Friday, September 30, 2022

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 30 September 2022 - 6 October 2022

Odd thing - the 19-plex at Boston Common was only showing about 8 screens worth of movies right until Thursday afternoon, making me wonder if it was slated for the upgrades supposedly headed to a lot of the chain's theaters. Not this weekend, I guess.
  • The big opening this weekend is Bros, starring Billy Eichner as a Provincetown man who hooks up with a guy who initially seems way out of his league. Eichner co-writes with Nicholas Stoller, who has done a fair amount of good comedy. It's at the Somerville Theatre, the Coolidge, Fresh Pond, the Lexington Venue, West Newton, Boston Common, Fenway, Kendall Square, South Bay, Assembly Row, Arsenal Yards, and Chestnut Hill.

    Also opening wide is Smile, a horror movie about the latest person seemingly doomed to die because of a curse that manifests itself as people with unnaturally broad grins around her. It's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common (including Dolby Cinema), Fenway, South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema), Arsenal Yards (CWX).

    Romantic comedy The Good House pairs Sigourney Weaver and Kevin Kline as a realtor who needs a big sale and Kevin Kline as an old boyfriend with some prime oceanfront property. These two look pretty good for folks in their mid-70s, I can't believe it's been almost 30 years since Dave. It's at the Capitol, Boston Common, Fenway, and South Bay. Arsenal Yards picks up The Greatest Beer Run Ever, with Zac Efron and Russell Crowe in Peter Farrelly's comedy about a guy in the 1960s trying to help his buddies in Vietnam (also on AppleTV+).

    Boston Common still has some Latino month shows of In the Heights (Friday/Sunday/Tuesday/Wednesday), Selena (Saturday), The Curse of La Llorona (Monday), and Pan's Labyrinth (Thursday). There's a Universal Monsters show of The Mummy & The Bride of Frankenstein at Fenway and Arsenal Yards on Saturday. Fenway also has Mean Girls on Monday evening. DIO: Dreamers Never Die plays Sunday afternoon at Kendall Square and Boston Common, while Billy Joel Live at Yankee Stadium plays Boston Common, Fenway, Kendall Square, and South Bay on Wednesday. There are earlier-than-Thursday previews of Triangle of Sadness on Monday (Kendall Square) and Wednesday (Boston Common). Horror flick The Retaliators pops up for another one-off at Fenway on Wednesday, while Boston Common, South Bay, and Assembly Row have Terrifier 2 as a "Thrills & Chills" screening Thursday night; it's (somehow) the third Art the Clown movie and like an hour longer than either of the other two, which seems a bit much.
  • Landmark Theatres Kendall Square opens God's Creatures, with the always-reliable Emily Watson as a woman in an isolated fishing village whose lie to protect her son has unexpected consequences. There's also a Retro Replay of The Lost Boys on Tuesday.
  • The big Indian release this week is Ponniyin Selvan: Part One, a grand-scale period action movie starring Vikram, Karthi, Jayam Ravi, Trisha Krishnan, Aishwaraya Rai Bachchan, and more against a backdrop of a land about to fall into civil war. I believe Tamil is its primary language, but it plays in multiple versions at Fresh Pond (Tamil/Telugu/Hindi), Boston Common (Tamil including Imax/Hindi), and South Bay (Tamil/Hindi). Also opening a bit wider (at Fresh Pond and Boston Common) is Vikram Vedha, an old-school action movie with Saif Ali Khan as the city's toughest cop and Hrithik Roshan as its nastiest criminal.

    Apple Fresh Pond has more spaced through the week. Friday brings Naane Varuvean, a thriller with Dhanush playing hero and villain, and Kantara, a Kannada-language adventure. Bangla-language crime/drama/romance Poran plays Saturday and Sunday, Telugu crime story GodFather opens Tuesday (also at Boston Common), and Wednesday brings two more in that language, romance Swathi Muthyam and action flick The Ghost. Brahmastra: Part One - Shiva hangs around Fresh Pond (2D Hindi) and Boston Common (3D Hindi).

    Chinese action flick Wolf Pack has Max Zhang Jin (who is great) and Aarif Rahman, and I don't know if it's taken this long to do Wolf Warrior knockoffs or if this is just the first one to get much of a release in the US. Limited showtimes at Boston Common.

    Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero may be reaching the end of the line at South Bay, with dubbed shows on Friday, Saturday, and Wednesday. Nice run.
  • The Brattle Theatre opens My Imaginary Country, Patricio Guzmán's documentary on the 2019 democratic revolution in Chile, the latest in a string of movies documenting the country's history as it happens for almost fifty years; years the three parts of The Battle for Chile play as a companion presentation on Saturday.

    It's also Halloween, so that means spooky stuff, starting with F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu on Friday as part of their 100th-anniversary Silent Movie Day shows. From there, it's an easy segue into Vampires at the Arthouse late shows, with Park Chan-wook's Thirst on Saturday, a 35mm print of Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive Sunday & Monday, Tomas Alfredson's Let the Right One In on 35mm Tuesday, Bill Gunn's Ganja & Hess on Wednesday, and Ana Lily Amirpour's A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night on Thursday (with her new one opening the next night).
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre ends the September midnights with Night of the Demon on Friday, on 35mm with a post-film Q&A featuring actor Hal Nevis, and starts October's John Carpenter program with Dark Star on Saturday. Psycho is Monday's Big Screen Classic, Boston Open Screen returns on Tuesday (is this the first since Covid?), and the second Three Colors restoration, White, plays on Wednesday.
  • The Somerville Theatre starts their spooky stuff schedule with Killer Klowns from Outer Space at midnight on Saturday.
  • The Harvard Film Archive starts "The Face of Time: Recent Films by Tsai Ming-Liang" this weekend, including Stray Dogs (Friday), Goodbye, Dragon Inn (Saturday), Good Manners (Sunday), and half-hour shorts "Walker" and "No No Sleep". They also throw in King Hu's Dragon Inn on Saturday night, for those who want to see that beloved wuxia action film that the folks in the previous film's shuttering theater were watching..
  • CineFest Latino Boston started on Thursday with a Bright Lights screening, and continues through the weekend with Utama at Emerson's Paramount Theater on Friday and El Rey del Todo el Mundo at the Coolidge on Sunday.
  • The Taiwan Film Festival of Boston has six films from the island at Boston Common on Saturday and Sunday: Documentaries Eagle Hand, Me and My Condemned Son, Enigma: The Chinese Crested Tern, and Let the Wind Carry Me; animated feature Grandma and Her Ghosts; and drama Listen Before You Sing.
  • In addition to the regular schedule of documentary shorts, The New England Aquarium has The LIfe Aquatic with Steve Zissou on their giant Imax screen on Saturday evening. It's the last scheduled $5 cult classic movie night; hopefully it's done well enough to get a few more water-themed movies there.
  • The Regent Theatre has one more show of this year's edition of The Manhattan Short Film Festival on Sunday, plus the Kendal Mountain Tour of adventure shorts on Tuesday.

    They also host the Loney Seal Festival, which has big chunks of shorts and features starting Wednesday night (through the next Monday) in both the main theater and the Underground room.
  • The Bright Lights show in the Bright Screening Room of Emerson's Paramount Theater this Thursday is See You Then, in which a transitioning woman invites her old girlfriend to dinner to catch up ten years later. Director Mari Walker will be there for discussion; tickets are free and can be claimed day-of.
  • The Lexington Venue has Bros and See How They Run playing through Sunday.

    The West Newton Cinema opens Bros and keeps Don't Worry Darling, Jaws (Saturday morning), See How They Run (no show Thursday), Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, Where the Crawdads Sing, Hallelujah, Minions (Saturday/Sunday), and The Bad Guys (Saturday/Sunday matinees). No shows on Monday.

    The Luna Theater plays Pearl for most shows Friday to Sunday, with the Sundance Institute Indigineous Shorts Tour playing its last two times on Saturday afternoon. Not seeing a Weirdo Wednesday show this week.

    Cinema Salem Friday to Sunday line-up is Bros and Barbarian. Being Salem, they're obviously into the horror, with Heavy Leather Horror hosting/presenting The Greasy Strangler on Friday, Mario Bava's Black Sunday on (you guessed it) Sunday, Miz Diamond Wigfall hosting Mean Girls on Monday, and VideoCoven presenting Creepshow for its 40th anniversary on Thursday.
  • Joe's Free Films shows that there are still some outdoor programs going, with the Summer Shack pop-up in Harvard Square showing The Goonies Saturday and Nightmare Before Christmas on Thursday and Boston Together Again showing Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Shell on Thursday.
  • 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 and Somerville, The Venue, CinemaSalem, and many of the multiplexes.
Tempted by the big Indian movies; less tempted by Bros and Smile, though folks seem to like them. I'll probably go for The Good House, some catch-up, and maybe some spooky stuff.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 23 September 2022 - 29 September 2022

Could be kind of a trainwreck this weekend, with two films that seem to be real messes opening and a re-release that will put a few pop culture assumptions to the test.
  • James Cameron's Avatar returns to theaters for a couple of weeks, with new 4K 3D HDR presentations, ready to build excitement for the upcoming sequel and answer the claims that it made no pop-cultural impact and test my theory that it's a pretty impressive movie but lousy TV. It's at Jordan's Furniture (Imax 3D), Boston Common (Dolby Cinema 3D & RealD 3D), Fenway (RealD 3D), South Bay (Imax Xenon 3D & RealD 3D & Dolby Cinema 2D), Assembly Row (Imax Xenon 3D & RealD 3D), and Chestnut Hill (RealD 3D); I think only South Bay has 2D shows, if you're into that.

