Friday, July 19, 2024

Fantasia 2024.01: Swimming in a Sand Pool, "98%", and 4pm

So here's the thing, or at least a thing, about coming up to Montreal for the full length of the Fantasia International Film Festival: Booking a stay for that long might mean you wind up in a got-a-bed-and-shower-and-that's-good-enough hotel in a neighborhood with a lot of empty storefronts (which is every neighborhood these days), when you look out the window, there's art.

Anyway, I got here in plenty of time and picked up a badge, but probably should have bought a ticket for opening night film Bookworm earlier, but that's on me. It's okay; writer/director Ant Timpson has a lot of friends and fans at the festival and I'm sure the seat went to someone who was really psyched to see it. It gave me a little time to eat, lay in a few supplies, and then catch Swimming in a Sand Pool. That'll leave a hole in the schedule later, but okay.

Then it was across the street for 4pm.

Not the stars of 4pm, but programmer Steven Lee with "98%" director Byun Changwoo and star Park Yun. I might have liked to hear them talk about their film a bit more - I think a little bit might get lost in translation - but it's kind of rare for shorts to get that sort of post-film focus, even if it weren't a long short before a long-ish film that started late because, as mentioned, Ant Timpson has a lot of friends and fans and the previous film in the theater ran long.

Today's plan is to see if there's any place around here playing Customs Frontline and then live in Hall for the short feature Confession and the long feature The Count of Monte Cristo.

Swimming in a Sand Pool

* * * (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2024 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia 2024, laser DCP)

Swimming in a Sand Pool has Interesting pedigree, with the director of Linda Linda Linda taking on a script adapted from a teenage girl's school play, which feels like it should probably hit with more impact than it does for me. Obviously, teenage girls might feel differently. Japanese teen girls, doubly so.

It has four teenage girls arriving at their school swimming pool, drained with sand on the bottom. Arriving first, Miku (Reina Nakayoshi) puts earbuds in and practices and Awa dance on one of the lane markers; she's soon joined by Chizuru (Mikuri Kiyota), star of the girls' swim team and choosing to lay on her stomach and practice her strokes rather than go cheer the boys' team on at Nationals. Neither wants the other to watch what they're doing. They're joined by Kokoro (Saki Hamao), focused on beauty and boys, and Yui (Sumire Hanaoka), the outgoing senior captain of the swim team. PE teacher Ms. Yamamoto has brought Chizuru and Kokoro here during summer vacation to have them sweep the dirt out of it as a way to make up the swimming class they skipped, retreating to a classroom as the girls get more talking that sweeping done.

The "kids hanging out" genre is a venerable one, and this one is certainly interesting for how (original?) writer Nakata Yumeka was a student when writing it, which likely cuts down any "40-year-old man trying to capture how 15-year-old girls talk" complaints. Still, it's mostly a film that seems content to bounce these young women off each other, hinting a bit at connections to one another and an offscreen boy, but eventually building to a really good line and a pretty good speech, such that it eventually gives the impression of the rest of the movie being reverse-engineered to get to those specific lines as much as feeling like where these characters go. It ends up being about the idea of girlhood but not so much about these girls.

I like the performances, and how the casting and the body language captures what these girls represent and what we know about them; for all this is still very much a play with more people talking rather than doing, there's palpable physicality to it. Reina Nakayoshi's Miku has a dancer's grace and the sort of body insecurity that goes with it, there's physical strength but social awkwardness to Mikuri Kiyota's jock, and a confidence tinged with hostility to Saki Hamao's Kokoro. These girls are all dealing with powerful emotions but very seldom become clichés of teenagers who are just constantly overpowered by their hormones, a sense that they've started figuring out who they are but are also just starting to figure out how being women affects that.

The story may have started life as a high-school play - you can see the convention of the individual entrances in the first act once you know what to look for, and a kind of clunky bit of explanation or two toward the end - but that likely gives Yamashita a fair amount of room to create it as a movie, playing around with what's going on above the pool and within it, occasionally going afield to see what the other girls are doing as they leave others to have one-on-ones. One thing I'm curious about is the sound design, where you hear the baseball team practicing in the adjacent athletic field more or less constantly throughout (the dust they kick up is why the pool needs to be swept) and it's a nifty sort of metaphor for how boys are becoming this insistent background noise in a teenage girl's head even before the film makes it explicit.

There's enough going on that I wonder if the film might have been stronger with a different translation; it's got some abrupt transitions and "now we're going to talk about gender" bits that don't quite play well in subtitles, enough to make one wonder if underlining those points is giving others short shrift. Oh, and I kid, but minus a couple points for how it looks like none of them have ever swept a floor in their lives, though. I feel like even the surliest teen is going to accidentally clear more dirt just leaning on their brooms.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2024 in Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU (Théâtre Hall) (Fantasia 2024, laser DCP)

"98%" is the type of short film you get when a horror fan with strong passions gets behind the camera: Earnest, passionate, and happy to use some nasty violence to make its point, but maybe needing a little filling out. Like the idea, like the enthusiasm, not entirely sure this is the best way to put them together.

It opens with the uncomfortable, to say the least, end of some sort of video shoot, with ringleader Jung-min (Joo Young Woo) taunting one of the disabled participants the she's just made him able to do more, before cutting to him about to shoot another one, expecting to pick one person up but instead seeing Eunhye (Park Yun), who isn't visible handicapped - she's a knockout, actually - but who does have some pretty severe hearing loss. So he shifts the sort of exploitation he's planning, but soon finds that it's not wise to try and get Eunhye to do something she doesn't want.

When you start to break "98%" down and parse it, it's easy to come out with "well, that's problematic" as a take-away, but that's not really it's issue - horror is supposed to be problematic, pushing into extreme cases where, yes, the disabled often have to debase themselves and sacrifice their dignity to survive and their revenge is awful but viscerally satisfying. I don't know that what is done to Jung-min feels right, even emotionally, but it doesn't have to. It probably also doesn't matter that the tone and structure of it has issues - maybe it does better without a priming bit of violence in the beginning? - or that it's the most conventionally attractive that gets to fight back. It hangs together well enough, but it's maybe messy in enough ways to nudge past "horror is allowed to be messy".


* * * (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2024 in Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU (Théâtre Hall) (Fantasia 2024, laser DCP)

There's an early temptation to look for something that will make 4pm more complicated or twistedly rational than it is, but the filmmakers are often able to resist it so that what twists are there remain simple, enough that I suspect a second viewing would not actually change its weird, darkly comic pleasures as it usually does. The movie is what it means to be, and that's plenty in this case.

Professor Jeong-in (Oh Dal-soo) and his wife Hyeon-sook (Jang Young-nam) are not quite ready to retire, but they're maybe trying it on for size with Jeong-in's one-year sabbatical, having bought a house in the country on the water and found the place suits them. Intending to be neighborly, they attempt to introduce themselves to the doctor who lives next door, Yook-nam (Kim Hong-pa), a cardiologist who mostly does house calls rather than working out of an office. He's not home when they call, so they leave a note asking him to visit any time, which he does at 4pm the next day. It's weird and uncomfortable for the newcomers, though, as he tersely answers questions, imposes on their hospitality, and occasionally just stares ahead saying nothing until he leaves abruptly at 6pm. Then, the next day, he does it again. And again. What game could he possibly be playing?

And while the source material for this Korean movie comes from Belgium - a novel by Amélie Nothomb adapted for the screen by Kim Hae-gon - it's hard not to think of Poe when watching it as Jeong-in's narration, ready to embrace the protagonist's worst impulses, certainly makes it feel like a cousin to "The Tell-Tale Heart", a man talking himself into murder. There's something more to it, though: It's hard not to get the sense that this Kim and director "Jay" Song Jeong-woo are examining the fragility of the social contract: Yook-man breaks it by being singularly, deliberately unreasonable, and Jeong-in, an intelligent and urbane person, doesn't exactly know what to do with that. He can't bring himself to break social norms in response, so he tries to outsmart Yook-nam, politely laying verbal trap that should either get Yook-nam to respond like a reasonable person or disengage in defeat, immediately considering escalation to violence. Yook-nam, meanwhile, knows that Jeong-in intends to be reasonable, and his ability to not be bound by that lets him keep pushing. It's a tight little microcosm of a lot of confrontations today, where bullies exploit that most people do not want to be bullies.

Not that Jeong-in is entirely or even primarily a victim here; the filmmakers aren't exactly being subtle by showing him reading a book titled "The Infinitely Evil Nature of Man" (or maybe they are, given that the title is in English). Perhaps there's something inherent and inevitable about where Jeong winds up trying to go; he's got the inner monologue of someone quite willing to treat this sort of thing as inevitable in the sort of way that doesn't necessarily include himself until he must. He constructs the narrative that makes him the least guilty, with the sort of sophistry that half-convinces.

It works in part because what's going on is so absurd; the film is constructed to let one laugh at the audacity of Yook-nam's bad behavior and the stumbling awkwardness of Jeong-in and Hyeon-sook responding to it, and the filmmakers and cast tend to sell it as flummoxing rather than cringe. Kim Hong-pa gives Yook-nam a wily boundary-pushing energy that feels like it could be innocent fun until it veers hard in the other direction, and Oh Dal-soo does nice work in alternating between smug and put-upon manners. Jang Young-man maybe doesn't get to participate quite as actively in the part of Hyeon-sook, but she does kind of nail how the person who just wants to stay out of it can feel simultaneously sensible and cowardly. Song is also canny in how he takes great care to not make this feel like a loop where the gag is repetition, finding different ways to shoot scenes (I love an overhead shot that rotates like the hand of a clock jumping to the next tick). It feels more like an escalation than a slow burn even though it's mostly passive-aggressive.

