Friday, February 23, 2024

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 23 February 2024 - 29 February 2024

Man, you can really feel the studios and theaters stretching to fill screens right now. I hope it will be better next year when we're further past the plagues and strikes and all, but we could also be down to like two or three major studios by then.
  • The latest Coen Brothers solo project, Ethan's Drive-Away Dolls, opens at the Somerville, the Coolidge, Fresh Pond, CinemasSalem, Boston Common, Causeway Street, Kendall Square, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Arsenal Yards. It's a fairly enjoyable comic road trip with Margaret Qualley & Geraldine Viswanathan as lesbian best friends who wind up accidentally transporting the sort of bizarre cargo that men will kill for, and happily clocks in at a quick 84 minutes.

    Ordinary Angels looks to be going for "inspirational drama", with Hilary Swank as a small-town woman who helps a single father pay for his daughter's medical care. It's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Causeway Street, Assembly Row, and Chestnut Hill.

    The Sarajevo-in-the-Balkan-war documentary Kiss the Future begins a regular run at Boston Common, South Bay, and Assembly Row after what I guess were preview shows last week.

    A Hip-Hop Story, a comedy featuring writer Alfron Crockett and director Damaine Radcliff as two rap pioneers trying to save the genre, plays South Bay.

    Les Misérables is getting a re-release on the Dolby screens at Boston Common, South Bay, and Assembly Row; doesn't seem to be any particular significance to it. Soul returns to Boston Common and South Bay after last month's first-time-in-theaters release.

    Dune: Part Two has "Fan First" Imax shows at Jordan's Furniture, Boston Common, South Bay, and Assembly Row on Sunday. The Kung Fu Panda movies play Boston Common ahead of the upcoming fourth entry (#1 Friday, #2 Saturday, #3 Sunday). The Wednesday A24 selection at Boston Common and Causeway Street is The Lighthouse.
  • Japan's submission for Best Foreign Language film, Perfect Days, opens at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Kendall Square, the Embassy, the Lexington Venue, Boston Common, and the Seaport. It's one of those foreign-film cross-fertilizations, directed by Wim Wenders, and starring Koji Yakusho as a man who cleans public toilets but still manages to find beauty in his routine, including a visit from his niece.

    The weekend's midnights at the Coolidge include The Book of Eli on Friday and Foxy Brown on Saturday. Monday's Big Screen Classic is Abbas Kiarostami's Close-Up. "Destination Romance" concludes with Titanic on Tuesday; The Lives of Others is the Big Screen Debut show on Wednesday, and there's a "Shakespeare Reimagined" presentation of A Midwinter's Tale on Thursday. All of the Coolidge's special presentations this week are on 35mm film.
  • Oscar-nominated Io Capitano, an odyssey tracing the path from Senegal to Europe through the Sahara and Mediterranean for two young boys, opens at Landmark Kendall Square.

    The Kendall also has Spaceman, a Netflix film with Adam Sandler as an astronaut on a year-long mission coming to realize that his wife (Carey Mulligan) may not be waiting for him when he returns. It's directed by Johan Renck, who helmed a good chunk of Chernobyl, and has apparently been sitting on the shelf for a couple years.

    Combining the two, they also bring back two Netflix awards contenders, Society of the Snow and Maestro, for those of us who still may want to catch them on the big screen before the ceremony. The Tuesday New Hollywood selection is Dirty Harry.
  • The big anime release this week is Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba - To the Hashira Training, is apparently not really a feature like Mugen Train but a special premiere event which combines the finale of the previous TV season with the premiere of the new on ahead of its premiere later this spring. This plays Boston Common (including Imax Xenon), Causeway Street, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row (including Imax Laser), Arsenal Yards (including CWX); check showtimes for dubbed versus subtitled, The Boy and the Heron is still at Fresh Pond, the Embassy, and West Newton.

    The last of the Lunar New Year movies to arrive in North America, Article 20, plays Causeway Street; it's from Zhang Yimou and has him doing a contemporary movie for the second time in a year (sort of, as Under the LIght had been delayed), this time focusing on a veteran prosecutor on his last case. Pegasus 2 continues at Boston Common.

    Big Indian-movie turnover at Apple Fresh Pond: Crakk: Jeetaga… Toh Jiyegaa, also at Boston Common, has Arjun Rampal & Vidyut Jammwal in a Hindi-language story of climbing from the slums of Mumbai to elite extreme sports; controversial Hindi-language political thriller Political War; Article 370, an action film starring Yami Gautam; "eccentric" Telugu-language romance Siddharth Roy; Telugu-language comedy Masthu Shades Unnai Ra (through Sunday); Telugu-language inspirational-teacher story Sundaram Master (through Sunday); and Malayalam-language comedy Manjummel Boys. Black-and-white period Malayalam-language horror film Bramayugam and Malayalam-language romantic comedy Premalu are held over at Fresh Pond, while Teri Baaton Mein Aisa Uljha Jiya continues at Boston Common.
  • The Alamo Seaport has indie horror Stopmotion.Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Thursday, which probably makes it more rep than new release. Their calendar is also has Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (Friday/Tuesday); Fences (Saturday); Estonian kung fu adventure The Invisible FIght; 1999 Time Capsules Cruel Intentions (Monday), In the Mood for Love (Monday/Tuesday), Sleepy Hollow (Tuesday), and American Movie (Wednesday); a preview with livestreamed Q&A for Problemista; and one last show of Amélie (Tuesday).
  • The Brattle Theatre opens Brazilian Oscar submission Pictures of Ghosts, a documentary that examines the city of Recife through the lens of its mostly-empty movie houses; it plays Friday to Tuesday. The Bugs Bunny Film Festival continues to play matinees (on 35mm film) through Sunday.

    On top of that, there's the monthly Stop Making Sense screening on Saturday (marked sold out), a free "Elements of Cinema" show of Silent Running with post-film discussion led by Matthew Nash, and IFFBoston presentation of Spaceman on Tuesday (passes required but don't guarantee entry), plus a Grrl Haus Cinema package of local shorts & videos on Wednesday. On Thursday the 29th, they have the two winners of the "Leap Day" polls for two movies that have never screened at the Brattle, Little Miss Sunshine and Perfect Blue.
  • Warner Brothers is re-releasing Tenet on 70mm film with a special prelude for Dune: Part Two attached, and you know that The Somerville Theatre is all over that, running it on the big film all week.

    Over at The Capitol, they should be having the monthly VHS Disasterpiece Theater on Monday
  • The Embassy picks up Frederick Wiseman's four-course meal of a documentary Menus-Plaisirs: Les Troisgros, timed to play along with The Taste of Things for those who like the idea of nearly seven-hours of French cuisine on screen; they also open Perfect Days and continue The Boy and the Heron.
  • Bright Lights has Bad Press upstairs at the Paramount on Thursday. I liked this one, about a Muscogee journalist trying to maintain her independence as one of the few Native nations to have a free press act attempts to push against her reporting, when it played IFFBoston last year. Directors Rebecca Landsberry-Baker and Joe Peeler, plus subject Angel Ellis, will be on-hand for most-film discussion. Free and not just for Emerson students! Per Joe's Free Films, Peeler and Ellis will also be at the Harvard Art Museum for a screening on Tuesday evening (RSVP required).

    ArtsEmerson/the Boston Asian-American Film Festival/RoxFIlm/Cinefest Latino Boston continue streaming the "Shared Stories" program through Sunday.
  • The Harvard Film Archive has encores of the latest two by Hong Sang-soo, with In Our Day Friday and in water on Sunday. The "Afterimage" screening on Saturday evening, "Hapax Legomena" gets started a bit early at 6pm to accommodate over three hours of 16mm shorts from the early 1970s. Guelwaar, screening on 35mm film, wraps the Ousmane Sembène series on Sunday afternoon. And on Monday, they show a 35mm print of Cotton Comes to Harlem with Matthew Whitman introducing the film to celebrate its star Godfrey Cambridge's papers being added to the Houghton Library.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has two films from its "Uniqlo Festival of Films from Japan" this week: Nobuhiko Obayashi's classic House (also part of "Bloody Gorgeous: The Art of Horror" and.Hirokazu Kore-Eda's lates, Monster.
  • The Museum of Science has a special presentation of The Space Race, a documentary highlighting the first Black astronauts, on Wednesday evening. They also get an early start on their weekend screenings of Dune: Part Two on the Omni screen with a Thursday night show (so does everywhere else, but it's kind of unusual for the HFA!.
  • The Regent Theatre has three programs of the Banff Mountain Film Festival this weekend, with "Paintbrush" showing Friday, "Arnica" on Saturday, and "Yarrow" on Sunday. On Sunday, they also have The Black Mass, a thriller following the victims of a spree killer in the last 24 hours before his rampage, with producer Michelle Romano on hand for a post-film Q&A.
  • The GlobeDocs Black History Month Film Festival is in-person this week, with The Mural Master screening at the Capital One Cafe on Wednesday night, including a post-film panel discussion featuring director Andrew Eldridge, producer Jessica Estelle Huggins, and the Globe's Kris Hooks.
  • Oscar-Nominated Shorts continue, with The Coolidge, the Kendall, West Newton, and Boston Common showing Animation and Live Action more or less all week, with West Newton also haveing the docs Friday-Sunday. The Seaport has Animation (Friday/Saturday/Sunday/Tuesday) and Live Action (Saturday/Sunday/Monday/Wednesday); The ICA has Documentary (2 programs Sunday) and Live Action (Thursday); The Capitol has animation (Friday/Saturday/Tuesday), Live-Action (Friday/Monday/Thursday), and Documentary (Sunday/Wednesday); the Somerville has Animation (Friday/Saturday/Sunday/Tuesday), Live Action (Friday/Saturday/Tuesday), and Documentary (Sunday/Tuesday); the Lexington Venue has Live Action (Friday-Sunday); Animation (Friday/Saturday/Thursday), and Documentary (Sunday); Luna Lowell has Animation (Saturday/Sunday), Live Action (Friday-Sunday), and Documentary (Saturday/Sunday); Cinema Salem has Animation, Live Action, and Documentary Friday to Monday.
  • The Lexington Venue is open Friday to Sunday plus Thursday with the Oscar shorts (see above), The Taste of Things, and Perfect Days.

