Friday, September 29, 2023

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 29 September 2023 - 5 October 2023

So, what're you getting me for my birthday, theaters and studios?
  • Maybe the big present is The Creator, the new film from Gareth Edwards that, despite its very generic title and trailer, is apparently in the vein of his feature debut Monsters, including being shot on location with a tight crew but built up to something epic, with John David Washington as a soldier who can't bring himself to fulfill his mission to kill an android child. It's at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Jordan's Furniture (Imax), West Newton, Boston Common (including Imax Xenon/Dolby Cinema), Kendall Square, South Bay (including Imax Xenon/Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax Laser/Dolby Cinema), Arsenal Yards (including CWX), and Chestnut Hill.

    After a couple attempts to reboot the series or downplay its elaborate continuity, Saw X apparently gets right back into it, setting the new entry, said to be among the bloodiest, in between previous films. It plays Fresh Pond, Boston Common (including Dolby Cinema), South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema), and Arsenal Yards.

    And, for the kids, Paw Patrol: The Mighty Movie is the latest movie spin-off of the popular Nickelodeon animated series, this time giving the police puppies superpowers from a magic meteor. It's at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, West Newton, Boston Common, South Bay, Assembly Row, Arsenal Yards, and Chestnut Hill.

    Thriller On Fire, which has a wildfire surrounding an isolated family, plays Boston Common. The Blind, which looks at the life of Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson during the 1960s, opens at Boston Common and South Bay; Carlos: The Santana Journey, plays Boston Common after last week's "premiere shows", although note that the latter two are Fathom presentations and not eligible for A-List.

    The next Disney100 special at Boston Common is the original The Lion King (notice how it's never the remakes they bring in).

    50th Anniversary shows of William Friedkin's The Exorcist (an "expanded director's cut") play Boston Common and South Bay on Sunday and Wednesday. Drama Surprised by Oxford has an encore showing at Boston Common on Sunday afternoon. 1521, a romance set in the weeks before a major battle between Philippine natives and the Spanish, plays South Bay and Assembly Row on Monday; it features Danny Trejo as Magellan. Documentary Into the Weeds, about a San Francisco-area man who sues Monsanto after being diagnosed with cancer, is at South Bay and Assembly Row on Tuesday.
  • After having a week exclusive to Imax, Stop Making Sense opens on regular screens at The Brattle Theatre, the Somerville (4K laser), Kendall Square, CinemaSalem, Boston Common, South Bay, and Assembly Row.

    The Brattle also celebrates Silent Movie Day all weekend, with a collection of 16mm shorts from their own collection on Friday, Buster Keaton in The Three Ages on Saturday, and Lois Weber's Shoes on Sunday. Music documentary Mutiny in Heaven: The Birthday Party also plays Tuesday to Thursday.
  • Flora and Son, the latest music-centered film from Once director John Carney, opens at The Capitol, Landmark Kendall Square, the Lexington Venue, West Newton.

    Landmark's Scorsese & DiCaprio series continues with $5 tickets to Shutter Island on Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday. Uncharitable, a documentary about how the non-profit world has had to change, plays Monday, and the Retro Replay series switches to 1980s slashers for October, kicking off with Friday the 13th on Tuesday.
  • Fair Play opens at The Coolidge Corner Theatre and Kendall Square; it's a drama starring Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich as a couple working for the same hedge fund whose relationship is strained when one is promoted. They also have a special screening on Friday night with Ben Mezrich, the author of Dumb Money, signing books and leading a Q&A after the film made from his book.

    Also Friday, at midnight, they have a 35mm print of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The late shows on Saturday are an "annotated" screening of Showgirls with David Schmader at 10pm a 35mm print of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre just ahead of its 50th anniversary. It will probably be October by the time the film starts, so it kicks off the Halloween programming, which continues on Monday with Night of the Living Dead accompanied by a live score by Morricone Youth, on Tuesday with the Nicholas Roeg version of The Witches. They continue to spotlight Coolidge Award winner Ruth E. Carter with Selma on Wednesday evening, as well as IFFBoston selection 26.2 to Life on Thursday, with post-film discussion for this Panorama show. There's also "Baby, I Don't Care: The Artistry of Robert Mitchum", a five week lecture series kicking off Tuesday morning.
  • Big week for Indian film, as Monday is Gandhi Jayanti, a national holiday commemorating the birth of Mahatma Gandhi. Hindi caper comedy Fukrey 3, play Fresh Pond and Boston Common. Apple Fresh Pond has seven more new releases on top of that: Hindi drama The Vaccine War, which looks at the challenges of getting a country of 1.4 billion people vaccinated during Covid, Malayalam action flick Kannur Squad, Telugu revenge pic Skanda: The Attaker, Telugu drama Peddha Kapu 1, fantasy-comedy-romance Chandramukhi 2 with times in both Tamil and Telugu, Tamil crime film Iraivan, and Tamil missing-child drama Chithha. On top of that, Jawan hangs around (also at Boston Common).

    Wuershan's Creation of the Gods I: Kingdom of Storms gets more showtimes in its second week. If you can make it out to the Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers, they may have The Ex Files 4: Marriage Plan, although the ticketing sites are showing all the times as sold out, so I won't be taking the three buses out there on spec.
  • The Somerville Theatre picks up Limbo, a terrifically grimy Hong Kong crime film which finally hits American theaters a couple months after the film director Soi Cheang made after it (Mad Fate), but it's worth the wait. Late shows only, including a midnight on Saturday.

    Also playing at midnight on Saturday is a 35mm print of Death to Smoochy, while Tuesday has a special screening of Dario Argento's Demons ith Claudio Simonetti's band Goblin providing a live score (note that it's on the theater's "concerts & events" page rather than the films). That bumps Stop Making Sense downstairs and Limbo off the schedule for the night, but all shows downstairs will be $3 than night.
  • The Harvard Film Archive has Música de Cåmara: The Cinema of Rita Azevedo Gomes all weekend with her Fragile as the World playing Saturday evening and her The Portuguese Woman Sunday afternoon. She also programs Ella Katappa on Friday (35mm, no English subtitles), featurettes "D. Jaime ou a Noite Portuguesa" & "Padres" Saturday night (16mm, no English subtitles), Splendor in the Grass Sunday evening (35mm), and La vie de bohème Monday evening (35mm).
  • The Regent Theatre four more screenings of the 2023 Manhattan Short Film Festival, where people across the country vote on the best short films - two on Friday, one each on Tuesday and Wednesday. Wednesday and Thursday also have the first two programs of the Lonely Seal International FIlm, Screenplay, and Music Festival, with a package of musical short films on Wednesday and comedy shorts on Thursday.
  • Cinefest Latino Boston continues with The Eternal Memory playing Museum of Fine Arts plus on Friday, a full slate of programming at Emerson's Bright Screening Room (in the Paramount) from Friday to Sunday, Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project at the Coolidge on Sunday, and three free shows in the Civic Pavillion at City Hall Plaza on Thursday.
  • This week's Bright Lights presentation in the Bright Screening Room is "Radical Imagination: Responding to an Environmental Crisis in Motion", a program of four documentary shorts with curator Homa Sarabi leading a discussion with the filmmakers afterward. As always, free and open to the public.
  • The Boston Film Festival continues streaming a number of films via EventBrite through Saturday.
  • The Lexington Venue opens A Haunting in Venice and Flora and Son, Friday to Sunday.

    The West Newton Cinema brings in Flora and Son, Paw Patrol, The Creator, and Dumb Money, keeping Bottoms (Saturday/Sunday matinees), Golda (no show Thursday), Elemental (Saturday matinee), Past Lives (Saturday/Sunday), Barbie, and Oppenheimer. Closed on Monday.

    The Luna Theater has CatVideoFest 2023Friday evening & Saturday afternoon, Sundance Short Films Saturday, Talk to Me Saturday evening, a UMass Lowell Philosophy & Film presentation of 28 Days Later on Thursday, and apparently no Sunday feature or Weirdo Wednesday show.

    Cinema Salem has Stop Making Sense, A Haunting in Venice, Bottoms, The Nun II, and Golda through Monday. Their Halloween stuff gets started in earnest with Event Horizon (hosted by Trivia Time Bitch with Kelly Kapow doing an intro) Friday night and a Night of the Demons triple feature on Saturday. There's a Miz Diamond Wigfall Presents show of Mean Girls on Tuesday.
  • Joe's Free Films shows screenings of Argentina, 1985 at MIT on Friday and Saturday, although if you're not part of the MIT community, they need you to email an RSVP ahead of time.
Time to finally see Stop Making Sense, I guess. I'm also excited to see Limbo again, and am hearing good things about The Creator, on top of being curious what the Brattle pulls out of the closet for silents.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

The Origin of Evil

Today in "the way movies are booked in post-pandemic Boston is kind of screwed up", The Origin of Evil, a pretty darn entertaining French thriller that is getting a week of terrible showtimes at Boston Common - for the next three days, it will be playing at 11:45am and 5:30pm. It played roughly those times on Friday, at 10:45am and 5pm on Saturday, and at 5pm Sunday, leaving those of us who work during the week three showtimes we could get to.

That is, needless to say, not a whole lot of time to find out that it exists, or is playing, if one vaguely remembers it getting good buzz at festivals back in 2022. Maybe IFC Films has been advertising it somewhere - I believe they've got the same parent company as IFC, AMC Networks, so perhaps there's some synergy there; it's been a long time since I've watched anything on those channels. The theater in which it played, AMC Boston Common (yeah, we've got both AMCs going here) has not at any point had a poster up for it, nor has there been a trailer that I've seen. Which doesn't mean there hasn't been one - the previews that played before this movie were not ones I'd seen before other films in the theater, and since I haven't seen a lot along these lines recently, that just means I might have missed one. Still, I'm going to guess half of the things previewed here won't actually play that theater or any other local AMC.

