Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fury

Sunday's plan: Go to Somerville, arrive when both Gone Girl and Fury would be starting within five minutes of each other, and see whichever one was on the big screen. Then figure out the rest of the afternoon. Which wound up being "see the other one". Projectionist Dave Kornfeld offered to make Gone Girl out of focus just for me, and possibly out of spite because director David Fincher loves working with digital in a way that the theater's Dave, well, doesn't.

It's a shame that they couldn't get a real print of Fury, in that case, because the promotional stuff I saw as part of some theater's pre-show had the cast talking about how this was an old-school, shot-in-35mm war movie, which had me holding out a little hope that it might screen that way, and Dave & Ian would be all over that. Sadly, it doesn't look like they got that opportunity, which is a shame. Curse you for getting my hopes up, electronic-press-kit-makers! Even I I did enjoy it well enough as a DCP.

One part o the movie I liked more than expected, but which didn't really fit in the review, is Shia LaBeouf. I've never really hated him as an actor although I've always wondered what Steven Spielberg saw in him to keep recommeding him when not casting the guy himself, even before he'd gone and made his name a punchline. Apparently, he just needed the right mustache, because it kind of gives him a young Sam Elliott thing here. Someone should find a way to cast them as the same character 30-40 years apart sometime.

Fury

* * * (out of four)
Seen 19 October 2014 in Somerville Theatre #3 (first-run, DCP)

David Ayer seems unlikely to make a romantic comedy any time soon; his films are testosterone baths packed with bloody action and male bonding, an unrepentant couple hours of traditional masculinity with just enough self-awareness that, even if that's not your thing, you can at least acknowledge it as a fair examination of manhood. And if it is your thing, Fury is a darn good war movie, no closer examination necessary.

It follows the crew of a Tiger I tank (with "Fury" written across the barrell of its cannon) during the final months of World War II. Sergeant Don "Wardaddy" Collier (Brad Pitt) has held the group together for much of the war, enough to come out of a slaughter almost intact - driver Trini "Gordo" Garcia (Michael Pena), gunner Boyd "Bible" Swan (Shia LaBeouf), and mechanic Grady "Coon-Ass" Travis (Jon Bernthal). Their other driver dead, they have been assigned the extremely green Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), a clerk with no training and no experience. Dispatched as part of a group meant to flush out Nazi defenses and hold a critical crossroads, Collier and his crew don't intend to let Norman's squeamishness hold them back.

Ayer has no intention of abstracting things from the very start; though a tank movie could easily be played like plane movies often are - war depicted as a clash of machines, rather mechanical even as you get to know their crews - we're introduced to Collier as he leaps out from cover and slits a mounted Nazi's throat. Then, of course, he frees the horse, for it is a noble beast that does not deserve to be sullied by any further association with the SS, a rugged moment of kindness. That will set the tone for much of the rest of the movie, as Ayer piles on reminders that war is a horrific thing, even if it is also something that must be fully embraced to be survived, with any more sentimental impulses taking the form of stoicism.

Full review at EFC.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Book of Life

That I often wind up seeing animated movies on Saturday morning isn't something I ever planned as a nostalgic return to how I spent weekends as a kid; it's just that I like 3D but have issues with paying fifteen bucks or more for a movie. So, I hit the pre-noon shows, which are currently seven bucks plus a four-dollar 3D surcharge. Gotta be thrifty.

I do lament the end of Saturday morning cartoons, even though it's the sort of thing I make the effort to not oversentimentalize. Twenty years ago, I loved what Fox and the WB were programming on Saturday mornings - including Earthworm Jim by Book of Life co-writer Doug Langdale - and found myself envying the kids who would think that this is the baseline for how good cartoons were supposed to be. They weren't so good in the 1980s, as I discovered to my horror when the DVDs for the first season of Transformers came out.

The switch to cable came later, and that's when cartoons sort of left me behind. As much as I like the idea of how Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon giving much the creators of the animated series much more room to execute their own visions than used to be the case, I actually tended not to like a lot of the individual visions; it got weird and grotesque on me. I blame Ren & Stimpy, with folks chasing very bizarre designs and quirky-to-the-point-of-random characterization.

The Book of Life has some of that (those noses really bugged me), so it's not really for me. Still, even if I'm inclined to grumble a bit because kids aren't experiencing animation the way I did (which was great at the time), I certainly never got much this stylishly daring or smartly multicultural, and I kind of thing that that's because the three networks programming four hours a week just didn't have room for it.

The Book of Life (2014)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 18 October 2014 in Regal Fenway #9 (first-run, RealD 3D)

The Saturday morning cartoon block officially became a thing of a past this fall, although every obituary has mentioned that television now has more animation than ever; it just migrated to syndication and then cable. What emerged was a different sort of cartoon, more irreverent and as likely to reflect an individual creator's aesthetic as a company's house style (which, as a side-effect, often makes them more authentically multicultural). The Book of Life is that progression making its way to theaters, a high-energy animated adventure with style and a big-screen voice cast.

It tells the story of a bet between the rulers of Mexico's two afterlives - La Muerte (voice of Kate del Castillo) of the Land of the Remembered and Xibalba (voice of Ron Perlman) of the Land of the Forgotten - over whether Manolo (voice of Diego Luna), the scion of a family of bullfighters who would rather play guitar, or mustachioed soldier Joaquin (voice of Diego Luna) will marry the general's daughter Maria (voice of Zoe Saldana). Though unaware of the bet, Maria isn't exactly thrilled that people are thinking of her as a prize; and that's not all: Xibalba intends to tilt the odds in his favor by sending Manolo to the land of the dead, and a dangerous outlaw seeks the magic medal which makes Joaquin invulnerable.

