Tuesday, June 30, 2020

This Week in (Virtual) Tickets: 22 June 2020 - 28 June 2020

Ah, summer, so it looks nice out the window.

This Week in Tickets

Kind of a quiet week, writing up previous reviews, watching season 2 of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, doing a bunch of crosswords, the usual. Eventually, I was able to get a couple things off the shelf, with Taza, Son of Cochise the latest restoration from the 3-D Film Archive to see release. It's… Well, we haven't gotten entirely beyond this sort of cross-ethnic casting, but it seldom looks as bad as this. The next night was from the "unwatched Hong Kong Blus" shelf, grabbing The Moon Warriors off there and realizing that I'd seen it before. But, it's been over fifteen years, and it's an example of how you can wind up viewing something with new eyes.

Saturday night, I rented something from the Coolidge, and then when I tried to hook it to the TV… nothing. Just a dark-ish blue no matter what input I selected. The middle of a shelter-in-place situation is no time to find oneself without that working! Especially when there's no more 3D models on sale in North America, which would mean looking at a projector, which I'm not opposed to, but, well, then you're talking on a screen and trying to convince the landlord to let you bolt stuff to the walls, and let's just say I was glad that unplugging and then plugging things in a couple of times did the trick.

So all is good, and Sunday night I can watch Sometimes Always Never and The Audition via the Coolidge's virtual screening room, and it was a pretty darn good pairing. The Audition is the better movie, but the other one being an attempt to stretch a scene-stealing Bill Nighy character's story out to the length of a feature with a lot of Wes Anderson to it isn't wholly a bad thing.

Holiday weekend coming up! Would love to be able to put something on my Letterboxd page from some sort of outdoor thing, but it doesn't look likely.

Taza, Son of Cochise

* * (out of four)
Seen 25 June 2020 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, 3D Blu-ray)

(Quickly checks IMDB to avoid getting "actually..."-ed)

Oof, but this is some awkward, obvious "white people playing Apache" material, and I'm not sure I understand the point of it being so obvious, other than the straightforward "audiences wanted stories about Native Americans but wouldn't go to a movie without stars, none of whom were Native". The dissonance of it just is bizarre to see 65 years on, though, one of the tackier "products of its time" you'll see. It's never convincing and makes every strange line-reading an awkward coin-flip between "deliberately racist" and "trying their best but somehow even worse".

Put that aside, somehow, and you've got the movie, which is just decently-enough mounted to be frustratingly bad. Maybe there's some actual history in there, though I doubt it, and the script made of it is ridiculous, with characters displaying an amazing ability to jump from one idea to its opposite mid-conversation. The film is lucky to have Douglas Sirk in the director's chair, about to rattle off a string of classics but still grinding out genre product at the moment, and able to squeeze a decent pace and some nice visuals out of the script. Russell Metty's Technicolor cinematography doesn't do any favors for the make-up jobs on Rock Hudson and Barbara Rush (still with us at 93!), but he works with the scenic locations well, and the 3D disc shows he gave audiences who paid a bit extra for that back in '54 their money's worth without making it look like a tacky gimmick.

The restoration by the 3D Film Archive looks nice, but there's no avoiding that sometimes buying these discs because you like 3D can get you some stinkers.

Tin san chuen suet (The Moon Warriors)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 June 2020 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Hong Kong Blu-ray)

Been long enough that I didn't realize I'd seen this one before until I saw the orca, but even among batshit crazy Hong Kong films that might otherwise run together, some details make a movie stand out.

And this movie is... Well, it's something. It's such a familiar sort of thing that director Sammo Hung and writer Alex Law can basically start at least a few scenes later than many movies do, just cutting out rote setup completely, and have the audience not feel like it is too far behind. They never let it get boring, with a few genuinely odd bits of action and enough impressive ways of setting the scene to make the film genuinely striking at times. Characters are introduced fleeing a flaming castle, implying that the whole idea of government/royal stability is gone (ultimately only existing as a tomb), while the fishing village is open but also built to pull a viewer in, centered on the big communal cooking space that emphasizes the locals being so tight-knit. The film looks lovely even when it makes little sense or is depicting something horrible.

I suspect I had less patience for romance in my kung fu when I first saw this in 2004 (looking at the old review, I was also just learning that Andy Lau was kind of a big deal), but it's a huge part of what makes this particular movie work, even though many of the axes it turns on are kind of clunky. The thing I wind up liking about that is that, sure, the attraction between Lau's fisherman and Anita Mui's princess happens awful fast, but so does the sudden bond between the fisherman and the prince said princess is betrothed to. It's maybe not quite queer but it's intense enough for jealousy, and as such it heightens the melodrama deliciously, even as it feels like something few American movies of the era would manage in quite so sincere a fashion. And even if they did, they certainly wouldn't handle the melodrama that it leads to nearly as well.

What I thought back in 2004

Taza, Son of Cochise
The Moon Warriors
Sometimes Always Never & The Audition

Two favorite actors: Sometimes Always Never and The Audition

Right now, the virtual screening room at The Coolidge has a couple of features that could pretty easily get lost among some more high-profile offerings, though they each feature cast members I'm always glad to see turn up, though Nina Hoss is more likely to be at the center of a good film than Bill Nighy, who as I mention in the review of Sometimes Always Never is a good match for a certain sort of scene-stealing character, though that sort of character doesn't necessarily work quite so well stretched out to appearing in nearly every scene.

It's a double-feature that works better than I necessarily expected, too - both have contentious relationships between parents and children, bits of jealousy, scenes highlighting craftsmanship. Not exactly an obvious pairing, but the sort that feels good afterward because the ideas from both cross-pollinate rather nicely.

Sometimes Always Never

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

I love Bill Nighy even when he's in an awful movie, in large part because his screen persona is one seemingly built to steal scenes. It leads him to the sort of part that a good actor can give nuance in those brief moments, but there sometimes seems to be a limit to how far those parts can be stretched when placed at a movie's center. Sometimes Always Never is the result of stretching that sort of appeal just far enough to not break; it could do more and hit harder, but it seldom makes a genuinely wrong step.

Nighy plays Alan Mellor, a tailor who, as the film opens, is making a road trip with son Peter (Sam Riley) to see if a body that has recently been recovered is Peter's long-missing brother Michael. It is not, but any relief Alan finds from this is short-lived, and when his evening walk lands him on Peter's doorstep, he winds up staying the night, and many more after, sharing a bunkbed with grandson Jack (Louis Healy) and obsessively playing Scrabble online, coming to believe that his regular opponent is Michael and hoping to arrange a meeting.

Nighy being who he is on-screen - lean, stylish, and on a much better coolness curve than many of his contemporaries - is baked into the part in a way that's often interesting: One looks at him and his retro-cool roadster and impeccable attire, while Peter is never nearly so fancy, and combines it with Peter's talk of how he often had to settle for off-brands growing up ("Scrobble" with cardboard tiles), and it seems to say something about their relationship and Alan's priorities, especially when tied in with stories of the Prodigal Son, or how another couple that has lost their son (Tim McInnerny & Jenny Agutter) also has something about presenting a face at odds with what's behind the scenes in their backstory. It's somewhat standard material about families or people that present a good front maybe having something else behind it, but it's interesting to pick at, especially once the filmmakers get to peel back Alan's wit and carefully nurtured self-composure and show how this is eating at him.

The trouble is that the filmmakers often seem to be doing the same thing. Director Carl Hunter and his crew often seem to be doing the same sort of thing as Alan, covering their film in a stylish veneer that has a tendency to draw attention to the surface rather than bringing out what's underneath. The film is slathered in bold primary colors, meticulous compositions, and widescreen shots where one can't exactly miss the distortions introduced by the lenses Hunter and cinematographer Richard Stoddard choose. It's striking and usually deployed to clear purpose - emphasizing the weak connection between father and son as they talk in the car by cutting between shots of them at the opposite ends of the mostly-empty screen, heightening the sense of unreality as they venture outside their home territory looking for answers, that sort of thing - but it often comes across as trying to tell the story with production design and cinematography rather than letting those things amplify what's happening.

Much of the time, the cast just doesn't have enough to do. Nighy is enjoyably cool and sells the torment behind that equanimity well when given the chance, although it's often kept too much in reserve. Sam Riley is a fine balance as the son more likely to wear the heart on his sleeve, with Alice Lowe and Louis Hely rounding the group out nicely. The trouble is that there's always a sense that they could be doing more than they are, whether it's actually following Alan down his Scrabble-related rabbit hole or focusing on how all of this has affected Peter's relationship with his son. Most of the more-comedic diversions seem wedged in and out of place.

It is, seemingly inevitably, something of a match for the stylish grandfather at the center through much of it, nice to look at and able to be amusing or affecting for a bit, but maybe not working quite so well when the scenes he steals have to all fit together. The film doesn't fall apart, but it does wind up stretched quite thin at points.

