Wednesday, February 15, 2023

This Week in Tickets: 6 February 2023 - 12 February 2023 (Staying In Edition)

Very short week for, uh, reasons.
This Week in Tickets
So, remember last week, when pipes in my walls burst? Well, my landlord wasn't able to get my shower put together until Tuesday, so I kind of stayed away from theaters early in the week out of deference to folks who might have sat next to me. Not recommended.

Wednesday, I at least was able to do a Film Rolls viewing of Bullet in the Head, which is going to be getting a second view when writing time comes. Started way too late, but it's some classic John Woo material.

Between longer run-times, twenty minutes of trailers, wanting to close up early and maybe not having as many people coming into the city to watch a movie or making an evening of it as before, it seems they're starting earlier and I'm having a little trouble trusting the T to get me to them, which was why that late-ish start for Infinity Pool was so appealing on Friday. I may have made myself dinner before heading to the theater to have Cronenberg fils try and gross me out!

Saturday would be a long one - I spent the morning re-watching Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain before writing up the Film Rolls entry, finding it awfully darn entertaining. After that, I headed in to Harvard Square to buy some comics and check out the Brattle's new surround sound system with House of Flying Daggers, then back home to do more Film Rolls with The Foul King. Glad it landed there, because that's a Kim Jee-woon movie starring Song Kang-Ho, kind of a big deal, and would have just sat on my shelf for some time.

I was kind of amused that, while seated in the Brattle further back than usual because I arrived only 10 minutes or so before showtime, I wound up behind someone who was wearing a knit hat and kept it on throughout the movie, which meant I was leaning in to see between her and her date for much of the film. No pom-pom on top, but, man, who knew that wanting to ask ladies to take their hats of in the theater would still be a thing in 2023?

As for Sunday, I had an ambitious day planned, but wound up catching up on crosswords. I'm sure this is somewhat disappointing to those who come to this blog looking for someone talking about movies, but, you know, sometimes you've got to switch it up.

So that's a quiet week. Maybe this week will be less so; check out first drafts of my movie thoughts on Letterboxd if you just can't bear to wait.

Dip huet gai tau (Bullet in the Head)

Seen 8 February 2023 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Blu-ray)

Interesting sort of overlap between John Woo's war films like Heroes Shed No Tears and his Hong Kong crime pictures, sending its gangsters to Vietnam during the war as a place to really have their brotherhood tested. Nifty cast including Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Jacky Cheung, and Simon Yam, trademark John Woo operatic violence, and the initial odd disconnect that comes from the tune of the Monkee's "I'm a Believer" being a big part of Sherman Chow's score, despite one's brain saying it really can't be that, right?

Infinity Pool

* * (out of four)
Seen 10 February 2023 in Somerville Theatre #3 (first-run, DCP)

Infinity Pool doesn't exactly prove something that's been kicking around in my head since David Cronenberg returned to doing weird bio-horror stuff with Crimes of the Future (which also plays as an interrogation of his legacy of doing so), but I still can't shake the feeling that where the father used grotesquerie to express his thoughts in vivid fashion, the grotesquerie is where son David starts, backfilling some idea to make it feel like more afterward. That isn't necessarily a bad thing - if you've got weird images in your head, it makes sense to try and figure out their meaning and do something with them - but one gets the feeling that there's nothing there when he doesn't find the images' inspiration. I didn't particularly love Riley Stearns's Dual, which plays with the same plot devices, but Stearns is at least saying something there.

Not that there's nothing to this movie, but I kind of feel like what is there is not all that clever: Rich folks get a thrill out of harming poor folks and buying their way out in grotesque fashion - sure, it's evergreen, but Cronenberg can't quite find the point where the exaggeration melds with the familiar and the fact that this is only a couple steps beyond present-day life makes the whole thing even more horrific. An artist feeling he's a fraud and spiraling into self destruction, spawning doubles that he causes to be murdered - could be something there, but a sequence of Alexander Skarsgård's protagonist, a novelist, having a review that highlights self-indulgence read at him just feels like self-justification on Cronenberg's part, like he's not getting into James Foster's head but anticipating similar accusations being hurled at him. Nothing breaks through the weirdness to grab at something in the viewer, and the transgression itself isn't particularly compelling, nor is the world-building. One can let the latter slide if the rest hits emotionally, but this often feels like making up someone to be mad at.