This is bookended and occasionally interrupted by a museum tour guide (voice of Christina Applegate) telling the story to a group of American kids, and while there are a few amusing gags that come from breaking it up that way, other reasons are probably more important: Explaining the Day of the Dead and other bits of Mexican mythology to those who don't know them, giving the younger members of the audience a chance to settle down and see their feelings reflected onscreen after characters are [apparently] killed by snakebites, or providing an in-story reason for why the characters look like wooden toys. It's kind of cute, but also a bit of a distraction from the main story that the audience really cares about - especially since the style contrast is more "wood versus plastic" than "real vs dolls".

Full review at EFC.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Golden Era

So, I'm not sure what China Lion is doing differently now - or if they're not doing anything different, but Regal is doing a different sort of promotion than AMC in places where I can't see it - but this is the second opening night of one of their films in a row that extra shows were put on last-minute because the screens were packed; the room was already pretty well-populated when I got there ten minutes before showtime, and folks just kept showing up until about twenty minutes into the movie (probably figuring on the usual twenty-minute preview package, but Regal apparently doesn't do that on three-hour foreign movies when they don't have the next preview of a movie from that country they may run handy). Probably 150 people for the screening, which breaks down to roughly 149 college students of Chinese ancestry and me.

Kind of interesting, because I don't know that the movies China Lion has success with are things I'd normally think of as college-kid movies. This is a three-hour biography of a writer active in the 1930s in a fairly unhealthy relationship, which doesn't necessarily scream "date movie" to me, although I have never been at college on the other side of the planet in a country where movies in my native never play theatrically. I think it's a bit of a younger crowd than used to show up when these movies were playing Boston Common, which makes me wonder if it's a matter of playing less intuitive demographics: I always assumed that the Boston Common theater, being right next to Chinatown, would be the ideal spot for these movies to open, but I wonder if Fenway is actually better for attracting all the Chinese and Chinese-American college kids - do the students living in Allston consider that their local theater? Or is it just a matter of China Lion's deal with AMC (which was frustratingly reluctant to book/promote these movies in Boston) running out and them shifting who they target at roughly the same time?

I've got no idea, still, but I must admit that it continues to fascinate me, if only because I want to see these movies here and it's starting to look kind of viable. I've been giving my fellow Chlotrudis members (hopefully) friendly reminders that the new movie by the director of A Simple Life, which won their signature "Buried Treasure" award a couple years ago, is playing in theaters, and I think it's kid of amazing that there's a pretty good chance that The Golden Era, despite seeming like a much niche-ier picture, will probably make too much money to qualify for that one.

Which is good. If quick American releases of Chinese romances by well-regarded directors are making money, then that means my chances of being able to see Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2 in theaters next month is pretty good.

Huang jin shi dai (The Golden Era)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 October 2014 in Regal Fenway #11 (first-run, DCP)

Most of the descriptions of Xiao Hong biography The Golden Era spend some time talking about what made her remarkable as a writer, and the film does give those of us not terribly familiar with 1930s Chinese literature a bit of a taste of her words and why they are remembered despite her short career and life. But while the focus is less on what she created and more on how what she wanted - a "quiet place to write" - was elusive, the way in which screenwriter Li Qiang and director Ann Hui tell the story is often what will be the most striking.

Xiao Hong (Tang Wei) was born Zhang Naiying on 2 June 1911, in Manchuria, and as we're informed right away, she died on 22 January 1942 in Hong Kong. The film spends little time on her childhood, aside from an excerpt from her writing that described her grandfather as the most encouraging part of it, though it was her early adulthood that seemed most disastrous: Having run away to escape an arranged marriage, she returned home in disgrace, eventually pregnant and held prisoner for debts in the city of Harbin until she connects with the local literary magazine. That's when she meets Sun Lang (Feng Shaofeng), pen name "Xiao Jun", who would become her partner in literature and life. It would not be an easy partnership, though - while both were part of the Shanghai literary circle of legendary writer Lu Xun (Wang Zhiwen), Xiao Jun was more drawn to political activism in the nascent Communist Party than Xiao Hong during a very turbulent period in Chinese history, to say nothing of the other woman.

One of the first shots of the film is a black and white image of Xiao Hong relating the time and place of her birth and death, and it's an interesting choice, if it does initially seem a bit conventionally unconventional. Soon other voices are added, and while having Xiao Hong narrate her life story would have perhaps have given the film a false sense of omniscience, Li and Hui instead quickly move to establish just how limited what people know can be: Xiao Jun points out that there were no pictures of some members of his family, leaving them as unknown, and narration points out that not only did the man to whom Xiao Hong was betrothed disappear, but so did his entire family; finding out more about this chapter of her life is a dead end.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Art and Craft

Hey, it's another example of that Kendall Square phenomenon:

(1) Show preview in front of every movie for a month or three
(2) Advertise that the movie is only playing for a week
(3) Get enough business that it gets held over!

I occasionally wonder if both (1) & (2) are necessary for (3) to happen, combining well-seeded interest with manufactured urgency. It worked well enough on me, I guess, although I may have seen that this and The Two Faces of January were held over before buying a ticket.

Also: They must have been showing some sort of sneak preview Tuesday night, because although the line at the box office was easily manageable, the one for snacks was out the door. Not sure I've ever seen that happen before, and I'm kind of curious what the movie was (guess: St. Vincent).

Art and Craft

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 14 October 2014 in Landmark Kendall Square #6 (first-run, DCP)

One of the neat things about Art and Craft is that it hints at a number of different angles to an already-interesting story, acknowledging that it is all but impossible to fit the entirety of a tale of art forgery and con artistry that spans decades into a ninety-minute documentary produced at the tail end. Faced with this situation, many filmmakers will wind up calling attention to the gaps rather than maintaining a sharp focus that allows them to make a strong movie with the material they can get.