    David Bowie documentary Moonage Daydream moves from Imax to standard screens at Boston Common and Assembly Row as it opens at the Somerville, the Coolidge (including a Saturday Masked Matinee), Fenway, and Kendall Square. In new releases, Don't Worry Darling arrives after the trailer playing long enough to go from intriguing to too-familiar and crazy drama going on while it played festivals. It's Olivia Wilde's follow-up to Booksmart, with Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Chris Pine, Gemma Chan, and others in an atomic-age planned community where the wives stay home while the husbands work on some defense project, although Pugh's character seems to be chafing at something which isn't quite right. It's at the Somerville, the Coolidge, West Newton, Boston Common (including Imax Xenon), Fenway, Kendall Square, South Bay (including DOlby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema), Arsenal Yards (including CWX), and Chestnut Hill.

    Boston Common and Fenway open On the Come Up, with Jamila Gray as a teenaged aspiring rapper whose family faces eviction and a neat cast including director Sanaa Lathan and Method Man (also available on Paramount+). Railway Children, a kids' adventure set in WWII with evacuated kids in the North of England aiding an American soldier, has one or two shows a day at Boston Common.

    Boston Common continues Latino Month screenings of In the Heights (Friday/Saturday/Sunday/Tuesday/Wednesday), Selena (Friday/Saturday/Monday/Wednesday), Pan's Labyrinth (Sunday), and The Curse of La Llorona (Monday/Thursday) Anvil! The Story of Anvil has a one-night stand at Boston Common on Tuesday prior to its new Blu-ray release. Fenway has the Harry Potter movies on the big screen, though you may need to leave work early to see all of them in chronological order. Poltergeist has 40th Anniversary shows on Sunday and Monday at Fenway, South Bay, and Arsenal Yards, plus one Wednesday and Fenway and South Bay. In addition to the normal Thursday previews, Fenway has a "Monday Mystery Movie", Amsterdam gets an "Imax Live Experience" presentation at Boston Common and Assembly Row on Tuesday, and Smile has an "Early Access Fan Event", also Tuesday at Boston Common, South Bay, and Assembly Row.
  • Landmark Theatres Kendall Square has a couple movies a week or two before they arrive on their streamers. Catherine Called Birdy is the latest from Lena Dunham (or second-latest, if it was actually shot before Sharp Stick; I dunno), a young-adult adventure set in 1290 with Bella Ramsey as a spirited teen trying to avoid an arranged marriage, two weeks before Amazon Prime. At the other end of the spectrum is Andrew Dominik's Blonde, Andrew Dominik's fictionalized account of the life of Marilyn Monroe starring Ana de Armas; it's got an NC-17 rating and runs long, but is apparently pretty miserable. It hits Netflix next Wednesday.

    One likely not destined for the obvious streaming service is The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales, with directors Abigail Disney (yes, of those Disneys) and Kathleen Hughes looking at how systematic inequalities help the rich get richer; Ms. Disney has had a front-row seat, obviously. There's also Tuesday's Retro Replay, winding up "Back to School" with Mean Girls, and Wednesday's rock-doc DIO: Dreamers Never Die (the latter also at Boston Common).
  • Apple Fresh Pond has a new batch of films from India, most notably Hindi thriller Chup, with a director who sees his star fall while the actress he discovered becomes a star, perhaps also the serial killer targeting film critics in Mumbai (just what is diretor R. Balki working through?), also at Boston Common. They also pick up Telugu-language "romantic entertainer" Krishna Vrinda Vihari; Dhokha: Round D Corner, a Hindi film whose description includes multiple personality disorder, terrorists, and cheating hsubands; and Malayalam-language drama Kotthu on Friday. Telugu actioner Chenna Kesava Reddy plays Saturday, while Kannada-language sports drama Guru Shishyaru plays Saturday and Sunday. Aside from Brahmastra: Part One - Shiva continues at Fresh Pond (2D Hindi), Boston Common (2D/RealD 3D Hindi), and Fenway (2D Hindi); Vendhu Thanindhathu Kaadu Part 1: The Kindling also sticks around Fresh Pond (no show Saturday/Monday).

    Fresh Pond also opens Nepali period epic Prem Geet 3, which is apparently not a sequel but the third time star Pradeep Khadka has played a character named "Prem", though he's apparently on his third Geet. It plays through Monday.

    This month's "Studio Ghibli Fest" film is Howl's Moving Castle, playing Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Arsenal Yards on Sunday (dubbed), Monday (subtitled), Tuesday (subtitled), Wednesday (dubbed). Boston Common and Fenway also have Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan's Island on Tuesday (subtitled) and Wednesday (dubbed). Dubbed shows of Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero are still going strong at South Bay.
  • The Brattle Theatre has a bunch of New Restorations this week, starting with Keane on Friday and Saturday, if you're ready to accept that films made in the Twenty-First Century are already old enough to need restorations, and, folks, I am not (movie's pretty darn good, though). Friday and Saturday also feature a restored Drunken Master II for the late-ish shows, with some of Jackie Chan's best action and Anita Mui awfully funny as his stepmother. Alma's Rainbow plays Saturday & Sunday, and Mississippi Masala Sunday & Monday. There's also a few Centennial Screenings for Silent Movie Day, with Fritz Lang's Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler on Wednesday; Buster Keaton in "Cops", "The Electric House", "The Blacksmith", and "The Goat" on Thursday; and Murnau's Nosferatu next Friday.

    Revolutions Per Minute welcomes Ariana Gerstein with "Still/Distill", a collection of short films made over the past 20 years, some via scanning documents.
  • In addition to the new-ish releases, The Coolidge Corner Theatre has The Rocky Horror Picture Show< at midnight on Saturday (no shadowcast listed; the usual folks are at Boston Common Saturday at 9:30pm) and welcomes Greg Sestero to present his new film Miracle Valley in a double feature with The Room. Goethe-Instiitut presents My Son Sunday morning, with Jonas Dassler and Anke Engelke on a road trip to a rehab facility in Switzerland. They get the first of the new restorations of Seminar: Three Colors: Blue's "Three Colors" trilogy, Blue, on Wednesday with a pre-screening seminar, while Northeastern professor Sina Fazelpour introduces Thursday's 35mm Science on Screen show of Minority Report
  • The Somerville Theatre has a 35mm print of Wait After Dark as their Midnight Special on Saturday, featuring a blind Audrey Hepburn fending off thieves including a young Alan Arkin. Dinner in America finally plays theaters for one night on Monday after doing the virtual festival circuit back on 2020, while a 35mm double feature of Crusing & Windows on Tuesday and Wednesday, sending Barbarian to the micro on those nights.
  • The Harvard Film Archive shifts gears to "¡Rebeladas! Una aproximación al cine de mujeres en Latinoamérica" this weekend, with each Latin American feature preceded by a short or two. Features include Cara Roshell (Friday), One Way or Another (Saturday/Sunday), Araya (35mm Saturday), and The Devil Never Sleeps (Sunday). On Monday, they start a series of silent-era films from Soviet Georgia, with the first selection Eliso, presented on film with Robert Humphreville on piano.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has the Boston Women's Film Festival Fall Showcase in the Remis Auditorium this weekend, with Piggy on Friday, Clara Sola and Murina on Saturday, and Happening on Sunday.
  • The Regent Theatre has this year's edition of The Manhattan Short Film Festival from Tuesday to Wednesday (and next Sunday), a program of short films where attendees around the world get to vote for the audience awards.
  • This Thursday's Bright Lights selection in the Bright Screening Room of Emerson's Paramount Theater is Salvadoran documentary Fly So Far, which looks at a woman whose miscarriage got her a ten-year sentence for aggravated murder because of the country's strict abortion laws. Tickets are free (available on the day of screening) and it's open to the public, with a post-film panel discussion on abortion access.
  • The Boston Film Festival continues on Friday with Bromates at the Wilbur Theatre, Wild Beauty in Rockport, while Saturday's shows including "The Power of Activism" and "The Temptation of Trees" at the Boston Public Library, The Wind and the Reckoning at the Omni Hotel in the Seaport, and American Murderer & Always Lola at Fenway; most in-person shows list guests. A selection of shorts are available via their Eventive page through Monday.
  • The Lexington Venue has Vengeance and The Territory playing through Sunday.

    The West Newton Cinema opens Don't Worry Darling and Jaws (no show Wednesday), with The Silent Twins (no show Thursday), and See How They Run (no show Thursday), Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, Three Thousand Years of Longing (Saturday/Sunday afternoons), Where the Crawdads Sing (no show Thursday), Hallelujah (no show Tuesday), Minions (Saturday/Sunday), and The Bad Guys (Saturday/Sunday matinees). No shows on Monday.

    The Luna Theater has one more weekend of Bodies Bodies Bodies Friday & Saturday, with the Sundance Institute Indigineous Shorts Tour and Sundance Shorts programs on Saturday. Donnie Darko plays on Sunday, and there's a Weirdo Wednesday show.

    Cinema Salem Friday to Sunday line-up is Pearl and See How They Run. VideoCoven presents the "Out There Halloween Mega Tape" on Friday and Salem Horror Fest alumni The Strings and Landlocked on Thursday. Thursday also has a premiere screening of Alone in the Woods with writer/director/star Douglas Rouillard on-hand for a Q&A. Apparently the Salem Horror Fest is now in April, but VideoCoven has a string of events planned for the fall
  • 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 and Somerville, The Venue, CinemaSalem, and many of the multiplexes.
Yeah, I'm seeing Avatar again - I'm curious what it looks like on the Dolby screen in Boston Common, which I don't think has shown a 3D movie since first opening a couple years pre-pandemic. I will likely be unable to resist Don't Worry Darling and Blonde, despite both sounding pretty rough. I can be a sucker.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 16 September 2022 - 22 September 2022

Weirdly big turnover week, with probably more noteworthy new mainstream releases than the previous month. That includes two detective movies - I feel like 2022 is the best year for the mystery genre on the big screen in a long time.
  • The first comic mystery, See How They Run, opens at The Coolidge Corner Theatre (including a Saturday Masked Matinee), the Arlington Capitol, the Lexington Venue, West Newton, Boston Common, Fenway, Kendall Square, South Bay, Assembly Row, Arsenal Yards, Chestnut Hill, and CinemaSalem; it features Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan as a detective and constable investigating a murder backstage at a play in 1950s London.

