Friday, June 22, 2018

Independent Film Festival Boston 2018.07: Disobedience and Damsel

Another day, another jump out of order to accommodate the fact that these movies are coming out faster than my lazy brain can review them. Disobedience hit theaters practically as soon as the festival ended, so it got a review on EFC right away and then this file got pushed aside until I needed to write up Damsel, so it's currently just hanging around at West Newton. Damsel, on the other hand, is just opening in New York and L.A. this weekend.

No guests for either, which is a bit of a shame - David Zellner hosted a fun Q&A for Kumiko the Treasure Hunter at Fantasia a few years back (probably did one just as good at IFFBoston then, too), and while I don't know that their film needs to be discussed in great detail, I suspect I'd really enjoy him and his brother taking "what was directing Robert Forster in that scene like?", "what made you think of casting Robert Pattinson as this goober, since he's usually broody or intense?", and maybe "what's up with always making sure you've got a super-cute animal in the middle of your movies that go to dark places?" and just going on for a while.

And as much as I often express a little frustration at winding up in films that have distribution at the festival, I'm glad it happened with Damsel. As much as I liked Kumiko enough to want to see its makers' next movie, I could see it getting lost for me. And though it's clunky and flawed, I do find myself recommending it - there's enough genuine strangeness to it to mostly make up for how it could have been easier to watch if it had been more conventional.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 1 May 2018 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

I wonder, a bit, how Disobedience plays for people who find religion to be of value in their lives. Does that perspective lend the characters' struggles extra nuance, with shadings that the non-religious cannot see, or does it make the film seem harsher and more dismissive? That's something its makers may be perfectly fine with - though earnest and precise in their storytelling, they are not exactly subtle - although it sometimes creates the feeling that something is missing from an otherwise excellent film.

Rav Krushka (Anton Lesser) has just died in the middle of a sermon in a London synagogue, and his daughter Ronit (Rachel Weisz) - a photographer working in New York under the name "Ronnie Curtis" might never have known if someone hadn't sent word to a local shul; she left the community years ago and has been persona non grata there ever since, to the point where the paper reported that the elder Kushka died childless. She still opts to return to observe shabbat, cautiously welcomed by Dovid Kuperman (Alessandro Nivola), her father's prize student who, in Ronit's absence, married her best friend Esti (Rachel McAdams). Though "best friend" understates things; the mutual attraction of these two women was the scandal that led to Ronit's self-exile.

I've long suspected that if you dropped Rachel McAdams into an earlier Hollywood era, she'd be a far bigger star than she is now and maybe more respected as well; her hits as a lead have tended to skew more toward female audience than the films which get the most coverage, and she's seldom been given the best part in an ensemble cast. She's terrific in this and maybe won't get her due because the film isn't obviously built around her character so much as it is Rachel Weisz's Ronit, but McAdams's Esti is always the one worth watching. McAdams sells the tongue-tied surprise at Ronit's return as well as the long-simmering resentment over her departure, and brings out an entertainingly barbed tongue without the stretches where she seems to fit into her conservative community seeming entirely false. Esti's the one with decisions to make right now, and McAdams makes that clear without a lot of obvious hand-wringing.

Full review on EFC


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 1 May 2018 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

The Zellner Brothers' Damsel has the odd habit of trading one memorable performance and situation for another rather than letting them build into something bigger, filling in the gaps with admittedly entertaining deadpan oddity. It makes for a movie that feels like the filmmakers came up with a bunch of Old West gags and laid them end to end, managing a constant sort of arch tone and not quite wearing it out.

It starts on that route right after the title, having a frustrated preacher (Robert Forster) sits next to another man, waiting for a stage, goes on a rant about the misery of the frontier and the lack of an audience for God's word, casting aside his vestments and walking into the dust and out of the movie. It's a neat little scene that could be yanked out without damaging the rest of the film much, if at all, but it's Robert Forster performing a sort of alchemy that turns the character's exasperation and ignorance into dark humor. The film may not need this particular moment or character, but it's worth having Forster do this scene somewhere, and this movie seems as good a choice as any.

After that, the movie proper starts, with Samuel Alabaster (Robert Pattinson) arriving in a small town to rescue his beloved Penelope (Mia Wasikowska) from Anton Cornell (Gabe Casdorph), the bandit who stole her from him. He's brought a fantastic gift and retained the town's preacher, Parson Henry (David Zellner) to come with him so that they can be married just as soon as the rescue is complete. Being a timid man, Henry is none too pleased to discover that there are outlaws, including Anto's brother Rufus (Nathan Zellner), between them and their goal, and when they arrive at their destination, things naturally spin further out of control.

Full review on EFC

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 22 June 2018 - 28 June 2018

You like dinosaurs, right? Everyone likes dinosaurs! Which is good, because that's basically what the big studios have to offer you after you've seen the new movies by the makers of Resolution & Spring!

  • That would be The Endless, which plays 9:30pm shows at The Brattle Theatre on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday, arriving here just in time for its video release, but it's worth seeing with an audience, especially of people that have seen the filmmakers' previous films. The non-late shows, meanwhile, are a new restoration of King of Hearts, the cult French film about a soldier in World War I who finds that the town he was sent to save is now populated by the denizens of the local mental hospital. There's also a free "Elements of Cinema" screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Wednesday, and I must admit, I'm kind of tempted to make my first time seeing it the rare intersection of "in a theater" and "not filled with schmucks who think they're the entertainment"... if I could trust that the latter part was the case (there's also a midnight show at CinemaSalem with Teseracte Players doing the shadow cast thing this Saturday, and the regular presentation at Boston Common with Full Body Cast).
  • Once you've seen The Endless, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is the big 3D premium-screen opening, and who knows with that one? Jurassic World had a ton of issues, but people liked it, and I wouldn't be surprised if the second film in the new trilogy follows the same pattern, especially with new and pretty good director J.A. Bayona joining returning cast members Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, B.D. Wong, and Jeff Goldblum. It's at the Capitol (2D only), Fresh Pond (2D only), Jordan's Furniture (Imax 2D/3D), the Embassy (2D only), Boston Common (including Imax 2D), Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport (including Icon-X), South Bay (including Imax 2D and Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax 3D), Revere (including Xplus and MX4D), and the SuperLux (2D only).

