Friday, April 03, 2020

Next Week in Virtual Tickets: Films sort of playing Boston 3 April 2020 - 9 April 2020

I'm kind of thinking that the smaller distributors and theaters like The Coolidge are going to keep the "virtual screening room" thing going for a while even after theaters open back up, not just because people are going to be slow to come back, but because it seems like a pretty good deal for everyone to have things branded and curated like this before they hit the big streaming sites.

  • Of course, there's no end in site, and that The Coolidge Corner Theatre has removed the end dates from their virtual screening room page probably reflects that. Saint Frances, Bacurau, Fantastic Fungi, Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band, and The Whistlers all look to be there for a while now.

    They do have three new additions this week. Ken Loach's Sorry We Missed You opened Wednesday, and seems particularly timely, following a family that works in the "gig economy", including food delivery, and I don't imagine Loach has much good to say about the people at the top. Two others which had their runs skipped or truncated before the lockdown get second chances in the virtual room - And Then We Danced is the story of a gay dancer coming of age in the very conservative country of Georgia, while Ireland's Extra Ordinary is the very funny story of a psychic driving instructor (Maeve Higgins), a shop teacher (Barry Ward) still abused by his dead wife, and an American one-hit wonder (Will Forte) aiming to make a deal with the devil.

    They also continue to post staff recommendations, and have another "Coolidge Education" seminar this week, this one for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Register this weekend and they will send you a link to a pre-recorded lecture by Tuesday. Then watch the movie - if you for some reason don't have a copy on your shelf, JustWatch shows it streamable/rentable in various places - and then come back on Thursday the 9th for a Zoom-based post-film discussion.
  • The virtual repertory series at The Brattle Theatre this week is Virtual Vacation, starting in New York with The Cruise & She's Gotta Have It on Friday; heading to California for Los Angeles Plays Itself, The Green Fog, and Tangerine on Saturday; staying in San Francisco for The Last Black Man in San Francisco & Medicine for Melancholy on Sunday; pairing Miami Blues & Mystery Train on Monday; Ferris Bueller's Day Off & Singles on Tuesday; Columbus & Paterson on Wednesday; and concluding with Lady Bird & Desperately Seeking Susan on Thursday. Or do the double features on different days, or mix and match - you're not limited by a single screening room!

    The DocYard's No Data Plan presentation continues through Sunday, and they continue two series of day-of recommendations: Y'Know, For the Kids! is everyday, with today's entry the delightful A Town Called Panic, while #BreakYourAlgorithm comes Wednesday and Thursday, with the latest entry Party Girl.
  • The Somerville Theatre and The Capitol in Arlington are obviously still closed, but if they're your neighborhood theaters (as the Somerville is mine), you can simulate going out a little bit and help keep their inventory from spoiling by going to their Popcorn Pop-Up Events, where you call and pay via credit card, stop by the theater, and have authentic movie-theater snacks for your night of streaming or pulling things off the shelf. The Somerville's is today (Friday the 3rd) from 5pm to 9:30pm, and offers popcorn, soda, and candy; The Capitol's is Saturday from noon to 5pm with popcorn, candy, and four flavors of ice cream.

    And though there's no official page for it on their site, the Somerville is a "virtual cinema" option for Magnolia's The Whistlers and Once Were Brothers; visit their virtual cinema page to rent those movies and support that neighborhood theater.
  • Emerson has sent its students home and closed the Paramount Theater, but the Bright Lights program has adapted, selecting movies to watch on your favorite streaming service (so long as it's Netflix, for the most part) before signing into a Zoom discussion on the program's regular days. On Tuesday, disability scholar David Koci will lead a discussion on Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution, while Uri Aviv of Tel Aviv's International Festival for Science, Engineering, and Future Visions will talk about I Am Mother on Thursday.
Of the "new releases", I can certainly recommend Extra Ordinary, and I'll likely catch Sorry We Missed You and maybe Saint Frances at the virtual Coolidge this weekend. I'll probably fire up Disney+ for the first time since The Mandalorian ended for Onward, since its brief release wound up coinciding with my vacation. Bummer that means I almost certainly missed my only chance to see it in 3D.

Thursday, April 02, 2020

This Week Month in Tickets: 2 March 2020 - 29 March 2020

It's been an unusual month, to say the least.

