Friday, September 20, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 20 September 2019 - 26 September 2019

Here, we have a weekend that offers what looks like a blockbuster, what actually will be, and what once would have been.

  • The thing that's going to pack a bunch of theaters is the theatrical continuation of Downton Abbey, which has had special fan screenings, tie-in events, and all the other things usually associated with big superheroes and fantasies, but the folks who watched it religiously on PBS will almost certainly turn out for this new story in which both upstairs and downstairs must prepare for a visit from the Royal Family. It's at
    The Coolidge Corner Theatre, the Somerville, West Newton, the Lexington Venue, Kendall Square, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema), Revere, and the SuperLux.

    The Coolidge also goes all the way to their other extreme this weekend, welcoming Wu-Tang Clan founder RZA for Live from The 36th Chamber, in which he provides a hip-hop soundtrack to Gordon Liu in Lau Kar Leung's classic The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, answering questions after the 9pm shows on Friday and Saturday, though not the Saturday matinee. He may or may not be hanging around to introduce the weekend's midnight shows, which feature a 35mm print of Kill Bill Volume 1 (for which he handled the soundtrack) on Friday and his own The Man with the Iron Fists on Saturday.

    There's a different live show on Monday, with the Alloy Orchestra accompanying Joseph von Sternberg's Underworld as part of "Sounds of Silence". Tuesday is Cine Almodovar day, with this week's selection a 35mm print of All About my Mother, and they head out to Cambridge's Mount Auburn Cemetery for a double feature of Wings of Desire and The Royal Tenenbaums.
  • The thing that looks like the big blockbuster is Ad Astra, starring Brad Pitt as an astronaut on a mission to save the Solar System from a top-secret project spearheaded by his father (Tommy Lee Jones). It's got all the giant screens and big crazy action, but it's also the latest from James Gray, whose epic stories have not always been mainstream, but are usually interesting. It's at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Jordan's Furniture (Imax), Boston Common (including Imax), Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport (including Icon-X), South Bay (including Imax & Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax), the Embassy, Revere (including MX4D), and the SuperLux.

    And, maybe 25 years ago, Rambo: Last Blood, would have been a big deal, with this entry featuring Sylvester Stallone's troubled Vietnam veteran seeking vengeance on someone who killed someone else important to him. Paz Vega's in it. Apparently it's awful; I'm guessing if Stallone made more or less the same script with a different name, it would go straight to VOD like most of what Stallone does these days. Find out yourself at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, the Embassy, and Revere (including XPlus).

    With a bunch of screens, subscription programs to make more enticing, and a little more competition opening soon, some of the multiplexes also program some oddball genre movies: Fenway has Villains, in which a couple of small-time crooks played by Bill Skarsgaard & Maika Monroe break into the wrong house and discover that Jeffrey Donovan & Kyra Sedgwick are playing at a different level. Fresh Pond gives a surprisingly full slate to The Wedding Year, which stars Sarah Hyland and Tyler James Williams as a couple trying to keep their relationship going while attending seven weddings in a single year. Boston Common apparently liked what it saw during the premiere screenings of Promare, because they are giving this year's absolutely insane Fantasia closing night film a full week's run.

    That one alternated with Tokyo Ghoul S last week, and Fenway & Boston Common give that movie one last show on Friday night. There are special anniversary screenings of The Shawshank Redemption on Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday at Fenway and Assembly Row, with Revere also showing it on Wednesday. Fenway, Boston Common, and Assembly Row will be showing the new 4K remaster of The Shining on Thursday (although only Fenway's screening specifies 4K projection). Tangled is the "Dream Big, Princess" show at Boston Common and Assembly Row this week.
  • In addition to Downton, Kendall Square also gets IFFBoston selection Ms. Purple, a story about a young woman working as a karaoke hostess to care for her dying father in L.A.'s Koreatown. It shares a lot with director Justin Chon's Gook but is also 180 degrees away in some ways..
  • The Brattle Theatre has a new restoration of Streetwise from Friday to Sunday; it's a 1984 documentary looking at the homeless and other sidelined populations of Seattle at a time when it was called America's most liveable city. Director Martin Bell didn't entirely move on after finishing that film, and Saturday's and Sunday's matinees can bee seen as a double feature with Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell, which follows one of the subjects over the next thirty years.

    In an example of how long independent films can spend in distribution limbo, Tigers Are Not Afraid, a terrific film that played the Brattle during the 2018 Boston Underground Film Festival, returns for its regular engagement with late shows Friday to Sunday and a later-evening show on Tuesday. They also have a DocYard presentation of The Seer and the Unseen on Monday, which follows an Icelandic seer said to communicate directly with the island's elves or "huldufólk", with both director Sara Dosa and subject “Ragga” Jónsdóttir on hand for a Q&A. Another documentary plays Wednesday, with Anthropocene: The Human Epoch looking like a visually stunning documentary of how humankind has transformed the Earth (it also plays Kendall Square that night).
  • Apple Fresh Pond continues to import a bunch of movies from India this week, including Hindi-language romantic comedy The Zoya Factor, starring Sonam Kapoor as a woman who finds herself in a high-profile romance with Nikhil Khoda (Dulquer Salmaan), the captain of India's national cricket team. They also get Tamil action-adventure Kaappaan, which also plays dubbed into Telugu under the title "Bandobast", and Telugu thriller Valmiki. Dream Girl, Gang Leader, and Chhichhore also hang around.

    Over at Boston Common, Tony Leung Ka-Fai's adaptation of the popular Japanese series Midnight Diner comes out, having apparently been in limbo a while but coincidentally got a release date when Leung said some nice things about the Chinese government during the Hong Kong protests. They also get Chinese youth comedy The Last Wish, in which two friends of a teen with muscular dystrophy help him do the "manly" things he can't before the disease takes him; director Tian Yu-sheng also did the Ex Files movies and will be co-directing next years sequel to The Mermaid. Nezha continues to play Boston Common.

