't exist!

    They are also offering last-minute recommendations, with new Y'Know, For the Kids! selections daily (today is Mary and the Witch's Flower and Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro, with The Hudsucker Proxy presumably being saved for the finale), and #BreakYourAlgorithm selections every Wednesday and Thursday.

(Sorry about the eFilmCritic links in some of those pages; it looks like its host is having recurring issues.)

Remember, if you get other ideas but don't have them on your shelf, JustWatch will let you know how to find them at least on the streaming services. Maybe try not to be like me, who has ordered way more than I can watch even with going out and taking the bus to work taken out of the picture.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Fantastic Fungi

Hey, it's a (semi) new release during the pandemic! It's one of two currently playing at the Virtual Coolidge Corner Theatre, and the easiest to watch on my TV - I'd kind of meant to get the Vimeo app downloaded to my Roku anyway. Also, $5, with a chunk of that going to the Coolidge.

Am I looking forward to some of their other selections more? A bit. As I mention in the review which I can't seem to post to EFC right now, I did feel like the last leg takes a bit of a turn from solid science into something a little squishier, which is not my thing. It had always been there, but it goes from seeming like individual personality to the film's focus.

Perhaps this will be addressed some in the Q&As scheduled for later tonight (26 March 2020) - though the first has already started, there are others at 9pm and midnight, Eastern Daylight Time. All in all, it a good way to see some impressive nature cinematography, learn a little bit, and kick something the Coolidge's way while stuck at home.

Fantastic Fungi

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 March 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Coolidge Corner Theatre Virtual Screening Room, Vimeo)

Fantastic Fungi is put together so well that it may take some sort of interruption while watching it to notice that it has seemingly gone from "nifty science documentary" to "cult recruitment video" without causing whiplash. It's impressive editing, actually, when a film can make you sit up and wonder just how you got somewhere seemingly so far from where you started, and then look at it in whole and say, actually, that's not so big a trip after all.

It starts out as a sort of primer on mycology, mushrooms, and fungi in general, pointing out that fungi are both the oldest and youngest, and largest/smallest species on Earth, and have multiple roles to play in holding various types of ecology together, from breaking dead plants and animals down into their component pieces to forming underground networks that allow trees and other plant life in an area to share resources. Some of this will be familiar from high school biology classes; other bits may not be, and there's a bit on how, more than is the case in many fields, mycology is often advanced by civilian scientists.

You can get that out of a book, but the film directed by Louie Schwartzberg and written by Mark Monroe makes great use of its medium with terrific visuals and animation, with both digital imagery and time-lapse photography used exceptionally well for this fairly small-scale documentary, at points apparently augmenting each other without the digital work taking anything from the impressive photography of these peculiar life-forms. What's especially notable is how clearly and impressively some of these sequences work as explainers; a repeated motif makes the soil transparent while the air above is a brownish fog, demonstrating how the underground mycelial networks extend and connect tree roots, for example, an image that is cool but not overwhelming.

Brie Larson narrates the movie in character as the world's fungi, but the less-well-known people who populate it are generally a genial bunch, eager to pass on knowledge and well-aware of what an unusual field they are in. Most of the screen time goes to Paul Stamets, a largely self-taught mycologist who spent years as a logger getting an up-close look at how fungi operate in the forest, and it's not a bad decision; he's both down-to-earth and authoritative, looking well at home no matter where the movie finds him. Though he is far from the only expert on display, he's the one who appears as the film moves through various subjects, uniting them.

That includes what are often referred to as "magic mushrooms", whose hallucinogenic and medicinal properties become the primary focus of the films last half hour or so, and it's there that the film often seems to become a bit unmoored: Stamets and the others interviewed during this portion of the film take on the zeal of believers rather than the enthusiasm of scientists (whether professional or amateur), the claims become wilder, and the evidence more anecdotal. The imagery shifts from illustrating science to psychedelic imagery, reflecting the subtle but important shift from "how this works" to "what this does". All of this material may be true, but it feels less solid, though Schwartzberg and his team have done a good job of laying the sort of foundation that lets them stretch a little.

The information in that last act is potentially valuable and enlightening, though its enthusiasm for how perfectly useful fungi can be for people is sometimes a bit in conflict with how other parts of the film are careful not to ascribe intent to nature. The film gets there well enough that its issues may be simply the result of encountering an overly-developed skepticism; it's a sleek, informative, well-presented introduction to the topic otherwise.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Next Week in Virtual Tickets: Films sort of playing Boston 22 March 2020 - 27 March 2020

Didn't post one of these Friday, because what's the point when everything's closed. And a good thing too - I don't know about you, but I would have absolutely headed out to catch up on what I missed on vacation, what with nobody usually sitting within six feet of my preferred seats up front anyway Bummer that I won't get a chance to see Onward in 3D unless I order some UK Blu-ray down the road or something, but oh well.

And while part of what's good about streaming is that there are relatively few boundaries, there are some explicitly connected to local institutions this week.

  • Boston Jewish Film's ReelAbilities Film Festival, rather than being canceled, is going virtual, with the first screening starting half an hour ago (sorry), but other shows on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and much the same schedule next week. The page will tell you how to get free screening links and what to do to be ready when the stream starts.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre remains closed, but is the first theater in the Boston area to be setting up a "virtual screening room". Details about how it's going to work aren't posted yet - get on their mailing list for those - but what it means is that you will be able to go to a studio's website and stream the movie, and they'll treat it like you bought a ticket at the Coolidge, splitting the fee. The first selections are Saint Frances, an Oscilloscope release about a nanny bonding with her eccentric charge (Wednesday), and Bacurau, an over-the-top Brazillian action movie distributed by Kino Lorber on Friday. They are also planning on a Rear Window seminar sometime next week, likely in conjunction with when it would have played as a Big Screen Classic.
  • Now's a good time to renew your membership to The Brattle Theatre, and while there's nothing on their calendar until the Wachowski series in mid-April (fingers crossed!), their newsletter suggested we follow along with what they would have been doing by streaming their repertory series from various places. JustWatch is a useful site here (and, really, in general), so you can tailor it to your own subscriptions/memberships and see which places have it in HD or 4K at a glance.

    This week would have seen the last couple nights of "A Little Faith Can Be a Dangerous Thing", with planned double features of The Omen & The Exorcist tonight and one of Requiem & Frailty on Tuesday.

I'm going to be renewing my various memberships and supporting the Coolidge by catching Saint Frances and Bacurau on opening night, while trying to get the DVR and unwatched Blu-ray shelves under control.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Fantasia 2019 Catch-up, Part 3: Ride Your Wave, Maggie, No Mercy, It Comes, The Wretched, The Prey, The Incredible Shrinking Wknd, 8, Cencoroll Connect, and The Purity of Vengeance

I'm going to have to find a way to make the Fantasia reviews come faster next year, whether it's remote-working less so that I've got more mornings to write, finding someone else to come for eFilmCritic so I don't feel obligated to review everything I see with the press pass, or just improving my focus so it doesn't take me so long. I've still got 17 Fantasia films that haven't received full reviews and I'm sure I was finished with 2018 by this point last year.