Cronenberg knows what he's doing on a set, though, and being this sort of weird does work a lot better when you've got some folks who are all-in. Here, that's mostly Mia Goth, who dives into her monster and goes from giving 110% as an uncomfortably devoted fan to something like 130% when all the masks come down, although Alexander Skarsgård makes James impressively pathetic at times, the sort of prick that crumples so quickly and completely that he can't even ask what is wrong with these people. The director also continues to display the good sense to hire Karim Hussain as director of photography - he never fails to make a shot interesting or keep attention where it belongs even during showier pieces.

Still - as exciting as it was to see Brandon pick up the family business as his father had gotten all respectable, Infinity Pool is hollow and, honestly, kind of boring rather than unsettling much of the time. He has his father's knack for the grotesque, but doesn't seem to have as much to say with it.

Shi mian mai fu (House of Flyiing Daggers)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 11 February 2023 in the Brattle Theatre (special engagement, 35mm)

The Brattle's choice to try out their new surround sound system has apparently been a popular test for home units over the past 20 years, and it continues to look and sound terrific on 35mm, although I suspect that 20 years later, it plays a little different. "Art-house wuxia" had a moment after Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is still pretty and grandly melodramatic, but I've had time to grow to love the more down-to-business forebears in a way I didn't then. Zhang Yimou is so keen on letting you see his budget and how hard everyone has worked as he jumps from contained to grand canvases!

(I was also amused to read my review from 2004 and see that I apparently only knew Andy Lau from Infernal Affairs then, chastising myself as I read it, only to see a fair amount of IA stuff going on here!)

The curious thing this time around is how tightly constricted this movie is, despite Zhang's setting it in lush environs and the high stakes given - only four people in the cast are credited, one a "special guest", although apparently a character whose face is shrouded was meant to be Anita Mui. I'm not sure the clashing scales enhance the drama, but it doesn't particularly hinder the film either. It's just these three and the revelation that there might be more going on doesn't come until a bit late. With such a small cast to focus on, one wants to dig deeper, but Zhang and his co-writers are doing so much sleight of hand that it almost requires a second viewing as much as benefits from one.

If you're going to make it a chamber piece like this, though, heck of a cast. Takeshi Kaneshiro has the sort of movie-star charm that makes me wonder where he's been the past decade, considering he could have resurfaced in Japan if The Crossing got him greylisted in China; there's lots of reasons to dislike his character but Kaneshiro gets one past them. Andy Lau does great work jumping from a gruff, too-tough cop to monstrous male petulance in pretty short order, catching the core of this guy through lies. And Zhang Ziyi, man, she can glow when she wants to, especially when the last act has her shedding layers of deception.

Zhang (the writer/director) starts piling it on really thick at that point, after things being a little thin earlier, in part because it snowed like crazy at his shooting location and that added something truly surreal to the final act. The whole thing works more often than not, though, even if the pieces are occasionally in conflict.

Banchikwang (The Foul King)

Seen 11 February 2023 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Korean Blu-ray)

In another window, there's a document where I talk about how you can see a certain filmmaker was destined for bigger things in his early work, at least in retrospect, but I don't know that it's the case here. It feels like a case where Kim Jee-Woon got a script that was kind of a mess but did everything he could to make every scene as good as it could be, and put them together into something coherent - although, of course, Kim is also one of the writers, so he clearly had room to grow in some areas, even if one could certainly see a bunch of talent in others. Bullet in the Head Infinity Pool Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain House of Flying Daggers The Foul King

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