Also on EFilmCritic

Das Vorspiel (The Audition)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 June 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Coolidge Corner Theatre Virtual Screening Room, internet)

The makers of The Audition don't exactly hide what's really going on at any point, but it is nevertheless fascinating because it is not, by and large, the teacher/student story that it initially appears to be. That is there but it's just one facet of what's going on, and the one which often seems least important, giving the filmmakers a lot of room to explore the other things which tend to be going on around this type of story

The teacher is Anna Bronsky (Nina Hoss), who sees potential in a student who has applied to the conservatory where she's an instructor despite the others on the selection committee looking for someone more immediately polished. Perhaps she sees something in Alexander (Ilja Monti) and his awkwardness that reminds her of her own social anxiety; she has not played publicly or even rehearsed with others in years, despite her colleague and one-time lover Christian (Jens Albinus) trying to recruit her into a quintet. Husband Philippe (Simon Abkarian) is the one who sees her at her most uncertain, and probably the only one who clearly sees how Anna's efforts to get pre-teen son Jonas (Serafin Mishiev) to follow in her footsteps as a violinist despite his being much more interested in hockey and the like is putting a strain on their relationship.

From early on, it's clear that Anna, rather than Alexander, will be the focus of the film, and filmmaker Ina Weisse gives star Nina Hoss the sort of character who must be great fun for an actor to dig into. There are some big, chewy bits that seem built to announce that Hoss is playing someone who has some anxiety issues, but they come early and can be read as her on an unusually tricky day, instead giving the viewer the chance to see how those bits are hidden under all the moments when she is decisive and indeed sometimes brilliant. Hoss plays Anna as someone who has been aware of her issues and dealing with them for some time, and the combination of things sometimes getting away from her despite her clear agency makes Anna fascinating to watch, with both her missteps and her better moments easily relatable, even as the film invests in how particular her situation can be.

It's how Weisse and co-writer focus on those details that often makes The Audition demand one's attention more than other films might. The very first scene has a group of musicians critiquing Alexander's performance in specific ways, and while mastery of a musical instrument can often be a part of what moves things forward in a movie like this, Weisse and company put a lot of effort into making sure that the audience can tell what the difference between good and very good is, or will wince at Alexander making an error quickly enough that Anna's subsequent shift in attitude does not seem random. One feels how difficult sustained playing is even if the viewer has never played an instrument with any sort of skill whatsoever, or reads how the other members of the quintet seem to have music flowing through them while Anna pushes it out. It's specialized material that she makes accessible in impressive fashion, without appearing to also give the audience remedial lessons.

Weisse does a lot of other things that work as compact but telling storytelling as well - the way Anna always has her violin with her at all times even when she's not actually playing shows how central it is to her identity, and as the film goes on, more of Philippe's scenes take place in his workshop, a retreat one can feel even if it's not completely signaled. There's some very nice work done with the young actors, as well - Ilja Monti hits a very specific spot in terms of just how dedicated Alexander is and how his confidence and fear evolve over the course of the film, while Serafin Mishiev makes Jonas a kid who seems to be genuinely cracking under his mother's expectations and dedication to her new student.

There are times when Weisse et al go a bit further than is really good for the movie, opening a couple cans of worms in the homestretch that there isn't enough time to deal with, along with a moment or two odd enough to make one wonder where that particular detail came from. This doesn't leave the movie feeling unfinished or unbelievable, instead underscoring that these people are both complicated and, sometimes, dangerously straightforward. It's more than the familiar material it starts with, and interesting for that.

Also on EFilmCritic

Friday, June 26, 2020

Next Week in Virtual Tickets: Films sort of playing Boston 26 June 2020 - 2 July 2020

Halfway through the year already? Time flies and yet seems to go on forever!

  • The Brattle Theatre has one new film opening in the virtual screening room, Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things, a documentary on the jazz icon. In addition to the film itself, they are also offering a live conversation with an expert panel at 7pm Sunday. They also continue their runs ofIn My Blood It Rusn, The Killing Floor, the Pioneers of Queer cinema group (Mädchen in Uniform, Michael, and Victor and Victoria), Shirley, Joan of Arc, and Lucky Grandma (final week).

    The "36 Cinema" switches from kung fu to blaxploitation for their latest film-with-commentary, Petey Wheatstraw, which streams at 9:15pm tonight (Friday) with commentary from Donnell Rawlings and Mike Sargent.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre also opens Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things, along with a couple others: The Last Tree is a semi-autobiographical story of an English boy who spends his first years with a foster family in the country who moves to London as a teenager to live with his Nigerian mother, while The Audition stars Nina Hoss as a violin teacher who stakes her family and professional reputation on a student she thinks has great potential. They also continue Rififi, Miss Juneteenth, My Darling Vivian, Sometimes Always Never, Shirley, Picture a Scientist, Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, I Am Not Your Negro, and Whose Streets?.

    There are also two live events this week, with IFFBoston director Brian Tamm hosting a Q&A with Shirley director Josephine Decker and writer Sarah Gubbins on Tuesday and, in a true sign that it's summer in New England, a seminar on Jaws with archivist John Campopiano and extra David Bigelow on Thursday. There's a spiffy new 4K disc out to watch between the introduction and Thursday night's Q&A, too, although actually watching my copy of it will be strange, since it usually plays often enough on 35mm that I don't need that. Curbside Concessions returns for a second weekend of timed pickups on Friday and Saturday, and you can also order a curated triple-feature from the theater's programmers here.
  • The Capitol continues curbside pickup (from 2pm to 9pm) and walk-up orders for ice cream and cinema snacks, as well as adding shorts package "One Small Step" to their virtual options (no new entries at The Somerville Theatre). Both virtual rooms include "Quarantine Cat Film Fest", I Am Not Your Negro, Whose Streets, Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, Hail Satan?, Blackfish, RBG and Life Itself, The Whistlers, and Once Were Brothers. The Capitol's site also features The Surrogate, The Cordillera of Dreams, The Painter and the Thief, Heimat Is a Space in Time, Spaceship Earth, Dying for Gold, and Slay the Dragon, while the Somerville's virtual cinema features Shirley, Military Wives, Alice, and Pahokee.
  • The Regent Theatre has a live Doors cover band show streaming tonight, as well as streaming movie options of What Doesn't Kill Us, Parkland Rising, Reggae Boyz, and WBCN and the American Revolution, as well as a continuing GoFundMe campaign.
  • The West Newton Cinema continues their GoFundMe campaign, ticket pre-purchase program, and links to Blackfish, Life Itself, RBG, Military Wives, Once Were Brothers, Slay the Dragon, and The Whistlers.
  • The Lexington Venue has pushed their anticipated re-opening with Once Were Brothers and Emma to 10 July, with a screening of short subject "25: Tony Conigliaro - The Documentary" on the schedule for the 18th. We'll see They too have a GoFundMe campaign.
  • I could swear Showcase Cinemas had another drive-in show planned, but apparently not. I'm mildly curious to see if their new Showcase Now site gets folded into whatever rebranded form CBS All Access takes after all this is over and all the Viacom companies are sorted out.

I'll probably see at least The Audition this weekend, although I'm also looking forward to getting stuff off my shelves.

These Weeks in (Virtual) Tickets: 1 June 2020 - 21 June 2020

Not many movies over the past few weeks, but sometimes you just feel good about accomplishing something.

This Week in Tickets

This Week in Tickets

This Week in Tickets

In my case, it's finally finishing up the last of my Fantasia Festival reviews from last year, with nearly a whole month to spare before the 2020 edition would have begun! It stretched out a bit because this batch included things I could watch on disc or Prime, thus refreshing my memory and maybe going out strong with better reviews. The batch included a re-watch of Promare (and the related shorts on the disc); G Affairs (from a Hong Kong import); Miss & Mrs. Cops; Why Don't You Just Die! (and the shorts by the director included on the disc); The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil (which I couldn't fit into my 2019 schedule); and Lifechanger (which I couldn't fit into my 2018 schedule). A mixed bag, but it's weirdly nice to be done and not be behind on some other festival thing. It won't last, even with other festivals in delay/cancellation mode, but for now, I'm going to relish not feeling behind.

What's filled the time since? Season 2 of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, which has been exactly the comfort food I've wanted while waiting things out, as it's very much in the same style of the imports PBS used to regularly show Thursdays at 9pm as part of the Mystery! anthology (which has now been reabsorbed into Masterpiece) and a genuine delight. I kind of love how the title character could be thirty-ish or forty-ish, which could have been a major difference but isn't, and how sidekick Dot has matured in believable but not flashy ways over the course of the series (I think I've seen Ashleigh Cummings in several un-Dot-like roles in Aussie horror movies, but not so that I can recognize her in one from the other). One more run to get through before the movie arrives on disc (amusingly, I think that I was in Oceania when it played its brief special show in Boston). I've also happily allowed the contents of the daily crossword links newsletter to eat a bunch of time, with the newspapers in the morning and the indies in the evening.

I did finish this last week off with a few movies, though - Tokyo Godfathers was a recent re-watch on disc, thanks to a new Blu-ray; L.A. 3-D S.P.A.C.E. has another streaming fest; and I got Stand-In off the shelf. The last one arrived as part of a Twilight Time/ClassicFlix sale and was an interesting curiosity, picked up because of Bogart in a supporting role as he was just about to become a leading man at the time. One of the things that I found myself scratching my head over, though, was the trailers - they look like genuine 1930s/1940s previews except that the text is clearly digital, and I genuinely wonder whether ClassicFlix was trying to recreate the original trailers with their restored footage or just something like them.

With festival stuff in the rear-view, time to really start working on my shelf, even if much of it will hit my Letterboxd page after EFC or the blog.