The other bit that's kind of screwy is that it's playing this theater, and only this theater - for as much as Boston Common with its 19 screens that are mostly pretty dense, seating about three or so times as many people as other screens with the same square footage, has showtimes to throw to something unusual, you'd sort of expect this to go to Landmark Kendall Square pre-pandemic - heck, it might have snared a spot on their printed calendar so people would know about it ahead of time. I still think of it as a boutique house which would absolutely book the sexy French thriller - granted, this isn't necessarily that sexy, and "sexy French thriller" would obviously take a back seat to "eccentric old English ladies" - but it's not really that any more. They didn't book this, but they did get Expendables 4. Maybe they've picked up enough MIT students and other folks in the Kendall area who would rather see new mainstream releases rather than boutique-house material.

It means there's not really a home for movies like this in Boston right now, or at least not very many. Perhaps there will be a little more when the Coolidge opens its two new screens, but even they've been playing a pretty mainstream slate this summer. I worry a bit that maybe that's just the post-pandemic movie world, with screens to precious and audiences too hard to come by for anything less mainstream than a Wes Anderson move to get a planned release, and the rest are just lucky to get a couple showings a day with no warning, which don't do well, convincing the bookers that there's no audience.

I'm not sure how you get around that, and it's a bummer, because in an ideal world it could work the other way - folks who went to see A Haunting in Venice might get a trailer for something a little out of their comfort zone like The Origin of Evil, know it's going to be out in a few weeks, come even though they don't usually see French movies, and then be ready for the next French thing the theater programs. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the direction we're heading.

L'origine du mal (The Origin of Evil)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 September 2023 in AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run, DCP)

A living room full of taxidermy is generally a good way to warn you that these rich people are more than garden-variety weird, and it's probably telling that writer/director Sébastien Marnier almost overwhelms the taxidermy with other eccentricities as the audience gets to know the Dumontet family in The Origin of Evil. It is, quite clearly, going to be a lot of movie, with a lot to sift through.

There's a little time getting there, as we first meet its protagonist (Laure Calamy) working a line at a sardine packing plant, being stood up by the girlfriend (Suzanne Clément) she was visiting in prison, and then finding she would be kicked out of her room, as her landlady's daughter is returning home. It has, finally, made her desperate enough to call Serge Dumontet (Jacques Weber), the man who fathered her out of wedlock. Serge has recently suffered a stroke, which has perhaps made him re-evaluate being a part of Stéphane's life; wife Louise (Dominique Blanc), daughter George (Doria Tillier), and Louise's longtime servant Agnès (Véronique Ruggia Saura), are, obviously, less pleased about this new addition to the family.

The filmmakers do a fun thing here where, really on, one of the characters jumps straight to guessing the sort of crazy twist that is usually reserved for late in the third act, the sort that otherwise would stop the film for explanatory flashbacks when revealed, well ahead of the audience. The way we engage with thrillers makes us want to rule it out - you can't just say what's really going on at this early point! - but it makes the next little while a little more interesting: Are we getting those bits that reveal this has been seeded throughout the film in real time, or is it all a misdirection for something else? It's a nifty strategy, because the bulk of the movie is not so much people plotting against each other to specific ends but watching Stéphane amplify the family's assumptions while blowing off her real life, and seeing how the rest of the family reacts to how she threatens their comfortable present and future existence.

That's fun, and in the meantime, the Dumontets just keep getting weirder and weirder, not bad considering that the living room full of taxidermy is kind of a red flag to start. I suspect there's some Succession vibes here - I've never watched the show, but Jacques Weber does come off as "Brian Cox but French" as Serge - creating a cast of highly-watchable but possibly terrible people. Dominique Blanc's Louise is eccentric enough to make one wonder if there's something dark under the loopiness, Véronique Ruggia Saura hits the right combination of servant-snobbishness and caginess as Agnès, and Doria Tiller makes George the sort of coolly capable manager who could either be ready to collapse or go in for the kill at any point. It's all in orbit around, Weber, who essays this particularly French sort of lion in winter perfectly - the sophisticated man who has risen in large part due to his good taste, his affairs smiled at, but with a level of nastiness underneath and a horror at his failing body that he's just capable of masking.

And then there's Laure Calamy; she and Marnier are able to score plenty of early sympathy by showing the weight on her shoulders and the delight and finding a family even beyond how her father is loaded, and maintains just enough of it to keep the audience mostly with her as Marnier allows this status to go to her head and Calamy makes her performance bigger and more manic, fully merging with the crazy around her and at times surpassing it. Her scenes with Suzanne Clément crackle, as the free woman's lies and growing alignment with the Dumontets cracks the other's head-down, calm-but-simmering manner.

It's a good enough juggling act to keep one from spending too much time on how there's not necessarily any endgame to be had that makes any kind of sense, to the point where some of the later dramatic scenes tend to work in spite of the audience wondering what the point of that was and looking at the other shoe Marnier has pointedly held high above the floor as if to drop it, wondering if maybe the two go together. Or, on the other hand, maybe it's one of those thrillers where things just get out of control (as I imagine many improvised crimes do), and haven't you been enjoying chaos all along?

Friday, September 22, 2023

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 22 September 2023 - 28 September 2023

Hey, wasn't Alamo talking about opening "later this summer"? What's going on with that (and North Station, and even the expanded Coolidge)?
  • Expend4bles, the latest entry in the action-all-stars series, appears to only have Jason Statham, Sylvester Stallone, and Dolph Lundgren from the original (though others have by and large drifted away rather than been killed off), with 50 Cent, Megan Fox, Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, and Randy Couture as the new recruits. It's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common (including Dolby Cinema/Spanish-subtitled shows), Kendall Square, South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema), Arsenal Yards (including CWX), and Chestnut Hill.

    I enjoyed It Lives Inside at Fantasia; it's a solid little horror movie about an Indian-America girl who must confront a demon that other immigrants have brought from the old country, and plays Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Kendall Square, South Bay, and Assembly Row. Dumb Money expands, adding the Coolidge, Kendall Square, South Bay, Assembly Row to Boston Common. Barbie gets a week-long run on Imax screens this week (since Oppenheimer claimed them the week they were released), playing with extra post-credits goodies at Jordan's Furniture, Boston Common, South Bay, and Assembly Row. Also opening in Imax is the new blow-up of Stop Making Sense, the Talking Heads concert film directed by John Demme often called the best of the form, playing at Boston Common, South Bay, and Assembly Row.

    The Warner 100 revival for the week is The Matrix, playing at Assembly Row. Assembly Row also has Get Out, because why not, I guess.

    Music doc Carlos: The Santana Journey plays Kendall Square, Boston Common, and Assembly Row on Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday. British Drama Surprised by Oxford, starring Rose Reid as an initially-reserved PhD student and Simon Callow as one of her professors, plays Boston Common Wednesday. The Creator has early-access screenings on Wednesday at Boston Common (Imax Xenon), South Bay (Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (Imax Laser). Korean concert film IU Concert: The Golden Hour, featuring Lee Ji-eun, plays Boston Common on Thursday.
  • Landmark Kendall Square has a quick theatrical run of Reptile before its Netflix premiere. It stars Benicio Del Toro as a detective investigating a gruesome murder in a town with secrets.

    They wind up their September series of $5 "Movies You May Have Missed" with Indian extravaganza RRR and Quentin Dupieux's latest, the Power Rangers-style spoof Smoking Causes Coughing. They also have Gangs of New York on Saturday/Sunday/Wednesday as part of a series leading up to his new film, and Lost Highway wrapping their David Lynch series of "Retro Replays" on Tuesday.
  • Much-lauded indie Freemont opens at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, though with limited showtimes on the 14-seat Goldscreen. It stars Anaita Wali Zada as a former local translator in Afghanistan now working in a San Francisco fortune cookie factory, who starts sending messages out. They also get Dumb Money on the main screen.

    The Coolidge also host the Ax Wound Film Festival, a feminist/intersectional slate of horror programming, from Friday night to Sunday afternoon, including midnights, with short packages, features, and panels. Regular midnights include 1980s cult classic Angel on Friday and Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain on Saturday. Tuesday's Big Screen Classic is Raising Arizona, with critic Jake Mulligan offering a seminar beforehand, while Thursday has a 35mm print of Black Dynamite as part of their tribute to Coolidge Award recipient Ruth E. Carter, while Thursday features another Big Screen Classic, House of Flying Daggers, on 35mm.
  • French thriller The Origin of Evil opens at Boston Common, with Laure Calamy as a woman on the verge of bankruptcy attempts to reconnect with her wealthy father. Also opening there is Armenian drama (and Oscar submission) Amerikatsi, starring/written by/directed by Amernian-American Michael A. Goorjan as an Armenia who fled to America as a child and returns after WWII, only to be imprisoned by the new Soviet regime.

    Three new Indian films at Apple Fresh Pond from India this weekend: Hindi-language comedy Sukhee stars Shilpa Shetty Kundra as a woman who rediscovers herself attending a high-school reunion; Hindi-language thriller Shibpur has a reporter tracking down a mysterious mafia queen; and Telugu romantic comedy 7G Brundavan Colony, which looks to be either a reissue or remake of 7/G Rainbow Colony from 2004.

    Mark Antony, Jawan (also at Boston Common), Miss Shetty Mr Polishetty (through Monday), and Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani all continue.

    Wuershan's Creation of the Gods I: Kingdom of Storms plays Boston Common on regular screens after last week's Imax previews; it's a mess but enjoyable enough to hope the series gets finished. No More Bets also continues.

    The week's Ghibli Fest film is Howl's Moving Castle, playing Boston Common subtitled on Saturday/Tuesday, and dubbed Sunday/Monday/Wednesday.
  • The Brattle Theatre spends the week "Walken on Sunshine" - that is, dipping into the work that Christopher Walken did in the 1980s. The program includes A View to a Kill (35mm Friday), The Milagro Beanfield War (35mm Saturday/Sunday), Brainstorm & The Dead Zone (Saturday), Heaven's Gate (Sunday), Communion (Monday/Tuesday), Pennies from Heaven (35mm Tuesday), and At Close Range (35mm Wednesday/Thursday).