    There's also TCM screenings of West Side Story on Sunday & Wednesday at Fenway and Revere. RBG expands to the Seaport.
  • The new releases at Kendall Square are all documentaries. Eating Animals, narrated by Natalie Portman, is the big release, a look at the practice of factory farming and its alternatives. There's also a one-week booking of Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist, which tells the story of Vivienne Westwood, who is apparently a big deal in the punk fashion world. There's also a presentation of The Most Unknown, about scientists trying to push the frontiers, which will not only have director Ian Cheney on hand, but a producer and an MIT scientist as well.
  • The West Newton Cinema is the only place around playing The Catcher Was a Spy, starring Paul Rudd as Moe Berg, a less-than-stellar baseball player on a touring team of all-stars in Japan before the outbreak of World War II and helped gather intelligence. They also have one 5:30pm show a day of The Peacemaker, an IFFBoston selection, with filmmaker James Demo on hand Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
  • The Chinese-language opening this week is Lobster Cops, a comedy written and directed by Li Xinyun, with Wang Qianyuan as a cop who opens a restaurant as part of a sting but turns out to actually have some good seafood recipes.

    In Indian films, Apple Fresh Pond continues Race 3 and Sammohanam, also picking up Tik Tik Tik, which looks a whole lot like a Tamil-language remake of Armageddon.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre has the second week of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey on 70mm, with very special guest Keir Duella there to introduce the film Saturday afternoon and lead a Q&A that evening. They also fit The Gospel According to André into the Goldscreen.

    The Martial Arts Midnights this weekend are The Matrix (Friday) and Shogun Assassin on Saturday, both on 35mm (as is The Room on Friday night). The Big Screen Classic on Monday is a 35mm print of Wild at Heart, which is a seminar screening where you can add on a lecture before and a Q&A afterward.
  • The Somerville Theatre picks up Mr. Rogers documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor, and offers less wholesome fare at midnight: Streets of Fire on Friday and The Garbage Pail Kids movie on Saturday, , both in 35mm; there's also a free screening of Suited, a documentary on a Brooklyn tailor shop that specializes in attire for the queer community. Their sister cinema, The Capitol in Arlington, has a (digital) Throwback Thursday showing of Top Gun.
  • Roxbury International Film Festival takes up residence at The Museum of Fine Arts, with screenings Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday; there's also a special "Black Film Now" discussion at the Haley House Bakery Cafe on Monday and screenings of Back N Black and Coming to America at HIbernian Hall on Tuesday.
  • The Luchino Visconti films at The Harvard Film Archive this weekend are The Damned on Friday, a 35mm print of The Wanton Countess (an abridged version of Senso with English dialogue by Tennessee Williams) on Saturday, and the new digital restoration of Rocco and His Brothers on Sunday.
  • The Regent Theatre celebrates Pride with To A More Perfect Union: U.S. vs Windsor from Friday to Thursday; note that the Saturday & Sunday shows are matinees and the Friday & Tuesday shows are in the "Regent Underground" space. The Tuesday screening is bumped from the big room by "The International Ocean Film Tour Volume 5", a collection of six short documentaries.
  • I apologize for missing most of Belmont World Film's "Justice for All" series at The Studio Cinema; the third and final film in the series is A Season in France, in which a widower who has escaped a wore-torn African country settles in France, though he has to stay ahead of immigration officials.
  • The Museum of Science will be shuffling their Imax presentations soon, but start their "Summer Thursdays" series of sci-fi films in the Planetarium with Stargate on the 28th. Those are the fourth Thursday of the month, with different events on the first (theater), second (drag shows), and third (live music).
  • Joe's Free Films has relatively few outdoor screenings this week, with It Happened One Night at the Harbor Hotel on Friday and Despicable Me 3 at the Esplanade around the same time.

Yeah, I'll see the dinosaurs, Lobster Cop, and The Endless, and, yes, I am seriously considering dragging my butt too Newton for The Catcher Was a Spy.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Independent Film Festival Boston 2018.05: Nothing Is Truer Than Truth, We The Animals, The Third Murder, and Beast

It would have been a pretty easy day to just plop down at one venue, arriving at the Brattle by 1pm and getting back on the Red Line at ten-thirty or so, but I'm not going to lie: I had no interest in seeing the third movie about the Grey Gardens sisters. Haven't seen that, haven't seen the one made from its deleted footage, not going to see this one built out of a documentary that never came together but inspired the later one. I will own that gap in my canonical film knowledge.

So what did I catch?

Well, Nothing Is Truer than Truth, which had a bunch of . Left to right, we have Shakespeare/Oxford Theory expert Alex McNeil, editor Zimo "Mike" Huang (I think I heard them call him Mike), post-production supervisor Brianna Costa (please correct; my notes stink), producer Vicki Oleskey, director Cheryl Eagan-Donovan, and Erin Trahan, leading the Q&A.

Not exactly the movie I was expecting; not knowing much about alternative-authorship theories where Shakespeare is concerned, I somehow read the synopsis and thought it would be something that was a little bit more background on the conventional than "Shakespeare wasn't Shakespeare". Overall, a pretty likable group, but like the science doc the previous day, it was a crowd of people who were already pretty familiar with the material, so it was a very friendly Q&A.