    Revere bring El Equipito (whose full title includes a "chapter 1", but that may be part of the joke) in from the Dominican Republic; it teams Dominican stars La Insuperable and writer/director Roberto Angel Salcedo in a stolen-documents caper.
  • The Harvard Film Archive has nothing going Friday, but starts the day on Saturday with a $5 family matinee of Supa Mondo in which a sick Kenyan nine-year-old who loves Jackie Chan flicks is brought to her mother's home village to live out her short life, and whose sister decides to help her be Jackie Chan for a day. After that, they welcome filmmaker Godfrey Reggio for two of his most famous documentaries screening on film - Powaqqatsi on Saturday night and Naqoyqatsi on Sunday, both preceded by short films. They also continue The B-Film: Low-Budget Hollywood Cinema 1935-1959, with a Sunday afternoon double feature of Crime Wave (16mm) & Plunder Road (35mm) and a Val Newton-produced pairing of The Leopard Man & The Ghost Ship on Monday, both on 35mm
  • The Museum of Fine Arts wraps their "Festival Buzz" series this weekend, with The Ground Beneath My Feet (Friday/Sunday), The Nightingale (Friday), The Farewell (Saturday), and A Long Day's Journey into Night (2D Sunday). Aretha Franklin: Amazing Grace also plays Saturday..
  • The Boston Film Festival runs at the Seaport through the weekend, with Whaling and The Wild on Friday, shorts packages Saturday & Sunday afternoons, She's In Portland on Saturday night, a free showing of In Their Shoes at the Boston Public Library on Sunday, ending back at the Seaport with The Dog Doc, Once Upon a River, and Terrence Malick's A Hidden Life on Sunday.
  • The Regent Theatre has The New York Cat & Dog Film Festivals this weekend, with the kitties Friday night and Sunday afternoon and the doggos all day Saturday. A couple days later, they bring out adventure-sports film This Is Moto on Tuesday and two shows of ZZ Top: That Little Ol' Band From Texas on Wednesday. Boston Common also has it onThursday night, though it's not clear whether it's one-night-only for them or a night-before sneak.
  • The Somerville Theatre has one 35mm show of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on Saturday (it's digital the rest of the week), and also busts out the projector for a "Silents, Please" show of Harold Lloyd's Girl Shy on Sunday afternoon, with "Jack Attack!" shows of The Evening Star and Mars Attacks! later in the day and another one of As Good As It Gets on Thursday.
  • ArtsEmerson is the latest place to show Toni Morrison: The PIeces I Am on Friday night in the Paramount's Bright Screening Room. Regular resident Bright Lights takes it back with Ask Dr. Ruth on Tuesday, crossing over with the Latino Film Festival on Thursday, as director Chelsea Hernandez is there to discuss her documentary Building the American Dream. Both of those are free and open to the public.

    The Boston Latino International Film Festival actually kicks off at the MFA with a sold-out screening of The Infiltrators, and also shows Siqueiros: Walls of Passion and Bakosó: Afrobeats of Cuba at the Tsai Auditorium on the Harvard campus on Thursday night.
  • It's The West Newton Cinema's turn to play host to a free GlobeDocs screening on Monday, with The Promised Band following a group of Israeli and Palestinian friends who use band practice as an excuse to hang out together, despite their questionable talent. Director Jen Heck and subject Viki Auslaender will be on hand, and reservations are required.
  • On Thursday, The Boston Women's Film Festival opens with Sister Aimee at the Brattle and Fast Color at the MFA
  • Cinema Salem has Jirga, about an Australian soldier submitting himself to village justice in Afghanistan, in their screening room. They also show the "Final Cut" of Apocalypse Now on Thursday night

    The Luna Theater a program of shorts from the GLAS Animation Festival on Friday and Saturday evening, The Farewell on Saturday afternoon and Tuesday evening, The Nightingale Saturday afternoon, Labyrinth all day Sunday, and Cambodian rock & roll documentary Don't Think I've Forgotten on Monday evening. As usual, Saturday Morning Cartoons, Sunday's "Magic Mystery Movie Club", and Weirdo Wednesday are free surprise screenings.
  • Joe's Free Films still shows The Princess Bride playing outside on Friday night, along with a couple others.

Definitely Ad Astra, maybe Midnight Diner and Girl Shy, and I'm awfully tempted by RZA, seeing Promare on the big screen again, Anthropocene, and who knows how the rest will fit together.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 9 September 2019 - 15 September 2019

Let us observe a brief moment of silence for MoviePass, which sputtered and hung on for far longer than was expected (or dignified). Even with the last year or so when I could almost never find a way to use it despite the regular $10/month charge taken into consideration, I contributed to them losing a lot of money.


This Week in Tickets

It was kind of a weird experience going to the Regal at Fenway on Tuesday some developer has turned the empty space where Best Buy used to be into the "TimeOut Market", despite the fact that there is not, as far as I know, I Boston edition of TimeOut, at least not in print. It's all very upscale with every storefront having the same sort of signage and color scheme and uniform, all of them offering some sort of elevated comfort food with two or three more fancy ingredients than a grilled cheese sandwich really needs. I'm sure it's all good, but it seems so calculated.

Then you go into the theater and they've basically got the box office shut down but not yet converted into self-serve stations the way they are at Boston Common, highlighting how these spaces designed around interaction have been automated. It makes me wonder if the new place by North Station will forgot the conventional box office the same way the Showcase SuperLux in Chestnut Hill does. Once I've got my ticket from one of the machines (because I'm old and like to keep stubs), they don't even rip it anymore, just using a hole punch. Once I got into Rezo, it was business as usual aside from the movie itself being an animated autobiographical documentary of a Georgian screenwriter/puppet theater person I'd never heard of, but he's evidently famous enough in the former Soviet Union to have brought out a fair-sized older Slavic crowd for his neat little movie.

With work keeping me late and the very long It: Chapter 2 throwing off showtimes, I didn't catch much the rest of the week, but did finally start in on Too Old to Die Young, the Amazon limited series written by crime-comics ace Ed Brubaker and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Three episodes in, it's asking for a lot of patience - those three episodes take over four hours to watch and often move slowly - but its undeniably as stylish as anything Refn's done and you can start to see some stories emerging. Apologies to the upstairs neighbors, though - those gunshots are loud and come out of nowhere!

