Friday, February 25, 2022

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 25 February 2021 - 3 March 2022

A month away from the Oscars, and it's apparently the weekend when you start cramming.
  • MGM probably figured Cyrano would have more nominations than production design, but that's not how it happened, so Joe Wright's musical take on the classic tale with the awfully darn clever casting of Peter Dinklage in the title role, with Haley Bennett as Roxanne and Kelvin Harrison Jr. as Christian, and the songs of the National as part of the soundtrack. It's at The Coolidge Corner Theatre (including a Sunday masked matinee), the Somerville, West Newton, the Lexington Venue, Kendall Square, and Boston Common.

    The Oscar Nominated Shorts, meanwhile, are nominated by definition; the Live-Action an Animated Selections play at the Coolidge, Kendall Square, Boston Common, and the Embassy; the Documentary and Animated packages play the Luna on Saturday and The ICA has Animation Friday & Sunday with Live Action also playing Sunday, with more screenings over the next month. Interestingly, this is the first time I can remember that the animated package does not need to be padded out with runners-up. The Coolidge is also one of the theaters hosting Apple's weekend shows of CODA, which plays open-captioned for free from Friday to Sunday (though many showtimes have already been completely filled). Those of us without Netflix also have a chance to catch nominee Don't Look Up there, as Monday's Science on Screen selection, while Kendall Square has afternoon shows of The Hand of God.

    The Coolidge's Midnight shows this weekend are both playing on 35mm film, with The Love Witch up Friday and The Slumber Party Massacre on Saturday. There's also a Saturday matinee of the 2014 Annie starring Quvenzhané Wallis and Jamie Foxx
  • The next-biggest opening may also be a jukebox musical, I suppose, if the Foo Fighters ever break into song during Studio 666, which has the band recording their tenth album in a haunted mansion. It's at Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema late shows).

    Butter, a teen romantic comedy about an obese teen who plans to "have his last meal" on New Year's Eve but is also presenting himself as someone else online to his pretty classmate (wait, don't we already have a Cyrano movie this week?), plays Boston Common. Fresh Pond, meanwhile, opens The Big Gold Brick, with Emory Cohen as a writer charged with ghost-writing a biography for a single father played by Andy Garcia, which may be full of tall tales; the cast also includes Oscar Isaac, Megan Fox, and Lucy Hale. It's in one of the very small rooms. Hotel Transylvania: Transformania also opens at the Capitol and Fresh Pond, a month after it arrived on Amazon Prime.

    The Dolby Cinema rooms at Boston Common, South Bay, and Assembly Row also have 50th anniversary screenings of The Godfather for one week. There are also "DC Presents Fan First" premiere shows of The Batman on the Imax screens at Boston Common, South Bay, and Assembly Row on Tuesday (ahead of the AMC "Investor Connect" shows on Wednesday and normal Thursday night shows of a movie that technically opens Friday).

    42 screens at Arsenal Yards on Monday.
  • The Brattle Theatre keeps the annual Bugs Bunny Film Festival going through Sunday. Their other annual February event, the Valentine's Day screenings of Casablanca had to be delayed, but they have it on 35mm Saturday, Sunday, and Tuesday.

    The week also features two tributes to the recently departed. For Jean-Jacques Beiniex, they have Betty Blue on Friday evening and a 35mm print of Diva on Saturday and Sunday nights. For Monica Vitti, L'Avventura plays Wednesday and Red Desert on Thursday, both on 35mm film.

    In between, on Monday, they have the Everything Is Terrible! Kidz Klub Tour, a feature-length compilation of found/forgotten footage of material originally aimed at kids, presented as part of a live show. The description says "the adults can stay home" and "for kidz… by kidz!", but I'm not exactly sure how literally one is supposed to take that.

    And while it's not until late March, The Boston Underground Film Festival will be returning to in-person shows at the Brattle this year, and limited badges are on sale via the Brattle's site. Buying them now (including pairs which you'll need to sit next to each other) gives you the chance to lock in attendance when the schedule is announced in a week or two.
  • Hindi-language Gangubai Kathiawadi, starring Alia Bhatt in the title role, a woman who becomes a crime kingpin, is Sanjay Leela Bhansali's new film. It plays Boston Common and Apple Fresh Pond. Fresh Pond also continues to play Tamil-language action/adventure Valimai and Telugu-language Bheemla Nayak.

    The newly-restored Goodbye, Dragon Inn has a full slate of shows at Fenway this week, A more recent Chinese film, Too Cool to Kill continues at Boston Common.

    Fenway also screens Russian comedy Disobedient, starring Viktor Khorinyak as a guy making online prank videos in the church where an old friend works, on Sunday afternoon.
  • The Somerville Theatre has their first silent film since re-openings, with a version of Snow White from 1916, long believed lost but said to have been a great influence on Walt Disney, playing Friday night with composer/harpist Leslie McMichael and her sister Barbara (on viola) providing a live score.

    They also play a different sort of recovered "classic" this week: New York Ninja was shot but abandoned during production in 1984, with the good folks at Vinegar Syndrome reconstructing the film 35 years later, including a completely new soundtrack (all sound material was lost). It plays on 35mm Friday to Sunday; "re-director" Kurtis M. Spieler will be on-hand for the 10pm show on Friday.

    On Tuesday, they kick off their Spring "Face/Off: Travolta vs Cage" series of double features with what seems like a fair fight of teenage supporting roles: John Travolta co-starring in Carrie and Nicolas Cage dating a Valley Girl, both on 35mm film.

    Their friends at The Capitol pick up Licorice Pizza with all that going down in Davis; the Capitol also has more shows for kids and parents during the last weekend of school vacation, with Minions, Kung Fu Panda, and Shrek playing Friday to Sunday.
  • Boston Jewish Film is streaming They Ain't Ready for Me, a documentary about an African-American woman studying to be a rabbi, through Sunday, with the stream including a one-hour Q&A featuring subject Tamar Manasseh and director Brad Rothschild.
  • The Regent Theatre has their last night the Banff Mountain Film Festival on Friday, with the "Maple" package playing at 7pm.
  • ArtsEmerson will be hosting the 9 in-person screenings of the Boston Baltic Film Festival in the Paramount Theater's Bright Screening Room, as well as a panel discussion including the Estonial, Latvian, and Lithuanian filmmakers whose work is included. The festival will also be screening some of these films and others through March 13th.

    The stream of documentary Curtain Up! as part of their "Projecting Chinese American Experiences", in partnership with The Boston Asian-American Film Festival, continues through noon on Monday (although it appears you must claim "tickets" by 10pm on Sunday; a post-film discussion is part of the presentation.

    Bright Lights will have the Bright on Thursday, with this week's presentation of The Faithful including a discussion with director Annie Berman, who spent 20 years working on her film about devotees of Pope John Paul II, Elvis Preseley, and Princess Diana. Tickets free on the day of the show.
  • The West Newton Cinema is closed Friday, but when it reopens Saturday in will have Cyrano in addition to Uncharted, Drive My Car, Parallel Mothers, Sing 2 (Saturday/Sunday), Licorice Pizza, Spider-Man, West Side Story, and Encanto (Saturday/Sunday); The Lexington Venue has Cyrano, The Worst Person in the World, and West Side Story this weekend.
  • The Luna Theater has the Animated and Documentary shorts on Saturday afternoon and evening, with Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America playing Saturday night. Malcolm X plays Sunday. No Weirdo Wednesday show this week, apparently.

    Cinema Salem is still renovating, but plans to reopen with The Batman next weekend.
  • For those still not ready to join random people in a room for two hours, theater rentals are available at Kendall Square, The Embassy, West Newton, the Capitol, The Venue, and many of the multiplexes.
My plans include Snow White, New York Ninja, Cyrano, and maybe The Big Gold Brick, Casablanca, Don't Look Up, and other Oscar catch-up.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Too Cool to Kill

You probably don't want me on your movie trivia team; as much as I've watched a lot of movies and retained a fair amount of them, it's not exactly organized well in my head. Someone will ask me a question and I'll go to IMDB because they've got a whole team of professionals building indices for that stuff. Same goes for baseball, music, etc; I feel like I say "heck if I know" a lot more often than most people prone (or expected) to know stuff.

Despite that, I will often watch a remake of something I saw some years ago and think "huh, I've heard that joke before" and have it dawn on me that I had seen a whole lot more than that. It's kind of an odd hazard of going to genre fests and then seeing various film industries grow to the point where you can localize things rather than just import them, even across relatively short distances (physical and cultural) as Hong Kong and South Korea. It's kind of interesting to me that this didn't happen at any point during Too Cool to Kill; I was genuinely surprised to see that this was my second time through. Sure, it's been 12+ years, but my review from the time has me really, really liking The Magic Hour, and a number of scenes in Too Cool to Kill are just so clever that I figure they would ring a bell.

Maybe that's a sign that Xing Wenxiong did an unusually good job of reworking the concept into a new movie. I wish I could find out, but The Magic Hour is frustratingly unavailable; although I was kind of surprised to see that Japanese Blu-ray included English subtitles when it was released. Of course, it was listed as a "special edition" and as such probably retailed for $180 or so, significantly more than Well Go will charge for this one.