That, in large part, involves following Mark Landis, who has spent much of his adult life copying artwork and donating his facsimiles to various museums, seldom being caught and never prosecuted - "lying" does not legally become "fraud" until money changes hands, and Landis never asked for payment. Time is also spent with Matthew Leninger, the registrar at the Cincinnati Art Museum who has spent the most time documenting Landis's activities and actually met him when working a similar job in Oklahoma City, as well as Aaron Cowan, a curator at the University of Cincinnati's art museum, and John Copper, the Financial Times Magazine writer who ended Landis's anonymity with a major profile article.

To say Landis is a peculiar case is to severely understate the matter. It's not that a writer couldn't make him up if this story was a fiction, but he or she might get accused of building something exaggerated and a little too on-the-nose: He has a stooped posture and is extremely soft-spoken, with a manner of incorporating quotations from film and television into his speech that makes for an easy parallel with his forgeries - he never claims the words or artwork as his own, but always comes off as mimicking the surface rather than examining what's underneath. There's a telling moment when he says he would have been a good priest because he can imitate what the title character does on Father Brown (although it's not hard to imagine him toiling away in a monastery, perfectly transcribing illustrated texts, in some previous century).

Full review at EFC.

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 17 October - 23 October 2014

After a packed schedule last weekend, things are a little less nuts, although there are also things playing which didn't plaly when they were first scheduled.

  • The big opening is Fury, with David Ayer directing Brad Pitt and a pretty solid supporting cast as a tank crew behind the lines in Nazi Germany. That plays at Somerville, Apple, Embassy, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway (including RPX), Revere, and the SuperLux. That being testosterone central, The Best of Me probably makes fine counter-programming, being a Nicholas Sparks adaptation starring Michelle Monaghan and James Marsden as lovers reuniting after a long separation. It's at Somerville, Apple, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    Then there's one for the entire family with The Book of Life, an animated adventure directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez and produced by Guillermo del Toro with Diego Luna and Channing Tatum voicing romantic rivals to a princess (Zoe Saldana), with a great look and more fun voice acting. It's at the Arlington Capitol, West Newton, Apple, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Revere. A really surprisingly small number of 3D screenings - it's 2D-only at the first three locations.

    Boston Common also has #Stuck on the schedule again, this time as a regular booking rather than just a couple of shows (which were cancelled last week). Their Sunday/Wednesday "classic" screening this week is Good Will Hunting. Down the Green Line at Fenway, The Golden Era, Hong Kong's submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, show up just a couple weeks after opening in China. It stars Tang Wei as a renowned writer from the 1930s.
  • Kendall Square shares St. Vincent with Boston Common; it stars Bill Murray as a curmudgeon who winds up looking after the son of the single mother next door (Melissa McCarthy). Naomi Watts also co-stars. They also have a one-week booking of Lilting, which features Cheng Pei Pei as a retiree who didn't learn her son was gay before he died, and is now confronted with his lover (Ben Whishaw). There's also a single screening of We the Economy, a package of twenty shorts overseen by Morgan Spurlock, playing on Monday.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre has The Blue Room bouncing between screen #2 and the smaller screens; Mathieu Amalric stars and directs this adaptation of a Georges Simenon novel. Could be nifty, and it's a tight 76 minutes. They also pick up The Two Faces of January in the Goldscreen.

    There's a weekend full of special programs, too. The two midnights on Friday & Saturday are Cronos - Guillermo del Toro's first feature - and Frankenweenie, Tim Burton's expansion of an early short into a feature. Sunday morning features two special screenings - the monthy Geothe-Institut German film screening is West, a story of a single mother crossing into West Germany in the 1970s, while the Talk Cinema presentation is Force Majeure, a pretty darn great story about a marriage seeming to get just the push it needs to unravel during a ski vacation.
  • The Brattle will be running The Princess Bride for most of the weekend (Friday through Sunday), with star Cary Elwes on hand for Friday night's show after a reading/signing of his new book As You Wish. Saturday evening also features ski movie Days of My Youth with a 35mm print of the bizarre Al Adamson creation Carnival Magic playing at 11:30pm as part of "Reel Weird Brattle".

    After the weekend, there are a number of special events: Monday features a DocYard presentation of Return to Homs, with director Talal Derki skyping in after the showto discuss the documentary about two activists in Syria. Wednesday brings director Henry Corra (and some of the subjects) of 2006 film Same Sex America. Then, on Thursday, the Boston Asian American Film Festival kicks off with Revenge of the Green Dragons, with directors Andrew Lau and Andrew Loo doing a Q&A after their first English-language feature. This had been scheduled for the Boston Film Festival, but apparently got pulled to make its Boston debut as part of this festival, which says something about how far the BFF has fallen.
  • All Things Horror doesn't appear to be calling their big triple feature at The Somerville Theatre "ShudderFest" this year, but ten bucks in advance or twelve at the door gets you admission to The Last Buck Hunt, The Creep Behind the Camera, and Bag Boy Lover Boy.
  • The Harvard Film Archive mixes and matches a bit this weekend, showing both of Athina Rachel Tsangari's films - Attenberg on Friday with the director (and visiting professor) in attendance and The Slow Business of Going at 4pm on Sunday. There are free screenings on Saturday and Sunday - Home Movie Day Saturday afternoon, and two from the Hou Hsiao-hsien series - The Puppetmaster on Saturday evening and A City of Sadness Saturday night. And then, on Monday night, director Jim Hubbard will be present to screen his documentary United in Anger: A History of ACT UP.
  • After one last screening of Field of Dogs on Friday afternoon, The Museum of Fine Arts starts the Boston Palestine Film Festival, with screenings Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Thursday.
  • Emerson's Bright Lights series also has a Palestine Film Festival presentation, with the pretty-nifty Omar screening Tuesday. On Thursday, they have a Queer Awareness Month screening of "Alone with People" in their Paramount Theater's Bright Screening Room.
  • The Regent Theatre continues the Arlington International Film Festival that started on Thursday through Sunday. They've also got a screening of Who Is Dayani Cristal? on Wednesday night.
  • The ICA has three film screenings this week: Born to Fly on Saturday night, The Notorious Mr. Bout on Sunday, and Sam Green's The Measure of ALl Things on Thursday.


