Sunday, January 31, 2021

International Oscar Submissions: Exile '20 and Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time

An hour or so left to rent Exile from The Coolidge, although I wouldn't be surprised if, like a lot of the Goethe-Institut films, it comes back for a second weekend. That's doubly the case since there were some issues with playback on Friday, although you'll at least have plenty of time to watch it after if the window on my screen was typical. So, potentially plenty of time to pair it with Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time, which make a nice bloc as Oscar submissions from central/eastern Europe (Kosovo and Hungary) that have their emigre protagonists up against mostly-unspoken prejudices and end at what can seem like odd places.

I liked them both a lot, though, even if I might have liked Exile a little less if technical issues hadn't broken my viewing up over two nights. Both are movies without a whole lot in the way of trajectory-altering events, but I suspect that one can feel the 30-minute difference in their lengths a bit if it wasn't broken up. It's fun contemplation, with just enough weird stuff going on to grab your attention.

Anyway - it's a good pair, and today I learned that they speak Albanian in Kosovo and that Hungarian puts the family name before the given name, which isn't something I recall any other European languages doing.

Exil (Exile '20)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 29-30 January 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Goethe-Institut/Coolidge Corner Theatre virtual screening room, internet)

It takes Exile quite a while to get around to a question that viewers may be asking from the start, and though the answer is not trivial, the audience has likely been worn down enough by that point to consider it somewhat secondary. That trick is more impressive than it sounds; a film that plays out on as individual a scale as this one can often lose track of the larger point as it focuses on one character, but writer/director Visar Morina mostly avoids that.

Xhafer Kryeziu (Misel Maticevic) is a Kosovar chemical engineer who has lived in Germany long enough to seem more or less completely assimilated; he's got a good job that supports wife Nora (Sandra Hüller) as she works on her PhD and looks after their three children. But there are things that never let him forget that he's an outsider to some, such as how colleagues like Urs (Rainer Bock) always seem to slow-walk his requests and find ways to undermine him... or the rat he finds tied to his front gate when arriving home one afternoon.

Xhafer isn't always easy to like; he's carrying on an affair with an Albanian-speaking cleaning lady (Flonja Kodheli) but bristles at helping to translate things she must write for immigration authorities into German, for instance, and there's something seemingly off about him even in seemingly ordinary situations. Morina and star Misel Maticevic walk a fine line there, careful to let the audience clearly see the uglier side of his personality while not losing sympathy. Maticevic captures how Xhafer often (but not always) handles things badly rather than maliciously, and when the end approaches and he's both feeling more pressure and having more dredged up, it's never anything that hits just one side of the character. There's this continuing, human loop of "yeah, but..." where he's concerned, urging the audience to both understand and hold him accountable.

The same goes with the people around him; as much as Morina more or less acknowledges within the film that Urs is a very familiar sort of antagonist for this sort of story, one has to kind admire how much Rainer Bock seems to make a study of that sort of unctuousness, what sort of miserable creature he is without being a cartoon villain. Between him, Xhafer, and Uwe Preuss as Xhafer's boss Koch, I spent a fair amount of time marveling at how familiarly dysfunctional this organization was in ways that may or may not have much to do with the sort of prejudice Xhafer is keyed to notice. Sandra Hüller is also given license to be prickly and annoyed as Nora, both to show that this isn't anything new with Xhafer and that she's got her own issues to push against. One wonders, at times, whether frustration is about to overwhelm the rest of their bond.

There's not a whole lot of story there, and Morina pointedly denies the audience much resolution, but all of that plays into showing how oppressive living with that sort of prejudice is. Occasionally it's visual, like how Xhafer never quite seems to fit in his brightly-colored suburban neighborhood, or how the camera will seemingly detach from the action and go looking for something, but mostly it's the placing things in slightly higher relief. It's not just the fact of it, but the seeming impossibility of communicating it to those who don't face it and are invested in thinking of themselves as better than that; the closest thing to obvious bigotry is Koch trying to praise the team's differences and having it come off as a tremendously backhanded compliment. There's a steady background hum here that merges with the foreground, so that the fact that Xhafer, Urs, and Nora are all flawed people makes it harder - how do you know where the line is between something one can maybe do better oneself and something you can't fix about the world?

It feels exhausting in ways that movies with more plot-intensive structures more focused on specific goals often don't, and it may be a larger, more intensive dose than some may want. It seems worth disclosing that tech issues forced me to watch it in two hour-long chunks, so I don't know what the intended effect of taking the film in for two hours straight is. Then again, I'm fortunate enough to not know what it's like to live with this for one's entire life, though I suspect that the film has at least given me a somewhat better idea of it.

Also at eFilmCritic

Felkészülés meghatározatlan ideig tartó együttlétre (Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 30 January 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Coolidge Corner Theatre virtual screening room, internet)

The hook for Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time hints at something more broadly paranoid or sinister, and while that would have been an interesting way to go, writer/director Lili Horvát doesn't necessarily see the need to exaggerate what's going on here. It's not the noir-ish thriller it initially looks like, but is in some ways more engaging for it.

Márta Vizy (Natasa Stork) was born in Hungary but has spent most of her adult life in the United States, becoming a top neurosurgeon over the past eighteen or twenty years. A month ago, he clicked with János Drexler at a conference like she had never connected with anyone before, not even realizing he was also from Buda-Pest at first. They made a date to meet on the Pest side of the Liberty bridge a month later, but when Márta arrives, he's not there; she seeks him out, but János (Viktor Bodó) says they've never met. Literally stunned, Márta decides not to return to New Jersey, but instead takes a job at her old teaching hospital and finds an apartment - both of them well below her status - to try and figure out what's going on.

It's hard to blame Márta for being suspicious when someone doesn't remember her - she's striking on top of being at the top of her field to the point where everyone asks her why she would come back - and what makes the film work is that she's also smart enough and familiar enough with how brains work to interrogate this idea. Conversations with a therapist (Péter Tóth) that might otherwise be a framing device or meant to move things along do something else: They get both Márta and the audience thinking in a certain way rather than offering answers. Horvát never offers any sort of conspiracy or hints that János is some sort of supervillain, so instead we've got to figure out what's going on without easy genre solutions.

It's an intriguingly interconnected mess. One thing that's striking, early on, is how Márta defaults to English before Hungarian and is taken for a foreigner, and though this part of her identity is never addressed directly, one wonders how much it is motivating her actions. Did she read more into János's words because she never truly felt at home in America and wanted an excuse to come back? Does she choose a crappy apartment because it has an obstructed view of her favorite spot rather than a far nicer one despite being able to afford the latter? The way her old professors and friends question her desire to return has some logic to it, especially when one takes the more rampant sexism of the place into account. Preparations often seems like it's a movie about a woman being gaslit because men are intimidated by her being so formidable, but I wonder to what extent the latter is a screen for the first, a way to tell that story without it being over-sentimental, and to what extent they're the two opposing influences Márta must wrestle with.