It may be too much; by the end: There is a bit of a sense that someone didn't know how all this would keep evolving and took the quickest path. There are laughs from the film's final absurdity, but also a sense that the movie needed to end somehow and this is as good a way as any.

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 19 July 2024 - 25 July 2024

I'm out of town for Fantasia and figuring to love every minute of it, but nevertheless wish I could be around for at least one series this weekend
  • The good folks at The Brattle Theatre are celebrating 50 Years of The Million Year Picnic, a comic book shop more or less across the street from the theater and where I get an excessive amount of paper product weekly; it's believed to be the oldest continually-operating shop of the sort in the country and run by good folks. The series kicks off with a double feature of Crumb (35mm) & Ghost World on Friday; separate shows of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (35mm), "The Picnic" (a new short doc about the place by former employee Vincent-louis Apruzzese), and Robot Dreams, with original comic creator Sara Varon in person play on Saturday; and Sunday offers single shows of Black Panther, Nimona, Persepolis, and Tank Girl.

    It's back to the vertical schedule after that. The Columbia musicals are a double feature of Pal Joey & Rock Around the Clock, the latter on 35mm film, on Monday and Bye Bye Birdie on Tuesday. They start the "Summer of Sofia" series on Wednesday with Sofia Coppola's two latest, Priscilla & On the Rocks, while "Cruel Summer" starts on Thursday with A Streetcar Named Desire & Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Thursday is also Art House Theater Day, with this year's selection a 40th Anniversary restoration of The Terminator, with a pre-recorded interview with James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd afterward.
  • The big release this weekend is Twisters, which scans as mostly a remake of Twister with Daisy Edgar-Jones and Glen Powell as a book-smart scientist and an amateur tornado chaser in the middle of an exceptionally crazy season. Lee Isaac Chung of Minari directs, so it's at least cool to see him get a big budget. It's at The Museum of Science (Omnimax Fridays/Saturdays), the Capitol, Fresh Pond, The Embassy, Jordan's Furniture (Imax), CinemaSalem, Boston Common (including Imax Xenon/Dolby Cinema), Causeway Street, Kendall Square, the Seaport, South Bay (including Imax Xenon/Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax Laser/Dolby Cinema), Arsenal Yards (including CWX), and Chestnut Hill.

    Also opening is Oddity, a British horror movie where a medium with an antique shop full of cursed objects uses a horrific mannequin to investigate her twin sister's death. It's at Boston Common, Causeway Street, the Seaport, South Bay, and Assembly Row; in an odd quirk of scheduling, its American run will probably be finished by the time it's the very last film to play at Fantasia.

    The NeverEnding Story has anniversary shows at Boston Common, South Bay, and Arsenal Yards on Sunday and Monday. There's a mystery preview at Boston Common, Causeway Street, and Assembly Row on Monday. The Secret Life of Pets has Monday & Wednesday matinees at Boston Common, Causeway Street, and South Bay. Some of the early shows of Deadpool & Wolverine at Boston Common (Dolby Cinema) and Assembly Row (Dolby Cinema) on Thursday are "Fan Events".
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre, the Lexington Venue, West Newton, and Boston Common open Widow Clicquot, which stars Haley Bennett as a young woman in an arranged marriage who soon came to love her husband, taking over his wine business after he dies and building it into something nobody would have expected from a woman at the turn of the 19th Century.

    Also opening at the Coolidge and Boston Common is National Anthem, with Charlie Plummer as a handyman who meets a group of unconventional rodeo performers and falls hard for one while trying to learn things about himself.

    Midnights at the Coolidge this weekend are All About Evil (Friday) and Office Killer (Saturday), with the After Midnite crew also hosting an outdoor double feature of The Wicker Man & Midsommar at Rocky Woods. Sunday afternoon has a special screening of Free LSD, an oddity made by the band OFF! with members Keith Morris 9who stars) and Dimitri Coats (who directs) on hand for a Q&A afterward. Tuesday's Godzilla vs The Coolidge feature is Godzilla vs. Hedorah, and Thursday's Big Screen Classic is Dirty Dancing. Boston Jewish Film will be screening Between the Temples there on Wednesday, and you have to go to BJF's site for ticketing, as opposed to the Coolidge's.
  • Three new films from India open at Apple Fresh Pond this weekend: Bad Newz (also at Boston Common) is a Hindi-language romantic comedy about two Punjabi men and a Hindu girl who gets pregnant after a one-night stand; Darling is a Telugu romance, and Birthday Boy is a Telugu-language comedy about five friends whose overseas birthday party goes awry.

    Indian 2 continues at Fresh Pond (Tamil), Kalki 2898-AD continues at Boston Common (Hindi).

    Customs Frontline, at Causeway Street, is a Hong Kong action film from the insanely productive Herman Yau starring Nicholas Tse and Jacky Cheung as officers who come upon a weapons-smuggling operation.

    Koren thriller Escape.continues at Causeway Street.
  • The Somerville Theatre has Texas rap drama Lost Soulz on the main screen Friday Night, and a new restoration of The Lavender Hill Mob on Saturday & Sunday. Saturday's midnight special is John Carpenter's The Thing, playing on 35mm film. This week's "Hot Summer Nights" shows, presented with IFF Boston, are Risky Business (Monday), Body Double & Jagged Edge (Tuesday), and Fatal Attraction (Wednesday), with all but Body Double listed as screening on 35mm film.

    The week's animated matinee at The Capitol is Kung Fu Panda.
  • The Seaport Alamo opens horror film Crumb Catcher, but just for one matinee per day.

    The Seaport Selects show for this weekend is Wong Kar-Wai's Fallen Angels. Also on the rep calendar are The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (Sunday/Tuesday), Crimes of Passion (Monday), Starman (Wednesday), and a return engagement for The People's Joker
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues their Boston French Film Festival with The Animal Kingdom (Friday/Tuesday), Auction (Saturday), Toni (Sunday), and All Your Faces (Sunday). Tuesday's show of The Animal Kingdom is outdoors and free.
  • The Tuesday Retro Replay musical movie at Landmark Kendall Square is Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
  • The Lexington Venue has Widow Clicquot, Despicable Me 4, and Thelma and is open Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday.

    The West Newton Cinema opens Widow Clicquot and keeps Fly Me to the Moon, Despicable Me 4, Thelma, Inside Out 2, and Janet Planet (not playing Monday & Thursday).

    The Luna Theater has Robot Dreams (Friday/Saturday/Sunday), Tuesday (Saturday/Sunday), Janet Planet (Saturday/Sunday) and a Weirdo Wednesday Show.

    Cinema Salem has Twisters, Despicable Me 4, Longlegs, and Inside Out 2 from Friday through Monday. Cruel Intentions plays Saturday afternoon and Teseracte players present Rocky Horror that night.
  • Outdoor films on the Joe's Free Films calendar this week are Back to the Future (Friday at the MIT Open Space), The Marvels (Saturday at the Prudential Center), Elemental (Kendall Urban Garden/Wednesday at Rindge Avenue Upper School in Cambridge), Jaws (Wednesday at the Charleston Navy Yard), A League of their Own (Thursday at the Lyman Estate in Waltham), Good Burger (Thursday at the Argenziano School in Somerville), and Clueless (Thursday at BostonLanding).
If I see any of these, it'll be finding a local theater playing Customs Frontline, but I'll be busy seeing as much as the good folks at Fantasia can shove into my eyes.

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Fantasia Vs Fantasia: 2024 Edition

I think I've written one of these curtain-raiser articles in my twenty years or so of blogging about movies, mostly because in the days & weeks leading up to a festival I am desperately trying to make sure I'm ahead at my day job and not leaving a bunch of blogs I want to write in limbo while I let my thoughts on them get (in this case) three weeks fuzzier. Plus, for festivals especially, I often enjoy having just the vaguest idea of what a film is about and allowing myself to be surprised. Also, I'm not really sure how much of my mostly-not-in-Quebec readership is going to drop everything and make a trip north of the border or be especially eager for my coverage.

This year is a bit different - my day job has gone through some changes, the chances that I'll be able to show up at the last minute and stand a good chance of getting in look a bit lower, and I'm more at peace with just dropping a quick reaction on my Letterboxd page and not writing another four paragraphs, so I'm not really "behind" most of the time. And, let's face it, it's not like I don't spend a week or two before this festival looking at the website, trying to figure out what I can see and where the tough decisions are going to be.

I once wrote a preview about how to form a plan of attack for a film festival (now, sadly, only visible on the Internet Archive); so instead of highlighting the obvious stuff every other curtain-raiser will, let's look at the toughest places where I want to see multiple films, but can't. Your conflicts, even if you're up in Montreal for the festival, will likely be much different, as I am able to make full use of the weekday afternoon screenings in the smaller de Seve theater, and will dismiss some genres that others may not - but then, this is at least partly a preview for what I'll be covering here, as opposed to the entire festival, so it's perhaps only right that I highlight the stuff I'd like to cover, but can't.