My plans? Fury, The Golden Age, Book of Life, St. Vincent, The Blue Room and the other stuff I haven't gotten around to yet.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

One Chance

It seems like I saw the preview for One Chance a lot at Kendall Square this year, so it was kind of a surprise when it wound up only opening at Coolidge Corner and just generally landing with a thud at the box office.

I mention in the that the Weinsteins, during their Miramax heyday, would have done more with this, selling theaters and audiences enough on it to get a wide release and make some cash, whereas when it started I was actually kind of surprised to see the "Weinstein Company" logo; I'd sort of figured on this as a Fox Searchlight sort of production. Apparently all those previews ran before the studio decided to make it available for free on Yahoo! Screen, although considering how few people probably knew YS existed before it was announced they had picked up Community (and probably still won't really go looking for it before that premieres), I don't know how much that affected audiences opting not to see it that way versus theaters not booking it.

And that really seems to be the story of The Weinstein Company this year - in trying to embrace the new realities of video on demand and streaming, they really seem to be screwing up what seem like fairly good bets. Snowpiercer shouldn't have been a sleeper as a great big sci-fi action movie starring Captain America. One Chance is pretty darn mainstream, but unless Yahoo! paid them a ridiculous amount, a $32K opening weekend is just embarrassing. And their deal with Netflix for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2 had the brilliant result of getting every theater chain in North America to say that they won't play their movie eleven months in advance.

Maybe they're ahead of the curve, and by taking these hits now they're learning how to survive and even thrive in the next version of the movie business when you don't have the massive franchises that the major studios do. But in the meantime, it sure looks like repeated shooting themselves in the foot.

One Chance

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 13 October 2014 in Coolidge Corner #1 (first-run, DCP)

Once upon a time, the Weinstein brothers might have been able to make the pleasant-enough One Chance a sleeper hit, if not necessarily an awards contender; today they are barely able to get it noticed. And that's not fair either - it's a fine evening's entertainment, delivering exactly the same sort of charming true story that it promises.

It's the story of Paul Potts (James Corden), a cell-phone salesman still living with his parents in his late twenties. It's not a terrible life - he works with his best mate Braddon (Mackenzie Crook); he's finally meeting Julz (Alexandra Roach), the nice girl he's been chatting with online for the past year; and he's almost saved enough to attend a prestigious opera school in Venice. Singing opera is a dream that his mother Yvonne (Julie Walters) has always supported far more than aggressively working-class father Roland (Colm Meaney), and one that seems to get two steps further away with every step he makes in that direction.

One Chance came out in the UK about a year ago, where Paul's eventual run on Britain's Got Talent is much better known, which may help explain just why the film proceeds on such an even keel: Even beyond how they don't generally make movies about guys who choke on stage and then, after a number of trials, choke on stage again, the events are fresh in the mind of the film's main audience. As much as this kind of drains tension and suspense, it does have an upside in that what could be a series of very melodramatic moments instead becomes comedic: For crying out loud, what other sort of injury that messes with one's ability to sing will he suffer?

Full review at EFC.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 10 October - 16 October 2014

Lots of stuff coming out this weekend, although once you get past the multiplex stuff, it can be a bit of a scavenger hunt, with many things playing in just one location in the Boston area

    Aside from the openings, though, there's also the second annual Terror-Thon at
  • the Somerville Theatre. We all know how much the Somerville loves 35mm film, so the entire 13-hour program will be running off it in the main theater from noon to 1AM on Saturday. The seven features are Cat & the Canary (silent with live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis), Poltergeist, Creature from the Black Lagoon (in 3D, likely anaglyph), The Thing (1982), Wait Until Dark, A Nightmare on Elms Street 3, and Let the Right One In. That is a pretty great line-up.
  • Somerville (along with Kendall Square, West Newton, Boston Common, Fenway, and the SuperLux) also opens up Kill the Messenger, featuring Jeremy Renner as real-life journalist Gary Webb, who put together the connection between drug smuggling and Nicaraguan rebels in the 1980s. Another major opening is The Judge, featuring Robert Downey Jr. as a big-city lawyer who returns to the small town where he grew up for his mother's funeral only to wind up defending his father (Robert Duvall as the title character) in court. It's at the Capitol, Apple, Embassy Square, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    That gets the most screens; the biggest ones are likely going to Dracula Untold, with Luke Evans starring in what seems like an ill-advised attempt to give Dracula a sympathetic background. It's at the Capitol, Jordan's (in Imax), Apple, the Embassy, Boston Common (including Imax), Assembly Row (including Imax), Fenway (including RPX), and Revere. There's also Addicted, an erotic thriller featuring Sharol Leal as a successful woman drawn to extramarital affairs; it's at Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere.

    For the kids, there's Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, which features Steve Carrell and Jennifer Karner as the title character's parents, as his poor luck apparently spreads to the rest of the family. It's at Capitol, Apple, Fenway, Boston Common, Revere, and Assembly Row.