Either way, it's a real pleasure to watch Natasa Stork work the contrast; she and Horvát never seem to use Márta's confidence as a cover for her uncertainty, or as things that easily fit into different categories of her life. Her certainty in her own capability lets her charge headlong into areas where she is otherwise confused in some spots and tempers that impulse in others, and it's tremendously fun to watch her be so self-possessed in her probing in spots where other characters often seem helpless. She's got nice chemistry with Viktor Bodó in the moments when the story lets Márta and János get close, and Bodó himself has the sort of charisma that can override the way János can often seem like the sort of puffed-up fellow who's not really in Márta's league on more than just her say-so, when the need arises. It's useful (and fun) to have Benett Vilmányi there as a contrast - Horvát is well-aware that his med student eventually pursuing Márta is a flip on convention, and they make sure that there's a little bit of him knowing it and maybe thinking she should be grateful under his mostly-earnest admiration.

Preparations doesn't quite make it all the way through without stopping to hash things out, but the filmmakers are good enough at doing so in a way that still lets the audience play with it on their own and plays up that these are smart people who like to figure things out. It exists in an intriguing place between a mystery and a conventional romance, and makes it work without abandoning either.

Also at eFilmCritic

Friday, January 29, 2021

Next Week in [Virtual] Tickets: Films sort of playing Boston 29 January 2021 - 4 February 2021

The City of Boston is moving back to a later re-opening phase on Monday, one which allows theaters to open, but as of yet, I haven't seen any signs that Icon/Arclight are planning to take advantage, though the AMCs are set to re-open next Friday. There's a storm coming anyway, so we all might as well catch up on the things that may be nominated for the best non-English-Language Oscar.
  • The Brattle Theatre opens three, joining Another Round. As mentioned last week, Japan offers True Mothers, in which the mother of an adopted child meets the woman who may be her son's birth mother six years later. From Sudan, there's You Will Die at Twenty, in which a mother is given a prophecy that her son will die young and the belief skews both their lives. Lastly, for this week, Atlantis from Ukraine takes a look a post-collapse society in 2025. They join Psycho Goreman, Identifying Features, Film About a Father Who, Spoor, Acasa, My Home, and City Hall in the Brattlite's new-release section.

    The new entry on the "Brattle Selects" side also hails from Ukraine, with "The Maya Deren Collection" a near-complete collection of her short films, previously scattered among various services at differing levels of quality but now all restored. That section also features Ousmane Sembène's Mandabi and Black Girl.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre and Goethe-Institut will host Kosovo's entry Exile through Sunday; it follows a Kosovar engineer living in Germany certain his harassment is due to his being an immigrant. Hungary's Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time is available for another week as well, along with My Rembrandt, Some Kind of Heaven, Through the Night, The Reason I Jump, and City Hall.

    The After Midnite crew adds Alejandro Jodorowsky's 1980s brain-melter Santa Sangre, in a new 4K restoration whose physical-media release has a crazy-expensive pre-order. It joins 1980s throwback Psycho Goreman. There are also a number of talks on the schedule, three in conjunction with the Sundance Film Festival: Two Science on Screen presentations, with Beasts of the Southern Wild on Friday and For All Mankind on Monday, plus a "Women in Horror" roundtable in partnership with After Midnite on Tuesday. After that, there's the regular Thursday night Coolidge Education with critic Scott Tobias talking Once Upon a Time in the West. For all of those, you've got to get hold of the movie yourself, then come back at the appropriate time
  • This week's Bright Lights at Home presentation is The Big Scary "S" Word, which traces the American socialist movement, both historically and in its current resurgence. It will be available from noon Wednesday through 7pm Thursday (limited to 175 free tickets), with a Zoom webinar Thursday at 8pm featuring director Yael Bridge
  • The first film to hit HBO Max alongside theatrical release this year is The Little Things, a serial-killer thriller written and directed by John Lee Hancock and starring Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, and Jared Leto. It plays Friday to Sunday at The West Newton Cinema (which also has documentary Some Kind of Heaven), and Chestnut Hill the same days, which also has Wonder Woman 1984, The Marksman, News of the World, Wonder Woman 1984, and The Croods: A New Age.
  • The Regent Theatre has another streaming presentation of Jimmy Tingle's featurette "2020 Vision" on Saturday evening (one-hour featurette followed by comedy and talk), with virtual tickets marked as "pay what you can".
  • The Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival has their schedule up and tickets on sale; it runs 10-15 February.
  • The Somerville Theatre is still closed but The Slutcracker: The Movie still appears to be available. Ice cream and other goodies available at The Capitol, their sister theater in Arlington, has ice cream and snacks Wednesday through Sunday.
  • Theater rentals are available at the Coolidge, West Newton, the Capitol, The Lexington Venue, and the AMCs and Showcases out in the suburbs. The Coolidge is showing slots available to reserve online through the end of February for both Moviehouse II, the screening room, and the GoldScreen, with "Premium Programming" including In the Mood for Love, Sound of Metal, and Wolfwalkers available along with the option to bring your own disc. The independent theaters also have other fund-raising offers worth checking out.
Six foreign-language film submissions makes for a double-feature a night over the weekend, or one nightly until the Coolidge gets France's Two of Us next Friday.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Next Week in [Virtual] Tickets: Films sort of playing Boston 22 January 2021 - 28 January 2021

This week in "how is the pandemic making movie releases different", we get the first of the Oscar Foreign-Language Films entries to hit the virtual Boston area, and I'm wondering if we'll get more, earlier, rather than distributors waiting to see how nominations (and even shortlists!) shake out, since they're competing for squares on theater's homepages rather than screens.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre starts on that first, with Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time, Hungary's official submission, which has an expatriate return home from the United States to reunite with a man - who says he has never met her. They also pick up documentary My Rembrandt, a documentary which looks to be not so much about the painter himself, but the passion for obtaining his works, promising "unexpected plot turns". They join Some Kind of Heaven, Through the Night, The Reason I Jump, Another Round, City Hall, and Martin Eden in the virtual theater.

    Oh, and one more, programmed by the After Midnite crew: Psycho Goreman, the new one from Astron-6 alumnus Steven Kostanski, which has a young girl discover a long-dormant alien overlord that she can control with an amulet, with hilarity ensuing until every enemy it had in the galaxy converges on their small town. There's also the weekly Coolidge Education seminar, focusing on Steven Soderberg's Ocean's 11; sign up, get the intro, watch it on your own, and come back on Thursday afternoon for a seminar with Clemson University's Amy Monaghan.
  • They also get Psycho Goreman at The Brattle Theatre, along with a few that are just a bit classier. Identifying Features, for instance, has a bunch of festival awards; it tells the intersecting stories of a Mexican woman told her son died crossing the US border and a recent deportee. There's also Film About a Father Who, Lynnne Sachs's compilation of 35 years of footage she shot of her father, director Ira Sachs. They join Spoor, Acasa, My Home, To the Ends of the Earth, Another Round, and City Hall among the new releases in the virtual rooms.