The rest of the day was stuff that had distribution and no guests, so it was show up, watch, move on. It was fun to connect with a bunch of folks I don't see very often at The Third Murder, although kind of ironic, given what I wound up writing about it - it's a decent movie that will get a bit of a release because Hirokazu Kore-eda has become a sort of a brand name in the art-house world, so it shows up here despite the Japanese movie industry's utter indifference in exporting anything. These friends are Kore-eda fans and have been for some time, so that's the film in the festival that they make for while sort of shrugging shoulders as I talk about how Yoshihiro Nakamura films only showing up at genre festivals if the folks attending are lucky.

Ah, well. Hopefully my choice to see Beast rather than Hot Summer Nights won't backfire on me, since the first had a quick release and the second may or may not come and go while I'm at Fantasia, especially since that's the one I really wanted to see more (although Jessie Buckley is pretty great in Beast).

Nothing Is Truer than Truth

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 29 April 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

Filmmaker Cheryl Eagan-Donovan presents an interesting argument for Edward de Vere as the true author of the plays and poetry of William Shakespeare in Nothing Is Truer than Truth, enough that the viewer cannot necessarily dismiss it completely out of hand. The trouble is, an interesting case is not enough, especially on this subject: When the simplest explanation is as plain as "the plays of William Shakespeare were written by William Shakespeare", the case against must be compelling or overwhelming, and that is not the case here.

De Vere is an intriguing subject even without that hypothesis. The 17th Earl of Oxford - that he was the true author of the works is thus called "The Oxfordian Theory" - he grew up an only child, was a popular courtier, and traveled extensively in Europe, spending a particular amount of time in Venice. He had a good literary reputation but a tumultuous personal life, even beyond being a gambler and a spendthrift who would fritter away his entire inheritance.

His European travels are the primary evidence offered as to his authorship; not only were many of Shakespeare's plays set in Venice and the other principalities through which de Vere traveled, but Eagan-Donovan notes that there was someone very much akin to Shylock of The Merchant of Venice in said city at the time, as well as spotting architectural details that would seem more likely to show up in the work of someone who had seen them first-hand than someone who had not. It's fun historical tourism and good background whether you're able to buy into the Oxfordian Theory or not. The interviews supporting it are decent, if rough - Mark Rylance kind of looks like the ambushed him on the way to pick up his paycheck at the theater, while Derek Jacobi is charming and, if not convincing, seemingly convinced. Many of the less-famous people are harder reads, not quite having the gravitas to elevate the material above being a fringe theory - especially toward the end, when they are parsing epitaphs on gravestones for clues as to who is really buried in which tomb, sounding like very erudite conspiracy nuts.

Full review on EFC

We the Animals

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 29 April 2018 in Somerville Theatre #4 (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

Though coming-of-age stories often seek to tap into some sort of universal sort of experience, the best ones are often the most specific, and We the Animals is very specific indeed. It's an intriguing, well-observed story of growing up different in just about every way, heightening how very alone a kid can find himself feeling.

It's easy for a Puerto Rican family to feel a little isolated in Utica, New York; their small house is on the outskirts, and as summer vacation is starting, they aren't mixing much with their non-Latino neighbors. Inside that little house, Manny (Isaiah Kristian), Joel (Josiah Gabriel), and Jonah (Evan Rosado) share a bed, though Joel will often retreat underneath when the other two are asleep, drawing constantly even though he doesn't have blank paper to work with. Joel's the baby, with his mother (Sheila Vand) telling him not to grow up. It's a common refrain, but Manny and Joel are becoming more like their father (Raúl Castillo) every day, and as Ma's "dentist emergency" after upsetting Paps on a family outing to a nearby swimming hole suggests, that's not always a positive.

The filmmakers spend just enough of the movie showing the brothers as a single unit to get the audience to think of them that way for a bit; Jonah may be the source of the narration and have his own hobby separate from the others, but the three always in such close proximity, often shirtless in the heat so that logos or designs don't become things a viewer can hook character on. This doesn't last all that long, but it does give one a sense of Jonah beginning to break away, and how attitudes can be passed on through osmosis: Jonah seldom articulates his differences, and Paps never instructs Manny and Joel. Director Jeremiah Zagar and co-writer Daniel Kitrosser this sort of machismo as an illness that seems to jump from father to son, with Jonah's mother trying to inculate him with the imperfect means at her disposal, hoping he's got a tolerance.

Full review on EFC

Sandome no satsujin (The Third Murder)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 April 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

It's kind of amusing that this sort of movie - a crime thriller that's more complicated than the plot of an hour-long TV show, but not necessarily by that much - is often treated as less impressive or difficult than the less plot-driven movies that filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda usually makes, because he stumbles here. This doesn't mean that the emperor has no clothes and genre work actually more difficult than closely-observed, subtle family drama, just that it's a different skill set, and a guy who is good at the sort of movies that regularly impress critics is not necessarily going to elevate other material when he gives it a try.

The case seems open and shut enough: Suspect Misumi (Koji Yakusho) has confessed to the murder and burning the body. The trouble is, the details of his story keep changing, and former judge Daisuke Settsu (Kotaro Yoshida), who had signed up to handle the plea agreement when it looked simple, wants his partner Shigemori (Masaharu Fukuyama) to take a closer look. As he does, Shigemori starts to realize that the crime has connections to a case his father (Isao Hashizume) tried as a judge in Hokkaido decades ago.

There are more details, of course, with the victim not being particularly much missed and something suspicious about his wife and daughter. It's not that intricate, though, especially to seasoned mystery fans. Kore-eda often seems to fall behind his relatively simple mystery plot, having Shigemori and his assistants spend time pondering and staring right past things the audience sees relatively clearly. The effect is oftne to draw out a story that is never that complicated so that it feels large enough to be presented with an ambiguity that isn't anything that his audience hasn't seen before.