(I am, sadly, going to mostly ignore the Fantastiques Week-Ends programming at the Cinéma du Musée and much of the repertory material at the Cinémathèque québécoise; both are often more than my meager French can handle!

Round One: 4pm vs The A-Frame vs Confession

4pm plays Thursday, 18 July 2024 at 9:30pm in Hall
The A-Frame plays Thursday, 18 July at 9:30pm in de Seve and Friday, 19 July at 5pm in de Seve
Confession plays Friday, 19 July at 6pm in Hall

4pm presents a Korean take on a Belgian mystery story, with the sort of problem that seems like a weird irritant (a neighbor comes to call at 4pm and will not leave until exactly 6pm) that escalates into something unnerving and possibly dangerous; The A-Frame starts with high-concept science as quantum tunneling seemingly allows a woman in danger of losing her hand a chance to be fully healed; and Confession has a friend who thinks he is about to die in a mountain snowstorm confess to a horrible crime, only to have things become more complicated when they are able to find shelter.

All three are thrillers, but you can only choose two, itself a thriller-like conundrum. Even though it is quite short, Confession potentially bumps up against Carnage for Christmas; on the other hand, director Nobuhiro Yamashita has a strong track record (Linda Linda Linda) and a nice cast. The A-Frame is a small indie, but the festival has enough faith to give it two slots, and English-language films are easier to find on North American streamers later.

I will probably go with 4pm on Thursday and Confession on Friday, even if The A-Frame is the sort of indie sci-fi thing I'd like to see more of.

Round Two: Mantra Warrior: The Legend of the Eight Moons vs International Science Fiction Showcase 2024

Mantra Warrior: The Legend of the Eight Moons plays Sunday, 21 July 2024 at 1:50pm in Hall
The International Science Fiction Showcase 2024 plays Sunday, 21 July 2024 at 2pm in de Seve

Last year, Fantasia played a classic animated version of the Ramayana; this year, it's a new one, with Mantra Warrior coming from Thailand and, like Kalki 2898-AD earlier this year, extending the story to the far future, with this version including battle mechs! The annual Sci-Fi Shorts program, meanwhile, has seven short films from six different countries, and if the order listed on the website holds, it looks like it will start with high-concept comedy, push through satire, and finish with a visual knockout that references Soviet fantastik cinema.

I missed the animated Ramayana last year, so I'd really like to catch Mantra Warrior, but the Sci-Fi showcase is a must-see, and I'm actually glad to see it playing early enough in the festival this year that I'll be able to write it up without my brain being full!

Round Three: Ghost Cat Anzu & Dark Match vs Not Friends & The Old Man and the Demon Sword (vs Mike Flanagan)

Ghost Cat Anzu plays Sunday, 21 July 2024 at 4:15pm in Hall
Not Friends plays Sunday, 21 July 2024 at 4:35pm in de Seve and Tuesday, 23 July 2024 at 12:15pm in de Seve
Dark Match plays Sunday, 21 July 2024 at 6:30pm in Hall
The Old Man and the Demon Sword plays Sunday, 21 July at 7:15pm in de Seve
Mike Flanagan's Artist Talk is at 5pm in the Cinéma du Musée

Ghost Cat Anzu is an anime about a young girl dropped off with a relative in a seaside resort, with said cousin a giant anthropomorphic cat spirit. Not Friends is a Thai coming of age film with superficial similarities to Dear Evan Hansen - an opportunistic teenager tries to use the recent death of someone he barely knew to his advantage - but promises a twistier story. Dark Match has the Wolfcop crew team with former WWE champion Chris Jericho for a tag-team matchup with the fate of the world in the balance. The Old Man and the Demon Sword is a micro-budget film from Portugal where the town drunk winds up bound to a demon sword and must defeat monsters. Mike Flanagan is a talented filmmaker who first came on my radar at Fantasia with Absentia and has gone on to bigger things, from being the go-to guy for Stephen King adaptations to streaming reimaginations of horror classics.

It's not, strictly speaking, a tag-team match; Not Friends overlaps Ghost Cat Anzu and Dark Match, but you could pair Ghost Cat Anzu and The Old Man and the Demon Sword and have time to sit down for dinner in between. Ghost Cat, it's worth noting, is co-directed by Nobuhiro Yamashita, who also directed Confession and Swimming in a Sand Pool at the festival this year. If one of the things you really like about film festivals is seeing filmmakers, then it's a bit of a shame Flanagan's talk and Dark Match overlap, because the latter has a ton of the cast and crew scheduled to be there, including Jericho. Myself, I figure on doing the full Yamashita slate and am more interested in Old Man than Dark Match, and will catch Not Friends a couple days later.

Round Four: Frankie Freako vs Things That Go Bump in the East 2024

Frankie Freako plays Wednesday, 24 July 2024, at 6:45pm in Hall
Things That Go Bump in the East 2024 plays Wednesday, 24 July 2024, at 7pm in de Seve

Frankie Freako is the latest bit of madness from Steve Kostanski, in which a dorky man desperate to prove himself cool to his wife and boss accidentally throws a party with alien monsters. This years "Bump in the East" collection has seven films representing six different lands, half animated and half live-action, including oft-neglected areas like Mongolia and Sri Lanka.

This, I can't lie, is a tough one! A package like "Bump in the East" is part of what I go to film festivals for, an hour and a half of short films movies that have unique styles and satisfy my curiosity about what creeps people out around the world. On the other hand, Kostanski, working with a lot of the old Astron-6 crew even though they have officially all gone solo (and will probably bring friends even if he's the only guest listed), makes films that kind of demand to be seen with an audience ready to scream and shout, and while I suspect there could be another chance for that at the Boston Underground Film Festival in March, that's an awful long time for a film to stay on the festival circuit in the 2020s. I'll probably see whether Frankie is sold out and head across the street if it looks like I'm not getting in.

Round Five:Don't Call It Mystery vs Hollywood 90028

Don't Call It Mystery plays Friday, 26 July 2024, at 4:30pm in Hall
Hollywood 90028 plays Friday, 26 July 2024, at 5:15pm in de Seve as part of the book launch for Heidi Honeycutt's I Spit on Your Celluloid

Two very different crime stories overlapping here: Don't Call It Mystery is an adaptation of a popular shojo manga with Masaki Suda as a college student who is pulled into a family conflict by a young woman who sees he has the makings of a great detective. Hollywood 90028 is a transgressive serial killer story being given a new restoration and re-release for its 50th anniversary.

Given that I have already passed up two opportunities to see Hollywood 90028 closer to home - it has has midnight screenings at the Coolidge and also played a multiplex - I'll almost certainly go for Don't Call It Mystery, which sounds like its' very much my thing.

Round Six: Penalty Loop vs The Dead Thing

Penalty Loop plays Friday, 26 July 2024, at 7:15pm in Hall
The Dead Thing plays Friday, 26 July 2024, at 7:15pm in de Seve and Sunday, 28 July 2024 at 12pm in de Seve

Penalty Loop comes from Japan and has a man trapped in a time loop as he tries to kill the man who murdered his girlfriend, with the latter having enough deja vu to fight back, and even more going on behind the scenes. The Dead Thing follows a couple who, after a blind date where the man ghosts the girl, reconnect only to discover that there is something dark underneath. They may be in similar genres, but they seem to have different vibes.

Though The Dead Thing has a second screening, it's got its own overlap issues. This one feels like it could be a toss-up decision at the time.

Round Seven: Killer Constable vs Capsules 24 vs From My Cold Dead Hands vs Heavens: The Boy and His Robot vs Out of the Shadow vs KIZUMONOGATARI: Koyomi Vamp vs Steppenwolf

Killer Constable plays Saturday, 27 July 2024, at 1pm in de Seve
Capsules 2024 plays Saturday, 27 July, at 1:30pm in Hall
From My Cold Dead Hands plays Saturday, 27 July 2024, at 3pm in de Seve and Sunday, 4 August 2024, at 9:20pm in de Seve
Heavens: The Boy and His Robot plays Saturday, 27 July 2024, at 3:35 in Hall
Out of the Shadow plays Saturday, 27 July 2024, at 5;05pm in de Seve and Tuesday, 30 July 2024, at 12:30pm in de Seve
KIZUMONOGATARI: Koyomi Vamp plays Saturday, 27 July 2024, at 6:15pm in Hall
Steppenwolf plays Saturday, 27 July 2024, at 7pm in de Seve and Friday, 2 August 2024, at 3pm in de Seve

Killer Constable is a new restoration of a Shaw Brothers classic with Chen Kuan-tai as a swordsman who gives no quarter tasked with recovering a treasure only to find both his men and the criminals are pawns in a larger game. Capsules 2024 is a collection of six animated shorts from China and its Billibilli platform. From My Cold Dead Hands is a documentary on American gun culture. Heavens: The Boy and His Robot is a Singabporean sci-fi adventure about a young man tasked with piloting a mecha during a war between Earth and a now-independent Mars. Out of the Shadow is one of the recent waves of Hong Kong flicks featuring a new wave of stars, in this case showing a young masked avenger just starting out. KIZUMONOGATARI: Koyomi Vamp reconstructs a tough-to-find anime trilogy into one film about a teenager who rescues a dismembered vampire woman and may come to regret it. Steppenwolf is a Kazakh action thriller that pairs a bone-breaker cop with a traumatized mother to find her missing son.

