Friday, January 27, 2023

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 27 January 2023 - 2 February 2023

Oscar nominations are out, bringing some stuff back; there are big movies from India and China; and some stuff is kind of being dumped - although does anything really get dumped in theaters any more, as opposed to going straight to streaming?
  • So where are the Oscar-nominated films playing in the Boston area?

    • Aftersun: West Newton (Saturday)
    • All Quiet on the Western Front: The Coolidge, Kendall Square
    • All the Beauty and the Bloodshed: Brattle (Sunday)
    • Avatar: The Way of Water: Jordan's Furniture, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, Kendall Square, South Bay, Assembly Row, Arsenal Yards, Chestnut Hill
    • Babylon: Boston Common
    • The Banshees of Inisherin: The Coolidge, Boston Common, Fenway, Kendall Square, South Bay, CinemaSalem
    • Black Panther: Wakanda Forever: Boston Common, South Bay, Assembly Row
    • EO: The Coolidge, CinemaSalem
    • Everything Everywhere All at Once: The Somerville (Friday/Saturday/Sunday), Boston Common, Kendall Square, West Newton, CinemaSalem
    • The Fabelmans: The Coolidge, the Capitol, Boston Common, Fenway, Kendall Square, Lexington, West Newton
    • Glass Onion: Kendall Square
    • Living: the Capitol, Kendall Square, West Newton
    • Marcel the Shell with Shoes On: Brattle (Saturday)
    • Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio - Brattle (Friday/Saturday)
    • Puss in Boots - The Last Wish: the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, Arsenal Yards, Chestnut Hill, West Newton
    • RRR: Fresh Pond
    • Tár: Boston Common, Kendall Square
    • Top Gun: Maverick: Boston Common
    • The Whale: Boston Common, Fenway, CinemaSalem
    • Women Talking: The Somerville, The Coolidge, Kendall Square, Boston Common, West Newton.
  • It's a horror week outside the nominees, with two new releases: Infinity Pool is the latest from Brandon Cronenberg, with Alexander Skarsgård and Cleopatra Coleman as a couple who run afoul of trouble in a strange country and find a strange underground full of, well, Cronenberg stuff. It's at the Somerville, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and CinemaSalem. Meanwhile, it looks like Fear has sat on the shelf a while, because folks were not ready for an airborne contagion movie for the last couple years. That plays Fresh Pond, Boston Common, South Bay, Arsenal Yards.

    An extended cut of Billie Eilish: Live at the O2 plays Friday night at Boston Common (including Dolby Cinema) and Fenway. Pinkfong Sing-Along Movie 2 plays Fenway Saturday & Sunday afternoon. There are early previews of 80 For Brady at Boston Common (Saturday/Tuesday/Wednesday), Fenway (Tuesday/Wednesday), Assembly Row (Tuesday/Wednesday), Chestnut Hill (Saturday/Tuesday/Wednesday). The latest BTS concert flick, BTS: Yet to Come, plays Kendall Square (Wednesday), Boston Common (Wednesday), Fenway (Wednesday/Thursday), Assembly Row (Wednesday/Thursday), and Arsenal Yards. There's also the obvious presentation of Groundhog Day at Fenway, Assembly Row, and Arsenal Yards on Thursday.
  • Indian National Day is a big day for the movies, apparently, with Pathaan continuing at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, and Fenway. Apple Fresh Pond.also opens four new ones: Gandhi Godse Ek Yudh, a Hindi-language alternate history where Gandhi survives his assassination and meets Nathuram Godse in prison; Malayalam thriller Alone; Malayalam action movie Thankam, and Telugu action flick Hunt.

    Big Chinese action flick The Wandering Earth II continues at Boston Common (including Imax) and Fenway.

    Anime That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime: Scarlet Bond keeps playing at Boston Common and South Bay, sometimes dubbed in English and sometimes as subtitled Japanese.

    A new Egyptian comedy, Akhi Fok El Shagara ("Bro Above the Tree" or "My Brother Above in the Tree" in English) opens at Fenway; it follows an introvert whose life is turned upside down when his hitherto unknown twin who is his opposite in every way.
  • The Brattle Theatre has more of "(Some of) The Best of 2022", such as Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio (Friday/Saturday), Crimes of the Future (Friday), Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood & Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (Saturday double feature), Till (Sunday), All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (Sunday), Watcher (Tuesday), Emily the Criminal & The African Desperate (Wednesday double feature), and Sirens (Thursday).

    They also have what I think is their first Elements of Cinema since they reopened on Monday, with On the Town showing for free including post-film discussion.
  • In addition to the Oscar nominees, The Coolidge Corner Theatre has their first Breakthrough Artist Award with Elegance Bratton on Friday, including a screening of The Inspection, but it's sold out. Ah well.

    Their midnights include Lamberto Bava's Demons on Friday and Dario Argento's Tenebrae on Saturday, both on 35mm,, with Skinamarink also playing midnights both days. There's also kids' shows of My Neighbor Totoro on Saturday and Sunday mornings, for a different sort of classic. Monday's Big Screen Classic is Sight & Sound poll leader Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, including a seminar by UMass Boston Professor Sarah Keller beforehand. Northeastern Professor Nathan Blake leads the seminar before final "Projections" entry Children of Men on Tuesday, with the film showing in 35mm. The calendar flips to February on Wednesday, with the new rep series of "Love on the Run" kicking off with the '72 version of The Getaway, with Badlands on Wednesday, both on 35mm.
  • Landmark Theatres Kendall Square has a week of Rian Johnson features, getting all his features except The Last Jedi, with Glass Onion playing every day, plus Brick (Friday/Monday/Thursday), The Brothers Bloom (Saturday/Sunday), Looper (Sunday/Wednesday), Knives Out (Friday/Saturday). There's also the last Kubrick film for January, with Full Metal Jacket playing Tuesday.
  • The Somerville Theatre has the new 4k restoration of Assault on Precinct 13 playing evenings on the main screen, though Everything Everywhere has matinees through Sunday.
  • The Harvard Film Archive continues "Kinuyo Tanaka - Actress, Director, Pioneer": Forever a Woman plays Friday, Ugetsu (35mm) Friday, Love Letter Sunday, The Moon Has Risen Sunday, and a 35mm print of Sansho the Bailiff on Monday.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has a fairly short Festival of Films from Iran this year, with All the Beauty and the Bloodshed on Friday night.
  • The Regent Theatre opens concert film Carole King: Home Again on Tuesday for a one-week run through next Sunday.
  • Bright Lights showcases the nifty Strawberry Mansion at the Paramount Center this Thursday with director Albert Birney there for a Q&A. As always, it's free and open to the public, with reservations available at the box office (or via phone) starting at noon the day of the show.
  • The Lexington Venue is open through Sunday with A Man Called Otto and The Fabelmans.

    The West Newton Cinema adds Women Talking to Living, A Man Called Otto, Everything Everywhere All at Once (no show Thursday), The Fabelmans, Aftersun (Saturday), The Banshees of Inisherin (no show Friday), Puss in Boots, and Tár (no show Friday). Closed Monday.

    The Luna Theater has The Whale Friday through Sunday, a Weirdo Wednesday show, and a free UMass Lowell Philosophy & Film show of Groundhog Day on Thursday.

    Cinema Salem has Infinity Pool (Friday to Monday), The Banshees of Inisherin (Friday to Monday), Everything Everywhere All at Once (Friday to Sunday), Eo (Friday/Sunday/Monday), Broker (Friday/Saturday/Monday), and The Whale (Friday to Monday), Skinamarink (Friday to Monday), Aftersun (Saturday/Sunday). There's also a special advanced screening of The Outwaters on Thursday
  • For those still not ready to join random people in a room for two hours, theater rentals are available at Kendall Square, West Newton, the Capitol and Somerville, The Venue, CinemaSalem, and many of the multiplexes.
As you can see from the stuff that does and doesn't have links in the Oscar nominees section, I've got some catching up to do, and will probably also go for Infinity Pool, Assault on Precinct 13, and a second go at Glass Onion as well.