    For repertory material, they have the new restoration of Ousmane Sembène's Mandabi; the first movie to be made in the Wolof language, which follows a Senegalese man who receives a large windfall from a nephew in Paris, which brings out friends wanting favors even though the money order is quite hard to cash. They also have Sembène's first film, Black Girl, and are apparently the only place streaming it in North America until 4 February. They join three by Federico Fellini - Variety Lights, Il Bidone, and Intervista - available for another week.
  • It looks like the Brattle will open the final film in The Japanese Embassy's "New Year Japanese Film" series next weekend, which is good because it looks like the virtual tickets for Naomi Kawase's True Mothers are sold out, although there's apparently a virtual rush line. It's Japan's Oscar submission, about a family with an adopted child whose birth mother suddenly emerges.

    Belmont World Film wraps their online Family Film Festival this weekend, including modeling workshops with folks from Aardman and a Q&A for environmental documentary Microplastic Madness on Saturday, and a second Q&A with the director of Kuasa (a documentary about a South African youth soccer team) on Sunday.

    The Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival - online from 10-15 February - looks like it's got either its entire program or close to it for sale - there are 47 programs numbered #6 to #52, and they've occasionally been wobbly enough behind the scenes that I don't know if that means there's five left to go or those numbers are being used internally or something. There's some good stuff in there, including things I missed during Fantasia (and some that I could have missed at Fantasia, to be totally honest).
  • The Lexington Venue has a link to a free virtual screening of 76 Days on Saturday, to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the lockdown in Wuhan. If you missed it at the Coolidge, that's another chance to see it.
  • The spring session of Emerson's Bright Lights at Home series kicks off with 9 to 5: Story of a Movement, and the site shows streams on both Wednesday and Thursday nights (it's usually just Thursday). The documentary by Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar covers how the women's movement and labor movements connected to change the workday in the early 1970s, with subjects Ellen Cassedy and Mary Jung on-hand for conversation afterward.
  • Newton is the easiest place to see movies if you're taking the T from the city, with The West Newton Cinema playing Wonder Woman 1984 Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, while 2001: A Space Odyssey just has the Sunday afternoon show. Chestnut Hill is open Friday to Sunday with The Marksman, News of the World, Wonder Woman 1984, Monster Hunter, and The Croods: A New Age.
  • Jimmy Tingle returns to The Regent Theatre for weekly streams of his featurette "2020 Vision" followed by an hour of comedy and conversation, the first of which is Saturday evening. It's listed as "Live on Stage and Screen", but there are no in-theater tickets listed for at least the first show.
  • The Somerville Theatre is still closed but The Slutcracker: The Movie still appears to be available. Ice cream and other goodies available at The Capitol, their sister theater in Arlington, has ice cream and snacks Wednesday through Sunday.
  • Theater rentals are available at the Coolidge, West Newton, the Capitol, The Lexington Venue, and the AMCs and Showcases out in the suburbs. The Coolidge is showing slots available to reserve online through the end of February for both Moviehouse II and the screening room, with "Premium Programming" including In the Mood for Love, Sound of Metal, and Wolfwalkers available along with the option to bring your own disc. The independent theaters also have other fund-raising offers worth checking out.
Yes, I am down for Psycho Goreman and Preparations… at least.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

"Carole Lombard Collection": Fast And Loose, Man of the World, and A Man of Her Own

It's kind of strange that Carole Lombard isn't really the star of any of the three movies in Kino Lorber's Carole Lombard Collection (Volume 1), but maybe that's what you're going to find in any early sampling of a star's career - the movies where you can see she's a star because she's outshining everybody but maybe William Powell. It was not exactly what I expected, but for the most part the movies are fun anyway.

Is it kind of weird that Man of the World maybe did more to endear Herman J. Mankiewicz to me than Fincher's movie? It's a solid, well-constructed movie with one writer's name on it compared to the films on either side of it in the box and, honestly, most of the movies from this period, which often benefit from the writers' room approach in that they have a lot of good parts but don't always come together as a whole the way that one does. Of course, it's not just the writing that struck me in that movie.
That feels like a lot of people at a small table, crowded in to fit an Academy ratio frame. It's not the best example to come from this scene - it looks really awkward when it shoots head-on with Lombard in the middle - but even aside from the aspect ratio, I don't know that a modern movie would shoot it this way.

One last thing that struck me as kind of funny here is that all three movies have the Paramount logo at the front, but the discs are stamped with Universal's logo because Paramount sold their first twenty years of talkies to the other studio in the 1950s, figuring the lump sum would be more than Universal would ever make distributing them to television, absolutely not seeing home video coming. Sixty-odd years after that, it strikes me as a bit odd that Universal licenses them out to Kino rather than putting them out on Blu-ray themselves, but once again, it seems that older movies are being treated as having lesser value, so someone else is given the chance to exploit them. And it's not just the stuff that is not far from the century mark, either; Universal passed Tremors off to Arrow to restore/release even though they are still releasing D2V sequels to it. Stuff turns "old" pretty quickly and gets pushed down to someone else, and apparently it was ever this way.

Fast and Loose

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 January 2021 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Blu-ray)

About five minutes into Fast and Loose, I was rooting for Miriam Hopkins's Marion and Carole Lombard's Alice to get together, but even though the film is pre-code, it was still 1930, so it wasn't like anything went. Not long after that, it veers off in another direction, and we don't actually see Lombard until almost the end of the movie, as Marion randomly meets a guy, falls in love, and gives her dim fiance the brush-off, and some different fun stuff goes on. The movie bounces around for a while before getting where it means to go, and it's a pretty good time getting there and a reasonably satisfying finish, if more than a bit messy.

It's kind of helpful to remember that movies were made differently in 1930, cranked out on a schedule with a producer buying the rights to a play, two people adapting it into a story that would let them use standing sets and actors under contract, someone else writing the dialog, and the on-set director maybe not having as much control as the producer in the editing room to get it down to a trim 70 minutes. A movie like this is never going to be tight, but it's probably going to be built to do a few things well, and that's the case here - it's Hopkins's first feature but the filmmakers must have known her stage work and tailored the character to her, because she's terrific and holds the audience even when a lot of what she's doing doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Charles Starrett isn't as assured in his first feature - it's not surprising he would settle into B westerns, making an eye-popping 65 "Durango Kid" movies; he's got that sort of vibe - but he's got what's needed for this particular part. There's solid support from Frank Morgan as the father who wants what's best for his children but is willing to listen and good comic performances all around. Lombard actually gets the least opportunity to have fun here, the sensible young lady (despite her chorus-girl job) who could be a steadying influence on Marion's lush of a brother and gives the audience something to measure Ilka Chase's unrepentant party girl against.