Saturday afternoon it was the pretty-good Fagara from Hong Kong, which had a fairly light crowd and that's a shame because it seems like a better movie than a lot of other Chinese-language dramas of a similar sort that make it to North America. There have been a few like that in recent years, and it's a shame that they never seem to last as long as their Chinese analogs, even when shot in Mandarin.

After that, it was down the Green Line to see Billy Joel at Fenway Park, which didn't seem much different from the last time I saw him a decade or two ago. It's an odd sort of concert, where he openly mentions he's got nothing new for us, not having released a new album in 25 years or so, so that even when he's playing things that weren't hits, they've been part of his live-show rotation for so long that they're basically the same thing to the audience. So it's good, but weirdly similar to the studio versions - "My Life" has kind of evolved into something a little different, and "The River of Dreams" is far enough away from his usual that the percussionist and their equipment can reshape it a bit, but by now the audio guys have figured out how to mix the backup singers into something sounding like young Billy Joel for the notes he can't hit.

Fun? Sure. I think the extra years help on a few songs where he can lean into a thicker Long Island tough-guy accent ("Big Shot" and "Big Man on Mulberry Street"), he got to one of my favorites that may or may not be quite so popular ("Vienna") early, and he included "Uptown Girl" in the encore even though you could see from watching him that he's got roughly 4% of the enthusiasm for it that the audience does. Playing the hits.

Sunday finished with Hustlers on the spiffy Dolby Cinema screen at Assembly Row. That is also pretty decent; not great but good enough for an evening's entertainment, and just content with being that, coming in at under two hours and not connected to anything else. It's the sort of contemporary middle-class movie that Hollywood doesn't make enough of, and while I'd like it to be better, I'm glad it did well.

Looks like more good stuff rolls out this coming week, so hopefully my Letterboxd page will reflect that (and hopefully I'll be able to backfill more festival films before that starts as well).

Hustlers

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 15 September 2019 in AMC Assembly Row #2 (first-run, Dolby Cinema DCP)

Hustlers is a pretty darn decent movie based upon a true story in the "and then this happened" mold, the sort that doesn't necessarily reveal some greater truth or fit together like an intricate puzzle, but has enough of the messy reality that a viewer can identify with its criminal subjects. There's clearly more to the story than this movie gives the audience, but it delivers what's advertised, and is probably especially satisfying for those more interested camaraderie than crime.

It establishes the friendship first as Dorothy (Constance Wu), who has just moved up from stripping as "Destiny" in a roadside Jersey place to a club in Manhattan, makes friends with Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), the star attraction who teaches her how to entertain rather than just strut in her underwear. In 2008, with insane amounts of money flowing through Wall Street and into the clubs as finance bros want to get off the same way they trade, it's highly lucrative, at least until she gets pregnant. When she returns a few years later, after the financial crash and the arrival of a wave of skinny Eastern European girls who will do anything in the champagne room for cheap, not so much. Ramona's new plan is "fishing" - finding guys in bars to bring to the club and maxing out their credit cards once they're passed out. Working in teams with friends Annabelle (Lili Reinhart) and Mercedes (Keke Palmer), they're soon making what they used to, but Ramona is ambitious, and soon finds ways to drain the marks more efficiently.

You don't have to squint too hard to see the parallels here: The amorality of Wall Street seems to jump to Ramona and company like a virus, and their schemes in many ways start to resemble those of the people they're ripping off, with the ladies selling a diluted product that, once they've started drugging the guys, contains as little getting wasted with attentive naked girls as their derivatives did top-rated securities. That sort of thing. That's not really what the movie is about, though; writer/director Lorene Scafaria spends relatively little time pondering where the enterprise is delicious revenge or a sign of how far the rot extends - Destiny more or less shrugs when it's brought up later in the movie - as opposed to the more uplifting found-family aspects. There are multiple scenes of women getting new apartments or bonding over their parents' abandonment, and the centerpiece is a Christmas party where Ramona is delighted to meet Destiny's grandmother. That material resonates with the audience well enough - it's a big part of why the film can be easy to embrace - but Scafaria tends to stick with those easy parts and elide over the other sides of them that actually make things in the story happen: The film ultimately turns on what happens when a member of that family gets out of control and endangers everyone, but that's something that isn't examined too closely.

Full review at eFIlmCritic


Rezo
Fagara
Hustlers
Billy Joel

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Fagara

I think Fagara is one of the bigger local releases in Hong Kong this year; it was getting prominent placement on the Hong Kong film times app that is still hanging around on my phone when I checked it for other reasons a month ago, and maybe more. It's got Sammi Cheng, who is a big deal there, although it reminds me that not enough folks have seen her and Andy Lau in Blind Detective here. There's good folks involved, with director Heiward Mak an up-and-comer who has worked on a number of varied projects, from co-writing Men Suddenly in Black 2 when just out of college, to working with Pang Ho-Cheung on Love in a Puff, to last year's crazy action movie The Golden Job, to this, produced by Ann Hui. That's a bit of everything with everyone.

It's a good movie, and one built to play well throughout the Chinas, even if that means having the Hong Kong-based characters speaking Mandarin. I am mildly curious about a thing or two that could have had it skirting China's censorship issues, most notably that middle daughter Branch seems like she might be gay - she's in a career where that's not unusual, her obsessed fan is female, and her family half-talks about finding a partner but also lets it go. It seems to be part of Megan Lai's performance even if they can't say it.

Hua jiao zhi wei (Fagara)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 14 September 2019 in AMC Boston Common #5 (first-run, DCP)

Fagara is the sort of small family drama whose story has been told more than a few times - who hasn't discovered their father had a secret life after he passed away - but is just better enough at it on most counts that it actually winds up fairly impressive. It's so well put together that director Heiward Mak Hei-Yan can dispense with much of what other movies would use to prop it up.