Tokyo Godfathers

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 June 2020 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Blu-ray)

Wow, I've been doing this so long that I've got a review up from when I saw it back in 2004! The really funny bit about it is that, looking at that, I wasn't exactly all-in on filmmaker Satoshi Kon, but apparently would be by the time his next (and final) film came out, enough to be gutted by his early death and frustrated that nobody has stepped up to finish the one that was in (pre) production when the cancer took him.

Rewatching this one, I'm kind of impressed by just how willing he is to make every character off-putting and not pretty, even though he could have found a spot or two to do so. It's something that really grounds the characters in their milieu and doesn't let him use appearance as a way to signal goodness, even ironically. The most memorable moment when he could - when Miyuki is shedding the layers one needs to survive on the streets and revealing that, underneath, she's still someone who can return to the life she fled - doesn't go for that. It's a thing that might have hurt the film commercially on its first release but sticks out as honest and committed now.

I suspect that I like it more now than I did then in part because of this; in the middle of a run of films that often included flights of imagination or fantasy, this modest one sticks out for how it seemingly refuses to do so even if the broader story is one of outright fantasy as everything clicks into place via fate and happenstance. It's a really fascinating case of being a film that doesn't seem to fit with the rest but actually works just fine

Full review from 2004


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 21 June 2020 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, 4K Blu-ray)

This isn't a great movie, but it's good enough that I found myself wondering various things while watching it. For instance, what was Humphrey Bogart's level of fame in 1937? Clearly not a star yet, but well-enough known and respected to be given first below-the-title billing with a slightly larger font size than everyone else (folks who watch old movies recognize this hierarchy). Sure, maybe it's just looking back from eighty-odd years later where we expect Bogie to be great but only half-remember everyone billed before him here, but there's little question that he's one of the most dynamic parts of the movie, enough so as to make one wonder why there's not more of him in it.

Other parts land in interesting ways, too - for instance, a villain intending to buy and dismantle a troubled but not necessarily failing film studio, for instance, although in the 1930s Americans were less reflexively anti-socialist, enough that a film could involve the workers seizing the means of production in response to a play that looks an awful lot like modern private equity. Leslie Howard's accountant sent in to save the studio plays as someone on the autism spectrum today, although that term might not have been around then, but it's interesting that he's not treated like a caricature or a monster, and it feels weirdly progressive that he can be like this and not need to be explained or justified.

It's a shame that the rest of the movie seldom lives up to its most interesting bits. There's not a lot for Joan Blondell to do as the stand-in teaching Howard's accountant about the movie business, even when they contrive to find more, though she's obviously charming enough that you can see why she was a star at the time. The bits with the grifters who are killing Colossal Studio all land with a thunk, and the revelation that things are as bad as they are because Bogie's producer is an (apparently high-functioning) alcoholic don't really fit at all. They come out of nowhere.

It's a mess, probably lucky to have gotten a Blu-ray release because it's got a pre-superstar Bogart in it, but it is at least frequently funny and its attitudes age better than is often the case

G Affairs

Miss & Mrs. Cops
Why Don't You Just Die!
Kirill Sokolov Shorts
The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil

Tokyo Godfathers
L.A. 3-D SPACE Fest #3

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

L.A. 3-D Movie Fest Online #3 (21 June 2020)

Time flies, sort of - I saw L.A. 3-D SPACE had events which could become online events scheduled for roughly the third Sunday of every month, but this still caught me by surprise when I navigated to YouTube for something else earlier in the weekend and found this on the schedule.

As with their last one, it's a fairly strong hour of impressive 3D filmmaking pulled from a previous festival's award-winners, with the filmmakers on hand for a live chat. That seems a little too much for me - I don't want to be taking glasses on or off or looking at non-3D screens with them on - but it sounded like they were all there.

Anyway, as of right now, the fest program is still on YouTube, with about 15 minutes of padding on each end: Side-by-side and red/blue (technically red/cyan, although they're basically the same). Next thing on the calendar is 19 July. Maybe theaters in L.A. are open again and they don't stream, but if that's not the case, I'm looking forward to it seeing what they show.

"Deadline"/"The Magician"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 June 2020 in Jay's Living Room (L.A. 3-D Movie Fest Online, SBS 3D YouTube via Roku)

Music videos are odd sorts of short films, often telling a story that is close to the song in spirit but doesn't exactly adapt it, and often requires a bit of a leap at the climax. "The Magician" is like that, telling a nifty little story of a magician whose ballerina assistant vanishes without reappearing before an ending that is nifty but doesn't make a lot of sense. The song, "Deadline" by January, is okay, I guess.

It's a nicely-shot video, though, with good make-up work to age the title character and some interesting bits of visual style that don't entirely fit together but never seem way out of line, with the 3D steady and seldom flashy. It's at least partly a calling card to show what filmmaker Andi Wenzel can do, and he certainly seems like a solid filmmaker:

2D version / 3D side-by-side version / 3D anaglyph version

"The City Quakes: 1906/1989"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 21 June 2020 in Jay's Living Room (L.A. 3-D Movie Fest Online, SBS 3D YouTube via Roku)

"The City Quakes" has apparently been used as a museum installation and that's certainly where it seems like it would be most at home, spending a half hour running down the history of the two major earthquakes that hit San Francisco in the Twentieth Century. Much of the time is spent on the famous quake of 1906, which is, no matter how many times I hear or read about it, more stunning in its devastation and in how the city pulled together to recover from it. Marilyn Freund's narration may occasionally be a bit flat, but the material doesn't need a hard sell

One of the most interesting points made, somewhere around midway through, is how the 1906 quake was the first disaster documented in large part by amateurs, although it is also worth pointing out that a large part of the documentation used in this film comes from stereo card companies, which was big business at the turn of that century. Other entertainingly noteworthy facts were that the post office survived that quake unscathed and was vital for keeping the community together and informed (and informing loved ones elsewhere that people were all right), a reminder that the U.S. Postal Service is just vital and awesome; and that the loss of life in 1989 could have been much worse, but a bridge that was usually packed at rush hour had a relatively light load, with people home watching the World Series. Baseball saves lives!

I'm curious as to which images in the film were 3D conversions, as is listed in the credits; for a film made in 2006 by folks who might be called semi-pro, it looks pretty well done (for reference, the Clash of the Titans conversion generally found to be disappointing was done in 2010). Generally, it's nicely shot by 3D enthusiast Robert Bloomberg, the sort of neat documentary which shows how effective the format can be.

Various ways to watch it and other short films can be found on Bloomberg's site

"Stereo - A Love Song to 3D"

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 21 June 2020 in Jay's Living Room (L.A. 3-D Movie Fest Online, SBS 3D YouTube via Roku)

This short, also from director Robert Bloomberg, is not on his site at the moment, which is a bit surprising; it's a novelty, sure, but one that may be particularly appealing to the people visiting that site. Maybe there are rights issues with all the films that he used as sources for the imagery and lyrics that don't come into play for a festival engagement (or as promotion for the 3D drive-in series that it was created for), but would if it were permanently hosted.

It's cute, with some fair cut-out animation and groan-worthy lyrics but enough basic competence in terms of writing a song that one can get to the end of without cringing too much (as mentioned above, Bloomberg is semi-pro, even if his only IMDB entry is for something he did in 1974). I doubt I'll ever watch it again, but it's an amusing four minutes once.

"Gentle Storm"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 June 2020 in Jay's Living Room (L.A. 3-D Movie Fest Online, SBS 3D YouTube via Roku)

Ikuo Nakamura's film starts with a dry screen or two of information about a 25 September 2017 coronal mass ejection that he was able to film the next day, which is either good fortune or incredible planning. I presume he used the same sort of rig as he did with his 2015 "Aurora Borealis 3D" short, placing his cameras miles apart so that when their images are combined, it's like the aurora is a phenomenon happening close up and something you can hold.

It's impressively eerie, nicely complemented by music from regular collaborator Hayes Greenfield. Nakamura is the sort of artist who is talented enough that even what seems to be in large part a technical exercise is worth checking out.

"Antiya" ("Impermanence")

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 21 June 2020 in Jay's Living Room (L.A. 3-D Movie Fest Online, SBS 3D YouTube via Roku)

This short is a less thoroughly pragmatic documentary, more of an art piece with Nakamura taking his camera to various places and shooting, initially staying in one area but eventually branching out and creating a sort of collage of quiet rural scenes. In some ways, the title of "Impermanence" seems ironic, because some of the sacred spaces he visits seem quite well-preserved even when that seems improbable, although the transient nature of the people passing through them is noteworthy.

Many of these images are striking, using time-lapse photography or slowly revealing that a cross-shaped monument is bigger than the last shot made it appear before reversing the angle and letting it show in full. A spire seemingly built into a rock balanced on the edge of a cliff is given scant time to amaze the viewer before Nakamura tightens his focus to how people interact with it.

And maybe it's what I as a viewer bring, combined with Hayes Greenfield's music, but there are bits that seem intriguingly less distant and archaeological, a slight discomfort at aiming his fancy camera at a poor village while passing on the river or a quick dip back into a large city where peopling wink and half-perform for the camera. It's a few seconds out of fourteen minutes, but it makes one a little more connected as an outsider looking in for most of the movie.