    They also have a free "Elements of Cinema" screening of The City of Lost Children on Monday evening, with an introduction from Enrique Gonzalez Müller of Berklee College of Music. RPM Fest has a retrospective program of short films from Vincent Grenier on Wednesday, and there's an as-yet-unannounced member event on Thursday (watch your email, fellow members!).
  • The Somerville Theatre's main screen plays host to the new 4K restoration of The Fugitive through Sunday. On Saturday, they have a 35mm print of Mamma Mia! with the ticket including admission to a post-film dance party at the Crystal Ballroom upstairs - or you could catch the midnight show, a 35mm print of District 9. On Sunday, Author Lara Gabrielle will sign her new Marion Davies biography, Captain of Her Soul, in conjunction with a 35mm Silents, Please! screening of Davies in Show People, with Jeff Rapsis accompanying on the keyboard. On Monday & Tuesday, they complete their miniature Harrison Ford series with Witness on 35mm.

    On Wednesday, The Irish Film Festival hosts a free preview of Flora & Son with live music by Billy Keane; passes are available here, and folks are advised to arrive early.
  • The Harvard Film Archive welcomes Ignacio Agüero for two "Chile Year Zero" screenings this weekend, with featurette "One Hundred Children Waiting for a Train" and short film "To Not Forget" on Friday and his new feature Notes for a Film on Saturday. Also playing as part of that program is Cristián Sánchez's The Chinese Shoe on Monday.

    Sunday is given to Rita Azevedo Gomes, whose A Woman's Revenge shows in the afternoon, while she programs Manoel de Oliveira's Francisca that evening.
  • Museum of Fine Arts has two screenings this week: Close to Vermeer, following Rijksmuseum curator Gregor Wber as he assembles the largest Vermeer exhibition ever, and a 50th anniversary show of surreal French animated feature Fantastic Planet.
  • The Taiwan Film Festival of Boston has its annual event at AMC Boston Common this weekend, with Day Off, Coo-Coo 043, and "Can You Hear Me?" Saturday afternoon and The Lucky Woman, City of Lost Things, and Blue Gate Crossing on Sunday.
  • The Regent Theatre has music documentary BackBeat from Above: The Legacy of Sib Hashian on Sunday evening, which will also include a special ceremony inducting Hashian into the New England Music Hall of Fame. They also have the first screening of the 2023 Manhattan Short Film Festival, where people across the country vote on the best short films.
  • The Museum of Science will have a very special guest on Tuesday afternoon, with Jane Goodall on hand for the 1pm show of "Reasons for Hope"
  • Wednesday is opening night film of Cinefest Latino Boston, with actor Isel Rodriguez on-hand for a Q&A after La Pecera at the Coolidge; on Thursday, the venue shifts to the Bright Screening Room at the Paramount with producer Ines Hofmann Kanna on-hand for a Q&A after You Were My First Boyfriend. That film is part of Emerson's Bright Lights series, free and open to the public.
  • The Boston Film Festival begins the virtual portion of its schedule on Friday, with four narrative features, six documentary features, and six short programs running through the end of the month. There are also free screenings at the Boston Public Library and MIT Media Lab, and two other films at Emerson's Paramount Theater Bright Screening Room, including a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award for Treat Williams before American Outlaws Saturday evening.
  • The Lexington Venue opens Golda and My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3, holding over Barbie, and is open Friday to Sunday.

    The West Newton Cinema keeps A Haunting in Venice, Golda, Elemental, Past Lives, Theater Camp, Barbie, and Oppenheimer, and is back to being closed on Mondays.

    The Luna Theater has the Sundance Short Films Friday evening & Saturday afternoon, Talk to Me Saturday evening, The Crafton Sunday, and a Weirdo Wednesday show.

    Cinema Salem has A Haunting in Venice, Bottoms, The Nun II, and Golda through Monday. The classic Ghost in the Shell anime is the "Night Light" show on Friday, with Soylent Green on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

    If you can make it to Dedham, Irish/Finnish drama My Sailor, My Love is playing at the Community Theatre. Sci-fi comedy Relax, I'm From the Future plays at the LIberty Tree Mall in Danvers
  • Joe's Free Films shows two outdoor shows: The Lion King at The LOT in Dorchester on Friday (not sure which version, RSVP requested), and E.T. at the Frog Pond in the Common on Wednesday.
One last Red Sox ticket tonight, and then I have no idea, really, how I fit The Fugitive, The Origin of Evil, Show People, Freemont, and anything that looks interesting at the Taiwan Film Festival in over the weekend, on top of how I've kind of saved Barbie for this Imax re-release. Oh, and all the Christopher Walken stuff looks interesting, too. (And here I am, asking for more theaters to open!)

Fantasia 2023 in theaters: It Lives Inside (and Creation of the Gods Part 1: Kingdom of Storms)

I should really be caught up to It Lives Inside by now and the degree to which I am behind in reviews these days has me worried that I might have some Covid brain fog or whatever. I feel like I've grown much worse at focusing as I've gotten older.

Anyway, I'll circle back around to the Q&A for It Lives Inside eventually, but the crowd seemed to be into it a lot more than you might think from some of the ratings I've seen; I dug it.

As for Creation of the Gods, which I saw as part of an early Imax run, it all but sold out the big Imax screen at Boston Common, and if I wasn't the only person there who needed subtitles, it was close. I'd forgotten just what a long gestation period this has had; I believe it started shooting almost ten years ago, soon after Wuershan's Mojin movie, intended to be the first of a trilogy that was all shot at once, Lord of the Rings style, but it had financing and pipeline problems as far as post-production was concerned even before Covid. This first film, at least, doesn't look any more compromised than the typical big-budget Chinese fantasy, although it may be a situation where the box office from this will be feeding post-production on the rest. For what it's worth, it's got at least two mid-credit stings and there was a screen that had some English text for "Creation of the Gods Part 2" that looked like the title card for this one, although I couldn't suss out a subtitle or release date.

The credits were mainly Chinese, but I spotted James Schamus's name early on, though it's not clear in what capacity; his IMDB page doesn't list this

I wound up liking It Lives Inside more than Gods, but both are interesting options for a weekend full of "sure, we've got a screen for that" releases.

It Lives Inside

* * * (out of four)
Seen 7 August 2023 in Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU (Théâtre Hall) (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

It Lives Inside is a classic-style "monster brought here from abroad" thriller that thankfully puts its Indian-American characters at the center rather than making them mentors whose warnings are dismissed before inconveniently dying, which doesn't happen as much as it used to but is still more common than you'd like. The filmmakers don't always hit their marks but the movie has a strong enough center to get past that and become a solid monster movie.

Meet Samidha "Sam" Avasthi (Megan Suri), a thoroughly assimilated teenage daughter of Indian immigrants who has little time for the traditions her mother Radha (Sangeeta Wylie) finds important, preferring not to do anything that might might make her seem strange to white best friend Kitty or crush Russ (Gage Marsh). She and another Indian-American classmate, Tamira (Mohana Krishnan), used to be inseparable, but of late Tamira looks enough of a wreck that concerned teacher Joyce (Betty Gabriel) asks Sam to find out what's wrong. The answer? Tamira is carrying a glass jar that she claims contains the evil spirit that killed their neighbors, the exact sort of thing that a girl like Sam who doesn't want to be seen as a weird foreigner is going to dismiss until it's too late.

The center of this movie is undoubtedly lead actress Megan Suri, who ably embodies all of the things about teenagers, in particular fully-Americanized children of immigrants, that make them so amazing and so frustrating: Sam is smart and self-aware enough to take initiative but volatile enough to do the wrong thing in ways that can really gum up the works, and Suri does a very nice job of making the audience able to empathize even when they can see her doing something dumb or unkind. Suri and writer/director Bishal Dutta clearly know what makes a good horror heroine, with her rough edges all things that can become something else; a viewer can see that she's got the potential to swing a mace at an invisible demon even if she's also really not there yet at the start.

When that demon does reveal itself, it's enjoyably monstrous, a giant that may once have been human but has both shed its skin to bones and replaced it with cancerous hate. It's mostly realized practically, so it winds up being tactile enough to make folks getting run through or thrown around hurt. It is, perhaps, fully invisible or in the shadows for a bit too long, and its choices of who gets killed immediately and who is tortured are seemingly more what the movie needs at the moment than anything consistent. Dutta does not exactly reinvent the wheel with this pishach, staging chases where sinks into shadows or attacks invisibly in ways that will be fairly familiar to a lot of horror fans, but those pieces are effective, with darting cameras and nervous potential victims keeping the viewers on their toes. One may snicker a bit about how incredibly obviously haunted one house is, but that doesn't make it less creepy.

The film can be a bit thin otherwise; one character who seemed at least potentially important early on just disappears halfway through, and the material with Sam and her mother butting heads can at times be frustratingly formulaic. No, teenagers and their parents who disagree on many things but share stubbornness are not going to be particularly witty or creative in how they clash, but they often seem to be going through the motions a bit, especially since there's no way that the movie doesn't have Radha's knowledge of their homeland's tradition and folklore be a key part of arming Sam to fight the demon. Give Sangeeeta Wylie credit for playing the sort of mother who can fight with her daughter non-stop and then pivot to that sort of thing; there's also some nice support from Mohana Krishnan, who does a nice overwhelmed terror as Tamira, and Betty Gabriel for making sure that every time Betty goes above and beyond to be useful to the story comes off as her being a teacher who is very involved with her students.

For all its shortcomings, It Lives Inside pays off with a boss battle that nicely combines Sam focusing her mind to defeat a creature that feeds on toxic emotions with actually slugging it out, and an epilogue that has a bit more substance than just setting up one extra scare. Some of the connective tissue is almost thin enough to snap, but the pieces it's holding together are strong.

Feng shen Di yi bu: Zhao Ge feng yun (Creation of the Gods Part 1: Kingdom of Storms)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 September 2023 in AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run, Imax Xenon)

After watching Wuershan's long-gestating first Creation of the Gods film, I felt the need to go back over what I said about the director's previous films to see if I should be a bit disappointed by this one or nod and say that it being an impressively-mounted mess is about what I should have expected. It's great-looking, full of big adventure and grandiose scale, but also feels a little hollow. I get the feeling that 30 years ago, Tsui Hark would have made a much more fun version with 2% of the budget.