In this case, the daughter is Acacia Ha (Sammi Cheng Sau-Man), who is not quite estranged from her father Ha Leung (Kenny Bee) but doesn't cross Hong Kong's harbor very often to see him, either, at least not until one of the employees at his restaurant calls urgently from the hospital; by the time she gets there, he's passed on. When going through the contacts on his phone, she discovers that two of them also call him "Dad" - Branch Au Yeung (Megan Lai Ya-Yan), a professional billiards player in Taiwan, and Cherry Ha (Li Xiaofeng), a fashion blogger in Chongqing. She gives them the news and invites them to the funeral, and though wary, they soon bond over their father's famous fagara hot pot. Unfortunately, that hot pot is a secret recipe, and the restaurant has a year to go on a lease Acacia can't afford to break.

Mak does a neat thing in one of the early scenes, when Acacia is working as a travel agent and has to book a trip that a businessman is taking with his secretary; a sequence of disapproving acquiescence that establishes this sort of adultery as normalized. It makes it a little easier to come out of the hurt and shock of Acacia finding out she has two half-sisters without needing to spend much time judging or explaining their father. It's there, in the way people ask questions at the funeral, but mostly it plays as an important factor in who the women are now. It's worth noting that what might be romantic subplots in other films are held a bit at arm's length, the audience not quite sure what to make of Acacia's two potential suitors or Cherry's seemingly complete disinterest in having one; if Leung and the women he abandoned did damage them, it's not something that will be cathartically remedied after his death.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Friday, September 13, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 13 September 2019 - 19 September 2019

Does the Toronto International Film Festival run another weekend, or did it end on Thursday? In the former, a couple of its bigger entries are hitting theaters even before it's finished.

  • The one people seem to be excited about is Hustlers, with Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez as part of a team of strippers with a scheme to rip off the Wall Street types who come to their clubs. It's been described as both a thriller and an operatic drama, which sounds ambitious. It's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport (including Icon-X), South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema), Revere, and the SuperLux.

    The reviews aren't quite so good for The Goldfinch, featuring Oakes Fegley and later Ansel Elgort as a boy taken in by a wealthy family after his mother is killed in a terrorist attack. Word is Nicole Kidman and the cinematography by Roger Deakins are good, but that the film is bloated at two and a half hours. That's at the Somerville, Fresh Pond, West Newton, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    Boston Common also opens Fantasia Festival selection Freaks, which I suggest seeing knowing as little going in as possible. Official Secrets picks up screens at the Capitol, West Newton, Fenway, and Revere after having opened at the Coolidge, Kendall Square, and Boston Common last week.

    This week's "Dream Big, Princess" selection at AMC Boston Common and Assembly Row is the classic animated Beauty and the Beast. Anniversary screenings this week include El Norte and Fenway & Assembly Row on Sunday and Star Trek: The Motion Picture on Sunday & Wednesday at Fenway, the Seaport (Sunday only), South Bay, Revere, and the SuperLux. Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row and Revere play Game Changers on Monday, with the documentary featuring Arnold Schwarzeneggar, Jackie Chan, and other athletes being confronted with the idea that everything they've learned about protein and muscle-building may be incorrect. Rob Zombie's 3 From Hell has a (fittingly) three-day run from Monday to Wednesday at Fenway, South Bay, and Revere. There are also two Japanese imports that played Fantasia hitting theaters this week: The pretty-decent live-action Tokyo Ghoul S plays Boston Common, Fenway, the Kendall, and Revere on Monday and Wednesday, while the downright fantastic animated Promare plays Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere on Tuesday and Thursday.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre,Somerville, and Kendall Square open Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice, a documentary about the phenomenally popular, category defying singer.

    Friday is the 13th, which means Jason Vorhees comes to town, although the town in questioni is Medfield, where the Coolidge has a double feature of the original Friday the 13th and the 2009 remake at the Rocky Woods reservation. Back in Brookline, the Coolidge's midnights are David Lynch classics on 35mm, with Eraserhead on Friday and Blue Velvet on Saturday. Monday's Big Screen Classic is Cleo from 5 to 7, with an optional seminar for those who would like to dig in deeper. Tuesday's "Cine Almodovar" presentation is a 35mm print of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, with Legally Blonde the "Rewind!" show on Thursday. On Wednesday, they have a special Anniversary Celebration, marking 30 years since the theater was rescued from demolition, re-emerging as a non-profit boutique cinema.
  • Kendall Square brings out Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins, a documentary on the famed Texas newspaper columnist whose wit was only matched by her dedication to taking on corruption. They also have A Faithful Man, in which director Louis Garrel sets up a situation where both a former girlfriend played by Laetitia Casta and the beautiful kid sister of the man she left him for (Lily-Rose Depp) decide to re-enter his character's life after that friend dies. Not self-indulgent at all.
  • The Brattle Theatre plays Ray & Liz from Friday to Monday, with photographer Richard Billingham making the jump to the big screen to tell a story about life in working-class Birmingham during the 1980s. Those days also feature a 35mm print of the original A Nightmare on Elm Street at 9:30pm.

    There's also a Sunday-morning showing of a local crowd-sourced documentary, Motherload with discussion afterward (RSVP required). One Tuesday, they have a one-night-only screening of One Cut of the Dead, which is the ideal way to see it because when you're backed in a crowd like that, you can't bolt or turn it off during the very rough first third that you need for the absolutely brilliant finale to work. Wednesday is National Art House Cinema Day, which the Brattle celebrates with screenings of My Twentieth Century and Putney Swope, while writer Tom Sturges visits on Thursday to talk about his father Preston, the book he has written about the man, and introduce one of his greatest films, Sullivan's Travels, on 35mm.
  • It must be some sort of big Indian holiday season, because Apple Fresh Pond has another big batch of new movies this week. This week, that includes Bollywood romantic comedy Dream Girl, starring Ayushmann Khurrana and Nushrat Bharucha; legal thriller Section 375; Gang Leader, in which Nani plays a man helping five women in a revenge plot; and Pailwaan, with Sudeep as a fighter who becomes a folk hero and political figure on top of being an athlete. The first two are in Hindi; the language for the latter two aren't clear. Chhichhoreand Mission Mangal are still playing, too.