Nakamura has a Vimeo and a website, though each was last updated months ago, which makes sense as they appear meant to support bookings rather than substitute.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Fantasia 2019 Catch-up, Part 6: Promare (and its shorts); G Affairs; Miss & Mrs. Cops; Why Don't You Just Die? (and its shorts); The Gangster, The Cop, and The Devil; and Lifechanger

Voici! Just a few weeks short of when I would have been heading to Montreal for Fantasia's 2020 edition, my last reviews of movies that played the festival in 2019 (and, in one case, 2018). To be fair, these at least were deliberately pushed off once I saw that they were going to be available to re-watch so I could refresh my memory. Most of them you can find via JustWatch or order a disc, although my copy of G Affairs came from Hong Kong (and, hoo boy, am I gonna get a big package when they start shipping to North America again). That the most recent one, Why Don't You Just Die!, arrived at the end of April and there are still a whole bunch from the 2019 festival that have yet to find legitimate North American homes perhaps demonstrates that there's no need to rush if your goal is letting people know that something available is worth it, although if the goal is to help create buzz that gets a film a deal, that's different.

So… Now what? I suspect it's been years since I've actually been caught up on reviewing festival films, between BUFF, IFFBoston, Fantasia, their side projects, and the occasional trips out of town, and it only took a worldwide pandemic to manage it! I'll likely be applying for media credentials for Fantasia's virtual festival, presuming that such things are even on offer for folks outside of Canada (they probably will, but some films will still likely be geo-locked), and I won't be terribly shocked if, sometime this fall, everybody reschedules all at once, giving me a new crazy backlog.

Of course, I also won't be shocked if Fantasia 2021 is the next film festival I attend. In the meantime, I'm looking forward to putting discs in the player (and streaming things) without worry that it's taking up time that could go to some film that needs the exposure or a festival that gave me a press pass. It's a screwy way to feel if you're not making film writing your actual job, and I am looking forward to at least temporarily being free of it.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 5 June 2019 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Blu-ray)

It may not necessarily be rare for something like Promare to do well when stepping down from the packed Fantasia house to a decent crowd at a multiplex to me in my living room where I'm trying not to disturb the upstairs neighbors - at some point, a good movie is just a good movie - but it wouldn't have been the first movie where I fell in love with the energy and confused that with the film being great. And while the smaller quarters does make the rest of the movie smaller, it doesn't diminish the film. It's still a great, fast-paced adventure.

In fact, seeing it that way at this moment makes it come across even better, because the actual plot which initially came across as anime clichés stitched together exceptionally well shows a bit of a smarter shape: The opening which plays as rage boiling up, the tendency to clamp back down hard, and attack it rather than deal with it, the elites who think they can escape but whose plan doesn't work without the exploitation of the underclass, the raging fire at the center of the world which will destroy everything unless we let it out… It's not perfectly insightful - the fact that movies need to end is going to hobble any metaphor - but it does reveal Promare as a movie that has more on its mind than may initially appear to be the case because it is so entertaining.

What I said last year

"Promare: Galo-hen" ("Side: Galo")

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 5 June 2019 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Blu-ray)

"Side: Galo" is an odd little home-video extra, apparently released alongside Promare's theatrical run in Japan and playing so close to being a straight tease of the opening action sequence as to almost feel redundant, but also sneaking in a moment or two of filling in the plot that is only really interesting afterward. At least, it seems that way because that's the order in which I saw it, although someone seeing this might not see such heavy-handed foreshadowing.

It also doesn't get nearly the sort of budget per frame that the feature did. It's not cheap enough to look shabby, but also not as impeccably polished as the film it's meant to supplement, with the filmmakers less able to make the digital-but-not-photorealistic look feel like a style rather than a compromise. It's also hurt a bit by the non-linear storytelling, which keeps it from being as propulsive as the feature, which is kind of unusual; this sort of ten-minute dip into a film's mythology is usually tight.

On the plus side, it's as close as we're going to get to the full anime with a fun ensemble cast to which the film would, in a perfect world, be the budget-busing finale. The feature is done so well that you don't need it, but also done so well that you certainly want it.

"Promare: Lio-hen" ("Side: Lio")

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 5 June 2019 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Blu-ray)

This one feels less like a proof-of-concept than its companion short and more of a dive into the film's backstory, but is rather unsatisfying on that count; while Lio's "Mad Burnish" organization feels like it could have used a few minutes making his lieutenants into more than just anonymous henchmen, the filmmakers never manage that, nor get much from the woman who just discovered she was Burnish in the previous short and what it's like to suddenly become that sort of outcast. The story is kind of a mess, and the presentation, again, isn't as strong as in the feature.

Title character Lio Fotia doesn't show up until it's almost over and the whole thing seems misguided, as this pacifist basically shows up and immediately changes the philosophy behind Mad Burnish by being the most powerful, and it seems thin even without him being the sort of pretty manga antagonist he is. There's something intriguing about how the short sets him up as more a Messiah figure than the guerilla he comes across as being in the feature, but it's not anything that either is set up to do much with.

One thing that jumps into sharp focus here, with so much of the action focused on the Burnish, is that it's very rare that any of the fire in this movie uses a traditional red/yellow color scheme. For as much as the filmmakers say fire and want something that acts like fire, they never really seem to want our brains to react to it on that sort of visceral level. It's not a bad decision, but definitely a calculated, interesting one.

G Saat (G Affairs)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)
Seen 7 June 2019 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Blu-ray)

My first thought upon seeing this was "well, that's kind of g-ross", but awful g-related puns aside, there's an impressive race between outrageous events and striking style at the start of this movie that almost blunts them both, taking a while to find some sort of equilibrium. Once it does, the story kind of cruises for a while, jumping back and forth to let the environment sink in. The filmmakers never settle things down once that's happened, but that's generally enough to cover for any weaknesses in the plot.

It's initially narrated by Yu-Ting (Hana Chan Hon-Na), a student at a top Hong Kong private school who has been saddled with the unflattering nickname of "G", and who has had a rough go of it lately: Her mother (Griselda Yeung Cheuk-Na) has recently died of gastric cancer, and father "Master Lung" (Chapman To Man-Chat) is a dirty cop whose bullying behavior has gone viral online, with Lung recently appointing his mistress Li Xiaomei (Huang Lu) - a prostitute from the mainland who goes by "Mei" - as Yu-Ting's guardian. Lung has also set up shop for his secret meetings in the apartment of Yu-Tin's classmate Tai (Lam Sen), a cello-obsessed loner whose parents have separately gone abroad, which happens to be across from Xioamei's. Yu-Ting's only confidents are Markus (Luk Chun-Kwong), the physics teacher she gives blowjobs, and Don (Kyle Li Yam-San), a tech savant with Asperger's Syndrome everyone else at school assumes is gay.

And then there's the whole matter of the prostitute who is decapitated while Lung has a tryst in front of Tai.

It sometimes feels like the filmmakers came up with a fairly simple, if nasty, crime story and then worked out how they could maintain the initial thrill of the shocking murder but spent less time on how to play it out. Writer Kurt Chiang Chung-Yu and director Lee Cheuk-Pan aren't really making a thriller or a murder mystery here so much as appropriating the structure so that they can bounce around the timeline a little and keep viewers from getting fidgety or wondering what the point of all this is, and it's sometimes more than a bit transparent as Tai reflexively pushes back against telling the detectives what he must have seen and the final bits of explanation are less a culmination of what's come before than a wrap-up after they've said what they want to say.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Miss & Mrs. Cops (aka Girl Cops)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)
Seen 10 June 2019 in Jay's Living Room (refresh, YouTube via Roku)

This movie opens with an entertaining bit of action and then, immediately, informs the audience that it's not going to be getting any more of that for a while, and I'm not going to lie, that's pretty disappointing. It's also got a different sense of where the line between hostile and abrasive is than American buddy-cop movies, and while it should - it is South Korean, after all - It's got trouble maintaining a tone that works in other ways. The mean streak you often find in even Korean crime comedies doesn't serve this one very well, especially when it's trying to be very silly and very solemn at the same time.

That first bit of action takes place back in 2002, when Park Mi-Young (Ram Mi-Ran) was a rising star in a Special Women's Task Force, catching a drug dealer and making an impression on a pair of bystanders - would-be prosecutor Cho Ji-Chul (Yoon Sang-Hyun) and his younger sister Ji-Hye, who had not realized women could be cops. Fifteen years or so later, Ji-Hye (Lee Sung-Kyung) is a detective but mostly gets assigned to serving as bait to catch minor creeps, while her brother never passed the bar and Mi-Young left the force to work as a civilian in the complaints department after giving birth. An incident lands Ji-Hye on the same desk as Mi-Young and computer whiz Yang Jang-Mi (Choi Sooyoung) when a college student comes in to report a case of sexual extortion, and with no chance of the computer crime division solving it by the end of a 24-hour deadline.