Film Rolls, Round 11: From Vegas to Macau II and The Knack… and How to Get It

I call the shelving that serves as the game board "recent arrivals", but that's either a misnomer or relative, because as this big of blog archaeology shows, some of these discs were at least on the way five years earlier, so this has clearly been a problem for a while!

So, Mookie rolls a 15, going from the start of Ringo Lam to the end of Wong Jing and landing on From Vegas to Macau II, and what can I say, you've got to laugh when you finally get to something purchased to watched at a very specific point finally taken off the shelf through a purely random process almost five and a half years later.

The oddest thing about this disc is that it has an ad for allergy medicine before the main menu, which I'm pretty glad didn't catch on, although I suspect it has been considered more than we might like to think as disc releases became less of a thing over the years.

Bruce, then, gets a 3, and stays in 1960s Europe with The Knack… and How to Get It.

How did this work out?

Du cheng feng yun II (From Vegas to Macau II)

* * (out of four)
Seen 3 September 2022 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Hong Kong Blu-ray)

The trouble with the From Vegas to Macau movies, other than them never actually spending any time in Las Vegas, is not so much that they are bad than that they include callbacks to much better things director Wong Jing and star Chow Yun-fat have done. Not that the God of Gamblers movies were great movies - Wong cranked them out just as fast in the 1990s as he did these in the 2010s, to the point where he apparently forgot he'd already made God of Gamblers 3 at one point - but they were serviceable little things,

Although I suppose this one could be called that in this era - it's full of bright color, fast action, a pretty nice cast. It's a slick 2020s Hong Kong movie with enough decent if not remarkable CGI and appealing young faces to appeal to a Mainland audience, as opposed to a scrappy 1990s one. There are some flashy bits of action (bikini jetski assassins!) and confident moments at casino tables. There are more stretches that aren't really funny or demonstrate that there are more characters than really necessary, but it's seldom boring.

I probably like it a little more than I did the others when I saw them because Chow Yun-Fat doing goofy slapstick no longer seems like a bit of playing against type that doesn't work and thus offends the sense - having seen enough others, this just isn't one of his best comedies. It's nice to see him play off Carina Lau, even if they don't get a lot to do.

Chow hasn't been seen much on screen lately - I suspect he's been dark-gray-listed - and it's interesting that his current project is apparently called "Don't Call Me 'God of Gamblers'", a drama about a lifelong gambler hitting bottom. Might as well go the other direction considering how weak this silly remaining of one of his most iconic parts has been.

The Knack… And How to Get It

* * (out of four)
Seen 5 September 2022 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Blu-ray)

The Knack… And How to Get It is so obviously director Richard Lester's next film after A Hard Day's Night that I'm almost surprised that "Richard Lester's followup to A Hard Day's Night" isn't its actual name. It's very much the same sort of thing - shaggy story, black-and-white film stock, a fair amount of the British pop the Beatles were making popular on the soundtrack - but just goes to show how thin the line between something great and something mediocre can be.

Of course, the obvious thing that it lacks is The Beatles, and not just because people who already love the group are more apt to like a movie with them than without them. Still, their collective onscreen personae was settling amid the off-kilter and absurd moments, even with how weird and parasitic Paul's Grandfather could be. This movie, on the other hand is built around two of the main male characters not just being horny but almost predatory in their mindset, with the third less seeing this as not cool than an asexual but knowledgeable mentor. It's probably giving too much credit to say this couldn't get made today, as this attitude hasn't exactly gone far underground, but it hasn't exactly aged well.

It's not hard to fall for Rita Tushingham's leading lady, a big-eyed dreamer who gets into various misadventures on the way to the YWCA before meeting the boys, though, even before setting the actress's delightful name. I wouldn't be shocked if she was one of Edgar Wright's inspirations for a similar character in Last Night in Soho, and she's the one that injects a lot of the energy that keeps things moving along when the film is otherwise kind of sitting back and archly presenting situations that are inherently absurd or funny, but not necessarily getting that much out of them.

For something that started as a play by Ann Jellicoe, Lester and screenwriter Charles Wood do nice work opening it up to encompass all of London when it's not in a very tight apartment; it never feels stage-sized or stage-shaped. It's a hangout movie that can't quite get past how there's something odious about the reasoning behind the hanging out.

Well, that was an underwhelming round, leaving things more or less unchanged:

Mookie: 37 stars
Bruce: 44 ¼ stars

Bruce is still ahead, down to the next row, but we'll see what's coming.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

This Week in Tickets: 16 January 2023 - 22 January 2023 (Happy Lunar New Year!)

I'll be much less wordy this week, since I think we got the whole mission statement out of the way and it was a relatively quiet, though not uneven, couple pages:
This Week in Tickets It was mostly quiet nights in, between work running late enough that I wasn't getting to 6:30pm movie times (that's what happens when you've got a bunch of 150-minute-plus movies for awards season), me wanting to write some, and having a big crossword backlog. The writing entailed a little be of rewatching, in this case refamiliarizing myself with The Dragon Chronicles: Maidens of Heavenly Mountains before writing it and Mr. & Mrs. Gambler up for Film Rolls Round Nine. Only halfway to updating those in something close to real time!

Indeed, not getting out of the home office early enough through Friday off, as I'd planned to rewatch Decision to Leave at the Brattle before sticking around for the late show of Something in the Dirt, but no. Still, I am very glad they selected that as part of "(Some of) The Best of 2022"; it's one that seemed to make a real effort to stay away from me!

A day of errand-running on Saturday left little time for movies, but I did keep the Film Rolls stuff moving with Husband Killers, not exactly the greatest girls & guns movie Hong Kong has ever put out, but not bad for that night.

Then on Sunday, I swung a double feature at Boston Common, going for the not-likely-to-hang-around-long Alice, Darling for the afternoon show, which let out just in time for The Wandering Earth II, the big blockbuster hitting Chinese screens for the Lunar New Year and one that, for a few days at least, is quite able to sell out an Imax auditorium here, and I wouldn't be shocked if I was the only one who needed subtitles.

So, anyway, enjoy The Year of the Rabbit, where I'll hopefully continue updating this on the regular! As always, you can follow me on Letterboxd for first drafts, though don't count on them looking good!

Alice, Darling

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 January 2023 in AMC Boston Common #11 (first-run, DCP)

Maybe Husband Killers would be remembered a little better if I didn't see Alice, Darling the next day; this one, which is mostly women in front of and behind the camera, is certainly paying much more attention to how women, specifically, process this sort of thing. Director Mary Nighy and Alanna Francis zero in on how something meant to be presented as sexy are instead gross, and the way Alice pulls her hair out in frustration reminded me of someone I follow on Twitter who, when she encountered it elsewhere in pop culture, felt relief that it wasn't just her. It knows these details.

It is, as such, very much in the category of films that I recognize as being pretty good but where I lack the sort of experience that tells me just how good it might actually be. Nighy et al certainly make it ring true enough that I don't doubt the details but luckily can't feel it resonate as it would with its target audience. That can be seen a couple ways, like it should have illustrated itself in more obvious fashion, but I suspect that wouldn't have ring true to the women whose experience it does reflect.

Nighy and Francis do a good job of finding ways to spend the bulk of the film so that it doesn't feel like too much like it's killing 75 minutes to get to the last 15, as well; for all that it can kind of dip into bits that feel like they come more from movies than life, that's rare; more often, the audience gets to observe without the everyday events being shown not feeling like they've been rearranged to fit into a movie better. They resist the temptation to let the parallel storyline of the teenage girl who is literally missing take too much focus from the main story as it serves its purposes of highlighting how early girls get blamed for their own issues, even by other women, and demonstrating how empathetic Alice is, rather than being completely in-looking and concerned for herself.

At any rate, it's built around a nice performance by Anna Kendrick, who also produces. She's both restrained and nerve-wracking as Alice, doing very well to present her as smart enough to see the horror show that her relationship is but not quite able to step outside of herself to do it. There's good chemistry between her and the women playing Alice's longtime friends, Wunmi Mosaku and Kaniehtiio Horn, with easy familiarity and tension at the current state of things. Charlie Carrick leans into the snide monstrosity of boyfriend Simon, and while he's not going for subtle, there's something right about how Kendrick doesn't entirely make Alice become small around him. She's cowed, but in such a way that one believes she would be seen as herself.