    The West Newton Cinema opens Drive-Away Dolls and hangs onto the Oscar Shorts, One Love, Driving Madeleine (Friday-Sunday), American Fiction, Migration, The Boys in the Boat, Wonka (Friday-Sunday), The Boy and the Heron (no show Thursday), and The Holdovers (no show Saturday). Documentary Baltic Truth plays Sunday morning, with filmmaker Eugene Levin on-hand to discuss his look at the Holocaust in Latvia and Lithuania.

    The Luna Theater looks to be all Oscar shorts this weekend.

    Cinema Salem has the Oscar Shorts, Drive-Away Dolls and One Love from Friday to Monday. Friday's Night LIght show is The Watermelon Woman. Saturday has a free (with donations encouraged) afternoon screening of Ukrainian feature The Guide and a late show homebrew horror HeBGB TV.
Already have tickets to Stopmotion and The Invisible Fight at the Seaport, and will probably try to find ways to fit in Perfect Days, Tenet, Article 20, Pictures of Ghosts, Spaceman, and Cotton Comes to Harlem, A Midwinter's Tale, and, gee, there's a lot of Oscar catch-up to do!

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

This Week in Tickets: 12 February 2024 - 18 February 2024 (Getting Ready)

Quite the odd week for movie-watching; not so much a deliberate attempt to slow down after the previous week, although it worked out that way.
This Week in Tickets
The week splits into two parts easily enough. During the week, I was getting ready for a couple of Part IIs. First up was streaming Pegasus, shockingly very available ahead of the sequel arriving in theaters for the Lunar New Year. This never happens with Chinese movies - as I mentioned when looking at If You Are the One 3 a month ago, I wasn't able to see the first before either one!

Not that it was necessarily easy; it was streaming on Amazon Prime, but the search made it hard enough to find at the time that I had to get there via JustWatch, and then opted to rent rather than use the stream included with Prime because the rental was $2 and adding ad-free streaming would be $3, and I didn't feel like giving them the satisfaction. The movie itself didn't quite put me off seeing the sequel - I'll probably be doing that in the next day or so - but it is a bit of a head-scratcher that it led to a sequel that seems to be doing pretty well.

On Thursday, I gave Dune a rewatch ahead of Part 2 coming out. Because I dawdled, the only place left showing it was the Majestic 7 out in Watertown, although I didn't much mind that - I was kind of surprised that I hadn't yet found an excuse to get out there in the roughly five years (minus a plague) that it's been open! I figured it would make the bus out to Best Buy or the big Target worth it, but that hasn't actually happened yet, and on top of that, I used to go by that place every day on the 70A bus when I lived in Cambridge and worked in Waltham, so there's a timeline where I'm not renovicted and my employers don't move where I'm seeing a movie there practically every night.

Nice little multiplex, though. I should do a thing where I visit every theater you can get to via the T, sort of look at the state of Boston moviegoing. Maybe when the Coolidge opens its expansion. I'm sure someone will announce they're reopening Fenway just as I finish.

Anyway, it was a quiet couple days after that, and then I opted to do a cruddy-movie twin bill on Sunday. The first part was a brunch screening of Argylle at the Seaport Alamo and, eh, I don't think I'll be doing that again. Certain parts of their menu are the sort of thing that makes me really anxious in restaurants - the burger, for instance, that has half a dozen toppings when I really just want cheese and bacon, and I don't want to be trying to pick out what I don't want in a darkened theater - and all three of the items on the special brunch menu are like that. On top of that, all the beverages were alcoholic, which meant there was a mimosa on the menu but not "glass of orange juice".

(Look, I know I'm a picky eater upon whom your carefully-constructed medley of flavors is wasted, but I don't like it when a menu makes me feel like that, y'know? Just offer the ability to build up from plain rather than deal with all the hassles of subtracting!)

Anyway, after that I killed a bit of time shopping and headed to the Common for Madame Webb on the Imax screen, and, eh, I've seen worse. I kind of feel like Sony will sort of quietly not greenlight any more of these Spider-adjacent movies after Venom 3 comes out this fall. It wasn't the worst idea given that Sony had rights to a roster of more characters than they could possibly use given how long movies take to make, but if Kraven flops, I think you've just got to look at Venom as an anomaly.

More coming on my Letterboxd account, then here.

Fei chi ren sheng (Pegasus)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 12 February 2024 in Jay's Living Room (catch-up, Prime Video HD stream)
Available to stream/rent/purcase on Prime and elsewhere elsewhere

I did a "watch the first before the sequel" thing here, and I'm not skipping Pegasus 2, but I'm more likely to watch that out of curiosity as to how one does a sequel and how one makes the second go at something a little better with a little more money and practice.

Because, while I try not to call productions that involved hundreds of people over months the result of laziness, there's a real sense that writer/director Han Han did not exactly put max effort into certain parts of this. Problems are raised and quickly disposed of or ignored, there's no sense of real conflict between characters, and to the extent that it's a comedy, the jokes aren't really much beyond "one male character has long hair". It's a movie made almost entirely out of the capable pieces that connect the really good bits of a better movie.

It's also a movie about rally-car racing that not only contains very little racing, but doesn't do a whole lot to demonstrate what makes the sport exciting or dramatic, and is hampered a bit by the way it works: All the racers going at once but deliberately separated, so there's little chance for head-to-head action or direct comparisons of how their different approaches reflect their characters. If there were any sort of stakes or conflict between disgraced racer making a comeback Zhang Chi and wealthy young frontrunner Lin Zhendong, and there's really not that much, you're deliberately pushed a step back. The film built to show you the course - which is impressively dangerous, full of switchbacks, changes of altitude, and dirt roads of variable traction - and closeups of a driver executing one piece, but not the competition.

All in all, it feels like a J.J. Abrams movie - Han Han (apparently a former racer) knows all the pieces that work, and how to smoothly transition from one to another, but not really how to build an actual movie out of those pieces.

Dune '21

* * * (out of four)
Seen 15 February 2024 in Majestic Arsenal Yards #2 (return engagement, laser DCP)
Available to rent/purchase digitally on Prime or elsewhere, and to purchase on DVD/Blu-ray/3D/4K at Amazon

I liked this a bit more on my third go-through, and sort of half-wonder if that's at all a function of this being the first time I saw it in "normal" fashion - my first viewing was in 3D, which isn't particularly missed even though there are stereo guys beyond conversion in the credits; my second was on the Omnimax dome at the Museum of Science from way too close; and this was on a regular 2D screen. Amusingly, I'll probably see the sequel on 70mm film, and wonder if there's any other way to do this. Are there D-Box screenings anywhere in New England?

Still, I'm not sure that this is a great movie or adaptation, although it's been long enough since I've read the books (I was way too young/ignorant to know half of what Frank Herbert was trying to get at) that I couldn't really say on the latter. It's very much half a movie, still, but a good half-movie, impeccably staged with a pretty terrific cast doing everything they can to turn Herbert's words into something that at least feels like human beings might say them. You still only sort of start to get the shape of what the filmmakers are getting at here, but it certainly seems to lay a strong foundation for what's coming next week.

Letterboxd post from October 2021


* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 18 February 2024 in Alamo Seaport #8 (first-run, DCP)

Silly question: Do you think Samuel L. Jackson told director/producer Matthew Vaughn "look, MFer, I'm gonna take your money for three days of work in the south of France, but are you seriously giving her the same damn makeover?" when he saw the script or, given that he was probably only on set for a few days, after the premiere?