    Boston Common picks up Fagara the same time it hits Hong Kong; it's the new one from rising-star director Heiward Mak and features Sammi Cheng as a Hong Kong woman who discovers that her father had two other daughters, one in Taiwan and one in the Mainland, all under various sorts of family pressure, who must work together to pay off their father's debt. Ann Hui produces and Andy Lau has a cameo. Nezha is still going strong at Boston Common, also opening at the Seaport and Revere.
  • The Harvard Film Archive begins a series honoring The B-Film: Low-Budget Hollywood Cinema 1935-1959 this weekend. Friday and Sunday offer a 35mm double feature of the new restoration of Detour (restored on Friday and an archival print on Sunday) & Five Came Back, with 16mm print of Donovan's Brain playing later on Friday. Saturday's early twin bill is Crime Wave (16mm) & Plunder Road (35mm), with Peter Lorre in Island of Doomed Men (on 35mm) later. They also welcome Sofia Bohdanowicz, perhaps not quite in time for Sunday afternoon's screening of Maison du Bonheur, but she will be there to introduce short film "Veslemøy’s Song" (on 16mm) and feature MS Slavic 7 on Monday.
  • It's mostly "Festival Buzz" at The Museum of Fine Arts this week, with A Long Day's Journey into Night (2D Friday), The Beach Bum (Friday/Sunday), The Souvenir (Sunday), The Farewell (Wednesday), and The Nightingale (Wednesday). They will also show Aretha Franklin: Amazing Grace on Saturday, preceded by a discussion with Dr. Emmett Price III of Gordon Conwell Theological School and Boston Globe columnist Renee Graham.
  • There is an India International Film Festival of Boston this weekend, with Friday's fancy opening night at the JFK library featuring Chef Vikas Khanna on hand to introduce the adaptation of his novel The Last Color, two free screenings at the Cambridge Public Library on Saturday, and a number of other shows at the Wheelock Family Theater at Boston University on Saturday and Sunday
  • School is back in session, which mean Bright Lights is back in the Paramount's Bright Screening Room. That's two free movies a week (if you show up early enough) and discussion afterward. This fall's series opens with Booksmart on Tuesday and Wild Nights with Emily on Thursday, both followed by faculty guests.
  • The Somerville Theatre has been running in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood via DCP for the past week or so, but will be breaking the film back out again on the big screen this weekend. On Wednesday, The Boston Underground Film Festival hosts their monthly screening, with "A September to Dismember" offering literal mayhem - and if I read the schedule right, they're not necessarily in the Micro-Cinema this month (although it might be wise to buy tickets early just in case).
  • The Boston Film Festival is still a thing, and has moved on to the Seaport for its entire length this year. Opening night on Thursday actually looks kind of good, with Columbine High School documentary American Tragedy at 7pm (with plentiful guests) and what's apparently the U.S. premiere of Taika Waititi's Jojo Rabbit at 9pm (with no guests). The festival runs until Sunday the 22nd.
  • Cinema Salem has documentary Fiddlin' in their small room this week, and also has a preview screening of Jirga on Thursday, with post-film discussion of the film about an Australian soldier submitting himself to village justice in Afghanistan led by veteran Tom Laaser and educator Mitch Manning.

    The Luna Theater has The Farewell on Friday and Saturday evenings, Honeyland and The Nightingale Saturday afternoon, Brazil three times on Sunday, and documentary Island of the Hungry Ghosts on Tuesday evening. There are also the usual weekly free shows, with Saturday Morning Cartoons, Sunday's "Magic Mystery Movie Club", and Weirdo Wednesday.
  • There's a chill in the air, but Joe's Free Films shows three outdoor films Friday night, including Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Rocky, and Le Brio.


I'll check out Fagara and Hustlers, hit Fenway Park for both baseball and a concert, and hopefully fit in some B-movies and/or Promare.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Rezo

I have a couple of Russian co-workers, and I should probably ask them how popular and well-remembered Revan "Rezo" Gabriadze and his films still are. Probably not well-known as a filmmaker - or maybe writers get remembered more in Russia - so I'd probably ask about Kin-Dza-Dza! and hope I'm not annoying them. I've never really heard of the guy, just coming across this film as one of the Russian flicks that occasionally gets booked at Fenway (very occasionally - something like one show three times a year), seeing "animated autobiographical documentary", and figuring, sure, why not? Given that it didn't really seem to be part of any sort of series with branding on it, I actually wasn't sure whether or not it would have English subtitles, crossing my fingers.

It did, thankfully, as did the animated short that helped pad the 62-minute running time out a little. I suspect I would have gotten the gist without it, but that would have been a truly unusual night at the movies.

It's kind of notable how not-quite-incestuous this program was: Both short and feature were produced by Timur Bekmambetov, I believe the "Zhanna Bekmambetova" who directed this short is his daughter, and the feature is directed by Rezo's son Levan - who also directed the Bekmambetov-produced Unfriended. Makes it easy to get everyone to agree to play together, I guess.

"Chik-Chirk" ("Tweet-tweet")

* * * (out of four)
Seen 10 September 2019 in Regal Fenway #6 (special engagement, DCP)

I saw and enjoyed this back when it played as one of the runners-up during this year's Oscar, and though it was only seven months ago, I could swear at certain points that this was some sort of extended cut. I didn't remember there being as much about the future husband the first time through, and I'm still not sure what the bird represents.

Still a very pretty movie, at the very least, and with a lot of charming, well-animated moments. Well worth twelve minutes and nice to see again.

What I wrote back in February

Rezo

* * * (out of four)
Seen 10 September 2019 in Regal Fenway #6 (special engagement, DCP)

I'm not sure I've ever before seen a biographical documentary where at the end, I wasn't entirely sure what the subject was famous for. But that's where Rezo leaves me, as Revan Gabriadze spends almost no time discussing his life's work, nor the personal life that happened alongside it. The film, directed by his son Levan, has him telling stories of the father's youth and a philosophical moment or two as he returns home an old man, apparently presuming that anyone watching this film knows the rest or will look it up. It's an odd but not unpleasant sensation.