This Week in Tickets

This Week in Tickets

This Week in Tickets

This Week in Tickets

It starts normal enough, heading into the Somerville Theatre for Portrait of a Lady on Fire because I'd dilly-dallied a bit in seeing in and figured it might not be around when I got back (foreshadowing!). If you need another reminder of just how long March has been, this was also a day or two after star Adèle Haenel walked out of the Césars after seeing Polanski get an award.

The next day was the Massachusetts primary, and I voted early but didn't get the result I'd like, and then I spent the next couple days packing, getting laundry done, stocking up on comics and reading material before getting on the first of a couple planes and flying to New Zealand for vacation. Thing I didn't know when I got to the airport - you need a visa to travel to New Zealand from the United States, which the travel guide I bought a couple months earlier said was not the case! Fortunately, you can do this online more or less instantly, and then it's fly to LAX and then lose Friday while flying over the Pacific Ocean and across the international date line, to get to Auckland and learn how seriously they take biosecurity there. No outside food allowed in, and you'd better declare anything made of wood, because it might have insect eggs and island nations with fragile native life do not cotton to invasive species.



The only stop I really had the energy for that first day was the Maritime Museum, which includes (among many other nifty things) the "Black Magic", the boat with which the Kiwis won the America's Cup. I remember the Cup used to be kind of a big thing back in the 1980s - it would be reported on the national news, highlights would play after the late local news, people could name the captains, and so on. For yachting! Three or four channels on the TV, and they had room for yachting! I'd see America's Cup souvenir stores around the country a couple times on this trip, and I'm not sure whether it's weird that we ever cared about it or that we stopped or that other people didn't.



The big stop on Sunday was the Auckland War Memorial Museum, which I was delighted to see was not even primarily a military museum; apparently the veterans being honored for their service in World War I wanted something that did more than just elevate soldiering, so it became the site of the Auckland Museum, full of natural history and the like. It's also downright beautiful, located at the very center of one of Auckland's many extinct volcanoes with space around it that similar institutions don't have in other cities I've visited. It's near the really delightful Wintergarden and some really lovely parks as well.



Monday was the first of a couple day trips in a row, this one toward the south where the Hobbiton Movie Set can be found, and for as much as I joked with people about how I'm not a huge fan but knew that if I went to New Zealand without visiting this set I'd never hear the end of it, it's really a charming tourist attraction. It's a tour, so that people don't try to mess with things too much, but one that highlights just how much craft went into these movies and how fortunate Jackson was to find everything he needed in one place.



Next up was Te Puia, a site with a bunch of geysers and mudholes and other nifty geothermal things as well as a Maori cultural center that I unfortunately didn't get to see enough of because I spent so much time on the geology, and my heart genuinely sunk a bit when I realized, oh, there's just enough time to get back to the bus now. It's funny how quickly you can get used to the smell of sulphur.



Last stop of the day was the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, which don't allow photography inside because flashes and lights mess with the creatures in question, but it's a great set of caves (always look up) with an amazing finale as you pass through the crazy, semi-cannibalistic ecosystem in question.

Fun: One of the people on the tour was from Waltham, and came over on the same set of flights as I did. Small world, eh?



The next day was another tour, and not quite as much fun - it was longer on the bus, the driver wouldn't stop talking even when there was just more trees and I just wanted to read my book, and then when we got to the Bay of Islands, we were scheduled too tightly to look around much on our own, let alone get food not supplied by the tour company (which I never picked up, because I not going to go out of my way to grab a bag lunch with a chicken salad sandwich even if there's also a soda and a cookie in there). Also, the first stop for me, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, felt like the tour was pitched toward kids even though my 46-year-old self was the youngest person in the group, although that may just be how Maori speak, with heavy emphasis and storytelling flair. Taika Waititi is the only real exposure a lot of us have to the Maori outside of New Zealand, and you see a little bit of that in his work, but it's kind of filtered.

One thing I came out of this trip fascinated with is how the country's formative document - their Declaration of Independence or Magna Carta - is a treaty between the British and the native people. On the one hand, colonialism is kind of baked right into the country, but on the other, it certainly seems to put those native people in a much better position, even a couple hundred years later, than those in other countries.



Next up, a cruise around the Bay of Islands where I learned that you apparently get sunburned much worse in the Southern Hemisphere than you do north of the equator, particularly here, as there's some very thin ozone above Australia & New Zealand. Fun!