Full review on EFC


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 April 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

Beast is the sort of movie that figures it can let a serial killer running loose in the community sort of simmer in the background, confident that the psychological drama it's got running up front is more interesting. That's true enough for a while, as the audience gets to know its young woman with an overbearing family and her own dark side, but eventually it's got to start pulling things together, and it's all too clear that neither the crime wave nor boyfriend Pascal is nearly as interesting as Moll is.

That would be Moll Henderson (Jessie Buckley), a nice-enough young woman who helps look after her ailing father between shifts as a tour-bus guide, but who nevertheless walks out of her own birthday party to go dancing. You can't really blame her; it is the sort of party that her domineering mother Hilary (Geraldine James) throws as a social event and that favored sister Polly (Shannon Tarbet) kind of hijacks with her own announcement anyway. Moll meets one guy in the club but likes him less by the time the sun comes up and he's starting to get insistent, but their paths fortunately cross with Pascal Renouf (Johnny Flynn), out poaching and not averse to using his rifle to scare a guy off. Pascal seems nice enough too, if a bit rougher on the edges, but the cop (Trystan Gravelle) investigating the rape and murder of a number of teenage girls has a thing for Moll, and maybe that's why he's looking at Pascal's criminal record and whereabouts the night of that party (when another girl disappeared) fairly closely.

One may initially read Moll as a teenager, and I wonder if that's deliberate on the part of writer/director Michael Pearce. That first impression of her as limited or immature may have holes punched in it early, but first impressions can be hard to shake, so that even later on, as the audience realizes that there is likely more to Moll than first let on, what she's actually capable of can still surprise a bit, even if Pearce has been giving the audience a window into her darker thoughts and the occasional sharp, defiant line. Moll matures by following through on impulsiveness.

Full review on EFC

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

This Week In Tickets: 11 June 2018 - 17 June 2018

Yes, I enjoy both 35mm prints and 3D movies. They're both a lot of fun.

This Week in Tickets

I wasn't going to do the early show of The Incredibles (and its attached short, "Bao"); I got down to Boston Common for another movie and MoviePass started acting really weird, highlighting every movie in a slot when I selected one and then not reserving any tickets. Didn't look like customer service would fix it in time, so I walked to South Station, got on the Silver Line, and headed for the Icon.

I feel like I should walk back my ambivalence about that place back a little; I've been down there more than I expected, mostly for 3D movies and the main "Icon-X" screen, and if you don't go Friday or Saturday and sign up for their free card/app, the price isn't bad. Still, I expect the prices are that low because I've never seen it crowded, and someone who works in the Seaport mentioned there's never anyone around if he goes there for a movie after work. Will the prices go up if people start showing? Dunno. I'm tempted to see something there opening night to see if it ever gets busy sometime, but I wonder if this premium-ish theater being so quiet has the ArcLight folks nervous about the plex they've got planned for Causeway.

Having somehow never seen Matinee, I went to that at the Somerville at midnight on Friday, and insert your joke about me being too old for that here; it left me wiped for pretty much all of Saturday. Then again, maybe the joke about how weird a time midnight is to show a film called "Matinee" is better.

I was able to get up bright and early on Sunday, though, to catch the cheap (and lonely) screening of Race 3 (not very good) with time to get some shopping done before Ocean's 8 (pretty fun).

Next up, some of the things I've been putting off. Roughs on my Letterboxd account.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 14 June 2018 in Showplace Icon at the Seaport #10 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

This year's Pixar short that is almost a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination because it's the one that the most people will see is, as per usual, clever and visually impressive, but I suspect that it will raise a lot of eyebrows about three quarters of the way through as viewers watch it and think something along the lines of that not really fitting in with what the short seemed to be going for up until that point. Writer/director Domee Shi has made a short that packs a lot of feeling into a few minutes, visualizing the sort of love you can put into food, how it can be a substitute for what's missing otherwise, with plenty of visual comedy as it goes awry.

And then something happens which works a lot better if you're assuming that the fifty-ish lady making the bao is an empty-nester but not so much if (like me) you thought she'd never had kids, and even if you had... Well, I don't know. It's kind of tricky, and I don't think anything after that is really quite so effective as what led up to it. There's still plenty to love - the animation style is beautiful, especially as it leans into the bulk of the cast of characters being ethnically Chinese in a way that could look like bad caricature but never does.

(Funny projection aside: Incredibles 2 is a scope movie, but was being shown on a 1.85:1-ish screen, and "Bao" is a 1.85-ish movie, but since it's "attached" to Incredibles 2, it's centered within the scope picture. Since Icon doesn't mask its screens, "Bao" winds up showing with black space all around it, which is not ideal!)

Incredibles 2

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 14 June 2018 in Showplace Icon at the Seaport #10 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

Man, it's good to see Brad Bird back doing animation, where he can do basically anything. One understands his forays into live action - nobody goes to film school with the dream of sitting in an office, managing a bunch of guys working on computers in cubicles - but to watch him set huge action pieces up with a dozen characters, each with different powers, doing their thing is to see a master at work; despite the strides Marvel has made, the only time this sort of big comic book action has really reached its potential outside of animation is the climax of The Avengers, and Bird manages that three or four times here.

It props up a pretty darn straightforward story, in that there's not really a turn that you don't see coming (everything from the Mr. Mom gags to the identity of the villain is awful familiar), but sometimes a well-told story is more about execution than surprise; though I still don't love the character design, the retro-styled world these folks live in is gorgeous, the action is great, and the three-D pops like in few other movies. The returning voice cast is just as good, and Michael Giacchino's score is still fantastic, if more bombastic than sly this time around.