Of course, who knows how CoVID-19 will fit into this? I'll probably have more chance to crank through these over the next couple weeks that I would have otherwise, especially with roughly zero new releases to push them back, and I can't yet guess when the local film festivals that would be taking up my writing time over the next couple of months will reappear - maybe in the fall (the Irish Film Festival has already staked out November dates), maybe at a point which creates hard decisions re Fantasia in the summer, maybe we'll just have a skip year for the Underground and Independent Festivals. Heck, who knows what Fantasia will be like with so many films not getting released in their native lands in the first half of 2020, if we're not all still self-isolating by then?

Anyway, as you might imagine, this whole operation is getting tricky this far from the festival, no matter how good my entries on Letterboxd are and how much my notes fill in the rest. I got to Idol and had to punt it; I liked the film, but the details were not just gone but mixed up with another Korean thriller. I've skipped over G Affairs too, but that's because I was able to order a disc from DDDHouse and I can catch myself up later, while I'm locked in with no baseball.

The bright side: Those omissions mean that, as I cruise through the unreviewed movies, 8 wound up being eighth in this batch!

Kimi to, nami ni noretara (Ride Your Wave, aka Riding a Wave with You)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, DCP)

As Masaki Yuasa's output increases, he seems to be moving away from the strange and trippy films that gained him attention and toward the conventional, though if the result is something like this sweet animated romance, that's not a bad thing. It's still distinctive and occasionally eccentric, and winds up being something fairly unique once the bits of fantasy there are kick in.

He quickly introduces the audience to Minato Hinageshi (voice of Ryota Katayose), a lifeguard and fireman trainee whose eye is quickly caught by Hinako Mukaimizu (voice of Rina Kawaei), an incoming freshman studying oceanography who would probably spend all day surfing if she could. They connect pretty quickly, with Minato's best friend Wasabi Kawamura (voice of Kentaro Ito) knowing his buddy's found a good thing even if Minato's little sister Yoko (voice of Honoka Matsumoto) is jealous. It seems like a perfect romance in this seaside college town, but things can change in an instant.

They do, of course, with an inevitability that will likely have viewers noting that these nice young people are almost certainly being set up for a fall early on. Ideally, the audience wouldn't see it coming that way - it is generally far better to be completely gobsmacked than to pick up on things going too well - but Yuasa and screenwriter Reiko Yoshida are smart enough to not make a morbid game of it or make the moment that things change so grim that the fantasy that comes afterward seems completely ill-advised. It's a tricky line to walk, and I suspect that some will find that the filmmakers are being too playful with serious matters, while others will be impressed with the line being walked between frightening and seemingly harmless delusion.

Full review on EFilmCritic


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

Yi Ok-Seop's Maggie is a genuinely peculiar little picture, and maybe could have done well being a little smaller with its eccentricity a bit more specific. It winds up being fun in spots while not quite living up to its ambitions in others, but the clever bits are quite fun.

It opens at the "Love of Maria" hospital, a former convent that has been converted into a private hospital that, with things like a space-themed x-ray room, can often seem like a fancy hotel. Nurse Yeo Yoon-Young (Lee Joo-Young) and her boyfriend Sung-Won (Koo Gyo-Hwan) get it on in that room, and when photographs from its equipment are posted on a bulletin board, chief of orthopedics Lee Kyung-Jin (Moon So-Ri) makes it very clear to Yoon-Young that this is not that sort of place. Meanwhile, Sung-Won has taken a temp job trying to fill the massive sinkholes that are appearing around Seoul, and his co-workers are even bigger screw-ups than he is.

When I was choosing films to see at the festival, the description of Maggie had me thinking it would be a farce about how everybody in a hospital thinks the picture of two people having sex in the x-ray room is their bones and soft tissue, leaving Yoon-Young (who came in to spite Kyung-Jin) and her boss the only people to care for patients and make house calls, so I was probably more disappointed than I should have been when Sung-Won and the sinkhole side winds up taking up more time later, and the really great comic hook is pushed aside. A shame, because the hospital introduces a fun group of characters, several of whom are more memorable than the ones who get actual names, and there's a great sense of dominoes falling as one thing leads to another here. It's how great episodic comedy works, and there's a keen eye for absurd detail that carries forward through the whole film.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Un-ni (No Mercy)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: Action!, DCP)

Man, how many times do the makers of this movie think we need to see a developmentally disabled 17-year-old raped before we're invested? I praise Korean genre cinema for not messing around on a regular basis, but there's a fuzzy space between being no-holds-barred in a thriller inspired by an actual crime and making a rape-revenge story extra tacky without finding a new angle. That's a simple way to look at No Mercy, I suppose, but it's not a complicated movie despite its occasional efforts to become one.

It picks up with Park In-ae (Lee Si-Young) walking into a garage in a red dress and heels that don't exactly beg to be accessorized with a sledgehammer, but In-ae is the sort of lady who makes it work. A beauty with strong mixed-martial arts skills who is having a little trouble finding work after a couple years in jail for a trumped-up charge, though Ha Sang-man (Lee Hyung-Chul) of "Happy Cash Loans" will throw her some work for collections. She is at least happy to be reunited with sister Eun-Hye (Park Se-Wan), a pretty teenager who is mentally about ten years old and whose history of being bullied had inspired them to move before. When Eun-Hye doesn't come home from school one day, In-ae naturally starts worrying and looking, and what she finds as she examines both Eun-Hye's current circumstances and the way things were in the last town where they lived fills her with the sort of horror and rage that leads back to visiting small businesses with a sledgehammer in hand, working her way up to Senator Park Young-Choon (Choi Jin-Ho).

This film doesn't necessarily demand a whole lot of range from its two lead actresses - the happiness and affection between the Park sister as they see each other again is something of an oasis among the rest of the film - so much as sustained effort that leaves a little room for individual personality. Lee Si-Young is committed and properly intense, doing good work to find distinct notches to push In-ae's fury to new levels with each new revelation and communicating how terrible she feels for somehow not having seen this before. It's not exactly an emotional roller-coaster, but it's not something where one can settle in or detach. Park Se-Wan occasionally falls into the trap of making Eun-Hye's disability substitute for a personality, but more often she captures a kid wanting people to like her and knows she's got to work a little harder, even if she doesn't fully understand why what's involved makes her feel awful. The rest of the cast may be playing creeps without much in the way of nuance, but those two are able to anchor things.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Kuru (It Comes)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

It's not often that you see a horror movie like this that has both an incredibly clear idea what it wants to be about but also has such ambitious sweep, managing what sometimes seems like multiple new takes on old ideas without losing what makes them work. That would be enough, but the film also builds to an absolutely amazing climax that is continuously offering more, the best and wildest exorcism put on film in a long time. It's a wonder this thing is never even close to careening out of control, but director Tetsuya Nakashima knows what he's doing.