I didn't get many great pictures of the orcas we saw, but, still, we saw them breaching, and that's apparently rare enough that the crew of the boat who take this trip every day all came up on deck to take pictures and gawk, so that was cool.

(I was hungry enough when I got back to the hotel to hit both a steakhouse which is so no-nonsense that you basically point to a slice of meat and say "that, medium rare" and an ice cream place that is fantastically elaborate.)



I planned to take the ferry to one of the islands near Auckland with cool caves the next day, but they are very limited, so I wound up going to Devonport, which has a fair amount of cool things to see, like North Head, an extinct volcano on which defensive encampments were built, and while a lot of the tunnels were still closed off, it was still basically walking around a secret base inside a volcano, which can't help make you feel a little like James Bond



I flew to Wellington on Wednesday, and was kind of regretting that I only gave myself 24 hours there when I saw people surfing right next to the airport. It took a bit of doing to get to my AirBNB - sometimes you just can't data for your phone at first in a new city, so my plans to use public transportation were clobbered - and then heading to the downtown area was another adventure, as Google Maps said "walk this short distance and then take this bus for 45 minutes", not really indicating well that said short distance on the map was all uphill and all switchbacks, and then the bus route went through a lot of one-lane/two-way streets and hugged cliff faces and was, let us say, exciting.

At the end, though was Te Papa, the national museum, which included an exhibit on Gallipoli that featured some amazing work from the nearby WETA workshop and genuine World War I 3-D photography which is just, like, pandering to me directly.



After that, I decided to try out the cable car, because as in San Francisco and Hong Kong, when a city incorporates roller coasters into their public transit, you've got to try that out. Not nearly as hair-raising as the earlier bus ride by a long shot, and it was late enough in the day that the only things open at the top were a nice botanical garden, but it genuinely seems to be used as regular transit (unlike SF) and the light shows in the tunnels were cool.



Not many photos allowed inside the WETA cave, which is a fun visit though you're not going to see a lot of actual work going on, though there are some neat demonstrations. If you've got an AirBNB next to that spot, though, it's a good thing to visit in the before-eleven-AM hours before you have to leave your accomodations and head to the harbor so that you can take a ferry across the Cook Strait, mainly so that you can say you took the ferry across the Cook Strait.

It's not necessarily the best idea; I apparently took the less reliable one, so it got delayed by about an hour, and then instead of just giving you your luggage at the dock, you've got to get on shuttle buses to the line's office in Picton, but the transportation to Blenheim, the other large city in Marlborough, is back by where you disembarked, so you get back on the shuttle buses, by which time the last train has left and the app which seems to show a bus has actually sold you a ticket from Blenheim to Picton, and there really aren't any taxis around, so you wind up getting the customer service people at the other other ferry line to call you an accessibility shuttle… Basically, these two cities really have only two big attractions between them other than the wineries, and since the season for that is close to over, the infrastructure that supports tourists pretty much shuts down.



On the other hand, that one tourist attraction in Blenheim, the Omaka Aviation Heritage Center, is kind of awesome if you like old planes. See that ca. 1940 Boeing Stearman? I got to fly in that for ten minutes, and it was amazing. The braver folks (with a bit more money) could fly in a MiG that does aerobatics, which I heard as much as saw later in the day, and which might be quite a thing.

Fair warning, if you're doing this as close to the off-season as I was without cars - it was a pleasant 4.4km walk from my rental, which is not something I do every day, and there was precious little to do in town afterward. I wound up looking for the nearest movie theater and seeing Bloodshot there, both because it was getting "things are closed but it's not early enough to sleep" late and because I've been reading dispatches from home about people being told to stay home and theaters closing, so I figured, might as well!

Sunday is when things started to get kind of surreal - there weren't any direct flights from Marlborough to Christchurch, so I had to go to the Blenheim airport (where I just printed my boarding pass, dropped off my luggage, and was waved onto the tarmac like in pre-9/11 times), fly back to Wellington, wait to transfer, and then fly across the strait again and further south.



One of the neat things about Christchurch is that one of the most interesting attractions there is actually connected to the airport, the International Antarctic Center. That's where many scientists and service employees leave for McMurdo and other bases, and the place is fun - you can ride in the tractors they use there, look at rescued penguins, and experience a room that drops to freezing temperatures with eighteen-degree wind chill, which is apparently a novelty to Kiwi kids. I opted not to enter what is basically a "walk to the subway station" simulator.