Though this looks like a Saturday battle royale even before you get to the awards presentations, panel discussions, and repertory/locally-focused screenings at other events, this is more frightening on the schedule than in reality, at least if one can make the secondary screenings. The big conflict is Killer Constables and Capsules - the former will likely be easier to see later via a new Arrow Video release but it's made for the big screen and will probably be a blast with a kung-fu loving crowd, while the latter is made for small screens but might be hard to find outside China aside from the festival. I'll probably hit Capsules and stay in Hall all day but look longingly at the folks lining up across the street.

Round Eight: Teasing Master Takagi-san vs Brush of the God

Teasing Master Takagi-san plays Sunday, 28 July 2024, at 1:30pm in Hall
Brush of the God plays Sunday, 28 July 2024, at 2:30pm in de Seve

This slot is particularly tough, offering two apparently-light-hearted features from Japan: Teasing Master Takagi-san is a romantic comedy where a man must deal with the return of the best friend he had a crush on in high school after ten years abroad, who still knows how to push his buttons. Brush of the God is a love-letter to kaiju adventures where the teenage granddaughter of a recently-departed movie modelmaker must travel to a mysterious island and prevent a dragon from escaping and destroying humanity. That one is made by a long-time artist in monster-movie costume departments directing his first feature at 88.

Awfully difficult choice for fans of Japanese film here! A lot of us are absolutely ready for a cute romantic comedy by this Sunday (usually the festival's midway point, but a little closer to the end this year), but Brush certainly sounds charming! I'm going to try and punt my choice until the day, although the early second screening of The Dead Thing (which just clips the start of Teasing) may play into it.

Round Nine: Born of Woman 2024 vs The Umbrella Fairy

Born of Woman 2024 plays Sunday, 28 July 2024, at 4pm in de Seve
The Umbrella Fairy plays Sunday, 28 July 2024, at 4:15pm in Hall

Born of Woman is the festival's annual shorts block that showcases female filmmakers, this year including 8 films from 5 countries. It should be noted that this is far from a means of ghettoizing these films; since the program's premiere, I've noted that most Fantasia short programs run pretty close to 50/50, and these are often films that are more specifically focused on having a woman's perspective The Umbrella Fairy is an animated film from China which takes the spiritual belief that every object develops a soul and follows the two that sprang from a sword and an umbrella made from the same piece of jade.

As much as I often want to catch Born of Woman, it's often in challenging slots and attracts enough guests that I know it will run long; and that's why I will probably catch The Umbrella Fairy, because otherwise I may not make it across the street to A Samurai in Time, uh, in time.

Round Ten: Baby Assassins: Nice Days vs Cube

Baby Assassins: Nice Days plays Tuesday, 30 July 2024, at 6:45pm in Hall
Cube plays Tuesday, 30 July 2024, at 7:15pm in de Seve, including an award presentation to Vincenzo Natali

Baby Assassins: Nice Days is the third entry in a series that is kind of sensibly being cranked out fast, before its young stars no longer pass for teenagers/recent high school graduates, this time sending them on a vacation where they wind up competing with another assassin on a job. Cube is a Canadian sci-fi/horror classic with a number of people inside a metallic environment where each room will attempt to kill them in spectacularly bloody fashion, with director Vincenzo Natali on-hand to receive the festival's Canadian Trailblazer award.

It's not as tough a call as if Natali had been presenting a new film - I'm sure that someone like Vinegar Syndrome or one of their partner labels will have a really spiffy 4K disc out later this year and the new restoration will probably play a local theater - but I'd have liked to see him talk about it. Still, the Baby Assassins series is a ton of fun with an audience, with the second film better than the first (this one promises to be even better) and the bursts of outstanding fight choreography between slacker comedy are top-tier, so I will likely go with that.

Round Eleven: Timestalker vs In Our Blood vs A Legend

Timestalker plays Wednesday, 31 July 2024, at 7pm in Hall
In Our Blood plays Wednesday, 31 July 2024, at 7:10pm in de Seve and Saturday, 3 August 2024, at 3:15pm in de Seve
A Legend plays Saturday, 3 August 2024, at 4pm in Hall

Timestalker is a dark romantic comedy where a woman's pledges to love a man in her next life and they keep dying horribly, written by/directed by/starring Alice Lowe (Prevenge). In Our Blood is a thriller in which a documentary filmmaker goes to meet her estranged mother, only to have the latter vanish in a city known for people disappearing and turning up dead. A Legend reunites Jackie Chan with writer/director Stanley Tong, playing an archaeologist with a dream connection to a previous age, which blurs as he and his team explore a glacier and the finds preserved within.

How is this Alice Lowe's first feature as a director since Prevenge? At any rate, that jumps it to the top of my list. On the other end, I'm a little leery of A Legend - it was delayed from a Lunar New Year release - but I also suspect that Well Go or someone else will get it in American theaters soon after this screening, so I will likely go for In Our Blood during the Saturday slot.

Round Twelve: Jour de chasse vs CineMaposa 2024

Jour de chasse plays Thursday, 1 August 2024, at 7pm in Hall
CineMaposa 2024 plays Thursday, 1 August 2024, at 7:10pm in de Seve

Jour de Chasse is part of Fantastiques Week-Ends but also a film that played SXSW earlier this year, with Nahéma Ricci as a sex worker left alone in the woods who meets up with some men on a bachelor's weekend who subject her to hazing to remain with them and get back to the city, even as things go completely sideways. CineMaposa is a program of four South Korean genre shorts, from a girl meeting someone online with the intent of committing suicide together to a woman who buys a robot replica of her late father.

It's kind of a tough call - it's great to support the local filmmakers and there are English subtitles listed, but some of the South Korean films look slick too. The local showcase is usually a pretty raucous good time, though.

Round Thirteen: Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In vs Collective Delusions 2024

Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In plays Thursday, 1 August 2024, at 9:15pm in Hall
Collective Delusions 2024 plays Thursday, 1 August 2024, at 9:30 pm in de Seve

Walled In is the latest from Soi Cheung, with an all-star cast including Louis Koo,Sammo Hung, RIchie Jen, Philip Ng, and more in a period gangster epic taking place in the Kowloon Walled City. Collective Delusions is a collection of 13 underground/outsider films from 7 countries, likely the oddest shorts program of the festival.

It is, in that way, sort of a litmus test on what one is here to see - the big mainstream Hong kong action movie a week before it's scheduled to release in North American cinemas or a sampling of short films from singular voices you might never hear again? Not going to lie, in this case I'm going with Walled In; Cheung's last couple, Limbo and Mad Fate, have been highlights of recent eidtions of the festival.

Round Fourteen: Azrael vs Self Driver vs 100 Yards

Azrael plays Friday, 2 August 2024, at 7pm in Hall
Self Driver plays Friday, 2 August 2024, at 7pm in de Seve and Sunday, 4 August 2024, at 12:30pm in de Seve
100 Yards plays Sunday, 4 August 2024, at 1:35pm in Hall

Azrael is a nasty-looking bit of action/survival horror, taking place in a post-apocalyptic world where many have gone mute and a woman played by Samara Weaving must escape plans for her human sacrifice and rescue her lover; it's directed by E.L. Katz and written by Simon barrett. Self Driver is a thriller about a man who takes a job driving for a secretive rideshare company, getting in way over his head. 100 Yards is the new film from Xu Haofeng, a maker of meticulously-researched and obsessively-detailed martial arts flicks, in which the son (Jacky Heung) and the greatest student (Andy On) of a martial arts master confront each other on who takes over his school.

On the one hand, Well Go has picked up 100 Yards for distribution, but it's the sort of niche thing that can fall through the cracks if it's a busy week, especially since Xu can be an acquired taste. Azrael also has distribution, but Republic isn't great at getting things into theaters all the time. Self Driver is super-indie and thus this may be the only chance to see it on the big screen. I suppose it depends on my mood come the 2nd, but I'll probably go for Azrael and Self Driver.

Round Fifteen: House of Sayuri vs Black Eyed Susan

House of Sayuri plays Friday, 2 August 2024, at 9:30pm in Hall
Black Eyed Susan plays Friday, 2 August 2024, at 9:35pm in Hall

Here we have two thrillers suitable for a late night slot: House of Sayuri is a J-horror comedy where a family moves into a haunted country house, and much to the teenage son's surprise, his grandmother seems most effective in confronting the supernatural. Black Eyed Susan is an edgy thriller about a man hired to push a sophisticated BDSM sex-doll with impressive AI capabilities to its limits (or would that be his). Scooter McCrae's first movie in two decades is shot on 16mm film and has a soundtrack by Fabio Frizzi.

Personally, I'm kind of squeamish, so I'll probably be in House of Sayuri.

Round Sixteen: Hanu-Man vs Sunburnt Unicort

Hanu-Man plays Saturday, 3 August 2024, at 12:30pm in Hall
Sunburnt Unicorn plays Saturday, 3 August 2024, at 1pm in Hall

Hanu-Man is a big Telugu-language action-comedy that played theaters back in January, starring Amritha Alyer as an minor rascal who winds up with a gemstone that gives him superpowers and attracts the attention of both criminals and the city's local superhero. Sunburnt Unicorn is a Canadian animated adventure about a kid stranded in the desert after a terrible automobile accident. It looks like the kind of thing that's made for children but is, in retrospect, really freaky.