Revaz was born in what is now the country of Georgia, at the time part of the Soviet Union, in 1936; his uncle was a pilot who died during the war. He grew up in the city of Kutaisi, something of a mommy's boy, teased and bullied by everyone in town from kids to pallbearers, his best friend a rat in the library with whom he shared books (as Revaz devoured the contents, "Ippoli" chewed the leather covers). An illness led to him spending the summer in the country with his grandparents, next door to a camp full of German POWs. One was assigned to help around their plot of land, becoming a source of friction between the grandparents. By the end of two summers, he's grown more confident, enough to take chances on himself as a writer and artist, eventually making movies in Moscow and opening a marionette theater.

Animation and cartooning are not mentioned during the film; maybe they don't need to be. Gabriadze the elder is credited as the art director, so the animation is presumably based upon Rezo's own drawings. Those images are simple and appealing, brought to life in what appears to be classic cel-based style with fluid movement, though it sometimes skips showy, complex motions (for instance, when Rezo's grandmother washes her hair, the audience doesn't see any water). Every character is full of personality that emerges right away, and crude jokes share space with sometimes foreboding atmospheres. His flights of fantasy as a young boy are bounded, built around the portraits of authority figures judging him, intimidating in a way that a creative child can either miss or twist to his own amusement. Kutaisi itself is crowded and overwhelming when he is there as a child, though a bit less so when he revisits as an adult.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Monday, September 09, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 2 September 2019 - 8 September 2019

You may see a lot of empty white space on these pages; I see the weekend that I finally reached the bottom of the stack of comics that's been growing since I went to London for vacation.

This Week in Tickets

(And, good gravy, is DC a disaster right now. It seems like they always are, but "Year of the Villain" is currently in the "re-reading the same beats in every series" stage, seemingly every idea Brian Bendis has for Superman is wrong-headed, the whole thing with Bane and Flashpoint Batman in Batman is awful. Who looked at these pitches and said "this will be fun and worth $4/issue"?)

It was, at least, a good week for baseball, or at least the two games I had tickets to. Wednesday was the result of me ordering in a kind of dumb manner - I didn't reallize that the ticket I got in a four-pack was also the Peanuts bobblehead game, so I bought a separate ticket for that, and then couldn't unload my original. A bummer, but I had a really nice seat for a game in which Mookie Betts hit the first two pitches he saw over the Monster (which also got me to the line-free King's Hawaiian barbecue concession stand during the game and out at the end with little fuss). Friday had me nervous - bullpen game against the seemingly-unstoppable-no-matter-who-gets-hurt Yankees - but they wound up winning 6-1.

But I digress from the entry on my movie blog that lists the movies I've seen in a given week. Those were seen on Sunday's excursion to Brookline, where I spent most of the day at the Coolidge. It started with Balloon, a German film that played Canadian theaters while I was in Montreal for Fantasia but which I didn't have time for. I'd sort of pegged it as a family movie at the time - it was rated G in Quebec - but it's not exactly that. There was apparently an earlier version (Night Crossing) made by Disney, but it wasn't well-remembered, and the makers of this one had to spend years negotiating with that company to get the rights to the story back (I'm guessing what the prominent thanks to Roland Emmerich in the credits refer to). After that, there was still a lot of convincing necessary, especially since the director was from Bavaria rather than the former East German and more known for comedy than thrillers. The film doesn't quite get to how, after reunification, some of the escapees were able to get their old house back and move back in, but that's neat.

(Aside: Thomas Krestschmann has played so many Nazis in international films despite being a tremendously charismatic guy that it's almost funny that he goes home and gets cast as Stasi.)

It wasn't a long wait after that for Official Secrets, which is pretty decent but not something I particularly regret missing at IFFBoston, even if there were some guests. It feels a bit like the filmmakers finding a story that makes a number of important points and seems dramatic enough but which only makes for a pretty-good movie rather than the great one you figure they'd gone for.

Hopefully a busier week for here and my Letterboxd page coming up, if only because there's a werid no-baseball Friday.

Ballon (Balloon)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 8 September 2019 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (Geothe-Institut German Film, DCP)

When I first saw the description of Balloon, I pegged it as a light family adventure, likely because the idea of fleeing a repressive society in a homemade hot-air balloon sounds fanciful, and the film didn't have enough red-flag content for the local ratings board to give it anything but the least restrictive rating. Of course, evading the Stasi while attempting to escape East Germany was no small matter, and that makes this movie a serious, no-nonsense thriller even if it doesn't have any harsh language or graphic violence. It's something of a throwback in that way, but that works for it.

It opens in 1979 on the day of the "Youth Dedication Ceremony" in the city of Possneck. Frank Strelzyk (Jonas Holdenrieder) is one of the graduating eighth-graders being honored as father Peter (Friedrich Mücke) mocks the presiding official to wife Doris (Karoline Schuch), despite the fact that they'll be giving neighbors Erik & Beate Baumann (Ronald Kukulies & Elisabeth Wasserscheid) a ride home, and Erik is a sort of mid-level bureaucrat with the Stasi. They don't intend to face the consequences, though, as the Strelzyks and their friends Günter & Petra Wetzel (David Kross & Alicia von Rittberg) have been working years on a hot-air balloon that will take them south, over the border to Bavaria, and the wind is right, even if the Wetzels have cold feet. The Strelzyks almost make it, but "almost" is a dangerous situation - it leaves enough clues behind for Lt. Col Seidel (Thomas Kretschmann) to pick up the scent, meaning they have to try again, except with weeks rather than months and the Stasi looking for them specifically.

Director and co-writer Michael Bully Herbig gets to that point, where the real meat of the film begins, fairly quickly, dispensing with a lot of what might be treated as important establishment of motivation. You don't really need to be told why anybody might want to flee East Germany, let alone why it's important for this specific group, so Herbig throws that in as details at the point where characters might actually mention it. Similarly, since this story involves the families doing a lot of things twice, it makes a lot of sense to just skip over the first time as much as possible rather than later feel like the filmmakers are spinning wheels or diminishing something's importance by doing a montage or not showing it later. It's a smart approach to this specific story and also just good storytelling in general - there's never a sense of anything important being left out or a filmmaker obviously trying to shape a story.