The art installation above is not actually part of the "Quake City" museum, but it's a striking first glimpse for me of how the 2011 earthquake has left its mark on the city even almost ten years later. It's been rebuilt but you still see scars and public art reflecting it all over. It's a thing that makes visiting this city at this time a little more specific than the typical visit. Ten years ago, it was very different; ten years from now, there's a good chance that the quake will be less visible and the cathedral will be repaired. Hopefully not too much, though, because it's a very charming city.



I capped Monday off in the Canterbury Museum, which has moa skeletons and is generally a terrific picture of the area's history, from the modern to an area replicating a turn-of-the-20th-century street to Maori displays all the way back to mock-ups of what the giant penguins and parrots ("Squawkzilla!") who used to live there would have looked like. Seriously, I think a 1.5m parrot would have wrecked me.

It was a strange last couple days of vacation, though - I started to see signs that things were being called off locally as I arrived in Christchurch, the social-media postings and news from home got much more aligned in focusing on Covid-19 and self-isolation, and maybe crowds were becoming a bit more sparse even as the newspapers I saw in restaurants were just starting to mention cases showing up on the South Island. You start to wonder whether you're being irresponsible going out rather than just staying in your rental and wondering just what you'll do if you can't get home, because even though you feel fine and NZ is in much better shape than the USA is, there are not-bright people in important positions back home. By the time I got to the Christchurch airport on Tuesday morning, there are announcements of mandatory 14-day isolation for everyone entering the country.

Tuesday is a long day - I left the rental at 7:30am New Zealand time, flew to Auckland, then to LAX, where the immigration and transfer process is 75 minutes in sometimes very crowded conditions, then to Reagan/Washington, and then finally to Logan, with the airports becoming progressively more deserted and with many of the vendors and spots to eat shut down despite it being what are normally peak hours. There are a dozen or so people on a plane meant to carry 125, and the flight attendant mentions that they'll probably keep flying because of cargo contracts and mentions something that I'm going to have to write a heist script around. Eventually, after 30 hours, I get home at 10:30pm and it's still Tuesday. I haven't slept, deliberately, so I drop.

I'm mostly able to get up at the regular time on Wednesday, and though we're meant to work from home, I left all of my work stuff at the office. Quiet and not quiet enough. The theaters are closed, which is good, because I am weak and would have justified going to see Onward in 3D because, hey, nobody likes to sit up front with me anyway.

After that, there was a week of getting un-jet-lagged, getting caught up on Picard and the contents of my DVR, and so on, before the Coolidge started its virtual screening room, where over the next few days I'd catch Fantastic Fungi, The Whistlers, and Bacurau, the latter preceded by "The Haunted Swordsman", which would have been part of the Boston Underground Film Festival, except, well, cancelled.

More stuff coming on my Letterboxd page, although who knows when there will be more things taped to the scrapbook? The next few months are going to be weird.

Portrait de la jeune fille en feu (Portrait of a Lady on Fire)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 2 March 2020 in Somerville Theatre #3 (first-run, DCP)

I don't know that I really responded that much to the romance in this film, but I do remember the jolt toward the end when we see a man for the first time in a couple of hours and it feels like a trespass, a violation of the world that the women involved have built for themselves. There's a level on which the return of the Countess from her trip would trigger the same thing - Marianne, Heloise, and Sophie had seemingly lived without class barriers and hierarchy during their absence, and this would force them into rigid roles again - and it makes one wonder just how entwined the two are. The sadness to this picture is maybe not so much that the relationship must end, but that the world that allowed it to flourish must disappear as well.

Before that, though, it's beautiful, people circling each other warily but never uncertainly, with director Céline Sciamma and her crew staging each scene with beauty but not ostentatiously so. Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel are both genuinely terrific and they've got Luàna Bajrami and Valeria Golino to provide counters, grounded in their world in different ways.

It's not quite the sort of melodrama I'm completely able to get wrapped up in, but I suspect that anybody a single quantum more romantic than I will be all in.