Zhe ge sha shou bu tai leng jing (Too Cool to Kill)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 February 2022 in AMC Boston Common #6 (first-run, DCP)

I'm not sure what it means that, upon seeing Too Cool to Kill was a remake of a Japanese film in the closing credits, I went searching it out for comparison's sake and discovered that I had, in fact, seen and liked it twelve years ago. Revisiting that review, it certainly looks like writer/director Xing Wenxiong has remixed Koki Mitani's original enough to make the new version worth seeing, and an apparent hit during the recent Lunar New Year holidays.

It opens with master assassin Karl (Ai Lun) attempting to kill gangster Harvey (Chen Minghao), but slipping up and ending up in a local hospital. Harvey, meanwhile, has other concerns, like how Milan (Ma Li), the actress in a movie he is financing, does not return his affection, and the last movie he financed with her and her director brother Miller (Huang Cailun) didn't make back its budget. She ad-libs their way out of cement shoes by saying she knows Karl, he's a fan, but winds up with just one day to produce him. To buy enough time to get on a cargo ship out of the country, Milan and Miller convince Wei Chenggong (Wei Xiang), a take-ruining extra, to pose as Karl - but also tell him that he's taking part in an improvised movie. It should get Wei killed, but his unpredictable choices lead to Harvey inviting "Karl" to join the gang, though second-in-command Jimmy (Zhou Dayong) is far from enthused about the new guy.

Too Cool to Kill isn't quite a one-joke movie, but it milks its unlikely premise so well that it is a long time before it even comes close to running out of steam. Director Xing finds a smart balance between how Wei is fearless as an actor while Harvey is already terrified of Karl that sort of counter-balances how Wei's crashing through a snake pit should have him dead within minutes, and the way Ma Li plays cool movie-star poise against Huang Cailun's panicky control freak of a brother keeps things just steady enough that the rest doesn't fall over. The result is a movie that's self-assured enough to resist the temptation to change things up when that might be the easy way to hammer something home, like when Wei decides Karl should break the fourth wall. The easy thing to do might be to cut between how Wei sees this and how Harvey does, but Xing instead keeps both points of view in the same frame.

Indeed, it's something close to pure screwball, quick with its gags and able to hammer at one so that the repetition is funny and implausible but not quite to the breaking point. Part of the reason this works is that Xing et al get the audience into a spot where its heightened take on everything feels right, starting right from the setting . From the first shot, it's clearly insular apart from the rest of the world - a circle with 270 degrees of seashore and trees behind the other 90, with all the main buildings on a ring road rather than something that might lead out of town. "Lying Town", as the place is named, looks more like a European seaside community than a Chinese one (down to the English-language signage), and where The Magic Hour specifically states that it takes place in a picturesque town that is often used as a movie set, Lying Town could be a studio creation where the hotel rooms are functional. Everybody here is acting in a way; some just don't know how many layers deep their performance is.

From a speech he gives to the crew that's shown as part of the end credits, the film is also meta in that star Wei Xiang has been a supporting actor, often in very minor roles, until this film, so he apparently knows the desire to grab this opportunity to move up. He's got a tendency to play his part like a scene-stealer without quite hamming it up except when the character is doing that, and on top of having great comic timing, it also makes the audience feel like he's this guy who kind of doesn't belong in the middle of the story. As Malin and Miller, Ma Li and Huang Cailun feel like they're the movie's stars, and they drive the story, but wind up providing solid support, landing their own gags and keeping things moving. Chen Minghao and Zhou Dayong both manage some impressive exasperation.

As with its predecessor, Too Cool to Kill made me laugh a lot more than I was expecting, especially after a trailer that suggested the movie would be incoherent desperation, or maybe made up of jokes that don't translate from Mandarin. Instead, it's a comedy that works whether one has seen (or remembers) the original or not.

Full review at eFilmCritic

Monday, February 21, 2022


I joked in the preview post that I figured I'd be rooting for Antonio Banderas's villain in this movie, but it's really kind of amazing how he's actually the only one who gets some sort of window into his character. I mean, I get a wealthy monster who wants to restore the glory of his family name only to see his father dismantling the empire before it's passed on to him. Meanwhile, Nathan Drake is kind of a generic punk who knows some history, and there's so little honor among thieves that the movie doesn't even try to come up with a reason to root for him. He's the protagonist in the games, where you sort of imprint your own self on him, and that's that.

Anyway, I'm mildly curious what fans of the games think about it - it seems like a basic enough adventure movie, but not a whole lot more. I also remember that folks were fan-casting Nathan Fillion for Nathan Drake for a long time - the sort of thing that made me wonder if he's the next generation's Bruce Campbell, a guy best known for working with a certain filmmaker and good at a sort of arch cool that lets the audience in on the joke - and I can sort of see that; I suspect this would have worked a bit better with Drake kind of winking at the camera a bit, kind of making him our scoundrel. Some folks are built to connect with an audience that way, but I don't know that Holland has built anything close to the charming rogue pesona that would allow that.

I do have to admit, I was kind of amused by the "PlayStation Productions" logo which included a whole bunch of characters I didn't recognize at all given the same sort of hero shot as the superheroes in the Marvel and DC animations. Do they have the same sort of cachet, even just limiting it to the under-40s? After all, Marvel did the work to have people recognize and care about Iron Man and the Black Panther, and the Justice League characters have been icons for generations, but what's the situation like out there for the PS characters? Like, are they well-known even if you're mainly an XBox or Nintendo person? Ah, well. I'm old.

Anyway, two last things: First, If your movie isn't going to show some arterial blood spraying all over the place, don't have a character whose main thing is slitting throats. Ya just look foolish.

Second: Is this being released in 3D overseas? There are a couple of shots that are pure "tossing things at the audience" that just look silly without a 3D conversion, but I didn't see any stereo stuff in the credits. Was that the original plan only to have Sony scrap it but not tell the folks editing the movie?


* * (out of four)
Seen 20 February 2022 in AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run, Imax Xenon)

I gather that Sony has been trying to make a movie out of their Uncharted series of video games for years, and as is often the case with long-gestating adaptations, it's easy to both understand why that would be the case and see how this sort of thing is much harder than it looks. The raw materials for a fun adventure movie (and series) are right there, but as in a lot of things making the jump from games to film, the story and world-building that are enough to get a player character from one setting to another are not necessarily suited to more conventional storytelling.

Here, that's 25-year-old Nathan Drake (Tom Holland) tending bars and picking pockets in New York 15 years after his older brother lit out from the orphanage because both were prone to that sort of mischief. He's visited by Victor Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg), who says he has teamed up with Sam Drake on various treasure-hunting expeditions and thinks the younger Drake may be of help in chasing down his white whale, a lost treasure hidden by Magellan's crew that, in classic pulp adventure fashion, one would find by collecting two jeweled crosses and using them to solve a riddle in the captain's diary. The other is in the hand of Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali), and they have a massive rival in Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas), the descendant of the aristocrats who originally funded Magellan's voyage, and soldier-of-fortune Braddock (Tati Gabrielle), who may be the woman who killed Sam.

There are a lot of issues with how this all plays out, but maybe the biggest problem is that Antonio Banderas as a villain with limited screen time is more charismatic than Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Sophia Ali, and Tati Gabrielle combined. And on top of that, his character is the only one that seems to care about something in the abstract besides gold. The five credited writers really do nothing to invest the audience in Nathan as the central character a few flashback minutes with his brother, making him come off as a punk, but not necessarily an interesting one (they could lean into him being a guy fascinated by history but not cut out for college, or a misfit among petty criminals, but don't). And while having everyone be fairly mercenary in more or less the same way - other than Braddock seeming a bit more willing to kill - opens the screenplay up to backstabbing and double-crosses, it also means that they don't mean much. What's the difference between Drake being sold out by Sully and him being sold out by Chloe? Nothing, really they're four instances of the same character. Throwing a "this belongs in a museum!" Indiana Jones type in would help create some actual tension, let alone someone with qualms about this gold being stolen from various indigenous peoples.

Instead, they walk around solving the sort of puzzles that are great fun in games but which have just sort of become rote in this sort of pulp adventure story even if you don't spend a whole lot of time wondering who's been resetting the traps over the centuries, or if the folks converting an old marketplace into a chain pizza shop never noticed that there was a hollow space behind one of their walls. There are a great many bits of the story that fall apart either as one watches or on the way out of the theater, bits that feel like they're setting up bits of other movies and games (this film apparently slots into Uncharted continuity as a prequel), and a credits sequence that seems to mainly exist because, I presume, Sully has a mustache in the games and fans get riled when that sort of thing isn't acknowledged

It leaves the movie with a couple of admittedly well-built action pieces, although it's noteworthy that both of them - Drake trying to crawl his way back into a cargo plane from a string of crates not yet cut loose and a chase finale involving Spanish galleons suspended from helicopters - are midair and heavily VFX-intensive. Director Ruben Fleischer (along with the previz and effects teams) do a nice job of laying them out and shooting for clarity, even if there are a couple obvious digital double moments, and there's some fun swashbuckling as various characters swing about ships' masts and the like. The close-up work isn't quite so impressive - the long shots that take advantage of widescreen framing just highlight how tight and cut-to-pieces things get whenever these characters get in a fight.