After a flash-forward teaser, we're properly introduced to Hideki Tahara (Satoshi Tsumabuki) and his fiancee Kana (Haru Kuroki), who will soon be married and expecting a baby. Before they've told anyone the name they've chosen, someone visits Hideki at work to talk about Chisa. The colleague who took the message dies under mysterious circumstances, and as events get stranger (on top of the regular stress of a new baby), they find themselves reaching out to an old friend who studies folklore (Munetaka Aoki), freelance occult writer Nozaki (Junichi Okada), and club hostess/medium Makoto Higa (Nana Komatsu). At first, this seems a small enough haunting as such things go, although it may grow to the point where Makoto's sister Kotoko (Takako Matsu), one of the world's top exorcists, may need to get involved.

The trick of a good horror movie is often finding something that already scares the audience and giving is a life of its own, and Nakashima and company have a clear eye on, among other things, the potentially maddening nature of parenthood and living one's expected life. Part of what they do that's impressive is build the story such that things have some time to fester and recur, which means they can turn the Taharas' lives around and find different angles on how it can translate into supernatural horror, and in doing so deliver some impressive, varied shocks. Nakashima' adaptation of Ichi Sawamura's novel gets out there enough that things never play as purely metaphorical - there's themes and cleverness found here, but they don't overwhelm the thrills by making them just simple analogs to real life - but the scares get bigger even as they stay connected to what makes them mean something.

Full review on EFilmCritic

The Wretched

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The Wretched does things that relatively few horror movies seem to think of, and does them with a skill that a lot of its brethren that are traveling more well-worn paths don't necessarily manage. That's enough to get the horror fans most susceptible to becoming jaded excited about it - the ones who love this stuff but who, in their jobs as festival programmers or production company employees, see every movie less creative filmmakers crank out must find their eyes going wide. I don't know that it will be the case for those not quite so immersed in the genre; somewhere along the way, there maybe should have been a little something more to make its often audacious choices really hit home.

Five days ago, Ben (John-Paul Howard) arrived to spend the summer with his father Liam (Jamison Jones), who has thoughtfully found him a job at the marina he manages. His co-worker Mallory (Piper Curda) and her kid sister Abbie (Zarah Mahler) are pretty cool, but he is, as is customary with children of recent divorce, not impressed with Sara (Azie Tesfai), his father's new girlfriend. He's also noticed Abbie (Zarah Mahler), the attractive mom next door, although when her son Dillon starts noticing that she's acting strange...

Filmmakers Brett & Drew Pierce are working in a great horror movie tradition here, of the kid who knows something awful is up but can't get anyone to believe him, but at times it seems like they chose the wrong kid - not the eight-year-old who is in the middle of it, but the seventeen-year-old who is next door and is only kind of involved at first. It puts the scares at a little distance, and makes it feel like it should be working harder to pull it together. A late-film twist reveals how this might all fit together, but that puts a lot on the audience as well, because there's no time to spell out details, and requires the audience to be horrified at the idea of what's been lost more than the actuality of it

Full review on EFilmCritic

The Prey

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: ACTION!, DCP)

As "The Most Dangerous Game" riffs go, this certainly is one. You know the story, and the makers of this one don't have any particular twist or hook to add to it too make this stand out in a sea of them. Or at least, not an obvious one from this side of the Pacific; maybe it touches on something topical in Cambodia, but I'd be surprised, as it seems fairly generic, though enjoyably violent.

In it, undercover Chinese Interpol agent Xin (Gu Shangwei) winds up in Cambodia's Western Region Prison when caught at the scene of a crime, and it's not long before he learns that the warden (Vithaya Pansringarm) has a side operation in letting wealthy sadists hunt folks who are unlikely to be missed. The latest group is Mat (Byron Bishop), Payuk (Sahajak Boonthanakit), and his nephew Ti (Nophand Booyai), and it makes sense to include the Chinese guy with no friends in the country among the prey. And if someone like Detective Li (Dy Sonita) shows up to spring Xin after learning where he wound up, it just becomes all that much more important to destroy the evidence and kill the witnesses.

The disappointment is not so much that the story is familiar, but that the execution is mostly just decent. This is the team that made the fairly impressive Jailbreak a couple years earlier, but having a more open environment doesn't necessarily do a lot of good. There's some decent gunplay, but it's seldom as good as the previous film's martial arts and inventive camerawork, mostly just a lot of sharp running and tumbling and pointing guns with purpose. The technique is still slick and it does lead two a couple of quality fights, but the close quarters seemed to inspire more creativity.while the sharply defined geography gave the previous movie structure that this one doesn't have in such abundance.

Full review on EFilmCritic

El increíble finde menguante (The Incredible Shrinking Wknd)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The big question after this screening was "when did you see it", referring to the compositional trick going on through the film, which maybe speaks to how it's more of a visual gimmick than something that enhances the film's themes without overstating them. Which is a shame, because as much as that particular element may or may not work for a viewer, it does play into what filmmaker Jon Mikel Caballero is going for, helping to focus a genre often played for laughs into something a little more thoughtful.

It starts with a group of friends heading to a house in the country for the weekend, one that Alba (Iria del Rio) used to visit when she was a child. With her are her kind-of-snotty boyfriend Pablo (Adam Quintero), square-but-funny Mark (Jimmy Castro) and his girlfriend Claudia (Irene Ruiz), would-be YouTube star Mancha (Adrián Expósito), and cheerful-but-unemployed Sira (Nadia de Santiago). It should be fun, but as is often the case, it's complicated; Alba's father is having health issues and things are starting to fray with her and Pablo, while Mark and Claudia have their own things to bring up. It is not, necessarily, the sort of weekend where one wants to get caught in a time loop, especially one that Alba soon discovers is an hour shorter each time through.

Many time-loop stories are built to create a sort of existential despair or repetitive trauma underneath the comedy of being able to predict what's coming and figure out a situation given enough reps, but the twist Caballero puts on it gets to an intriguing and resonant paradox: Alba has not been doing much with her youth, only to suddenly get hit with the idea that there's less she can do and less time to do it than she thought. It's a take that has bits of wasted potential and bits of dying young to it, but isn't about making existence seem pointless with drudgery. Alba is on vacation, and it's potentially nice, but it's limited, and making the most of the good times, it turns out, takes effort and consideration rather than just casting one's cares aside and living for the moment.