    The absolute strangest opening is #Stuck, which features Joel David Moore & Madeline Zima as a couple who hooked up the night before - and then get caught in a traffic jam when they would have rather just gone their separate ways. It plays Boston Common for, apparently, one screening at 7:30pm on Friday and 3pm Thursday. They're apparently skipping the classic this week, but will be screening a One Direction concert on Saturday (as is Showcase Revere).
  • Kendall Square not only has Kill the Messenger, but they have Pride, a comedy about the strange anti-Thatcher bedfellows of union miners and gay & lesbian activists. They also bring back The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, only instead of the two halves being edited together into one film, "Her" and "Him" will screen in sequence, although the order depends upon the showtime.

    Art and Craft, one of the one-week bookings, has co-director Mark Becker in person to present the Friday/Saturday 7:05 shows of his documentary on Mark Landis, an art forger who has not seen jail time in part because he gives his work away. The other (scheduled) one-week booking is The Two Faces of January, with Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, and Oscar Isaac in Hossein Amini's adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel.

    For even shorter-time bookings, there are midnights on Friday and Saturday of Raiders of the Lost Ark (not 35mm, so not quite drop-everything); and a "Globe on Screen" presentation of The Taming of the Shrew on Tuesday.
  • Despite having previews playing all over the place, One Chance is only opening at the Coolidge Corner Theatre; it stars James Corden as an amateur opera singer who becomes famous on Britain's Got Talent. It's also got Colm Meaney as his father, and the world is just better with Colm Meaney playing resistant working-class dads.

    The main midnight this Friday & Saturday is Neil Marshall's excellent The Descent. Special guests will be on hand in the other theater, with undertaker J. Cannibal presenting his final Feast of Flesh on Friday, including Peter Jackson's Bad Taste but also including music, prizes, and burlesque. Johnny Cupcakes is the presenter on Saturday for Casper, with special edition posters and t-shirts. All midnights are on 35mm this week. There's also an Open Screen night on Tuesday and a Found Footage Festival show on Wednesday, and a Sound of Silents screening of the Lon Chaney Phantom of the Opera with new music by the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra.
  • The Brattle has two special bookings this week, with a new restoration of Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist playing Friday through Monday, and Terry Gilliam's new one, The Zero Theorem playing late shows Friday to Monday, early ones Sunday and Monday, and a full day on Wednesday.

    In between are other fun things: A Feline Film & Video Festival for Humans on Saturday afternoon, a 35mm "Reel Weird Brattle" show of Raw Force (aka "Kung Fu Cannibals") at 11:30pm that night, and the first IFFBoston Fall Focus screening on Tuesday; they kick the preview series with Lynn Shelton's new one Laggies. The week wraps up with Nas: Time Is Illmatic on Thursday.
  • The West Newton Cinema appears to be the only place in the area screening Wladyslaw Pasikowski's Aftermath - not to be confused with a couple other movies with the same name! This one is from Poland, telling the story of a man who returns to the country after decades in America and uncovers an ugly secret about what happened to the Jewish residents of his village during WWII.
  • The Harvard Film Archive continues Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien, with Dust in the Wind (Friday 7pm), Flight of the Red Balloon (Friday 9:15pm), Good Men, Good Women (Saturday 7pm), Café Lumière (Saturday 9:15pm), Growing Up (Sunday 5pm), and A Time to Live and a Time to Die (Sunday 7pm). Monday night, Argentine filmmaker Lisandro Alonso and visiting lecturer Dennis Lim will be screening Alonso's new film Jauja, featuring Viggo Mortensen. And on Wednesday, VES will be using the room to screen silent The Big Parade, with Jeff Rapsis on the piano.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has two final screenings of the new DCP restoration of Joseph Losey/Harold Pinter feature Accident on Friday, Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday; the other holdover, Field of Dogs, plays Friday, Saturday, and Wednesday. There are two Documentary Spotlights this week - Saturday's is A Will for the Woods, with directors present to discuss their film about "green burial"; Thursday's is States of Grace, whose filmmakers will also be on hand after their film about a doctor severely disabled after an auto accident.

    There are also two shorts programs - "Black Radical Imagination" on Sunday afternoon, with filmmakers/curators present, and a free Fall Open House program on Monday
  • This week's Bright Lights events at Emerson's Paramount theater include a "Conversations with Boston Creativer Pro User Group" on Tuesday, Animation Show of Shows with curator Ron Diamond on-hand Wednesday, and a Boston LBGT Film Festival presentation of The Dog with directors Alison Berg and Frank Keraudren on Thursday.
  • The Regent Theatre continues Mad in America film festival from Friday to Sunday, including some live performances. The theater is dark Monday, but have an Alive Mind presentation of Web Junkie on Tuesday, while the Arlington International Film Festival starts on Thursday and runs through Sunday the 19th.
  • The ICA has once again has Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters and Diller Scofido + Renfro: Reimagining Lincoln Center and the High Line playing free with museum admission on Sunday.


My plans? I'm kind of curious about #Stuck, will probably do the Terrorthon, and look forward to getting a chance to double back to The Big Parade; I'll also probably catch up with Gone Girl and The Boxtrolls, with Kill the Messanger and several stops at Kendall Square the new-release priorities.

Breakup Buddies

As I mentioned in the most recent sparsely populated This Week in Tickets, I didn't get to see Breakup Buddies on Friday night despite the fact that a second screen was put on. And while the screen I did see it on Tuesday wasn't huge - maybe a 100-seat room - when you consider that my experience seeing these Chinese day-and-date releases has generally been "me and a half-dozen other people" even on Friday or Saturday, this thing where there are three times that many in the audience on a Tuesday night after that sold-out opening weekend is pleasing but confusing.