It's also weirdly sanitized at times - if you're not going to show blood, don't have a character who enjoys slitting throats - and often appears to rely heavily on folks coming in with attachments from the games rather than building something that will hook folks who don't play the series. On the upside, it clocks in at just less than two hours, which is enjoyably lean for a major action/adventure movie in this day, has a cast who makes a game effort with their non-characters, and is mostly dumb in a way that doesn't really collapse until you're out of thre theater. That is, perhaps, as good as one can expect from a movie that has passed through so many hands, and at least holds out hope that maybe a sequel might have something to build on.

Full review at eFilmCritic

Friday, February 18, 2022

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 18 February 2021 - 24 February 2022

I feel like I'm going to be rooting for Antonio Banderas in the movie where he's playing the villain this week. Anyway, happy President's Day and school vacation to those who celebrate!
  • The big opening is Uncharted, a long-in-development video game adaptation (apparently a prequel) that has Tom Holland as the kid brother of a missing treasure hunter pulled into a quest to find the fortune that he disappeared seeking. It's at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, West Newton, Boston Common (including Imax Xenon & Dolby Cinema), Fenway, South Bay (including Imax Xenon & Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax Xenon & Dolby Cinema), Arsenal Yards (including CWX), The Embassy, and Chestnut Hill. Kind of surprised there's no 3D.

    Also opening is Dog, with Channing Tatum starring and co-directing as a wounded soldier tasked with getting a bomb-sniffing dog to the family of his fallen handler. The producers of the movie would like viewers to know that the dog is going to be fine. It's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, Arsenal Yards, and Chestnut Hill.

    There's also The Cursed, which appears to have been sitting on a shelf for a year, withe Boyd Holbrook as a pathologist investigating a possibly-supernatural threat in 19th Century France. I wonder, idly, if it's based on the same incidents as Brotherhood of the Wolf. It's at Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row.

    Encanto returns to Boston Common, South Bay, and Arsenal Yards, probably both for school vacation and Oscar nomination reasons. They've also got a Saturday night screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Fenway and South Bay have Lady Sings the Blues for its 50th anniversary on Sunday afternoon and Wednesday evening. Arsenal Yards shows Just Mercy on Monday evening.
  • The Brattle Theatre has their annual Bugs Bunny Film Festival this school vacation week, 80 minutes of 35mm Looney Tunes all week. They're not expecting kids to stay up that late, so the last show of the day (except on Monday) is Strawberry Mansion, a trippy sci-fi indie that was one of my favorites from IFFBoston last year.

    On Monday, The DocYard has a special 35mm screening of Rock Bottom Riser, Fern Silva's look at various subjects touching on Hawaii and Polynesia.
  • The third Lunar New Year opening to make its way to North America this month is comedy Too Cool to Kill, starring Wei Xiang as a would-be actor and comedian who finds himself embroiled in multiple dangerous capers, with Ma Li as the femme fatale pulling him into one.

    Apple Fresh Pond opens three Indian movies in various languages: Virgin Story is a Telugu-language romantic comedy, Aarraattu is a Malayalam-language action flick, and Bahukrita Vesham is a Kannada-langague crime thriller, . They also hold over Badhaai Do (Hindi) and DJ Tillu (Telugu). Tamil-language action/adventure Valimai opens Wednesday evening, and Telugu-language Bheemla Nayak on Thursday.
  • The New England Aquarium adds "Incredible Predators" to its rotation of short (22-minute) Imax films this weekend.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre keeps the same lineup, but they have brought in a 35mm print for their screenings in Moviehouse #1 downstairs, which is about half of them.

    Midnights this weekend include the Ax Wound Film Festival Shorts Program on Friday and American Psycho on Saturday. There's a masked matinee of Drive My Car on Sunday, and a 35mm/Love Hurts/Big Screen Classics show of the original Point Break on Monday. Love Hurts also includes the Baz/DiCaprio/Danes Romeo + Juliet on Tuesday and Let the Right One In on 35mm Wednesday.
  • The Somerville Theatre is home to the The Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival this weekend, with Abandoned Creatures, El Corazon de la Luna, We Are Living Things, and Crabs downstairs Friday; a matinee double feature of The Day the Earth Stood Still & Jason & The Argonauts upstairs,Nahuel & the Magic Book, Alien on Stage, Karmalink, and You Are Not My Mother, Alchemy of the Spirit, and several shorts programs downstairs on Saturday; plus the 24-hour marathon on the main screen and shorts in the Crystal Ballroom on Sunday.

    Their friends at The Capitol offers a bunch of matinees for kids and parents during school vacation week - The Muppet Movie, Shrek, and Despicable Me from Friday to Sunday, The Secret Life of Pets and Trolls: World Tour Monday & Tuesday, plus Sing & Madagascar Wednesday & Thursday.
  • The Regent Theatre has The Flying Ace, one of the few surviving silent films made with a Black cast, playing on Friday evening. It was recently added to the National Film Registry and Jeff Rapsis will be on-hand for live accompaniment. They also have the 2022 edition of the Banff Mountain Film Festival, with two short programs of films focused on the great outdoors playing from Monday to next Friday.
  • ArtsEmerson has a Friday night "Shared Stories" presentation of "Fannie Lou Farmer's America", with live discussion after the film, in the Paramount's Bright Screening Room, and also teams with The Boston Asian-American Film Festival to stream documentary Curtain Up! as part of their "Projecting Chinese American Experiences", with a post-film discussion part of the presentation.

    The Thursday Bright Lights show in the Bright is Spencer, with documentary filmmaker Annie Berman on-hand to discus Pablo Larraín's look at a pivotal weekend in the life of Princess Diana afterward. Tickets free on the day of the show.
  • The West Newton Cinema adds Uncharted and Drive My Car to Death on the Nile, Parallel Mothers, Sing 2, Licorice Pizza, Spider-Man, West Side Story, and matinees of Encanto (no show Friday).

    The Lexington Venue has The Worst Person in the World, The Tragedy of Macbeth, and West Side Story this weekend, as well as a special premiere of I Wanna Be a Criminal on Sunday night, with Cristal Bella as a martial-arts instructor who decides to live a life of crime and finds it harder than it appears. Filmmaker Steve Belanger will be in attendance.
  • The Luna Theater has Strawberry Mansion Friday & Saturday nights, The Tragedy of Macbeth at 3:40pm Saturday and Flee at 6pm that evening, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind plays Sunday, and there's also the Weirdo Wednesday show.

    Cinema Salem is still closed for renovations.
  • For those still not ready to join random people in a room for two hours, theater rentals are available at Kendall Square, The Embassy, West Newton, the Capitol, The Venue, and many of the multiplexes.
My plans include The Flying Ace, some Saturday selections from the sci-fi film festival, Licorice Pizza in 35mm, Uncharted, and maybe some other catching-up.

Friday, February 11, 2022

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 11 February 2021 - 17 February 2022

Not going this weekend, because there's tons of stuff here, but kind of keeping tabs on a theater in NYC to see how long they'll have a 70mm print of a new release. Be nice if it were just down the street, but that's not how it works, apparently.
  • After a ton of rotten merger/coronavirus luck, Death on the Nile finally hits screens, with Kenneth Branagh returning as the spectacularly mustachioed detective, once again shooting in 65mm with a new all-star cast of suspects. It's at The Capitol, Fresh Pond, West Newton, Boston Common (including Imax Xenon & Dolby Cinema), Fenway, Kendall Square, South Bay (including Imax Xenon & Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax Xenon & Dolby Cinema), the Embassy, Arsenal Yards (including CWX), and Chestnut Hill.

    Marry Me features Jennifer Lopez as a pop star who, planning to marry her fiancé on stage until he's caught with another woman and impulsively brings a single father played by Owen Wilson up to take his place. It's at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, Arsenal Yards, the Embassy, Chestnut Hill, and on Peacock.

    Liam Neeson is still putting his "tall with an intimidating voice" bona fides to work in what look like middling action-thriller things, reuniting with Honest Thief director Mark Williams for Blacklight, playing another shady government agent who has become a loose end in a conspiracy. It's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema). There's also a few daily screenings of The Beatles: Get Back - The Rooftop Concert in Imax Xenon at Boston Common and Assembly Row.

    The Oscar nominations bring about some re-releases/expansions: King Richard and Dune return to Boston Common with Drive My Car there for the first time, Belfast to Fenway and Kendall Square, and The Hand of God to the Embassy. Boston Common and South Bay bring back American Underdog ahead of the Super Bowl.

    Boston Common also has a surprise "Thrills and Chills" screening on Friday with Rocky Horror on Saturday. For fans of Channing Tatum, there's a "Galentine's Day" show of Magic Mike at Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Arsenal Yards on Sunday and a preview show of Dog playing Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, and Chestnut Hill on Monday. Arsenal Yards shows Love & Basketball on Monday.
  • The Worst Person in the World opens at The Coolidge Corner Theatre (including a Sunday Masked Matinee), Kendall Square, and Boston Common this weekend; the latest from Joachim Trier has been racking up awards and praise since Cannes, particularly for star Renate Reinsve, and it even picked up a Best Screenplay Oscar nomination this week (in addition to one for Best International Film).