Fast and Loose, true to its name, never makes a whole lot of sense but it at least sacrifices that for energy, jokes, and romance that feels good enough to work. It is, in some ways, kind of weird 90 years later, especially if you tend to assume prior eras are more buttoned up in every way, but it's a surprisingly entertaining B movie.

Man of the World

* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 January 2021 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Blu-ray)

Somehow, my brain didn't consciously connect this with My Man Godfrey, and I don't think I'd ever known that William Powell and Carole Lombard were romantically involved off-screen, but that latter bit is reflected in the ease with which they come together in this one, although maybe lingering memories of the former made it feel a little more familiar, despite the very different tone.

This one's a charmingly unadulterated romance, more or less entirely about the pair of them falling in love despite their being something hidden which threatens everything, with a grand gesture to cap things at the end. There's a lot going on in its 74 minutes, but writer Herman J. Mankiewicz and director Richard use that time efficiently, seldom stopping to explain things or simplifying events lest the audience get confused. It's a smart decision to never give either Powell's Michael Trevor or Lombard's Mary Kendall serious rivals for the other's affection, framing it as Just Not Like That with the characters who might serve that purpose, and not having that sort of intrigue on the table keeps things focused.

It's also some really nice work on Powell's part; the opening scenes serve the dual purpose of getting the audience in with the character but also letting them see clearly how that charisma makes his unsavory work possible. Michael winds up just far enough in the mire that he needs Mary to pull him out and one can see it happening. Lombard, meanwhile, puts a lot of life into a woman whose purpose is to save a man's soul, making Mary fun-loving but not the dizzy screwball she would later become; there's a real spark of life to her rather than her just being the perfect younger woman who inspires his with her purity.

There's also a nifty little time-capsule quality to it in 2021, and I think you can tell a little bit about how well-made a movie is that the sort of things that were clearly of its time still work rather than feeling like accommodations. I mention the sometimes odd composition that comes from a combination of the square-ish frame and small sets up top - although maybe it's also a reflection of how tight some of these places are in real life - but you can also see where they're doing rear-projection or matte work, and despite the "you can see" part of that sentence, it's pretty darn convincing - better than some seen in movies made thirty-odd years later. Funny to realize that "actors playing against blank walls" goes all the way back to 1930 at least, when it's so often looked at as a reason why modern pictures often feel fake. Also, while I don't think this movie ever uses the phrase "scandal sheet", it revolves around a publication that is literally that, which amused me because I never realized that the phrase was more than catchy alliteration. It's the sort of stuff you might point and laugh at if the rest of the movie wasn't so solid.

No Man of Her Own

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 18 January 2021 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Blu-ray)

There's a really enjoyable farce inside No Man of Her Own that occasionally shows signs of coming out, although a little research suggests that the degree to which the film is that kind of romantic comedy suggests it pulled pretty far away from the source novel by Val Lewton (yes, that Val Lewton). The bit in the middle where the poker hustler returns to New York with an unaware wife and has to fake having a real job despite the fact that she'd probably get a real kick out of being a con artist feels like it could be the engine for a much more entertaining movie.

The biggest issue, though, is that Clark Gable's not a whole lot of fun for most of the movie; during the time when "Babe" is apparently supposed to be so irresistible that Carole Lombard's Connie can't help but fall in love with and impulsively marry him, he comes off as smug and too phony; as much as the circumstances make it easy enough to explain that Connie is blinded by her own desire than something more than the little town she grew up in, Lombard plays her as too sharp to not see through him. They never have the sort of chemistry it seems like they should.

Supposedly, this was one of the movies where studios were pushing things too far leading to the production code, although the box talks about a scene where Lombard is on a library ladder and Gable is looking up as opposed to the more straightforward bits of skin. Perhaps most notable is that after Connie first meets Babe, the ways she talks about him is pretty straightforward "I'm hot for him" rather than couching it as charm or innuendo, and the movie loses something when it drains the sex out of things. It's like the filmmakers can't be sexy, clever, and romantic at once, and wind up moving from one to the other.

Which may be fair; Lewton's No Bed of Her Own doesn't sound like it's really many of those things but more a realistic story that looks at the Depression directly. That's not what this movie is going for, but it never finds the right mood, either.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Two from Japan: Wood Job! and To the Ends of the Earth

Apparently, the way to get me to stop procrastinating about which movies the local theaters are streaming is to give me the chance to make a double feature out of them. One movie, you can brush off, saying you can watch it later, but two is something you plan for, and maybe move up because the opportunity to see both isn't going to be there past a certain window. Thus, I finally catch To the Ends of the Earth after it's hung out in the Brattle's virtual room for the better part of a month.

(They're both pretty good, with Wood Job! probably still available via the Japanese Embassy's New Year Japanese Film series until sometime Monday and To the Ends of the Earth in the Brattlite through at least Thursday.)

We're right up at 11 months of no/limited theaters, and this really reminded me how much I miss double features, specifically. They can take many forms - so long as you've got just enough time to get up, stretch, and hit the concession stand in between, it doesn't matter whether it's Ned (at the Brattle) or Ian (at the Somerville) booking two things that kind of go together or you just trying to get the most out of that trip on the subway - but if the movies are good and neither of them is too long, it's an evening or afternoon full of entertainment that doesn't require a lot of stops or cost very much.

And if you're lucky, there's actual synergy there, something that connects the movies, intended or not, that sparks something in your brain. In this case, it's actor Shota Sometani on one level, or just the general fish-out-of-water idea as attacked by two very different Japanese directors. If you're with someone, you've got more to talk about afterward. If you're logging it on Letterboxd (or even writing this nonsense), it gives you a little extra material in the front of your brain to work with, even if it doesn't directly connect.

Anyway, double features are great. I'm going to try and arrange my evenings around two compatible movies more than I have and positively live at the Brattle when I have the opportunity to do so again.

Wood Job!: Kamusari nânâ nichijô

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 January 2021 in Jay's Living Room (New Year J-Film Fest, Vimeo via Roku)

I would have found Wood Job! to be a fairly enjoyable film if it didn't get a little screwy in the end, but maybe a forgettable one. It works from a standard fish-out-of-water template that the filmmakers really aren't interested in subverting at all, but the filmmakers are aware of that, letting the movie argue for pride in unglamorous work done well and against detached irony without making too big a thing about it. That it finishes kind of weird just helps it stick.