The last Saturday matinee of the festival feels like a good time for either of these things. I'm wary of getting drawn into another Indian movie universe but may choose Hanu-man over Unicorn if it looks to be sold out ahead of time.

Round Seventeen: Circo Animato 2024 and Love & Pop vs The Killers

Circo Animato plays Saturday, 3 August 2024, at 5:30pm in de Seve
The Killers plays Saturday, 3 August 2024, at 6:45pm in Hall
Love & Pop plays Saturday, 3 August 2024, at 7:30pm in de Seve

Circo Animato is the annual animation program - well, the main one! - this year featuring 17 short films from 9 countries covering all manner of subjects and genres in all manner of styles, whether traditional, digital, or stop-motion. The Killers is a South Korean anthology film with four tales of murder from up-and-coming filmmakers. Love & Pop reaches back to 1998 for Hideaki Anno's first live-action feature and one where the animator played with what new digital cameras could do.

I want to see The Killers badly - the structure reminds me of another Korean animated film I saw at the festival early on and which I still bring up regularly (The Neighbor Zombie), but in a genre I like much more! But Circo Animato is a cornerstone, and the description of Love & Pop has me very curious.

Round Eighteen: Wake Up vs Me and My Victim

Wake Up plays Saturday, 3 August 2024, at 9:45pm in Hall
Me and My Victim plays Saturday, 3 August 2024, at 9:45pm in de Seve

Wake Up is the latest film from the makers of Turbo Kid and Summer of 84, the former in particular a huge hit at the festival; this one has six activists looking to deface a premium retailer by sneaking in after hours, only to discover that they are trapped in there with a monstrous, murderous security guard. Me and My Victim is an entry from the Underground section whose makers use it to chronicle their odd relationship that started online and remains rooted in that sort of virtual acquaintanceship even as they become collaborators and lovers.

I know myself by now - I am not going to stay awake through an Underground film at 10pm near the end of the festival; it's never happened and I always feel like I'm taking the seat of someone who wants it. So I'll be across the street seeing how RKSS applies their manic energy to the slasher genre.

And then, a surprising number of repeats on Sunday the 4th, the final day of the festival. There may, of course, be other screenings added whether new, more showtimes, or the like, or announcements, but even on a slightly truncated schedule this year, these 40 films and short packages are just a part of what's on offer.

So Bon Cinéma, and if any of you are in MTL over the next three weeks, hope to see you at the festival!

Monday, July 15, 2024

Project Silence

So, I knew that the MBTA would be running shuttle buses instead of the Red Line starting this weekend, but seeing that Magoun Square station was closed was a rude surprise. My phone said to go with a regular bus and the Orange Line, but a shuttle arrived first, so I took it, and, man, was that a bad idea. I arrived late enough for this movie that I used up the whole 20-minute AMC trailer buffer and the ticket that printed out at the kiosk said "too late" because the bus replacing my train was stuck in traffic. Within ten minutes of sitting down, there was a massive crash, and, man, how do drivers live like this?

Talchul: Project Silence

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 13 July 2024 in AMC Causeway Street #5 (first-run, laser DCP)

It's a peculiar artifact of how the release-window incentives align in different countries that if you want to see a movie like Project Silence on the big screen - something kind undemanding that gets you into air-conditioning for a while and isn't the big tentpole you've already seen or are making plans to see with somebody else - it's often the case that your best choice is Chinese, Indian, or Korean. The American version of this goes straight to whatever streaming service bought it, or maybe gets a few late-night showtimes if that's Shudder and IFC Midnight opens it on the right week, but this opens in North America the same day as South Korea because it's targeting a specialty audience.

The action takes place on a bridge near Seoul's Incheon airport. Blue House security advisor Cha Jeon-won (Lee Sun-kyun) is taking daughter Kyung-min (Kim Su-an) there so she can go to school overseas, although the brusque widower stiffs a gas station because he doesn't think tow truck driver Joe Park (Ju Ji-hoon) actually works there. Coming the other direction are golfer Sim Yura (Park Ju-hyun) and her sister Miran (Park Hee-von), who have missed their flight to America and Yura's first overseas tournament because Miran, also Yura's manager, has allowed Yura's passport to lapse; they meet older couple Byung-hak (Moon Sung-keun) and Soon-ok (Ye Soo-jung), returning from a trip to Vietnam that the latter likely won't remember. It's a very foggy night, and a joyriding streamer causes a massive accident, which doesn't just trap them on the bridge, but also a small military convoy that includes a truck full of dogs bred and given cranial implants to ruthlessly hunt people down by the sounds of their voices, along with Dr. Yang (Kim Hee-won), the nebbishy head of the project. The dogs, of course, escape, and the plan to draw them back to the vehicle by designating one of the soldiers as a target is not exactly brilliant.

This is a fairly dumb "genetically enhanced killer animal" thing, but it's got the good taste to be honestly dumb rather than winking at the audience like it's clever, at least 90% of the time. It hits a lot of expected beats and where it doesn't, it's because the filmmakers have a mean streak that's not really horror-movie fun (really, who wants to choose between shooting dogs and a senile old lady getting maimed?) rather than because it hits the audience with a twist of joke that undercuts what they've been enjoying. Where it works, it's because everyone seems committed, from Dr. Yang telling the story of the dogs' origins to contriving a situation where Yura must call upon her golf skills to get them out of trouble. The movie is being ridiculous but staring you right in the face earnestly enough to make it convincing.

Part of that, perhaps my favorite part, is the way that CGI dogs are built; they're big, black, and mean (at first glance, one thinks they may be giants), but are kind of pug-ish in the face. Indeed, they look maybe one notch too human, enough to give them an unusual amount of expression but not quite enough to look like cartoons or alien creatures, or make them too sympathetic It's just good enough to skirt the edge of the uncanny valley, and allows for some decent, if not quite great, action set-ups, just enough to let one acknowledge the fantasy but not enough to make it silly.

The downside to this approach of taking things seriously is that a film can easily wind up grim rather than just played straight, and that's what happens here. While few of these characters deserve to die, the film seldom offers someone to root for in a situation where they've got agency. The group never really jells as one that's really interesting to spend time with, and when they're split up but only a few really have something to do - mostly Lee Sun-kyun's Jung-won, who is the film's most abrasive character - you don't really miss the rest as they disappear. A film like this has to either have compelling subplots or problems to solve on top of the high concept, and Project Silence often stops at just the clever idea.

That said, it's not nearly as dreary as the other genre movie that opened this weekend, the highly-polished but utterly fun-free Longlegs; you can have some fun in it. I can't help but wonder how much more fun it would have been if we spent half as much time with the golfer and her dotty sister as with the guy with a security clearance.

Friday, July 12, 2024

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 12 July 2024 - 18 July 2024

Crap, it's hot. Like, is it worth walking 10 minutes to the T station and getting sweaty and gross to sit in a theater? That sort of hot.
  • Fly Me to the Moon is a high-concept romantic comedy with Scarlett Johansson as a marketing executive who sparks with a launch director played by Channing Tatum during the Apollo program, although higher-ups expect her to fake the moon landing should disaster occur. It's at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, West Newton, Boston Common, Causeway Street, Kendall Square, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, Arsenal Yards, and Chestnut Hill.

    For those looking for something creepier, there's Longlegs, starring Maika Monroe as an FBI agent investigating a serial killer, who is almost certainly played by Nicolas Cage, although he's been almost entirely absent from the trailers. It's at the Coolidge, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Kendall Square, Causeway Street, the Seaport, South Bay, and Assembly Row.

    One of my favorites from this year's Independent Film Festival Boston, Dandelion, opens at Boston Common, Causeway Street, the Seaport, and South Bay; it stars KiKi Layne as a Cincinnati musician who takes a trip to a South Dakota motorcycle festival and meets a Scottish folk singer.

    The Lion King has a 30th anniversary run at Boston Common and South Bay. That's the original cel-animated version, so it might be odd when there's a CGI Mufasa trailer attached. A League of Their Own plays Arsenal Yards Wednesday.

    Sci-fi/horror flick Lumina, about a group searching for a friend who has been abducted by aliens, opens limited shows at Causeway Street (and one show Saturday at The Embassy). The trailer, oof, it is not good. Bull Street has limited shows at South Bay, starring Malynda Hale as a woman trying to prevent herself and her grandmother from being evicted from their house by her estranged father.

    There's a screen-unseen preview at Boston Common, Causeway Street, and Assembly Row on Monday. "A24 x Imax" presents Oasis: Supersonic on Tuesday at Jordan's Furniture, South Bay, and Assembly Row. Sing 2 has matinees at Boston Common, Causeway Street, South Bay on Monday and Wednesday. There are early access shows of Twisters on Wednesday at Boston Common (Dolby Cinema), South Bay (Dolby Cinema/Imax Laser w/ Q&A), Assembly Row (Dolby Cinema/Imax Laser w/ Q&A), and Arsenal Yards (CWX).
  • Icelandic drama Touch, in which a widower seeks his first love, who returned to Japan without a word 50 years earlier, plays The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Kendall Square, Boston Common, amd Assembly Row.