    The Coolidge also gets God's Country, as do Fresh Pond, Boston Common, South Bay, Assembly Row, with the film starring Thandiwe Newton as a professor in a rural college town who finds herself targeted when she tells two ment that they cannot hunt on her property. The Tuesday Night presentation at the Coolidge will have director Julian Higgins on-hand for a post-film Q&A.

    After Midnite shows at the Coolidge this weekend are The Warriors on 35mm Friday and and Shaft (the first of that name) on Saturday; the Midnite programmers will also be honoring Fabio Frizzi on Saturday with an awards presentation, concert, and midnight screening of Zombie, although pieces of the program appear to be sold out. On Sunday, they give the main screen over to the Infernal Affairs Trilogy, newly restored and apparently playing just this once as a marathon. Monday's big-screen classic is a 35mm print of Zodiac, while Wednesday features Real Women Have Curves, also on 35mm film.
  • The biggest mainstream release looks to be The Woman King, with Viola Davis as the leader of a group of elite woman warriors in an African kingdom resisting the encroachment of European colonization. It's directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and looks pretty terrific. It plays the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Jordan's Furniture (Imax), Boston Common (including Dolby Cinema), Fenway, Kendall Square, South Bay (including Imax Xenon/Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema), Arsenal Yards (CWX), and Chestnut Hill.

    Pearl, a prequel to X that director Ti West shot darn-near simultaneously, arrives at the Somerville, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and CinemaSalem; it features Mia Goth in a prequel apparently set decades before the other film. A third movie is expected next year, which is nuts.

    Moonage Daydream, a documentary about David Bowie culled from a massive amount of footage and home movies, plays exclusively on Imax screens for its first week, including Boston Common, Assembly Row.

    Confess, Fletch - with John Hamm in the title role - is a pretty enjoyable comic mystery which is, as a bonus, shot and set in Boston, plays Boston Common, Fenway, Arsenal Yards.

    Clerks III hangs around for some more one-offs, at Fenway on Friday/Sunday, Arsenal Yards on Friday/Saturday/Sunday, South Bay on Sunday, and Assembly Row on Sunday. There's also an "Imax Live Experience" showing of Don't Worry Darling at Assembly Row on Monday, including a Q&A streamed from New York City, which shouldn't be nuts at all. Boston Common continues cheap Disney+ sponsored screenings of Cars (Friday/Saturday), Encanto (Friday/Sunday/Monday), Thor: Ragnarok (Friday/Saturday), the Newsies! musical (Saturday/Sunday/Monday), and Rogue One (Sunday), plus Warner-affiliated Latino Heritage screenings of Selena (Saturday/Monday/Wednesday), Pan's Labyrinth (Saturday/Tuesday/Thursday), The Curse of La Llorna (Saturday/Monday/Thursday), In the Heights (Sunday/Tuesday/Wednesday). Fenway and Arsenal Yards have Forgetting Sarah Marshall on Monday, Trainwreck on Tuesday, Knocked Up on Wednesday as part of the promo for the filmmakers' Bros. Jeepers Creepers: Reborn (which is no longer connected to the original creator) plays Fenway on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, plus Arsneal Yards on Wednesday.
  • Landmark Theatres Kendall Square opens The Silent Twins, with Letitia Wright and Tamara Lawrence as the title characters, two young women in Wales who refused to communicate with anyone but each other. Intriguingly, it's from director Agnieszka Smoczynska, whose The Lure and Fugue were, if nothing else, interesting. It also plays the Capitol, West Newton, and Boston Common.

    Kendall Square also opens A Jazzman's Blues, the latest from Tyler Perry, a period drama built around an unsolved mystery in the music world, and The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, a thirty-year-old oddity starring Vanessa Redgrave, Keith Carradine, and Rod Steiger and directed by Simon Callow from the Cohen Group's catalog. Tuesday's Retro Replay "Back to School" show is The Breakfast Club.
  • Aside from Brahmastra: Part One - Shiva - playing Fresh Pond (2D Hindi), Boston Common (2D/RealD 3D Hindi), Fenway (2D/RealD 3D Hindi) - the Indian films turn over. The bigger opening at Apple Fresh Pond is another ambitious franchise hopeful, Tamil-language "musical gangster film" Vendhu Thanindhathu Kaadu Part 1: The Kindling, and also has Kannada-language comedy Lucky Man, about someone who "marries his best friend" and finds it no blessing; Malayalam period flick Pathonpatham Noottandu (Friday), Tamil actioner Sinam, Telugu romance Nenu Meeku Baaga Kavalsinavaadini in more limited showtimes on smaller screens. Byomkesh Hatyamancha, a Bangla-language period mystery which appears to be Abir Chatterjee's eighth outing as sleuth Byomkesh Bakshi, plays Saturday and Sunday.

    Fantasia anime selection Goodbye, Don Glees! has dubbed shows at Boston Common and Fenway on Sunday and subtitled shows at Boston Common on Tuesday. Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero still plays South Bay, dubbed.

    Boston Common also has Saturday/Sunday matinees for Chinese sci-fi comedy Moon Man and evening shows on Tuesday and Wednesday.
  • The Brattle Theatre spends the week on The Films of Mike Leigh, featuring High Hopes (Friday/Saturday), Life Is Sweet (Friday/Saturday), Meantime (Saturday/Tuesday), Topsy-Turvy (Sunday), Career Girls (Sunday/Monday), Naked (Monday/Thursday), Bleak Moments (Tuesday), and Secrets & Lies (Wednesday). All are new digital restorations, and I must say, I do not like this thing where movies I saw in theaters are old enough to need restorations.

    They also pick up Senegalese genre mashup Saloum, which starts out as a western but gets into supernatural thrills as its outlaw gang tries to lie low. It plays late shows Friday to Wednesday, with matinees on the weekend and afternoon/evening shows on Thursday.
  • The Somerville Theatre has the new 4K restoration of Carnal Knowledge playing in the main room from Friday to Sunday. The Midnight special on Saturday is a 35mm print of Enter the Dragon. The recent Greta Gerwig-directed version of Little Women plays Tuesday and Wednesday on 35mm film.
  • The Harvard Film Archive has more Early Kiarostami with First Case, Second Case (Friday), Homework (Friday), Through the Olive Trees (Sunday), and Fellow Citizen (Sunday). On Monday, they welcome filmmaker Leandro Listorti, with his new experimental documentary Herbaria.
  • Bright Lights is back in the Bright Screening Room of Emerson's Paramount Theater on Thursday, kicking off the fall season with Everything Everywhere All At Once, including alumni cast and crew who worked on the film taking questions afterward. Tickets are free and it's open to the public, but aren't available until the day of the show.
  • It's about that time of year when you might just remember The Boston Film Festival is a thing. It opens Thursday night with Don't Worry Darling at Regal Fenway, although with no guests listed, I'm not sure how that's different from the night-before previews going on in the next screen over. There are two days of in-person shows at various locations after that, as well as three packages of shorts and nine features viewable online starting Thursday.
  • The Lexington Venue has Vengeance and See How They Run playing through Sunday.

    The West Newton Cinema opens The Silent Twins and See How They Run and holds over Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, Three Thousand Years of Longing, Where the Crawdads Sing, Hallelujah (no show Thursday), Minions (Saturday/Sunday), and The Bad Guys (Sunday). No shows on Monday.

    The Luna Theater has Bodies Bodies Bodies Friday, Saturday, and Thursday; the Sundance Institute Indigineous Shorts Tour and Sundance Shorts programs on Saturday, Mean Girls on Sunday, plus Weirdo Wednesday.

    Cinema Salem Friday to Sunday line-up is Pearl and See How They Run; they've also got The Rocky Horror Picture Show with the Teseracte Players on Saturday (Boston Common has their weekly show with Full Body Cast that night as well).
  • 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 and Somerville, The Venue, CinemaSalem, and many of the multiplexes.
That's a lot! I've already caught Confess, Fletch, so I'm looking at The Woman King, See How They Run, Infernal Affairs, The Silent Twins, God's Country, and Saloum. Maybe Goodbye, Don Glees!, and I'm tempted by the "mystery screening" Regal is advertising for Monday. Can't be Glass Onion, can it?

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Moon Man

As much as I talk big about wanting to open a small-ish movie theater someday and play oddball things in it, the estimating of it seems daunting. Take Moon Man - opens late July in China, doesn't make it across the Pacific for a month or so, and so the theater is a little tentative with the opening - a couple shows a day, even though the week's big releases are bringing Spider-Man and Jaws back - and it just gets packed. I'd pick up my phone, open the AMC app, and, yikes, the show two hours away is almost sold out, right into the middle of week. So, obviously, you continue it for another week, with a few more showtimes, right?

I found a window to go last night, and the audience was me and two other people; it looks like it's that way all week. It's as if there were exactly the right amount of people in Chinatown excited to see this on the big screen - with reason; it's a surprisingly impressive-looking film for what I expected to be - to fill that number of screenings and very little more. That's always a weird experience, especially when I'm laughing at stuff the presumed Mandarin-speakers behind me aren't and vice versa.

Still, it's an interesting example of it being tricky to guess how much interest a niche film like this will garner and when the niche will be exhausted.