I recalled later on that China Lion was giving out free tickets for Friday's show on Facebook, and while it looked like only a few people took them up on it, maybe there were other promotions going on within the local Chinese community that I didn't know about, not being a part of it and all. It makes me wonder if, for whatever reason, Regal and/or their Fenway theater is more willing to grow this sort of release than AMC was - it's worth noting that there was a poster for their next release, The Golden Era, right outside the screen for this one, a simple enough thing that wasn't always done across town. They had an exclusive contract with AMC before (in the US), and I wonder if it was holding them back, especially in areas like Boston where AMC seems a bit skittish about booking foreign films.

Whatever the reason, I'm glad; I'm looking forward to The Golden Era and I see that someone (whether China Lion or AMC) is going to be distributing Johnnie To's Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2 day-and-date in the US next month. And that had better play here.

Anyway, here's the EFC review, and come back after reading it/maybe seeing the movie for a little about something I liked about its ending.

Xin Hua Lu Fang (Breakup Buddies)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 7 October 2014 in Regal Fenway #4 (first-run, DCP)

Director Ning Hao has received some attention over the last few months because the Chinese censor board finally allowed the release of No Man's Land, a movie from 2009 that he is reluctant to discuss, whether for political reasons or because he has been busy with other projects since. But while his latest, Breakup Buddies, is a much less controversial comedy - one which stands on its own well enough to get laughs from someone who buys a ticket based on the title with no idea that the film is in Mandarin - it's kind of amusing to see the main character also not wanting to be reminded of something from five years ago.

The man in question is Geng Hao (Huang Bo), who is reacting to his divorce in the time-honored, healthy manner of sawing everything he and his wife own in half. It's bad enough that his best friend Hao Yi (Xu Zheng) decides to get Geng Hao back on his feet by dragging him (and his dog Juice) along on a 3,000km road trip to deliver props to a film set with plans for one-night-stands - Hao Yi's specialty - along the way. While each encounter with a new woman is a new misadventure and Geng Hao is adamant that the road trip not pass through Dali, a song he recorded in his brief career as a singer has drawn a thirty-something woman ("Yolanda" Yuan Quan) with her own romantic woes to the vacation spot.

Breakup Buddies is an oddly-paced movie at times; Ning Hao takes a script credited to a dozen or so writers between the story and screenplay and lets each episode play out at a pace measured enough that the players can somewhat recognize the strangeness of the hole they've gotten themselves into this time even as they keep digging. It's somewhat questionably put together at times - there must be a deleted scenes that explains Hao Yi's gun, for instance - and a couple of swerves toward the end are kind of great despite the filmmakers seeming to stumble on where to go next before recovering. It's bumpy, but Ning and company do well in keeping a steady stream of chuckles coming without making things so broad that Geng Hao's honest heartbreak isn't out of place even if it doesn't overpower the funny stuff.

Full review at EFC.

SPOILERS!

It's not often a movie gets me to say "you got me" out loud, but when this one circles around to reveal that all the scenes with Yuan Quan take place in 2009 and that she was actually playing Geng Hao's ex-wife Kang Xiaoyu was a legitimately great surprise. They kept it going longer than expected, not just in that it lasts up until the almost the end of the movie, but the scene where the two characters meet plays pretty much like it could be 2014 right until they start writing on the wall and I realize, dang, that's even the same dog.

And while I kind of don't get Juice winding up with Geng Hao (he sure seemed like her dog) how well it worked really surprised and pleased me. It's a moment that feels like it could just be a gotcha, a twist that doesn't mean anything and just leaves the audience feeling empty - I've seen enough of those - I wound up liking that he wasn't going to be handed a new love on a silver platter, and also that it was suddenly very difficult to see Xiaoyu as the villain of the piece. She never really seemed mean on the phone, but going along with Geng Hao's perspective on events had sort of been the default way of looking at it. But now we like her, and not only does that mean maybe it wasn't her fault entirely, but that Geng Hao's attempts to erase her from his life is kind of horrible. The catharsis suddenly seems like too much.

That's a pretty darn impressive way to get those ambiguous feelings across rather than just have the actors spit them out; we feel them a lot more directly this way. And I think that's why I like Breakup Buddies a bit more than I might otherwise, given that it is kind of sloppy in places and not always hilarious. It manages a neat trick, and neat tricks are worth supporting.

!SRELIOPS

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

This Week In Tickets: 29 September 2014 - 5 October 2014

Here's what a page out of the movie ticket scrapbook of a normal person looks like, presuming that non-lunatics would be keeping such a thing:

This Week in Tickets

It's not exactly that I meant to make My Old Lady the only movie I saw last week - Boyhood was actually playing at a convenient hour for what seemed like the first time - but I had a run of just not being able to get out of the office on time and on Thursday, I opted to do some birthday shopping for my niece instead of going for something slightly later.

Friday, I tried to see Breakup Buddies, and it was not just sold out, but sold out on an extra screen, which is so far away from my previous experience with Chinese movies opening day-and-date in Boston that I wonder what the heck is going on - is director Hao Ning suddenly really popular, or the cast (Lost In Thailand was popular enough to stick around for late shows in its second week last year, amid crappy weather). Unfortunately, it sold out after I had already checked in on MoviePass, and hitting "Sold Out" on the app doesn't quite free you up to see another movie immediately. So I went home, watched some baseball, and realized there was no way I was going to stay up through the Coolidge's midnight screening of The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears and wake up Saturday morning in time to make it to Maine. Pity; I wanted to give it a second chance after dozing off during BUFF, but its first return to Boston was while I was in Austin, and this second one wasn't going to happen. Ah, well. Maybe when it hits video.