    The Coolidge celebrates Women in Horror month with its midnights, including Aaliyah in Queen of the Damned on 35mm on Friday and Jada Pinkett Smith & CCH Pounder in Tales from the Crypt: Demon Night on Saturday. Saturday morning, on the other hand, offers a kids' show of Mary Poppins. "Love Hurts" features The Princess Bride on Valentine's Day and continues past that with Drive on Tuesday, and Bound on Wednesday. On Thursday, they present Spike Lee's Malcom X on 35mm with a special introduction by nephew Rodnell P. Collins, president of the Malcolm X-Ella L. Little Collins Foundation and House.
  • Landmark Theatre Kendall Square aso opens Breaking Bread, a documentary about Jewish and Arab chefs working together in Haifa, featuring Dr. Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, noteworthy for being the first Muslim Arab to win MasterChef in Israel.

    Also opening is The Sky Is Everywhere the new film from indie favorite Josephine Decker, this one focusing on a teenager mourning her older sister even as she meets a nice boy. It also appears to be available on AppleTV+.
  • The Brattle Theatre won't be showing Casablanca until the end of the month, but have plenty more Great Romances this week: Only Lovers Left Alive (35mm) on Friday, Harold and Maude (35mm) on Saturday, The Philadelphia Story (35mm) and The Princess Bride on Sunday and Monday, The Bride of Frankenstein (35mm) and The Shape of Water on Tuesday, Portrait of a Lady on Fire on Wednesday, and Your Name on Thursday.
  • It looks like the Chinese Lunar New Year movies are being released one at a time over here rather than all at once, with the big one - The Battle of Lake Changjin II - hitting this week. The sequel to last National Day's massive hit starring Wu Jing and directed by Tsui Hark, Chen Kaige, and Dante Lam (though IMDB suggests that only Tsui gets on-screen credit this time). I've read that very little of its 149-minute runtime is newly-shot footage. Only Fools Rush In sticks around for limited shows as well, with Too Cool to Kill opening Thursday.

    I don't see any major Indian holiday on the calendar, but there's a lot from the subcontinent opening this weekend. The biggest release is Hindi comedy Badhaai Do, playing both Boston Common and Apple Fresh Pond, with Rajkummar Rao and Bhumi Pednekar as a pair entering a marriage of convenience which becomes less so when the wife's girlfriend comes to stay (the poster features a literal closet). Fresh Pond also gets six other movies playing a show or two a day: Kadaisi Vivasayi is a comedy about an 80-year-old farmer accused of killing peacocks, perhaps by the developer trying to buy his land; FIR - Faizal Ibrahim Rais, is a Tamil-language thriller about a man falsely accused of being a terrorist; Khiladi is a Telegu crime movie with Ravi Teja in a dual role; Kallan D'Souza looks like a Malayalam caper comedy; Sehari is a Telugu romantic comedy starring Harsh Kanumilli; and DJ Tillu is another Telugu romantic comedy.
  • The Somerville Theatre keeps the new restoration of The Conversation around to fill in for other programs, with shows Friday, Monday, and Tuesday. Those shows include an early 35mm matinee of The Ghost & Mr. Chicken on Saturday and 70mm screenings of Lawrence of Arabia on Saturday and Sunday. Later in the week, the in-person portion of The Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival moves in, with Hydrometta, Beyond Existence, and Shot in the Dark on Wednesday and Cocokazoid, Madelines, and Ike Boys on Thursday.
  • This Thursday's Bright Lights show in the Paramount Theater's Bright Screening Room is Bulletproof, a documentary directed by Todd Chandler on how American schools are adapting to gun violence potentially being imminent at any moment. Chandler and Dr. Chana A Sacks of the MGH Center for Gun Violence will participate in a Q&A afterward, with tickets free on the day of the show.
  • The Regent Theatre has a second screening of Music, Money, Madness… Jimi Hendrix in Mauion Friday. The Flying Ace, one of the few surviving silent films made with a Black cast, plays on Friday the 18th.
  • The West Newton Cinema adds Death on the Nile to Parallel Mothers, Sing 2, Licorice Pizza, Spider-Man, West Side Story (no show Monday), and matinees of Encanto (Saturday/Sunday); The Lexington Venue has Parallel Mothers, The Tragedy of Macbeth, and West Side Story (no show Friday) this weekend; note that they are unable to sell tickets online at the moment but "have plenty at the box office".
  • The Luna Theater has The Tragedy of Macbeth Friday evening, The Love Witch on Saturday, and The Princess Bride on Sunday, and the Weirdo Wednesday show.

    Cinema Salem is still closed for renovations.
  • For those still not ready to join random people in a room for two hours, theater rentals are available at Kendall Square, The Embassy, West Newton, the Capitol, The Venue, and many of the multiplexes.
Is this the time I get through Lawrence of Arabia without conking out? Maybe! I'll probably also go for Marry Me, some of the Boston Sci-Fi films, The Worst Person in the World, Lake Changjin II... Crap, I'm running out of week, and I probably also want to get to Death on the Nile because who knows if it will still be in 70mm at the Village East when I can maybe get there on the 25th?

Tuesday, February 08, 2022

Freaky Dolls in 3D: Baby Blues & Coraline

Most of the time, I prefer Ned at the Brattle or someone else to program my double features; as someone who has trouble choosing just one movie when standing in front of the "unwatched discs" shelving unit, asking me to assemble a themed pairing is, well, ridiculous. I am so legitimately terrible at choosing between likely-good options that I come up with ways to take the decision about what to watch/read/etc. next out of my hands.

In this case, I saw G Storm the night before and, for the fifth time in that series I said something like "hey, I like the actress who plays Tammy; what else is she in?" This time, though, I went to IMDB or HKMDB, saw that I actually had one of them on the shelf, and pulled it down.

This was a mistake.

I mean, I wasn't expecting greatness; I don't know whether I grabbed Baby Blues more or less and random because I figured I'd never see it again while poking around one of the video stores in the basement of the Ladies' Market during my HK vacation or if it was something I got off DDDHouse because they've had their 3D stock on sale for a while and I figure I should try and grab every 3D disc I can before they're impossible to find. At any rate, let's just say that this thing was on my shelf less out of curation than hoarding, and its obscurity/blowout pricing was deserved.

Not wanting to go to bed on that note, I figured I'd grab something else, and a Coraline chaser seemed pretty natural - it also involved a creepy doll, I already had the 3D glasses on, and, hey, that disc was already on my shelf for similar reasons: When Shout Factory announced that they had acquired the license for the Laika catalog, I went on Amazon and found the 3D editions of Coraline, ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls (I already had Kubo and I don't know if Missing Link got a 3D release anywhere).

This was not a mistake; I don't know that I was quite so taken with the movie as before, but it's still pretty darn good, and what Laika does with the stop-motion/3D medium never ceases to amaze.

The lesson? Dunno; maybe something about running with an idea when you've got it rather than worrying about finding the right answer. Yeah, it gets you Baby Blues sometimes, but it also reminds you to watch Coraline - and you've got time, because there's no twenty minutes of dithering up front!

Gui ying (Baby Blues)

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 2 January 2022 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Hong Kong 3D Blu-Ray)

The first thing you think when watching Baby Blues is "I have never seen a doll so obviously cursed in my life" and, okay, sure, it's the 21st Century so "cursed doll" is not going to be anyone's first explanation for things, but when the creepy thing appears to be bleeding from its eyes, get rid of it! It was left behind by the house's previous owners, so it's not like you've got any real attachment to it.

That aside, this isn't what you'd call a good movie by any means; it's full of inexplicable decisions, things that are just vaguely connected, and a last act that feels like the filmmakers shot a lot of possibilities so that they could figure out what ending they liked while editing. None of it makes a damn bit of sense, and it's not even in the headspace to run with its randomness and its goofy, never-believable killer doll, which at its most ambulatory makes it clear there's no CGI budget and that they haven't really figured out how to manipulate the puppet so that the audience can suspend disbelief just enough to worry. You also can't just tease the audience with a song that's so sad that it apparently drives people mad and only have it show up kind of obliquely.

Maybe all of this being a little more winking would work, with Tao (Raymond Lam Fung) and/or sister-in-law Qing (Karena Ng Chin-Yu) kind of incredulous about the whole situation or something, or new mom who somehow previously made a living by blogging Tian-Qing-(Janelle Sing Kwan) not shifting to obviously crazy like a switch was flipped. Or maybe if the writers had just found some way to make all the various pieces have a unifying theme - you have to stretch things a great deal to get from the doll inspiring Tao's tremendously sad song to the other ways it drives people mad - it would be creepy. Instead, it's just a bunch of pieces of other scary movies.

Someone had fun with the 3D camera rig, at least, not going for subtlety at all but always making sure a pointing finger or flying knife is ready to enhance a jump scare. It figures - the one thing which this movie kind of does right is the part that will be harder and harder to appreciate as time goes by.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 2 January 2022 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, 3D Blu-Ray)

As mentioned, this is an exceptionally good thing to notice on one's "unwatched disc" shelf right after watching a disappointing 3D evil doll movie, and I am very glad I got my hands on the Canadian 3D disc before it became impossible to find!