Even if you don't immediately recognize the movie I'm not being particularly coy about(*), I suspect that most folks will feel like Argylle was copied from something. It's got all the pieces of a twisty movie plot that has worked in the past, a terrific cast that should be able to make them work again, but none of the inspiration. Writer Jason Fuchs has come up with this story that could be a fun meta-commentary on James Bond-style espionage versus actual spy work, or what actually makes someone who they are, or whether attachments that have been manufactured in this way can be real, but there's no emotion behind it except in fairly rare instances - Bryce Dallas Howard does a few perfectly believable freak-outs, but Fuchs and Vaghn never seem to recognize that this could be interesting and dig in a bit; it's just time to pull the next reversal

All these folks should be able to get something out of the material, but the moments when they do are few and far between. Why do you even have Bryan Cranston playing his part if he's not going to do something interesting with it? It's funny/ironic, I suppose, that Bruce Dallas Howard's character is a spy-fi writer said to be beloved by actual spies for getting things right when the script is kind of precise but hollow; you might think that this sort of a script written by a guy who has spent a lot of time as an actor might have something to say about disappearing into a character, but it doesn't.

It's pretty, occasionally, but the sort of pretty where one can see the action being pushed to the image rather than the two fitting together. I also kind of wonder how much better the film would be if you switched Henry Cavill's role with John Cena's, because even if they aren't in the film much, there's something about Cavill that makes his scenes land with a thud in the gap between fun spy stuff and an enjoyably deadpan spoof of them. Make pro-wrestler Cena the cartoonish super-spy and Cavill the surprisingly-nerdy partner, and they probably click into place easily


(*) I refer, of course, the The Long Kiss Goodnight, and how when Howard's Elly is revealed to actually be "Rachel Gylle"(**), she is given the same short haircut/platinum-blonde dye job that Geena Davis got in that movie when she regained her memories, Unfortunately, it makes her look disturbingly like Amy Schumer as opposed to someone folks would think was a super-spy.

(**) Man, this feels like a place where filmmakers who were actually trying would come up with some sort of silly anagram, especially with spelling of "Argylle", but I'm not seeing one.


Madame Web

* * (out of four)
Seen 18 February 2024 in AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run, Imax Xenon)

Meh. Folks have been pumping this up as some sort of disaster all week when it's only below average, and even that in a way that highlights how much we expect more from these movies than we used to than any sort of fundamental misguidedness. The pieces of a decent mid-tier superhero movie are here, but it's like the filmmakers hit a wall when they have to put those pieces together in a way that makes it click for the audience, and wind up flailing. Just when the movie should be getting into a groove, gliding forward with a head of steam behind it, it keeps hitting bump where the audience wonders why you'd do that.

And it really should have that, because the circular nature of the story that involves folks seeing the future could be cool! Paramedic Cassandra Webb (Dakota Johnson) can't do that when the audience first meets her in 2003, at least not until her partner Ben Parker (Adam Scott) restarts her heart after she falls in the Hudson River, but Ezekial Sims (Tahar Ramin), who shot Cassandra's mother when they were seeking a semi-mythical super-power-bestowing spider in Peru thirty years earlier can, and he's tormented by the fact that three young women with spider-like abilities (Isabela Merced, Celeste O'Connor, Sydney Sweeney) will kill him at some point in the future. So he figures out how to find them, but they all wind up on the same train as Cassandra, and she has a vision of him about to attack…

Add a bit in where the girls only get their powers because Ezekial is trying to kill them - that would be a logical way for them to get the magic spider-bites - and that would be kind of clever, or could be, if the five credited writers were taking more care to have all this stuff nailed down. Instead, there's a weird sort of tug of war between when they come up with something weird and screwy but in such a way that it feels like something an awkward person not used to superhero-related stuff would do and stuff that is just dumb. Sometimes the former seems to cause the latter, in that Cassandra and the girls have so little reason to make the leap to spider-powers that you've got to do something crazy to get them to the right exposition.

There's actually a little bit of weird relatable charm to Dakota Johnson's bafflement, at least, right up to the point where the need for explanation gets painful; there's something genuinely abnormal about how there's a bit of "what do you mean, natal trauma and a lifetime without roots has messed me up, I'm fine!" to pretty much everything she does. The cast is really not bad at all - I'd watch more movies with the Spider-Girls, while Adam Scott and Emma Roberts are quite likable as folks named Parker you can buy into. Tahar Rahim's Ezekial is more underwritten than anything. The action isn't massively-scaled, but works, and if the "hey, let's include something in a shot that's kind of like a spiderweb" stuff is trying too hard, it's in a way that usually feels like it would make a good comic panel. This would be pretty decent, if it came out 25 years ago, just before its 2003 setting.

Unfortunately, it comes out in 2024, with a studio throwing every lesser Spider-character they have at the wall in hoping something sticks as well as Venom, but in this case with nobody behind the scenes seeming to have the affinity for the genre that the MCU guys do or the Tom Hardy insanity that somehow worked. Perhaps most importantly, though, Ezekiel and the Spider-Girl characters are all close enough to Spider-Man in design and abilities that they remind the viewer that Sam Raimi and the Marvel Studios folks made a half-dozen Spider-Man movies better than this, and having them all exist before Spidey seems to make him incompatible with these movies, and who wants that?

Pegasus Dune Argylle Madame Web

Saturday, February 17, 2024

This Week in Tickets: 5 February 2024 - 11 February 2024 (Jean Arthur Week, Part II)

What a "living at the Brattle" week looks like, if you don't remember.

This Week in Tickets
So, yes, as was the plan last week, I did that whole Jean Arthur series, and was kind of amused when I saw a review on Letterboxd for More Than a Secretary that read "Jean Arthur was gay, PERIODT!" because one looks at her biography and wonders if she wasn't somehow queer: One annulled marriage, one that produced no children, intensely private, died in the care of a female longtime friend/companion. More or less finished in Hollywood after her Columbia contract ended, though she'd work on the stage and teach.

And then there are the movies, where The Talk of the Town wasn't the only one that seemed to like a happy polycule was closer to the ideal conclusion than a couple. Obviously, you can't really tell much about an studio-period actor from the movies they're in, because they can't really choose projects, but sometimes it seems like the queer-coding and apparent comfort with it piles up - the best takes with her roommate being better than the best ones with her boyfriend, her biggest movies being the ones with unconventional chemistry.

No way to know, obviously, since if this was the case, she maintained her privacy very well during her life. More likely than not, she just lived a private life, wasn't nearly as romance-focused as the characters she played, and had a roommate when she was older. She definitely made some good movies during her time at Columbia, though, and the post-weekend portion of the Brattle's program got to some of the more offbeat ones: If You Could Only Cook, The Whole Town's Talking, More Than a Secretary, Too Many Husbands, You Can't Take It with You, The More the Merrier, and Adventure in Manhattan.

(Somewhere in there, there was a re-watch of Piranha for Film Rolls, but we'll just maybe link to that when that post is ready actually.)

After that came the Lunar New Year weekend, which is kind of a weird one here because it's big mainstream movies, but few have ever had a trailer, some of them come out day-of and some get picked up by North American distributors and wind up coming out months later, and some just disappear because the Chinese distributor doesn't figure there's enough audience in the USA to care. This year, it's backed up right up against Valentine's Day, too. Some years they take over the Imax screen with something huge like The Wandering Earth, other years, not so much I liked both Table for Six 2 (Friday) and The Movie Emperor (Sunday), but they're not "hey, they've got blockbusters in China too!" things.

(It looks we're missing two big ones - YOLO, from the director of Hi, Mom, and Zhang Yimou's Article 20, which will probably show up later.)

Also on Sunday: The first "Silents, Please!" of the year, the 1924 Peter Pan, which was quite fun. Given the mention of the next one tying to MGM's and Columbia's 100th anniversaries, I wonder if 1924 is going to be the theme for the year. The pandemic really screwed over what could potentially have been a good long celebration of silent centennials!

Sorry this showed up kind of late, but it's kind of a beast, and the next Film Rolls is looking like a beast too. My Letterboxd account continues to update if this is too long between missives.

If You Could Only Cook

* * * (out of four)
Seen 5 February 2024 in the Brattle Theatre (Jean Arthur, 35mm)
Available to purchase on DVD on Amazon; not steaming elsewhere at this moment

So here's the thing about If You Could Only Cook, in which a self-made millionaire (Herbert Marshall), having given an unemployed woman he meets (Jean Arthur) the impression that he, too, is out of work (rather than taking a week off before his wedding to a woman from a respected family he doesn't particularly love), agrees to pose as her husband so that they can take jobs as a butler & cook, only to discover that they were hired by a gangster: It seldom has the absolute best joke possible in a given situation, and it's got a bunch of set-ups it barely mines, but it rarely stumbles, while also packing everything into 74 minutes and fading to black at the very moment its business is done. This is how comedy B-movies are done. Solid as heck work all around.