It opens with Yuki Hirano (Shota Sometani) discovering that he was not accepted to any of the universities to which he applied, leading his girlfriend Reina (Nana Seino) to break up with him as his friends almost immediately start planning to leave him behind. Not wanting to spend a year in cram-schools and reapplying, he impulsively answers an ad for a forestry program (a month of training and 11 of internship), only to find the training camp way out in the middle of nowhere and no-one like the cute girl on the recruitment poster anywhere in sight. But it turns out that she's not just a model - Naoki Ishii (Masami Nagasawa) lives in the small village of Kamusari, even further up in the mountains, and joining the lumber company that operates there means being hosted by Yoki Iida (Hideaki Ito), the toughest and gruffest of Yuki's trainers.

There's no particular doubt about where screenwriter/director Shinobu Yaguchi is going with this (working from a novel by Shiwon Miura), and he both knows what he's trying to do and that audiences have been watching variations of this story for a hundred years and that it's probably been told ever since people first started building cities. That familiarity is baked into the script from how it acknowledges that Yuki isn't the first city dweller whose eye Naoki has caught to the point when he literally throws someone looking at "Slow Life" cynically away, but there's a smart practicality to it: This internship program is necessary because places like Kamusari are shrinking, and it's worth noting that the makers of this film make the village messy and utilitarian rather than put together by detail-obsessed artisans. Also, there's a practical necessity to it; where a lot of films extolling country life don't make much more than an nostalgic argument, there's not much arguing when Nakamura Lumber namesake Seiichi (Ken Mitsuishi) points out that maintaining the sort of forest that regularly produces the sort of perfect, knotless timber that comes from 105-year-old trees without thinking on a generational scale.

It leads to the characters being fairly familiar types, but the cast handles it pretty well. Shota Sometani does a nice job of catching how Yuki is ignorant and initially soft but not actually dumb, never actually letting enough petulance in to make him unpleasant; Yuki's learning and growing and Sometani is able to communicate that without starting as a jerk. He complements Masami Nagasawa well, even if there's a sort of "well, who else is there?" feel to their pairing. Naoki's no-nonsense and independent but Nagasawa has her come across as part of this place rather than above it (even if a lot of Naoki's neighbors talk about her like she's some sort of spinster in her mid-twenties). They're fine, but it's kind of surprising that Hideaki is the only one who really gets to steal scenes as the broadly-played Iida; enough characters get distinctive looks and ways of talking that it's kind of surprising for them to be pushed so far into the background.

On the other hand, that might betray the method by which the movie takes a turn or two toward the peculiar later on, which is kind of clever: Yaguchi and all make jokes, but they're straightforward enough with the hows and whys of lumberjack work and admiring the natural beauty of the surrounding country that the audience absorbs it to the point that later talk of forest goddesses and over-the-top rituals involved in the worship thereof come about, a viewer can go for how gloriously tacky the event is without snickering at it so much as laughing at how Yuki is confused and manages to stumble in the most ridiculous possible way.

It's big and goofy enough to lodge in one's head even if the rest of the movie is basic simple-life material. Even without that final hook to make it memorable, it feels more realistic and generous than usual, upbeat, earnest, and well-executed enough to be an enjoyable couple hours' escape.

Also at eFilmCritic

Tabi no owari sekai no hajimari (To the Ends of the Earth)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 15 January 2021 in Jay's Living Room (first-run, Eventive via Roku)

Movies and other pieces of art made to commemorate things the way To the Ends of the Earth apparently was (the 70th anniversary of an Uzbek landmark built by Japanese prisoners of war and 25 years of diplomatic relationships between the countries) are odd ducks, trying to serve more masters than usual, and one wonders both if that was on Kiyoshi Kurosawa's mind as he took the job and what the two countries involved thought as they watched it get made and saw the finished product. It's far from gauchely celebratory and often as unsteady as its protagonist, somehow direct and earnest but also seemingly uncertain what it's even doing there.

It follows Yoko (Atsuko Maeda), the on-air talent for a television travel program whose current assignment has her in Uzbekistan, where nothing is going right, from being unable to spot a semi-mythical fish at one stop to having to choke down a severely undercooked piece of local cuisine at the next. Translator Temur (Adiz Rajabov) and grip Sasaki (Tokio Emoto) and friendly and helpful, but producer Yoshioka (Shota Sometani) and cinematographer Iwao (Ryo Kase) often seem to treat her as just another thing to shoot. She may be kawaii and bubbly on-screen, but she's withdrawn and homesick off and increasingly pessimistic about having the career she really wants.

Kurosawa and star Atsuko Maeda give the audience the first bit of nervous-but-professional Yoko turning the big, fake, scripted charm on and off early on, but it's almost a diversion, something the audience knows to expect and thus takes for granted. Something more real and important happens a few minutes later, as Yoko tries really hard to be a the sort of tourist who tries to get to know a place - taking local transit to a bazaar to find dinner rather than ordering room service - only to freak out when people get too close, ducking into a convenience store to get some familiar junk food. It's a moment that one doesn't need to have traveled internationally to find familiar, but it's fascinating to watch what they establish about Yoko here and in the scenes around it, because it shows that she's not just the timid opposite of her on-screen persona, but curious and maybe wanting to be more like that, but having trouble finding the means. Yoko is often isolated, by language barriers, people talking about her off to the side, or how her boyfriend being multiple time zones away makes texting hard, so Maeda has to shoulder a lot of the load of showing who she is on her own, and she's great at it, whether it's those internal moments a fantasy Kurosawa doesn't signal as being such until midway through.

Part of what makes this work so well is the way Kurosawa plays with the film-within-a-film conceit. He's spent much of his career as one of Japan's best horror auteurs, and he not only uses that to highlight how fragile a thing reality and mental health can seem, but by peeling back some of the emotional whiplash involved in making that sort of thing. What to think about a scene where the producers make Yoko repeat the same miserable experience multiple times, drawn out so that the viewer can sort of marinate in her screaming, after which she feels she has to volunteer to narrate how it was kind of fun? He and cinematographer Akiko Ashizawa also have a real knack for making it feel like they're shooting somewhere they're not supposed to, with Yoko skirting dangerous-looking crowds in low available light, having people in the crowd turn their head to wonder what the fast-walking Japanese girl is doing where extras are usually more stoic, or having something important happen in deep background, like they were lucky to catch it at all and couldn't reshoot. Maeda's frightened body language is good enough that one might not really think that Kurosawa was putting her through the wringer the way Yoko's producers do her, but enough of the idea forms to make those scenes uncomfortable.