As it opens, the Shang army has traveled north to deal with Lord Su who has refused to pay his tribute, with Prince Yin Shou (Fei Xiang aka Kris Philips) leading the Hostage Battalion - 800 sons of lords meant to keep them from getting out of line - including the highly loyal Ji fa (Yu Shi) and Yin Shou's own son, Yin Jiao (Luke Chen Muchi). They chase the Su family down to the Xuanyuan Tomb, where they disturb something dark, and the lord's daughter Su Daji (Na Ran aka Narana Erdyneeva) awakens from her suicide very different indeed, soon feeding Shou's ambitions to be King himself. This will place a Great Curse on the land, leading the mystic immortals of Kunlun to dispatch one of their number, Jiang Ziya (Huang Bo), to deliver the new King a holy artifact, the Fengshen Bang, with fellow immortals Nezha (Wu Yafan) and Yang Jian (Sha Chi) along for protection - although Ziya is soon convinced that Shou cannot be trusted to use the Fengshan properly.

That's a lot, and there's more, and the two mid-credit teasers suggest that the sequels will be even more packed with lore. As a result, Creation is too often the sort of blend of fantasy and mythology that has scale but not weight: The Great Curse doesn't seem to be hurting the parts of the setting we can see too much (palaces are isolated from that sort of thing), with prophecies, magic items, and strange creatures that don't raise as many eyebrows as maybe they should for their rarity and danger are all part of the scene. There's betrayals and plots and cutthroat politics that maybe play better if you've been more immersed in this material earlier (for example, including Nezha as a supporting character is sort of like having Hercules show up in a Western fantasy without explaining his mythology). But what's it all about? Early on, there's this sort of nugget of an idea that a dynasty destroying itself so destabilizes the world that new gods must be created to heal it, but that at best seems like one of the many things that hopefully pay off in part 2. It's genre material that is so busy moving around that it never has much at the center.

Part of the problem is how dull the likely heroes are; Yu Shi and Luke Chen Muchi don't have much chance to differentiate Ji Fa and Yin Jiao in the early going, coming off as blandly noble in much the same way, easily upstaged by the immortals even though this is the pair's story as much as it is anyone's. There are hints of potentially interesting directions to go - Yin Shou's own son seeing corruption that hostage Ji Fa, desperately loyal to too many masters, cannot confront, for instance - but they don't have enough to do to demonstrate the basics of their personalities through action.

The movie's got villains, at least - Yin Shou is a pretty standard emperor who rises through treachery, but he's established as a genuine maniac early on and Fei Xiang gives him major "of course I can do this, I'm king!" energy, a monstrous true believer who briefly seems genuinely sad to kill a hostage soldier who has been nothing but loyal to the dynasty early on. only reveling in it later. Shou is no Macbeth, but Fei plays how ambition and power bring corruption to the surface well, while Na Ran makes the leap to delightedly enabling this much earlier. Together, they can manage both a delightfully manic musical interlude and a relationship that's a little more interesting than the two alpha villains awaiting the chance to betray one another and size sole power.

And, of course, Wuershan and his team can still put together really pretty pictures, the calling card of four previous visually-stunning films. It's a little unsteady - the overwhelming construction of a massive sacrificial pyre is juxtaposed with some really terrible compositing as Ziya almost blunders into being trampled by elephants - but there's seldom a feel that Wuershan is holding back and saving budget for the climax, even if the film could probably stand to be a little less pretty as it claims the kingdom is suffering under the Great Curse. And for as good as much of the big finale is, some of what he chooses not to show plainly is very frustrating: A decapitation deserves a chance to have emotional impact, rather than being edited into uncertainty, even if the censor board won't allow one to be too graphic. I don't know that we ever get a clear shot of the fifteen-foot-tall statues that come to life and start chasing the heroes, instead either framing too tightly on Ji Fa at ground level or overwhelming with fiddly little details. Let us gawk and be impressed!

That wish for the movie to just let the awesome bits breathe highlights where it succeeds and where it fails as much as anything. As with a lot of fantasies, Creation of the Gods works best when it lets the audience bask in something they can instinctively understand, blown up larger than life, but stumbles when it overwhelms with details and explanations kept off-screen for too long.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

The Inventor

I feel like there were ticket-sale shenanigans going on for this movie but I can figure out why. Observe, if you will, what was blocked out as unavailable on Fandango shortly after I bought my ticket:
That "X" just behind the handicapped companion seats is me, though I'm normally in the last row of the front section. For some reason, that whole section, and the outer two seats on either side of the rear section was marked as sold, although, ahem:
… nobody in any of those spots. All four weekend shows had the same seats "sold".

I don't get why, though - does the streaming contract or the like get more lucrative if the movie gets a top-ten finish or makes more than a million at the box office, or some other metric, and the producers bought up all the seats most folks consider less desirable while still leaving plenty that folks would buy to try and hit that goal? That's my only guess. I suppose it's smarter than the Sound of Freedom folks who bought so many seats that people who legitimately wanted to see the movie couldn't (if they didn't know about where to get the pre-sold tickets), but, it's weird.

Aside from that, I was psyched to see it because I backed the Kickstarter for the animatic way back in 2020, which feels like something I should disclose in a review, although I only kicked in $10, which should get me a digital version of the movie at some point in the near-ish future, but didn't get me in the credits (that was a $100 perk), so it's not like I'm a producer who stands to make money on anybody seeing it. Truth be told, that's probably less than one typically spends on the hope that there's a good movie on the other end. Still, it's pretty cool to see something one contributed to on a big screen; I don't think that's happened for me aside from the Veronica Mars movie, and that was probably, at least in retrospect, more of a "this will probably happen anyway but let's get the money up from and see if that gets enough people feeling involved for a word-of-mouth campaign" situation than this.

Though I feel involved and am maybe trying to get this some word of mouth during it's one week of matinees in Boston. Hey, I'm not saying it's a bad thing, even if it's kind of cynical when a less independent production does it.

Also also: Even if it doesn't feature "Kickstarter Backer: Jason Seaver", this has one of the quirkier sets of end credits I can remember.

The Inventor

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 September 2023 in AMC Boston Common #5 (first-run, DCP)

The Inventor is not exactly the movie I imagined when I contributed to its Kickstarter several years ago, but what ever is? Even setting that aside, it's an odd duck, focusing on a period more than a story, built to be kid-friendly but featuring more grave-robbing than that may imply, but charming in its earnest educational intentions.

As it opens in 1516, Leonardo da Vinci (voice of Stephen Fry) is pursuing a number of different interests Rome, from art to optics to anatomy, with the Pope (voice of Matt Berry) less than enthused about the latter in particular, as da Vinci aims to find the seat of the soul. When he attempts to task Leonardo with creating weapons of war for a conflict with France, the artist instead counsels peace, and King Francis I (voice of Gauthier Battoue) is so taken with da Vinci's work that he becomes the Florentine's new patron . The King's sister, Princess Marguerite (voice of Daisy Ridley) is taken with Leonardo's idea for an "ideal city", but Francis is soon more focused on a grand exposition, featuring a powerful statue of himself, that will impress visiting monarchs Charles (voice of Max Baumgarten) and Henry (voice of Daniel Swan).

Visually, the film is quite a delight; it is primarily presented as stop-motion animation featuring smooth, clean designs, contrasted to the fiddly detail of Laika or the emphasized imperfection of Aardman; it does not exactly call to mind Leonardo's own work, which can frequently be seen as part of his thought balloons, but have an expressiveness to the characters and functionality to the environments that reflects him as both artist and engineer. The picture does deviate from stop-motion a bit more than expected, although the 2-D portion of the film is made in consultation with Tomm Moore and his Cartoon Saloon studio, and as such is charming in its own right. When the filmmakers have the chance to be clever and playful, they shine, such as how the Pope is presented as a giant who dominates a scene even when acting a fool, with spies who are literally shadows. Marguerite and her children work as a unit, occasionally shown in Fibonacci-inspired patterns.

It's something of a shame that the soundtrack does not often live up to the charming imagery. Stephen Fry makes a fine Leonardo, of course; his voice is full of intelligence, wonder, and wit, just hearing it almost automatically brings forth what one wants da Vinci to be, and it's almost unfair that Daisy Ridley, Marion Cotillard, and Gauthier Battoue can give fine performances as the French royal family but just aren't so obviously perfectly cast as Fry. The songs don't particularly do the intended job of amplifying their material, either; that they are meant to sound like something from 500 years ago rather than something anachronistic is an intriguing choice, but it means one sometimes has to strain for the lyrics and meaning rather than letting them carry one away; they often seem to be there because this sort of animated feature has songs, rather than because a song is the best, most powerful way to communicate the scene's idea.

There is an idea or two lurking in this film, with the delight of discovery and invention being foremost, but the film is perhaps at its most interesting when Leonardo explains to Marguerite that the world is divided between those who see, those who can be made to see, and those who cannot see, an unusual moment considering how he has mostly pressed on without a lot of reflection on the system around him, though he is quite aware of it. At times, this feels like it should naturally be the central idea animating the film, a bit of wisdom that the movie is not quite pointed enough in its critique of the powerful to fully embrace.

Which, I suppose, is probably a lot to expect of a mainly-charming little film that will likely be some kids' introduction to Da Vinci, if not so much something for the adult Animation Appreciator. It's cute and maybe a bit slight, but also a bit of a relief compared to how visibly hard many animated films work to astound.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 15 September 2023 - 21 September 2023

Lots of stuff with kind of limited showtimes this weekend to make you wish you could be at various spots on the Red Line at once.
  • Would I have bet on Kenneth Branagh doing a third Hercule Poirot movie when Orient Express came out, especially after the pandemic so delayed the second? No, but here's A Haunting in Venice, an adaptation of Hallowe'en Party that goes for haunted-house thrills rather than a mobile crime scene with a sprawling cast, though it's still got Tina Fey, Kelly Reilly, Jamie Dornan, and Michelle Yeoh on hand. It's at The Capitol, Fresh Pond, Jordan's Furniture (Imax), West Newton, Cinema Salem, Boston Common (including Imax Xenon/Dolby Digital), Kendall Square, South Bay (including Imax Xenon/Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax Laser/Dolby Digital), Arsenal Yards (including CWX), and Chestnut Hill.