I'm not sure I've seen this since its original theatrical run, and the amount I loved it then makes me suspect that I was more or less completely floored by the 3D stop-motion animation and was not yet wondering who the heck this movie was for. I'm probably more pro-horror-movies-for-kids than most, but if you're going to do that, I'm not sure you want the burlesque sequence in the middle, for instance. I've probably got even less instincts for what's age-appropriate than I did at the time, so maybe it's just hitting me weird. At any rate, the film is eccentric in the way Neil Gaiman and Harry Selick things often are individually, only more so, either striking a deep chord or keeping you at arm's length and hoping you admire the individual eccentricity, which is about where I was this time.

It's close to unparalleled on a "look at this!" basis, though, with gorgeously colorful designs used to offset the initially bland world in which Coraline lives, and a world that's just busy enough without going overboard the way Laika could occasionally find themselves doing in later films. It's still one of the most fantastic uses of 3D in a movie and has just enough of a visual stutter at times that a viewer can't forget that someone made this and maybe pays slightly closer attention because that means that there is meaning and intent in every detail.

Every time I see a Laika movie, I find myself kind of stunned that they aren't more popular; they're clever and meticulous and don't talk down to kids. It's the second time around when one maybe finds oneself nodding and thinking that, okay, maybe these things are going to be hard sells for both parents and kids expecting something a little more straightforward.

Original review from 2009

Once Upon a Time in China x6

I'm not a big binger, really, even though there's lots of movies I'd like to catch up on; I'm blessed with local theaters that will offer programs that let me dive into something on the big screen (who wouldn't rather encounter something for the first time on 35mm film?), and like seeing movies on those big screens enough that I know any sort of at-home program will be disrupted and drawn out as I duck over to the Brattle for something else. Heck, back in November, I started rewatching the Mad Max movies on their spiffy new 4K discs, got through 2, and just haven't picked it back up. But after an at-home covid test the morning of Christmas Eve had me staying home until I tested negative, I had time to stretch something out a bit, and that Criterion set of the Once Upon a Time in China movies was right next to the TV, why not?

It's an interesting series for how it seems like an early example of the prestige wuxia movies that Crouching Tiger would popularize ten years later - elaborately staged, both in terms of fight choreography and the general production values, with some thoughtfulness about China's place in the world - but wound up with sequels turned around in such rapid succession that the series became something more ordinary quickly. Movie #6 seems to be quasi-unofficial, included in the set as a bonus feature, an odd match. I should probably read the booklet to see what Grady Hendrix and Maggie Lee have to say about how it fits into Hong Kong cinema at the time.

Anyway, you can't go far wrong with this set. The series does seem to hit direct-to-video exhaustion somewhere around film #4, but rallies afterward, and even that one still has some fine action.

Wong Fei Hung (Once Upon a Time in China)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 December 2021 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Criterion Blu-Ray)

I was not sure that I had ever actually seen any of these other than III & IV (back in '04 when the Coolidge was doing weekly midnight ass-kickings on 35mm), but even without having seen the rest, the series is so iconic and the later episodes so built on what is done here that it's kind of like watching something like Psycho for the first time; even if you haven't seen it, you've probably absorbed it. The thing about movies like this is that the general shape isn't as important as it might be; there's job in the details and execution. The main joy, naturally, is simply watching Jet Li move - where other screen fighters may have more elegant choreography or a better knack for injecting their personality or translating the emotional stakes of the plot into action, nobody quite sells the master who sees what's happening and reacts with the right move quite like Li. It makes him an excellent fit for Tsui Hark's take on Wong Fei-Hong.

That he was still kind of raw as an actor kind of makes him a nice fit for Tsui's grander ambitions here. Tsui is taking a broad look at 1890s China where nobody is quite sure what to make of the influx and sudden power of foreigners, let alone folks like 13th Aunt (Rosamund Kwan) who have so thoroughly assimilated and American-Born Chinese Bucktooth So (Jacky Cheung). Li, whether by shrewd casting or design, he's got the confidence that comes with great skill and is right on the line where it could become arrogance in other areas, but never quite does. The changes in Foshan are chaos and Li's Fei-Hung never really understands it, but just tries to keep his people safe, whether as a healer, a negotiator, or a fighter.

Most are here for the fighting, of course, and even if the movie stretches out for a while early on to establish the time and place, the action is top-notch: The restaurant fight is impeccable for how it could just be complete chaos but actually clearly shows Wong just trying to keep folks separated even as folks are tempted to take sides, and the finale is terrific, constantly finding new angles and ways to wrestle with how someone who has mastered kung fu like Wong has to figure out what to do in a world with plentiful guns. There's also something neat about how Tsui frames it - bits are like a side-scrolling game wrapping around the three-dimensional space where the big fight will take place, two types of arena combined into one.

Wong Fei Hung II: Nam yee tung chi keung (Once Upon a Time in China II)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 December 2021 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Criterion Blu-Ray)

Tsui Hark does some interesting things with this sequel - it's a bit slimmed-down, twists its perspective to focus on how nationalism can be just as toxic as foreign domination, and pulls Wong into the story of Sun Yat-Sen in a way that feels like a different sort of myth-making. It's focused where the original often feels free to wander, less an epic even though it's still pretty spiffy-looking and has ideas in its head (Tsui and company don't quite reconcile their "westerners are weird about their myths" with how, ultimately, the Chinese in this movie prove pretty susceptible as well, but it's interesting to see him and his writers ruminating on it).

And, hey, it also leads inevitably to a couple of pretty great fights, with Jet Li eventually taking on Xiong Xin Xin and Donnie Yen. The former is creative and almost playful in its staging despite the fact that Wong seems to really hate everything this guy stands for and fights with a rage that reflects it (the priest seems to give the lie to his feelings that foreigners are awful in ways Chinese aren't), while the Li/Yen fight is a couple of greats at their physical peak going at it like few others can.

This is probably not the best of this series - the first seems a little more grand and has the most amazing, elaborate fights - but it may be the one where Tsui and company are drawing the most direct line between their hero's situation in 1895 and their own as Hong Kongers in 1992 and being resigned to it being complicated.

Wong Fei Hung III: Si wong jaang ba (Once Upon a Time in China III)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 December 2021 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Criterion Blu-Ray)

I saw this on 35mm back in '04, when Clinton & Garo moved their Weekly Ass-Kickings Series to the Coolidge from the Allston Twin Cinema (which was demolished for a Staples which has, I think, since been demolished), probably before seeing the previous two. Seeing it in the proper order, after a lot more Hong Kong cinema, makes it a fair amount more satisfying. As goofy as the romantic subplot is, it's also the first time in the series that Jet Li and Rosamund Kwan really have a spark rather than just being the biggest male and female names in the film. The way her interests expand into moving pictures also helps solidify how these films are about China at a crossroads, all the more difficult as modernity is tied up with foreign domination.

Things start getting kind of messy here, though; it feels like the pace at which Tsui Hark and company were cranking them out, built around the big action, was causing real problems at the script end. The lion-dancing competition with its different factions and the Russian plot against an Imperial advisor don't totally come together, so the big fights don't really serve as climaxes. On the other hand, the lion-dancing spectacle at the end feels almost surreal, at least for this outsider, a colorful but crazy combination of a street fight, sports, and ritual that doesn't feel like it would occur to anyone else but Tsui, and certainly wouldn't be pulled off so well by another.

Original review from 2004

Wong Fei Hung IV: Wong je ji fung (Once Upon a Time in China IV)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 29 December 2021 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Criterion Blu-Ray)

We've reached the point in the series where everyone seems exhausted but the series keeps going for its fourth entry in three years. Tsui Hark steps back from director's duties, Wong Fei-Hung is recast from Jet Li to Vincent Zhao, Rosamund Kwan's 13th Aunt is moved offscreen but replaced by Jean Wang's 14th Aunt (who apparently was also educated abroad), and there's seemingly no time to think of where to bring the character next so they hang around Beijing and do more lion dancing.

Some of that's fun - the lion-and-dragon bit in the beginning which twists from a misunderstanding to a fun back-and-forth, for instance, is probably the film's high point and just beautiful to watch. It mostly seems off, though - Zhao's Wong is more hot-headed and less concerned with being a healer and peacemaker than Li's, and as a result the sidekick characters have to become even more rash and foolish in comparison. The Red Lantern sect feels like trying to reuse the White Lotus group from #2, except all-woman and with a less-clear vision of what their purpose is. As with #3, Wong feels a bit incidental toward the action at the finish, like the series has reached a point in history where its makers have to find ways for their folk hero to be sidelined rather than to save the day.

Original (kinda cringe-worthy) review from 2004

Wong Fei Hung chi neung: Lung shing chim pa (Once Upon a Time in China V)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 December 2021 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Criterion Blu-Ray)

The best thing about this entry in the series is how, when he gets a couple of six-shooters in his hands, the clumsy, stammering American Born Chinese comic relief character Bucktooth So turns out to be a gunslinger and capable of doing Chow-Yun-Fat-in-a-John-Woo-movie bullet ballet stuff with firearms. It seems hilariously out of character but also, in another way, makes perfect sense. The second-best thing is that the lady pirate has something like five separate booby traps in her bed for guys who think they're going to get the upper hand on her with their masculine charms. At this point, Tsui Hark doesn't want to repeat himself, so he's tilting the series from reverent folk heroics to a platform for whatever genre goofiness he wants, and in those moments it is glorious.