Du xing yue qiu (Moon Man)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 12 September 2022 in AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run, DCP)

Huh. Moon Man bounces between genres about as much as one might expect this sort of high-concept story to bounce, eventually winding up neither the dark and despairing comedy of its premise nor the broad slapstick its makers (Mahua FunAge) are best known for, but a surprisingly solid riff on The Martian, once it settles down and commits to a direction. Granted, it's one that can, with a completely straight face, exposit that on the moon, a trained kangaroo can reach speeds of 30 km/h, but it's more sci-fi adventure than laugh-a-minute comedy.

It opens with Yue Dugu (Shen Teng) volunteering during a job interview that he has always worked to be middle-of-the-pack, which does not get him hired as an engineer for the United Nations Moon Shield program, although they do offer him a job in maintenance. UNMS exists because of an anticipated planet-killing asteroid; missiles will be launched to break it up and divert it, with the moon itself serving to absorb the larger pieces. After eight years, Dugu has developed the sort of obsessive crush on mission commander Ma Lanxing ("Mary" Ma Li) that ignores her probably not being aware of his existence, and he's got his headphones on writing a love letter when an alarm goes off that the fragments of "Pi" have arrived early, and will devastate the moonbase. He barely misses the evacuation, and then watches in horror as a large fragment impacts the Earth. Months later, as he is slowly going mad as possibly the last man alive, he discovers that he is not alone on the base. Unbeknownst to him, a fair amount of humanity has survived underground - and some of his old colleagues have been watching the live feeds and intend to stream them to the rest of the world.

If anybody has ever cracked the code for doing "last human" as a comedy for anything approaching a feature's length, it's not leaping to mind; the sitcom Last Man on Earth started building out a supporting cast in episode two while Red Dwarf not only didn't even last that long, but wound up reinventing itself constantly to shed those limitations. Filmmaker Zhang Chiyu and his cowriters (plus original Korean manhwa author Cho Seok-Jo) come up with an amusing variation - Yue thinks he's alone and his cringeworthy reactions to it are horrifying the woman he most wants to impress and have to be heavily misrepresented to the rest of the world - but they seemingly can't quite make it work. One can sort of see the secret livestream take dead-end, either because it's too difficult to attach to an overcoming-odds plot, because they just can't find 90 minutes of jokes, or because they worried about getting too sharply satirical, which isn't really Mahua's thing.

On the other hand, it sort of works played straight. There's been some money thrown at it, enough to make the VFX look spiffy rather than like a joke or spoof, and the poppy design convinced with the sharp blacks on the lunar surface aren't bad at all; the closing credits list a bunch of high-end projection formats and the film is very big-screen-oriented. Much as some of the opening animation seems to be simultaneously cribbing from both the Minions and Lego movies, it's a neat balance of informative and enjoyably overwhelming, and most of the visuals are the same, saying something clearly while giving the audience room to look around the screen and enjoy the details . Both the problem-solving pieces and the very-long-distance romance work surprisingly well, in part because Shen Teng's average-joe persona as Yue gives him a fair amount of latitude, while Ma Li has confidence under Xing's severity. Zhang has fun playing with how the two of them are never actually in the same place as Xing grows to respect Yue, and the pair echo each other well enough to feel compatible.

One might kind of wish it was a little zanier, since the dark route is probably out and Mahua has proved good at zany. The most memorable pieces of Moon Man are very much the ones where the filmmakers see a joke and pounce, dropping it on the audience either before they see it coming or in weirder fashion than expected. Though they've traded in sci-fi and fantasy before, their filling in the details of it is especially off-kilter this time around, often doing stuff like take a second to let the audience ponder whether someone erected a monolith on the moon or if the events of 2001 actually happened in this film's past. Those playful bits are disarming, enjoyably askew enough to get surprised laughter.

Eventually, the filmmakers overreach, right up until the inevitable Chinese-movie epilogue that makes sure you know how sincere and earnest it is and that there aren't loose ends that could sour the happy ending. But it does a lot of things better than it probably should on the way to that, and I was kind of surprised how much I liked this movie that often very much wasn't the one I bought a ticket for.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Brahmastra Part One: Shiva

We're going to wind up with something like a month and a half or so of foreign/repertory/alternative Imax releases around Labor Day rather than the usual one weekend where they pull out a "best of summer" or "upscaled classic" for that odd holiday weekend where people apparently aren't going to the movies, whether because they feel like they really shouldn't waste the last nice time to be outside or because there are family gatherings or moves planned (and, hey, moving is kind of a family activity). It's not that things like Brahmastra don't get any time on the big screens, but it's usually one Thursday night or something. This got a pretty broad release, even playing out at the furniture stores.

I don't know if it will get anybody who doesn't normally go for Indian cinema interested, although it's not the right sort of thing to splash across giant screens after a spring & summer of people getting turned on to RRR - it's big, easily digestible (especially in that there are songs but it only kind of dips toes into becoming a musical), and even if one doesn't recognize that it's got an all-star cast, that's the sort of thing that will excite the Desi folks in the audience and maybe rub off on you. Of course, if your audience is anything like mine, they'll also be kind of amusingly ruthless in mocking the ways in which various bits of the screenplay are rickety as heck - there was a lot of laughter at any point when Shiva and Isha professed their love, because they only met each other a couple days before, and you can really only push love at sight so far. I don't get the impression it was really a film-killer for the audience, but not the same sort of "turn your brain off" thing we usually get from American audiences when this sort of thing happens.

Anyway, it's going to be in the big rooms until Wednesday night/Thursday afternoon, when Moonage Daydream and The Woman King grab the Imax screens, although it may still have some 3D showings kicking around (and this is a pretty spiffy-looking movie in 3D). If you've seen all the western blockbusters or want something a bit different, it's a fair amount of fun even if it's not exactly a masterpiece.

Aside: The studio logo amuse the heck out of me. Apparently this was a production of "Fox Star India" when it started, but Disney is avoiding using the Fox name anywhere (good job, awful news network, for making a trusted century-old name in entertainment radioactive!), so it's just become "Star Studios", with "Star" also being the thing that more adult-skewing Disney-owned streaming content goes to outside the US. Anyway, the opening animation is basically the Twentieth Century Fox one with some Indian instruments added to the fanfare, but incongruous because "Star" doesn't really have any connection to the "Twentieth Century Fox".

Anyway, just a reminder that this massive merger is apparently even bigger than one can see just from what it's done to the US movie industry.

Brahmastra Part One: Shiva

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 11 September 2022 in AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run, Imax Xenon 3D)

I'm sure this film's local audience might feel different, but as an outsider, watching one of these big Bollywood fantasy epics in Imax 3D is far more fun for the colorful dancing and festivals in the early, "normal-life" bits than the CGI avatars fighting in an otherwise empty environment of the finale. I can see the latter sort of thing in practically any movie that gets a wide release, after all! Still, the visuals are at least coming from a different place, and all the Indian names you see in a Marvel movie's stereo conversion credits seem to put a little extra effort in for the hometown jobs.

The film opens by dropping a lot of mythology on the audience, with powerful Astras given to various mystics in the Himalayas centuries ago, with the most powerful being the "Brahmastra". The empowered wise men and their successors - known among themselves as the Brahmansh - have been working unseen ever since, although things changed thirty years ago when the Brahmastra was shattered into three pieces. One piece is with scientist Mohan Bhargav (Shah Rukh Khan), although he is attacked on Dussehra by Junoon (Mouni Roy), who has some connection to the fire astra and her two goons (Rohallah Ghazi & Saurav Gurjar). Mohan has a few tricks up his sleeve, but she still winds up with both the Brahmastra fragment and another mystic weapon. What they don't realize is that, in another city, DJ Shiva (Ranbir Kapoor) is having visions of these events as they happen, which is less pleasant than falling in love with Isha (Alia Bhatt), a posh visitor from London, at first sight. It means he recognizes that the other pieces are in the hands of Artist Anish Shetty (Nagarjuna Akkineni) and a hidden Guru (Amitabh Bachchan), but can the pair warn them in time, and how does it connect to other strange events that have occurred in Shiva's live all the way back to childhood?

There's probably some sort of cogent mythology to the fantasy adventure, especially if the underpinnings are what one has been raised on rather than came to later, but like a lot of fantasy adventures, the heady mythic concepts will often fall by the wayside to service simple action needs. For instance, there's something potentially intriguing about how the three Brahmastra pieces are in the hands of Bramansh labeled as The Scientist, The Artist, and The Guru, capital letters included, arguably representing the three ways humanity can understand the universe, but filmmaker Ayan Mukerji never does much to explore that, sort of jettisoning it when he needs to set up action sequences along other lines. Similarly, there's not a lot of rhyme or reason to when astras bestow animal-themed powers and auras and when they don't.

On a more basic level, the characters and stories are often written as a bunch of cliches where one can see the filmmakers taking shortcuts for some material - the audience laughed at bit about the deep love between Shiva and Isha for the first three quarters or so of the movie, what with these two only knowing each other for two days or so - while they neglecting anything to make the main villains on the ground interesting beyond Junoon having some cool tattoos. There's a feeling that everybody around the world wants their own big fantasy franchise, with Shiva marketed as the first film in a larger "Astraverse", but the task is not only so daunting that their makers very careful to stick to what they know works in other crowd-pleasers, but they want to skip right to the big climax without building up the individual pieces. The Avengers is name-dropped here, but its very existence seems to make other aspirants want to catch up quickly rather than do the same sort of multi-film buildup needed for the big final battle with multiple superpowered protagonists.

It's all amiable enough, as such things go: The actors cheerfully recite nonsense, with stars Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt at least displaying apparent fondness for each other if not actual chemistry. As is often the case, it's the smaller parts where someone can dip in and out that are the most fun: Shah Rukh Khan is around to kick things off in fun fashion, for instance, and Amitabh Bachchan is exactly the guy you call for the part of the wise but not decrepit mentor in the second half. Mouni Roy seems to enjoy playing the villain - well, the one Shiva and company are going to be facing directly for right now - even if the audience doesn't get much insight into what makes her tick. Maybe she and another star making a wordless cameo appearance will have more to do in the next movie, at least in flashbacks.