The Dragon Chronicles: Maidens of Heavenly Mountains Something in the Dirt Husband Killers Alice, Darling The Wandering Earth II

Film Rolls, Round 10: The Other Side of Gentleman and Le Doulos

Oops, another case where I ordered something in a Kino Lorber sale because I didn't recognize it but thought it sounded good, though the reason it sounded good was because the description was actually that of a movie I've seen and enjoyed. Well, good for Bruce.
A three gets Mookie into the Ringo Lam section, a thing we have because there were a whole ton of discs showing up on DDDHouse right around the time of his death and, sure, add that one to the cart. I kind of expected to land on one of his better-known action pictures, but instead got this oddity from early in his career, although, not actually complaining.
Bruce, meanwhile, gets another high roll in 14 gets him into the West and Le Doulos, which I think I probably saw as part of part of the virtual Noir City International series the Film Noir Society did along with the AFI Silver in Washington in 2020, which, honestly, seems much too recent for me to not remember. Once I started to get into it I wondered if maybe I should move on to the next thing on the shelf (Lady in a Cage), but, heck, far enough ofit's not like this is some sort of real competition.

Which gets us here:

Jun zi hao qiu (The Other Side of Gentleman)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 17 August 2022 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Hong Kong Blu-ray)

I'd be kind of curious to see an American remake of this, because this is a goofy scenario that plays out in weird but enjoyable-enough fashion, but the type of weird seems to be, if not, specific to Hong Kong, at least far enough off that it could maybe use a bit of localization, because the basic idea feels like it could play anywhere.

That idea has a group of community leaders, worried about out of control youth, hypothesize that the affection of a good, stable woman could get one more under control. They set their eyes on motorcycle goon Alan Ng (Alan Tam Wing-Lun) voluntell Coco (Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia), a college student in their group, to take the part, even though she's engaged to one of her professors, also a member. Naturally, Alan falls hard and tries to change to impress her - it is Brigitte Lin, after all - she is both trying to avoid getting too close and looking for excuses to break it off, although, hey, even if this clod is manipulated, he's sincere, while he fiancé (Chang Kuo-Chu) was apparently okay with this whole thing.

Tam was apparently a big Cantopop star who did movies but I don't know if he ever became a movie star the way, say, Andy Lau would, and I wonder if that's behind the decision to make Alan the character a doofus who maybe can't become the guy this group wants, so that the film doesn't have to ask a lot of him, acting-wise. He gives it what director Ringo Lam and the writers are asking for, a plug who is actually kind of dangerous when he lashes out, though one with some teddy bear potential, a good ones to Chang Kuo-Chu giving Professor Cheung kind of black but mean potential. Lin does pretty well hitting the line where she's kind of awful for Alan but sympathetic for the situation she's put in.

And yet, something about it just doesn't quite click with me. Right from the start, Alan is never as amusing as the weirdos in the committee, even though he's built as a character who is supposed to be inherently funny; right from the start, his constant drip of big dumb lug material is never quite as funny as the scattered, high-test weird stuff. There are times when this could just be a really broad "guy from the wrong side of the tracks falls for a high-class girl" movie, which is fine, but it's hard to shake the feeling that something funnier could be going on.

Le Doulos

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 August 2022 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Blu-ray)

Someday, I think I'm going to just mainline all of Jean-Pierre Melville's movies. You could probably do it in a 24-hour period, if so inclined, and enough of them are stone classics that getting past any filler from early in his career won't be much of a big deal.

Le Doulos, which is at the direct center of his timeline, is not filler, but a twisty-enough piece that there's not much shame in rewatching, or even rewinding, to make sure that one has picked up on all the details which lead up to the finale or even just a given moment. Melville's adaptation of Pierre Lesou's novel is dense and matter-of-fact in a way that sometimes can work against it, as his business-like approach can sometimes mean that, even as he's laying things out plainly, he's not necessarily activating the emotions that would give that information a better hook into the viewer's head.

But that's how a lot of Melville's films work; you don't necessarily have to get into an analytical mindset, but an observant one, paying attention to the details because, even if none of it is quite Rififi, this film still has the sort of authentic-feeling crime details that build suspense honestly. It nudges you into that frame of mind, though, and presents things as just disconnected enough that one is actively tying pieces together and eventually working out what is true, what is false, although the option is there to just sort of marinate in noir-inspired New Wave cool.

Either way, it's a very fun performance from Serge Reggiani as recently-released burglar Maurice Faugel, who exudes enough of that cool to click with the audience even as he starts out amoral and detached and never becomes a different guy. Maurice is an often-nasty little guy in a nasty world, and his principles aren't good ones, but he still has them, a compelling crook even when Reggiani is playing him as poker-faced.

I thought this was a new-to-me one, and it's an easy-enough mistake to make given that I may have seen it under some translated title and during a program where a lot of movies can blend together, but just a couple minutes disabused me of that - it's one where, even if you don't remember the whole of it, you remember that it is good stuff from the word go.

That puts ten rounds in the books, leaving me only eight behind, and curious if Mookie will catch up to Bruce by the time I catch up to myself. As of now, the standings are:

Mookie: 35 stars
Bruce: 42 ¼ stars

Still not quite in striking distance - barring double features and twenties, Moodie needs two masterpieces against two disasters to really catch up - but, again there's plenty of board to go before the finish.

Some distance to go, and that great big box set isn't the only thing that could change things in a hurry!

The Wandering Earth II

Happy Lunar New Year to all those who celebrate, and for the rest of us, I hope you also had a good Sunday!

I meant to get a photo of the other standee for a Chinese New Year release that's hanging around a corner of the AMC Boston Common theater but which hasn't opened yet; maybe we'll see it next week. Anyway, I suspect that with only so much room for Chinese films over this week, the big Mandarin sci-fi action thing was probably going to plow over the Cantonese courtroom drama, because, woo, the place was busy - when I got out of Alice, Darling and grabbed my food, there was a line snaking around the lobby to get in, and I'm guessing I was the only non-Chinese person in it. Kind of slow-moving, as it takes four or five seconds to scan a QR code with a phone when you can glance at a ticket and rip it in two, but that's the way things work now and it's better than the frustrating delay behind people who have apparently never bought a movie ticket before and don't know how to do it at the box office. They're also supposed to check IDs for the A-List programs, but the ushers there apparently recognize the Caucasian guy who goes to all the Chinese movies.

Nice of them to turn on the subtitles for one person in a packed 510-seat auditorium.

I was amused to see that it apparently has a censor-board number of 2023-001, which makes me wonder if those get handed out based on the lunar new year, so any Chinese film released in the past couple weeks would have still had 2022 numbers. Didn't see a Well Go USA logo before the film, though hopefully the lack of that doesn't mean Well Go is just handling distribution services. It would be really nice if they also picked up home-video distribution for both films - apparently, the first hasn't gotten any sort of Blu-ray release in the past three years, what with it being stuck in Netflix purgatory, let alone 3D or 4K releases. It would be nice if this were playing in 3D theatrically - some of the big effects sequences have that look where you can see some things were clearly meant to have a depth effect - but I'm just glad I could see it at all.

As a random thing, it took me almost to the end to notice that the little girl Yaya was wearing a sweater with bunnies and that the case for her tablet had bunny years, because it's the year of the rabbit.

Liu lang di qiu 2 (The Wandering Earth II)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 January 2023 in AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run, Imax Xenon)

The Wandering Earth was a big, audacious swing when it was released on Lunar New Year in 2019 - China's first big sci-fi blockbuster and a space opera with a fairly ludicrous premise - but it was also a major hit in its home country. This follow-up refines things in some ways but doesn't necessarily try to one-up the first conceptually very often. That's probably wise, even if it does accidentally show just how quickly we can get jaded about our big fantasies these days; three years is all it takes for the Earth itself being used as an escape pod on a millennia-long journey to a new home to be old hat.