It's a long time since the first movie, but also just a minute, which is kind of the way superhero stories work, struggling to be both timeless and of the moment. For Bird, that means continuing to wrestle with the very idea of these larger-than-life characters; both these movies and his live-action Tomorrowland seem to show a man enthralled by the idea of an elite but also distrustful even as he has a hard time taking the approach of someone outside of it.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 15-16 June 2018 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Midnight Specials, 35mm)

Somehow, despite liking Joe Dante and the way he thinks a lot, I haven't seen a lot of his work, and not this specifically. At first, it felt like a pretty good decision; the first act especially plays as nostalgic mush, complete with some of the more obvious needle-drops you can expect.

But it grows on me, in large part because Dante and his writers are tremendously fond of their characters. John Goodman's take on Nick Castle-like film producer Lawrence Woolsey is warm in all the spots where it might have been cynical; it's a smaller, more charming performance than you'd think from the poster. And at the center are Simon Fenton and Lisa Jakub as the two teenagers who fall for each other. Neither really "wins", as often seems to be the goal; they respect what the other is passionate about, and maybe learn a bit more general empathy, but Dante and the cast make it compelling without being antagonistic. But even the sillier characters (notably, Robert Picardo's panicky theater manager) are given a certain level of respect.

It gets pretty darn funny as the actual matinee starts, with a careful combination of intended silliness and chaos, and just enough peril to make things a bit more intense. (Also: I wonder how many of the people who complain about kids and teens in movie theaters now were like the kids shown being monsters in this one at the time!) It may be someone else's nostalgia, but it's earnest and inclusive without trying to label that era any kind of golden age.

Ocean's 8

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 17 June 2018 in AMC Boston Common #10 (first-run, DCP)

Not necessarily the most inventive heist movie ever made, but very fun. It's got a cast full of people who know the ins and outs of their roles almost by instinct, sure hands who make a caper based on sleight of hand as much fun as one based on big effects pieces, and takes just enough time to tell the story and get out but still have moments to play.

Sandra Bullock slides right into the lead role like she's been waiting for it all her life, and I'm sure that I'm not the only person that thinks Cate Blanchett is playing a partner in more than crime in a role whose sharpness plays well off Bullock being smooth - kind of the opposite of the dynamic George Clooney & Brad Pitt had in the previous three movies. The ensemble is great from top to bottom - good enough that I was kind of delighted to be reminded that Sarah Paulson was in the movie when it got to her - but it's especially delicious to watch the likes of Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham-Carter in parts that aren't quite winking self-parody, but aren't quite not. The Ocean's movies have always has a sense of the genre conventions they're playing with, and this one perhaps embraces them with less fuss than the rest, right down to how they are not quite teasing a possible cameo all the way to the last moment, by which point it doesn't really matter because director Gary Ross and co-writer Olivia Milch have managed to use that hook to get the audience more interested in what's actually in front of them.

Incredibles 2 & Bao
Race 3
Ocean's 8

Monday, June 18, 2018

Race 3

I kind of guessed that Race 3 wouldn't be very good, but I expected it to be a little more fun than it was. Instead, it felt like it was going through the motions most of the time, content to splash a good-looking cast across the screen but just have them play generic crime-movie types who morph into other generic crime-movie types when some secret is revealed. I do wonder if I did this to myself, though, by going to the least-expensive 3D show I could find, which meant I wound up in there alone. I don't know if an audience would have pointed me at things in this movie that were actually good but which I'd missed, but I think I might have discovered a little more fun.

One thing I can recommend is the 3D work, which is actually pretty impressive for a conversion. I've got a sneaking suspicion that all the Indian names you see in the 3D conversation credits of other movies saving their best work for the home team.

Race 3

* * (out of four)
Seen 17 June 2018 in AMC Boston Common #5 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

If one's filmgoing tastes stretch far enough for Indian action-adventure and Race 3 is playing at the local multiplex - and it's more likely than usual; the big Eid release is getting more screens than Bollywood films typically get in the U.S., including some in 3D - the number in the title should not deter you; it's not connected to the two previous movies and even the returning actors are playing different characters. No, give it a pass because it's not very good, a prime example of how a movie can have a little bit of everything and not enough of anything.

It revolves around Shamsher Singh (Anil Kapoor), a weapons manufacturer chased out of the Indian town of Handia to the island of Al Safia twenty-five years ago. His family serves as his inner circle and most ferocious enforcers: Stepson Sikander (Salman Khan), who has recently spent time in Beijing; daughter Sanjana (Daisy Shah), a martial-arts expert; her twin brother Suraj (Saqib Saleem), a fast-car-loving hothead; and Sikander's bodyguard Yash (Bobby Deol), practically part of the family. The favoritism Shamsher shows Sikander has the twins plotting against their step-brother, who has recently met the charming Jessica Gomes (Jacqueline Fernandez) on a trip to Beijing. And while Rana Singha (Freddy Daruwala) is their fiercest competitor, Shamsher has his eye on a hard drive full of blackmail material in a Cambodian bank vault that could give him the leverage he needs to return home.

There's a good action/adventure movie or two to be found in there, but Race 3 has as bad a case of Bollywood bloat as I've ever seen. It's the sort of movie that tells you Sanjana knows three kinds of martial arts and that her brother loves driving fast cars in an efficient briefing at the start and then doesn't have them get into a fight or a chase for the two whole hours. In the meantime, the record labels which pay for these movies need to get their numbers on the soundtrack, even though that means little really happens before intermission - the musical numbers are either stalling scenes of them hanging around nightclubs but not actually advancing things, or very familiar romance montages. Given how the opening of the film is a major bit of tell-don't-show, it's a lot of running in place despite a couple early action scenes.

Full review on EFC

Friday, June 15, 2018

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 15 June 2018 - 21 June 2018

Hey, new Pixar this weekend. That's usually a pretty good thing to build one's moviegoing around.