You can see everything set up so well - a pair of sisters-in-law becoming reluctant partners to solve a case that the men on the force don't necessarily see as a big deal, backed up by a hacker who, between the sexism the film is targeting and cop movie-cliches, is actually extremely overqualified for the job she has - and the three top actresses are all a lot of fun to watch. Ram Mi-Ran is pugnacious as Mi-Young but not so far into that she's out of place at this sort of desk, while Lee Sung-Kyung does a nice job of making Ji-Hye a woman who is obviously similar - an early scene shows them as mirror images despite one being opposite physical types - while still having her own personality. Sooyoung plays off them well as the cheerful geek who complements their sour, intense dispositions.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Papa, sdokhni (Why Don't You Just Die!)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)
Seen 11 June 2019 in Jay's Living Room (refresh, Blu-ray)

This pitch-black comedy may be the most action-packed film of the festival, a bloody mess of a movie that maintains a breakneck pace for much longer than one might expect and manages the neat trick of having several of its characters doing corrupt, violent things while still maintaining some level of sympathy, which is kind of the only way this sort of free-for-all works. Why Don't You Just Die! is as darkly comic and violent as you'd expect from the title, but occasionally shows that it knows where the line is between that sort of darkness and outright nihilism.

It starts with a heck of a hook, as Matvei (Aleksandr Kuznetsov) nervously stands outside the apartment of his girlfriend's father Andrei (Vitaliy Khaev), nervously fiddling with the hammer he's planning to use to cave the man's head in. But someone passes by at the wrong time, so Matvei makes an excuse, Andrei reluctantly invites him in, but now his wife Natasha (Elena Shevchenko) is there and Andrei seems to be especially wary once Matvei doesn't have a great excuse for the hammer...

Writer/director/editor Kirill Sokolov doesn't wait very long to start paying that set-up off, immediately throwing his characters through the wringer, drenching the set with red as he quick-cuts to build up speed but tends to follow a smashing blow through, dropping down to slow motion to let viewers "savor" the impact. There are two or three top-shelf action bits in this movie, and a lot of them are set up by making the audience hyper-aware of just where exactly everything is and then sent careening in new directions by weird, violent slapstick. It feels even more absurd (most) confined to one fairly small apartment, and Sokolov manages to heighten things well past when most people would be dead while still having the blood loss take a believable toll (although I gather that this is somewhat realistic, in that it's surprisingly difficult to knock someone unconscious even though adrenaline doesn't actually make one superhuman)..

Full review on EFilmCritic

"Byvaet i khuzhe" ("Could Be Worse")

* * * (out of four)
Seen 12 June 2019 in Jay's Living Room (Kirill Sokolov shorts, Blu-ray)

I don't want to even think of dinging any of the short films included on the Why Don't You Just Die! Blu-ray too much, because they are by and large things the director was doing with friends and student films and as such are really amateurish because selling action is really difficult. You can see the roots of where Kirill Sokolov will wind up, though, in his sad-sack hero stumbling from one punishment to another, finally encountering something that puts it into perspective.

And he's got a good eye for making do with what he has. I like how he uses the backdrop of light-rail stations for the opening and closing scenes, not just so that he can come full-circle at the end, but because they represent change and movement, and it lets his main character seem alone and rootless where a more conventional setting like a cafe wouldn't. There's one really good performance and he wrings all he can from it before some very well-targeted effects work.

It's sloppy enough in spots that you can see he's working on raw instinct in the places where it does work, but better to have that than not.

"The Outcome"

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 12 June 2019 in Jay's Living Room (Kirill Sokolov shorts, Blu-ray)

Of the four shorts on the disc, this is the one that feels most like the cliché of a Russian art-house film, all grubby and cynical and aiming squarely for where the absurdist and the satirical intersect. It's processed to look a little film-ier, maybe reminding one of Tartakovsky and the like. That's not my thing, generally, but it's kind of heartening to see it still there, influencing and getting pulled out of young filmmakers when a lot of Russian cinema is going for big, slick productions.

There's basically just one joke here, though - when a cleaner leaves a chair on the bed after placing it there to clean the floor, the in-worse-shape-than-their-charges staff of this mental hospital treats it like it's the patient while the actual sick human being in the other bed is ignored. It works whether you see the inmates running the asylum or an incompetant staff going through the motions without realizing how absurd it is (or something in between), but even in a ten minute film, there's not a lot to do with it.

Slick nightmare sequence, though, and the one joke is in fact good enough to be told two or three times in rapid succession.

"Ogon" ("The Flame")

* * * (out of four)
Seen 12 June 2019 in Jay's Living Room (Kirill Sokolov shorts, Blu-ray)

Huh, I did not recognize that the lead actress in "The Flame" had played a smaller role in Kirill Sokolov's previous short film. She's striking to look at and Sokolov gets plenty from her, capturing how her character Olya is cool but fresh-faced, so that the raw, sometimes insane emotion erupts from underneath something without it being a particular surprise. The story is messy and sometimes random, but Viktoriya Korotkova and Sokolov have enough sense of this girl to keep the audience grounded.

It's also a great thing to look at, from the opening where a toilet stall becomes an art-house dystopia to a nasty fight that shows how far he's come from "Could Be Worse" on the way to Why Don't You Just Die in that it's believably staged and impressively reflects the emotional stakes of the action. It's good enough that the film almost doesn't have any place to go afterward, although there's something to Olya wandering a bit after a moment that feels like it should resolve something doesn't. It's a bit of oddity that gives Korotkova some good moments but which makes for a fuzzy second act, but one that makes some sense even when it feels like it's a bit off.

"Sizif schastliv" ("Sisyphus Is Happy")

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 12 June 2019 in Jay's Living Room (Kirill Sokolov shorts, Blu-ray)

IMDB has this listed as the first of Kirill Sokolov's shorts, but it's fairly elaborate for that. Maybe he figured he overdid things and then scaled back?

It's a fun sort of dark comedy of errors - a young man in the wrong place at the wrong time attempts to flee police, but while his family are making a hash of escaping the back of their apartment, the cops are having a hell of a time getting into the front. It's a neat set-up, but one where only something like ten or twenty percent of the jokes land well and both ends fizzle out.

The jokes that do work are solid enough to make this an interesting-enough bonus item, though the film on its own is very much the sort of thing an enthusiastic amateur does before going to film school. Nothing to be ashamed of as that, but very much something to grow from.

Akinjeon (The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 12 June 2019 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Blu-ray)

Sylvester Stallone has optioned The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil for an American remake intended to return Ma Dong-Seok to the title role, even though it's the sort of part that he would be smart to snag for himself. On the other hand, it's also a sign that he's smart enough to see what made a movie work and not mess with it: The high concept in this movie isn't bad, but the star is the best reason to see it.

A serial killer is stalking the area around Cheonan, rear-ending drivers and then killing them when they stop to exchange information, but so far the police haven't caught onto the pattern with the exception of Jung Tae-Seok (Kim Moo-Yul), the sort of honest cop that the rest of the force often figures is trying a little too hard, especially since Captain Cha Soo-Jin (Kim Gyu-Ri) has a cozy arrangement with the local bosses. That's before Kang runs across Jang Dong-Su (Ma), who is not only the sort of guy who's burly enough that it would take a lot of stabbing to put him down for the count, but he's the city's big boss. He doesn't go to the police, of course, but Tae-Sook figures out why Dong-Su laying low, and they strike an alliance - Tae-Sook can't catch the killer without what Dong-Su has seen, and Dong-Su can't let word that some random person almost killed him get out. After all, lesser boss Heo Sang-Do (Yoo Jae-Myung) is already looking to move up.

Ma Dong-Seok - credited in English as "Don Lee" - is a big guy who was a personal trainer before he got into acting, but he's proven to have more range and charisma than that may imply in recent years, and while Dong-Su may not be the role he's ultimately remembered for, it's still one that shows what he can bring. He smashes his way through a few scenes, but there's a bit of put-upon weasel to him as well, something that makes him a bit more than the blunt object you may take him for but doesn't exactly make him admirable and impressive. He's a little funny even when being kind of repulsive, and of all the people involved, he often seems to be the one with the best idea of just how far over-the-top he should be going.

Full review on EFilmCritic


* * (out of four)
Seen 14 June 2019 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Blu-ray)

Telling a horror story or thriller from the point of view of the monster is often an intriguing idea, but one that requires a little more care than writer/director Justin McConnell takes with Lifechanger, although that's not its only issue. The exciting high concepts of its shape-shifting plot and the practical limitations of the production keep running into each other, and it's easy to lose patience by the time it gets to the clever bit.

It starts with a woman (Elitsa Bako) waking up next to a desiccated corpse, though she's got a male voice-over (Bill Oberst Jr.); that's because when "Drew" drains the vitality from somebody, he takes on their physical form, usually healing as he does so, although he still seems to have a wound from where the original Emily tried to defend herself this time around. Changing like this is a matter of survival, but bodies used to last longer, sometimes years, before he used to feel himself about to break down and begin the process again. He's reached the point where he knows which chemicals can change long he has, and has a regular disposal routine; he also has a girl he's fond of, Julia (Lora Burke), and finds a reason to hang around her favorite bar no matter what form he takes (Steve Kasan, Sam James White, Rachel VanDuzer, Jack Foley).