It's a heck of a thing to do for a movie supposedly celebrating a quarter-century of friendship, but it surprisingly doesn't feel like a director biting the hand that feeds him. The camera unironically loves the countryside, even when there's an abandoned industrial building nearby, and also lovingly lingers as Yoko visits the Navoi Theater (heck, it even makes the brutalist Hotel Uzbekistan look good). That visit is fascinating in part because of where it's placed - before we get background from Yoko and Temur on why the place and the scene are important, and for how Kurosawa lets the music swell in a way that's almost melodramatic except that the orchestra is on-screen and the audience is appreciating them as much as anything.

The last act is three different types of tumult - Yoko unlocks something in herself in a way that cleverly asks the audience to reexamine the smug way in which many judge how young people interact with the world, and there's joy in it but also increased terror, with something even worse and more out of her control coming up as soon as she seems out of the woods. It's melodramatic but smartly played. Kurosawa is playing on his own reputation as a horror filmmaker and Maeda's history as part of a J-pop girl group whose collective image is tightly controlled, but he doesn't fall so much in love with the self-reflexiveness of it all so much as he makes it a part of how Yoko sees the world and what she's got to overcome to make her way in it.

To the Ends of the Earth has to build for a while to get where it winds up and as a result can be kind of slow going toward the start because there's not a lot of distraction as Kurosawa brings out all the little details that he'll be returning to and paralleling later. Once it starts to roll, though, it's awful impressive - and even, maybe, the sort of earnest story of finding a connection far from home that it didn't seem to be at first.

Also at eFilmCritic

Friday, January 15, 2021

Next Week in [Virtual] Tickets: Films sort of playing Boston 15 January 2021 - 21 January 2021

How long's it been and how long have we got? One local theater is re-aligning their streaming platform, presumably because they've outgrown what they were doing and are in it for the long haul, and one of the things they're opening is only just now finding distribution or has been waiting for a slot for a while..
  • That would be the good folks at The Brattle Theatre, whose "Brattlite" soft-launched earlier this week with Shadow in the Cloud and opens for real with two new releases: Spoor has actually been kicking around a while - I saw it at Fantasia back in 2017 - but it's a terrifically eerie and unconventional thriller from Agnieszka Holland with a terrific performance by Agnieszka Mandat-Grabka as a woman who thinks normally-docile creatures are taking out local hunters (and is pretty much okay with it). They also open Acasa, My Home; that one also hails from Eastern Europe - Romania, to be precise - and offers up a family that has been living off the grid who are brought into the city when the land where they have been squatting becomes a national park.

    They also have something more like repertory series, with four by Federico Fellini. La Dolce Vita is only available through Sunday, and this is apparently the only place it can be streamed right now; Variety Lights, Il Bidone, and Intervista will be available through the 28th. Members get $3 off regular price, so there's more reason to renew your membership. They also continue to offer To the Ends of the Earth, Another Round, and City Hall, though those are not served by the Brattlite.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre brings a couple of documentaries that played Emerson's Bright Light series to their virtual room. Some Kind of Heaven takes a look at The Villages, a huge retirement community in Florida, with filmmaker Lance Oppenheim joining a live Q&A on Sunday afternoon. Through the Night looks at the other end of life and comfort, with filmmaker Loira Limbal following three working mothers who meet (at least in passing) at a 24-hour day care center. Limbral and two of the subjects will also call in for a "Panorama" Q&A on Monday evening. They join The Reason I Jump, I Blame Society, Love Sarah, Another Round, 76 Days, City Hall, and Martin Eden in the virtual theater.

    The weekly Coolidge Education seminar is The Thin Blue Line, with critic Nicolas Rapold leading discussion of Errol Morris's documentary on Thursday evening. Register, watch the introduction, and stream it from your service of choice before then.
  • The Japanese Embassy's "New Year Japanese Film" series continues this weekend with Wood Job!, which stars Shota Sometani as a recent high school graduate who, not getting into college, decides to become a lumberjack, though he's not exactly the outdoorsy type and the village he winds up in is way off the beaten path. Nice supporting cast, too, with Masami Nagasawa, Hideaki Ito, and Nana Seino.

    Closer to home, Belmont World Film brings their annual Family Film Festival online this year, with most of the films available through the 24th, although documentary Forward is only available from 7pm Saturday to 7pm Sunday, while Fahim, the Little Chess Piece is there from 10am Saturday to 10am Monday, while the "Hungry Bear Tales" shorts are there from 10am Saturday to 10am Tuesday. There's also a Junior Film Critic's workshop on Saturday and Sunday, and modeling workshops with folks from Aardman next Saturday (giving folks time to get some materials)

    The Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival hasn't yet placed their complete lineup on sale, but it starts on 10 February and tickets are on sale for both the 6-day festival (with, so far, 6 features, 2 short programs, and 2 panels on sale) and the 24-hour marathon.
  • Global Arts Live is offering a free stream of documentary Agadez, the Music and the Rebellion on Saturday evening at 8pm, followed by a conversation with director Ron Wyman. Though the film started as a general look at the Taureg nomads of northwest Africa, it soon focused on musician Omara "Bambino" Moctar.
  • It looks like the Majestic 7 in Watertown is going into hibernation after a few days of playing Indian films, so if you want to see something on the big screen, your closest and most T-accessible spots are in Newton, with the Showcase SuperLux in Chestnut Hill only showing times through Tuesday at the moment. The new release there is The Marksman, with Liam Neeson as a rancher on the Mexican border who takes in a kid fleeing from a drug cartel.
  • Elsewhere in Newton, The West Newton Cinema is open through Monday with Wonder Woman 1984, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and matinees of The Keeper. No afternoon shows on Friday, no evening shows on Monday
  • The Somerville Theatre is still closed but The Slutcracker: The Movie still appears to be available. Ice cream and other goodies available at The Capitol, their sister theater in Arlington still appears to be selling ice cream.
  • Theater rentals are available at the Coolidge, West Newton, the Capitol, The Lexington Venue, the AMCs out in the suburbs, and the Majestic in Watertown. The Coolidge is showing slots available to reserve online through the end of February for both Moviehouse II and the screening room, with "Premium Programming" including In the Mood for Love, Sound of Metal, and Wolfwalkers available along with the option to bring your own disc. The independent theaters also have other fund-raising offers worth checking out.
I'm streaming Wood Job! at the very least, and once again trying to use some spare time to write up the backlog of stuff I've streamed from various festivals.

Friday, January 08, 2021

Next Week in [Virtual] Tickets: Films sort of playing Boston 8 January 2021 - 14 January 2021

January's gonna be really quiet, isn't it? It would be even if Boston hadn't announced its theaters would be closed through the 27th, but it seems like we're multiplying "January is slow anyway" by "nothing has been shooting" and by "everywhere is shut down" to get a super-slow movie month.