Portrait Of a Lady on Fire
New Zealand Maritime Museum
Auckland War Memorial Museum



Hobbiton Movie Set
Te Puia
Waitomo Glowworm Caves
Waitangi Treaty Grounds
Bay of Islands
Devonport Village
Wellington Cable Car
Te Papa
The WETA Cave
Omaka Aviation Heritage Center
Bloodshot
International Antarctic Centre



Quake City
Canterbury Museum



Fantastic Fungi
The Whistlers
The Haunted Sworsdman & Bacurau


Tuesday, March 31, 2020

"The Haunted Swordsman" and Bacurau

Believe it or not, this past weekend would have been the Boston Underground Film Festival, which vanished in a puff when the folks at BUFF and the Brattle recognized that it would not be physical-distancing-friendly at all. It would have been a bummer to let it pass completely unnoted, but, fortunately for me, one of the selections for the animation program is a short film I could access because I'd contributed to its Kickstarter, and "The Haunted Swordsman" is pretty darn good.

It also made a good pre-film short for Bacurau, one of the first films announced as playing the Virtual Coolidge Corner Theatre, and one that's been getting a fair amount of acclaim from various quarters. The good news is that it lives up to a lot of the hype, and even though it's pretty long for the sort of film in question, you don't much feel it, and it often feels like a good movie for this particular moment.

Not an exact match, obviously, but it's got an oddly utopian kernel to its desperate near future, something you can sort of see in the empty streets outside and the DIY mask projects people with the skills and equipment to do so are doing in their homes. It's a weird time and it makes sense that a weird movie would be the one that has some insight.

"The Haunted Swordsman"

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 March 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Kickstarter reward, Vimeo via Roku)

Time's funny; it's been less than five years since I saw "The Mill at Calder's End" at Fantasia, long enough to be filed in the "a while ago" part of my brain, but also apparently just enough time for director Kevin McTurk and writer Tab Murphy to get a script, do some crowdfunding, go through the stop-motion process, and start going through the festival circuit again with their 17-minute short. At the scale they're working at - bigger than "one guy's garage", smaller than Laika - that's a lot of crazy detail work.

It's worth it, though, from the opening shot that establishes scale in defiance of the part of the audience's brain that knows these aren't real mountains to the fantastical creatures and the impressive way that McTurk and company are able to ramp up the fantastical elements until the final shot is impressively far from where the movie starts, even though the swordsman hasn't actually moved very far. The design all around is top-notch, seeming to do a good job of creating its Japanese yokai and onis without seeming to do much in the way of exaggerated pastiche. The fight choreography is a smart mix of larger-than-life fantasy and how most of cinema's great samurai battles actually involve a lot of circling, sizing things up, and striking quickly.

The character work is just as good, both on the side of the nifty voice cast (James Hong and Christopher Lloyd are recognizable while Jason Scott Lee and Franka Potente are just as solid) and animation/design. One thing I really like is how McTurk seems to lean into how stop-motion can be a bit stiff and kind of limited in animation for the Swordsman, giving him rigid and disciplined body language, while other characters and creatures are allowed a little more motion and to bend impossibly. Another nifty thing is how "The Navigator", a severed head serving as the swordsman's guide, is perhaps the only character to regularly blink, but because he's missing an eye, it could be a wink, and it's timed so that it could also be some sort of nervous tic. It's one of the easier pieces to demonstrate how the filmmakers are doing a lot of linked things to make their short work - impressive technically and combined with smart storytelling.

Bacurau

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 29 March 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Coolidge Corner Theatre Virtual Screening Room, KinoNow via Roku)

For a film set in the near future where government is apparently on the verge of collapse, allowing a group of sadists to terrorize the less fortunate, Bacurau is relatively light on violence over the course of its 131 minutes (though what's there is intense) and doesn't particularly go in for complex world-building. What it's got is a strangely reassuring blend of properly directed anger and recognition that anger alone isn't enough. It's a movie that suggests that civilization isn't necessarily doomed just because things are going to hell.

And they are; as Teresa (Bárbara Colen) and Erivaldo (Rubens Santos) drive a truck back to the village of the title, there are people buying and selling the coffins that have scattered across the street after a traffic accident, a price has been put on the heads of revolutionaries Lunga (Silvero Pereira) and Pacote (Thomas Quino), and the river that is the local source of potable water has been dammed upstream; Erivaldo will have to several miles out of his way to fill his tanker up. Teresa is there for her grandmother's funeral - nonagenarian Carmelita was beloved by most and even those that clashed with her like Doctor Domingas (Sonia Braga) had a grudging respect. At first, it seems as if her death has knocked the world off its axis; Bacurau has vanished from online maps and a flying saucer follows a deliveryman on the road. Soon, though, it becomes clear that there are darker force than grandstanding and corrupt district mayor Tony Jr. (Thardelly Lima) converging on Bacurau, led by a mysterious expatriate (Udo Kier).