  • That new Pixar is a long-in-the-making sequel, Incredibles 2, and it's pretty darn good - hits the expected notes, but does so pretty darn well, and it's a reminder that Michael Giacchino's score for the first is one of the best things he's done, too. Worth checking out in 3D, even if it's not always the flashiest use of the format; it's at the Capitol (2D only), Fresh Pond, West Newton (2D only), the Belmont Studio (2D only), Jordan's Furniture (Imax 2D), Boston Common (including Imax 2D), Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport, South Bay (including Imax 2D & Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row, Revere (including XPlus & MX4D), and the SuperLux.

    For the grownups, there's Tag, about a group of friends including Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, and Jeremy Renner who have been playing the same game of tag for more or less their entire lives. It's also got the tremendously under-used Isla Fisher, and incredible CGI arms on Renner, who apparently broke his arms during the filming and apparently recasting was just out of the question. That's at the Somerville, Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux. Several places also opened Superfly on Wednesday, with the remake of the blaxploitation classic playing Fresh Pond, Assembly Row, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, and Revere. Boston Common and Revere also have Gotti, which features John Travolta as the infamous mob boss.

    The June Studio Ghibli movie is Isao Takahata's Pom Poko, playing Sunday, Monday (subtitled), and Wednesday at Fenway and Revere. Many places will also have a double feature of Jurassic World and its new sequel on Thursday.
  • IFFBoston selection Hearts Beat Loud plays Kendall Square, West Newton, and Boston Common; it features Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons as a father-daughter pair who start playing music together in the summer before she heads off to med school. The Kendall also gets Nancy, starring Amanda Riseborough as a woman who attempts to convince a couple that she is the daughter who disappeared thirty years ago. That's the thing on the one-week calendar; there is also a one-night booking of McKellen: Playing the Part, which looks like it's mostly documentary but has a number of people credited for what looks like plentiful recreations of Sir Ian McKellen's early life and roles.
  • Race 3 is the big Bollywood opening this week, with the latest entry in the popular action-crime series featuring a mostly new cast, and even returnees Anil Kapoor and Jacqueline Fernandez seeming to play different roles if IMDB can be believed. It's in 2D at Apple Fresh Pond, 3D at Boston Common, and a mix of the two at Fenway. Fenway also has Veere Di Wedding continuing, while Fresh Pond is down to Tamil screenings of Kaala, and also has Telugu romance Sammohanam. They also have a couple shows per day of American indie The Year of Spectacular Men, written by and starring Madelyn Deutch as a young woman making a mess out of her life just out of college, also notable for being co-star Lea Thompson's first feature as director (though she's apparently been doing a fair amount of TV). Chinese movie How Long Will I Love U is still going at Boston Common.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre starts their 70mm run of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey this weekend, meaning two of the small handful of prints made for this release are kicking around the Boston area, with Tuesday's show introduced by Wade Roush of the "Soon(ish)" podcast. In a loose tie-in, they will also have Filmworker, the documentary about Kubrick's long-time aide-de-camp, playing matinees in the GoldScreen room.

    The midnight martial-arts month continues with a weekend of video-game adaptations: Street Fighter on Friday (which isn't much but has one hilarious moment from Jean-Claude Van Damme), and Mortal Kombat in 35mm on Wednesday; they're presented by Hadley barcade "The Quarters", who lent the theater an MKII cabinet for the weekend. Monday's Big Screen Classic is Once Upon a Time in the West, there's a special "Wide Lens" screening of Moonlight with post-screening discussion, and a "Cinema Jukebox" show of Gimme Shelter on Thursday.
  • The West Newton Cinema is where you'll have to go to catch A Kid Like Jake, featuring Claire Danes and Jim Parsons as parents discovering that their four-year-old son may be transgender.
  • The Brattle Theatre has a David Lynch Weekend, with Blue Velvet Friday, a 35mm double-feature of Mulholland Drive & Lost Highway on Saturday, and a twin bill of Eraserhead & Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me on Sunday. IFFBoston has a preview of Searching on Monday, it's Trash Night on Tuesday, and there's a special event on Wednesday: In the Bedroom on 35mm with director Todd Field and the original novelist's grandson Andre Dubus III in person.
  • The Somerville Theatre extends their 70mm run of 2001: A Space Odyssey for a third week, although there is no show on Friday because of a live event. Their midnights this week are Joe Dante's Matinee on Friday and Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights on Saturday, both on 35mm.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has an Arab Film Weekend from Friday to Sunday, with Beauty and the Dogs (Friday/Saturday), Solitaire (Friday/Saturday), Sheikh Jackson (Friday/Sunday), 17 (Saturday/Sunday), and Until the Birds Return (Saturday/Sunday). On Wednesday, they kick off the Roxbury International Film Festival with an outdoor screening of Black Panther, followed by animated film Liyana on Thursday, both with live entertainment before the shows.
  • The Harvard Film Archive has more Luchino Visconti, with Rocco and His Brothers on 35mm Friday (a later screening will be a restored DCP, so pick your poison), Senso on Saturday (also 35mm), and Obsession on Sunday..
  • The Regent Theatre has sing-along screenings of Jesus Christ Superstar on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, with stars Ted Neeley, Bob Bingham, and Kurt Yaghjian there in person, judging the costume contest; they'll also take the show on the road to Worcester on Tuesday.
  • The outdoor movie schedule for the summer is starting to fill in, with Joe's Free Films showing When Harry Met Sally (at the Boston Harbor Hotel)
  • and The Incredibles (at Tufts) on Friday, Back to the Future (at Remnant Brewery) and Rear Window (Coolidge at the Greenway) on Tuesday, along with MFA/RIFF show of Black Panther on Tuesday.

Having already caught Incredibles 2, I'll probably go for Ocean's 8, Tag, Matinee in the coming days. Maybe Race 3 and Year of Spectacular Men.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

This Week In Tickets: 4 June 2018 - 10 June 2018

"Yep, quiet summer this year. No need to really get all worked up about falling behind, let's just see what's coming this weekend OH MY GOD."