Sometime, around the point where Drew mentions that he lost track of Julia's home address the last time she moved, it clicks into place that, above and beyond the regular murder and path of destruction he cuts through innocent people's lives, he's also a stalker, and that's the moment when the film is most clearly pulled in two directions. It is, after all, an interesting and worthy subject, and a pretty clever way of talking about how a person can hide behind various shifting identities in the Twenty-First Century without the film becoming all shots of computer screens and people typing with overlaid text. It also makes Drew a thoroughly miserable person for the audience to be spending time with, but not necessarily evil or self-deluding in a way that the audience either feels an uncomfortable sympathy or a disgust that can completely override interest in the fantasy situation. It's uncomfortable, but not quite in a way that compels one to keep watching.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Friday, June 19, 2020

Next Week in Virtual Tickets: Films sort of playing Boston 19 June 2020 - 25 June 2020

Hopefully, this year being strange and tumultuous leads us to a point where movies tying in with Juneteenth isn't any stranger than any other holiday.

  • The film in question is Miss Juneteenth, starring Nicole Behaire as a single mother who was given the title in a beauty pageant years ago and is trying to position her daughter to follow in her footsteps, though that is not the younger's girl's thing. It plays in the virtual screening room of The Coolidge Corner Theatre, which also opens My Darling Vivian, a documentary featuring the first wife on Johnny Cash, who is the mother of his four daughters. They also continue the "Pioneers of Queer Ciema" triple feature (Mädchen in Uniform, Michael, and Victor and Victoria), Sometimes Always Never, You Don't Nomi, Shirley, The Painter and the Thief, Picture a Scientist, and the BLM programming including Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, I Am Not Your Negro, and Whose Streets?, and Parkland Rising.

    Once again, the Goethe-Insitut film scheduled for one weekend, I Was I Am I Will Be, proves popular enough for a second, with an introduction from director Ilker Çatak on the website. They also adapt their "Big Screen Classics" series to the small screen, with Jules Dassin's classic heist movie Rififi in the virtual screening room. That film also pulls double-duty as the Coolidge Education selection of the week, with Boston Globe critic Ty Burr providing an introduction and hosting a Zoom Q&A on Thursday for those who register. They're also offering Curbside Concessions, where you can pre-order packages of popcorn, candy, and drinks for pickup at the back entrance.
  • The The Brattle Theatre also has a new re-release, of somewhat more recent vintage, with Bill Duke's The Killing Floor opening and featuring Damien Leake as a Black man who came to Chicago in 1919, found work in a slaughterhouse, and would thus be at the epicenter of a major clash at the intersection of race and labor They also continue the Pioneers of Queer cinema group (Mädchen in Uniform, Michael, and Victor and Victoria), Shirley, and Joan of Arc.

    On Monday, they open In My Blood It Runs, a documentary about a 10-year-old Australian aboriginal who is seen as full of potential and a possible leader by his community but ill-served by the colonial educational system. The film is also this weekend's selection for GlobeDocs; RSVP for a screening link and a Monday-evening discussion with director Maya Newell.
  • The Capitol has shifted the hours for their curbside pickup back a bit (from 2pm to 9pm) and is now offering walk-up orders for ice cream and cinema snacks at the box office. They and sister cinema The Somerville Theatre are both adding a Quarantine Cat Film Fest to their virtual cinemas, alongside Magnolia docs (I Am Not Your Negro, Whose Streets, and Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, Hail Satan?, Blackfish, RBG and Life Itself), The Whistlers, and Once Were Brothers. The Capitol's virtual cinema also feature The Surrogate, The Cordillera of Dreams, The Painter and the Thief, Heimat Is a Space in Time, Spaceship Earth, Dying for Gold, and Slay the Dragon. The Somerville's virtual cinema includes Shirley, Military Wives, Alice, and Pahokee.
  • The Regent Theatre's virtual offerings pick up What Doesn't Kill Us, a mockumentary which presupposes that a zombie outbreak occurred in 2003, but was contained to Texas, while a cure was found (obviously a fantasy), with the film documenting how the recovered "necro sapiens" face difficulties in non-undead society. They also keep Parkland Rising, Reggae Boyz, WBCN and the American Revolution, Dosed and Fantastic Fungi while continuing their GoFundMe campaign.
  • The West Newton Cinema continues their GoFundMe campaign, ticket pre-purchase program, and links to Blackfish, Life Itself, RBG, Military Wives, Once Were Brothers, Slay the Dragon, and The Whistlers.
  • The Lexington Venue is the first local theater to set a date for re-opening, with plans to show Once Were Brothers and Emma starting 3 July, although I imagine that is very much subject to change. They also have a GoFundMe campaign.
  • Showcase Cinemas has created a dedicated Showcase Now selection on their website which, in addition to a surprisingly interesting set of documentaries and the expected dip into corporate cousin Paramount's library, also includes a number of museum tours. The Friday night drive-in show at their Foxboro location is Sonic the Hedgehog, with tickets and snacks on sale via their smartphone app..

Would I happily bring some sort of folding chair to, say, Apple Fresh pond for a drive-in type deal if they'd let me? Yes, absolutely.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Next Week in Virtual Tickets: Films sort of playing Boston 12 June 2020 - 18 June 2020

Jumped the gun on some things "opening" last week because time has no meaning..

  • June is still Pride month, despite what's going on, with The Brattle Theatre and several other theaters celebrating with Kino's new restorations of Mädchen in Uniform, Michael, and Victor and Victoria, two early talkies and a silent from Germany that were, as advertised, "Pioneers of Queer Cinema". They can be rented individually or as a package that one has ten days to watch. They also continue Shirley, Joan of Arc, Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself, Lucky Grandma, The Ghost of Peter Sellers, and Fourteen in their virtual room, the latter two marked as being in their final week

    The Brattle is also curating the Cambridge Movie Night, with a selection of films from BIPOC curators and a list of black-owned restaurants to order from on Friday. Friday night also features another kung fu movie with live commentary from RZA, Dan Halstead, and Mustafa Shaikh, The Mystery of Chessboxing.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre also hosts "Pioneers of Queer Ciema" and Chessboxing, as well as Sometimes Always Never, featuring Bill Nighy as a man trying to reconnect with his estranged son, and Showgirls documentary You Don't Nomi. Continuing bookings include Shirley, Tommaso, The Painter and the Thief, Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy, and BLM programming including Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, I Am Not Your Negro, and Whose Streets?, and Parkland Rising.

    Their "Science On Screen" program returns with a virtual screening room booking of Picture a Scientist, a documentary feature on the increasing number of woman scientists and the challenges they face, and also hosting a virtual Q&A on Wednesday evening. The Goethe-Institut also delivers a German feature, I Was I Am I Will Be, including an introduction from director Ilker Çatak. They will also host author Ben Mezrich's rescheduled discussion of The Social Network (adapted from his book The Accidental Billionaires) for Tuesday evening, with the week's seminar featuring Kaj Wilson of Boston Jewish Film introducing and leading a Thursday-night discussion of Albert Brooks's Mother.
  • The Capitol adds The Surrogate, a feature starring Jess Harris as an egg donor and surrogate for her gay friends whose relationships will be tested by the pregnancy, to their virtual cinema, alongside the Magnolia BLM and "favoirte" docs (I Am Not Your Negro, Whose Streets, and Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, Hail Satan? Blackfish, RBG and Life Itself) there along with The Cordillera of Dreams, The Painter and the Thief, Heimat Is a Space in Time, Spaceship Earth, Dying for Gold, The Whistlers, Once Were Brothers, and Slay the Dragon. Their friends at The Somerville Theatre continue the Magnolia docs, Shirley, Military Wives, The Ghost of Peter Sellers, Alice, Pahokee, The Whistlers, and Once Were Brothers.
  • Boston Jewish Film is hosting a virtual screening room for documentary Picture of His Life through Sunday the 14th, including a Q&A with director Yonatan Nir and his subject, underwater wildlife photographer Amos Nacoum, on Sunday afternoon.
  • GlobeDocs is offering a free screening of feature documentary Drag Kids in association with Boston Pride; RSVP, watch the film this weekend, and come back on Monday afternoon for a Q&A webinar with director Megan Wennberg and some of the film's subjects.
  • The Regent Theatre has Parkland Rising, Reggae Boyz, WBCN and the American Revolution, Dosed and Fantastic Fungi in their virtual screening room and a continuing GoFundMe campaign.
  • The West Newton Cinema also has a GoFundMe campaign, as well as a program to pre-purchase tickets that will be matched with "Local Hero" ticket donations to Newton Wellesley Hospital workers. Their virtual cinema page includes Blackfish, Life Itself, RBG, Military Wives, Once Were Brothers, Slay the Dragon, and The Whistlers.
  • The Lexington Venue also has a GoFundMe campaign.
  • The drive-in show of the summer in the parking lot of the Foxboro Showcase Cinemas is Toy Story 4, with tickets and snacks for the Friday night show on sale via their smartphone app. They also continue to serve as a portal for Military Wives, The Mindfulness Movement, Fantastic Fungi, Capone, and Scoob!.
  • From last week, because I lost track of the days: Two movies originally planned for theatrical play open online without cutting theaters in today. The King of Staten Island is a collaboration between director Judd Apatow and comedian Pete Davidson, and is available via the usual VOD channels. Artemis Fowl, an adaptation of the Eion Colfer young-adult novels directed by Kenneth Branagh, finally reaches the end of being pushed back because of scheduling issues including but not limited to the Twentieth Century Fox acquisition, debuting on Disney+. The new one from Spike Lee, Da 5 Bloods, a sort of combination between the black experience in Vietnam and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre as only Lee can roll it, drops on Netflix, and will hopefully be one of the films they license to Criterion in a few months.