As this film opens in 2044, the Earth is still in orbit around the sun, and while the "United Earth Government" has started work on the ambitious plan to flee the solar system, there are many who don't see the urgent need to act now when the sun won't even expand to the point where it swallows the planet for a hundred years. Air Force pilot Liu Peiqiang (Wu Jing) has reported to the staging platform in Gabon to join the astronaut corps, where he meets and is instantly smitten by Han Duoduo (Wang Zhi). At the UEG, China's representatives Zhou Jiechi (Li Xuejian) and Hao Xiaoxi (Zhu Yanmanzi) are spearheading the "Moving Mountains Project", although the adherents to the one-time rival project "Digital Life" launch a terrorist attack that Peiqiang and Duoduo must attempt to thwart on-scene. On the moon, two of the developers of Digital Life, Tu Hengyu (Andy Lau Tak-wah) and Ma Zhao (Ning Li) are working to use their quantum computing expertise to control the prototype Earth Engines being installed on the moon for the Lunar Exile phase of Moving Mountains, which is both a proof-of-concept even as leaving the moon in Earth orbit would complicate navigation exponentially, though Tu has continued to work in secret on uploading human consciousness, specifically his daughter Yaya, who was fatally wounded in a car crash.

This prequel aims to be both a bit more mature than its predecessor while also trying to top it in spectacle, and the team involved certainly seem to refine what worked about that film that it does pretty well on that count. The filmmakers know that it will be looked at more closely, scrutinized for consistent lore and no longer treated as a groundbreaking novelty. It does all right by that, with pointed jabs about how many will ignore a problem right up until it's too late (mostly pointed outward at the USA, but, you know, fair) and being able to save its FX bullets because much of the film takes place in a more contemporary setting. It's a solid enough film up to the point where its predecessor is starting to loom on the horizon. That's when you know Peiqiang will get out of the danger he's in and the Earth Engines will ignite, and the raw suspense isn't there. Fortunately, the Chinese film industry has practice at films about historic heroism with foregone conclusions, which this essentially is.

Indeed, it's a smart prequel and a decent take on the folks-pulling-together story: The writing team comes at it with a logical risk for the Moving Mountains/Wandering Earth project that certainly could play into the future films that will surely come in the series (it is a 2500-year journey, after all), offering intriguing ideas about how it could play out as the credits roll. The cast of characters are likably duty-driven, if kind of uniformly so, especially among the Chinese main cast (foreigners with various questionable accents and readings get much more chance to be amusingly imperfect), though Wu Jing does a nice job of making Peiqiang more or less the same guy as he was before, if less burdened by the time with his son that he's missed (though I'm not really buying that he was in his twenties at the start of the film. The unity of purpose from the rest of the cast makes Andy Lau's new addition stand out a bit more; there's a bit of ruthless but level desperation for which few other characters have an equivalent.

And there's no denying that the two big visual effects sequences are outstanding, worth the biggest screen they can be found on (and staged in such a way that is a shame Well Go isn't giving this a 3D release). The first is as good a big hard-sf action piece as you'll find, easily grasped while built around fun future tech details and able to match enormous scale to the human endeavors to cause/stop them. Wu Jing even gets to do a little martial arts this time around, albeit mostly wire-fu based around a space elevator being in free fall. The finale could probably do without the two cross-cut mission structure - the filmmakers work hard, but the underlit bit inside a flooding server room is just never a match for all the cool FX on the moon, especially the final coup de grace.

It's also got the expected landmark destruction, and one gets the feeling that director Frant Gwo doesn't know if the series will go in this same direction again, so he gets his 2001 and Star Wars moments in, though the film's at least built in a way that they make sense there. Those familiar references are part of how this movie isn't the same sort of crazy big swing as the first - it can't be - but the filmmakers are pretty smart about building on what they've got.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Something in the Dirt

Weird that I'm just seeing this as part of the Brattle's 2023 in review series; the new Benson & Morehead usually plays Fantasia (with excellent post-film Q&As), but for whatever reason, it wasn't booked there. Then, when it got its brief theatrical release in the fall, it didn't make it to Boston despite the city showing up on some of the advertising, not even a weekend of 11:59pm shows at the Coolidge. I'm not sure why it hasn't gotten some traction, other than the fact that it kind of feels like something that would play BUFF or belongs on the internet. It didn't even come out on a busy, week, but when it seemed like theaters were struggling to find something to play before Wakanda Forever arrived. You'd think some of the places showing Skinamarink this week would have room!

Ah, well - it's at the Brattle for one more late show tonight (21 January), you can rent it online, and with any luck it will get some sort of American disc release.

Something in the Dirt

* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 January 2023 in the Brattle Theatre ((Some of) The Best of 2022, DCP)

Even before seeing/remembering the dedication at the end, I made little comments to myself while watching Something in the Dirt that it felt like the sort of movie my friends and I might have made when we were screwing around with somebody's new camcorder in high school, if we were any good at making movies, let alone possessing the level of skill at this sort of story as Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson. Of all the love letters to the movies to come out in 2022, it's perhaps the most specific to its makers. It introduces Levi Danube (Benson), who has just moved into a new apartment near the airport, and John Daniels (Moorhead), who has been there ten years and is still staying in the place after his husband has recently left him. Both at loose ends, they befriend each other, and when moving some of John's old stuff into Levi's place, they see something otherworldly, and soon start to document it, with the hope of making the sort of documentary they can sell to Netflix for enough to set them up for life. As the project continues, they find it reflected more and more in the world around them, but also find themselves an odder pairing than they perhaps initially realized.

Benson & Moorhead have seemingly reversed the course of many filmmakers in that they spend more time in front of the camera than they used to, moving from being their own extras owing to a tight budget to sort-of-playing-themselves to playing (presumably) less self-inserted characters here, and it's not unwelcome; they're entertaining and charismatic folks who get across that Levi and John hit it off quickly while still coming across as having personalities that clash in certain ways. There's something initially engaging about both, and while they're smart enough to give themselves an excuse for the moments when they perhaps don't seem like natural performers, they don't need it too often. They handle a potentially tricky shift in perspective ("actually, this guy is maybe only eccentric compared to this one being weird") quite well and don't need to bring any ringers in to cover for what is, by and large, a two-person show.

It's that way because this seems to have been a pandemic project, done in such a way that they can work with a small crew of people they know and trust so that they don't get rusty. As such, it has them playing the hits to a certain extent - these are not the first times the pair has built a project around themselves investigating some sort of paranormal event, and longtime fans will likely smile and realize that they were unconsciously waiting for the moment when they find some old analog media and hardware when it comes. A bit in the end credits has the film dedicated to "making movies with your friends", and for fans, that likely becomes a comforting thought even as there are eerie events going on - a global pandemic is not going to materially stop them from making this sort of movie, even if they are smart enough to invert and rearrange it so that what's on-screen is a new experience. They're not over-reaching, often alternating smooth and understated effects work with abstract-collage editing of stock footage (real and created) to keep the audience grounded even as John's theories become more grandiose.

Which isn't to say they're putting in half an effort, if this is a simple story, it's one that they realize can be folded on top of itself to create multiple layers without the cleverness becoming too much the point. A tale about two guys seeing something weird and filming it becomes about how observing it can change it, but then about how deciding that you're shooting a movie rather than just filming what you see changes things further. It's a neat trick that revealing multiple different sorts of artifice and deception does not do much to distort the core story about John and Levi, while having interesting things to say about how people are able to use coincidences, distortions, and lies to shape not just others' world views but their own. For all that the film is built around not taking things at face value, Moorhead & Benson are at least canny enough to realize that too complete a rug-pull will leave the audience wondering why they should have cared about any of what happened before.

That they maintained that sort of focus for a movie that is sort of a lark is impressive; it gives the film a little heft and reminds one how good they are when playing close to the DIY end of independent sci-fi They're currently doing TV for Marvel, and they've done some more polished if not quite slick films as well, but it's good to see them return to this just because they want to make a movie.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 20 January 2023 - 26 January 2023

Well, this stinks: It looks like the Fenway multiplex is on a list of 39 leases Regal intends to "reject" next month, which doesn't 100% mean they're closing then, but we certainly could be down 13 screens before Causeway Street and the Seaport re-open. Which is a bummer, because they're where some off-the-beaten-path foreign films play (Egyptian, Indian, Chinese, Russian, Nigerian). It'd be funny if AMC took over the lease, since Regal only has the location because AMC had to sell after the mergers with Loews & GCC, lest they control too much of the market. It'll be interesting who actually does show some interest in the location.