The time it takes to get to the point where Wong Fei-Hung and his students are fighting pirates isn't nearly the same sort of fun, in part because it's such an obvious demonstration on just how much these movies are built around spectacularly detailed action set-ups, with much less attention paid to the rest of the movie. Vincent Zhao has improved a bit here and the return of not just Rosamund Kwan but some of the other supporting characters from the first movie is welcome, but there are just a ton of moments when one can't help but wonder if any of these people ever talk to each other or anyone else about anything but martial arts, because they are just complete morons when it comes to human interaction. None of the guys has the slightest idea of how to deal with women, and it seemingly never occurs to anyone to ask basic questions, setting up misunderstandings that the worst screwball comedy writers would be embarrassed by. I'm sure some of it is family structures and traditions that Americans 25-odd years after the film's release and 100 years after the period, just don't get, and some may be satire that's kind of specific to pre-handover Hong Kong, but boy is it a relief when characters start punching and kicking each other, and that the series (kind of) finishes up here.

Fortunately, there's a lot of quality kung fu pirate action here, enough that by the time they've finished, a lot of the weaker bits have been pushed to the back.

Wong fei hung VI: Sai wik hung see (Once Upon a Time in China and America)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 December 2021 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Criterion Blu-Ray)

I've seen a couple different box sets that don't treat this as a proper Once Upon a Time in China movie but rather as a glorified bonus feature, and though I can see why - no Tsui Hark on the script, new companies behind it, and maybe a feeling that it twists the legend of Wong Fei-Hung and the genres he fits into a little far - it's still got Jet Li, Rosamund Kwan, and Xiong Xin Xin, and despite how much is different, it arguably comes full circle, for those who remember the scenes in the first where good Chinese folks are being scammed into coming to America for what is more or less slave labor.

Even considering the film as its own thing, that thing is Sammo Hung directing a kung fu western with Jet Li, and who doesn't want some of that? Sammo and his team seem delighted at the vast canvas the American west gives them, and they actually do a fair job of balancing what people enjoyed about shoot-em-up westerns and the perspective on this time and place that being Chinese gives them. There's big, entertaining action, broad but believable characters, and a ton of good action from a couple of masters. There's also fun attention to detail, from the remixed version of the theme song, to how of course 13th Aunt has an English name she uses with westerners, to watching Billy stretch his legs in every scene after Clubfoot/Seven mentions it means it's not so crazy when he's joining in the martial arts action later.

It is, of course, cringe as heck at times - for instance, one gets the feeling that everybody means well where the Native Americans are concerned but didn't really do a whole lot of research or take care in casting. The slimmed-down cast helps a lot with not having a lot of needlessly stupid comic relief characters, but Chan Kwok-Pong is a definite downgrade after how great Roger Kwok was in the same part when you watch this back-to-back with #5, and it feels like there are a ton of missed opportunities where Li and Kwan are concerned: They seem to pick up right where they left off in #3, chemistry-wise, and her confident "I'm good at everything" sets up the idea of her being in her element in an English-speaking country in a way that seems like it would be fun to play with but which doesn't pan out (a lot of other fun threads, like the Indians and the saloon girl who likes So, just disappear).

But, hey - it's Sammo Hung directing Jet Li in a western, almost a trial run for their upcoming attempts at post-handover American stardom (Li would soon appear in Lethal Weapon 4 and Hung would start Martial Law). Most American filmmakers get to do one western if they're lucky, and with these guys knowing that folks out of Hong Kong likely would have even fewer opportunities to play in this sandbox, they dive in and have a blast with it, making for a strange, genre-bending good time.

Monday, February 07, 2022


Sitting through the end credits of Moonfall, I was struck by the sheer number of people on at least three continents who work on visual effects for a movie like this. Lots of names from India and notes that post-production got tax benefits in various states in the U.S. and Australia/provinces in Canada, so that the various effects houses can probably hand off digital assets between various locations and literally work 24 hours a day. It's hardly unique in that; you see this at the end of every movie above a certain scale (and many where you wouldn't expect to), but it's instructive to see just how insanely labor-intensive something like this is even though "computer generated imagery" often conjures up an image of someone creating a wireframe and then hitting a "render" button.

It's an astounding amount of work on what is meant to be eye-popping materia, but in the 2020s, something like Moonfall will spend roughly three to six weeks in theaters and probably won't have that much of a long tail. After all, what's a streaming outlet's algorithm going to grab to push it in front of viewers? Prime probably has a dozen movies with Halle Berry that would get recommended over this. If you just watched one of director Roland Emmerich's better takes on this sort of material, there's no guarantee that the service in question has this one. It's probably never going to get the sheer number of views or high ratings that would lift it terribly high in a general list of sci-fi/action pictures.

That's the really weird thing about the current moment - there's just a metric ton of this sort of movie being produced, but the window for it is crazy narrow unless it's Marvel or Star Wars or something pre-sold and most of it is just going to slip through cracks. It feels like everyone who isn't Disney is entirely betting on long shots because that's the only way you won't get crowded out for the next decade or so. And this isn't exactly me saying studios shouldn't make big expensive movies for what three or four smaller films might cost, at least not yet - I love blockbusters! - but maybe make them better? Like, when you read the screenplay for Moonfall, go, hey, the physics here makes no sense, you're going to have a bunch of folks who cold give you good word of mouth mocking you, and maybe do something with the characters that feels fresh or at least not straight out of Save the Cat!? Like, it's a crowded landscape out there, not just in theaters, but Disney and Batman and Fast & Furious are going to suck up all the media oxygen, and sweating the details in more ways than just pushing the FX crews to do more on less money is the best option you've got to improve your chances.

Anyway, this could have been a lot more fun if Emmerich et al had just run with the weird stuff at the end and given his cast something resembling anything to do.

Oh! One more thing, while we're talking about processed things being squished into a template - after something close to a year of the local AMCs not having chicken tenders and mozzarella sticks due to what must be absolutely insane supply chain issues by now, they've at least put Impossible Nuggets on the menu at the concession stand. They're not bad at all - they're as perfectly-fine a way to get dipping sauces into your mouth as the ones made of chicken - but they seem to have a much more powerful smell which will take some getting used to.


* * (out of four)
Seen 6 February 2022 in AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run, Imax Xenon)

There was a story a few years back about how, when they needed to render a black hole, the visual effects crew of Intersellar programmed their computers with the actual physics rather than the most-common visual, and the results both changed the way scientists visualize the phenomena and made the movie look cooler than expected. I am reasonably sure nothing like this happened during the production of Moonfall, which is dumb enough to cause any scientists in the audience physical pain, sloppily written, and not special enough to make much out of Roland Emmerich being fairly competent at special-effects mayhem.

Its absurdly high-concept.idea is that the moon has somehow begun a decaying orbit, which will rain all manner of destruction on the Earth within a month. L.A.-based crank KC Houseman (John Bradley) has long theorized that the moon is a megastructure of alien origin, and while astronaut Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) saw something strange during a catastrophic space shuttle mission ten years ago, his co-pilot Jocinda Fowler (Halle Berry) was unconscious, and now he's a disgraced has-been and she's the deputy director of NASA. As if that wasn't enough reason to worry, they've both got exes they have uneasy relationships with and kids who need to get to safety while they launch a last-ditch mission to try and neutralize the swarm of nanobots that they think is responsible.

This is incredibly stupid, and it really only gets dumber as it goes along, in large part because at no point have Emmerich and his co-writers really thought anything through, and not just the howlingly bad physics. There are more mundane things, like how Fowler seemingly does hours or days worth of work while Harper and Houseman are apparently talking in a hotel diner for a few minutes. There are matters of logistics that fall apart when you give them a second's thought - how in the heck do they get a functioning launch pad at Fort Vandenberg in this time frame, let alone deliver the booster rockets and fuel that the decommissioned shuttle Endeavor at a nearby air and space museum needs, much less the Chinese prototype lunar lander after it's already been established that the tides are hostile and the country has descended into anarchy? There's not a moment in this movie that rings particularly true until the crew is inside the moon and the audience can sort of shrug that sort of thing off because they just have to assume impossibly advanced technology in that situation.

A lot of sci-fi adventures get past that sort of thing by being charming or offering up engaging characters, but Moonfall takes a lot of that for granted. I don't necessarily blame Emmerich for regularly returning to a formula that worked with Independence Day, but it's hard not to notice that Fowler, Harper, and Houseman map to familiar types, and it seems like the writers have to stretch to make them fit those templates but don't actually do anything with it. Given half a chance, Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson could probably do a lot with their characters' histories and parallel trajectories, but they aren't given half a chance beyond some weak banter at the start and vague allusions later. Movies about the imminent destruction of human civilization become kind of tacky when that sort of cataclysm's primary role seems to be to spur one or two people out of several billion to resolve their issues, but what's all this for if not to put some spark in their scenes?

Meanwhile, John Bradley is in the Jeff Goldbum/James Spader/Matthew Broderick "outcast nerd" spot and the comparison does him no favors; the particular mix of smart and eccentric just doesn't work here. There's bits with Charlie Plummer as Harper's estranged son and a bunch of other characters looking for shelter that seem transplanted from another disaster movie because he can't just disappear after being used to establish Harper's "screwed up his life in every way possible" bona fides, with Michael Peña pulling duty as the character actor who is both a bigger star and better actor than this playing his stepfather. Donald Sutherland shows up for a scene or two to give gravitas to some nonsensical backstory. It's a mess of material that never makes the fantasy seem more thought-out and which is too rote to provide the human stakes that the screenwriting books say a big adventure needs.