    The latest "Nicolas Cage chewing some scenery in an otherwise D2V-looking action flick" production is The Retirement Plan, which has him as a beach bum who is actually a retired assassin, which is not great news for the criminals chasing his daughter and granddaughter. That's at Fresh Pond and Boston Common.

    The Inventor plays matinees at Boston Common, with former Pixar animator offering up a stop-motion look at the life and work of Leonardo da Vinci, with Stephen Fry voicing the title character and Daisy Ridley & Marion Cotillard in the voice cast. Very excited for this one, as I contributed to the Kickstarter for its animatic years ago.

    Michael Jai White stars and directs in Outlaw Johnny Black, an action-comedy that appears to be in the Black Dynamite mold, except a western, with Anika Noni Rose, Erica Ash, Chris Browning, Randy Couture, Barry Bostwick, and more along for the ride as a gunslinger disguises himself as a preacher to seek revenge in a boomtown. It's at South Bay for a couple shows a day.

    Dumb Money gets an early opening at Boston Common on three screens before it goes wide at the end of the month. It stars Paul Dano as Keith Gill, whose vlog created a run on GameStop's stock, threatening to break the multi-billion dollar funds planning on shorting it. Terrific cast around him for something that appears to be in the vein of director Craig Gillespie's I, Tonya.

    The Warner 100 film this week is Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, playing at South Bay, Assembly Row, with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises joining it on Saturday (the trilogy also plays Boston Common and South Bay that day), with The Lego Movie also playing matinees starting Saturday at Assembly Row. The Disney 100 film at Boston Common is Coco, just reaching way into the vault to celebrate their history there.

    Rain Man has anniversary screenings at Assembly Row on Sunday and Wednesday. Documentary Canary, which follows archaeology Lonnie Thompson as he investigates areas about to be erased by climate change, plays Boston Common Wednesday. Horror spoof Shaky Shivers plays Boston Common, South Bay, Assembly Row on Thursday.
  • Cassandro opens at The Coolidge Corner Theatre and Kendall Square, featuring Gael García Bernal as a luchador whose new persona, a subversion of the flamboyant "exotico", turns the wrestling establishment on its head.

    The Coolidge also uses both big screens for midnights this weekend, with Paul Schrader's Hardcore and Russ Meyer/Roger Ebert collaboration Beyond the Valley of the Dolls on Friday while Sam Raimi's Evil Dead 2 and a screening of The Room with live commentary from co-star Greg Sestero. Sunday features both a Geothe-Institut German film show of Ingeborg Bachmann - Journey into the Desert and a Brookline for the Culture presentation of The Wood on 35mm film, while Monday offers "Sights Unseen", a collection of short films from under-represented local voices. Tuesday's Big Screen Classic is a 35mm print of All That Heaven Allows with a pre-film seminar from UMass Boston professor Sarah Keller, while Thursday's is The Marriage of Maria Braun, also on 35mm.
  • The Brattle Theatre has a week-long run of Sundance award-winner Scrapper with Lola Campbell as a 12-year-old girl living on the streets of London whose life is upended by the sudden reappearance of her father (Harris Dickinson). It shares the screen with music doc The Elephant 6 Recording Co. through Monday.

    They also have a second show of documentary Ariel Phenomenon on Saturday afternoon, an "album watch" for Bonny Prince Billy's "Keeping Secrets Will Destroy You" on Sunday evening, and a Maggie Cheung's Birthday Double feature of Irma Vep & Days of Being Wild on Wednesday & Thursday.
  • The two $5 "Movies You May Have Missed" at Landmark Kendall Square this week are The Last Rider, a documentary on Greg LeMond, and How to Blow Up a Pipeline, a terrific contemporary thriller about a group of Gen Z-ers attempting to strike back at unaccountable fossil fuel companies. Also $5 is Tuesday's David Lynch Retro Replay, Wild at Heart.
  • Two new films at Apple Fresh Pond from India this weekend: Mark Antony is a Tamil (?) action-comedy about two gangsters who get hold of a time-traveling cell phone, and Buhe Bariyan is a Punjabi-language picture about a group of women, including a young police officer, pushing against the patriarchy. Jawan (also at Boston Common), Miss Shetty Mr Polishetty, and Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani all continue.

    Chinese legal drama Heart's Motive opens at Boston Common, maybe, as showtimes are listed but not available for sale. They also have director Wuershan's Creation of the Gods I: Kingdom of Storms (starring Bo Huang) on Imax Wednesday and for a Thursday matinee. No More Bets also continues.
  • The Somerville Theatre has another team-up with IFFBoston this weekend for "Streaming Soderbergh", with the three films Steven Soderbergh recently made for various streaming services on their big screen: Kimi on Friday, No Sudden Move on Saturday, and Let Them All Talk on Sunday; if that's not enough, the Saturday Midnight Special is a 35mm print of Out of Sight. Tuesday's "Attack of the B Movies" $5 double feature is Quatermass II & Quatermass and the Pit, and Wednesday kicks off a week of some of Harrison Ford's greatest hits with a 35mm print of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
  • The Harvard Film Archive has more entries in their quick Shochiku Centennial Collection series, with a new restoration of Demon Pond on Friday plus 35mm prints of The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice and The Sun's Burial on Saturday. Rita Azevedo Gomes has programmed a 35mm print of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir on Sunday afternoon, with Chile Year Zero presentation Latent Image on Sunday evening. Director Jessica Sarah Rinland visits on Monday to present her documentary Those That, at a Distance, Resemble Another.
  • Museum of Fine Arts has Loving Vincent, the fully-painted animated film dramatizing the last years of Vincent Van Gogh's life, on Friday evening (that's this week, not last; oops).
  • The Regent Theatre has one last show of documentary Mr. Jimmy on Friday evening.
  • Bright Lights returns the the Bright Screening Room at Emerson's Paramount Theatre on Thursday with How to Blow up a Pipeline, followed by a panel discussion on the future of environmental activism.
  • The Boston Film Festival has its opening night on Thursday with Breakwater star Dermot Mulroney on-hand to receive an award, though I don't know if you get to call yourself a Boston film festival if your most notable presentation is 77 minutes away on the commuter rail in Rockport.
  • The Lexington Venue adds Theater Camp to the mix of Oppenheimer and Barbie, and is open Friday to Sunday.

    The West Newton Cinema opens A Haunting in Venice and keeps My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3, Bottoms, Golda, Elemental (Saturday/Sunday matinees), Past Lives, Theater Camp (Saturday/Sunday matinees), Barbie, and Oppenheimer.

    The Luna Theater once again has Talk to Me Friday & Saturday evenings, Sundance Short Films Saturday afternoon, Scream (the original) on Sunday, and a Weirdo Wednesday show.

    Cinema Salem has A Haunting in Venice, Bottoms, The Nun II, and Barbie through Monday. Forbidden Planet plays Saturday and Sunday afternoons, Rocky Horror with Teseracte on Saturday night (Full Body is, as usual, at Boston Common), and Soylent Green on Thursday.

    If you can make it to Danvers, Camp Hideout plays at the Liberty Tree Mall, with a street-smart city kid dodging crooks by ducking into a summer church camp, with Christopher Lloyd as the strict leader.
  • Joe's Free Films shows two outdoor shows Friday: Three Nights a Week on the Tufts Quad (part of a French film series), The Little Mermaid '89 at Boynton Yards.
I caught A Haunting in Venice last night (it's fun, even if I am a mark for both Kenneth Branagh and Agatha Christie) so that I could theoretically fit in the Soderberghs, The Retirement Plan, The Inventor, and Outlaw Johnny Black this weekend - though the times on that last one kind of stink, especially since you're talking about taking the Red Line far south enough that it's tough to plan for these days. The Quatermass double feature is tempting - none of the films in that series are streaming anywhere! - but the last one of those I attended kind of looked awful, so I'm cautious. I may choose Creation of the Gods over Raiders on Wednesday, even though it will probably play regular shows next week

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Raid on the Lethal Zone

Was there some sort of review or the like playing at 7:30pm or so Saturday night? Because there was a big old line snaking around the lobby for something upstairs to the extent that they were sending everyone else to the elevator by the Imax screen. It was weird, considering that none of the new releases had a start around then and I don't see The Nun II really being that big a deal.

Anyway, they weren't there for Raid on the Lethal Zone, but you could do worse. For something made by streaming service iQIYI, it looks decent on a big screen. A friend of mine was kind of surprised to hear there were Chinese streaming services like that, although more in the "hadn't considered it" vein than "why would such things exist?" I have had the IQ app on my Roku for a while, but haven't used it; it's not easily searchable and seemed to have some weird sort of multi-tier, queue something on the website and then bring it up on the tV thing going on when last I checked. But I gather than if you're looking for quick no-messing-around genre films, from martial arts to giant marauding animals, and aren't that picky about quality, you can kill a lot of time there.

Raid on the Lethal Zone

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 9 September 2023 in AMC Boston Common #5 (first-run, DCP)

Movies like Raid on the Lethal Zone feel a bit like throwbacks when they pop up in multiplexes even though folks will tell you they've never actually gone away: They've just migrated to DVD, and then video on demand, or had production hubs move from California to Budapest on the one hand or from being Hong Kong features to Chinese streamers. Still, there's something almost cozily familiar about this one in how it doesn't entirely have the budget for its ambitions but has a sort of practiced competence to smooth that over.

As the film opens, it's 1998 and unusually heavy rains are hitting the area around Meng City in southwestern China, which has the 8077th Division of the Border Security Forces assisting in the evacuation of lower-lying regions as well as on the lookout for drug smugglers like the ones who just pulled a drive-by shooting right in front of the police department's narcotics division. The local gangsters have a plan to smuggle in heroin disguised as sandbags; a group of bandits have plans to rob them on the way. When one of the latter is caught while trying to get his pregnant wife to the hospital, the 8077th and PD are able to plan a joint operation to capture both groups. That doesn't even sound simple, and that's before you get to how the downpours are causing landslides, the reservoir is about to overflow, and the gangsters have lost faith in their couriers, so he's set up another way to get the drugs through.