But enough of that for now! Lunar New Year is Sunday, Oscar nominations drop Tuesday, and it's Indian Republic Day on Thursday, all of which have an impact on what's opening at various points this week!

  • The biggest opening this week is Missing, a "screen-life" movie from some of the same crew as Searching, this time inverted so that a teenager is looking for her missing mother. It's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, Arsenal Yards, and Chestnut Hill.

    Alice, Darling, starring Anna Kendrick as a woman whose friends try to pull her out of an abusive relationship, opens at Boston Common.

    Seventieth anniversary screenings of Roman Holiday play Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row on Sunday and Wednesday.
  • Despite the presence of Anthony Hopkins and director Florian Zeller, The Son does not appear to actually be connected to The Father. This one focuses on a man played by Hugh Jackman, who fears that he may be failing his own son in the way that his father failed him. It's at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Kendall Square, Boston Common.

    The Coolidge's January Giallo midnights this weekend include Astron 6's The Editor on Friday (like most of their stuff, better when paying sincere homage rather than spoofing) and What Have You Done with Solange? (preceded by locally-made short "The Five Fingers of a Dog") on Saturday. The Room also plays Friday night. There's also Saturday & Sunday morning kids' shows of The Great Muppet Caper, while Sunday morning also features a Goethe-Institut presentation of Rabiye Kurnaz vs. George W. Bush, with director Andres Dresen doing a long-distance Q&A afterward. Monday's Sounds of Silents show is Alfred Hitchcock's The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog, with Jeff Rapsis on the organ and Emerson professor Andre Puca leading a seminar beforehand. There's also a seminar for Lars von Trier's Melancholia on Tuesday, with UMass professor Sarah Keller. It's in 35mm as part of the art-house sci-fi series "Projections", which also features Born in Flames on Wednesday. Finally, Radio Boston will be doing a "Set in Boston" event on Thursday, with post-film discussion after The Departed
  • Landmark Theatres Kendall Square opens Turn Every Page: The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb, a documentary about an author and an editor who have worked for fifty years and are just now seeing the final volume of Caro's masterwork almost finished. They also pick up When You Finish Saving the World, a comedy starring Julianne Moore and Finn Wolfhard, directed by Jesse Eisenberg based on his audiobook, though with fairly limited showtimes.

    The Kendall also has Barry Lyndon on Tuesday as a part of its Retro Replay: Stanley Kubrick series.
  • The big Lunar New Year release from China is The Wandering Earth 2, which is actually a prequel to 2019's original from returning director Frant Gwo set before the Earth left its orbit, with Andy Lau joining Wu Jing. It opens Sunday at Boston Common (including Imax) and Fenway.

    Apple Fresh Pond opens drama Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam (which I believe is Malayalam but may be Tamil) on Friday, and also brings back Telugu blockbuster RRR for subtitled daily evening shows, ahead of some presumed Oscar attention. The next big release comes on Wednesday, with Pathaan starring Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, and John Abraham as a team of spies targeting drug lords in "the dystopian Middle East", opening at Fresh Pond and Fenway.

    Fresh Pond keeps most of last week's openings- Tamil-language Varisu (also playing in Telugu as "Vaarasudu" through Tuesday), Telugu-language Veera Simha Reddy, Telugu-language Waltair Veerayya (through Tuesday), and Thunivu (also at Boston Common).

    Anime That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime: Scarlet Bond plays Boston Common, South Bay, Assembly Row at various times during the week, sometimes dubbed in English and sometimes as subtitled Japanese; check which version is playing at any particular venue on a given day. There are also subtitled shows of Uta no Prince-sama Maji Love Starish Tours at Boston Common on Sunday and Monday.

    Egyptian comedy Nabil el Gamil, Plastic Surgeon continues at Fenway through Tuesday.
  • The Brattle Theatre reopens after a brief closure with the more indie half of their "(Some of) The Best of 2022" series, including Decision to Leave and Something in the Dirt on Friday & Saturday, a double feature of Memoria and TÁR on Sunday, Neptune Frost on Monday, Aftersun and We're All Going to the World's Fair on Tuesday, A Couple and Holy Spider on Wednesday, with a twin bill of X (on 35mm film) and Pearl on Thursday.
  • The Somerville Theatre reopens Everything Everywhere All at Once on their main screen in anticipation of some awards nominations, with Skinamarink opening downstairs, with actual matinee showings, which none of the other theaters did. They're also expanding their weekday hours a little, so that they can get it and M3GAN two shows each starting between 6pm and 9pm.
  • The Harvard Film Archive returns from winter break with a series celebrating "Kinuyo Tanaka - Actress, Director, Pioneer": Love Letter plays Friday, Flowing pl.ays on 35mm film on Saturday and Sunday, The Wandering Princess on Sunday, and Ugetsu on 35mm film Monday. The series will run, off and on, through the end of February.
  • Belmont World Film has the second weekend of their Family Film Festival with many of last weekend's films available via Eventive while also setting up shop at The Regent Theatre in Arlington for "LOL with Mo Willems Films", The Smeds and the Smoos, The School of Magical Animals 2, and Last Film Show on Saturday, the last only playing in-person
  • Bright Lights returns to the Paramount Center this Thursday with Triangle of Sadness, with professor Ken Feil leading discussion afterwards. As always, it's free and open to the public, with reservations available at the box office (or via phone) starting at noon the day of the show.
  • The Lexington Venue is open through Monday with A Man Called Otto and The Fabelmans.

    The West Newton Cinema has Living, A Man Called Otto, Everything Everywhere All at Once, The Fabelmans, Aftersun, The Banshees of Inisherin, and Tár. Closed Monday.

    The Luna Theater has a thin-ish schedule with Holy Spider on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; All the Beauty and the Bloodshed on Saturday and Sunday; The Eternal Daughter on Saturday; and a Weirdo Wednesday show.

    Cinema Salem has A Man Called Otto, M3GAN, Aftersun, Eo, and The Whale from Friday to Monday, Skinamarink on Friday and Saturday, Broker on Saturday and Sunday, and Dirty Dancing on Sunday.
  • For those still not ready to join random people in a room for two hours, theater rentals are available at Kendall Square, West Newton, the Capitol and Somerville, The Venue, CinemaSalem, and many of the multiplexes.
Damn right I'm going to finally see Something in the Dirt on the big screen at the Brattle on Friday. I have also already reserved a ticket for The Wandering Earth 2, and will likely go for Missing and Pathaan, with some other catch-up as well. Plus the usual dice-rolling nonsense.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Film Rolls, Round 9: The Dragon Chronicles: The Maidens of Heavenly Mountain and Mr. & Mrs. Gambler

I'm not sure whether the "Western" or "Chinese" section of the gameboard is larger, but I have to admit that the Western one feels a bit more diverse; the random impulse buys from Kino Lorber seem to cast a bigger net than when I'm loading up on familiar names from DDDHouse, if only time-wise. Not that I'm eager to get out of this section, just that, for as screwy as some of these choices are, I'm looking to find a way to inject even more chaos into the next go-round.

But first, what may be the longest round of the year!
First up, we have Mookie rolling a 12, which gets him close to the end of the "general Hong Kong/China" section and The Dragon Chronicles (which has no dragons), a bit of mid-1990s wuxia.

Then, it was off to Fantasia, which took me away from the board for the better part of a month and then being sort of heads-down writing after that, so the next roll came six-plus weeks later.
Bruce rolls a 19, which lets him jump all the way over the Ringo Lam section to almost the end of the Wong Jing section, and, honestly, I hadn't expected to have a Wong Jing section, but he's prolific enough and has been around long enough that it wound up making as much sense to pull out as other Hong Kong auteurs. The movie in question would be Mr. & Mrs. Gambler, which is fairly apropos.