Full review at eFIlmCritic

Official Secrets

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 8 September 2019 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (first-run, DCP)

Gavin Hood hasn't dedicated his entire directorial career to making films about the crimes and compromises behind the twenty-first century's Middle Eastern wars, but at three and counting, he's probably done more dramatic features on the subject than all but a few. If they ever become history people look back on rather than things that are still going on, those films will at the very least be an interesting set of commentary on the times as a group, even if some (like Official Secrets) are better as commentary than thrilling narrative.

The Official Secrets Act is the United Kingdom's primary law meant to protect national security, and in February 2004, Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley) went on trial for the events of nearly a year earlier, when as a translator of signals intelligence, she was forwarded a memo asking that any information that could be used to leverage United Nations delegates into supporting action in Iraq on rather flimsy pretexts. She gave a copy to a friend in the anti-war movement, via whom it eventually made its way to reporter Martin Bright (Matt Smith) of the Observer, a paper that had until that point been editorializing in favor of the war. Bright, Peter Beaumont (Matthew Goode), and Washington correspondent Ed Vulliamy (Rhys Ifans) must be careful running the information down - it's hard to prove the sender even exists - and when the story breaks and Katharine is discovered, her Kurdish husband Yasar (Adam Bakri) becomes a target and lawyer Ben Emmerson (Ralph Fiennes) is hamstrung in what he can do to defend her.

There are times when Official Secrets seems almost too reserved and British for its own good, avoiding direct confrontation, short-circuiting a suspenseful stretch by having Katharine spontaneously confess, and making a lot of effort to repeat the details of what seems a convoluted legal strategy. But that's sort of the point; the film is about how institutions can smother people attempting to do right and how those in power arrange those institutions to make it more difficult. One of the most telling lines is almost tossed off, referencing how the law Katharine Gun has run afoul of was specifically amended when someone had successfully opposed corruption before. It's about crimes whose effects are devastating but diffuse, almost impossible to witness and report by design.

Full review at eFIlmCritic


Red Sox 6, Twins 2
Red Sox 6, Yankees 1
Balloon
Official Secrets

Saturday, September 07, 2019

These Weeks in Tickets: 19 August 2019 - 1 September 2019

The end of summer comes to the movies with a whimper every year, but I kind of don't mind this year. I was kind of movied-out and the profile of these last two weeks shows it.

This Week in Tickets

This Week in Tickets

Both weeks started out with film noir double features at the Brattle. On the 19th, front half The Woman in the Window was clearly the better of the two - even if it's not the best work they could do together, it's still Fritz Land and Edward G. Robinson. I kind of wonder who today's Robinson would be - not leading-man handsome, perhaps at his best as a villain, but able to slip into an everyman lead when given the chance. The back half, The Mask of Dimitrios, wasn't quite so strong; it's got Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet but is no Casablanca or Maltese Falcon.

On Thursday, I did my first bit of Fantasia catch-up with Ready or Not, which I gather was a security-lockdown nuthouse at the festival. It's one of those that is fun enough to watch at the time, with a candy coating that goes down really well, but which kind of reveals itself as not having a whole lot to it as you write and talk about it. Not a bad night out at the theater, but definitely not worth putting on the shelf.

I figured to see more over the weekend, but I kind of got sucked into marathoning the last eight or nine episodes of Star Trek: Discovery, which is still probably not going to please a lot of Trek traditionalists, but which I found myself digging more and more. It's done the same job of quietly building up the background characters into supporting cast that the original series did as opposed to having nine people who needed something to do every week, and it's got what seems like a crazy budget for this show, which means we get a look at what Vulcan looks like as an advanced culture whose planet has many different types of climates because they had more than twenty bucks to spend, with a probe that becomes a crazy tentacle monster in the same episode. In the big two-part finale, they've got one of the franchise's best space battles, noteworthy in part because they seemed to be extrapolating from now, with drones and UAVs and the like rather than just sub-inspired warfare.

It's got some issues - too much of Michelle Yeoh jobbing to get people over, and moments in those finale when they on the one hand have characters saying "yes, I will join you in next year's new status quo" and the long awaited "...and this is why we must never speak of Spock's sister, her ship, or its weird and super-useful spore drive ever again" in awful close proximity. But, heck, it's pretty great modern Trek, and the Picard teaser looks like fun.

So, anyway, the only movie I saw that weekend was 47 Meters Down: Uncaged, which was pretty bad, though that was to be expected in that the first one was also pretty bad and had a better cast than this. Oh well.

The next week, we started again with more noir-ish stuff, and once again the front half - The Uninvited was the stronger movie. Not great, but a solid-as-heck variation on spooky-house movies that can't much be scolded for coloring in the lines. The second half, Curse of the Cat People, was at least fairly short, but boring as heck.

After that, I plugged away at getting Killjoys and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. off my DVR, at least until it was time for NeZha on Thursday. That one was a monster hit in China, which means the circumstances had to be just right to get it the sort of theatrical run it's getting in the USA, where I'm one of the only guys in a high-capacity theater's audience who needs the subtitles. I've got no idea how American kids would go for it, but I was able to talk myself into it being pretty good.

Then on Friday, I was back in the same building for Killerman, which I was pleasantly surprised to see booked here because I skipped it at Fantasia and things don't always line up that conveniently. I wanted to write it up sooner, but my brother got married over the weekend, which means I was in Maine and kind of too drained to write even when I got some moments to myself after my great big terrific family was done for the day.

We'll see how my Letterboxd page (and moviegoing in general) rebounds now that all of that is finished up.

The Woman in the Window

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 August 2019 in The Brattle Theatre (Noirversary, 35mm)

The pairing of Edward G. Robinson and director Fritz Lang feels like it should result in a film noir classic but instead produces a film that's a little bit too self-aware. Every moment where Robinson's Professor Richard Wanley puts his foot in the wrong place becomes a winking joke rather than a moment to twist the screws a little more. It's definitely making Wanley nervous, sure, but it's a goof for the audience, and neither Lang nor screenwriter Nunnally Johnson (working from a novel by J.H. Wallis) seems to realize that by showing more of the perspective of Joan Bennett's Alice Reed - the other person on-hand when her paramour was accidentally shot - they could heighten the tension that way.