Indeed, the filmmakers are often content to run off little more than the chemistry between Jean Arthur and Herbert Marshall for long stretches, letting them be pleasant company so that you needn't have reservations about pairing them up despite the deception at the center, while a bunch of nutty folks around them escalate things. Arthur and Marshall play off each other so well that it's pretty easy to believe that Jim and Joan go out on limbs for each other. Meanwhile, we see just enough of Jim's best man cuddling with the bride-to-be to casually dispose of that as an issue, while Leo Carrillo and Lionel Stander are mobsters divorced enough from violent crime to be entertaining goofs.

There's a kind of temptation to let things get completely crazy, as they do during an entertaining final chase, but it's not that movie; as frantic and full of screwball misunderstandings as it is, it's pretty gentle. In some ways, it means that this is a comedy B movie that maybe could have been an A picture with 10 more minutes spent running down all the other things going on, and I'd kind of like to see the movie where they knock down everything they set up.

On the other hand, it works pretty darn well at this scale, and can you imagine remaking it? So much is positively quaint today that you'd have to spend time explaining couples' jobs and the like.

(Fun if surprising fact: F. Hugh Herbert, credited with the story, was not a one-off alias that one might use during the Great Depression! His career spanned 30-plus years!)

The Whole Town's Talking

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 5 February 2024 in the Brattle Theatre (Jean Arthur, DCP)
Available to stream/purchase digitally on Prime or elsewhere, and to purchase on Blu-ray at Amazon

The first character we meet in this movie is named Seaver, and he survives to the end despite being kidnapped. Five stars.

Well, not quite, but it is tremendous fun to watch Edward G. Robinson not only spend a lot of the movie playing a sweet little nebbish but, as the word gets out that there is an escaped convict who looks just like him, seemingly have difficulty contorting his face into that of the gangster he sees in the paper. I'm not sure of the extent to which he'd really established his gangster persona at this early point, but it's a kick when the Robinson we know and love does show up. Joan Arthur is a fun foil, giving Miss Clark aggressive but honest-seeming charm that quickly wipes away how she initially comes off as a bullying opportunist.

John Ford directs, and it makes for a snappier movie than the ones with Frank Capra that started this Jean Arthur series, even as he's marshaling scenes that play big or tossing both the gags and the bits that move the story ahead around quickly. The parts with Robinson playing off himself work well, too, especially a couple that must be done with rear protection or quality matte work because the smoke from Killer Mannion's cigar wafts behind Arthur Jones rather than disappearing as it passes a central line.

i do, eventually, get a sense of what's kind of too much at points; the chaotic first half doesn't make a whole lot more sense than the second, when Mannion is setting things in motion, but it's quick and lots of fun.

More Than a Secretary

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 6 February 2024 in the Brattle Theatre (Jean Arthur, 35mm)
Not currently streaming; available to purchase on DVD at Amazon.

It's the old, old story - the co-owner of a secretarial school (Jean Arthur) tries to give the demanding client (George Brent) who has fired a number of girls placed at his magazine a piece of her mind, but is mistaken mistaken for the new hire. He's handsome and charismatic, though, so she takes the job, even as she and her partner have lamented the extent to which their students see their training as a path to matrimony rather than independence.

There is some darn good screwball in here, especially as Arthur's Carol is initially thrown by just how peculiar Fred's healthy lifestyle and the workings of the magazine he uses to spread the gospel thereof are, with Lionel Stander especially fun as Fred's trainer and best buddy (he was also a scene-stealer in If You Could Only Cook and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, just a terrific character actor). The film loses a bit of momentum when the health-magazine goofiness starts to fall by the wayside, because Carol finding the whole thing weird is generally more entertaining than her being part of it. I do want to know what percentage of Dorothea Kent's lines as Maizie are double entendres that just aren't so well known 90 years later; she's a hussy and given that so many of her lines are clear come-ons or ones where you can see where she's going, I suspect the rest are just the same.

It's a slight movie, for sure, and at times feels like it's been cut to the bone to get down to its trim 77-minute running time: If the fact that Jean Arthur's character was actually the owner of the school was supposed to be something she was hiding, it's never brought up, and if the best friends are pairing off, it's just out of sight, a fuzzy piece of the background. But it's cute.

Too Many Husbands

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 6 February 2024 in the Brattle Theatre (Jean Arthur, 35mm)
Not currently streaming; available to purchase on DVD at Amazon.

I wonder what the original stage play of this is like, because it certainly feels like the filmmakers took a look at the premise, saw the jokes, and decided that any attempt to make it go anywhere or say anything with even the slightest bit of weight would be working against their purposes, so they tossed it out. This is actually more than fine; it's 80 minutes of flustered absurdity as Jean Arthur's Vicky tries to figure out what to do now that her missing-presumed-dead first husband Bill (Fred MacMurray) has been rescued from a deserted island and found her married to his best friend and business partner Henry (Melvyn Douglas).

There's maybe the hint of something weightier here in Bill's realization that he took Vicky for granted or Henry's inferiority complex, but then something clicks with Vicky, and the look on Jean Arthur's face she realizes that she can make this work for her is delightful. Her glee at realizing that these two men will fight over her, and not because they see her as a prize but because she's obviously the best thing in their lives - kind of important, that! - seems like a chance for the movie to go in on how these two men have neglected her in different ways, but it's having way too much fun with the banter and bouncing around the apartment to slow down and talk about that.

Screenwriter Claude Binyon could maybe do with making a stronger argument for Melvyn Douglas's Henry; the film is almost all ping-ponging and banter, and while Douglas fills this sort of slot quite well, Fred MacMurray is really good at that sort of comedy, and I suspect that the guy who is quick on the draw is going to do better with audiences on top of the girl. MacMurray seems a lot like Arthur in that he was in a classic or two but didn't have iconic pairings or a body of work that became where he was the best thing in legendary pictures. But even if they didn't achieve places in the canon of their own, you can see why they're stars in movies like this as MacMurray in particular is giving you reason to enjoy it at even the silliest moments.

You Can't Take It with You

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 7 February 2024 in the Brattle Theatre (Jean Artthur, DCP)
Available to rent/purchase digitally on Prime and elsewhere, or to purchase on Blu-ray at Amazon

Can you imagine if the internet had been around in Frank Capra's day? The level of snark at his seemingly facile earnestness, the immediate "let people like things" backlash, the attempt to parse whether he was actually kind of great at directing actors or if he was lucky to have James Stewart in parts calibrated to his strengths? The truth of it is probably somewhere in the middle, but you can picture the shouting over it, right, especially in a movie like this which doesn't always hit.

In it, banker Anthony P. Kirby (Edward Arnold) is trying to acquire a group of properties in New York on which he'll build a factory that corners the munitions business; the holdout, "Grandpa" Martin Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore) barely recognizes the attempt; he and his family and other oddballs he's collected have a sort of creative commune. Unbeknownst to either, Kirby's idler son Tony (Stewart), a do-nothing Vice President has Grandpa's granddaughter Alice Sycamore (Jean Arthur) for a secretary and girlfriend, and she would like their families to meet.

There was a time, when I was younger, when I would have described the clan of eccentrics in this movie as worse than the banking family, although these days I'd mark the former as just annoying and inconsiderate while the bankers looking to build a monopoly on munitions manufacture are closer to evil. Progress, but, man, do I still get annoyed by all these guys working so hard to be zany. Capra fetishizes his misfits as much as he loves them, so the avalanche of screwiness seems a bit forced.

Some of the situations are pretty entertaining, at least, well-executed free-floating gags. Alice is a perfect fit for Jean Arthur, who throughout this series has been shown as good at being charming and elegant and then peeling that back to show something more brash and playful not far underneath, and that's often the center of her character here. Jimmy Stewart's do-nothing rich kind doesn't deserve her, really, and Stewart is at his best when he's letting the audience see how empty his rebellion is for most of the movie. There's a lot of charm to most of the cast, though, especially Lionel Barrymore and Edward Arnold: Barrymore runs a sort of brute-force assault to get the audience to see him as sincere, while Arnold convincingly lets his decency get dragged out.

85 years later, I must admit that a big part of what sours it for me is Grandpa's little rant against paying his taxes and how ready he is to abandon the neighborhood he'd told not to worry about selling as soon as things get a bit uncomfortable for him. You don't have to make these movies "balanced", but you should perhaps reckon with Grandpa's happy life coming from a place of privilege, even before getting to the Black servants who keep this little commune fed!

The More the Merrier

* * * (out of four)
Seen 8 February 2024 in the Brattle Theatre (Jean Arthur, DCP)
Available to rent/purchase digitally on Prime and elsewhere, or to purchase on DVD at Amazon

I wonder how many more movies like The More the Merrier got made quickly at some point and then sank into relative obscurity because they were so of the moment or local that their inspiration would seem alien just a few years later. Here, that's Washington DC as America enters World War II, beset by a housing crunch where Connie Milligan (Jean Arthur) opts to rent out her spare bedroom out of patriotism, not planning on winding up with Benjamin Dingle (Charles Coburn), who arrived a couple days before his hotel room was free, and who subsequently sub-sublets half of his bedroom to Joe Carter (Joel McCrea), with the intention of playing matchmaker.