So how'd they do?

San tin lung bat bo: Tin San Tung Lo (The Dragon Chronicles: The Maidens of Heavenly Mountains)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 June 2022 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Hong Kong Blu-ray)

As always, I don't know that this is the actual case, but Maidens of Heavenly Mountains feels like a movie that started with one set of expectations only to find that the good stuff was somewhere else. That's how you wind up with Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia and Gong Li first-billed and playing demigods while all the fun is being had by more Earth-bound characters played by the perhaps less-celebrated Sharla Cheung Man and Frankie Lam Man-Lung. The feud between Lin's Li Chau Shui and Gong's Mo Han Wan is what makes everything happen, but the most entertaining thing going on is the mismatched monk and henchwoman who wind up thrown together almost as comic relief.

Maybe that's the inevitable result of hiring Andy Chin Wing-Keung to direct the film; most of his career was in comedies, and he often seems most at home here when things are the goofiest, not just with the antics of Cheung's "Purple" and Lam's Hui Chok, who banter well without it ever becoming romantic, but in the nervous piece where the senior monk is fleeing the Shaolin Temple, or a moment when Gong Li gets to mug a bit as she wishes she were the one in charge. The "melting blow" that can basically disintegrate any opponent seems almost knowingly overpowerful. Much of the initial melodrama is dispensed with in an opening scroll, but he doesn't entirely dispense with it, and if he's winking hard about not making Mo Han Wan and Li Chau Shui's "good twin" Li Chong Hoi explicitly gay, he's not quite mocking the genre either, keeping up a good pace so that there's forward momentum.

The wire-fu he and martial arts director Poon Kin-Kwan put together is often pretty nifty as well, with the centerpiece a cloud-hopping fight between Lin and Gong where the camera smoothly follows them as they fly over impossible mountaintops with the occasional quick step to keep moving. These are martial artists who can project force blasts from their hands, but the best bits play more as Star Wars than static posing, with the camera banking and energy coming in rapid-fire like tracers. It's the sort of movie that takes place in monasteries, palaces, caves, and mystic mountaintops, but just enough care taken to make them a bit more detailed than usual for the period, and a finale that pulls everyone i with a lot of crazy magic stuff that doesn't cede the entire film to the visual effects team.

It is, like a lot of movies in this corner of the martial-arts genre, kind of weightless nonsense, but grounded by the supporting characters who steal the movie away and just funny enough to work.

Lan to fu dau lan to chai (Mr. & Mrs. Gambler)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 15 August 2022 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Hong Kong Blu-ray)

Wong Jing has made roughly 100 movies in 40 years and I suspect that a good solid 70 of them have involved mahjongg or gambling, and I wouldn't be surprised if that's how he spent a lot of time during those apparently rare periods when he is not making movies. He likes it so much that he seemingly has a hard time making a romantic comedy where the idea is that its pair of compulsive gamblers (Chapman To Man-Chat & Fiona Sit Hoi-Kei) have to become responsible adults who can be relied on. Like, I wonder if he quite believes it.

It helps that he's got Chapman To and Fiona Sit to work with; this is To squarely in amiable fourth-wall breaking mode, where he narrates the movie in a way that's clearly self-serving or full of false modesty but also just enough self-awareness to let the audience in on the joke, a nice balance of dorky and cool that gives Wong the chance to make things a bit more outlandish. Sit gets to use him as a straight man, confident enough in her sexiness and good luck keeping her out of trouble without becoming more abrasive than her partner deserves. They spark off each other even if one doesn't entirely believe that they're deeply in love.

And that's fine when Wong is doing goofy jokes that keep pushing a little bigger, starting with To's "Manfred" Wong opening by saying that his name is "Shu Qi", pronounced but not spelled like the actress, a gag based on how To is the on-screen version of a schlub while Shu Qi, well, isn't, and building into more pop culture strangeness and bigger gambling-related problems until Manfred has been cast as the new James Bond, after becoming an actor when discovered by a clear riff on Wong Kar-Wai. The rapid-fire gags don't all hit, but there's enough good ones to make it work.

The trouble comes when Wong tries to thread the needle between having these two become more mature and maybe knowingly defy the audience's expectations that they do that. To and Sit have comic but not necessarily romantic chemistry, so the movie has a hard time making the case that their marriage disintegrating would be a bad thing, and they're not built out enough to be Nick & Nora Charles, who had enough personality to make it work when the vices that made them unconventionally fun were stripped away. The film works well enough as an assembly of jokes and there's no rule that says a movie must feature positive character growth or a good moral message (or, well, there wasn't when this was made ten years ago), but it does feel kind of hollow when the film at least feints in that direction but the makers aren't really interested.

So there's two more from Hong Kong and Mookie getting the better end of the deal by a little bit, which brings the score to:

Mookie: 32 ½ stars
Bruce: 38 ¾ stars

Still not quite in striking distance - barring double features and twenties, Moodie needs two masterpieces against two disasters to really catch up - but, again there's plenty of board to go before the finish.

Getting a little tighter, but Bruce still has an impressive lead!

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

This Week in Tickets: 2 January 2023 - 15 January 2023 (Being Also a Reassessment of This Blog's Purpose Going Forward)

Holy crap, have I really not done one of these since mid-2020, when it was all virtual tickets because of the pandemic? That's crazy! But also not - I've been logging on Letterboxd pretty constantly since March 2017, and that's easy. I can do it on my phone while on the train back from the theater, without dinking around too much with HTML formatting or image maps or the like. People occasionally like my reviews, for a little fun feedback.

Whereas this blog, well, it's been languishing. The pandemic did a number on moviegoing, my ability to concentrate, the structure of my day and life. None of that is actually from the virus, really, but over that period also became pretty clear that this blog isn't going to lead to anything more than it has: Nobody's going to pay me to write movie reviews, eFilmCritic went off-line with a server crash back in March and now looks even more dead with the URLs directing to some new place. A friend asked last year if I'd be interested in doing an episode of his podcast, and because I'm terrible I haven't responded (I wanted to clear some other projects off first, but…). I can't imagine setting up my own podcast or substack or what have you. There's a really good argument that this blog only still exists so that I can apply for a press pass at Fantasia.

(Which, don't get me wrong, is a great reason to do a blog! I'd buy one if the option was available, to be honest, because I've got a pretty decent day job as far as being able to afford movie stuff goes.)

So, why have I pulled this out of the mothballs? Because it's fun to look at. Because I have been buying calendars for the past few years and taping movie tickets into them, and because my mother getting me a travel scrapbook for Christmas has reminded me that people do enjoy that sort of artifact. Because, dang it, I like structure, and I like doing a second draft of the stuff I write on Letterboxd after I've had a little more time to think it over.

As for the blog in general, I'm going to try and take inspiration for the name that friend I mentioned earlier had for his seldom-updated (and now likely forgotten) blog, which was along the lines of "Adventures in Moviegoing". There will be Film Rolls, because that is fun and random. There will be the times I go to a new theater and check it out, or the times I go to something that is out of my comfort zone or whose booking seems random enough to be interesting. One thing I've realized over the past few years is that the world doesn't really need another middle-aged white guy breaking down Marvel stuff - there are dozens of those, and many good enough to get paid for it. I'm not going to get paid, I'm not going to get famous enough to be a popular podcast guest, so I can just see new stuff and maybe have something to say about what I got from it.

Anyway, that's what I want this blog to be: A place for me to occasionally go long, reconsider, and write about watching a lot of movies, with no worries that it will lead to anything else.

So, now that that's done, it's on to the diary!

This Week in Tickets
This Week in Tickets
Not a terribly busy first week of the year, my first venture out of the house was for Bones and All, a pretty-looking movie that didn't seem to know what to do with its main premise. After that, there were a couple things for Film Rolls, and I'm going to save my writing for the for when I've caught up, X Y & Zee and A Reason to Live, A Reason to Die!. I won't be writing much about them for This Week in Tickets while I'm trying to catch up, but they will be getting full posts later.