Instead, you kind of have to wait for Dan Duryea to show up as the dead man's bodyguard, who may not have done his job very well but is cunning enough to figure out what's going on and put the squeeze on. The whole movie shifts once he shows up - what was an expression of foolish shame before becomes genuinely dangerous - and Duryea is such a thoroughly enjoyable sleaze that he feels like exactly what the film full of good-intentioned but short-sighted people was missing. Robinson and Bennett were enjoyable, with his bookish charm playing nicely against her sexy confidence, but they get twisted up once Duryea's around.

Like the previous week's Ministry of Fear, Lang's movie ends on a joke that undercuts the mood of it even more than it tends to backtrack events, and it's kind of curious. Was Lang trying to please American producers, or too lacking in clout to point out that this sort of thing can make a movie fizzle? The movie had its issues before its epilogue, and was going to have a clear moral anyway, but I don't see why one would rob its climax of the power it has.

The Mask of Dimitrios

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 19 August 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (Noirversary, 35mm)

There haven't been many actors like Peter Lorre, guys who have such a distinctive, exaggerated style that it seems like they would only be useful for comic relief, but who can sneak edge or pathos into that role. He doesn't really do that here, but it's kind of a ball to watch him ooze around the screen as a Norwegian mystery writer, kind of lazily amoral but claiming to be fascinated by the assassin who turned up dead while he was at a party. There are large chunks of the movie that don't really need him at all, but any other way of relating Dimitrios's story doesn't have Peter Lorre in it, so you put up with it.

The obvious twist seems to be that Lorre's Cornelius Leyden is actually Dimitrios, but at a certain point it becomes clear that this would take too much work and I'm not sure how often filmmakers were willing to lie that completely to the audience, so instead we get a lurking Sydney Greenstreet who eventually steps forward, apparently wanting something from Leyden although, honestly, he probably could just do this himself. Greenstreet is, as usual, just a delightful rock to build a movie around, lending gravitas to even the silliest scenes and imbue the ending with far more weight and tragedy than it deserves. The work by Zachary Scott as Dimitrios is neat, too - there's a baseline, but also a bit of an adjustment to whoever is telling the story at a given time.

For all that the filmmakers tell a story about Leyden searching Europe for information about Dimitrios, there's something about the scale that never quite adds up. Dimitrios never seems brilliant enough to make the jump from pickpocket to international fugitive, not quite so interesting that you could try to build Citizen Kane around him. Maybe there's something just off about Lorre's performance or the script he's given, so that the audience mostly told he's fascinated by this figure but not convincingly enough that we are too.

Ready or Not

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 August 2019 in AMC Boston Common #10 (first-run, DCP)

Ready or Not is such a tremendously polished version of a decent idea that it can take a little effort to realize that, really, there's not much here. It's not completely hollow - for example, I believe the demon-worshippers of this movie about five times as much as, say, the cult in Hereditary, especially when they seem absolutely miserable about the deal that their ancestor made, and that's a huge deal. It makes the whole thing real in a way that this sort of thing often doesn't, even if it's otherwise a wiseass horror-comedy. It's the sort of nice detail that makes one impressed at the detail work, but making the villains sympathetic undercuts the way it talks big about how the rich are a scourge, testing one's worthiness to join them/sacrificing others for their wealth, or how people are seduced by this lifestyle

It's good enough to skate on other things, like how it mostly lets the audience assume that Grace is a Good Person rather than showing much indication that she's more than fun - Samara Weaving is a firecracker who is always game for this sort of role, but one may get more sense of who she is and what she's going through from how her wedding dress gets soiled and shredded over the course of the film. It's also worth noting that, for a film built around a chase and meant to thrill, it doesn't have any memorable action at all; even the impressively bloody finale seems to happen without anyone actually doing anything..

It still earns a lot of credit for what it does well, though, from the members of the family that kind of hate the pact they're in to some decent pitch-black comedy and a neat score by Brien Tyler. It's good enough to make good on some of its ambitions, but the filmmakers don't always nail the fundamentals of a good B movie and it becomes fairly hollow once one makes it to the subway and starts thinking about it.

The Uninvited (1944)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 August 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (Noirversary, 35mm)

The Uninvited is a bit of a by-the-numbers ghost story, but one that has a fairly charming cast, including Alan Napier as a silver-fox doctor to bring the best out of Ruth Hussey playing what could be a boring spinster sister. They never quite steal the film from Ray Milland (as her brother) and Gail Russell (as the daughter of the man who sold them the haunted house), but they make a fun group. Their chemistry lets the movie start playful but introduce real malice as things go on, with a final resolution that must have seemed somewhat scandalous during the years of the Hays Code.

Even in 1944, it must have fallen into a fairly familiar pattern, but it's got a few impressively creepy moments that counter how so much seems to come out of spoken exposition, and uses its big empty spaces well. It does exactly what you'd expect a 75-year-old ghost story to do, but does it with some casual assurance.

Curse of the Cat People

* * (out of four)
Seen 26 August 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (Noirversary, digital)

70 minutes can be an awful long movie when you're waiting for something resembling anything to happen, and that's how it is with Curse of the Cat People. It's apparently very personal for producer Val Lewton, and getting the ship righted after production problems was Robert Wise's first job as a credited director, so it's got an interesting place in film history. But it's also a bunch of stories that don't connect very well, having the germs of interesting ideas but not giving the characters much interesting to do.

There's also something to be said for how one's most frequent company during this movie is not anybody from the original film, but Ann Carter, a child actress who had the right sweet but ethereal air didn't quite have the natural charisma or the right direction to make a character out of it. She's got a great far-away look in her eyes and sounds like a very polite little girl, but it doesn't add up to a personality for her Amy Reed; she never feels even naturally weird. Perhaps that can be put down to changing standards - a kid like Amy would have been seen as more peculiar in 1944 than today - but everyone seems oddly muted, with the parents seemingly outsourcing care of their daughter to the help despite often working from home but the film not being about how this girl lacks an anchor in reality.


The Woman in the Window & The Mask of Dimitrios
Ready or Not
47 Meters Down: Uncaged



The Uninvited & Curse of the Cat People
NeZha
Killerman