On top of that, Shiva is a lot of fun to look at, even if it could maybe use more crazy animal avatars and maybe fewer Green Lantern constructs in the big battles. The action may be what the story is built around, and although it can sometimes be rough around the edges where one can see the stunts seemingly performed by digital or physical ragdolls (or the occasional bit of wonky physics), it is solid and often entertainingly designed; Mukerji and the action team are good at putting normal people together with superhumans and recognizing that sometimes you have to go right up to the edge of cartoon stuff to make that work. That said, two of my favorite sequences come early - Khan's Mohan doing goofy monkey action while Roy's Junoon and her flunkies are very serious, quickly followed by a big song & dance number that the characters winkingly admit may be more Diwali than Dussehra. In some ways, the film is visually more fun when the VFX guys are basically using a blockbuster budget to build cool-looking things that can linger rather than fly across the screen and kill someone. Mukerji and the 3D effects guys also seem to be letting it rip, and I wonder if actors being expected to dance and directors being able to stage such things means that they're better prepared to give the action and effects units what they need to produce impressive results despite a lower budget than what Hollywood has.

That said, will I show up for Part Two if it ever gets made (this one has what appears to be an exceptionally long gestation period)? Sure, obviously, I'm a sucker for spectacle like this, even if I suspect it will be an even less coherent mess.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Fantasia 2022.20: "Boa", Yaya e Lennie - The Walking Liberty, What to Do with the Dead Kaiju?, and The Killer.

Hey, look who's back!

Writer/director Satoshi Miki cast his wife Eri Fuse in a much larger role for this than Convenience Story, and as a result she was a bigger participant in the Q&A, a reminder that she is also very funny and seems to be just as fond of kaiju movies as her husband, though they also seemed to greatly enjoy having a laugh at the genre's expense.

Which, surprisingly enough, was apparently not the case generally in Japan; he says they took a lot of flack from kaiju fans who apparently felt very strongly that you just don't do this with kaiju, and also hated the ending, as if they haven't loved movies that pulled something ridiculous out of their butts just a little earlier (and, though he didn't mention it in the Q&A, it's not like he didn't have the Prime Minister looking at a sticky note with "deus ex machina" on it at early on)!

I don't recall whether Shin Godzilla came up in the Q&A, but this movie plays as a more explicitly comedic take on some of the same things, although Miki talked about how apparently Japan is not exempt from the situation where satirists are having trouble keeping up with how feckless and absurd politicians can be. Mostly, though, everybody seemed to have a lot of fun with the movie and the Q&A, from promising that the next time he did something with kaiju, he would destroy Stade Olympique to talking about how this movie was done for Toei, but they would occasionally run their monster design past Toho to make sure they weren't infringing on Godzilla. Toho seemed surprisingly chill about it; I gather there's a lot more room for homage and fan fiction in Japanese culture, but also that it's probably good for Toho if general kaiju spoofs remind people of the King of the Monsters.

After that, it was time for The Killer, which sadly did not mean John Woo was back, but it did mean I got to see the Korean movie that opened in Boston the day I left for Montreal and would be gone by the time I got home.

And we're almost there - one last update, featuring Ring Wandering, Next Sohee, and Fragil.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2022 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia Festival: Axis, digital)

This is a terrific little animated film from Colombia, which posits the boa as the king of the Amazonian jungle the way lions are often placed in that position in Africa - a fierce predator that makes all of the other animals quake as it slithers past, but when humans and their mechanized brand of violence arrive, it becomes the spirit of the place, seemingly having the strength of the whole valley - but will it be enough?

Filmmaker Nicolas Parra and his crew start from a recognition that their rain forest is beautiful in its way but it is also dangerous; every creature, human, and machine is all sharp angles that look like they can hurt you in some way, simple enough that they can stretch and twitch without any bits getting into the way. Bright colors make every frame striking, and Parra does a great job of raising the stakes continually without having to anthropomorphize the film with too-cute animals or abstracting humans as a force of nature. People are people and nature is nature, and the potential horror of the situation comes from that, not something else.

Yaya e Lennie: The Walking Liberty

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2022 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia Festival: Axis, ProRes)

Yaya e Lennie has a lot of impressive animation, but also so much yelling, just a constant stream of disagreeable dialogue delivered at high volume without saying much of anything. I guess I could probably shrug and just say "it's Italian and the stereotype has to come from somewhere", but there's a stretch or three where the title characters are so busy yelling that you can't really concentrate on what they're doing, especially if you're reading subtitles.

The two title characters are a saucy teenage girl (voice of Fabiola Balestriere) and a simple-minded mountain of a man (voice of Ciro Priello) traversing a river, presumably somewhere in Europe, back from a scavenging run and looking to stay in the overgrown home where Aunt Claire (voice of Lina Sastri) raised them for a bit. But while civilization has apparently fallen, it's trying to get back up again, with well-armed agents of "The Institution" collecting children like Yaya, hoping to indoctrinate the next generation. These two want no part of that, so they retreat further into the bush than they've been before, where they encounter people who have returned to life as nomadic hunters, absurd revolutionaries, and a pleasant-looking village whose people claim that the Institution generally leaves them be, though the son of the couple that takes them in has joined the Institution willingly. But what to do when a potentially-lethal injury requires treatment only the Institution can provide?

Though not apparently based upon one, Yaya e Lennie feels like the sort of European comic album where the characters and caption boxes keep a constant stream of narrative chatter up whether the story really needs it or not, and it's not hard to see the story playing it in that format, alternating between short episodes where the pair just short of hang out and the artists enjoy cartooning them in one of the more gorgeous post-apocalyptic environments one can exist in, sometimes stopping in settlements, sometimes staying ahead of the Institute, occasionally flashing back to their Aunt Claire, and occasionally showing something bigger even if these two have little actual effect on the story themselves. The film does all of them at one point or another, but it doesn't quite cohere. The pair are the main characters of Yaya's story, perhaps, but not any larger one, and the grander-scale stories they intersect with are often frustratingly undercooked, and not just because that's all these guys can see.

That sort of film can rise based on having a group of characters that the audience enjoys hanging out with, but as mentioned, it is very easy to so the main impression is just that Yaya doesn't think much of Lennie. The latter is too dim for banter, so even if this is a pair that loves each other, it always feels one-sided, the sort of thing that is kind of fun from side characters but gets tiresome in the center. On top of that, the filmmakers often find themselves recognizing that their wishes to just be free of the rest of the world are unsustainable but not really wrestling with it: It's nice until someone gets hurt, but they're still dependent on what civilization created, even if any organization bigger than their family either demands too much (like the Institution), is utterly ridiculous (the revolutionaries), or ultimately hypocritical (the village). There's apparently respect for the hunter-gatherer tribes, but it's the sort of respect that comes from not looking at them too closely.

On the other hand, there's the look of this movie; digital animation that feels painterly in its color and details rather than plastic. It allows the filmmakers to present a much lusher and greener end of the world than usual, a testament to the Earth eventually recovering from whatever damage humanity does to it if given a little time to breathe. The character designs have some cartoon to them even as they exist in a realistic world, often staged to downplay how Lennie is a giant until that's important so that he and Yaya can be presented as equal. There are very distinguishable differences between the different types of folks wandering this forest, and an ugliness to the "Institute" repaying humanity's mistakes that could look like grandeur from the right angle, at least to the characters in the movie.

The film is all over the map stitching this together, and I don't know that the high ideas it espouses or mocks actually apply to the given story. It's pretty enough to be interesting, but that may not be enough for a second look.

Daikaijû no atoshimatsu (What to Do With the Dead Kaiju?

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2022 in Auditorium des Diplõmés de la SGWU (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

What to Do With the Dead Kaiju? is the comedy sequel that most giant monster movies arguably need, in this case watching as the Japanese government flails at just how you dispose of a Godzilla-sized carcass. Everyone who has watched one of these movies has asked the questions, and the answers Satoshi Miki offers are entertainingly goofy.

More than a few giant monster movies have ended in the way this one begins, with news stories detailing how a blast of energy that apparently came together after all government efforts failed stopped the threat before it caused incalculable loss of life; Prime Minister Kan Nishiotachime (Toshiyuki Nishida) has even written "deus ex machina" as part of his notes. But that means that they now have an enormous corpse in the middle of a river. Thankfully, it's not radioactive, but the question is, do they try to haul it out to sea, build a tourist operation around it, or what? At first, it seems like a turf war between the Joint Security Force and the Environmental Ministry, and wouldn't you know, Arata Obinata (Ryosuke Yamada), the JSF officer running point on the ground, and Yukino Amane (Tao Tsuchiya), assistant to Minister Sayuri Renbutsu (Eri Fuse) are old friends, and more than that one. Yukino is now married to Masahiko Ame (Gaku Hamada), the PM's chief of staff. It looks like there's plenty of time to work this out, at least until one of those things nerds nitpick about rears its ugly head - the kaiju is decomposing, which generates heat, but its impenetrable skin is keeping that mostly inside, building up pressure that is starting to show on the surface as blisters. One of these things popping could be devastating to the surrounding countryside, but if the whole body explodes…

Miki has built a perfect sort of premise for this movie, right at the intersection of the things that are ridiculous to think about when watching a broad sci-fi fantasy and things that could be a real problem; you can't help but giggle at the idea even if it quickly becomes a fun mental exercise. It squeezes into the space between parody and action-comedy; there are moments when Miki is clearly spoofing specific shots and tropes, aiming at a hole in the genre, but for much of the movie, he's sort of playing it along the lines of Guardians of the Galaxy and other action-adventures with a sense of their own absurdity. There's a joke in almost every scene, but the characters are also solving fun problems that are crazy in the way real jobs are crazy. Around all that, there's a shift to political blame shifting and petty intrigue that probably feels familiar everywhere; he's probably exaggerated it some but maybe not as much as he could have.