It's a kind of unnerving little premise that requires one find Dingle whimsical and charming rather than, say, dangerously presumptuous about invading a young woman's space, and it's on Arthur and Coburn, and later McCrea, to sell that they can size one another up quickly and see more than irritants, enough so that they can go through bunch of clockwork physical comedy and being flustered because of how they've defaulted to farce rules where something is a secret to be kept rather than something to broach right away, with director George Stevens orchestrating things nicely.

Things really come alive when, after a few tossed-off comments about DC having eight women for every man, what with the draft and all the clerical work, the movie makes a sharp shift from cute to horny, like they shot the scene of everybody sunbathing on the roof and decided that was what the film was missing up to that point. The film is certainly at its most fun during that period, with Connie suddenly tiring of the milquetoast fiancé that one might be forgiven for thinking was a lie and rooms full of women eying JOe appreciatively. Admittedly, Joe needs to be pushed out of the way to really let the movie achieve its ready-to-go potential, but it doesn't really need him at that point any more.

It's kind of screwy for the rest of the time, but cute, with Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea a very nice potential pair. They're something of an "inevitable, because they're the young and single characters we see the most" match, but filled with enough charm to make one believe it. Throw in Coburn, and the group has nice screwball energy even as they stop just short of frantic.

The whole thing can make you scratch your head a bit - I'm not sure I've seen this sort of movie so specifically built around so narrow a certain time and place before - but it's certainly genial enough for most of the time to be a charmer.

Adventure in Manhattan

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 8 February 2024 in the Brattle Theatre (Jean Arthur, 35mm)
Available to purchase on DVD at Amazon

Adventure in Manhattan is just about complete nonsense as a mystery, really, the sort that either completely misses that a big part of what makes master detectives and criminals fun is the audience getting to see how the machinery in their brains works or realizes that there is absolutely no way for it to make sense and just pushes through anyway. The film all too often just asserts that these guys are brilliant and has them make random leaps, which keeps the movie moving but doesn't make the hero and villain much more than insufferable.

(The story involves a paper hiring "criminologist" writer George Melville (Joel McCrea) to investigate a series of daring robberies which he believes are the work of a presumed-dead European thief (Reginald Owen), while at the same time he crosses paths with unemployed waif Claire Peyton (Jean Arthur), who turns out to be an actress his fellow reporters have hired to prank him because he's obnoxious as hell and needs to be taken down a peg)

Of course, you don't necessarily need much more than that in a 72-minute movie, especially with Joel McCrea as the too-brilliant sleuth and Jean Arthur as the smitten sidekick. They bring sheer movie-star power to the very silly script and make the time passing pleasant. You might like and want more - a really clever heist, or brilliant detective work that falls into place as Melville explains it - but for movies as disposable as this was intended to be, sometimes you've just got to be satisfied with the vibe, and the vibe from McCrea and Arthur is pretty good.

Peter Pan (1924)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 11 February 2024 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Silents Please!, 35mm with accompaniment)
Available to stream/rent digitally, or to purchase on Blu-ray at Amazon

This is the first official/authorized/known film version (although I wouldn't be shocked if someone had made one earlier), made with the direct input/control from J.M. Barrie, and it turns out to be really darn solid. Betty Bronsan & Mary Brian make a genuinely appealing Peter & Wendy, with Bronsan giving Peter the right sort of chaotic energy and Brian capturing Wendy being on the verge of growing up in a way that makes the end, where Peter can't join her, just the right amount of sad. Ernest Torrence really seems to set the standard for Captain Hook over the next century. Anna May Wong shows up, but, um, let's not get into that too much.

The set designers, art directors, and the like (or whatever they were called in those days) seem to have a field day as well, creating a great-looking Never Never Land that sometimes plays like a really spiffy stage production but also never feels bound by that medium; there's room to do special effects or zoom in to show Virginia Browne Faire's Tinker Bell interacting with oversized props. The pantomime animals have a perfect level of unreality considering this, too, in that their acknowledged artifice allows the audience to accept them rather than look for the flaws, with George Ali performing Nana the dog (and possibly the Croc). It's his only film credit, per IMDB, but he's listed first, making me wonder if he was a well-known specialist in this sort of role.

If it trips up at all, it's near the end, although (given Barrie's insistence that few liberties be taken), maybe that's inherent to the material, with things moving fast enough that you wonder how the implication that it's been some time works. It's also a bit of a shame that the only surviving print was a localized-to-America one, but all in all, this is a whole lot better than one might have expected. If You Could Only Cook & The Whole Town's Talking More Than a Secretary & Too Many Husbands You Can't Take It with You The More The Merrier & Adventure in Manhattan Table for Six 2 Peter Pan (1924) The Movie Emperor

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 14 February 2024 - 22 February 2024

Happy Valentine's Day! And President's Day! And April Vacation for folks with kids! Let's keep busy with movies!
  • The most romantic thing going is probably The Taste of Things, which features Juliette Binoche as a personal chef to an aristocrat played by Benoit Magimel, who has loved her for years but never been able to convince her to marry him. It's at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, the Embassy, the Lexington Venue, Boston Common, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row. Pair it with Menus-Plaisirs at the Coolidge for seven hours of French food porn!

    Other romances at the Coolidge include A Room with a View on Wednesday, Rafiki on Thursday, Tropical Malady on Tuesday, The Lady Eve on 35mm Wednesday the 21s. The weekend's midnights include Spawn (35mm) and The Room on Friday and Sugar Hill on 35mm Saturday. Sunday afternoon (but at midnight in spirit) is a (free to members) double feature of Female Trouble & Bad Girls Go to Hell tied to the upcoming release of Drive-Away Dolls. There are Disney Sing-Alongs all week for the kids, with proper animated shows of The Little Mermaid (Monday), Encanto (Tuesday), Frozen II (Wednesday the 21st), and Moana (Thursday the 22nd). Monday's President's Day Big Screen Classic is a 35mm print of Point Break.
  • Sony's latest Spidey-adjacent flick, Madame Web, offers up Dakota Johnson as the clairvoyant title character (who is usually much older although, well, let's not get into what Marvel's doing in the comics), Sydney Sweeney, Isabela Mercen, and Celeste O'Connor as characters who have been called "Spider-Girl" at various paints, and Tahar Ramin as one of Spider-Man's less interesting villains. It's at Fresh Pond, Jordan's Furniture (Imax), Boston Common (including Imax Xenon), Causeway Street, Kendall Square, the Seaport, South Bay (including Imax Xenon), Assembly Row (including Imax Laser), Arsenal Yards (including CWX), and Chestnut Hill.

    Surprisingly, Bob Marley: One Love - with Kingsley Ben-Adair in the title role) and King Richard director Reinaldo Marcus Green behind the camera - is not an Oscar-focused movie pushed to 2024 by the strikes, though it was advertised that way for long enough, but was apparently always meant to open now; not sure what that says about Paramount's confidence in it. That one plays Fresh Pond, Boston Common (including Dolby Cinema), Causeway Street, Kendall Square, the Seaport, South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema), Arsenal Yards (including CWX), and Chestnut Hill.

    Land of Bad opens Friday, starring two Hemsworth brothers (not Chris), Milo Ventimiglia, and Russell Crowe in a "get the boys back home safe" war movie. Director William Eubank has done interesting things in the past, although I must admit to confusing Crowe with John Goodman when I saw the trailer. It's at Boston Common and Assembly Row.

    The musical The Color Purple returns to Boston Common on Friday; it never left South Bay.

    A24 Wednesdays at Boston Common and Causeway Street feature A Ghost Story (the 14th) and The Lobster (21st). The David Lynch version of Dune plays Boston Common, South Bay, and Assembly Row on Sunday and Monday for its 40th Anniverary; we'll see if there's reason to do so on its 45th. There's an AMC Screen Unseen preview at Boston Common, Causeway Street, and Assembly Row on Monday. Kiss the Future, a documentary about Sarajevo during the Balkan Wars and U2's advocacy for the city, plays Wednesday on the Dolby Cinema screens at Boston Common, South Bay, and Assembly Row.
  • Oscar-Nominated Shorts arrive on Friday! The Coolidge, the Kendall, Boston Common, and the Seaport have Animation and Live Action all week. The ICA has Animation (Friday-Sunday) and Live Action (Saturday/Sunday/Thursday); The Capitol has animation (Friday/Sunday/Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday), Live-Action (Saturday-Thursday), and Documentary (Saturday/Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday); the Embassy has Animation and Live Action all week and Documentary Friday to Monday; the Lexington Venue has Live Action (Friday-Sunday); Animation (Friday/Saturday/Thursday), and Documentary (Saturday/Sunday/Thursday); Luna Lowell has Animation (Friday-Sunday), Live Action (Saturday/Sunday), and Documentary (Saturday/Sunday); Cinema Salem has Animation, Live Action, and Documentary Friday to Monday.
  • Landmark Kendall Square also opens.Oscar-nominated documentary To Kill a Tiger on Friday; its title refers not to big-game hunting but a farmer's uphill battle to get justice for the rape of his 13-year-old daughter.