I'm going to look into Sometimes Always Never and the Pioneers of Queer Cinema flicks, which will maybe help spur me to start diving into the other Pioneers boxes (I'm curious to see if this is a precursor of another joining them).

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Fantasia 2019 Catch-up, Part 5: House of Hummingbird, Shooting the Mafia, Lake Michigan Monster, Night God, Koko-Di Koko-Da, Les Particules

Tired: "Oh, man, it's taken me almost the whole year to review everything from Fantasia; I'm a terrible critic who won't be credentialed next year because it takes me forever!"

Wired: "F--- yeah, look at me stretching that content out even though everything has been canceled! Glad I have some reserves! Hahahahaha!"

I jest a bit, and some of these reviews at this point are kind of rough - I am leaning a lot on what I wrote on my Letterboxd page and notes that I'm finding hard to read (I need to check if eye doctors are open yet, because I probably need reading glasses), so this is the one where the reviews really become ruminations on their themes and how that has stuck with me nearly eleven months later In some cases, I've had to skip a bit - I looked at what I had for Hard-Core and just couldn't add much to it.

Anyway, I'm done relying just on notes, but have some Blu-rays and streaming to hit so that I can catch up and be fresh. And, hey, taking forever means that I can end this post by noting that you can actually pre-order House of Hummingbird now, which was not on the horizon at all when I saw it last year!

Beol-sae (House of Hummingbird)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The very last detail I noticed during the screening of House of Hummingbird - indeed, the very last detail there is to notice - is that the copyright is assigned directly to writer/director/producer Kim Bora, rather to a production company or some group of investors, and I wonder if it meant she started out with more resources at her disposal than the film's young heroine or if it's just that much more important to claim the story as hers. It doesn't matter, really - the film is good either way - but it's the sort of small detail that can stick with you at the end of a movie about a girl who is often overlooked.

That girl is Eunhee (Park Ji-Hu), fourteen years old and unable to get into her family's apartment because her mother is napping or out or otherwise just not answering the door, to the point where Eunhee eventually wonders if she's in the right place, as these low-income units do tend to run together. There are five in there, including older sister Suhee (Park Soo-Yeon), who is always in trouble, and brother Daehoon, a year older but getting all of their parents' attention and support as he studies for his high-school entry exams. Eunhee isn't a great student - she'd rather hang around with boyfriend Jiwan and bestie Jisuk - but new teacher Kim Young-Ji (Kim Sae-Byuk) sees something in her notebook doodles. Even with that new interest being shown in her (and that of a new classmate), Eunhee doesn't quite think of herself enough to raise much of an alarm when a persistent sore throat doesn't go away.

It's a testimony to just how good young actress Park Ji-hu is - and how carefully filmmaker Kim Bora has inserted potentially upbeat moments - that House of Hummingbird doesn't just become a parade of misery, confirmation that adolescence is nothing but cruel torment. Eunhee is a middle-school heroine that the audience can get behind even as her troubles get piled high, and Park makes it clear that she needs someone behind her, always showing the hesitation and frustration of someone who knows she is not thought of as much and is only just figuring out that she is undervalued. Park puts the same sort of intelligent passion into the scenes where she's worried and empathetic as when she's frustrated and envious as Eunhee eventually figures out how to demand attention because she deserves it and not just because she feels slighted.

She's never alone in her troubles, which helps quite a bit; it's clear from the start that her mother and best friend know where she's coming from, even if they often seem powerless to help each other break away for more than a few minutes at a time. It's part of being a girl in that time and place, and while the very first scene captures how close a kid can be to boiling over in this situation, the movie as a whole trends toward Eunhee getting more able to handle herself, even if it's sometimes a sort of youthful not knowing any better. The cast around her does good work in carving out individual personalities while also representing all of the various things that a girl like Eunhee is up against, despite making sure that they are never actually bigger than her.

Part of that is that director Kim never sets things up so that Eunhee has one clear problem that she has to solve. The bulk of the film is relatively small moments, even when the room is crowded enough for Eunhee to fade to the back of a classroom or family gathering, and Kim shows an ability to hold those moments for a while, focusing on how Eunhee is reacting to them, and switch them up so that neither she nor the audience is completely overwhelmed. There are at least two major challenges as the film moves into its later stages, but neither Eunhee's diagnosis or the calamitous real-life event that Kim works into the script are things that an eighth-grade girl can exactly conquer through her own efforts, but getting through which can solidify and strengthen her.

Adolescence is tough but survivable, and House of Hummingbird nails that vibe well.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Shooting the Mafia

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

This is an intriguing but odd documentary, in that it seems like it could be more focused or detailed or illustrative, but instead the filmmakers just let their subject take them where she would, and if that wasn't where they expected, so be it. It helps to have the sort of subject who is willing to take you places in that case, although sometimes that means being ready for them to just not be interested in certain parts of the story.

Which isn't necessarily the case with Letizia Battaglia of Palermo, born in 1935, sent to a convent school by a controlling father, married at 16, and had three daughters, with the Mafia a part of the background noise, as was typical on the island of Sicily. She was 40 years old before walking into L'Ora to look for a job and winding up a photographer. She quickly became known for having a great eye, and also for not flinching in how she depicted organized crime (she photographed her first murder scene on her third day on the job). She would eventually enter politics with the Green Party, and her work would be seen as a crucial part of an unprecedented crackdown.

Some documentaries have a subject and some have a star, and there's no doubt that Battaglia fits in the latter category, she's famous, well-respected, and colorful and knows it. She's able to casually take charge of the film and bring out the respect and deference of those who talk about her, seldom seeming like she's bragging or ostentatiously self-deprecating. She doesn't seem to be bullying director Kim Longinotto or dictating what can or cannot be included in an obvious way; she just sits squarely at the center, telling stories she knows so well that they are somewhat hypnotic, so that the rest of the film has to work a bit harder.

As a result, the fact that Battalagia became a photographer and that she saw people connect to these pictures is the story, rather than the how of it. The film never seems to have as much of Letizia Battalagia's photography as it seems like it really "should", compared to others along similar lines. Longinotto seldom stops to comment on Battalagia's work as art and/or journalism, or call attention to a certain image being hers and what it represents as such. There are also noticeable gaps likely based upon what she was interested in talking about, and that means they have to work around it. For instance, there's not much about her time in politics, or when she wasn't active in either politics or photography, so she takes a step back during the big Mafia trials, letting those major events play out without her. It sometimes makes her feel like a convenient way to look at Sicily in general, rather than her, but it's always an odd thing when the main character is missing from the climax.

That doesn't leave a gap, because she is interesting enough to carry through, even if she never fits the confines of a conventional documentary easily. The people in her life talk about her with great affection, including a sometimes eyebrow-raising parade of younger photographers she took as lovers. Because she didn't pick up a camera until the age of 40, there's relatively little documentation of her early life, leading the filmmakers to fill in the gaps with film clips, which helps elevate her to a larger-than-life figure, confusing the heightened reality of the movie's techniques with the often dramatic life she would lead. It's intriguing and informative, but also shows you can't avoid myth-making.

Which is fine; a movie like this is about telling a big story lived by a big personality. What's left out, or given surprisingly little time, is unusual, but that doesn't make the rest any less interesting.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Lake Michigan Monster

* * (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Fantasia Underground, digital)

Deliberate camp is awful most of the time, which is a fair description of Lake Michigan Monster, a tough slog for as long as the joke is looking at it and laughing at how low-rent it feels, but kind of fun once it finds itself more in the realm of the weird. Despite it only being 78 minutes long, it seems to take forever to make that jump, and I can't say that I found it worth the investment.

It is a story told by Captain Seafield (Ryland Brickson Cole Tews), who hires a motley crew of specialists on his quest to kill the monster of the title, which he holds responsible for the death of his family. It is, in fact, motlier than most, as most seem fairly dangerously unstable. Of course, Seafield may be the kookiest of them, as he's not really a captain of anything - truth be told, he doesn't know the first thing about the sea (or, for that matter, large freshwater lakes), and quite honestly his experience is more field than sea.

When initially considering this movie, I couldn't help but think back to One Cut of the Dead, which was similarly painful for at least a third of its running time before suddenly switching gears in order to break out a last act that more than made up for the weak start, but the trick there was to really make use of absolutely everything that had been planted beforehand, retroactively making the early grind funnier. The bits that are awkwardly sprinkled into this movie's first half are obvious, and surrounded by things that aren't ever going to be more than "hey, isn't this dumb?" So it looks cheap and hammy, never really building to anything, and isn't going to be more. It's not only obvious but it slows down for stretches, trying to separate things that don't go together but not making great use of that time.

Fortunately, the filmmakers find various ways to dispense of its less necessary characters (as people making movies with "monster" in the title tend to do), and eventually just pares itself down to one man on a mission and between the no longer screwing around milking the same set of jokes on the one hand and a commitment to throwing a bunch of effects creative enough to not need every computational cycle a whole server farm can give on the other, the last stretch of the movie becomes a whole lot more fun. It's full of action, the randomness suddenly feels like its pushing in fun new directions, and Captain Seafield actually seems to give a damn about what's going on rather than just making the occasional arch-but-stupid remark.