The previous feature films of co-writer/co-director Kleber Mendonça Filho have apparently been focused on specific small slivers of communities, and the strength of this movie can be found in the way this film immerses its audience in the small world that the predators threaten. Carmelita's funeral is allowed to play out in seeming full, the rituals given the importance they hold for the locals, even if they are ragged and unusual at various points. The town has a museum, and its modest building is allowed to feel more like the center of town than the church (which is historically made to be such), solidifying the connections to the community rather than some outside authority. And while on the one hand the way the town retreats and shuts Tony Jr. out when he comes to campaign is meant to foreshadow how a later sequence will continue, their rejection of him is immediately contrasted with the way the community shares his laughable largesse. There's dignity, cooperation, and a sense of shared purpose in how they handle things, and the presentation of that feels practical but also utopian in a conscious, organized way, compared to the usual community of outcasts grasping at each other.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Whistlers

Back "at" the Virtual Coolidge Corner Theatre last night, planning for a double feature but not realizing that the second half would be fairly long. That will be tonight's entertainment, as it's scheduled to be around for longer than this one. It's worth noting that Magnolia is donating the entirety of your virtual ticket sale to the Coolidge (or, if you live in some other metropolitan area, the local independent cinema of your choice), so that's a pretty good way to help keep them going while getting an hour and a half of decent entertainment.

I must admit, the way I thought about the movie and wrote the review shifted more than a little bit when I decided to go and see what else I'd written about the director's previous films, particularly his previous film about cops and crime and surveillance, and saw that star Vlad Ivanov was also in Police, Adjective - and suddenly his supervisor's reference to his being "the boss" back when something else happened in another city clicked into place. It's not a perfect connection - Sabin Tambrea would in that case be playing a character played by someone else in the previous movie, and it's a bit odd that the lead characters in both movies are both named "Cristi", although Ivanov's character was apparently only given a surname in Police, Adjective (which is mentioned here). That the two are potentially in the same continuity isn't actually important, in that I got through it without confusion despite there being no references, and may just be a fun easter egg for those who saw the two ten years apart to pick up on.

Still, I can't exactly un-see the connection now that I've seen it, and now I am tempted to go back and re-watch to see just to what extent it makes sense as this movie's backstory, and whether or not it should color how I view this one - did it enhance what disappointment I felt compared to the clever bits I like, make me wish that things that had been alluded to was given more time, or anything else?

Well, it's not like we don't have time.

La Gomera (The Whistlers)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Coolidge Corner Theatre Virtual Screening Room, Vimeo)

For all that some rightly complain about filmmakers being pigeonholed, there are times when filmmakers seem to do it to themselves. Take The Whistlers, which has a clever premise for a heist, a nice cast, and an intriguingly twisted network of surveillance and corruption - and a writer/director in Corneliu Porumboiu who seemingly can't be satisfied to just make an entertaining genre movie. He acknowledges their appeal, references them, and otherwise sets up bits of meta-commentary, but doesn't capture the actual excitement of such movies.

Which is odd, because while Porumboiu's previous films have fit comfortably into art-house niches - they are restrained and often built around people talking dispassionately, somewhere between arch and dry - they have seldom been dull. His work has always had a sly wit and a way of circling around the point he was looking to make like a tiger ready to pounce before methodically disassembling their prey. The Whistlers occasionally drops hints that it's a sequel to one of those movies - Police, Adjective is referenced in a couple of oblique ways - although it's more something to investigate afterward than necessary prerequisite.