Full review on EFilmCritic


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The demon, of sorts, at the center of 8 is a sad, guilty one, something which makes for a different sort of thriller than the fairly traditional opening implies; it's as much the story of someone bound to something supernatural as those facing it, which means that filmmaker Harold Holscher doesn't have save the sense of tragedy that goes with these stories entirely for after he's done stringing the audience along.

Set "somewhere in South Africa", it introduces the audience to Mary (Keita Luna), a precocious young girl who has come to the country with uncle William (Garth Breytenbach) and aunt Sarah (Inge Beckmann) after the death of William's grandfather. The farm has seen better days and the house at the center is far too large for such a small, modest family. They soon meet "Lazarus" (Tshamano Sebe), who says he used to work for Master Zeke and who quickly befriends Mary, but there's something strange about the drifter, with other locals unwilling to take work on the farm if he's around and some even calling him a demon.

Small things give 8 a distinct, South African identity; the very time it takes place, in 1977, seems too late for this kind of story in many locations, like the rest of the world is more settled, but here these sort of old family mansions are just starting to become obsolete. It makes "Lazarus" feel even more like a lingering remnant of something else, which the white family doesn't understand but the locals do. There is mistrust between the various groups that needs little explanation but forms a real barrier, but one which is part of the landscape rather than the most central point of the film. It's an extra layer of tension that keeps the audience from ever getting too complacent.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Cencoroll Connect ("Cencoroll" & "Cencoroll 2")

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, digital)

There's a shift in the animation style somewhere in the middle of this film, but that's natural; there's ten years between the releases of "Cencoroll" and "Cencoroll 2", and you can't help but see the spot where they are fused into a short feature. The thing is, it becomes a bit of a different sort of anime at that point, introducing more characters who have clear purpose and sense of urgency, piling more action on, losing a bit of what made the opening feel unique even if it isn't necessarily anything completely new.

A sonic rift in the sky occasionally belches out strange creatures, which run around and fight and do some damage, and high school girl Yuki (voice of Kana Hanazawa) is fascinated by them. Getting too close to one of those showdowns, she discovers that her classmate Tetsu Animiya (voice of Hiro Shimono) is somehow bonded with one, communicating with "Cenco" and helping the creature to feed, but really not curious about all the rest beyond that, even as a similarly bonded teen, Shiuu (voice of Ryohei Kimura) is spoiling for a fight.

Short films like the original "Cencoroll" sometimes wind up in the same sort of place despite being made for opposite reasons, either as calling-cards to show bigger studios and producers just what makes a given team stick out or in a burst of independent creativity that they know they'll likely have reined in should they make the big time. Whichever is the case for director Atsuya Uki, he came to play, and his team seems to have a blast with exaggerated character designs, Cenco morphing into new shapes and the characters making the same sort of right-angle turns as they drive each other nuts. It's high-energy and a delight to look at, full of surprises even as the story is purposefully meandering and not exactly driving toward anything in particular.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Journal 64 (aka The Purity of Vengeance)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

"Department Q" has, as a film series, reached the point where it not only has to deal with characters staying in the same place rather than having some sort of shift in their job or life, but where a character is compelled to mention that they really didn't have this many perverse cold cases before Carl Mørck was assigned to them. It's not quite a breaking point, but it's a spot where I suspect everyone involved is thinking about how to avoid inertia while not changing the series's basic appeal.

And it does okay. This time around, the more personal narrative that takes center stage for those following the characters as much as the mysteries revolves around Carl's partner Assad (a first-billed Fares Fares), who is given a rare chance to move up while confronting the issues with being an Arab in Copenhagen more directly. It's nicely and sympathetically laid out (down to the way emphasis is placed in the phrase "non-ethnic Danes" to make it sound reluctant and avoid positioning Assad and his friends as outsiders), giving Fares the chance to act as the movie's rock rather than just having Assad be Carl's. It takes some of the pressure off co-star Nikolaj Lie Kaas as well; his morose, cynical detective can hold steady rather than having to plumb further depths, even making a joke or two on occasion.

This case launches in the present with the discovery of a mummified family around a table with one empty chair in the walled-up room of an apartment, and touches on an uglier bit of Danish history that can't be entirely consigned to the past (don't they all). In this case, it's the story of Nete (Fanny Leander Bornedal), who was sent to the island "girl's home" of Sprogø in 1961. The place would later become infamous for illicit experiments and forced sterilization in the name of eugenics, with Nete's particular tormentors doctor Curt Wad (Elliot Crosset Hove) and nurse Gitte Charles (Luise Skov). In 2016, Wad (Anders Hove) is now running one of Copenhagen's most successful fertility clinics, and once Carl and Assad tie the room to Sprogø, it's not altogether unreasonable to assume that he may have been intended for the empty chair and thus might still be a target.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Monday, March 16, 2020


It's not always a complete failure of imagination to see a movie while on vacation in a foreign land, but sometimes it can feel that way, especially if you wind up seeing something that is a wide release also playing back home. Still, there's not much you can do sometimes - Blenheim, New Zealand, near the end of the summer is a quiet darn place, as evidenced by the complete lack of transit from the ferry in Picton, the 4.4km I had to walk to the aviation center, the way that even on a Saturday, things just seemed to shut down, and the screwy air route I took to Christchurch the next day. By 6pm, if Bloodshot was the thing at the local theater I hadn't seen, Bloodshot was what I was doing that night.

I didn't get pictures of the theater, because there were just enough other people there that it would have been weird, but it was a nice-enough little place - four screens in the back, a smaller "lounge" screen with more boutique fare in the front, a well-stocked concession stand and bar on one side and not quite enough lightboxes for posters on the other. From what I can tell, the Event Cinemas chain bought out the old Top Town theater in the past few years, and it looks it, with bits of both everywhere you look from the outside - where it looks like a neighborhood theater in that it's seamlessly part of the buildings around it - in.

I did wind up ignoring the seating assignment put on my ticket, because they didn't ask and I'm not going to take seat J-11 when nobody is near B-10. There were maybe a half-dozen of us there on a Saturday night, and I'm curious as to how much of that was "seasonal town emptying out now that the wine people aren't coming" and how much was Kiwis starting to social distance because of the pandemic (and how much was "Bloodshot? Eh, whatever."). It's certainly been a strange last few days, as it doesn't seem like the places I am in NZ are starting to hunker down yet, although I don't exactly know what they look like on busy/dead days. Hopefully I haven't been out of line.

Anyway, this is probably my last theatrical film for a while, what with everyplace closing up back home and self-isolating being the obvious sensible thing to do there. I guess it's time to start plowing through those piles of discs.