It's looking like some places may wind up closed for a whole year - here's the frozen posters on display at the Somerville Theatre when I went to get a haircut last weekend:
Some of those movies feel like forever ago. I legitimately couldn't remember what The Way Back was.

  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre is the closest to an exception to it being quiet, adding two new films to its roster and the start and gets back to conversation as well. The Reason I Jump is part of both, with director Jerry Rothwell and several subjects joining a Panorama discussion on Sunday afternoon to discuss his documentary on non-verbal autistic people. They also add I Blame Society, about a filmmaker torn between becoming a successful documentary filmmaker and committing the perfect murder. They join Shadow in the Cloud, Love Sarah, "The World of Wong Kar-Wai" (new restorations of As Tears Go By, Days of Being Wild, Chungking Express, Happy Together, Fallen Angels, Eros segment "The Hand" (from 48 to 56 minutes), and In the Mood for Love), The Emoji Story, Another Round, 76 Days, City Hall, and Martin Eden.

    They also have two other discussions where viewers must find the film on their own. On Wednesday, they begin a monthly "Shakespeare Reimagined" series in partnership with the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, with the first entry Akira Kurosawa's Ran featuring documentarian Peter Grilli, stage actor Will Lyman, and professor Yu Jin Ko. On Thursday, the weekly seminar returns with critic Beatrice Loayza discussing Blue Velvet.
  • Over at The Brattle Theatre they add Shadow in the Cloud to To the Ends of the Earth, Another Round, Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan, and City Hall.
  • Amazon's giving One Night in Miami... a week in theaters before it hits Prime. Regina King's adaptation of Kemp Powers's play imagines Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) meeting and discussing where they stand as part of the civil rights movement. It plays Watertown, Chestnut Hill, and places further out in the suburbs. Note that Chestnut Hill only seems to be open through Sunday, re-opening for business with The Marksman (Liam Neeson's new one) on Thursday.

    Indian movies are apparently starting to see release again, with Telugu-language actioner Krack starring Ravi Teja and playing Watertown from Saturday to Monday.
  • The West Newton Cinema looks like just one screen showing Wonder Woman 1984 this weekend. Or maybe it's on as many screens they need depending how many tickets they sell, which wouldn't necessarily be a bad way to run things right now.
  • The Japanese Embassy in Washington apparently offers a "New Year Japanese Film" series in January, and it's online for the whole country this year, with a different movie for the next three weekends. It opens this with Masquerade Hotel streamable for free from Friday to Sunday; it's a fun cozy mystery that I liked when I watched it on a Hong Kong import disc back in April (and which, so far, is not available for American stream or purchase otherwise).

    After that, It's time to gear up for a few more local virtual festivals, with Belmont World Film kicking off a virtual edition of their annual Family Film Festival on the 15th (say that five times fast). The Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival hasn't yet placed their complete lineup on sale, but it includes animated Korean horror movie Beauty Water (which has been tightly geolocked at other virtual festivals), the marathon, and a few other features.
  • The Somerville Theatre is basically pointing to the streaming version of The Slutcracker, which is apparently still available. The Capitol in Arlington still appears to be selling ice cream.
  • Theater rentals are available at the Coolidge, West Newton, the Capitol, The Lexington Venue, the AMCs out in the suburbs, and the Majestic in Watertown. The Coolidge is showing slots available to reserve online through January 31st for both Moviehouse II and the screening room, with "Premium Programming" including In the Mood for Love, Sound of Metal, and Wolfwalkers available along with the option to bring your own disc. The independent theaters also have other fund-raising offers worth checking out.
Time to make a dent in the shelf, and also remember not to delay too much on the stuff at the Brattle and Coolidge (I up and missed something because it ended earlier than I expected).

Sunday, January 03, 2021

Krasue: Inhuman Kiss

It's been roughly a year since I saw the cover of this movie on DDDHouse (not far off from what you see there), had the entirely reasonable reaction of "this looks insane and I must see it now", and that it took me this long is not entirely my fault: I had just made another order from the place and tend to wait until there are a lot of pre-orders/new releases because the cost of shipping from this Hong Kong merchant is "significant base amount plus smaller per-item amount", but when I did pull the trigger, HK Post stopped dealing with the USA entirely, and the merchant wouldn't start shipping again until months later, so they cancelled my order. I reordered and got the discs in October, by which point I was deep into how every film festival cancelled during the year was having online versions in sequence. So onto the shelf it goes, joined by a great many other things. In the meantime, I see it on Prime Video, but it's half an hour shorter than the runtime, and it's apparently one of those times where pirates put something up there and Amazon doesn't notice until someone threatens action - probably Netflix, since they've got most of the worldwide rights, but I don't have Netflix...

Anyway, I'm curious about how often the people who do have Netflix have had this recommended to them, especially those who like horror. It's a genuinely weird movie - like I say below, it's a period coming-of-age romantic horror movie from Thailand - with a cast of young Thai actors, and I don't know what the Netflix algorithm grabs onto in order to get people who don't already know Oabnithi Wiwattanawarang (who has the most IMDB credits of anyone in the cast) to it. It's a pretty terrific little movie, but I have no idea how recommendation engines would find a path to it; for all that it's a lot of things different people like, it's only 25% any of them, after all.

And would people have known to go looking for it? From what I can tell, it was released in Thailand in March 2019, picked up by Netflix in May 2019, and made its way onto the service a month and change later, meaning it never hits NYAFF, Fantasia, Fantastic Fest, etc., where enthusiastic people like me might talk it up before it has another blip in October/November as Thailand's Oscar submission. As much as I doubt this was ever going to be any sort of theatrical hit, or sold gangbusters on Blu-ray, I don't notice any of my friends on Letterboxd having seen it and only one wanting to (which isn't necessarily a great proxy for awareness as I don't do watchlists myself), and some of them really, really like horror. It's a big-deal movie in its homeland that just becomes bulk for Netflix, so they can say they put so many "Netflix Originals" online over the course of a month. Shudder might have given it more individual attention, but then the potential audience is smaller.

(Truth be told, I'm kind of bummed I didn't get a Mitch Davis introduction for this at Fantasia. If he liked it, that would have been a treat!)

It's a huge shame, and I kind of wonder what other weird and delightful movies are falling out of view because a big service like Netflix or Prime scoops them up and figures it's not worth the manpower to both figure out what's worth promoting beyond the obvious audience and actually doing it, especially when it doesn't really matter to them whether you watch this or a few episodes of The Office.

Sang krasue (Krasue: Inhuman Kiss aka Inhuman Kiss)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 2 January 2021 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Hong Kong Blu-ray)

They say not to judge a book by it's cover, but take a second to look at the "cover" of Krasue: Inhuman Kiss - whether it's a poster, the slipcase for a DVD or Blu-ray, or the header image on a streaming service - and if that floating-head image doesn't get your attention, well, I'm not sure how. The point is, that image makes one heck of a promise, and amazingly enough, it delivers more. It is a period coming-of-age romantic horror ride the likes of which doesn't come around too often.