There are moments when one might kind of wonder if the filmmakers are having a laugh at the coincidental personal drama that invests these movies (even the original Godzilla had a crucial scientist just happen to be the ex of another character's daughter), or if they're doing it because they do need an engine to run on. It's maybe the weakest part of the film, even though the cast is a bunch of entertaining good sports: Tao Tsuchiya and Ryosuke Yamada have immediate chemistry as Yukino and Arata, and are just as easy to like in their roles of "smart and capable aide who keeps the agency running" and "soldier who plugs away at a problem". Gaku Hamada makes for a fine weasel as Ame, even beyond growing the perfect mustache for the role, and if one is inclined to wonder how Yukino would up with him beyond looking for the exact opposite of Arata after he broke her heart, he at least gent to take a turn where he becomes sympathetically ridiculous.

That youthful core isn't given a lot that's particularly funny or interesting to do, just soap intrigue that never actually turns into much but keeps the film going despite it not having the budget to be two full hours of visual effects shots. One suspects that Miki is spoofing that part of the genre as well, seeing as he holds off on showing the monster just long enough for the audience to seriously consider that never showing the creature is part of the gag. Their mostly grounded performances mean that the older character actors get to have a ball as exaggeratedly petty politicians who almost all find themselves quickly embarrassed in the moments after they're supposed to look triumphant. He also builds room for a number of fun cameos for the likes of Joe Odagiri, Rinko Kikuchi, and more, with those pros taking broad characters and playing them for all they're worth, knowing that it won't start to grate before they exit the movie five or ten minutes later.

This sort of spoof isn't for everyone; according to Miki's Q&A, Japanese kaiju fans hated it. That's maybe not surprising; as even the movies and manga that laugh at genre tropes often play as more respectful and genial than Miki's tugging on loose ends (that's not entirely a Japanese thing, but it seems even more the case there), and you kind of either roll with the finale or you don't. Still, for those of us that enjoy extrapolating an absurd premise out to its even more ridiculous end, What to Do with The Dead Kaiju? answers its own question in very amusing form.

Jugeodo Doeneun Ai (The Killer '22, aka The Killer: A Girl Who Deserves to Die)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2022 in Auditorium des Diplõmés de la SGWU (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

There's a scene early on in The Man From Nowhere, another Korean movie about a man with a certain set of skills rescuing a girl from the people who have kidnapped her, where the title character disarms a knife-wielding gangster by using his wallet to grab the blade and the gangster's older, wiser partner has a look on his face that reads as "you know, we don't have to collect protection money from every shop on the street" and communicates as much to the others, who do not listen and pay the price for it. The Killer is the same basic plot but doesn't have the same sort of humanizing moments that would make it entertaining for more than the sheer violence of the impressively-staged action.

Bang Eui-kang (Jang Hyuk) lives a quiet, comfortable life these days, married to a good woman and looking after his real-estate holdings. When wife Hyeon-soo (Lee Chae-young) goes on vacation with a friend (Yoo Seo-jin), they ask him to look after the latter's stepdaughter Yoon-ji ("Anne" Lee Seo-young). Eui-kang would really rather not, but on the other hand, she's 17 rather than an elementary school kid, so he figures he'll more or less let her be - call me if you need anything and we'll tell them it went great when they get home. Of course, Yoon-ji and a friend get into trouble on the very first night, and that is when the underworld should get the hint that they'd be better off not upsetting her temporary guardian (the audience already knows as much from an opening flash-forward). They do not, of course, meaning Eui-kang has to kill his way up the food chain before she's trafficked out of Korea, with Detective Lee (Lee Seung-Joon) following the trail of bodies.

Well, one supposes that there are less violent ways of going about it, but the title of the film is "The Killer", and he's going to go with what he knows (at least it is in North America; in some markets it has "A Girl Who Deserves to Die" as a subtitle, which suggests that the original novel by that name is something a little less straightforward). Unlike a lot of films with this set-up, Eui-kang isn't particularly world-weary or beholden to a particular code; one gets the impression that he retired right at the moment when he had saved up enough to invest while he still had no record because it was good business more than anything else. As such, and with him being as good at his old job as he is, he spends most of his quest more irritated than anything else, a quiet week broken up by having to deal with first a kid and then these quite honestly tacky criminals. There's something darkly funny about it from a certain angle, but the punchline to a bunch of goons discovering what they're up against in the ten seconds before they die is more often cruel without being particularly satisfying. Director Choi Jae-hoon and screenwriter Nam Ji-woong seldom take a moment to step back and let the characters consider the absurdity of the situation or how obviously-not-worth-it this is for the boots on the ground.

On the other hand, this does let them build up wall-to-wall action, from the opening shots that tell the audience to stick around through the opening exposition because there will eventually be an ax fight to a pretty excellent oner of a hallway brawl, and more on either side. Choi and cinematographer Lee Yong-gab have a tendency to plunge the audience right in the middle of a fight or a seedy locale, making everything very much up-close-and-personal, while still getting enough on-screen to make it clear that Jang Hyuk can move a little bit, backing up Eui-kang's annoyed lack of bluster with action. He's good enough that it's believable that the bad guys need to swarm him with sheer numbers until he gets to some boss-level folks, adding maybe a bit of danger to the fights being technically impressive.

Even with all that, the film's got to eventually get to a stopping point, something that suggests Eui-kang will actually be done after he dispatches this underboss or a reason for these guys to keep at it after it's become clear that this guy will eventually put a bullet or something less refined through your skull, and that's where a lot of other decisions come to a head; the relentless action hasn't given Eui-kang and Yoon-ji much time to bond, nor has it instilled some sort of moral code in the assassin, or revealed the one that was there all along. The movie should have been building to a climax but only has the material for a final kill.

Which will probably be fine as it settles into its home on VOD and streaming menus, where a movie just needs to be something that the person choosing it wants at the moment done well - say, impressively-staged action - than work for an audience that has a broader range of desires to be satiated at once. The Killer delivers what its makers were going for, if not a whole lot else.

Friday, September 09, 2022

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 9 September 2022 - 15 September 2022

Have I said "weird week coming up" lately? Yeah? Well, there's apparently going to be a lot of that until October or something.
  • I think I actually saw a preview for this week's big Indian release, Brahmastra: Part One - Shiva, when I saw something that wound up being unsubtitled this spring, positioning it as the first movie in the "Astraverse", with filmmaker Ayan Mukerji working on it for the best part of a decade, with Ranbir Kapoor as Shiva, Alia Bhatt as his love interest, and Amitabh Bachchan as his guru. It is taking advantage of the quiet week from Hollywood to open at Fresh Pond (2D/3D Hindi), Jordan's Furniture, Boston Common (2D/Imax 3D/RealD 3D Hindi), Fenway (2D RealD 3D Hindi & 2D Telugu).

    Apple Fresh Pond has even more science fiction from the subcontinent, with Telugu time travel story Oke Oka Jeevitham also playing in Tamil as Kanam through Sunday (or the other way around; I'm not sure which is the language it was filmed in); Tamil-language Captain is an action-adventure about a soldier assigned to fend off an alien invasion. Oru Thekkan Thallu Case looks like a more conventional Malayalam-language crime drama.

    Anime The House of the Lost on the Cape plays Fenway in a regular run after spotty previews, with both dubbed and subtitled screenings of this film about a teenager discovering peace and maybe kappas at a traditional Japanese beach home; they also play another anime, Fantasia selection Goodbye, Don Glees!, on Wednesday. Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero still plays Boston Common, South Bay, Assembly Row; there's an interesting paper to be written about how these bookings shift between dubs and subtitles over the weeks.

    Boston Common puts on a few more times for Chinese comedy Moon Man, seeing as it seemed to do pretty well, all but sold out every time I tried to get tickets.
  • The big American is Barbarian, a nifty-looking horror movie about two people who wind up in the same rental only to discover that it may be on top of a tunnel to hell. It's at the Somerville Theatre, Fresh Pond, Boston Common (including Dolby Cinema), Fenway, South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema), Arsenal Yards, and Chestnut Hill.

    There's also Unfavorable Odds, an indie comedy where a man seemingly bets his wife with his player buddy. It's directed by someone called "Boogievision", which seems like a bold choice for your first film. It's at Boston Common and Assembly Row (although there are a lot of shows grayed-out meaning they're either sold out or just aren't going to be listed until day-of in case something else looks like a better bet).

    Boston Common and Fenway get Medieval, an English-language film from a Czech director about Czech warlor Jan Zizka (Ben Foster). Apparently Michael Caine is still picking up paychecks, though I thought he'd retired.

    Fenway opens Beautiful Blue Eyes, the new name for Iron Cross, which had its original run back in 2009/2010, but is being re-released with some of the pieces star Roy Scheider couldn't finish (he passed away during post-production) updated with VFX and AI voice work.

    Pitch Perfect gets 10th anniversary shows at Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Arsenal Yards on Sunday and Wednesday (no Arsenal Yards). Jaws hangs around Boston Common (3D), Assembly Row (Imax Xenon); Spider-Man: No Way Hope at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Arsenal Yards (including CWX). Boston Common also have various Disney tie-ins for the D+ anniversary - Cars (Friday/Saturday/Monday/Thursday), Encanto (Friday/Sunday/Wednesday), the Newsies musical (Friday/Sunday/Wednesday), Thor: Ragnarok (Saturday/Monday/Tuesday), Rogue One (Saturday/Sunday/Tuesday/Thursday). It overlaps with a series of Spanish-language/subtitled films starting on Thursday with Pan's Labyrinth and The Secret of La Llorna. South Bay moves Bullet Train back to the Imax Xenon screen.