Emmerich was never particularly good at either of those things - he's benefited from casts better able to sell them - and his films have always been sold on large-scale action and calamity. To watch Moonfall is to realize a couple of things: First, that the sort of disaster scenes that were centerpieces of a summer blockbuster 25 years ago are now first-act obstacles in a movie that opens in early February, and even if the finale is more impressive, it's hard to ramp up as much. Second, he's probably still as good as anybody at building those big climactic action scenes; he gets enough explanation in that the audience knows what they're seeing, frames to emphasize scale without letting the protagonists get lost, and doesn't overload a shot. There's imagery like the glow of an oversized moonrise in the Rockies that inspires a bit of awe and shows some care; it doesn't feel like it passed from the pre-visualization team to the effects house without the attention of the filmmakers who get the "A Film By" credit the way these things often do.

Is that enough to make Moonfall a good movie? Heck no; it's enough to send a viewer out of the theater mildly diverted rather than actively annoyed. There are some interesting pieces here, but in 2022, when Hollywood releases something on this scale every other month with half tied into something the audience is already excited for and one of the others at least trying something interesting, a movie like this is just not exciting enough to get away with weaknesses that used to be acceptable tradeoffs.

Full review at eFilmCritic

Saturday, February 05, 2022

Last and First Men

Three more days of this at the Brattle - Saturday, Sunday, and Tuesday - and I recommend seeing it there while you can. I'm sure that this will wind up on video eventually, but it's the sort of thing that benefits greatly from being absorbed in a dark room where you can't easily get up to stretch your legs or fiddle with your phone without disturbing others or gaining their reluctant permission. It's only 70 minutes, but that's longer than I typically give to something relatively abstract at a stretch. For instance, I can't easily imagine sitting through an entire museum installation where the loop is that length.

Granted, to a certain extent, this is the sort of thing that I am tempted to feel was put on just for me. I'm fond of science fiction that doesn't worry too much about grinding the incredible down to human size and contemporary understanding, as well as the spare functionality of the language. Nobody here is trying to impress the audience with their wit or turn of phrase, but instead speaking plainly about extraordinary things. The earnest unreality of it makes it a little harder to grasp, but it kind of should be; the far future shouldn't just be a metaphor for the present.

Also, I'd love to go to those Balkan locations with my 3D film camera and just shoot them, seeing what kind of images and effects I get out of that. I've been posting images from that camera on another blog for a few months now (with each post containing versions for red/cyan glasses, animated "wigglegrams" that try and trick your brain into seeing a third dimension, and left-right images for viewers to put together as they will), and it's a lot of fun to photograph odd shapes and structures that way. It's mostly vacation photos and mostly in color, but I've gone through a roll of black-and-white film (from here to here to try and see local sights a different way.

This kind of feels like the sort of thing that might play the Harvard Film Archive or the Museum of Fine Art's film program if they'd reopened, but it fits right in at the Brattle as well. Check it out on-screen if you can, though hopefully it gets a fairly spiffy release on disc.

Last and First Men

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 4 February 2022 in the Brattle Theatre (special engagement, DCP)

Last and First Men is a pointedly unconventional movie, and not just because writer/director/composer Jóhann Jóhannsson uses metaphorical visuals rather than directly showing the story being told, but because that story is less an adventure or drama than an exercise in stretching the imagination without trying to wrestle that scale back down to something person-sized. The universe and the future are grand and unknowable and quite likely indifferent to present-day humanity, and this film invites a viewer to ponder that without reducing it to a problem that someone like that viewer can solve.

It's not initially presented that way, of course. Presented as a message delivered psychically from two thousand million years in the future, the narration (provided by Tilda Swinton) states early on that "we can help you and we need your help". But first, it must describe the world of the future, when humanity has taken up residence on Neptune as inner planets became uninhabitable, although it is not the humanity those in the current era would recognize, but the eighteenth successor species designed by their predecessors, although this may be the end, as the sun and other nearby stars are becoming unstable.

There are stories in there, and plot devices and problems to be solved, but no individual characters, really. Olaf Stapledon, the author of the original 1930 novel, was as much poet and philosopher as constructor of narrative, with Jóhannsson and co-writer José Enrique Macián stripping that novel down to its essential ideas, with narrator Tilda Swinton intoning them in a way that hints at eons of evolution without seeming condescending. Though a story reason this description of the far future is given, the mental image is the actual point, and Swinton captures the essence of describing marvels considered mundane from the teller's perspective.

It's description because this film isn't built to render those wonders photorealistically; even if a studio were willing to spend tens of millions of dollars on such an abstract story, this particular project appears to have its roots in an orchestral production anyway. Instead, Jóhannsson and cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen take cameras to the Balkans and shoot various sculptures and bits of Brtualist architecture on 16mm black-and-white film. The results are, on their own, striking. Denied context, sitting in empty fields, it is difficult to determine whether these shapes come from some ancient civilization or modern abstraction, with a few suggesting human forms, while others look alien and others representing mid-twentieth-century electronics, while most seem strictly geometrical. The photography itself is phenomenal, reshaping these objects by shifting perspective and cautiously allowing them to emerge from mist as if materializing.

Their nature makes them good accompaniment to the narration, as the viewer knows that even though they are not created for this film, they come from human hands though the minds behind them are inscrutable in one way or another. Jóhannsson and Yair Elazar Glotman contribute an eerie and alien score (as Jóhannsson famously did for Denis Villeneuve's Arrival) that increases in intensity as the narration moves closer to the inevitable end, and it's fascinating to watch how the group combines these things to intensify the feeling: An angular figure where the human brain finds multiple faces complements talk of a telepathic hive mind, shapes resembling clenched fists hint at the struggle to continue, the camera moving through parallel sculptures with circular voids implies interplanetary travel. Jóhannsson never directly shows anything Swinton describes, but instead uses all of this to let the audience form an idea while also making sure that said audience knows that the reality is in fact stranger than they or the present-day people telling the story can imagine.

As the film ends after a sequence with some of the film's limited color (a dark, threatening red becoming a blinding white), the lighting seems to flicker for the first time, perhaps a candle being snuffed in the future or a hint that we are still proto-hominids experimenting with fire from the hive-mind narrator's perspective. At that point, it may occur to the viewer that the film never got around to how these two slices of humanity two billion years apart can help each other - but then, that was never the point.

Full review at eFilmCritic

Friday, February 04, 2022

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 4 February 2021 - 10 February 2022

Hey, there's actually stuff opening in the multiplexes this week!
  • The big new release this week is Moonfall, a Roland Emmerich joint with Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson, and John Bradley as the typical Emmerich trio of professional/rebel/nerd, this time facing an alien threat inside the moon. It's at the Somerville, Fresh Pond, Boston Common (including Imax Xenon & Dolby Cinema), Fenway, South Bay (including Imax Xenon & Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax Xenon & Dolby Cinema), Arsenal Yards (including CWX), the Embassy, and Chestnut Hill.

    Also opening (after being delayed from last fall) is Jackass Forever, with Johnny Knoxville and company taking part in new stunts and apparently mentoring new morons because they're getting too old for this. It's at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema), Arsenal Yards, the Embassy, and Chestnut Hill.

    Jeen-Yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy (Act 1) plays Boston Common, Fenway, and Assembly Row on Thursday. There are also special Wednesday previews of Death on the Nile at Boston Common, South Bay (Imax Xenon), Assembly Row (Imax Xenon), and Arsenal Yards (CWX); plus The Beatles: Get Back - The Rooftop Concert at Boston Common (Imax Xenon)
  • Over at The Coolidge Corner Theatre they get Sundown, a thriller starring Tim Roth and Charlotte Gainsbourg as a family on vacation called home because of an emergency, exposing cracks in their armor. It's also at Landmark Theatre Kendall Square and Boston Common. The Coolidge, Kendall Square, Boston Common, and South Bay also get Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America, an IFFBoston documentary that has lawyer Jeffery Robinson examining how America's racial history has led to the present situation.

    The main midnight movie at the Coolidge this weekend is also a new release, with Alone with You playing Friday and Saturday; co-director Emily Bennett stars as a woman waiting for her girlfriend's return but only seeing ghosts. Saturday night also features giallo The Strange Vice of Mr. Wardh, which was snowed out last weekend. Sunday afternoon features a Masked Matinee of Parallel Mothers and Confessions of Felix Krull from the Goethe-Institut. Monday's Big-Screen "Classic" is a new restoration of Polyester in Odorama; the "Love Hurts" selections this week are Some Like It Hot on Tuesday, Moonstruck on Wednesday, and Happy Together on Thursday.
  • The Brattle Theatre opens First and Last Men, a sort of science-fictional visual essay by composer Jóhann Jóhannsson with narration from Tilda Swinton in beautiful black and white, with 5pm and 7pm shows Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Tuesday. Those nights also offer 9pm shows of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (with 2pm matinees on Saturday and Sunday.

    The DocYard returns on Monday, with their first show of the spring season being After the Rain, with filmmaker Fan Jian returning to Sichaun to reconnect with subjects of an earlier documentary who lost children in an earthquake and were encouraged to have others to replace them. He and two producers will dial in for a remote Q&A afterward.