    The Tuesday-night New Hollywood show is Easy Rider
  • The new South Asian movies at Apple Fresh Pond from Sunday are Ooru Peru Bhairavakona, a Telugu-language fantasy-thriller about a man lost in a hidden world; Telugu-language drama Raajadhani Files (plays through Sunday); Malayalam-language horror movie Bramayugam; and Malayalam-language romantic comedy Premalu. Tamil-language action flick Siren, about an ambulance driver turned criminal, opens Friday.

    Held over are Teri Baaton Mein Aisa Uljha Jiya (also at Boston Common), Lal Salaam (through Wednesday), Eagle (through Wednesday), and Fighter.

    Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete, an extended version of the 2005 CGI feature, plays Boston Common, South Bay,and Assembly Row on Wednesday the 21st (dubbed) and Thursday the 22nd (subtitled). The Boy and the Heron is still at West Newton, Fresh Pond, and Boston Common (with one show at the Embassy).

    Chinese movies Table for Six 2 and Johnny Keep Walking! continue at Causeway Street; Pegasus 2 continues at Boston Common.
  • The Alamo Seaport has the new restoration of Amélie starting on Wednesday for at least eight days, and holds How to Have Sex over for a second week.

    With that and the Oscar shorts, their rep calendar is thus a little squeezed, but has room for 1999 Time Capsules Drop Dead Gorgeous on Saturday & Sunday, Existenz on Monday, The Woman Chaser on Tuesday, and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai next Wednesday. They've also pushed their opening hours up to offer brunch-menu screenings on Saturday & Sunday.
  • The Brattle Theatre has Valentine's (and day-after) screenings of Casablanca and The Princess Bride, both on 35mm film, although the 7pm Casablanca shows are already sold out. After that, they kick off the annual school-vacation screenings of The Bugs Bunny Film Festival, 80 minutes of classic Looney Tunes on 35mm film, all through the break.

    On top of that, they also have The Sweet East playing 9pm shows through Monday, featuring Talia Ryder as a South Carolina teenager who walks off the school trip to Washington and into various weird "caustically satirical" situations up and down the East Coast.
  • The Somerville Theatre plays host to The Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival from Wednesday to (noon) Monday, with guests for Shatter Belt on Wednesday, two "Life After…" things on Thursday, and Faceless After Dark on Friday. There's a family double feature of The Iron Giant & Galaxy Quest, both on 35mm film, on Saturday and the annual 24 hour marathon starting at noon on Sunday. Unusually, Festival film Where is Anne Frank?, directed by Ari Folman, plays during the marathon Sunday afternoon. There are also three virtual presentations coming online Tuesday and Wednesday.
  • The Embassy has an encore of In the Whale on Thursday evening. They also show The Secret of Pin-Up Island with writer/director Alecs Nastoiu, actress Rina Gri, and producer Ovidiu Vasu on hand for a Q&A on Sunday afternoon. Oddly, I don't see them listed as attending the Boston Sci-Fi Festival screening in Somerville on Saturday!
  • Bright Lights presents The Disappearance of Shere Hite with director Nicole Newnham on-hand for Q&A this Thursday evening, and Unidentified Objects with director Juan Felipe Zuleta and actor Matthew Jeffers in person next Thursday; both shows are free and open to the public.

    ArtsEmerson/the Boston Asian-American Film Festival/RoxFIlm use the room for a free screening of short film "Reparations" and locally-shot featurette Freckled Rice plus "Our Chinatown" on Sunday afternoon, and also have a streaming encore of "Shared Stories" running from Friday through the 25th.
  • The Harvard Film Archive goes with the Ousmane Sembène program this weekend, with 35mm prints of Faat Kiné (Friday) and Guelwaar (Saturday), plus new restorations of Emitaï (Saturday), Ceddo (Sunday), and Black Girl (Sunday), the last playing with a 35mm print of Sembène's short film "Niaye".
  • The Museum of Fine Arts begins its Festival of Films from Iran this weekend with Terrestrial Verses on Friday evening and A Revolution on Canvas on Saturday afternoon.
  • The Museum of Science is showing that they'll be screening Dune: Part Two on the Omni screen, interestingly saying "select nights" in one spot and Fridays & Saturdays in another.
  • The Regent Theatre has documentary Who Can See Forever on Thursday, plus two programs of the Banff Mountain Film Festival, with "Paintbrush" showing Monday & Wednesday and "Arnica" on Tuesday & Thursday.
  • The GlobeDocs Black History Month Film Festival presents "A Beautiful Resistance: Life" at the Museum of Science on Friday evening, and also has Eve's Bayou streaming ahead of a Monday panel discussion.
  • The Lexington Venue is open Wednesday to Sunday plus next Thursday with the Oscar shorts (see above), The Taste of Things, American Fiction (this Wednesday), The Zone of Interest (this Thursday), and Driving Madeleine (this Thursday).

    The Luna Theater has Weirdo Wednesdays, a UMass Lowell Philosophy & Film screening of All Is Lost on Thursday,and the Oscar Shorts (see above).

    Cinema Salem has Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on Thursday, the Oscar Shorts, Lisa Frankenstein, American Fiction, and Poor Things from Friday to Monday.

    (The West Newton Cinema has not yet posted their showtimes for the upcoming week)

    If you can make it to the Liberty Tree Mall, they have Altered Reality, a supernatural thriller that has Tobin Bell, Lance Henriksen, and Ed Asner (!) picking up paychecks.
Oh, it's Oscar short time again, huh? Gonna try for some of them, maybe the documentary, although it's playing at "we assume any local Academy voters who need to see this can come for a matinee" times. Got tickets to Ghost Dog, and might go for The Woman Chaser because I've never heard of it and it kind of sounds like my thing. I'll also probably see Madame Web, because I'm kind of a sucker.

Monday, February 12, 2024

The Movie Emperor.

Another quiet Hong Kong movie night at the theater, although when you go to a movie during the Super Bowl, that's how it goes. As I mention in the review, I was kind of hoping for a crowd so that I could get a bit more of a sense of how well it plays to its intended audience, but, nope.

Still, I dig it, and it's one I'd recommend to my independent film friends who really like movies about making movies; it feels more or less universal to 2024 but also, I suspect, very specific to China in some ways. Particularly the opening bit during the awards show. You can't quite fit the entire Hong Kong film industry in a room, no matter how much you see a lot of the same people in the movies that make it across the Pacific, but there's some chummy messing around during that sequence that I kind of buy that I wouldn't during the Oscars.

Anyway, looks like it's done after tomorrow because there's only this tight little gap between Lunar New Year and Valentine's Day, and apparently Table For Six 2 is still in good shape at Causeway Street even though it had a smaller crowd than this did at the Common. It certainly feels like one where, after it has a brief playing-to-Chinatown run, Neon or IFC or Sony Classics or someone could pick up the rights, cut a new trailer, and successfully pitch it to audience at places like the Coolidge without either group knowing about the other release.

Hong tan xiansheng (The Movie Emperor)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 11 February 2024 in AMC Boston Common #4 (first-run, DCP)

Just before the movie started, I posted that I hoped that this would draw a decent-sized crowd from Chinatown or Chinese college students to show up and laugh at jokes that went over my head so that I'd know if the movie was actually funny. As it happens, I think I laughed more than anyone else in the theater. Some members of the small audience walked out. It is, I gather, an acquired taste.

It is the story of actor "Dany" Lau Wai-Chi (Andy Lau Tak-Wah), aka "Brother Chi", one of the biggest stars in Hong Kong; he started at 17 and has been a draw for 39 years. He's up for Best Actor at the Hong Kong FIlm Awards, only to lose to "Jacky Chen", playing a peasant. He, therefore, looks for that sort of role, and finds a script by Lin Hao (director Ning Hao) which he sees as being about fatherly love, though Lin sees it as more about inability to communicate. Still, Lau brings sponsors and funding, but he's also been in the movies so long that he doesn't really know how to play a common person or even be a regular person: He and his wife (Kelly Lin Hsi-Lei) have divorced, but it hasn't been the right time to announce it yet, so they continue to live in the same house, and his longtime assistant Lam Wai-Kowk (Tan Lap-Man aka Paul Sinn) is ready to quit and hasn't even started to deal with Chi's attempts to get to know what an ordinary man's life is like.

I don't blame the folks who left early. The Movie Emperor is very much one of those movies about making movies that feels very inside-baseball whether it actually is or not. Its deadpan sense of humor can be dry as heck, and half of that is how there's this profound emptiness to Brother Chi. There are moments of really delightful absurdity, if that is your thing, but it's not really a comedy that builds to zany, absurd situations which would have seemed ridiculous at the start but strangely inevitable by the time they happen. Peculiar things happen, but they don't necessarily make the next one funnier, and it's hard to guess if anything comes of the eventual moments of self-awareness.