    There are early Imax screenings of Moonage Daydream Monday night at Boston Common and Assembly Row. Clerks III plays single shows Tuesday to Thursday at Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Arsenal Yards; apparently that's how Kevin Smith's movies come out now. Some of the Thursday previews of Pearl is a double feature with X, the movie it's a prequel to; apparently single-admission at Boston Common and double-admission at Fenway.
  • Landmark Theatres Kendall Square opens documentary Loving Highsmith, based upon the personal writings of famed novelist Patricia. They also get romantic comedy About Fate, with Emma Roberts and Thomas Mann as two people thrown together on New Year's Eve.

    The Tuesday "Back to School" picture is Fame. They've also got a one-night booking for horror/thriller The Retaliators on Wednesday.
  • The Brattle Theatre plays Mark Cousins's The Story of Film: A New Generation, a 2.5-hour documentary on the last decade or so of movies, following up his original film about the medium in the Twentieth Century. They pair it with a number of films that are part of his examination - Holy Motors (Friday), Zama (Saturday), The Babadook (Saturday), Good Time (35mm Sunday), Cemetery of Splendor (Monday), Leviathan (Tuesday), Moonlight (Wednesday), and It Follows (Thursday).
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre picks up Funny Pages a couple weeks into its run. The midnights include a 35mm print of El Topo on Friday and Cats on Saturday, so, clearly, no theme this month. Monday's Big Screen Classic is Grey Gardens; Thursday's is Killer of Sheep
  • The Somerville Theatre continues to play the new 4K restoration of Apocalypse Now in its Final Cut on the main screen through Sunday, with Love Story getting the room on Wednesday and Thursday. Saturday's Midnight Special is Bruce Lee in Fist of Fury.

    Their sister cinema in Arlington, The Capitol, picks up Gigi & Nate.
  • The Harvard Film Archive continues the Early Kiarostami program And Life Goes On (aka Life and Nothing More, Friday/Sunday), The Report (Saturday), The Experience (Saturday), Through the Olive Trees (Sunday), and The Traveler (Monday).
  • The New England Aquarium has Jaws on their Imax screen as part of their $5 Cult Classics series, though it's not clear if it's the new Imax presentation that opened elsewhere the week before or the previous DCP.
  • The Regent Theatre has the premiere screening of The Greatest Radio Station in the World, a documentary about Bridgeport's WPKN, which started as college radio in 1963 and has been community-funded/run since 1989.
  • The Lexington Venue refreshes their screens with Vengeance, Emily the Criminal, and The Good Boss playing through Sunday.

    The Luna Theater has Bodies Bodies Bodies Friday and Saturday, the Sundance Institute Indigineous Shorts Tour Saturday afternoon and the "regular" Sundance Shorts program Saturday evening, Carrie on Sunday, Weirdo Wednesday, and a Thursday night UMass Lowell Philosophy & Film presentation of The Lighthouse.

    Cinema Salem Friday to Sunday line-up is Funny Pages and Emily the Criminal; they've also got Legally Blonde hosted by Miz Diamond Wigfall on Friday Night.
  • Joe's Free Films shows a fair number of outdoor movies on Friday, including Greyhound on the deck of the Constitution.
  • 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 and Somerville, The Venue, CinemaSalem, and many of the multiplexes.
I'll be doing Greyhound, Shiva, Moon Man, and Barbarian, at least, will try and get to Goodbye, Don Glees!, and it's probably now or never for catching up on stuff you missed, with some pretty big turnover coming on the 16th (says the guy who still hasn't seen Elvis or Maverick).

Also, farewell to the Embassy Cinema in Waltham, which closed after its Labor Day shows. It was not fancy and probably got the life sucked out of it when the Arsenal Yards multiplex opened a few miles away on the 70 bus line, but it got the job done when I was stuck working late at my employer's old location and when Netflix needed to book a screen in the Boston area because they promised directors something would open in the top 10 markets. I hope someone else takes it off Landmark's hands, moves in there, and makes it work.

Sunday, September 04, 2022

Fantasia 2022.19: "Love You, Mama", The Protector, Convenience Story, and Alienoid

Monday, the third week. I'm not saying it was just the locals and me at this point, but it was getting close.

Somehow got out of work early enough to make a 12:30pm show in de Seve, which apparently had filmmakers and other guests for its first show, because it's small and Canadian and when you get into Fantasia, it's a big deal. I wonder if I'd have liked The Protector more if I'd seen it with them there or if I'd have just felt worse for not really digging it. Anyway, I clearly had more hope than I did for Sharp Stick, where I apparently figured I"d be better off grabbing groceries or something, passing on a second chance to see Lena Dunham's new film without even the fig leaf of something I'd rather see more playing against it.

It still made for a fun night in Hall, though:

Welcome Convenience Story writer/director Satoshi Miki, actress Eri Fuse, and writer Mark Schilling for the first of two nights with Miki & Fuse having a movie to show. This particular project apparently started with Schilling, who reviews movies for the English-language edition of The Japan Times, and like many found himself kind of at a loss during Covid, as things got shut down and there wasn't much for him to do. As he and Miki described it, the local convenience store - or a "konbini" with a long O, as they are called in Japan - sort of became the way he and many others would pass along word to the neighbors that they were okay, with it worth noting that though they are a relatively recent import to Japan, konbini have arguably reached their ideal form there, just filled with any momentary or daily need, right down to a spare pair of underpants.

Miki, eventually, ran with that in a bizarre direction, warning the audience that what they were about to see didn't make a whole lot of sense. I've talked about a certain sort of gentle surrealism in Japanese movies a fair amount lately, not necessarily because I've seen more of it, but because it seems to fit the time, when the world doesn't make sense and you need to both acknowledge it and move through it.

It was, also, a very fun Q&A. From the sound of it, Miki knows just enough English to have a head start as he's getting a translation and have some confidence about how jokes will land, and he seemed to enjoy that folks were watching his goofy comedy closely enough to have questions about details. Q&As for foreign-language comedies or light entertainment can often get bogged down into a weird sort of formality, but that didn't really happen here.

After that, it was back in line for Alienoid, and I'm really sorry that I didn't get this far before/while it was playing in Boston, because it's a hoot and certainly as much big summer movie fun as anything else out in the late part of the season. Hopefully Well Go puts it out on disc (maybe even one of those fancy 4K UHD ones!) in plenty of time for the sequel that folks were hoping for right away.

Next up: The festival's penultimate day, with Yaya e Lennie - The Walking Liberty, What to Do with the Dead Kaiju?, and The Killer.

"Love You, Mama"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 1 August 2022 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia Festival, digital)

It's kind of amusing that filmmaker Alexandra Magistro has apparently spent the last few years as Mike Flanagan's assistant, since so much of his output has been about people either unable to process grief or doing so only through the influence of the supernatural; that's one hundred percent what is going on here, with Madeleine Arthur's Rachel packing for what is apparently a short but momentous move - from her childhood bedroom to the house's finished basement - but can't do it; her father (Matt Biedel) recently died in an accident and she's terrified that she or her mother (Samantha Sloyan) might be next.

Interestingly enough, Flanagan is credited as the editor on IMDB, a bit surprising because this short is twenty minutes long and doesn't exactly have that much going on. I try not to be a minimalist or crank about wanting the minimum running time and not one second more, neither the slow revelation of why Rachel is so traumatized or the repetition of it appears to do that much to flesh out the depth of her despair, mostly hitting the same points repeatedly The repetition probably makes the performances seem a bit more one-note than they actually are; everybody is perfectly decent but doesn't have a whole lot more to show you after ten minutes or so, at least until the finale.

One thing I'm curious about is how of-the-moment it's meant to be; my notes initially presumed that the father died from covid and I was mildly surprised to see that not be the case. It kind of changes the whole feel of the thing, because the mother-daughter arguments hit differently depending on whether they're inspired by something almost totally random and a virulent disease, and the fact that the media has more or less erased overt representation of covid makes it trickier, because one can't help but apply that lived experience to what one sees. It makes "Love You, Mama" fine when taken at face value, but maybe something else when it links to other things in a viewer's head.

The Protector '22

* * (out of four)
Seen 1 August 2022 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia Festival, digital)

The Protector is not a particularly good movie, but it's the sort where one can see the better movie everyone involved could make with this if they were more seasoned or had more resources and time to work with. There's a fair enough idea at the center, but the movie feels like a first draft, just getting everything down with the idea that the sketchier bits will be fleshed out in later revisions. Unfortunately, the second pass or on-set chemistry that would solidify the film does not seem to have arrived.

After a brief flashback, it introduces 21-year-old Evelyn (Chelsea Clark), recently released on probation after ten years in juvenile (and presumably adult) detainment. Keeping her nose clean for a year should be easy; she's got regular appointments with therapist Dr. Flora (Rebecca Jenkins) and a job arranged for her at the local deli/bakery/diner, located in the town of Wilfrid, which hasn't had an actual crime reported in ten years. Sheriff Gordon (Andrew Gillies) is always stopping in to make sure she knows they're watching to make sure she doesn't break that streak. But as she nears the end of her probation, more and more is starting to seem not right: The strange book about a mythic "Protector" left outside her door as an apparent birthday present, the strangely high percentage of her first dates that are no-shows, and the fact that this ten-year lack of criminality comes after the "Bigfoot Murders", where dozens of miscreants were all killed practically overnight.