This one opens with Inspector Cristi Anghelache (Vlad Ivanov) arriving at La Gomera in the Canary Islands, there to meet Gilda (Catrinel Marlon) and learn the local "whistling language", which will play a part in Gilda's scheme to break her partner Zsolt (Sabin Tambrea) out of prison. She warns Cristi that what went on back in Bucharest was just her playing for the surveillance cameras. And there were plenty there, as Cristi did his best to work both sides while investigating how Zsolt was apparently using his mattress factory to launder drug money - though who isn't, as Zsolt was caught in part by lead detective Magda (Rodica Lazar) encouraging Cristi and partner Alin (George Pistereanu) to plant evidence.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Next Week in Virtual Tickets: Films sort of playing Boston 28 March 2020 - 3 April 2020

Can you imagine what this post is going to be like the day the cinemas reopen? Might be, like, August, but just all new releases all the way down. In the meantime, here's what the local places are doing to keep you entertained

  • Boston Jewish Film's ReelAbilities Film Festival has its last few days from Sunday to Tuesday, with a block of international shorts, and feature documentaries Heart of Glass and Once Upon a Boy playing over the three days. One "show" each, so register now.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre cheats a bit by having more virtual screening rooms than actual ones, but we'll allow it. Saint Frances, Bacurau, and Fantastic Fungi continue their runs - and they are runs, with what look to be relatively solid end dates. They also add a couple from Magnolia where the whole "ticket" price goes to the Coolidge - Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band and the new one from Corneliu Porumboiu, The Whistlers, a heist movie which on the one hand seems pretty mainstream for the Romanian director, but on the other reminds one that he's always made fairly entertaining films even if they showed up at the art house. Those two are only there through Thursday the 2nd.

    They're also doing a "Coolidge Education" Rear Window seminar - when you register, you'll get a link to a pre-film lecture on Tuesday, then rent/stream it from your service of choice, before joining a Zoom discussion at 8pm on Thursday.
  • The DocYard's programming at The Brattle Theatre was one of the first cancellations to come down the pike, but they will be presenting No Data Plan online for a week starting on Monday, with a Q&A on Tuesday.

    They also kicked off a new virtual series, "Keep Your Distance", for members to watch along with, including The 39 Steps & The Lady Vanishes; The Lavender Hill Mob & Big Deal on Madonna Street; It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World; Single White Female; The Conversation & Blow Out; The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie; Daisies; Throw Momma from the Train; Planes, Trains, and Automobiles; Detour; and Blade Runner. The Hitchcocks were technically yesterday, but so what? The discs are still on your shelf or the file is still on the server! Time and schedules basically don't exist!

    They are also offering last-minute recommendations, with new Y'Know, For the Kids! selections daily (today is Mary and the Witch's Flower and Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro, with The Hudsucker Proxy presumably being saved for the finale), and #BreakYourAlgorithm selections every Wednesday and Thursday.


(Sorry about the eFilmCritic links in some of those pages; it looks like its host is having recurring issues.)

Remember, if you get other ideas but don't have them on your shelf, JustWatch will let you know how to find them at least on the streaming services. Maybe try not to be like me, who has ordered way more than I can watch even with going out and taking the bus to work taken out of the picture.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Fantastic Fungi

Hey, it's a (semi) new release during the pandemic! It's one of two currently playing at the Virtual Coolidge Corner Theatre, and the easiest to watch on my TV - I'd kind of meant to get the Vimeo app downloaded to my Roku anyway. Also, $5, with a chunk of that going to the Coolidge.

Am I looking forward to some of their other selections more? A bit. As I mention in the review which I can't seem to post to EFC right now, I did feel like the last leg takes a bit of a turn from solid science into something a little squishier, which is not my thing. It had always been there, but it goes from seeming like individual personality to the film's focus.

Perhaps this will be addressed some in the Q&As scheduled for later tonight (26 March 2020) - though the first has already started, there are others at 9pm and midnight, Eastern Daylight Time. All in all, it a good way to see some impressive nature cinematography, learn a little bit, and kick something the Coolidge's way while stuck at home.

Fantastic Fungi

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 March 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Coolidge Corner Theatre Virtual Screening Room, Vimeo)

Fantastic Fungi is put together so well that it may take some sort of interruption while watching it to notice that it has seemingly gone from "nifty science documentary" to "cult recruitment video" without causing whiplash. It's impressive editing, actually, when a film can make you sit up and wonder just how you got somewhere seemingly so far from where you started, and then look at it in whole and say, actually, that's not so big a trip after all.

It starts out as a sort of primer on mycology, mushrooms, and fungi in general, pointing out that fungi are both the oldest and youngest, and largest/smallest species on Earth, and have multiple roles to play in holding various types of ecology together, from breaking dead plants and animals down into their component pieces to forming underground networks that allow trees and other plant life in an area to share resources. Some of this will be familiar from high school biology classes; other bits may not be, and there's a bit on how, more than is the case in many fields, mycology is often advanced by civilian scientists.