The script by Pang Xiao is rather strikingly straightforward about setting all this up, down to the sandbag truck being a decoy, from quite early on; there are a number of places where he might have considered holding things back as surprises, or worried that this movie could use some more personal stakes, but for the most part he and director Herman Yau are content to set problems up and have the heroes attack them head-on. Some of them may come out of nowhere or maybe be one thing too many - why the heck are there landmines for kids to step on, for instance, and what's with the quicksand? - it mostly feels like the filmmakers know what folks are coming to see and are going to keep anything extraneous out of the way.

That extraneous material arguably includes particularly interesting characters; the incident at the start where "Ghost" (Bily Dong) tries to speed past the soldiers and causes a fatal accident is meant to introduce and differentiate the characters a little - Liu Chung Sheng (Shi Peng Yuan) is the telegenic young soldier expected to rise quickly, Guo Lai Lai aka Erlai (Gu Jia Cheng) is reeling from precipitating the incident with a careless shot, with captain Sun Ji (Yu Hao Ming) also feeling ultimately responsible, Wu Zhi Feng (Liang Yong Qi) is a new sniper added as a replacement, and Wang Jin Hao (Oho Ou) used to date Narcotics Division detective Yao Yao (Huang Yao) - but this is the sort of action movie that is loath to present cops and soldiers as anything short of heroic, and as a result they sort of blur together, interchangeable pieces in similar camo uniforms, their skills and personalities not particularly affecting how things happen until one scene specifically needs a sniper. Rather, backstory sort of suggests that this particular hero's sacrifice is a little more tragic and noble than it might otherwise be, with loved ones gathered to celebrate the unit's anniversary and drive these points home a little more forcefully. It's not a dull or poorly acted group, but it is frequently a generic one.

But, then, the audience isn't really there for that; Herman Yau knows people are looking for bandits vs smugglers vs soldiers vs nature, and he delivers that without a lot of fuss, as you might expect of a guy who has directed 80 films in the past 30-odd years. He makes firefights interesting by letting the audience see who's got cover and who doesn't, as well as giving a heads-up when people on either side or low on ammo. Some of the effects used for landslides and other similar perils in nature are not as strong as they would be in a movie with a slightly larger budget, but it's generally good enough, and Yau is veteran enough to get the viewer to the aftermath of such things rather than lingering on that part, whether that be something his crew builds or well-integrated stock footage. Mother nature can be impressively sadistic - one scene is made nastier with a bunch of flies buzzing around a doomed soldier, and sometimes a log is just waiting to hit someone in the face when they surface after having already falling into a dangerously fast-moving river. I found myself particularly liking a climactic car chase that didn't have a bunch of shoehorned-in wisecracks or painfully obvious music crews; Yau knows he and his crew can make an exciting sequence exciting on the merits.

It's interesting that, in most of the places this is screening in America, the same theater probably has No More Bets on another screen down the hall. That movie (one of the biggest hits of the year in China) is slicker and has bigger stars, and makes more obvious effort in doing what a movie should do, both with character and eliciting applause at justice being inevitably served; it looks and feels like an A film. Raid on the Lethal Zone is obviously a B-movie in comparison, but one professionally and ably put together so as to work better. It scratches an itch in satisfying fashion, and one can't ask for it to do much more.

Friday, September 08, 2023

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 8 September 2023 - 14 September 2023

Film festival in Toronto, which means it's kind of quiet elsewhere, because studios are past summer but aren't ready to get the awards stuff in theaters yet.
  • The Nun II, the latest spin-off of the Conjuring univers, opens at the Somerville, Fresh Pond, Jordan's Furniture (Imax), Boston Common (including Imax Xenon/Dolby Cinema/Spanish subtitled), Kendall Square, South Bay (including Imax Xenon/Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax Laser/Dolby Cinema), Arsenal Yards (including CWX), and Chestnut Hill. If you know, you know, I guess, because the trailers look both generic and impenetrable to me.

    Also opening is My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3, which looks to reunite the whole cast for the third or fourth time aside from the late Michael Constantine, with the group heading to Greece in the hopes of reuniting with his character's childhood friends. It's at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, West Newton, Boston Common, Kendall Square, South Bay, Assembly Row, Arsenal Yards, and Chestnut Hill.

    Young-adult drama Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is about a pair of cutely-named teenagers and best friends (and maybe more? That's the vibe I get from the trailer) in 1980s El Paso, until one is sent to Chicago on an exchange program for a year. It's at Boston Common.

    8 September 1966 is the day that Star Trek aired its first episode, The Man Trap, so the 2009 reboot hits theaters for a week as part of Star Trek Day celebrations, playing Assembly Row. Paramount also brings out Top Gun: Maverick for another go-round at Assembly Row.

    Chrstine gets 40th anniversary screenings at Boston Common, South Bay, Assembly Row, Arsenal Yards on Sunday and Wednesday; that's two John Carpenter presentations in as many weeks and we haven't really reached Halloween season yet. There's an "Imax Live" screening of the restored Stop Making Sense at the same time it plays Toronto at Boston Common, South Bay, Assembly Row on Monday night. There are extra-early Wednesday shows of Dumb Money at Boston Common, Assembly Row, and A Haunting in Venice at Boston Common. The latest "After" movie, After Everything (based on a novel named "Before"), plays Boston Common, Assembly Row, Arsenal Yards on Wednesday and Thursday.
  • The big opening from India this weekend is Jawan, which stars Shah Rukh Khan as the warden of a woman's prison who uses his convicts as a part of vigilante strike force, including Nayanthara and Deepika Padukone (in what is apparently an extended cameo), which sounds like the sort of crazy I want pumped directly into my veins. It's in Hindi at Boston Common and Hindi and Tamil at Fresh Pond. Apple Fresh Pond also gets Miss Shetty Mr Polishetty, a Telugu-language romantic comedy about two people whose lives intertwine despite her being in London and him in Hyderabad, with Kushi, Saptha Sagaradaache Ello, and Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani continuing at Fresh Pond.

    Raid on the Lethal Zone, a drug-busting action movie made for Chinese streaming by Hong Kong workhorse Herman Yau, opens at Boston Common. They also keep No More Bets around, what with it being packed last week and a huge hit in the People's Republic.

    Perfect Blue has another subtitled show at Boston Common on Sunday.
  • Landmark Kendall Square has our Father, the Devil, a French thriller in which an attendant in a retirement home recognizes one of the new residents, and that he was not always the priest he is now.

    The $5 "Movies You May Have Missed" presentations this week are Linoleum with Jim Gaffigan as a children's television host whose life goes in surreal directions when a satellite crashes into his backyard, and L'Immensità, with Penélope Cruz and Vincenzo Amato as a couple relocation to Rome in the 1970s whose trans son does not know how to describe his situation to them. I don't think either of them actually made it closer than Salem during their original runs, so these are basically first-run bargains. And the are apparently doing Retrop Replays this month, with Mulholland Drive five buck on Tuesday
  • The Capitol has IFFBoston selection Aurora's Sunrise, a documentary that combines archive footage and animation to tell the story of a refugee from the Armenian genocide who eventually made her way to America and starred in a movie dramatizing her experiences. Theater Camp also moves there from the Somerville.

    The Somerville Theatre has Jeff Rapsis on hand Sunday to accompany The Fire Brigade, a 1926 silent about an Irish firefighter who discovers his developer father is cutting corners, putting his new love in danger. It plays on 35mm film on top of the live score. No special late show on Saturday, although they do have 11pm times for Bottoms and Talk to Me (though not The Nun II. The listings for Oppenheimer are only showing 70mm shows for the evening shows Friday through Sunday.
  • The Brattle Theatre devotes a week to "The Dirty Stories of Jean Eustache", a program built around the 50th-anniversary restoration of his feature The Mother and the Whore (Friday through Monday), but also featuring three shorts programs - ith two featurettes from the 1960s playing Friday & Sunday, three shorter films from the 1980s on Sunday & Monday, three featurettes from the 1970s on Tuesday - plus My Little Loves (Saturday/Sunday), Numéro Zéro on Tuesday, and the Virgin of Pessac '68 and '79 on Wednesday. There's also a special presentation of Aerial Phenomenon, a documentary about a 1994 UFO sighting above an African school, with director Randall Nickerson on hand for a Q&A Thursday (and also Saturday the 16th).
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre has midnight screenings of a new restoration of Impulse, a serial-killer film starring William Shatner that is apparently more deranged that average thing in that genre, on Friday and Saturday. Regular midnights are Collateral on Friday, introduced by Cinematic Void Jim Branscome, and Female Trouble on Saturday, both on 35mm film.

    For other repertory programming, there's a Stage & Screen presentation of The Garden of the Fitzi-Continis with post-film discussion on Monday, a 35mm print of Diva as the Big Screen Classic on Tuesday, Spike Lee's School Daze on 35mm Wednesday (the first film leading to a Coolidge Award presentation to Ruth E. Carter in mid-October), and a 35mm Rewind! show of Mean Girls with a post-screening party at Parlour.
  • The Harvard Film Archive continues their Rita Azevedo Gomes series with the director's A Woman's Revenge on Friday, with the director selecting Nicholas Ray's We Can't Go Home Again as a Sunday matinee on 35mm film.

    The also show all three parts of Patricio Guzmán's The Battle of Chile, with Part One: The Insurrection of the Bourgeoisie on Saturday, Part Two: The Coup d'État on Sunday, and Part Three: The Power of the People on Monday.

    Finally, they get a head start on next weekend's Shochiku Centennial series on Thursday with a vintage 35mm print of Tora-san, Our Lovable Tramp, the first of a series of 50 films following a popular television series. Jay Sakomoto will give an introduction in person, along with pre-recorded comments from writer/director Yoji Yamada.
  • Museum of Fine Arts has Loving Vincent, the fully-painted animated film dramatizing the last years of Vincent Van Gogh's life, on Friday evening.
  • The Regent Theatre has documentary Mr. Jimmy on Sunday afternoon, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening (with a final show Friday the 15th). It looks at Akio Sakurai, who painstakingly recreated Led Zeppelin concerts in Tokyo nightclubs for 35 years, with a massive turn the night Jimmy Page was in the audience.
  • The Lexington Venue continues Oppenheimer and Barbie, and is open Friday to Sunday.