    After that, the annual series of Great Romances starts, with many on 35mm, including Wednesday's Love & Basketball and Thursday's My Beautiful Laundrette
  • It looks like Only Fools Rush In is the only Chinese New Year movie opening here for The Year of the Tiger, with Pegasus and Buckweed director Han Han reuniting with Shen Teng for a film about a reunited father and son making a road trip on motorcycles.

    Apple Fresh Pond gets Malayalam romance Hridayam and Tamil action/adventure Veerame Vaagai Soodum this weekend, also keeping Bollywood drama '83 around. I think the latter has English subtitles, but as I discovered last weekend, that's not a given if they don't say so specifically!\
  • Part of the The Somerville Theatre's has the new restoration of The Conversation on their main screen in 4K all week; it's one of the best from both Gene Hackman and Francis Ford Coppola, so good that he saw no need to re-edit it for this re-release.

    The Capitol and Fresh Pond also seem to be the only places opening French-produced-but-English-language The Wolf and the Lion, a family-friendly film about a young woman who finds two orphaned animals at her late uncle's home and raises them.
  • This Thursday's Bright Lights show in the Paramount Theater's Bright Screening Room is The Wolf of Snow Hollow, a horror-comedy about a small-town cop who doesn't believe in werewolves despite the bodies found every full moon. There's post-film Q&A with writer/director/star Jim Cummings and producer Ben Wiessner afterward, with tickets free on the day of the show.
  • The Regent Theatre has the first of two screenings of Music, Money, Madness… Jimi Hendrix in Maui, which presents the Hendrix concert from the end of 1972's Rainbow Bridge (and which has apparently never been available otherwise), with the other playing Friday the 11th. It's also worth noting (because otherwise it might not show up on this blog until the day of) that they'll be screening The Flying Ace, one of the few surviving silence made with a Black cast, on Friday the 18th.
  • The West Newton Cinema keeps the schedule of Parallel Mothers, Sing 2, Licorice Pizza, Spider-Man, West Side Story, and matinees of Encanto (no show Monday); The Lexington Venue has Parallel Mothers (no shows Friday), The Tragedy of Macbeth, and West Side Story this weekend; note that they are unable to sell tickets online at the moment but "have plenty at the box office".
  • The Luna Theater has The Tragedy of Macbeth Friday and Saturday evenings. Flee plays twice Saturday, including a Masked Matinee. Breakfast at Tiffany's has the screen on Sunday, plus there's the Weirdo Wednesday show.

    Cinema Salem is still closed for renovations.
  • For those still not ready to join random people in a room for two hours, theater rentals are available at Kendall Square, The Embassy, West Newton, the Capitol, The Venue, and many of the multiplexes.
I've already got a ticket for First and Last Men and will probably also hit The Conversation, Moonfall, and Sundown, plus maybe Only Fools Rush In and Wolf of Snow Hollow. Note that Oscar nominations also get announced this week, so we'll see if anything gets moved up or down in priority for that.

Wednesday, February 02, 2022

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy

I write slowly these days, so just one more evening to catch this one at the Somerville. It's also on disc, but it's a fun one to see with others, if only because there is one scene in the middle where the awkward laughter is fantastic.

Unlike last week's Drive My Car, this one was upstairs in the main auditorium, and this was the first time I had a bit of a chance to notice some of the changes. I got there early enough to see a whole bunch of people with musical instruments walking up the stairs that lead to the balcony, leaving me wondering if this was the sort of movie where you might have live accompaniment. That wasn't the case, so I guess maybe the stage door for the Crystal Ballroom is up there.

Speaking of things changing upstairs…

I think that's the new 4K laser projector, as opposed to the closer-to-consumer-level machine theaters occasionally use to project slideshows or DVD/Blu-ray content - which this very well could have been,. I presume it's a DCP; but there were some aspect ratio things with the previews that suggested different sources. Anyway, you can see that there's still stuff in the normal booth, because they run a lot of film, but I guess if you're not running film, it doesn't need to be behind a window. I'd heard the digital projectors run hotter than film, but maybe that's not the case with the laser units. Still kind of odd placement, compared to every other theater I've ever been in, but, hey, maybe it wasn't built for an auditorium this size.

Interesting movie at least. I didn't expect January to be so Japan-heavy when the month started; it'll be interesting to see what February brings (including The Conversation in that room with that fancy new projector).

Gûzen to sôzô (Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 31 January 2022 in Somerville Theatre #1 (special presentation, DCP)

Depending upon how the two-hour running time of Ryusuke Hamaguchi's anthology feature Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is allocated, it could conceivably cut into three likely nominees for "Best Short Film" for the bodies with awards that category, which would be a neat trick considering the amount of praise Hamaguchi's Drive My Car is getting in the feature category. It won't get split up, sure, but what he does with the short form is as impressive as that sprawling film - and more lively, despite still being mostly two people talking.

The first segment, "Magic (or Something Less Assuring)", opens with an outdoor photoshoot, after which model Meiko (Kotone Furukawa) shares a cab with Tsugumi (Hyunri), a good friend who appears to work for the commissioning magazine. Gumi spends the trip talking about the guy she met at an event the week before and how they instantly connected, and while Meiko is excited for her, she's also able to pick up enough context to recognize the man her friend met, and decides to go confront Kazuaki (Ayumu Nakajima) right away.

All three vignettes are built around one-on-one conversations, but Hamaguchi shoots the two that form the bulk of "Magic" differently: The cab is only just large enough that he can keep Meiko out of frame when he wants to focus on Gumi, lit with nighttime reds that make it feel cozy, compared to the stark fluorescent light of Kazuaki's office, letting Kotone Furukawa and Ayumu Nakajima circle each other as they spar, with less fuzzy reads of their faces. Furukawa is captivating to watch as she doesn't exactly shed the cuteness and charm which likely serves Meiko well as a model but certainly makes the character canny in her use of it, although she and Hamaguchi never lose track of her having as many messy, conflicting emotions as her ex. Similarly, Nakajima always takes a step back when Kazuaki could get easy sympathy for Meiko's actions, like he's a little too happy to be in the right. It's an intriguingly messy situation with really nothing Tsugumi can do about it.

The next story, "Door Wide Open", starts with a college class witnessing a student (Shouma Kai) begging Professor Segawa (Kiyohiko Shibukawa) for a passing grade that will allow him to graduate, with Segawa insisting on leaving the door open lest he be accused of abuse. Five months later, this student and his lover Nao (Katsuki Mori), see a news report of Segawa being awarded a prestigious literary award, and he concocts a plan to use Nao as a sort of honeypot. She's not exactly enthusiastic, but as a thirty-ish undergraduate who feels like an outcast on campus, she eventually relents.

This may be the weakest of the parts, in some ways; Kiyohiko Shibukawa and Katsuki Mori are both game in how they portray two people who are maybe not quite as boring and asexual as their younger compatriots might expect, and one can somewhat sense that both actors have an idea of what makes Nao and Segawa tick and what got them to this point, but it's not really on the screen. Hamaguchi never quite finds the words that will flesh either character out enough to build a connection between them, even though you can see everyone putin in the work. The scene is memorable in large part because it is, in fact, very funny - it is built around deadpan crudity and just gets funnier every time it keeps going every time the viewer thinks it's going to stop - and yet, somehow, that establishing that these two characters are actually on the same sort of odd wavelength doesn't lead to nearly as much as it could. It's one of those shorts that seems a bit more like the start of a story rather than the whole thing.

That could maybe be said for the third and final entry, "Once Again", in which Natsuko Moka (Fusako Urabe) returns to the town where she grew up for a high school reunion, hoping to see her first love Yuki. Yuki's not there, but Natsuko is surprised and pleased to run into her (Aoba Kawai) by chance at the train station. She needs to get back home for a package delivery for her son - married names are part of why Natsuko couldn't track her down - but invites Natsuko for tea. But just as Natsuko's about to say the things she's kept bottled up for twenty years, her friend tells her something that changes everything.

"Once Again" should strain suspension of disbelief fairly severely - it's got a very odd twist and Hamaguchi has to posit a world-changing piece of malware to explain why these two don't just look a piece of information up (over a decade into the smartphone era and 25 years into the internet being ubiquitous, writers are still trying ways to not use them) - but it somehow doesn't. Part of it's mechanical - Hamaguchi works the malware into Natsuko's backstory - and part of it comes from how self-aware these two women are. They both recognize that they're in a weird situation but are also willing to recognize their own loneliness and how it can be hard to overcome at that age. There's a little more urgency to Fusako Urabe's Ms. Moka than Aoba Kawai's Mrs. Kobayashi, but it lets the latter draw the former out. They don't form the connections one might expect from their first encounter, but they process it. As much as the "Xeron Virus" laid all hidden connections bare and made people wary of forming new ones online, they still found a way to create it for themselves and cherish the knowledge.

It's not surprising that all three are about forging connections or finding unexpected intimacy in some way; every anthology has something like that running down the center. What is a bit surprising is the extent to which Hamaguchi follows the same conversation-based template throughout; most of the time, these projects are about stretching different muscles. On the other hand, this is what Hamaguchi does, and he's on an impressive roll right now.

Full review at eFilmCritic