Friday night, I headed up to Fresh Pond for The Old Way, a Nicolas Cage western that seemed to be getting a four-walled release and didn't deserve much more. Saturday's matinee was Battle on Buka Street, which is, I think, my first Nollywood movie and part of the whole "adventures in moviegoing" deal, the sort of global-mainstream thing that gets me kind of excited to put something in the blog.

Saturday night, I did a Film Rolls double feature because both The Girl Most Likely to… and The Mobfathers were short. After that, it was off to Texas for a week of "P.I. Planning", which sadly does not involve private investigators of any sort but attempting to figure out when you're going to be doing all your work for the next fiscal quarter. It's not quite futile, but it's not far off in my case, but I did get to meet a few colleagues I'd only talked to over the phone and sketch stuff on a whiteboard for an hour with one, which was probably worth the last six months of Teams meetings.

Once back home, I headed to the Somerville for the Brattle's special presentation of RRR, which is a heck of a movie. I started a Film Rolls watch of Coffin Homes too late, which means I'll probably need to rewatch it when I catch up to it in the review-writing, as I did with Project A and Wicked City on Sunday, with a trip downtown for Babylon in between.

Funny thing about that trip - though the Green Line Extension should, theoretically, get me right to the Boylston station and the Boston Common theater, on Sunday it only got me as far as Lechmere, where another car was stopped in front of us, which we all moved to and then waited a bit for that one to take us to North Station, where we got on shuttle buses for Government Center because a building was being demolished. From there I figured hoofing it to the theater would get me there faster than waiting for another train, and I still needed every bit of AMC's 20 minutes of trailers to almost make it to the start of the movie on time (apparently, I missed an elephant taking a huge dump). Not exactly what I was hoping for from this new route, although I do think slightly worn out is the right way to see that movie, albeit with a little room for it to wear you out further.

So, that's the first two weeks of the year! As always, you can follow me on Letterboxd for first drafts with all the spelling errors you'd expect from someone used to a proper keyboard swiping their phone on the subway!

Bones and All

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 2 January 2023 in AMC Boston Common #8 (first-run, DCP)

Bones and All is the sort of movie where you can see pretty clearly why the cast would jump all over the script - there's good stuff for an actor to work with, and one would think Luca Guadagnino would provide strong direction - but the final film feels like the filmmakers were counting on the premise and the talent being enough to maintain the audience's interest. It's close, but the fact that this group has some sort of cannibalistic mutation almost feels unimportant most of the time. The most notable thing about the movie is barely in the background, even though it's too big a deal to treat like a minor detail.

It's not quite a dull slog - the cast is too good. Taylor Russell's Maren is always compelling, a believably confused adolescent who is going to come into her own even despite that, while Timothée Chalamet plays the other eater she meets as a likably tortured sort of cool. Even poor Mark Rylance as the most clichéd monster of the group. It's very nice-looking in a way that's not flashy, embracing the way rural America can give this sort of dark secret a place to hide without fetishizing or looking down on the places. Title cards show their journey but also highlight just how anonymous the interior of the country may seem.

Still, despite the occasional grisly reminder of how the eaters' appetites can only be satisfied with murder, it's a movie that never seems to have an answer for Maren's questions about how people who eat other people are supposed to live with themselves. Too often, it is just the wrong combination of active and slack in its background building, raising questions that are just too potentially interesting to be abandoned as they are. In at least one case, almost unforgivable clumsy, tripping up when Maren and Lee encounter another outsider of a different sort. It's too big a premise for as little as the filmmakers do beyond having its two kids go on a road trip.

RRR (Rise Roar Revolt)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 14 January 2023 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Some of the Best and Biggest of 2022, laser-projected DCP)

The folks making RRR know that it's going to be a big deal from the very first frames and never back down from it being that sort of grand, glorious bit-of-everything epic, and who would want it to ? It's so all-out that it almost has to be perfect to avoid falling on its face, but heck if it doesn't just about manage that. It's the biggest, most sincere bromance possible with the John Woo-i-est action you can get.

One doesn't make a comparison to Woo lightly, especially given that director S.S. Rajamouli's brand of action is much closer to a live-action cartoon than Woo's, but one gets the same feeling from it: The staging is noticeably better than average, and he's got the same ability to use melodrama as fuel. The film has three terrific set-pieces even before the main title, the sort that one might say are good enough to be another movie's grand finale, but that's not quite right; the quality is there, but they are each very much built to accomplish something very specific, part of the rhythm of the film rather than show-stoppers. It's the bit just before intermission that really feels climactic, especially considering how it calls back to the water/fire symbolism of the start in a way that feels full-circle even though there's half the film to go.

Did I flag a tiny bit in the second half? Maybe; the hard turn at the interval always seemed to open new and exciting directions in the previous Indian movies I've watched but mostly seemed like something to play out here. That's not necessarily a complaint; as much as I enjoyed the way the first half formed a nifty little knot while still leaving room to play, it's hard to complain about this being all the way in on all the things, and it does pay off in an absolutely crazy finale that maybe loses a bit in how the Brits are never in the same league as Bheem & Raju (watch this and tell me that people are growing tired of superheroes), but makes up for it with impressive "screw these guys" energy.

Anyway, someone please put this out on 3D and 4K discs, so I can have just a bit more excess and can watch it any time in its full glory. I know Indian films don't often get that, but this one is an exception, obviously!


* * * (out of four)
Seen 15 January 2023 in AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run, DCP)

I almost feel like writer/director Damien Chazelle (and composer Justin Hurwitz) had a few bars of music pop into their heads and decided to build a movie to fit it. The result is often ungainly and unbalanced, with a couple subplots too many because Chazelle was all too well aware of how other movies about early Hollywood left folks out and wouldn't let it happen in his, even if it turns out to be too much.

It's supposed to be too much, though - making movies is fun and exhilarating and exhausting, with success depending as much on lucky breaks as genius, and the first couple acts are like that, an endless party and a first day on-set that is mad and glorious. It's funny when the film gets to how new technology and progress can reduce this joyous, improvisational experience to rote mark-hitting, a clear reference for how indie filmmakers get swallowed by the green-screened blockbusters they "move up" to as well as a representation of the switch to sound, probably the single funniest sequence that also shows the most care in the film. Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie are obvious but excellent casting as the earnest but hollow matinee idol and the self-destructive sexpot, and there are great bits of casting throughout, from Li Jun Li as a clear Anna May Wong surrogate to Olivia Hamilton as the director who quickly realizes that Robbie's Nellie is, in fact, a movie star (probably my favorite character, really) and on to the end.

I wonder about the last act. I've made the mistake of reading enough IMDB biographies of charismatic folks with seven-year careers in early Hollywood to have few illusions about how this story ends, but the film turns grotesque enough that I wonder if it's being drawn from specific bits of history or present day ugliness that Chazelle has encountered in Hollywood himself, or if the climax should be so dramatic or drawn-out. But, after a bit of thought, it's the flip side of the dark humor of the first half, where I laughed at some mean jokes that aren't quite so funny once you've spent three hours getting to know these people. I'm not sure it entirely lands - there's a thin line between sentimentality and tragedy that the last ten minutes or so doesn't quite walk - but it comes close enough to get a pass.

(I do enjoy seeing the credits roll with Tobey Maguire listed as an executive producer and imagining him saying his company will get behind the film if he gets to play the weird little freak)

Chazzelle doesn't quite get a big hit from his big swing, but there's a lot here that I personally love even if it won't play for everyone, and I thank the filmmakers for that, at least.

Bones and All X Y and Zee A Reason to Live, A Reason to Die The Old Way Battle on Buka Street The Girl Most Likely To… & The Mobfathers RRR Coffin Homes Project A Babylon The Wicked City

Monday, January 16, 2023

Film Rolls, Round 8: Project A, Project A II, and The Wicked City

When we last left these guys, two middling Hong Kong supernatural comedies had left Bruce's lead intact, but there are still some ways for Mookie to make up some ground
For instance, this 9 gets Mookie to Project A II, and because these films have very complicated continuity, it only made sense to re-watch the first one before that, right?