The rest of the weekend was spent on a trip to Maine - a cousin got married on Saturday (with a "speakeasy" theme, which I'm convinced was entirely based around wanting to wear the cool hat he busted out for the reception), and we celebrated my niece's birthday on Sunday, even though our actual shared birthday was a few days earlier. Didn't see much of her, though, because she now has a public-school number of friends and a dozen eight-year-old girls (plus younger sisters and cousins) is a lot of squealing. I was truly impressed with how her mother kept some semblance of order, though - her regular job is in tour management, but that's just rock stars.

Not quite as much fun as I'd hoped, though, as a pretty nasty cold hit me just as I was boarding the bus north. That is not the best way to sit through a wedding and reception, folks.

So, quiet week, more so than I'd expected.


My Old Lady

This Those Weeks In Tickets: 15 September 2014 - 28 September 2014

Last major film festival of the year for me in Austin's Fantastic Fest, and it needs a little talking about on its own.

This Week in Tickets

This Week in Tickets

... but first, here's what I did before and after. And, yeesh, do I take a lousy picture.

There were a couple things I wanted to catch before heading south, and they were interesting in their own way. I caught But Always after having missed it on Sunday, and, yeesh, does it have issues. The next night, I knew A Master Builder wasn't likely to last the week, let alone past the end of the festival. Glad I saw it, because it's pretty nifty.

And what did I see there?

18 September: Hardkor Disco, As Seen by the Rest, and Cub
19 September: Force Majeure, Redeemer, Over Your Dead Body, Necrofobia, and Wyrmwood
20 September: The Duke of Burgundy, The Babadook, Tommy, The World of Kanako, and The Editor
21 September: Wastelander Panda, Shrew's Nest, The Tribe, Tokyo Tribe, and The Man in the Orange Jacket
22 September: The Tale of Princess Kaguya, Purgatory, Realiti, From the Dark, and I Am a Knife with Legs
23 September: The Stranger, Everly, Automata, The Guest, and Dead Snow 2
24 September: Man from Reno, The Absent One, Haemoo, Local God, and It Follows
25 Septembe: I Am Here, I Am Trash, Waste Land, and The Treatment

Then I got back, woke up barely an hour before the Red Sox game, and made my way to Fenway. It was great; I was still in line to buy food while most of the tribute to Bud Selig was going on, so it didn't make me wretch too much, especially since it wasn't for Derek Jeter. I wasn't prepared for it to be quite so hot, like I hadn't left Texas the previous day (in contrast, the trip from Boston to Austin was a forty-degree swing in temperature). It was quickly fun, though, as Masahiro Tanaka had nothing, and that led to a forty-five minute second inning that left the Yankees behind 8-1 and the Yankees fan next to me literally slack-jawed. After getting the first refill on the day, I headed down to see if Tony & Ken were around. They were, there were free seats, so I got to see the last Red Sox victory of the year from five rows behind the home bullpen.

After that, I headed up the street to Boston Common for A Walk Among the Tombstones, and liked that quite a bit. Still kind of on Austin time, it wasn't tough for me to stay awake through The Boxer's Omen at the Brattle. Then, Sunday, the week and a half without a full night of sleep caught up with me and I didn't do a darn thing.

So, the festival. In a way, I don't really want to write about Fantastic Fest itself as an experience, because I think that doing so will badly overshadow what you can see in the eight "daily" posts and seventeen reviews (with about thirteen more to come) say: I saw a bunch of movies that I might not have had a chance to see elsewhere, most were pretty good, and even those that weren't that great were at least interesting. That's the most important thing to remember, enough to merit a repeat:

If you go to Fantastic Fest, you will see a bunch of good movies that you might not otherwise see on the big screen.

You might not know which ones ahead of time, of course; theater assignments for each "round" are determined by everyone stating preferences the day before, the VIPs being given their choices, and then the rest being drawn in random order and positioned as best they can; this is probably when they assign films to screens, a good way to match capacity to demands that prevents the occasional situation where a big auditorium winds up half-empty or a smaller one leaves a lot of people outside looking in. When I first read about this, I was prepared to hate it for how it seemed to fly in the face of what I looked about having a pass at other festivals: It made it hard to build a schedule strategically ("I'll skip A for B because A is playing against C which I don't much care about later on") or spontaneously ("I know I was planning on seeing D next, but I am in no mood for something like that, so I'll go with E"). There's some room for the latter with an hour's notice, at least.

Fortunately, I'm reasonably well-positioned to deal with that as a system; I like a broad range of genres, have no issues with subtitles, and am already going to be passing up the big spotlight screenings with Hollywood guests in favor of things that won't be playing in the multiplexes. It's easier to take what comes without strong preferences, and I tried my best to maximize that mindset during the festival - quick scans of the options, put the names into the system, and forget, this saving a lot of investment in whether I got my first choice or not. I did pretty well on that, I think, and the one time i had to swap, it was relatively painless. If I were coming in with a narrower set of interests or things marked as must-sees, it might be frustrating or never-wracking, but I found it kind of fun once I accepted it.

A side-effect of this "rounds" setup was that building the schedule that way means it can be rather stretched. Every day aside from the shorter opening and closing dates had five rounds, the first of which began at roughly 11am and the last of which went in at midnight. At other festivals, those start times indicate a six-movie day, while a five-movie schedule might mean starting the first at roughly noon and getting out of the last at roughly midnight, and those extra three hours of potential sleep can be a big deal. It also means that there are regularly long gaps between movies, sometimes as much as two hours, which gets me twitchy - I feel like I should be able to fit another one in there.