The mystery hanging over the town is the sort where a lot of people wind up playing things kind of close to the vest lest they give too much away, but even if they weren't I suspect star Chelsea Clark would stand out from the crowd. Sure; she's cute to the point where none of her first dates making it to the restaurant for plot reasons threatens suspension of disbelief, but she manages to communicate how Evelyn needs to fit into this town rather than making waves even though it is boring at best and actively resents her at worst. She can summon enough fire to get the audience to buy into a violent past even if she seems pretty restrained in the present, and she seems to have the best idea of what to do with herself physically at any point. She might possibly get more out of a few extra takes or a better script.

Unfortunately, it's a dumb movie, full of people not even asking obvious questions and the sense that any attempt to fill the backstory in further would collapse what logic the film has. It's the sort of rickety plot where the filmmakers seemingly choose to set in the 1990s not because they have anything specific to say about the period or is for the imagery, but because mobile phones, social media, and the like would make keeping Evelyn in the dark too difficult. There are glimpses of a side-story that are so carefully sequestered from Evelyn that one would presume there's an in-story reason, but if there is, it's not provided, letting the audience wonder why characters didn't just go at things more directly.

It's particularly frustrating for how you can see the outlines of something potentially interesting underneath, if filmmaker Lenin V. Sivam had chosen to focus on it: For all that the people in Wilfrid talk about "no crime", this hasn't made the town a particularly pleasant-looking place to live, especially since there is apparently drug dealing, prostitution, and perhaps worse operating just outside of city limits; you can take drastic action to get the numbers down or redefine what you've been counting, but that doesn't in and of itself make life better. It's sitting right there but Sivam seems more interested in trying to build clockwork than express an idea, to the point where Evelyn's big declaration at the end sounds good, but it's not really what the movie has been about.

I often find myself thinking of movies like this as "practice movies", with everyone involved honing their skills relatively out of sight, not expecting a hit. When one occasionally comes out good enough to be accepted by a festival, it's good encouragement for its makers and others to keep working, even if it does wind up hard to tell from the actual sleepers once it's on a program or on a streaming menu.

Convenience Story

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 1 August 2022 in Auditorium des Diplõmés de la SGWU (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

It's odd to have the director say "this doesn't make a lot of sense" before a screening, but also kind of reassuring for a movie like this particular oddity. It's meta in a way that indicates someone at play, though not quite either an easter egg hunt or a trap for those looking for too much significance. But on the other hand, what about the world today isn't surreal and not quite sensible?

Shinjo Kato (Ryo Narita) is a screenwriter who has had a few things produced but hasn't exactly hit the big time, struggling with his latest, even before he overhears producers describing him as a dinosaur who can't write women. When his actress girlfriend Zigzag (Yuki Katayama) calls to have him look after her dog Cerberus during an audition that takes a turn for the weird, Kato gets frustrated and rents a truck to abandon him in the country. A change of heart leads him back out to retrieve the little guy, but when it gets late and the truck breaks down, the only place around is a convenience store in the middle of a field, minded by Keiko (Atsuko Maeda) and her husband Nagumo (Seiji Rokkaku). Keiko offers to let him stay overnight if he helps out, and sure, why not? Beats the one he was at earlier which didn't have the right brand of dog food, but did have some sort of wormhole in the beverage case and not much time to question it before the car smashed through the wall.

Even if what Miki is playing at is fairly specific to the life of a writer, most in the audience can recognize where the fantasy is coming from - this ideal place that not only offers every material thing he's looking for, down to the finicky Cerberus's favorite dog food and his own favorite snack, but the screenplay idea he needs, an eager lover, and an environment conducive to writing. It maybe isn't real, but as escapes go, it's what he needs. The trade-off, perhaps, is that this world is surreal - Nagumo has to become downright weird in order for Keiko's interest to continue making sense - and the place is never completely disconnected from reality. The guy you've rented the truck from still wants to get paid, the producers are on the phone, and all the little accommodations that made things easier make it harder to escape

Mostly, though, it's funny, with an odd coterie of supporting characters, a view of the process of making movies that is bizarre but not exactly pointed satire, and some extremely screwy images. Miki borrows tropes but goes his own way with them, not settling for easy parody or reference (at least, not reference to something I'm aware of). The way he uses Yuki Katayama's Zigzag is a lot of fun, in that normally she'd be the crazy and/or shrewish girlfriend holding Kato back due to some sort of misplaced loyalty, and she often seems to slot into that role, but the cuts to her broad, ridiculous asides get big laughs that allow him to be quietly weird in the store.

There's something sinister underneath it, as is often the case with this sort of movie; especially with Ryo Narita playing Kato right in that gray area between the everyman one roots for and a selfish dink whose comeuppance one enjoys. A surreal comedy can become a horror story once one tries to start connecting threads and getting to a point where the characters have to do something to get back to normal or to the next stop. Miki manages to get just serious enough to make some things happen, but still keep things light.

Convenience Story was written as a result of covid-releated anxiety, the sort of environment where its brand of surrealism feels natural, and it's also an ideal thing to see at a film festival, what with its inside jokes and opportunity for a self-deprecating Q&A. It may well play as a head-scratching oddity in a couple years, but in this situation and moment, its brand of eccentricity hits the spot.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 1 August 2022 in Auditorium des Diplõmés de la SGWU (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

At times, Alienoid plays as if filmmaker Choi Dong-Hoon wanted to make Avengers: Infinity War but didn't want to spend the better part of a decade building up a world where a teenage superhero can run into Norse gods, wizards, and rage-monsters in the middle of an alien invasion and just went for it right away. It is just a ton of summer movie, filled to bursting, and probably has no business being as much fun as it is.

As the film tells us in its opening, an alien species has been using Earth as a prison for centuries, burying the worst of their worst in human brains to eventually pass away humanely, although sometimes they escape, taking over their hosts. That happened in 1380 AD, requiring the Guard stationed in circa 2010 Seoul (Kim Woo-Bin) to travel back using artificially-intelligent shapeshifting vehicle Thunder (voice of Kim Dae-Myung), finding that the host is a pregnant woman. The newborn baby comes back with them, and ten years later, Ean (Choi Yoo-Ri) is all too well aware that something is very strange with her "father" (and maybe her, given how eagerly Guard and Thunder discussed genetic experimentation), even before she sees the latest prison transport, which implants terrorist leader "Great Controller" into Mun Do-Seok (So Ji-Sub), whose brain cannot hold him, leading to an attempt to change Earth's atmosphere so they can live outside of human bodies, even if it kills all native life.

If Ean had been left in the past, her eleventh birthday would have been in 1391, when dosa wizard/bounty hunter "Marvelous Murak" (Ryu Jun-Yeol) is chasing demons and monsters, aided by two shapeshifting cat spirits that live in his fan, seeking a "Divine Blade" that has also attracted the attention of Ja-Jang of the Secret Temple (Kim Eui-Sung), married Sorcerers of the Twin Peaks Madame Black (Yum Jung-Ah) & Mr. Blue (Jo Woo-Jin), and Lord Choi (Choi Kwang-Je), whose daughter's wedding was infiltrated by a mysterious young woman (Kim Tae-Ri) who possesses both some sort of camouflage device and a twenty-first century firearm.

The situation in the Fourteenth Century is actually even more convoluted than that, since not only is the local Korean audience assumed to be more up on this sort of mystical martial arts stuff than a North American one would be (not unlike writer/director Choi's Woochi, with which it shares numerous elements), but there no Guard or Thunder around to talk to each other about the sci-fi material in straightforward terms that the audience can understand, just Murak and a sidekick often trying to figure out what's going on. There's also a lot more uncertainty baked into the story to counter how the film's main twist is quite frankly too big to hide completely despite there being a red herring or two: The audience knows early on that shapeshifting and possession are not just on the table but important parts of the story, but right at the center, and a further complication of how the aliens are reluctant to switch bodies because it involves memory loss could use some fleshing-out somewhere.

That Choi is basically giving the audience two related movies at once means that Alienoid is jam-packed with action that he's been given enough of a budget to do well, and while he opens with the goofy visual of an SUV flying through a wormhole in 1380, he spends most of the rest of the movie sticking to parallel tracks: 2022 is for sci-fi action, with alien spaceships appearing in the sky, streamers of electricity reaching out to lift unprepared humans into the air, and a great high-stakes finale where a chunk of the urban core is swallowed up by red gas. 1391 is for magic swords, chases where people can leap impossible distances between rooftops, and energy blasts that come out of monks' hands. Choi lets the future bleed into the past slowly enough that Murak can be a capable protagonist even if hes's a rogue who doesn't get a lot of respect, and stages the big set-pieces so that they're breezy and fun to start with, structuring it so that when the end of the movie is in sight, the stakes still feel high enough in 1391 to match the apocalyptic potential of 2022 even though the history-changing sort of time-travel paradox hasn't explicitly been placed on the table.

The cast similarly seems to be having a blast, starting with young Choi Yoo-Ri doing her level best to make it clear that, among all of the film's other genres, this film has a lot of Amblin kids' adventure to it, nailing how Ean's stubborn little girl tendencies have probably been dialed up to 11 from being raised by a robot. Kim Woo-Bin leans hard into how that alien android isn't going to act particularly human at all, a deadpan weirdo in every scene with Ean's teachers and other parents and perfectly smooth in sci-fi action. It's a fun contrast to Ryu Jun-yeol's blustery Murak, who crashes through situations with confidence somewhere between put-on and unwarranted, sharing an enjoyably flinty chemistry with Kim Tae-ri as a girl who has good reason to feel like she needs any help most of the time.

It's too much for one movie but built so that one doesn't realize that might literally be the case until the end credits are close to rolling and it's time to research whether this is a "shot back-to-back" situation or if the wait is going to be longer. A July blockbuster in South Korea, its North American release ended the summer movie season with a bang for those who saw it, and hopefully Part 2 is coming in just enough time for this to hit discs and streaming so that people can catch up.