If one knows the Chinese film scene better, there are probably a lot of clever bits that flew over my head, especially since I've got no clear idea just how much director Ning Hao and star Andy Lau are referencing their own public personae here, and I suspect that there's something particularly pointed about how the film's primary sponsor is essentially vaporware, looking to promote a logo and a vibe more than an actual product, or a young director working in digital space being called an "uploader". Chi's paranoia about being filmed leads to a surreal moment or two toward the end, and I'm especially curious how a joke that quickly cuts a couple ways - a resident of the village where they're filming responding to a request to see ordinary people with "by 'ordinary' you mean 'poor'" followed by a quick assurance that, of course, China doesn't have poor people any more - plays to folks who aren't quite so many steps away from it as I am.

A lot of the best jokes are kind of visual and low-key, like the carefully drawn-out opening about how a red carpet is precisely laid out before things get messed up, cutting to a surreal bit of Chi resting in his hyperbaric chamber as a perfectly-framed tree is felled in the background. The film has a lot of that sort of weird visual gag that doesn't really offer a punchline, although it does also offer a few genuine laugh-out-loud moments, with my favorite perhaps being an out-of-nowhere flying kick that leads to a bit of disaster.

About a month and a half ago I praised a Tony Leung performance by noting that co-star Andy Lau was unavoidably Andy Lau in comparison, and I'm not sure what to make of that here, because "Dany Lau" is clearly meant to be a riff on him, but Dany is an utter blank, driven here by an inferiority complex and a vague sense of "fatherly love" being important, but if there's anything beyond the self-centered nature of the character, it's hard to find. Lau is good at this emptiness, it turns out; he makes Chi feel like someone you might meet, interact with, and never know what he's thinking rather than some sort of malevolent sociopath. He's not quite a void, but he's sort of the idea of a movie star the way long abstracted to whoever he was when he started. It's good work, but difficult to get a handle on by its nature, and the funny material winds up being around him.

I laughed quite a bit nonetheless - the gags that land do so flawlessly, and the film is the right kind of weird throughout - but I'm also curious what will stick with me or reward a closet look.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Table for Six 2.

Is this the Hong Kong Chinese New Year comedy, because I was given to understand that those end with the cast breaking character and wishing the audience a happy new year.

Anyway, not quite just me at the 6:15pm screening on Causeway Street, but pretty close. I'll be curious to see if The Movie Emperor or Pegasus 2 is drawing better over at the Common. Not getting into how I don't understand how AMC is booking these theaters these days again, but it seems like this pretty funny movie that's a sequel to one of the all-itme biggest box office hits in Hong Kong would be primed to get people in. Although, on the other hand, it might have gotten swept aside here, opening the same day as Wakanda Forever two months after it played Hong Kong and China.

Sadly, the first film is frustratingly unavailable in the US, and DDDouse is sold out of the Blu-ray, though it's available at YesAsia. I'm not going to lie, this probably won't work nearly as well if you haven't seen it, even with one of the cast missing (and, surprisingly, not even showing up for a cameo), but, honestly, I didn't really remember that Monica had been the absent brother's girlfriend before she was with Bernard until that got mentioned, and I was fine. Considering there's not a new American romantic comedy out for Valentine's Day this year, you could do a lot worse, date-movie wise.

(Note; There are enough capable/messy/funny women in this movie to make me surprised that filmmaker "Sunny" Chan was a guy, necessitating a lot of edits!)

Faan hei gong sum 2 (Table for Six 2)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 9 February 2024 in AMC Causeway #10 (first-run, laser DCP)

I have a general rule of thumb that doing a sequel to a romantic comedy is a bad idea, because even if you can recapture the chemistry that made the first work, the story generally requires that you undo at least some of what the audience found satisfying about the original, and who wants that? Unless, that is, you can pull off the Frantic Wedding gambit, and filmmaker Sunny Chan Wing-Sun opts to do two of those here. Not a bad plan, and actually a pretty smart follow-up to the previous movie's Frantic Family Dinner.

If you missed the first Table for Six, it involved three step- and half-brothers meeting for dinner, with middle brother Bernard bringing older brother Steve's ex-girlfriend Monica. A year or two later, Steve is doing wildlife photography in Africa, while Bernard (Louis Cheung Kai-Chung) has started a wedding planning business, fronted by Meow Meow (Lin Min-Chen), the Taiwanese influencer whom the absent brother had brought to the party to show he Wasn't Upset At All, and youngest brother Lung (Peter Chan Charm-Man), an Esports star on the outs with his team. Monica (Stephy Tang Lai-Yan) is the thematic curator, and Lung's on-again, off-again girlfriend Josephine "Jo-Jo" Thin (Ivana Wong Yuen-Chi) handles catering. They launch with both the implication that Meow and Lung are a couple and an elaborate fake proposal from Bernard to Monica that they both wind up deciding to make real - and then Jo-Jo pushes to Lung to marry while her 98-year-old Grandmother is still alive, while Meow weighs an offer from her agency to move to Japan.

Where the previous film was a relatively contained affair, taking place over one night and if not always in the brothers' shared apartment, at least in its orbit, it being such a big hit has given Chan a lot more room to spread things out, to the point where more or less all of this movie takes place at either the flashy launch event or two fairly elaborate weddings, which lets Chan and his crew go for big, colorful environments and costumes, and the excess is a large part of the joke, with the amount of gold on one of Jo-Jo's dresses making it almost impossible for her to move and Lung's gaming-inspired outfits at times even more elaborate than Meow's cutesy get-ups. Chan is going for big, goofy screwball here - I said the first reminded me of one of those 1980s Hong Kong comedies where there was no time to actually write the bits that tied the jokes together, and he leans into that in Bernard's elaborate proposal - and it works more often than not, though sometimes in unexpected ways, such as when the lost wedding ring bit leads to people getting the chance to be wrong about who a pregnancy test belongs to.

Another bit, where the characters rattle off their complicated relationships, lets him highlight the found-family themes, and while I don't know the reason for the large Dayo Wong-shaped hole in the movie, he at least uses it to let Meow fret about where she fits in the group if she's not the "de facto sister-in-law". Still, the fact that he is so conspicuously absent from two brothers' weddings is weirder than it's treated as being, and the contrast to a group of uncles still holding a grudge over a similar situation is a bit odd without him there. The brothers' blended family does make a sort of interesting comparison to Monica's bifurcated one, though.

Speaking of which, if the standout of the first film was Lin Min-Chen's wide-eyed, saccharine-seeming influencer Meow being surprisingly level-headed and sensible, Jeffrey Ngai Tsun-Sung's "Mark Gor", a hunky young Canto-pop idol who is a slovenly mess when not on camera but not at all shy about being a pretty distraction when it's helpful is a reliable is an awful reliable source of comedy here. Chan mines a great deal of comedy out of internet appearances not entirely being reality without making it what the movie is about beyond it just being another way farce is driven by misapprehensions. He's also pretty good about not extending this sort of thing stupidly or maliciously - one of the more charming things about this movie is that Bernard is honest with Monica when a lot of screenplays would have him continue a lie.

Indeed, a lot of the cast is able to manage likable and funny at once pretty well. Lin, in particular, gets to have an expanded role and a more complex character, but she does not-as-dumb-as-you-expect well even when the joke is her occasional using the wrong word in Cantonese. Stephy Tang and Louis Cheung are a lot of fun together as frantic complementary types, and Ivana Wong is really good at playing right up to the line where her sarcasm and slapstick-violent temper would stop being funny.

It's all good enough that I kind of wish the first film was more readily available, since I thought it was just okay but quite enjoyed this one. It's a rare solid romantic comedy sequel that has no need to roll back its originator, and those don't come around particularly often.

Friday, February 09, 2024

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 9 February 2024 - 13 February 2024

Valentine's Day is on a Wednesday this year, with a fair amount of turnover, so we'll treat it kind of like Thanksgiving with a short Next Week leading up to it and then cover 9 days next week.
  • I don't think I've ever seen a movie promote a writer in the trailers so much as Lisa Frankenstein, which very much wants you to know it comes from Jennifer's Body screenwriter Diablo Cody, and stars Kathryn Newton as a teenager in the 1980s who revives the handsome corpse (Cole Sprouse) she has been pining over but must gather body parts to make him whole. Zelda Williams directs. It's at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, CinemaSalem, Boston Common, Causeway Street, the Seaport, Kendall Square, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Arsenal Yards.

    Out of Darkness appears to play its horror straighter but is eccentric in its own way, focusing on a Stone Age tribe (speaking a conlang based on Basque) confronting an unknown danger in the woods. It's at Boston Common, Causeway Street, the Seaport, South Bay, and Assembly Row.