    The Coolidge also has the new 4K restoration of Seven Samurai for its 70th anniversary, a full and fantastic evening of film.

    Midnights at the Coolidge include a 35mm print of Joan Crawford in William Castle's Strait-Jacket on Friday and the original Friday the 13th on Saturday (you do what you can when the Georgian calendar puts nearly a year between months that start on a Sunday); if you still need catching up before MaXXXine, the two previous films will play midnight in chronological order this weekend - Pearl on Friday and X on Saturday. Monday's Big Screen Classic is City of God, Tuesday's "Godzilla vs. the Coolidge" show is a new restoration of Destroy All Monsters, and Thursday's "Rewind!" show is Cruel Intentions on 35mm film, with an after part in the ew Education and Community Engagement Center in the new new addition.
  • The Brattle Theatre has two very different films from France Friday to Monday: Céline and Julie Go Boating is Jacques Rivette's surreal New Wave comic fantasy on its fiftieth anniversary; The Vourdalak is a new period horror film about a French noble trapped in a Serbian cabin with a family fearing their patriarch has returned as a vampire.

    After that, the vertical calendar returns! Mondays and Tuesdays will be the latest "Columbia 100" series, focused on Musical Columbia, with Start Cheering on 35mm film Monday and a twin bill of You Were Never Lovelier & Cover Girl on Tuesday. Wednesday and Thursday afternoon are a special engagement of The LInguini Incident, with Rosanna Arquette and David Bowie scheming to rob a restaurant in a throwback screwball comedy. Thursday evening has a 35mm print of Desperately Seeking Susan with director Susan Seidelman in person.
  • Tamil-language blockbuster Indian 2, a sequel to one of S. Shankar's first films (his first since Endhirian sequel 2.0), has Kamal Haasan returning as a vigilante teaming with a young vlogger to fight corruption. It's at Fresh Pond (Tamil/Telugu), Boston Common (Tamil including Imax Xenon/Hindi). Also opening at Fresh Pond, Boston Common is Hindi-language drama Sarfira starring Akshay Kumar as an aviation entrepreneur.

    Kalki 2898-AD continues at Apple Fresh Pond (Telugu/Hindi), Boston Common (Telugu/Tamil); Kill continues at Boston Common and the Seaport.

    Chinese film Life Hotel, with Huang Xyan as an ex-con who gets work in a "home for patients". It's at Causeway Street.

    Korean thriller Project Silence has Familyhood director Kim Tae-gon returning to his horror roots, as an accident traps motorists on a bridge with a monster. It plays Causeway Street, alternating showtimes with Escape.

    The week's Ghibli-fest film is Princess Mononoke, playing Boston Common, South Bay, Assembly Row Sunday (dubbed), Monday (subtitled), Tuesday (dubbed), and Wednesday (subtitled); Arsenal Yards also has it Saturday (subtitled) to Monday.
  • The Somerville Theatre brings back Hundreds of Beavers for the Saturday midnight special and I love that my neighborhood gets a kick out of it. They also team with IFF Boston for a "Hot Summer Nights" series starting this week with American Gigolo on Monday, a 35mm double feature of Body Heat & 9½ Weeks on Tuesday, and another 35mm pairing of Fast Times at Ridgemont High & Flashdance on Wednesday. On Thursday, they have the first of two night or a week-long run of Lost Soulz, about a Texas rapper on a journey of self-discovery.

    The Capitol will be running (mostly) Dreamworks animated matinees this summer, with How to Train Your Dragon first up. They also have another 4th Wall event on Saturday night, with Pew Pew, Scaffolding, and Jim E. Brown playing and visuals by Digital Awareness.
  • The Alamo rep calendar has Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Cure for the "Seaport Selects" shows on Friday and Saturday night. Purple Rain plays Friday/Sunday/Tuesday/Wednesday, with Movie Party shows Sunday & Wednesday; Gremlins plays Saturday, a "World of Animation" screening of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind on Monday; and a preview screening of Crumb Catcher on Tuesday (scheduled for a two-day run next Friday & Saturday).
  • The Tuesday Retro Replay musical movie at Landmark Kendall Square is Led Zeppelin: The Song Remains the Same.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has an unusually busy film schedule with the Boston French Film Festival: Ama Gloria and The Crime Is Mine each have shows Friday & Sunday; Sisterhood and Banel and Adama play Saturday.
  • The Regent Theatre has Water Brother: The Sid Abbruzzi Story on Wednesday, with Abbruzzi on-hand for this documentary about how he is an east-coast skate & surfing legend.
  • The New England Aquarium has Jaws on their giant Imax screen Friday and Saturday.
  • Last weekend for Inside Out 2 on the Omnimax screen at The Museum of Science; Twisters starts showing Friday and Saturday evenings next weekend.
  • The Lexington Venue has Despicable Me 4 and Thelma (returning Friday), and is open all week except for Monday.

    The West Newton Cinema opens Fly Me to the Moon and keeps Despicable Me 4, Kinds of Kindness, A Quiet Place: Day One (Friday to Tuesday), Thelma, Inside Out 2, If (Saturday/Sunday), and Janet Planet.

    The Luna Theater has Robot Dreams (Friday/Saturday/Sunday), Tuesday (Saturday/Sunday/Thursday) , and a Weirdo Wednesday Show.

    Cinema Salem has Kinids of Kindness, Despicable Me 4, Maxxxine, and Inside Out 2 from Friday through Monday. The Friday Night Light late show is Roar, and Cruel Intentions plays Thursday night.
  • Outdoor films on the Joe's Free Films calendar this week are Shrek (Friday at the MIT Open Space), Legally Blonde (Saturday at the Prudential Center), The Rock (Wednesday at the Speedway in Allston, postponed from a previous week), Migration (Wednesday at Timothy J. Twomey Jr. Park in Cambridge), In The Heights (Wednesday at the Charleston Navy Yard), Elemental (Thursday at the Lyman Estate in Waltham), The Mummy (Thursday at the Argenziano School in Somerville), and Up (Thursday at The LOT in Dorchester).
Well, miserably hot or not, if I want to see Kinds of Kindness, Longlegs, Project Silence, The Vourdalak, and maybe Life Hotel in theaters before heading north, let alone Jaws at the Aquarium, Fly Me to the Moon, or any of the Brattle/Somerville programs, I can't waste much of the weekend!

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Defection Double Feature: Escape and Hijack 1971

I feel like AMC works hard to not have this situation come up most of the time, but when distributors toss out two Korean thrilled with similar plots on the same day, there's probably not enough demand to give them each a screen of their own. So they share a screen, alternating showtimes, and that lets me do this:
This, by the way, if what I'm going to be doing a lot of in a couple of weeks, hopefully: Going to one movie at Fantasia, enjoying it from my preferred close-to-the-front-and-center seat, and then walking to the lobby, joining the passholder line, and settling back into the same seat. That it's entirely possible that both movies in Montreal will be Korean makes it even more like practice for the festival.

Talju (Escape '24)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 6 July 2024 in AMC Causeway Street #2 (first-run, laser DCP)

Escape manages the nifty trick of feeling fairly no-nonsense despite a couple of twists, the sort that could otherwise make a lean feature feel like it has been padded to get over 90 minutes. Writer/director Lee Jong-pil establishes a plan, throws wrenches into it, and circles back in a satisfying way.

He presents the plan right away, as North Korean border patrol agent Lim Gyu-nam (Lee Je-hoon) waits until the others in the barracks are asleep, rushes across the room, climbs through a duct, and then sprints for the spot where he's burrowed under the fence and follows the map he's made of a clear path through the minefield to its end, where he starts carefully feeling out the ground in front of him so that he can extend it. He should be able to flee in four days, but fellow NCO Dong-hyuk (Hong Xa-bin) throws a pair of wrenches into it: First, but noting that low-flying birds indicate it will probably rain heavily in the next couple of days, likely making things muddy enough that the mines will drift into new positions, and by saying he has seen Gyu-nam's activity and wants to come along, to reunite with his mother and sister in the south. This naturally causes things to go sideways, but Gyu-man may have another chance - the State Security Agent sent to investigate, Li Hyun-sang (Koo Kyo-hwan), is a childhood acquaintance, and notes that it certainly looks like Gyu-nam was trying to capture Dong-hyuk. It seems pretty clear, though, that Hyun-sang is more interested in having Gyu-nam under his thumb than helping an old friend.

In a lot of thrillers, this might be a time for a lull, or a reset as the filmmakers send the film off in a different direction, albeit one that will inevitably draw on something Gyu-nam learned early on, but Lee is not looking to do "one year later" here: Gyu-man has maybe not spent his whole ten years in the force on this plan, but it has been enough time that it would be difficult to let go, and there's too much energy here, whether in Gyu-man's urgency, Dong-hyuk's desperation, or Hyun-sang's sadism, that there's not a whole lot to gain by dissipating it off-screen, even if Koo Kyo-hwan (as Hyun-sang) is the only one who is really chewing scenery. Lee slows down just enough to make the film breaking into a run again so quickly almost confusing - my brain had started to shift back into "gather information" mode - but it's exciting when one realizes just what he's doing.