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 14 March 2020 in Event Cinemas Blenheim #4 (first-run, DCP)

Valiant Comics has, at points in its various incarnations, sometimes been the third-most popular shared universe in the medium, and that's a rough place to be - who needs to keep up with more of those after Marvel and DC, even when they do land some decent talent? But everyone wants a piece of what Marvel's got, so more of them are springing up despite the fact that will take years to build up the same sort of catalog, and Sony figures they might as well try making a couple films from one of the lesser-known lines, which has its fans and, who knows, may just be fun enough to connect when it's not being swamped with similar, more-established competition on a given week.

They start with Bloodshot, which is a film built for those who no longer need to be eased into a superhero universe or find such things particularly extraordinary: When Ray Garrison (Vin Diesel) is revived after a seemingly-fatal gunshot wound with a bloodstream full of reconstructive nanotechnology, he's surrounded by others with advanced prostheses right away, and it not only doesn't take long before he finds that these nanites somehow give him not just the stamina to push through injury, but enhanced strength and an always-on internet connection because of all the nanites in his brain, but everyone rolls with it without much question. It's kind of odd that nobody either references that this sort of larger-than-life thing happens all the time or acts surprised, but by now audiences have been seeing these things long enough to easily skp over the preliminaries and catch when the filmmakers throw a wink in their direction.

Even if that attitude lets things move smoothly, it does rather make the film feel like the plot is something of an obligation. Even without the previews laying out more of the film than seems typical - and credit writers Jeff Wadlow & Eric Heisserer and director Dave Wilson for making a movie with enough with and snappy pacing that its opening half can survive a bunch of its reversals and revelations being spoiled by the ad campaign - there are relatively few surprises here, and sometimes a lot of corners cut. The group Ray finds himself winds up choosing sides in fairly arbitrary manner as the film heads to its conclusion, and while the big confrontation at the climax has him yelling "you don't know anything about people like me", it's hard to avoid the fact that the audience doesn't either. It's the sort of movie that has so much misdirection to keep the viewer guessing that it doesn't have room for the bits that would give that sort of moment a solid foundation.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Friday, March 13, 2020

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 13 March 2020 - 19 March 2020

I'm writing this from the deck of a ferry in New Zealand where people don't seem too worried about COVID-19 at the moment, so I don't know what the smart move is back home; I know I'm going to be walking a hard line between "I should stay in even if asymptomatic to help prevent spreading the virus" and "places like the Brattle might be in trouble if people just stop showing up for a month" when I get back.

Be safe out there. Leave the extra seat if you do go out because, because there's gonna be some stuff that's worth seeing on the big screen (under normal circumstances), although some places - like the Harvard Film Archive, Bright Lights, and Museum of Fine Arts - have announced that they're closing for at least thirty days, while Irish Film Festival Boston has opted to reschedule for November.

  • If you do go out, Sony makes a bid for their own comic-book universe with Vin Diesel in Bloodshot, in which he plays Valiant's super-soldier able to regenerate his body via nanotechnology, though his memories are being erased and rewritten for nefarious purposes. It's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common (including Imax/Dolby Cinema), Causeway Street (including Wide Screen), Fenway, the Seaport (including Icon-X), South Bay (including Imax/Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax), Chestnut Hill, and Revere (including XPlus).

    The Hunt, delayed last year after people freaked out about how a movie about the rich hunting the poor (or is there something else going on?), chooses a lousy week to come out of quarantine, but can be seen at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Causeway Street, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, Arsenal Yards (including CWX), and Revere. At the other apparent end of the spectrum is I Still Believe, with KJ Apa as a popular musician who asks his audiences to pray for his sick girlfriend,, playing Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Causeway Street, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema), Arsenal Yards, and Revere.

    After a few months, ArcLight is finally living up to its claims of playing some non-mainstream stuff at Causeway Street with indie coming-of-age comedy Big Time Adolescence bagging a screen and Swallow - one of my favorites at last year's Fantasia Festival - getting at least one show a day for people to experience its lonely-housewife-ingests-increasingly-dangerous-things discomfort.

    Boston Common has the director's cut of The Exorcist as a sort of Friday-the-13th special. The original King Kong plays Fenway, the Seaport, and Assembly Row on Sunday. Documentary I Am Patrick tries to tie the saint's eponymous holiday to something other than binge-drinking at Fenway, the Seaport (Tuesday only), South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere (Tuesdaly only) on Tuesday and Wednesday. Boston Common, South Bay, and Assembly Row have a double feature of A Quiet Place and its sequel scheduled for Wednesday, but given that the latter has been pushed down the schedule, best not to count on that.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Kendall Square, and Boston Common get First Cow, a story about outcasts in the old west who obtain the only cow in the territory and create a sort of community around it. It's the new one from Kelly Reichhardt and even the trailers exude a powerful humanity; I wouldn't be surprised if it's her masterpiece.

    The Coolidge is busy come midnight this weekend, with Swallow in the screening room; a Friday the 13th double feature on said day (I believe it's the remake followed by the first sequel in the original series on 35mm, but different sites/emails say different things); a 35mm print of Saw II with a Haus of Oni drag preshow on Saturday; and a continuation of their month of superhero flicks with X-Men: First Class on Friday and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse on Saturday. They've also got Goethe-Institut presentation Lara on Sunday morning. Monday's Big Screen Classic is a new restoration of classic noir The Killers, with an optional seminar beforehand. They also have a preview show of Never Rarely Sometimes Always on Thursday night with director Eliza Hittman teleconferencing in afterward.
  • Kendall Square also gets Balloon, which was a Goethe-Institut selection and is a pretty darn good story of a family whose plan to flee East Germany via a homemade hot-air balloon. They also open Hope Gap, which features Annette Bening as a woman blindsided when her husband of decades (Bill Nighy) leaves her for another woman.

    To make room, they're moving Wendy and Burden over to the Embassy in Waltham.
  • Movies are evidently still being released in India, so Apple Fresh Pond has Angrezi Medium (or "English Medium"), a sequel to Hindi Medium with Irrfan Khan as a businessman sending his daughter to London for an English-language education. Baaghi 3 and Thappad (through Sunday) also show once a day each.
  • The Brattle Theatre has the last Space Film Festival show on Friday afternoon, with Gravity at 4pm. After that, they have a restoration of Soviet anti-war film Come and See, through the weekend (with a matinee on Tuesday), described as one of the more impressively spirit-breaking films of that genre. It splits the screen with (mostly) late shows of Purple Rain through Sunday.