    The West Newton Cinema brings in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 and Bottoms, holding over Golda, Elemental, Past Lives (Saturday/Sunday matinees), Theater Camp (Saturday/Sunday matinees), Barbie, and Oppenheimer, the latter now moved to another screen and projected digitally.

    The Luna Theater once again has Talk to Me Friday & Saturday evenings, The Elephant 6 Recording Co. Saturday, the theatrical Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Sunday, a Weirdo Wednesday show, and a free UMass Lowell Philosophy & Film presentation of The Graduate on Thursday.

    Cinema Salem has The Nun II, Spider-Man Across The Spider-Verse, Theater Camp, and Barbie through Monday. There's a Saturday late show of Barbarella, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial on Saturday and Sunday, and Forbidden Planet on Thursday.
  • A few outdoor screenings hang on per Joe's Free Films, with Minions: The Rise of Gru at Tufts's Fletcher Field on Friday and Robbins Farm Park in Arlington on Saturday; Neneh Superstar on the Tufts quad on Saturday, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory at Boston Landing on Wednesday, and The Lorax at Boston Common's Frog Pond, also on Wednesday.
It's a quiet-ish week for new releases, though I'll likely check out Jawan and Raid on the Lethal Zone, maybe some things at the Kendall, perhaps Diva, plus Tora-San, as I have loved some of Yamada's later films (The Twilight Samurai and What a Wonderful Family are particular favorites) but have never seen any of the ones that defined his career before that. I've also got a ticket to a Red Sox game and a trip to Maine to see a brother I don't see often enough and meet a new nephew as well.

Sunday, September 03, 2023

Fantasia International Film Festival 2023.09: Aporia, Pett Kata Shaw, River, "Saint-Sacrifice", and The Sacrifice Game.

Big day for guests at the festival!

Lots of folks there for Aporia, which is sort of the closest Fantasia gets to a big American premiere, with writer/director Jared Moshé, production designer Ariel Vida, property master Kristen Semedo, casting director Meg Morman (I think), and producer Justin T. Ross. I seem to recall that star Judy Greer was at one point mentioned as coming, but the strike nixed that.

Anyway, they seemed like a cool group, with a lot of the talk being about Ariel Vida building a very cool time machine, although given that they were shooting most everything on location, it was one they couldn't get out of the house they were shooting in intact. It's also amusing when folks show up for these events all dressed up nice and talk about how they were really into welding all that stuff.

Next up was Nuhash Humayun (right), whom I'd seen a couple days earlier with one of the "Things That Go Bump in the East" shorts, and this was the second screening of Pett Kata Shaw, a one-man anthology that, from IMDB, appears to a feature built out of what was a limited series for a Bangladeshi streaming service, although he says his next one is a full feature with American backing (I believe Jordan Peele is producing), which is pretty exciting, as both of his movies here (or all five) were pretty darn good.

Aside from that, he had some fun stories about the puppets in the third segment - most (if not all) were not made for the film, but came from a university professor who studies such things and many of them were fifty or sixty years old - older than the county, in fact. And, if I recall correctly, heavier than expected, enough so that what seemed like a great cost-saving plan at the start was not, when all was said and done. Looked cool, though.

That's River director Junta Yamaguchi in the center, talking about what may be my favorite film in the festival, a worthy follow-up to Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes that goes to the same well of two-minute time travel in what may seem like a fool's errand but is actually pretty terrific. Indeed, he mentioned that the next movie he's working on will also have a two-minute time travel theme. As someone who really likes to noodle in one specific corner of a genre myself, I get it, but I also liked his thinking: That two minutes is time to do one thing, or maybe two, but not really time to execute or come up with a complicated plan, so it leads to characters thinking on their feet and keeping busy for the whole running time.

He also had a lot of praise for the resort where they filmed; it's a really beautiful place and, for this particular movie, you've got to fine-tune your script to the location, because even if all those two-minute scenes aren't oners, the audience is going to get a sense of where everything is in relation to each other, and what can't be reached, in a hurry. Given that the film was set and shot during the place's off-season, there was always a chance that the weather would make continuity almost impossible to keep, so there was the sense that you ultimately couldn't worry about it too much, and just had to make a film good enough where the audience would accept what you were doing. Still, the snow was not a lot of fun for the cast members in stocking feet and wooden sandals!

(An interesting question would be whether the script had certain iterations earmarked as preferring good weather or snow; it felt like there was correlation between the weather and the action, but I wondered if that's just a human tendency to find patterns.)

Do we love when the directors of the shorts get the same sort of introduction as the folks doing features? Yes, we do. I didn't catch a lot of what "Saint-Sacrifice" filmmaker Jean-Claude Leblanc was saying - as his short was part of the "Fantastiques Week-Ends" program, it was the most all-French of the all-French intros - but, man, was he glad to be there.

Last up, some of the cast & crew from The Sacrifice Game. We did get director/co-writer Jenn Wexler on the left; actor Derek Johns; producers Philip Kalin-Hajdu, Albert Melamed and Heather Buckley; and actor Laurent Pitre. There would have been more, but strike (given that Johns & Pitre are Canadian and this was actually shot around Montreal, I imagine they're in ACTRA rather than SAG-AFTRA). A shame, because I suspect the younger folks would have been a lot of fun: There was a scene with weird dancing that Wexler sounded kind of intimidated by - the choreography was kind of specific, the set didn't give a lot of room to move, and each cut would probably reduce the impact of it - but Georgia Acken played Matilda on Broadway, so, yeah, she was up for it.

(More spoilery comments after the review proper, way down at the bottom).

So, that was a lot of fun. Next up is the second Saturday, with Ms. Apocalypse, New Normal, Tokyo Revengers 2 - Part 1, and Empire V.


* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2023 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

I covered this last week, when it hit local theaters, and while the review may not exactly be fair, because it kind of reminds me of a certain phenomenon common sci-fi created for a more mainstream audience even if one can't really assume that sort of intent or process. It's capably done in a lot of ways, even if the premise intended to be clever is kind of a question that's been asked and answered, with a lot more attention to detail and more interesting moral handwringing.

What I said a few weeks ago

Pett Kata Shaw

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2023 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Though apparently first appearing in Bangladesh as a television mini-series, Pett Kata Shaw in its feature form is a nifty anthology that not only doesn't have a bad entry, but plays with the form by nesting one anthology inside another and having the characters more explicitly engage with the idea of storytelling and what folklore means as the movie goes on, though not in an obvious way where the self-referential nature becomes the main point.

It starts with "They Say Djinn Visit Sweet Shops at Night", which in fairly straightforward fashion introduces Mahmud (Chanchal Chowdhury), the last shopkeeper open on a quiet street one night, about to close when a rude customer (Afzal Hossain) barges in, demanding sweets and hinting at the great misfortune that could befall the man who refuses him. Djinn also grant wishes, of course, and Mahmud has long taken abuse for his poor memory…

Writer/director Nuhash Humayun does not necessarily go where one might expect this to go, in that Mahmud does not wind up haunted by personal regrets, or, indeed, the inescapable thought of his neighbors' disdain, but instead the irony that his ability to recall seemingly every fact becomes the stand's draw rather than its confectionery, suggesting that the demon has been hoisted by his own petard but, as he is powerful, Mahmud will be the one who suffers for it. The segment itself is tight and no-nonsense - the locations are plain and run-down, and the more fantastic bits are alluded to rather than shown, but it's got a nasty little kick at the end and Afzal Hossain exudes a terrific sort of slovenly menace as the djinn.

The second segment (although they apparently ran in the other order as episodes), "No Girls Allowed", has Hasan (Shohei Mondol) arriving at the apartment he shares with a lazy roommate waxing rhapsodic about the smell of fresh fish and the nice looking specimen he's brought home for dinner, but he soon finds that he has attracted a Petni (Shirin Akter Shela), an aquatic demi-human standing between him and the door who has already made a gory mess of Hasan's roommate.

Where the first story often played out somewhat quietly, this one offers pretty incessant narration from Hasan, and for a long time it rides the line between a good way to sort of play things lighter than the first segment and playing it too light, even as it's setting up what is arguably a different tone to the ending. What is mostly a two-person show, with one more or less mute, works pretty well on the strengths of their physical performances: Mondol has great jittery energy as he looks between the Petni and the door an awful lot, and making sure to put something else into his panicked narration to reflect how, obviously, he survived in some manner. There's something entertainingly perverse about covering former Miss Bangladesh Shirin Akter Shela with a bunch of prosthetic makeup, but give the crew credit - they don't stint on making her look monstrous, and even hunched over and looking out of her element, she always seems threatening, but Humayun and Shela do a fine job of getting to a point where the audience is starting to think "you know, this sea hag is actually kind of hot" right around the same time Hasan does.

If Humayun had more stories than episodes to work with, then they likely ended up in "Hearsay", which opens with couple Nagib (Morshed Mishu) and Sara (Syeda Taslima Hossain Nodi) as a pair of hikes who are good and lost to the point of starting to get on each other's nerves, told by the folks they meet that they don't really get tourists so much as lost travelers, and that this village is where the country's superstitions were born. While they wait for someone to help them get to town and a working phone, they're regaled with various tales.

The stories naturally tend to take on a more sinister vibe as they go along, but it's the presentation that's most notable at times, traditional puppets acting out the narration and thus making the stories initially silly but progressively creepier, especially once the silly-sounding stories start to link up. The present-day framing may not always be the most eventful or interesting - Nagib and Sara argue in part because characters in this sort of horror short argue, rather than having it come from their individual personalities - but as they hear more stories, one can feel these individual folktales coalesce into a mythology, and as such starting to have power and becoming threatening.

Finally, there's "Call of the Night", where a man coming off a breakup meets some old friends in a trendy downtown area, but also notices a boy seeking alms with stories of a strange cryptid.

In some ways, Humayun ends with the weakest element, although that makes it a satisfying-enough short film, with a few secrets to be revealed, eerie moments of people staring into the sea, and the lurking threat of various disappearances. It turns out to be a bit much story compared to the other segments, sort of noodling around a number of ideas rather than drilling into one; its eventual moral ambiguity winds up being a bit less satisfying than the clear, folkloric cores of the rest. It does, however, make an interesting endpoint when looking at how storytelling has progressed over the course of the film, as the plain-spoken relations of the first leads to the second's subjective narrator and the mythology of the third; this suggests urban legends, and a person attempting to place himself within a story: As characters disappear at the climax, story has finally eaten reality.