It's not entirely man-on-a-mission linear, though, having time to ruminate about how nastily top-down a place like North Korea can be, but also realizing that's background noise for its people as opposed to something to ruminate on. The characters know this, it's probably well known in the South, and honestly most folks know that this is how it works, no matter how rigid a place's stated principles are. There's just enough time to find something tragic but not forgivable about how this makes some people mean, especially Hyun-sang, who is fascinating because one must be almost willfully ignorant to miss that he's gay. Does he feel that being constantly on offense is the only way to keep people from coming for him, or want more than military loyalty from Gyu-nam? It doesn't matter; the combination of ambition and fear has made him a monster. The film is also darkly comic as it plays with the irony of how sometimes the best weapon against authoritarians is their own fear of getting in trouble.

With all that, it moves quickly; the filmmakers build the various escape plans smartly, the sort of things that can either be done on the run either in terms of being improvised or with the knowledge that people may be shooting at you, rather than trying to impress the audience with plans where a million things out of Gyu-man's control could go wrong. The action does, admittedly, feature an awful lot of near misses with guns on full auto and one very fortuitous encounter with some guest stars, but these sequences flow well, both individually and in getting from one to the other, and flow is what this sort of movie thrives on.

Indeed, when one considers that the South Korean action movies that cross the Pacific often give a writer/director enough rope to be self-indulgent that the end result can make one fidget (even this 94-minute film draws things out a bit at the end), Escape is refreshingly efficient, at times so much so that one wonders if one missed a step. It passes, though, and the lasting impression is something that knows the plan and gets it done.

Hijack 1971

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 6 July 2024 in AMC Causeway Street #2 (first-run, laser DCP)

It's kind of fascinating that movies set on trains are often more exciting than expected but ones set on planes are maybe a notch below what they should be, especially when you consider ohw many people are afraid of riding a train as opposed to flying. It's like the all or nothing nature of disaster in the air boxes the filmmakers in, even more than being based on an actual event. Hijack 1971, for instance, chugs along, never actually getting close to dull, but you know the big fireworks and reprise of the moral dilemma in the prologue isn't coming until the very end.

That prologue, set in 1969, as South Korean Air Force pilots Tae-In (Ha Jung-woo) and Dong-cheol (Kim Dong-wook) diverted from training to track a passenger plane flying to the North. Tae-in recognizes the pilot as his former wingman Min-su (Choi Kwang-il) and, believing the plane to be hijacked, refuses to disable it by shooting out an engine, feeling it an unacceptable risk to the passengers on board. He is dismissed from the service even before Min-su is not repatriated - North Korea needs pilots, even if they don't want to be there, and offers a bounty on hijacked planes. So come 23 January 1971, Tae-in is flying commercial, though his decision has him still a co-pilot rather than a captain, when Kim Young-dae (Yeo Jin-goo) boards his plane with a carryon full of explosives, quickly injuring captain Gyu-sik (Sung Dong-il) and air marshall Chang-bae (Moon You-kang), leaving Tae-in and flight attendant Ok-soon (Chae Soo-bin) to figure out how to keep the passengers safe and in their homeland.

This general description probably holds for a lot of hijacking stories, from the dawn of aviation to the twenty-first century, because how else is it going to go? So the devil's in the details, and the good news is that the core cast here is strong: As the former fighter pilot in the copilot seat, Ha Jung-woo brings steady movie-star charisma tempered more by humility than self-doubt, a sense that he doesn't exactly know what to do next but has what it takes to think it through. He's a good match for Sung Dong-il as the captain, who is cut from the same cloth and manages to make their trust and teamwork work even though friction might be the more easily thrilling narrative. Chase Soo-bin is a nice anchor as the flight attendant who proves calmer under pressure than she maybe expected. Generally, the supporting cast does the "passengers with just enough backstory to make them individual" thing well.

It could maybe so with a better antagonist, Yeo Jin-goo is in a sort of no-man's land between delusional zealotry and sweaty panic for much of the film, even with a fair amount of attention paid to his backstory. His motivation is one of the more intriguing underlying themes of the film, and complements what's going on with Tae-in well: Both are where they are because absolutely anyone with some connection to the North, even relatives of those kidnapped and returned, are treated as if they were spies by default. I'm curious to what extent this is still a contemporary thing in South Korea or a relic of the past. There's not a lot of chance for Tae-in to show empathy, or draw on that common thread, or even for the characters to reflect on it after a finale where he could be seen as attempting to prove his loyalty at all costs.

It's also kind of fascinating to watch a movie in this genre where the setting and present day are on opposite sides of 9/11, because the first act hits you with nostalgia for how air travel used to be awesome and exciting but also, in retrospect, insanely reckless. The film is actually quite good when it focuses on the flying, too, since these movies often have the plane as an island in a featureless sky. The previz credits include a "virtual pilot", so there's clearly been some attention paid to things being plausible if extremely unlikely along with some creativity about how it all plays out, and the effects work is solid.

Hijack 1971 winds up being a tight-enough thriller that it's an entertaining evening or matinee at the movies. There are bits where a viewer might want more or something a bit more unexpected, but no so that it keeps the film from getting the job done.

Wednesday, July 03, 2024

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 3 July 2024 - 11 July 2024

Oh, these Wednesday pre-holiday openings can sneak up on you, can't they?
  • Despicable Me 4, which counting the Minions movies is the sixth film in the series to come out in a 14-year period, pretty crazy turnaround time for major animated features, opens all over at the Capitol, Fresh Pond (including 3D), the Embassy, the Lexington Venue, Jordan's Furniture (Imax), West Newton, CinemaSalem, Boston Common (including Imax Xenon/Dolby Cinema/RealD 3D), Causeway Street (including RealD 3D), Kendall Square, the Seaport, South Bay (including Imax Xenon/Dolby Cinema/RealD 3D), Assembly Row (including Imax Laser/Dolby Cinema/RealD 3D), Arsenal Yards (including CWX), and Chestnut Hill. This time around, Gru and his adopted family must enter the witness protection program and the Minions are injected with super-soldier serum.

    The latest Angel Studios thing, Sound of Hope: The Story of Possum Trot, is about a church whose members adopt 77 children from the local foster-care system. It's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Causeway Street, South Bay, and Assembly Row.

    Ti West's third X-trilogy film, MaXXXine, doesn't exactly open Wednesday, but most places will have preview shows that night, nothing on the Fourth, and then regular opening at the Somerville, the Coolidge, CinemaSalem, Boston Common, Causeway Street, Kendall Square, the Seaport, and Assembly Row on Friday.

    There are early screenings of Fly Me to the Moon at Boston Common, Assembly Row, Arsenal Yards, and Chestnut Hill on Friday and Saturday. Close Encounters of the Third Kind gets anniversary shows at Boston Common, South Bay, and Assembly Row on Sunday and Wednesday. Arsenal Yards plays Caddyshack Sunday to Tuesday. The Lorax has matinees at Boston Common, Causeway Street, and South Bay today; Sing plays matinees at those locations on Monday and Wednesday the 10th. South Bay has documentary Watershed, about an athlete training for the Paralympics despite the pandemic and further injury, plays South Bay on Thursday the 11th.
  • Two border-crossing films from South Korea open on Friday: Escape, at Causeway Street, has someone from the North trying to go South; Hijack 1971, at Boston Common and Causeway Street, has a man trying to force a Southern airliner to land in the North. They're on the same screen at Causeway Street, so you can do a double feature with time for a bathroom break and trip to the concession stand in between (although, given the setup, can you get a refill on a large drink there?).

    Indian action film Kill, a fight-your-way-from-one-end-of-a-train-to-the-other thing, opens at Boston Common and the Seaport.

    Kalki 2898-AD continues at Apple Fresh Pond (Telugu/Hindi/Tamil), Boston Common (Telugu/Hindi), and South Bay (Telugu/Hindi); Jatt & Juliet 3 closes at Fresh Pond but opens at Boston Common on Friday.

    Anime feature Blue Lock: Episode Nagi continues at Boston Common, Causeway Street, South Bay, and Assembly Row.
  • Landmark Kendall Square opens June Zero, a drama which examines the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann from three perspectives at the periphery, on Friday.

    The Kendall also starts a month of music movies with Wattstax on Tuesday.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre also opens MaXXXine, supported by midnight screenings of X (Friday) and Pearl (Saturday). The other midnights are 35mm prints of Serial Mom Friday and The Honeymoon Killers on Saturday.

    Other repertory presentations include a Big Screen Classic shows of Blow Out on 35mm on the Fourth and Some Like it Hot on Monday. Godzilla vs the Coolidge continues with Mothra vs. Godzilla on Tuesday, and there's a Cinema Jukebox presentation of Rock 'n' Roll High School on Thursday.
  • The Fourth of July means The Brattle Theatre has Jaws on 35mm film on Wednesday and Thursday.

    For the next few days, they team with The Harvard Film Archive for a peek at the series the HFA would be dedicating the summer to if it weren't undergoing repairs and a "prologue" for the series at the reopened HFA this fall. "Melville and Company", featuring the films of French crime master Jean-Pierre Melville and others working the genre side of the nouvelle vague. That includes Le doublos (Friday/Saturday/Monday), the new 4K restoration of Le samouraï (Friday/Saturday/Sunday/Tuesday), Jacques Becker's The Hole (Saturday/Monday), a new 4K restoration of Claude Sautet's The Big Risk (Saturday/Tuesday), When You Read This Letter… (Sunday/Tuesday and not expected to be at the HFA this fall), and Léon Morin, Priest (Sunday/Monday).