This Week in Tickets

Well, at least I proved to myself that I could do those five-film days, get something quick into Letterboxd and maybe onto eFilmCritic, before hitting Fantasia next month, but, whoa, that's a busy weekend.

It kicked off with some baseball, the second of three games in my 10-ticket package to collide with a movie thing, and this time the game won. On the one hand, it was my second game pitched by Chris Sale in a row; on the other, it was my second in a row where Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez did not play. That is a recipe for a pretty low-scoring affair, and in this case, a 1-0 loss. Went quick, though, and it was a beautiful night.

Going to that meant I missed the first double feature of Noir City: Boston, but I'd seen the "A" portion of it before, so it wasn't so bad. The event as a whole was a lot of fun, in large part because it was not unambiguous classics, but some that were kind of ridiculous or mediocre.

Two double-features a day should be enough, but I made up for missing the first night by catching an extra crime film each morning. Believer was okay, although not nearly as good as Drug War, the Johnnie To film being remade; Hotel Artemis is a neat setting with a great cast that never really gets its story going.

Another summer weekend coming up, first impressions will be on my Letterboxd account.

White Sox 1, Red Sox 0
Hotel Artemis
Noir City: Boston - Murder, My Sweet / Strangers in the Night
Noir City: Boston - The Killers / So Dark the Night
Noir City: Boston - Force of Evil / The Guilty
Noir City: Boston - Try and Get Me! / Shakedown

Noir City: Boston - Murder, My Sweet, Strangers in the Night, The Killers, So Dark the Night, Force of Evil, The Guilty, Try and Get Me!, and Shakedown

I've been flirting with the idea of going to the main "Noir City" festival in San Francisco for a few years, even before I got to experience the Castro at the silent film festival, and maybe I'll do it some year - it sure looks like it would be nicer weather than Boston that week. I kept putting that off, though, and that seemed okay when they made the announcement late last year that it would be coming for me, settling in for a weekend at the Brattle Theatre, which seemed like the most natural thing in the world.

Unfortunately for me, it ran into my Red Sox 10-game package, so I missed Friday night, which I was kind of okay with - I've seen The Glass Key a few times - but still left me plenty of noir to see, with two double features per weekend day. The double-feature format was one of the neat things about this particular series, in that they were pairing "A" and "B" movies and doing it as single-admission double features, with Ned mentioning that the idea was rare enough that they occasionally get calls at the Brattle asking if you have to watch both ("yes, at the beginning of the first movie, seat belts automatically fasten and don't let you out until after the second").

Ned wasn't the main host, though, as the FIlm Noir Foundation's "Czar of Noir" Eddie Muller was there to introduce each one. I'm afraid I'm not familiar with him because my cable package doesn't include Turner Classic Movies (Comcast bundles it with five college sports channels I will never watch, and I've got good rep theaters nearby), so I never see his "Noir Alley" presentations. He's got a lot of fun anecdotes, although I'm kind of a "get to the movie" guy, myself.

He did deliver one bit of information that I felt like I should have known, that being what these movies were called at the time. "Film noir" didn't enter the lexicon until a decade or so later, when French critics and filmmakers started examining them and incorporating their influence directly. American studios called these films "murder dramas" and "crime thrillers", the former tending to feature amateurs and being marketed to women, the latter about career criminals and marketed to men. The Killers, he noted, was successful and seminal because it functioned as both.

Me, I'm now just looking for a reason to use "murder drama" in its proper context.

Murder, My Sweet

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 9 June 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Noir City: Boston, 35mm)

This is the less celebrated of the two Philip Marlowe movies released in 1944, and for good reason, but it's still a good piece of crime cinema with an enjoyably likable Dick Powell as Marlowe and a lot of good bits around him. I was pretty darn enthusiastic the last time I saw it (at the HFA's "Five O'Clock Shadow" program in 2015) and not quite so enamored this time around, but it's still pretty terrific.

At times, it's a little too ambitious in trying to replicate Chandler's prose or create a filmic equivalent, but that's better to try than homogenize it. Still, for my money, this movie is all about poor Moose, a hulking brute who I suspect wasn't quite the fool Marlowe meets before he became a crook (I'm retroactively saying he's got CTE) and is now a sad, lovelorn loose cannon after doing his time. He's the tragic result of Chandler's predilection for ending chapters by knocking someone unconscious, and you have to hope that any woman Marlowe meets will be the one who helps him escape that fate.

Full review on EFC, from 2015

Strangers in the Night

* * * (out of four)
Seen 9 June 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Noir City: Boston, 35mm)

This thing is utterly bonkers, an amateurish-seeming B movie that would likely collapse even further if it ran more than its 56 minutes, but it's a (sometimes literal!) trainwreck you can't look away from. The plot is daffy but kind of compelling, and it's got a bunch of people both in front of and behind the camera doing their level best even when the star is wooden and the story sloppy.

And it is a complete mess, taking bits from other, better stories and cobbling them together into something with a soldier (William Terry) who meets a nice lady doctor (Virginia Grey) on his way to meet the girl he corresponded with during the war, only to find she's not around but her mother (Helene Thimig) practically worships at the girl's portrait like it's an altar. What's going on is obvious enough that characters seem like they have to be really oblivious to miss it, there are a lot of things that don't even play natural by Gothic standards, but there are some surprisingly good bits buried inside the accelerated, often abrupt story, and the filmmakers fully embrace how nutty thing are by the end, which is the only way to go.

And make no mistake, that finale is something. It goes from a scene that deserves heckling to laying out just how silly its events are without shame. There's a moment during the finale explanation when the filmmakers cut to a genuinely hilarious "uh... what?" blank look on the characters' faces, just before a delightfully over-the-top coup de grace. It sends you out amused, if nothing else.