    On Wednesday, they start ramping up for BUFF (and its local premiere of Saint Maud) with a repertory series called "A Little Faith Can Be a Dangerous Thing". It begins with Alice, Sweet Alice that night, while Thursday features a double feature of The Rapture & The Prophecy, all three on 35mm film. The series continues through Tuesday the 24th.
  • The Somerville Theatre has Pulp Fiction on 35mm film Friday night, including pre-show burlesque! They also break out the film for their first "Silents, Please!" show of the year, a Rin Tin Tin double feature. Then, Before their big festival (hopefully) kicks off next week, The Boston Underground Film Festival has their monthly "Dispatches from the Underground" at on Wednesday, featuring some of the best shorts from the 2019 edition in the micro.
  • ArtsEmerson is scheduled to show La Chana as part of the "Shared Stories" program, with shorts and post-film discussion, in the Paramount Theater's Bright Screening Room on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon. Maybe not, though, seeing as Bright Lights has suspended their programming for the rest of the semester.
  • Belmont World Film starts their annual film series on Sunday with Agosto, a Cuban coming-of-age story set in 1994. It looks like there are still tickets for the pre-show dinner as well. Both will be at the Belmont Studio, which has the first half of the series before it moves to Newton.
  • The Regent Theatre currently has a couple of film programs on the schedule for this week: Music documentary Stevie Nicks: In Your Dreams is scheduled for Wednesday, and "11th Annual Ciclismo Classico Bike Travel Film Festival" on Thursday, with live music from Slow Boat Home before the start of the program.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has announced that they will be closed for "up to 30 days", which probably wipes out the weekend's "Four Films by Stanley Kubrick" shows. It's not looking good for Thursday, either, so don't expect that day's screening of Cane River of opening night of The Turkish Film Festival (A Tale of Three Sisters), either.
  • The Luna Theater looks dark on Friday and Saturday, but the rest of the schedule shows the Magical Mystery Movie Sunday morning, Little Shop of Horrors for the rest of the day, The Witch on Tuesday, and Weirdo Wednesday.

    Cinema Salem has Onward, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, and Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band.

I'm still way out of town and figure that I'll just come home and drop after what looks like a 36-hour Tuesday, although maybe I should check and see what's in this country's theaters, just so I don't wind up going almost a month without seeing something on the big screen.

Friday, March 06, 2020

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 6 March 2020 - 12 March 2020

Hey, it looks like a new theater at least soft-opened earlier this week - The Majestic at Arsenal Yards!in Watertown. I used to ride past that location on the bus to and from work every day, with the 70 bus going straight from my house to this place if it had been open five years ago.

I'll be very far away, and at least one of the big releases won't open there, but I"m sure I'll have plenty else to do.

  • Hopefully Onward still has some 3D screenings happening when I get back; the new one from Pixar takes place in a fantasy world that eventually found science and engineering more useful than magic, though two elf teenagers discover they may be able to resurrect their father for a day before something goes wrong, spurring them to go on a quest/road trip. It's at the Capitol (2D), Fresh Pond (2D), Jordan's Furniture (Imax 2D), West Newton (2D), Boston Common (2D/3D/Imax 2D/Dolby Cinema), Causeway Street (2D Wide Screen), Fenway (2D/3D), the Seaport (2D/3D/Icon-X 2D), South Bay (2D/3D/Imax 2D/Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (2D/3D/Imax 2D/Dolby Cinema), Arsenal Yards (2D/CWX), Chestnut Hill (2D), and Revere (2D/3D/XPlus/4DX).

    Also opening is The Way Back, with Ben Affleck as an alcoholic on a downswing who is convinced to coach his old high school team. Guy seems to be capturing my brother's energy in the game action, but maybe high school basketball coaches tend to fit a template. That plays the Somerville, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Causeway Street, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, Arsenal Yards, the Embassy, Chestnut Hill, and Revere.

    After opening at the Coolidge, the Kendall, and Boston Common last week, Emma. expands to the Capitol, West Newton, Causeway Street, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, Chestnut Hill, and Revere. Revere also opens indie horror film Beneath Us.

    Fenway is back to showing Russian movies this weekend, with romantic comedy sequel Ice 2 playing Sunday afternoon. Revere has Monty Python and the Holy Grail on Monday evening. A restoration of Satoshi Kon's Tokyo Godfathers plays Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, and Revere on Monday and Wednesday, and for more recent animation Boston Common either has previews of Trolls: World Tour in 3D on Tuesday and Wednesday or there's a glitch in Fandango (probably the latter); the same may be true for the matinees of Just Mercy listed for South Bay on Wednesday and Thursday.
  • The film named after the young lady at the center opening at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Kendall Square, and Boston Common this week is Wendy, a modern take on Peter Pan by the maker of Beasts of the Southern Wild. The Coolidge also has The Times of Bill Cunningham, apparently not to be confused with Bill Cunningham New York. Director Mark Bozek and other special guests will be on-hand for the 2pm screening on Sunday.

    The midnights at the Coolidge this month are superhero movies, with a 35mm print of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm on Friday and Captain America: The Winter Soldier on Saturday. There's also a midnight screening of Cats on Saturday, with Somerville also having rowdy late show on the weekend. The Wizard of Oz plays as part of "Science on Screen Jr." Sunday, with the chance for kids to learn about real tornados from Harvard Professor John Huth. There's Open Screen on Tuesday, a special screening of #AnneFrank Parallel Stories on Wednesday, and a Cinema Jukebox show of Inside Llewyn Davis on Thursday.
  • Steve Coogan stars in Michael Winterbottom's Greed, with the film about an eccentric fashion billionaire trying to look human playing Kendall Square, Boston Common, and the Embassy. The Kendall and Boston Common also share Burden which follows a black preacher trying to come to the aid of a repentant Klansman.

    Kendall Square also gets And Then We Danced, a story about a young dancer trying to succeed in the apparently quite homophobic country of Georgia. The Kendall also has an encore screening of Violet Evergarden on Tuesday and concert film Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets on Wednesday.
  • Apple Fresh Pond opens Tiger Shroff's new Bollywood action movie Baaghi 3, Tamil romantic thriller Kannum Kannum Kollaiyadit, and Malayalam film Trance on Friday, with Thappad and Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan hanging around. Malayalam film Forensic screens on Sunday. They also have Escape From Pretoria with Daniel Radcliffe for a couple shows a day.
  • West Newton Cinema is the only place showing The Banker, with Anthony Mackie and Samuel L. Jackson as black businessmen in the 1960s who hire a white guy (Nicholas Hoult) to be the face of their business. Sounds a little too interesting to be relegated to the outskirts of town, but places don't like to book streaming movies, even if nobody has Apple+.
  • Two fun programs at The Brattle Theatre this week, with "Eight Perfect (Films About) Murders" covering the weekend with a 35mm double feature of Double Indemnity (introduced by mystery writer Peter Swanson) & Diabolique on Friday, a reprise of Strangers on a Train before the twin bill of Blood Simple & Body Heat (the latter on 35mm) on Saturday, and an Agatha Christie pairing of Murder Most Foul (35mm) & Death on the Nile on Sunday.