    Wednesday offers up a 50th anniversary double feature of John Boorman's Zardoz & Brian De Palma's The Phantom of the Paradise, and on Thursday the films play on either side of the annual Trailer Treats party where they run an hour and a half of trailers, music videos, and short films on 35mm film.
  • In addition to opening Maxxxine, The Somerville Theatre has the original Fright Night on 35mm film on Saturday.

    The Capitol hosts children's entertainer Brecky Breck on Saturday for a matinee that includes readings stories, crafting, and a short film.
  • The Alamo rep calendar hosts a movie party for Jaws on the afternoon of the Fourth and starts their "Seaport Selects" program on Friday, showing Tsai Ming-liang's debut Rebels of the Neon God through Sunday. The Time Capsule series rolls back another five years to 1984 with Red Dawn (Saturday), Top Secret! (Sunday), and The Company of Wolves (Monday). There's also a preview screening of Sing Sing with a Q&A streamed afterward.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts begins their annual Boston French Film Festival on Thursday with The Nature of Love, a romantic comedy from Quebec about a professor who leaves her husband for her handyman.
  • The Regent Theatre has 1776 on Wednesday.
  • The New England Aquarium has Jaws on their giant Imax screen for three night starting Thursday the 11th.
  • The Museum of Science has Inside Out 2 on the Omnimax dome Fridays and Saturdays through 13 July, and then switch to Twisters the next weekend.
  • The Lexington Venue has Despicable Me 4, Inside Out 2 (through Thursday) and Thelma (returning Friday), and is open all week except for Monday.

    The West Newton Cinema picks up Despicable Me 4, Kinds of Kindness, and A Quiet Place: Day One, alongside Paradise (Friday/Sunday), Thelma, Inside Out 2, If, and Janet Planet.

    The Luna Theater is dark until Thursday the 11th, when they show In a Violent Nature.

    Cinema Salem has Despicable Me 4, Maxxxine, Thelma, and Inside Out 2 from Friday through Monday. They also have locally-shot horror film Dead Whisper on Wednesday and a program of shorts made in New England on Thursday.
  • Joe's Free Films shows Top Gun at the Navy Yard tonight; League of Super Pets at Hoyt Field in Cambridge, The Rock at the Speedway, and Dirty Dancing at the Navy Yard next Wednesday; and then Barbie at Lyman Estate in Waltham and Home Alone at Boston Landing on Thursday the 11th.
None of the mainstream new releases appeal to me, which is fine, because I've got two Korean movies, some Jean-Pierre Melville (that link to my review of Le Doulos says maybe I should mainline his movies sometime and thanks for making that easy, Cambridge film institutions!), and Kill along with the Trailer Treats and some catching up.

Monday, July 01, 2024

Handsome Guys

I've been making my reservations to go to Montreal for the Fantasia International Film Festival, and they've been rolling out their lineup, so the festival was on my mind as I bought my ticket for Handsome Guys and went to see it on Saturday, and even more so as the two other purple in the audience and I had a pretty good time, with more laughter from us than I've heard from bigger crowds watching acknowledged classics lately. This, I thought, would probably be a huge hit at Fantasia, even if it was the "2130 show in DeSève generates enough word of mouth to sell out another matinee a few days later" variety. I'd certainly have loved being in a room with a couple hundred people laughing rather than the three of us who somehow became aware of a movie with no trailer that I don't think even showed up on the AMC and Fandango apps until sometime Thursday.

And I think that's what would have happened, five years ago: Instead of opening in American theaters two days after opening in South Korea, it would have played a few genre festivals, folks like me (most with much more of an audience) would have written reviews and gone on social media, and there would have been people waiting when it got theaters and home video. Now it's going to be a pretty brief blip in theaters, quite possible gone Tuesday because it was basically filling a screen meant for Despicable Me 4 for a few days. Maybe Well Go or Bayview pots it out on disc, maybe not.

And, sure, maybe these are more showtime than it would have had five or ten years ago! But I can't help but feel that for something like this - a goofy little movie from a first-time director - the current very fast home-market to worldwide to streaming pipeline doesn't really give movies many chances to succeed. It ain't great for the festivals and sites where people write about movies, either.

Random-ish thoughts on the previews before the movie:
  • it didn't take until seeing it this time for it to hit me (although I'm kind of embarrassed I didn't see it right away), but the Borderlands movie is really looking for the Guardians of the Galaxy audience, isn't it? I'm sure there have been other "irreverent space adventure" movies in the past ten years, but this one's really going for it, with the classic rock trailer, just enough gore and casual violence to make you go "ewww!" without it really feeling dark, and even a guy whose background is mostly weird horror (Eli Roth) in charge. Someone really wants to recreate the GOTG magic!
  • It's weird that you never see Nicolas Cage in the trailer for Longlegs. I mean, I love Maika Monroe as much as anybody, but I don't know that she's a draw outside of the indie-horror-knowers, especially as the lead in a dour serial-killer movie.
  • I am so ready to not see the trailer for Maxxxine any more, although it's kind of funny how the red-band one comes of as obnoxiously crass but the lack of f-bombs in the green-band version just throws the whole rhythm of it off.
  • Wait, are we really getting both Hijack 1971, in which a South Korean tries to divert a plane to the North, and Escape, in which North Koreans try to escape to the South, on the same day? I don't know how much demand for Korean cinema the typical city has, but probably not "two action movies about defecting" much. It seems like Sony and Well Go should have checked to make sure this didn't happen!

Haenseomgaijeu (Handsome Guys)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2024 in AMC Causeway Street #9 (first-run, laser DCP)

Handsome Guys is close enough in its setup to Tucker and Dale va. Evil - two threatening-looking bumpkins try to help an unconscious girl but are mistaken for killers by her friends, who off themselves trying to rescue her - that I'm tempted to call it an uncredited remake, but it goes bigger and goofier early and often enough to be its own thing. It is, at the very least, good enough in an empty theater that I wonder how it would play with a crowd.

The two "Handsome Guys" are Jae-pil (Lee Sung-min), gruff and weathered, and Sang-gu (Lee Hee-joon), friendly but weird-looking, who are going to the countryside to look at a house formerly owned by an American missionary that they can buy and fix-up. Not far away, pro golfer Lee Jung-bin (Jang Dong-joo) is traveling to his vacation home with friends Byung-jo (Kang Ki-doong), Yong-jun (Bin-Chan-uk), and Jason (Kim Dong-hoon); Jason's girlfriend Mina (Gong Seung-yeon), and Mina's friend Bora (Park Jeong-hwa), who has a crush on Jung-bin. When Bora hears that she was brought along as a prank, she runs off, knocking herself out when startled by Jae-pil & Sang-gu. The others go looking for her, or at least the cell phone whose contents could wreck Jung-bin's career in her pocket, but get the wrong idea even before it becomes clear that the black goat their car hit earlier and that Jae-pil & Sang-gu buried has placed in motion the events of a dark prophecy.

It's all very silly, and the trick first-time director Nam Dong-hyub and his cast is making the group of Sang-gu, Jae-pil, and Bora cheery enough to hang out with that the meaner and more horror-oriented elements feel more like spice pulling the rest of the movie back from being too sugary rather than the actual real story that has a plot. Lee Hee-joon, especially, gives a sunny performance as sweet but self-doubting himbo Sang-gu, always finding a way to position his large frame so that the audience can see him as a big teddy bear while implying that someone else might see him as a hulking, dangerous redneck. Lee Sung-min is a fun complement as his far less cheerful "brother from another mother" - director Nam kind of rides the line between queer-baiting and apparent frustration on Jae-pil's part that they're not more than best friends - and Park Jeong-hwa gives Bora enough depth to go from smitten to hurt to happy that these weirdos seem to actually like her. The rest of the cast, by and large, finds the right lane between their characters being huge turds one doesn't mind being killed in gruesome fashion and also funny as they misinterpret Sung-gu, Jae-pil, and Bora going about their business.

Nam uses everything from smash-cuts to putters to play all this out, but his go-to move is blithely showing the audience various things around the guys' home improvement project that could be lethal, lingering on them, and then moving on. Eventually, enough of them are bouncing around a viewer's head that they're a surprise when they actually get used (and by how; I kind of expected something else from the paint thinner). It's like he read about Chekhov's gun and said he'd take ten. It keeps the audience keyed up even as a couple other things are thrown in.

He's pretty consciously silly about it all, figuring gross-outs would probably break the fun atmosphere, but with got a good sense of how not to be cavalier about the bodies piling up, which lets him give folks their hero moments without breaking the atmosphere, even if the way they wind up fighting demons is kind of silly. He has fun pushing the inherent silliness of exorcism narratives even further than other Korean films often do, and often smartly - it is utterly logical that an American missionary would have a six-shooter that dispatches demons with silver bullets, for example, but just putting that gun in this group's hands wouldn't entirely make sense.

It's kind of derivative at points - you could describe this as Tucker and Dale vs Evil Dead and capture 80% of what's going on - but it never just feels like lifting, rolling into its own story throughout. It's 100 minutes of entertaining set-ups to bloody punchlines and doesn't often miss.