(Note Not only do they not have complicated continuity, and in fact the second was actually the one I had seen before, with the first a new viewing)
Next up, Bruce rolls a 10, which gets him almost but not quite out of the second "random Hong Kong/China" box and brings him to The Wicked City, which apparently doesn't go in the Tsui Hark section because he is only credited as writer and producer rather than director.

So how'd that go for them?
'A' gai wak (Project A)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 19 June 2022 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Hong Kong Blu-ray)

I saw the sequel to this one first, so that set my expectations for this a little low, not so much because the later film is bad but because it's a Jackie Chan solo project, while this one teams him with frequent co-stars Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, and three dragons are almost always better than one. Character-wise, they're all in somewhat familiar roles - Jackie is is earnest but loose, Sammo is the outsider who makes trouble for the others, Biao is initially stuffy but likably square by the end - and the film is of a sort that would become increasingly common in the 1980s and 1990s, historical period pieces where the scrappy Hong Kongers have this secondary mission to show themselves the equal of their British colleagues.

The story of it is simple on the one hand and a bit needlessly involved on the other - with the Coast Guard (or "Hong Kong Water Police") seen as a drain on the colony's finances and then seeing two of their boats blown up before a major operation, Chan's Dragon Ma Yue-Lung and others are assigned to work on land, where he is partnered with rival Tzu (Biao) and also crosses path with old friend Fei (Hung), now a thief. As with a lot of movies Jackie wrote and directed in this era, it's occasionally very much on the goofy side, very heavy on the wacky hijinks before the story goes in a non-hijink direction, and he can have trouble sharing the spotlight with both of his co-stars at the same time.

Of course, that's entirely secondary to the action, which is some of Chan's very best. I am, naturally, a particular mark for when a Modern Times homage seamlessly becomes Safety Last, and that's just the big flashy stunt, as opposed to the upscale and downscale bar fights and final attack on the pirates' lair. There's a terrific bicycle chase, something not seen enough despite the great balance of speed and human scale it offers. It's some of Jackie's most purely fun work, not overly skewed toward daredevil antics or high-concept slapstick (although there's some of each), with the main trio and their foes mostly playing up their skill and (presumably) friendly offscreen rivalry, to the point where they can't elevate one over another when fighting the final boss, despite it being Jackie's movie.

It is also fun to watch as a period action piece that clearly has some effort put into costumes, set decoration, and the like, but doesn't seem overly precious with it, the way a more modern, bigger-budget movie might extend everything a little bit more, make the costumes fancier, or add/erase things with CGI in pursuit of perfection rather than being comfortable and good enough. It's fun to look at and inhabit without being distracting, right down to how Sammo Hung can make a top hat work better than most people can.

'A' gai wak 2 (Project A 2)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 19 June 2022 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Hong Kong Blu-ray)

It's a testament to just how action-packed Project A 2 is that, despite a recap of the first movie that features both Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao playing at the start, one never really wonders where their characters are, even though Jackie Chan's Dragon Ma could probably use the help of a good-hearted thief or an honest cop at various points in the movie. It's Jackie's film, and it's kind of at its best when his honest fish out of water is facing off against David Lam Wai's slick and corrupt cop.

There's more, of course, including whole subplots about Chinese revolutionaries in Hong Kong to obtain weapons and funding, which 35 years later are mainly interesting for how the ladies involved (Maggie Cheung! Rosamund Kwan! Carina Lau!) were less established but big deals later, and also for how pointedly apolitical Chan and his character play things, compared to his later career. It's a little scattered story-wise, and maybe that's the natural way of movies built around fights: multiple opponents lead to shifting antagonists.

Still, this fights and stunts are pretty great, with big, creative stunts alienating with the close-up magic of a well-executed folks-handcuffed-together gag. After a certain point, the action is pretty much non-stop with even the silly bits kind of thrilling. The big stunt is a visual corker, with a finale that references Buster Keaton as surely as the first played with Chaplin and Lloyd, but with plenty of delightful chaos all around it.

In a way, this sequel feels like an acknowledgment that Jackie Chan had become a superstar; he's too big to be part of an ensemble as an actor now, but as a director, he's still learning how to tell stories as opposed to being a guy who knows what he's doing on a set. I don't know that he ever got there - we'll see what The Diary brings - but he could sure bring the action.

Yiu sau dou si (The Wicked City)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 June 2022 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Hong Kong Blu-ray)

I'm mildly surprised to discover that The Wicked City was based on the first novel in a series, because it has a lot of the same issues as many films adapting long-running manga: Deep lore on the one hand, constant cliffhangers and switchbacks on the other, and fluid monsters who seem more suited for black-and-white line art than the three-dimensional world. This one winds up in the hands of writer/producer Tusi Hark, and it makes for a weird experience: Japanese sci-fi filtered through Hong Kong action and a filmmaker interested in pushing what special effects could do there forward.

(Is this unfair erasure of actual director Peter Mak Tai-Kit? Probably! This was Mak's last major job as a director and fits the narrative of Tsui's interest in making effects-driven movies, so it gets lumped in with that.)

The result of this weird mix of influences and personnel makes for a movie that expects the audience to just run with it from the start, introducing Taki (Leon Lai Ming) and Ken (Jacky Cheung Hok-Yau) as agents of an international agency rooting out "rapters", although it's not exactly clear whether these superpowered shapeshifters are mutants, aliens, demons, or something else, just that they've been around a long time behind the scenes, preying on humans for whatever reason and amassing power. Their boss (Yuen Wo-Ping) doesn't trust Ken because of his "background", although Taki is the one who let Windy (Michelle Reis), the rapter agent he has a crush on, escape in an encounter years ago. She still works for Daishu (Tatsuya Nakadai), a kingpin in the rapter world, but one who seems content to coexist peacefully, leading ambitious son Shudo (Ray Cheung Yiu-Yeung) to mount a coup and attempt to conquer both human and rapter worlds with a drug called "happiness" and an attack on secret magnetic shields.

I wonder a bit when watching this how much it influenced later Japanese franchises like Parasyte and Tokyo Ghoul, although the secret monsters among us genre was having a boom at the time, with the original novel predating the likes of The X-Files and Vampire: The Masquerade, all great-grand-children of Illuminatus! and its influences, though those were less mainstream. It's a familiar enough sort of world that one can connect the dots that Hark an co-writer Roy Szeto Wai-Cheuk are racing past, and almost giggle when they decide that this is the point about which they need to repeatedly stop for a melodramatic flashback. There's whole hosts of "sure, why not?" twists and tech and repeated phrases like "rapter vacuum" that feel like they almost, but don't quite, make sense.

But that's because Mak et al are cramming a lot of action and weirdness into 87 minutes, in a sort of film we don't necessarily see that much from Hong Kong in this period, a slick present-day sci-fi world jam-packed with effects that were a notch or two beyond what one might expect from a similar film from Hollywood but which the filmmakers have no intention of hiding in the shadows. Instead of darkness, they tend to cloak any shortcomings in the weird - bodies get so distorted that you can't rule out that this is what something would look like, and if the living liquids and shadows don't have CGI to play with yet, the way they move is the right sort of uncanny.

Add to that the fact that the filmmakers are ready to turn everything up to 11: Everybody chewing so much scenery that it's kind of amazing that Japanese legend Tatsuya Nakadai is here and able to inject any gravitas at all, for instance, even though they are spewing nonsense with absolute conviction. It's also just downright weird at points, never more so when the villain is having sex with his shapeshifting robot henchwoman while she's in the form a of a pinball machine.

I don't do guilty pleasures, and I don't really do "bad movies I love", because if you love it, it is obviously succeeding at something This is the closest I come - it's a frequently cringe-worthy mess, the intersection of two sets of Asian genre films that don't really work that well together, but it's also not something were I was anything close to tempted to turn off.

Fate smiled upon Mookie this week, getting him a double feature and better movies than Bruce, so the new standings show a cap being closed:

Mookie: 29 ½ stars

Bruce: 36 ¼ stars

Still not quite in striking distance - barring double features and twenties, Moodie needs two masterpieces against two disasters to really catch up - but, again there's plenty of board to go before the finish.
The next bit has a big gap in the middle, but it won't look that way here!