    During the working week, they host Harvard's Space Film Festival, with Hidden Figures Monday, Ad Astra Tuesday, Arrival on Wednesday, and Armageddon on Thursday. There will be post-film discussion at the 7pm shows on every day but Tuesday.
  • The Harvard Film Archive is mostly "Traveling Light: The FIlms of Kelly Reichardt" this week, with River of Grass (Friday 7pm), Night Moves (Friday 8:45pm), Old Joy (Saturday/Sunday 7pm on 35mm), Certain Women (Saturday 9pm), Meek's Cutoff (Sunday 4pm on 35mm) all playing before she arrives for a preview screening of First Cow on Monday and a screening of Wendy and Lucy on 35mm Tuesday. The exception is The Place Promised in Our Early Days, the first feature of Makoto Shinkai, which starts a weekend matinee series of his work at 4pm on Saturday
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has screenings of The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman's Portrait Photography (Friday/Wednesday), the newly-restored Cane River (Friday/Sunday/Wednesday), and Lucian Freud: A Self Portrait (Saturday/Sunday/Thursday). There's also Four Films by Stanley Kubrick: 2001: A Space Odyssey (Friday), Lolita (Saturday). International Women's Day will be celebrated on Sunday with Soviet classic Tiger Girl, featuring a Q&A with UMass Boston professor David Patterson and Anna Winestein from the Ballets Russes Arts Initiative, and Thursday's "On the Fringe" screening is a 35mm print of Fantastic Planet (preceded by short "Les Escargots").
  • ArtsEmerson and the Boston Asian-American Film Festival will be screening the documentary Who Killed Vincent Chin? in the Paramount Theater's Bright Screening Room on Sunday afternoon, followed by a preview of the PBS series Asian Americans.

    The room's regular tenant Bright Lights returns this week after spring break with Crescendo on Tuesday and The Lighthouse on Thursday, both free to the public and followed by discussions led by Emerson faculty.
  • The Omni Theatre at The Museum of Science is still closed down, but there's a free-with-registration preview of The ReelAbilities Film Festival with Picture of His Life in the Planetarium on Thursday, withe festival beginning in earnest on the 22nd.
  • The Luna Theater has Obvious Child on Friday evening, Life After Beth Saturday afternoon, Ex Machina on Satruday afternoon and Tuesday evening, and Room on Saturday evening. After the Magical Mystery Movie Club on Sunday, the've got four shows of The Wizard of Oz, plus the surprise "Weirdo Wednesday" show.

    Cinema Salem has Onward, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Weathering with You, The Lodge, and CatVideoFest.

I'm on vacation in New Zealand for the next couple of weeks (I'm posting this from the air), so I don't know if I'll see anything (though I'll almost certainly do some movie-related things).

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

This Week in Tickets: 24 February 2020 - 1 March 2020

Huh. See if you can spot the weird thing on the tickets below.

This Week in Tickets

Because the printed tickets at Boston Common now appear to lack certain bits of useful information after they've been torn (which makes how they've stopped updating the signs for which movie is on which screen at the theater even more screwy), it may not be obvious that Call of the Wild on Tuesday and The Invisible Man on Saturday were on the same screen, but the price apparently went down $1.50 in between. For what it's worth, I was in seat B10 both times, so that's not a factor, and I wouldn't think the difference between a 7:00pm and a 7:15pm show is either. Is it just a quirk inside the AMC Stubs app, does Disney/Fox insist on more money from premium screens leading to higher prices (something I would think we would have heard people freaking out about before now), or did they actually cut prices? I've seen cases of theaters charging more on the weekends, but this just doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

(Both movies - pretty decent, although I was probably never going to really like the CGI dogs in Call.)

Not much in between, in part because the internet access crapped out at work on Thursday and Friday, so I killed a lot of time coming home at hours when they don't run a lot of buses between Burlington and civilization, which I had to make up later, and then on Saturday I miscalculated how much time a lot of work being done on the MBTA would add to me getting places before falling back to The Invisible Man. I was a bit more prepared on Sunday, although when I got to Baghdad Thief at Fenway, I was the only person who didn't speak Arabic which meant nobody else was bothered by the lack of English subtitles, which is always an interesting experience. After that, it was down the C Line to the Coolidge, to catch the pretty darn delightful EMMA. on their big screen.

I'm heading off on vacation in a few days, so I don't know how much chance I'll have to update my Letterboxd page with new stuff, although it's quite possible I'll have enough time to kill in airports to finally catch up on a lot of reviews from last July.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 1 March 2020 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (first-run, DCP)

There's an impressive sharpness to this version of Emma that I don't recall from other adaptations, like director Autumn de Wilde and screenwriter Eleanor Catton want to make sure that all of the class-conscious material gets in rather than softening it to make the title character more sympathetic or the whole situation more relatable to an audience where those barriers have subsided (though not completely fallen). It sometimes makes the audience work a little harder than they might have expected for what seems like such a simple story. But the rewards aren't inconsiderate.

Consider, more than anything, how well Anna Taylor-Joy comports herself as the title character. There's a harsh arrogance to her that she can't ever let be completely subsumed beneath smiling, genuine good intentions, but can't ever let those look false either. There's genuine horror every time she recognizes the worst in herself, but it's elastic enough that she can backslide a bit, having to see the same thing from other angles before really learning, until she finally collapses upon realizing just how awful she has been. She comes of age by fits and starts and without a defining tragedy, and never quite loses the audience despite how often she has to screw up badly and hurt people to do it.

There are similar performances all around her striking a lot of the same notes or complementary ones - Callum Turner making the absent young man she's had a crush on feel like a male version of her worst qualities dialed up just enough to wrangle but not enough to repulse, for instance, while Johnny Flynn plays Mr. Knightley as someone who has already shaken off a lot of the same bad habits. I wondered, afterward, if Bill Nighy was supposed to play her father as sundowning; he's humorously energetic in his first appearance but seems to grow more fragile over the days and year. Mia Goth's Harriet is appropriately guileless and admiring without ever quite seeming foolish, and I like how the hair and makeup people emphasize how she's not adorning herself the way Emma is. The plainness of her bedroom is an obvious contrast to the Woodhouse and Knightley homes, but just homey enough to not make her an object of pity.

De Wilde is a photographer when not shooting films and music videos, and she delivers impressive attention to detail without ever getting too showy. It's a nice looking movie that is happy to let its design get weird on occasion while still being beautiful, and that makes it a delight to look at even when it's not featuring Taylor-Joy being fantastic.

Call of the Wild
The Invisible Man
Baghdad Thief

Monday, March 02, 2020

Not the ideal way to watch Baghdad Thief

Many years ago, after posting something about enjoying an Iranian film and how it was a different perspective on the region than we usually get in America, someone pointed out that such films are generally made for French film festivals, and that most of the people there were watching Egyptian action movies, romantic comedies, and the like. So, while you could learn something from them, you were often getting the face they were planning to show to the world.