    At least part of the upcoming week before Valentine's Day is filled with returns for various reasons: Dune: Part One lets one get caught up for the conclusion arriving in a couple weeks, playing Jordan's Furniture (Imax), Boston Common (Imax Xenon), Causeway Street, the Seaport, South Bay (Imax Xenon), Assembly Row (Imax Laser), and Arsenal Yards (including CWX). The second pandemic Pixar to get a bleated cinema release, Turning Red, plays the Capitol, Fresh Pond, and South Bay. Anyone But You, which I don't think actually left any screens since opening around Christmas, is being advertised as a "Valentine Encore", apparently with a few more minutes added (raunchier jokes? bloopers? special introduction?), at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Causeway Street, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Chestnut Hill.

    There's a new Peppa's Cinema Party at Boston Common starting Saturday to celebrate 20 years of Peppa Pig (seems like only yesterday when the niece headed to college in the fall was picking up a posh British accent from those cartoons).

    Music doc Gloria Gaynor: I Will Survive plays South Bay on Tuesday.
  • The Lunar New Year is this weekend, and that means some big Chinese films. Hong Kong comedy Table for Six 2 has a poster with 8 faces on it, so maybe it's a table for six plus two? It reunites the cast of the first, with all three couples having a joint wedding, and plays at Causeway Street starting Friday. Over at Boston Common, Mainland film Pegasus 2 opens Friday and has the first film's rally-car driver once again having to get a fresh start, this time helping to save a small auto manufacturer; The Movie Emperor opens Saturday and has Andy Lau playing an exaggerated version of himself in a Ning Hao comedy that is apparently more barbed than is often the case. Johnny Keep Walking! is also held over at Causeway Street.

    Telugu drama Yatra 2 opened Wednesday Apple Fresh Pond. Also opening this week are Hindi-language romance Teri Baaton Mein Aisa Uljha Jiya (also at Boston Common), which stars Shahid Kapoor and Kriti Sanon in an "impossible love story" about a pair who meet while one is assigned to a post in America; Tamil-language sports drama Lal Salaam stars Rajinikanth as a man trying to restore his reputation in his hometown (and the game of cricket); Tamil drama Lover, which stars Sri Gouri Priya and Manikandan K. as two people whose relationship is feeling the strain after six years; and Eagle, a thriller which stars Anupama Parameswaran as a journalist on the trail of an assassin played by Ravi Teja. Fighter continues at Fresh Pond and Boston Common (including RealD 3D at the latter).

    An AXCN show of Satoshi Kon's Paprika plays dubbed at Boston Common on Sunday. The Boy and the Heron is still at West Newton, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, and the Embassy (Friday only).
  • The Alamo Seaport has How to Have Sex for a week, Manning Walker's film starring Mia McKenna-Bruce as one of three girlfriends on vacation in Greece whose life is thrown upside down after a drunken party.

    Their rep calendar has Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Friday), a Twilight Movie Party (Friday/Tuesday with a regular screening Sunday), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Saturday), 1980s rarity Blonde Death (Saturday), The Blair Witch Project (Saturday/Monday), Mississippi Masala (Sunday), She's All That (Sunday), and a 1980s costume party for Lisa Frankenstein on Saturday.
  • There have been emails going around talking about the opening of the expansion to The Coolidge Corner Theatre being "imminent", but we're not quite there yet. Which means there's not a whole lot of room for Menus-Plaisirs - Les Troisgros, the latest deep-dive documentary from Frederick Wiseman, which immerses the audience in the operations of a restaurant in central France that has 3 Michelin stars and whose third-generation chef has recently handed the reins over to his son. At four hours, it plays once daily, in the Goldscreen on weekdays and screen #2 on Saturday and Sunday.

    They've also announced regular open-captioned screenings on Thursday afternoons and Tuesday evenings for regular bookings, with the exception of 35mm/70mm and repertory programs.

    Speaking of repertory programs, the midnights this weekend are both on 35mm film, with Demolition Man on Friday and Super Fly on Saturday. Disney's The Princess and the Frog plays Saturday morning, and you can say they're both Black History Month things if you squint a fair amount. On Sunday, the day starts with Goethe-Institut presenting The Universal Theory, a thriller set against a physics conference where nothing is as expected; there's also the monthly Sunday marathon, tying in with "Destination Romance" by presenting The Before Trilogy; that is, all three of Richard Linklater's walk-and-talks featuring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Monday's Stage & Screen presentation is a 35mm print of the 1996 version of The Crucible, and Tuesday's Big Screen Debut show is A Girl Walks Home at Night. Tuesday also features Open Screen upstairs.
  • The Brattle Theatre presents the newly rediscovered Bushman from Friday to Sunday; this film from 1971 started out with Nigerian scholar Paul Eyam Nzie Okpokam portraying a character much like himself, but became a documentary during filming as Okpokam is set to be deported for a crime he did not commit.

    They also have a tribute to the late Ryan O'Neal, including The Driver (Friday/Saturday), Barry Lyndon (35mm Saturday/Sunday), and a 35mm double feature of What's Up Doc & Paper Moon on Monday. On Sunday, there's both an RPM Fest presentation, "Hymn to Her", with six films by Stan Brakhage and Barbara Hammer that pay tribute to Jane Wodening, and a 35mm show of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me for "Superb Owl Sunday". On Tuesday, they begin three days of Valentin's screenings of Casablanca and The Princess Bride, both on 35mm film.
  • The Harvard Film Archive brings the latest two from Hong Sang-soo to town, with in water on Friday following a film crew led by an indecisive actor on Jeju Island and In Our Day on Friday and Sunday telling two parallel stories of burnt-out artists. They've opened up the 35mm Undergraduate Cinematheque screening of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown on Saturday afternoon to the public, continue the "Afterimage" series with The Hour of Furnaces on 16mm Saturday evening and Film About a Woman Who… (with short "Breakfast (Table Top Dolly)") on Monday, also on 16mm. There's also the new restoration of Ousmane Sembène's Emitaï on Sunday evening.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has brash comedy Joy Ride on Friday night, a "Created Worlds: Animation from Around the Globe" show of The Painting on Saturday, and Pearl as part of "Bloody Gorgeous: The Art of Horror" on Sunday.
  • The Somerville Theatre has three last screenings of Oppenheimer in 70mm this weekend (and they mean it this time; the booth will get crowded with the other big prints coming in)! They also have their first "Silents, Please!" screening of the new year, with Jeff Rapsis accompanying a 35mm print of the original 1924 adaptation of Peter Pan (made with J.M. Barries' approval and involvement) on Sunday afternoon.

    Sister theater The Capitol in Arlington brings back Past Lives and The Holdovers for the weekend.
  • The Museum of Science has Nope on the Omnimax screen Friday and Saturday; note that it is likely not included in the free screenings in the room on Saturday (walk-ups only, first-come first-served).
  • The Embassy in Waltham has a special Grand Opening Event for In the Whale on Saturday, with director David Abel on-hand for a Q&A and to be presented with the theater's inaugural Embassy Director of the Year award. The film itself is a documentary of a Cap Cod lobster diver who survived being ingested by a humpback whale. The film will also play Thursday.
  • The week's New Hollywood special at Landmark Kendall Square this Tuesday is The Graduate.
  • The Regent Theatre has documentary Who Can See Forever with subject Sam Beam on-hand for a live performance and short post-film Q&A on Friday, although it is listed as sold out; the film will screen on its own on Thursday.
  • The GlobeDocs Black History Month Film Festival continues in virtual fashion this weekend with Crooklyn streaming in a lead-up to a Monday panel discussion.
  • Joe's Free Films includes a show of Straight Outta Compton at the Mattapan branch of the Boston Public Library late Tuesday afternoon (RSVP required).
  • The Lexington Venue is open Friday to Sunday plus Thursday with The Holdovers (no show Thursday), The Zone of Interest, Driving Madeleine, and American Fiction.

    The West Newton Cinema opens Driving Madeleine, brings back Wonka (Saturday/Sunday matinees), and continues The Zone of Interest, The Boys in the Boat, American Fiction, The Boy and the Heron (subtitled all week, dubbed matinees Saturday/Sunday), Migration, Poor Things, and The Holdovers. No shows Monday.

    The Luna Theater has The Iron Claw Friday evening, Past Lives on Saturday, and Casablanca on Sunday.

    Cinema Salem is open through Monday with Lisa Frankenstein, All of Us Strangers, The Zone of Interest, American Fiction, and Poor Things. The Friday Night Light show is Ken Russell's Crimes of Passion.

    If you can make it to the Liberty Tree Mall (or Framingham), they have The Monk and the Gun, which has an American adventurer meeting a young monk in the isolated Himalayan nation..
I'll be checking out the three Lunar New Year releases (and streaming the original Pegasus), plus looking to fit in a couple other things, although it may be tight before One Love, Madame.Web, and The Taste of Things grab screens Wednesday.