Which, admittedly, is not how Humayun seemed to see his film in the Q&A at the festival screening, but that in some ways makes this project all the more fascinating: In successfully bringing his tales of Bangladeshi folklore to life, he is himself captured by it.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2023 in Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU (Théâtre Hall) (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Director Junta Yamaguchi's Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes was a magic trick of a movie that I'd be terrified of trying to repeat as a filmmaker, but River goes back to that same well and not only pulls it off, but may be even better: This time-loop comedy sees him and writer Makoto Ueda juggling a larger ensemble cast on a larger stage, but delivering an emotional story nearly as good as its puzzle-solving and logistics.

It's the off-season at the Fujiya Inn, outside Kyoto, managed by Kimi (Manami Honjo), with Mikoto (Riko Fujitani), Kohachi (Munenori Nagano), and Chino (Saori) on hand to clear rooms and see to customers' needs, and assistant chef Taku (Yuki Torigoe) using an empty room to rest up and study his French. Customers include Obata (Yoshimasa Kondo), a writer working on his latest serial, his publisher Sugiyama (Haruki Nakagawa), and two former classmates (Gota Ishida and Masashi Suwa) awkwardly trying to inform each other that their business is failing. Mikoto pauses by the river that runs past the hotel before cleaning out a room with Kohachi, and then finds herself there again - and it becomes very clear that this isn't just déjä vu; time is repeating, every two minutes.

It's kind of amazing how Ueda and Yamaguchi make that work, especially during a segment where Mikoto and Taku have to work some things out in an extended conversation that will be interrupted every two minutes and have everyone else trying to pull them toward something else. The film has been purely silly before and will get sillier afterward, but even as they are frantically trying to get a moment to talk the film crystalizes around them for a bit, emphasizing as most time-loop stories eventually do that living is often having no time for everything that you want but also a seeming eternity stretching out before you that you can't escape. Nearly everyone has some sort of thematic parallel, and in a way that's part of why they can wriggle out of having that too portentous in favor of something else that is hiding in plain sight.

The whole thing is also charming and funny as heck, starting from the fact that hotel employees who, upon discovering they are in a time loop, immediately set out to reassure the guests that they are aware of the problem and working on a solution might be the most Japanese thing I can imagine. With roughly 40 or so loops to work with, Yamaguchi and the cast are able to not just do the expected bits where characters are stunned and confused but also to have the characters seemingly practice, mastering one absurd situation and then taking it to the next level, able to cram a little bit more into two minutes each time until its frenzied. Cinematographer Kazunari Kawagoe seems to manage this as well - maybe not every loop is a single shot, but a great many are, and Yamaguchi requires more motion and complexity in each one than the last, staging things so that characters are entering and doing their thing with clockwork precision that doesn't look like such, and doing all that while building the action around a location that the audience is going to get to know very well by the time things are over.

At the center of it all is Riko Fujitani, who is in nearly every shot once things get started and sets a baseline for the movie as a whole: Mikoto is cheerful, comfortable with the situation as it is as to be afraid of things changing but not so much so that she can't get a good quip off every once in a while, and that's the movie as a whole, funny and able to let the audience cruise and enjoy the quirk of it all but growing a little more tense as it becomes clear that this problem will not solve itself for her (or the rest). She's mostly surrounded by folks who are all escalating from nervous confusion to being increasingly unhinged, but they all do that very well, with Yuki Torigoe noteworthy in how he gets a moment to slow things down just before speeding up.

The movie is light and sincere and often very silly, but mostly had the audience believing folks will, by and large, try to help each other and that you can tell a good story with that attitude. If Yamaguchi and Ueda go to the two-minute temporal anomaly well again, as they apparently intend to do, it will certainly be one of the oddest thematic trilogies ever made, but also potentially one of the most endearingly amusing.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2023 in Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU (Théâtre Hall) (Fantasia Festival: Les Fantastiques Week-Ends du Cinéma Québécois, digital)

A fifteen-minute short that I would kind of like to see expanded to a full feature because it's got a couple of nifty ideas to play with between its vision of limbo as a zombie infested version of the world we know and how a man as close to the brink of death as Antoine (Patrick Gauthier) can, in a way, use the world of the living as a sort of warp zone as he strives to reach his own home on the other side of Montréal because that is where he lost his wife and he swore to protect her always.

.It's a simple premise but ably executed by filmmaker Jean-Claude Leblanc with his cast and crew, from the early revelation that this group in a pub beset by zombies is doing something a little bigger than a French-Canadian version of Shaun of the Dead, quickly fleshing out mythology and supporting characters that you could certainly do more with than this short has time for. The vision of Limbo-Montréal is strikingly apocalyptic but in a way that suggests a barren wasteland that has taken on the properties of the real world, and Leblanc uses it enough to keep it always on the audience's mind even if a part of a movie is in a more affordable interior or normal street. The cast is all strong, from its everyman protagonist to its bar patrons who look like they've been here long enough to have landed somewhere between zombie movie survivors and Mad Max characters.

Of course, one shouldn't necessarily treat shorts as pilots for a feature, and I have no idea if Leblanc has ambitions for this story beyond these fifteen minutes. Wouldn't mind it, though - it's a satisfyingly self-contained story that doesn't so much leave one wanting to know what happens next but I would certainly be down for a movie that tells us a lot of what's in between.

The Sacrifice Game

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2023 in Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU (Théâtre Hall) (Fantasia Festival: Les Fantastiques Week-Ends du Cinéma Québécois/Septentrion Shadows, digital)

Jenn Wexler squeezes a ton of good stuff into The Sacrifice Game, a really enjoyable bit of period horror that manages to zig when it looks like it's about to zag, hides its fun twists in plain sight, and has a pitch-black sense of humor that doesn't detect from stuff being actually dangerous. It's more "thrilling" than "scary", but that's okay because Wexler and company don't waste many minutes.

It's December 1971, and Samantha (Madison Baines), a student at Blackvale boarding school is about to be informed that she is not going home for Christmas, remaining on campus with Clara (Georgia Acken), the weird girl whose parents have seemingly just abandoned her there, history teacher Rose Tanner (Chloë Levine), and groundskeeper Jimmy (Gus Kenworthy), Rose's not-so-secret boyfriend, for what looks like an awkward holiday dinner. It's hardly what any of them really want, but it will get much worse: Jude (Mena Massoud) and his cult - girlfriend Maisie (Olivia Scott Welch), Vietnam vet Grant (Derek Johns), and increasingly worried Doug (Laurent Pitre) are leaving a trail of murdered women from whom they're removing patches of skin with birthmarks and tattoos that they believe will allow them to summon a powerful demon when assembled in the former abbey that now houses Blackvale.

This is, truth be told, my favorite type of movie massacre, the sort where the first bad guys we're introduced to are maybe not thinking the whole thing where they summon a demon through and discover that it is much more creative in its slaughter than they were. Yeah, it's kind of a guilt-free way to enjoy oneself some grisly murder, but it's done well here, and a lot of these movies need a good switch-up to keep the viewer from getting too jaded or bored by the violence after a while. Wexler and co-writer Sean Redlitz are impressively ruthless and well aware of the extent to which some alliances are unlikely, temporary, or ill-advised, having a great time foreshadowing all the inevitable reversals, betrayals, and folks getting caught in metaphorical crossfire.

This one's also got the sort of fun cast that makes the movie thrive, filled with big personalities and relatively little inner torment. The cult is just what you want from that group: Mena Massoud happily chews the scenery as the most charismatic and sociopathic of the group, while Olivia Scott Welch is the confident brains behind him who knows how to leverage her attractiveness, with Laurnet Pitre and Derek Johns as the loud and quiet followers. I particularly like the kids - Georgia Acken and Madison Baines are actual teenagers who often scan more as tweens than young adults on-screen and maybe haven't consumed a full diet of horror movies yet, and as such are able to just play their parts rather than commenting on some meta fashion. Wexler has Acken lean hard into Clara being a bitter goth while Baines similarly grabs onto how the already-nice Sam is doubling down on the need to have people like her, with fine complementary friction.

It's a nifty-looking movie that knows how to use all the good stuff in there, with the beautiful abbey they shot at believably full of both arcane church stuff and high-school junk closets, on top of there being a snowstorm and Christmas decorations. Wexler and company distill and blend from setting to costume, drop some fun stuff on the soundtrack, making it clear early on that they're going to go for it rather than look for subtlety. Sometimes they move a little fast, in that it might have been nice to explain what is up with these women's markings (if there's an indication of secret society versus being born with them because their lineage is marked, it's sped past awfully quickly), although they don't really need it.

. Wexler mentioned in the Q&A that while there may not be another movie in this mythology - it's maybe due for a small IFC Midnight release before hitting Shudder, and that might not get enough audience to demand a similarly-ambitious follow-up - she might like to do comics, presumably going up and down the timeline from here. She's given herself enough mythology to do that without unnecessarily burdening the tight movie she made.

So, as mentioned, <SPOILERS!>

…One of the most fun aspects of the Q&A, as mentioned, was a thoroughly peculiar dance performed by Georgia Acken, who had starred on broadway despite being only 15 when they started shooting, but that it was pretty important because a lot of the movie's second half plays off how, while Clara is in reality an impossibly old demon who has been imprisoned on the abbey's sanctified ground for centuries and is therefore eager to escape, she has also been a teenage girl for a long time, and at a certain point that's not just a disguise - the mean girls teasing her hurts and she does find herself, perhaps against her base nature, genuinely liking Sam. That's never stated, but it's there; she seldom if ever does the deep demon voice, and lashes out much in the way a smart, angry teenager might. Who she's going to be in the last act has a little more tension than it might.

If she does get to do comics, Wexler says she'd like to do both the immediate aftermath of the movie with Clara and Sam on a road trip, maybe fighting worse demons, and also ten, twenty, thirty years later, as Sam is moving forward with her life but she's still got this jealous goth teenager with magic powers hanging around. Should be fun if they do it; hope I don't miss the Kickstarter.