So, I was kind of excited to see Baghdad Thief and The Money booked in Boston this weekend; I can't remember mainstream Egyptian films playing here before. Unfortunately, the timing didn't work out - the subway was out of commission near both Alewife and Fenway, so I had to choose one or the other, and went with Baghdad Thief at Fenway.

The Regal and Fandango websites both said "Subtitles". There were no subtitles, except for when somebody was not speaking Arabic. After about five minutes or so, I realized what was going on, but what was I going to do, go out to the front desk and ask them to interrupt the show for all the folks there who did understand the language when it clearly wasn't booked for me? Seemed like kind of a jerk move even for an $18 ticket, so I figured this wasn't a hugely complicated movie, so I'd ride it out.

And I got the gist, although some of the more specific bits didn't sink in. Better luck next time, hopefully.

Liss Baghdad (Baghdad Thief, aka The Thief of Baghdad)

* * ½-ish (out of four)
Seen 1 March 2020 in Regal Fenway #6 (special engagement, DCP)

So, obviously, I'd have more to say about the film if it had English subtitles, but it didn't. Which did not exactly stop me from enjoying it so much as it highlighted the extent to which a lot of genre films use the same template or are a little bit of exposition tying action scenes together. They scratch an itch, and this one did fine by that.

It is, from what I could tell, a fairly amiable action/adventure story, with a hero, a sidekick, and a headstrong love interest who actually knows the ancient history that will help them on their treasure hunt. There's a rival and a villain or two, and most everybody seems to do their parts well enough, with Muhammed Emam mostly looking good in the action scenes and Yasmin Raeis cute and kind of sassy. There seem to be more jokes about Emam's Yousif about to hit Raies's Salma in response to her being pushy than you'd see in a Western movie, which isn't cool, and it doesn't escape my attention that the villains tended to speak English to each other when they weren't addressing Yousif, which is how I picked up a few details of the plot I wonder, idly, how often that is used in these movies to mark the bad guys. It's also interesting to see Baghdad come across as just another city rather than some war-torn hellhole when the plot takes Yousif and company there. I don't know how much was shot on location and how much is Cairo redressed, but it's not the view Hollywood often gives us these days.

Production-wise, it's mostly smooth but not Hollywood-slick, maybe a notch above VOD quality. One of the things I could read in the credits indicated different stunt teams, and it feels like this played a huge part in the film often seeming to be of variable quality - the Cairo-based team was pretty decent, but director Ahmed Khaled seemed to need to work around some of the others a bit, and they didn't always mesh with the VFX work. We're used to slicker in America, but I don't think it's far off some other markets.

I do really wish there'd been subtitles, so that I could get an idea of how a lost-treasure movie plays when the Egyptians are the heroes rather than the sidekicks (often played by westerners wearing fezes). Hopefully the next time one of these shows up, it will be more tourist-friendly, or maybe I can find a good list of things available on Prime.

Sunday, March 01, 2020

The Invisible Man '20

Oh, crap, I'm going to get more emails and comments about not liking that other version again, aren't I? And it seems like they've just stopped.

At any rate, it's well worth checking this one out in the nice theaters - there was good rumble in the Dolby room at Boston Common along with impressive sound design and a nice, sharp picture. I did wonder about my usual fairly-close-to-the-front seating, because you kind of want to be able to take the whole screen at once in to try and spot anything funky happening in the background, but that wasn't much of an issue here.

The Invisible Man '20

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 29 February 2020 in AMC Boston Common #14 (first-run, Dolby Cinema DCP)

I don't suppose this sort of thing matters much to other people, but I'm awfully glad that Leigh Whannell went through the effort of making the invisibility stuff (which usually falls apart with four seconds of thought) in his version of The Invisible Man work even though this is absolutely the sort of horror movie that could get away with the whole thing just feeling right and digging into what actually scares people. It's the sort of clever, modern take on the classic Universal horror tales that they should have been looking for with Dark Universe.

Rather than being a wide-ranging story, though, this one is intently focused, opening with Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) taking great care as she leaves the fancy house of her rich boyfriend Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) in the wee hours of the morning, drugging him and climbing over a wall before rendezvousing with sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) on a nearby road. He's been emotionally and physically abusive for years, and even after escaping, Cecilia goes into hiding with Emily's friend James Lanier (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). Weeks later, word comes that Adrian has committed suicide, his attorney brother Tom (Michael Dorman) informing Cecilia that he has left her a trust. It's nevertheless hard for her to stop being afraid, especially when it seems as though Adrian has somehow turned his work in optics into a way to be near her without anyone seeing.

Reimagining the invisible man as the sort of person one might already worry about being near without noticing is a smart take on the material, not just in terms of cultural relevance but because it shifts the focus from the person that the audience can't see by definition to someone who is liable to have strong emotions on her face at all times. Elisabeth Moss is in every scene of this movie, and right on target as a woman with severe PTSD, always moving with the twitchy affect of someone who never gets enough sleep (most of this movie seems to take place at around 4am). She doubts herself just the right amount and makes the moments when she seems all right just a bit fragile, and spends the rest displaying what it's like to try and get a handle on one's fear - she's scared but seldom paralyzed, not quite assured even as she works to take back control. Moss takes full advantage of how Whannell writes Cecilia as a frightened woman of action.

That combination of horror and action is fast becoming Whannel's specialty, and while I didn't particularly love his previous film Upgrade, I do like how Whannell digs into the same bag of tricks to build the action in the back half of this one. Once it starts, everything is off balance and at odd angles but the camera still leads the eye to right where the impossible violence is going to be, with a driving soundtrack that highlights the science-fictional nature of how it's playing out. It's one of several moments when one can feel the movie click into a new gear, from the time an increase in the bass on the soundtrack says to start searching corners for odd motion to when it looks like Whannell has written himself into a box.

Which, to be honest, he kind of has, and he doesn't always find his way out: For every moment where Cecilia is more clever than the average horror heroine, there's one where her tormentors seems dumber, even considering how invisibility may create hubris. Much of the last act feels like he's consciously given up on making sense to reflect how someone in Cecilia's situation just can't know some things for sure, and while that resonates with how she can't truly ever feel safe or in control, the mix of clever and sloppy doesn't always highlight the former. It leads to a final scene that feels as much like a tease for a sequel or even a Dark Universe tie-in than even an uncomfortable resolution.

It still works, though, because even when this Invisible Man is messy, it's got something cool to put on screen and great work by Moss which keeps the focus on what the movie is about as much as what happens. If Universal can find other takes on their iconic horror characters with the same sort of hook, they'll do a lot better than when they were trying to be classic-monster Marvel without laying the foundation first.

(Formerly on EFilmCritic)