dir. Johnny To
Opens Fri Sept 28
Living Room Theaters
AS THE TWO-GUN, gazillion-bullet balletic style of Hong Kong cinema becomes increasingly assimilated into mainstream Hollywood (see Shoot 'Em Up for an example) it can be hard to remember what a blast it was when this stuff first turned up on the bootleg circuit. Awesome as the carnage whipped up by John Woo and Tsui Hark was, just as important to their films was their delirious, unashamed romanticism, featuring stone-faced killers who could only express their deepest feelings through the firing of a few thousand rounds.
Exiled, the 44th(!) film from director Johnny To, serves as a brilliant reminder of the glory days of Heroic Bloodshed, an era when Asian men in bad suits and cheap sunglasses were the coolest dudes in the entire universe. The plot follows a hit team (led by HK stalwart Anthony Wong) dispatched to Macau to take out a former ally. After getting reacquainted via a friendly little gunfight, the gang decides to accompany him on one last mission. Their sadistic boss is not amused. To, a filmmaker whose biggest successes have been with more realistic gangster dramas like the recent Triad Election, here drifts into surrealism, with glorious results. (Whenever a bullet finds its mark, the result is a gorgeous little abstract puff of red mist.) Call it a flashback, a comeback, or the end of an era; all I know is that I want to see it again. ANDREW WRIGHT
In the Shadow of the Moon
dir. David Sington
Opens Fri Sept 28
CONSPIRACY THEORISTS love to hack away at the perceived authenticity of history's big moments. Personally, I've doubted the moon landings' legitimacy since the age of seven, when I saw James Bond gatecrash a fake moonscape in Diamonds Are Forever. Now—having watched David Sington's documentary on the actual landings—I'm a believer again, which is quite a turnaround in just 100 minutes.
In the Shadow of the Moon features interviews with surviving crewmembers from NASA's Apollo moon missions, along with remastered footage from the moon missions themselves. Yet despite the amazing photography, unprecedented access, and the fact that it's relating mankind's greatest achievement, the film occasionally struggles to stay interesting. True, when one of the astronauts talks about coming back to Earth and "giving himself to Jesus," you realize it's probably hard to be anything other than totally earnest about such a moment. But come on, guys! Make an Ewok joke or something!
Still, astronauts aren't chosen for their screen presence, but because they can keep their heart rate at 70 while blasting off toward Venus. It's a damned dangerous job, and they did it—and for that, they can talk deadpan on what happened, and still earn your respect. Plus, did you know Buzz Aldrin peed in his space suit on the lunar surface? Sure, you can build a moon on a soundstage, but you can't make up facts like that. MATT DAVIS
The Jane Austen Book Club
dir. Robin Swicord
Opens Fri Sept 28
FIVE VERY DIFFERENT women—and one very single man!—come together to explore the works of Jane Austen. There are meetings at Starbucks. There are montages. There are life lessons learnt through literature.
Ironically, the Jane Austen framework actually renders The Jane Austen Book Club far less intelligent than it would be otherwise: Hokey reading montages and a forced structure (in which each "chapter" of the film corresponds to a book) do much to distract from the fact that the writing is actually pretty engaging. And the cast is pretty likeable, albeit in a market-researched kind of way—the filmmakers seem determined to appeal to every female demographic, from the uptight and shrill to the free-spirited and lesbian. Their fatal misstep, though, is in casting Kathy Baker as that most irritating of feminine archetypes: the middle-aged woman in touch with her own uniqueness, who demonstrates her irrepressible individuality through her taste in elaborate earwear and ethnically eclectic ponchos. Baker's unrelenting annoyingness and the noxious, Baby-Sitters Club-for-grownups framework of the film collude to create a film that's easy to watch, but nearly impossible to recommend. ALISON HALLETT