Filling those gaps is where this festival reveals itself as well-tailored to my tastes but not really my personality. I'm not particularly sociable, don't hear well in crowds, and don't drink, so I'm stuck out in the Texas sun with a vague din going on around me, and the fact that smokers aren't keeping their toxic clouds in their designated area isn't helping. I'm coughing, sweating, waiting for the next movie to be called, and then having to push through a too-dense lobby to get to it. Part of this might just be that I don't know an awful lot of people in (or visiting) Austin, and the same setup in Boston or even Montreal plays better (or if I did a few more of these, although it took me years to get to know people at Fantasia). Folks who do strike up conversations and friendships easily clearly love it, which helps explain how downright evangelical the fans are and how worried many were at the prospect of the theater's old "back porch" area being lost as it was remodeled.

As an aside about that remodel, it kind of struck me as curiously indicative of how the Alamo Drafthouse and the area around the theater have changed since I was last there in 2007 - a lobby that was once fairly utilitarian is now festooned with murals and Alamo-branded stuff hanging from the ceiling, a strip mall and parking lot has been replaced with condos, and a great big bar with themed karaoke rooms has been attached. It's become a much more upscale, specific brand in a lot of ways, and sometimes a weirdly paradoxical one with equal parts "we're ca-ray-zee" and "follow the rules or get tossed".

On a practical level, it seemed kind of screwy that they rebuilt the theater but didn't exactly make sure there were nine screens worth of toilets, although I suspect that on a regular schedule exit times are a lot more staggered. The corridors still seem rather cramped in a lot of spots, exacerbated by having "Fantastic Arcade" stations set up in a spot that was already sort of a bottleneck and initially cordoning way too much of the lobby area off for red carpets and photos. I found myself much less enamored of the cinema seats and bar setup than I was last time I visited - not only did the servers seen less unobtrusive than before (to be fair, I spent a lot more time in the front two rows), but I've gotten used to the desk-style arrangement at Fantasia and the Showcase SuperLux; at the Drafthouse, you have to kind of lean in and down to deal with your food rather than look up at the movie or move your plate to your lap.

Another thing I noticed was that the Q&As seemed very short, especially considering all the time built in between screenings. I'm kind of curious as to why that is. Many films were showing on multiple screens, with those in the smaller rooms getting a simulcast of the Q&A and having to run to another room if they had a question, which maybe served as a barrier (same with everything having two screenings, instead of one). I also kind of wonder if the set-up which had almost everyone on a pass rather than able to make plans for individual movies in advance had an effect of having the audience filled with general film fans rather than ones with a specific interest who would have more questions.

Odds are I won't be back next year - it's too soon after Fantasia for me to jump back into a festival with such a similar roster of films, there's only so much vacation time, and if I feel like something like this at that time of the year... Well, Sitges is just a week later, and takes place on the coast of Spain rather than Texas. I can see why Fantastic Fest has its fans, but I do think my time would be much better spent trying out new places than returning to this one in the future.

A Walk Among the Tombstones

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 27 September 2014 in AMC Boston Common #10 (first-run, DCP)

I was buttonholed to fill out a survey when A Walk Among the Tombstones let out, which is always great fun because I genuinely enjoy skewing averages in such things (why yes, I have seen more than ten movies in the last two months). In this case, I suspect that I was one of relatively few to put down that I saw this movie primarily because of director Scott Frank, as opposed to star Liam Neeson or general timing of the show. Frank wrote one of my favorite movies in Dead Again, did the screenplay for two of the best Elmore Leonard adaptations, had a pretty good directorial debut with The Lookout, and tends to have his name on good stuff. The guy is good at his job, especially where crime is concerned, so, yes, I was expecting pretty good things from him adapting Lawrence Block with Neeson in the title role.

And I was not disappointed. Tombstones is a great introduction to unlicensed private detective Matt Scudder (Neeson) and the world he lives in, specifically starting with a story that is particularly suited to that sort of protagonist: The loved ones of drug dealers being kidnapped, ransomed, and then murdered anyway. The how of it is interesting but kept low-key enough to not be the while fulcrum on which the story rests. Instead, a character mentions Spade & Marlowe, and although 1990s New York is quite a different beast than Raymond Chandler's mid-century L.A., the feel is often the same, with Scudder and self-appointed apprentice T.J. (Brian "Astro" Bradley) plugging along, pulling threads until something unravels, meeting interesting characters along the way but not making them all so resolutely gray that villains cannot ever be summed up with "you're insane". It's a great-looking movie with some excellent performances.

There are moments when I suspect that Frank and/or Block go a little too far, getting somewhat over-enamored with words as writers are wont to do. I don't really blame them, because it works in some cases, like how the film keeps returning to an early defining moment for Scudder, transforming it from a thrilling chase (with throwback cool) to a tragedy as he grows more willing to open up to T.J. Toward the end, though, I have to admit that I was starting to develop a theory about writers developing an ironic dependency on AA and other twelve-step programs as too-easy ways to connect unrelated characters or give structure via the steps. There's also a very thorough housecleaning toward the end, past the point where it becomes a bit wearing.

Mostly good, though, and I'd like to see Frank & Neeson do more of these if they're interested. It's quality P.I. storytelling, and you hate to see a good team break up if there are more stories to tell.

But AlwaysA Master BuilderFantastic Fest Day #01Fantastic Fest Day #02Fantastic Fest Day #03Fantastic Fest Day #04
Fantastic Fest Day #05Fantastic Fest Day #06Fantastic Fest Day #07Fantastic Fest Day #08Last Sox WinA Walk Among the TombstonesThe Boxer's Omen