When they were kids, Jerd, Ting, Noi, and Sai went out in the woods playing hide and seek near a house said to hold a dead woman's spirit, with Sai reassuring Noi but coming upon something strange herself. Years later, they're teenagers, with Ting (Darina Boonchu) a young mother, Sai (Phantira Pipityakorn) assisting at the local health center despite the doctors having been called to the fighting in Bangkok, and Jerd (Sapol Assawamunkong) nursing a crush on her. He's a catch - handsome and from a rich family - but Sai still pines for Noi (Oabnithi Wiwattanawarang), whose family moved to Bangkok some years ago, but has returned just ahead of Tat (Surasak Wongthai), who describes himself as a krasue hunter. Krasue are said to be monster women whose heads detach from their body and spits into wells, with a woman who drinks from the same well becoming one herself and a man who does feeling incredible until the krasue eats his guts. But that doesn't sound like Sai at all.

Does that seem like giving a little too much away? It's not - Sai is obviously going to be at the center of things from the opening flashback - but even if it was, there is a lot to come. Director Sitisiri Mongkolsiri and screenwriter Chookiat Sakveerakul have moments that could serve as climaxes at roughly every quarter-mark, expanding and twisting the story in ways that feel natural while also meaning that the actual finale is full of things that are completely insane. It's a neat trick that they get there fairly, and are able to keep things moving at the right sort of pace that they can take a moment to regroup without things going completely back to normal, with some things happening mostly off-screen but the ways that it does appear getting things across.

It works in large part because so much of the movie is emotionally grounded in things the audience understands even if, as an outsider, the setting is not immediately recognizable as the mid-1940s because where the filmmakers can, they seem to skew modern in things like wardrobe, hairstyles, and dialogue (at least, to the extent I can tell from the English subtitles on a Blu-ray produced for the Hong Kong market). There's something very natural about how these young people play off each other, rather than overheated, with the filmmakers seldom holding anything back or making them larger-than-life for melodramatic purposes. Noi is probably not going to find a way out of the situation with science, but it never seems futile or unreasonable (and the fact that it's presented like a teenager's science experiment helps). The filmmakers are smart about how the idea of a teenager as more than a kid but less than an adult wasn't really an accepted thing until after this movie's setting even if they were always like that, leading to the characters fumbling about earnestly and the couple years Ting has on her school-age friends being appropriately life-changing.

Not that this movie is actually subtle - the young cast is good, but their performance is seldom particularly layered, with Surasak Wongthai going even bigger as Tat. The film isn't as heavily reliant on jump scares as Thai horror can be, but composer Chatchai Pongprapaphan isn't shy about putting a big crash in the score when they come or pushing the tension hard at other points There's a nice pastoral look to it, not taking the path of a suffocating jungle but understanding how secrets can quickly be buried in this place, with a lot of room for mystery to be uncovered even as the area is modernizing. And while the visual effects are not quite so polished as they might be if this movie came from the United States or China, they use what they've got to good advantage: Make-up effects feel like they could come from either fairy tales or monster movies, elemental if not entirely real-looking, and the CGI used to illustrate the krasue is horrific, ethereal, and a little silly all at once, enough to let a viewer feel the characters' disbelief at the situations they find themselves in.

It makes Krasue: Inhuman Kiss (currently a Netflix exclusive with the first word removed from the title in most of the world) an exceptionally odd movie, a crazy bit of folkloric horror that became Thailand's Oscar submission, though not a nominee. That it somehow manages to be a jaw-dropping genre film and a smartly observed coming-of-age story is a minor miracle - as out-there as advertised but honest enough to make a viewer believe in its madness.

Also at eFilmCritic

Friday, January 01, 2021

Next Week in [Virtual] Tickets: Films sort of playing Boston 1 January 2021 - 7 January 2021

Happy New Year, a weekend where theaters traditionally tweak how many screens the Christmas releases are on, maybe opening something from Asia or some piece of dreck looking to say that, technically, it's a theatrical film rather than DTV junk. And while we technically can't say "ugh, 2020" any more, we're still probably going to be in lockdown through much of January at the very least.
  • Still, it looks like The Coolidge Corner Theatre has a fun-looking one opening, with Shadow in the Cloud starring Chloë Grace Moretz as a soldier joining an all-male bomber crew during WWII and potentially having to fight a monster on board. It joins Love Sarah, "The World of Wong Kar-Wai" (new restorations of As Tears Go By, Days of Being Wild, Chungking Express, Happy Together, Fallen Angels, Eros segment "The Hand" (from 48 to 56 minutes), and In the Mood for Love), Another Round, 76 Days, City Hall, and Martin Eden.
  • The Brattle Theatre thins their offerings out a bit, down to To the Ends of the Earth, Ikarie XB-1, Another Round, Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan, Zappa, and City Hall. Maybe watch some Marx Brothers in their honor.
  • The multiplexes that are open - Watertown, Chestnut Hill, and West Newton are closest to the T - with The West Newton Cinema showing themselves as open through Sunday with one screen showing of Wonder Woman 1984. If you can make it out to the Liberty Tree Mall, they've got Alien in addition to the rest of the things released last week.
  • The Regent Theatre has three more hybrid performances of Jimmy Tingle's 2020 Vision (daily through Sunday), with the 60-minute film followed by stand-up comedy and Q&A. Some in-person seating is available, but it will also be live-streamed. They also continue to stream Jefferson Mays's one-man version of A Christmas Carol through Sunday.
  • The Somerville Theatre remains closed but The Slutcracker is still streaming a version cut together from last year's performances; The Capitol in Arlington has the concession stand and ice cream shop open.
  • Theater rentals are available at the Brattle, the Coolidge, West Newton, the Capitol, The Lexington Venue, the AMCs out in the suburbs, and the Majestic in Watertown for sure, and maybe Apple Fresh Pond (their site is confusing and Cambridge is locked down) and the Belmont Studio (the rental page on their site is pre-lockdown), although it might be worth checking to see if any reservations made at the Brattle or Landmark Theatres Kendall Square are still active with the new restrictions. The Coolidge is showing slots available to reserve online through January 31st for both Moviehouse II and the screening room, with "Premium Programming" including In the Mood for Love, Sound of Metal, Wolfwalkers, and Fleabag available along with the option to bring your own disc. The Brattle currently shows no open slots, even beyond Cambridge's restrictions. The independent theaters also have other fund-raising offers worth checking out.
Definitely looking at Shadow in the Cloud and seeing what else can be caught up on.