It's still pretty dumb and campy by the end, but at least by that point it's asking is viewers to laugh at what it does well rather than what it's deliberately doing poorly, and that's a massive improvement. Creativity counts for a lot when you working on a shoestring, often much more than just letting the audience in on the joke.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Nochnoy Bog (Night God)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

As fusions of post-apocalyptic devastation and bureaucratic intransigence go, Night God is certainly arresting to look at and utterly committed to a level few films manage. It's also a reminder that, for however much truth there may be in this sort of vision of the future, it can be monotonous and ineffective once a viewer realizes that the cynicism is relatively unshakable. At a certain point, you don't add much by saying everything is a mess in the way that it has always been a mess and always will be, and how many ways can you say that?.

Sometime in the future, a man (Bajmurat Zhumanov) returns to his home village after the fall of civilization, wife and daughter Aliya (Aliya Yerzhanova) in tow, only to be treated as an outsider, held at gunpoint, and forced to produce proof that he belongs there. After all, one would not want to be caught outside, when otherworldly entities take control of the area.

Kazakh filmmaker Adilkhan Yerzhanov creates an art-house apocalypse, one which offers up a world without sunlight but has familiar sorts of authoritarian types in charge of the town our narrator returns to, still asking for forms and proof of identity even if they must be hand-written. An absurd situation develops involving live explosives and a TV game show, but it just redirects things back to the bureaucracy, and the stonewalling before anybody attempts to solve it is perfunctory, at least for an outsider; perhaps there are elements of satire that play out more entertainingly in his native land. It's perhaps fitting that this sort of entrenched administration doesn't really change, but it comes across as a sort of default position, and it as such doesn't demand a particular character to complement it or get ground down. Star Bajmurat Zhumanov turns in a performance that's just a little less generic than the scenario, half befuddled everyman and half not used to putting up with this, and does well by it.

The film has its greatest spark of life when the daughter who had been silent through much of the film finally has words for her father about how he and his generation's obedience and timidity wrecked the world, but the filmmakers don't really seem to have any desire to run with that in any interesting direction - indeed, they see nothing but Icarus in that sort of attitude. It's kind of a bummer, not just for the fatalism, but because Aliya Zainalova has been doing good work in the corners throughout the movie and her complete frustration with the idiocy of all this is easily the film's most relatable moment

It's a striking vision of this at least. It's the sort of world that exists easily on a soundstage, and the details of it can be hypnotic, from the snow that sparkles as it falls through a hole in seemingly every roof to the daughter's yellow jacket, which seems to change shade as more or less light is cast in a scene. It's very deliberately paced, with the getting from one thing to another often a bit of a dark slog, but the islands of insanity and style are perhaps all the sharper for that.

The film is fully committed to its pessimistic metaphors, probably to a fault, but it's impossible to miss the thought and craft used to place them on-screen. For all that there is undoubtedly truth in what Yerzhanov is upt to, the film could really use a few more moments when the characters do something concrete, even if it's futile, rather than just talk about how thinking is resistance. It's a fair poke at present circumstances, but not one that leads anywhere.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Koko-di Koko-da

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

I spent a little time talking about what one could do with time loops when discussing another film that played this same festival, The Incredible Shrinking Wknd, and watching Koko-di koko-da (the last syllable of which is pronounced "day") in such close succession was a fascinating example of how the same seemingly limited device could be used to different ends. This one, in particular, is impressive for how it manages to remain harrowing even when the viewer can reasonably expect what they see to be erased.

It opens with a small family - father Tobias (Leif Edlund), mother Elin (Ylva Gallon), and daughter Maja (Katarina Jakobson) - on a camping outing to celebrate Maja's 8th birthday. It's a fun outing, with Maja's face made up like a bunny, until something makes Elin violently ill while they're on the road far from a hospital. It looks like it's going to be fine, but then things take a turn. Three years pass before they take another camping trip, which seems ill-advised even without the characters straight out of nasty folklore that keep turning up.

The bulk of that happens within the first ten minutes or so, and while most who see it will likely come in with a little more idea of what's going on than someone building a full day's festival schedule without being too picky about it, it's still built to pull the rug out from the audience early enough that talking about the work of the cast may be seen as SPOILERS. The small core cast is reliably terrific, sketching out a good baseline so that the devastated versions of the characters that we see for the rest of the film exist in sharp relief. Lief Edlund is especially good, creating different flavors of desperation as his anxiety from the potential collapse of his family is pushed into heightened territory. It's a fine match for Ylva Gallon, who spends the back half of the movie making sure that the audience sees that Elin is a raw nerve with no idea how to direct what she's feeling. They get all the room they need to demonstrate this, with the rest of the cast creating memorable adversaries that never detract from the stars.

As they shouldn't; this is not a film about that sort of monster. Instead, Johannes Nyholm has made a film that plunges into the despair of grief on multiple fronts, and the combination of the contrast with "before", the Groundhog Day-style time loop that traps you in a fearful place, and the perversion of something mostly-unrelated into something you can no longer abide is something that rings true even as it also feels like too much. In some ways, even the things that don't quite fit feel like they have meaning by highlighting the contradiction: Even as time resets, for example, the seasons change, so that this is both a place where the family feels stuck and one where the repetition does not mean they can escape quickly from any perspective. The movie can be a grim sit, and for some the repeated violence is going to be too extreme even as a representation of traumatic emotions. (End of spoilers)

It is, by the end, clear where the film is going, but it certainly can seem like overkill as things become gruesome. And then, at other times, it doesn't seem like too much, and there's this weird ethereal beauty to the horror it represents, an exquisite pain or a fleeting glimpse of something better. The extended shadow-puppet sequences, for instance, are dark as can be but also feel like people struggling and healing. There's humanity to the film's monsters, if not too much, and something sad but real about the characters trying to readjust to something normal. For all that this movie can occasionally be too much, it doesn't leap straight over being effective on its way there.

The sense of being unable to escape from a terrible moment or feeling makes this sort of story a potent metaphor but also a trap, because the situation calls for audiences to examine their situation without it becoming a puzzle. It's a line Nyholm walks extremely well, even as he creates a film that is eerie on top of being scary. It's the rare film to have a foot in both the festival's arthouse and horror sections, fitting just as well in each.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Les Particules

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

I suspect that there are bits of Blaise Harrison's coming-of-age film that I don't quite catch; aside from my having been such a lame asexual teen that I have trouble connecting with these movies as an adult to begin with, both the specific details of their environment and the fantastic events they encounter seem like they're saying something just out of my reach. That may be a good thing - there's a certain arrogance in thinking that the experience of youth is universal or easily mapped between generations and locations, even if there often is something to recognize.despite that.

In this one, I wonder a bit what the film taking place on a border might mean to its European audiences, as the characters live in the town that is home to the CERN Large Hadron Collider, which straddles both France and Switzerland: Does going to an apparent international school with both French and Swiss students make a kid more likely to feel like they don't fit in? It seems like it would, at least relative to other stories of European youth, but it's not something I was able to pick up as playing out here. What does having this thing which brings people from around the world in (and under) your backyard mean when it's not something you can really grasp?

Of course, all of that goes hand-in-hand with the strange effects Pierre-André "P.A." Jasson (Thomas Daloz) sees playing out around him, presumably from some experiment being conducted at the LHC. He's the sort of kid that often gets lost in the background in high school, taking an early bus because transit doesn't get to his part of town quite as often as it should, hanging out with folks like scruffy Mérou (Salvatore Ferro) and trying to get the attention Léa (Emma Josserand), though winding up spending more time with the ailing Roshine (Néa Lüders). It's all very ordinary until Mérou vanishes during a camping trip, something which could be foul play, him lighting out for somewhere else, or maybe something to do with the destruction of the building blocks of reality underneath their feet.

That unfathomable science which appears to have strange manifestations aboveground becomes a potent metaphor, something beyond P.A.'s teenage aimlessness that he can't yet grasp, something distorting reality itself. It's often on the periphery, and it would probably take another viewing and some mulling over to see how far Harrison is going with this - the final shot suggests things coming together and smashing into more basic pieces, which may be how young people feel these days, placed in situations out of their control to see what happens, although it doesn't necessarily fit the rest of the film. Maybe it's something simpler, like understanding the world is founded on unknowable mysteries but that moving ahead means trying to solve what you can anyway.

It's a tough thing to embody, but I like the way star Thomas Daloz manages it. P.A. is not an especially active, charismatic character, but Daloz and the filmmakers give him worth to go along with his doubt, a good heart even as confusion often results in pettiness. He plays well off Salvatore Ferro as a similar best friend - it's a character that would often be pushed to be flagrantly eccentric rather than just off and dealing with things his own way - and Néa Lüders winds up quite charming as the girl who starts off as his second choice but proves quite winning. They integrate well into the world Harrison gives them, not playing into stock teen tropes but showing a surprising charm when they threaten to become disaffected bores.

And, perhaps, that's a bit of what Harrison (who has made a pair of documentary shorts following someone from teenager to manhood) and co-writer Mariette Désert (who collaborated on another look at disaffected French youth in Jessica Forever) are trying to get at: The next generation will always be dealing with a world full of advanced but banal science and seemingly inexplicable mysticism for which their parents who did not experience it can't prepare them, and not knowing is part of the challenge. It's definitely a film that I'd like to see at a better hour, and not just the fifth show in a very long day.

Full review on EFilmCritic