You can get that out of a book, but the film directed by Louie Schwartzberg and written by Mark Monroe makes great use of its medium with terrific visuals and animation, with both digital imagery and time-lapse photography used exceptionally well for this fairly small-scale documentary, at points apparently augmenting each other without the digital work taking anything from the impressive photography of these peculiar life-forms. What's especially notable is how clearly and impressively some of these sequences work as explainers; a repeated motif makes the soil transparent while the air above is a brownish fog, demonstrating how the underground mycelial networks extend and connect tree roots, for example, an image that is cool but not overwhelming.

Brie Larson narrates the movie in character as the world's fungi, but the less-well-known people who populate it are generally a genial bunch, eager to pass on knowledge and well-aware of what an unusual field they are in. Most of the screen time goes to Paul Stamets, a largely self-taught mycologist who spent years as a logger getting an up-close look at how fungi operate in the forest, and it's not a bad decision; he's both down-to-earth and authoritative, looking well at home no matter where the movie finds him. Though he is far from the only expert on display, he's the one who appears as the film moves through various subjects, uniting them.

That includes what are often referred to as "magic mushrooms", whose hallucinogenic and medicinal properties become the primary focus of the films last half hour or so, and it's there that the film often seems to become a bit unmoored: Stamets and the others interviewed during this portion of the film take on the zeal of believers rather than the enthusiasm of scientists (whether professional or amateur), the claims become wilder, and the evidence more anecdotal. The imagery shifts from illustrating science to psychedelic imagery, reflecting the subtle but important shift from "how this works" to "what this does". All of this material may be true, but it feels less solid, though Schwartzberg and his team have done a good job of laying the sort of foundation that lets them stretch a little.

The information in that last act is potentially valuable and enlightening, though its enthusiasm for how perfectly useful fungi can be for people is sometimes a bit in conflict with how other parts of the film are careful not to ascribe intent to nature. The film gets there well enough that its issues may be simply the result of encountering an overly-developed skepticism; it's a sleek, informative, well-presented introduction to the topic otherwise.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Next Week in Virtual Tickets: Films sort of playing Boston 22 March 2020 - 27 March 2020

Didn't post one of these Friday, because what's the point when everything's closed. And a good thing too - I don't know about you, but I would have absolutely headed out to catch up on what I missed on vacation, what with nobody usually sitting within six feet of my preferred seats up front anyway Bummer that I won't get a chance to see Onward in 3D unless I order some UK Blu-ray down the road or something, but oh well.

And while part of what's good about streaming is that there are relatively few boundaries, there are some explicitly connected to local institutions this week.

  • Boston Jewish Film's ReelAbilities Film Festival, rather than being canceled, is going virtual, with the first screening starting half an hour ago (sorry), but other shows on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and much the same schedule next week. The page will tell you how to get free screening links and what to do to be ready when the stream starts.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre remains closed, but is the first theater in the Boston area to be setting up a "virtual screening room". Details about how it's going to work aren't posted yet - get on their mailing list for those - but what it means is that you will be able to go to a studio's website and stream the movie, and they'll treat it like you bought a ticket at the Coolidge, splitting the fee. The first selections are Saint Frances, an Oscilloscope release about a nanny bonding with her eccentric charge (Wednesday), and Bacurau, an over-the-top Brazillian action movie distributed by Kino Lorber on Friday. They are also planning on a Rear Window seminar sometime next week, likely in conjunction with when it would have played as a Big Screen Classic.
  • Now's a good time to renew your membership to The Brattle Theatre, and while there's nothing on their calendar until the Wachowski series in mid-April (fingers crossed!), their newsletter suggested we follow along with what they would have been doing by streaming their repertory series from various places. JustWatch is a useful site here (and, really, in general), so you can tailor it to your own subscriptions/memberships and see which places have it in HD or 4K at a glance.

    This week would have seen the last couple nights of "A Little Faith Can Be a Dangerous Thing", with planned double features of The Omen & The Exorcist tonight and one of Requiem & Frailty on Tuesday.


I'm going to be renewing my various memberships and supporting the Coolidge by catching Saint Frances and Bacurau on opening night, while trying to get the DVR and unwatched Blu-ray shelves under control.