The Killers

* * * (out of four)
Seen 9 June 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Noir City: Boston, 35mm)

An all-time classic noir, described in the introduction as the intersection between "murder dramas" and "crime thrillers", and as such featuring something for everyone, even before considering how downright genteel criminals apparently were then - no worries about being seen or eliminating witnesses. It's awful clever in how it sneaks the love story you don't expect in under the one you do.

This time around, I'm really stuck by what the filmmakers did with shadows. They're deep and eye-catching toward the start, quietly receding as the investigation yields greater clarity. The use of flashbacks is more clever than I remembered, too, using narration to keep the big heist less suspenseful because it turns out to be less important than everything else, but even in that sequence never failing to draw the audience in.

What I thought when I saw it in 2012

So Dark the Night

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 9 June 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Noir City: Boston, 35mm)

Well, at least that didn't turn out to be the solid hour and a half of franglais I was initially fearing, even if it often seemed headed in that campy direction early on, with the filmmakers occasionally seeming unsure whether the accents and production design was enough. So there's that.

Instead, it seemed like someone trying to do Hitchcock without his incredible talent - director Joseph H. Lewis and his collaborators have just enough ambition to set up some memorable shots and they make the same blunt attempts to craft a monster out of deviant psychology, but the characterization and storytelling panache that disguises how little is actually happening as the filmmakers try to make things simmer just isn't present. It's like the people making the movie gets so excited by the possibility of its twist ending that they can't help but blurt it out early.

Force of Evil

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 10 June 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Noir City: Boston, 35mm)

Sometimes a dry story about how the numbers racket worked, sometimes a flick that has more genuine style and personality than 90% of its competition. I ultimately liked its potential more than the thing itself. I some way, that's to be expected because this seems to be far more a passion project than most noirs, with the director not just credited with the script, but co-writing it with the writer whose research inspired the story. It a world of competent programmers, this is the work of someone with something to say and a strong desire to make an impression.

I'm also kind of impressed with just how thoroughly and flagrantly predatory its antihero was to the sweet love interest, though. I'm not sure whether it was meant to be a further illustration of how John Garfield's Joe Morse is an amoral man in a scuzzy business or if it was 1948 and this was supposed to come across as flirtatious, but it worked as the former 70 years on.

The Guilty

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 10 June 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Noir City: Boston, 35mm)

Efficient bit of film noir that could probably get more use out of having its two female leads be twins, especially since the main femme never seems quite so fatale as she's meant to be; this could have been a really terrific double performance for Bonita Granville, although having the focus be so solidly on "bad girl" Estelle may give her the chance to make her a bit more nuanced than a movie where the contrast between the twins is the focus. It makes me a bit curious to see what Cornell Woolrich's original story ("He Looked LIke Murder") was like - did it spend as much unnecessary time on whodunit material that isn't really important, or less? The film never seems to find what it means to focus on.

It's a bit hindered in other ways - the budget and necessary restraint where violence is concerned makes the audience take more on faith than they should, and some of the acting is kind of rough. There are enough good performances and run-down ambiance (the introduction focused on how miserable Woolrich's world could be) for an ambitious B, though.

Try and Get Me! (aka The Sound of Fury)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 10 June 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Noir City: Boston, 35mm)

Try and Get Me! is more than a trifle heavy-handed (to put it mildly), especially once a thoughtful professor starts putting the moral lesson of the film into so many words. Director Cy Endfield and writer Jo Pagano (adapting his own novel) are foregrounding social concerns that will probably always be relevant, and even when Jiminy Cricket in the form of an Italian physicist (Renzo Cesana) who knows reporter Gil Stanton (Richard Carlson) from the war isn't talking about the need for the press to show restraint, they're making progressive points. It's why the movie sometimes seems to struggle a bit; the stories of Stanton and factory worker turned getaway driver Howard Tyler (Frank Lovejoy) are linked, but neither seems like much as they're advancing individually

Still, it's tough to deny the effectiveness of the final riot that comes when the two collide; it's a big scene with a bunch of extras that feels like it belongs in a Technicolor epic rather than a a B&W crime movie, although it's not entirely unexpected, given how well the early crime hits are executed. Much of the cast is businesslike, but Lloyd Bridges is kind of a hoot as the reckless crook who pulls Howard into a life of crime. The most wonderfully black-comic moment belongs to Adele Jergens as the Bridges character's girlfriend, dressed to the nines and enjoying the camera when the press starts to cover the arrest and trial.

It inevitably winds up three or four movies stitched together, but does do most of them well.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 10 June 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Noir City: Boston, 35mm)

Pure pulp, this film is, introducing an unscrupulous lead and then not choosing to complicate him at all. Photographer Jack Early (Howard Duff) is a bastard from the start, but a talented enough one to make the audience buy his rise and identity with his ambition, and the filmmakers find just the right way of building him from maybe being inexperienced and desperate to enjoyably ruthless to downright villainous. Duff's not quite charismatic enough in the role to become a great anti-hero, but he's good enough, especially as the filmmakers show every female head turning, one of the more overt uses of male sex appeal in the genre - how often is the good-looking guy a woman's potential downfall?

The film doubles down on that, diving into the muck with the same sort of recklessness as its protagonist, making the danger of it a bit of fun. There's a lot of fun had with the gangsters, who are in their way more honest than the photographer who sees a way to extort them, but not so much that a viewer can't enjoy Early getting one over on them. It's not quite so much fun to watch him try and do the same with the two women who catch his eye. Both Peggy Dow and Anne Vernon are sexy as heck and their characters more so for being witty, capable, and not entirely ready to fall for Jack.

It ends just as abruptly and madly as it started, with double-crosses, violence, and a capper that is only wonderfully nuts than the one in Strangers in the Night because there's a scene where the characters acknowledge the irony rather than a quick "The End". It's just ridiculous enough at that point to be unambiguously fun pulp, but a little excess winking doesn't hurt it too much.