Friday, December 06, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 6 December 2019 - 12 December 2019

Weekend after Thanksgiving, so there's not much coming out, so let's catch up and find something unusual.

  • The biggest new release is Playmobil: The Movie, which sounds like a lame knockoff of The Lego Movie, but my nieces love those toys, so who knows. It's got Anya Taylor-Joy (making some interesting detours outside of horror these days) following her little brother into the world of Playmobil. It's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    Dark Waters expands to West Newton, Fenway, the Seaport, Assembly Row, and Revere after opening at Kendall Square, Boston Common, and Causeway Street last week, while Waves adds South Bay, the Embassy and Revere to the Coolidge, Kendall Square, Boston Common, and Causeway Street. Boston Common also picks up No Safe Spaces, a documentary by and for people who confuse the First Amendment with being able to say whatever you want without consequence.

    A few recent favorites are coming back this weekend, too: They Shall Not Grow Old comes back to Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, and Assembly Row for 3D shows on Saturday (with more next week). Sneaky, seeing as Warner hasn't released a 3D Blu-ray anywhere. Meanwhile, Apollo 11 has a couple shows a day on Assembly Row's Imax screen. GKids brings back Promare for "redux" shows at Boston Common, Fenway, and South Bay on Sunday (subtitled) and Tuesday (subbed, at least at Fenway).

    Fenway also continues their weekend holiday matinees on Saturday, with Gremlins, while Assembly Row andRevere haVe animated first-Christmas story The Star on Saturday and Sunday. There are also 75th Anniversary shows of Meet Me in St. Louis at Fenway and Assembly Row on Sunday and Wednesday. INXS: Live Baby Live plays Fenway and Revere on Monday. There is one last screening of Faustina: Love and Mercy at Fenway and South Bay on Tuesday. Revere also has GoodFellas on Thursday. There are special preview shows of Uncut Gems at Causeway Street on Sunday (although they look to be sold out), and their "ArcLight Presents" show on Monday is Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.
  • The Aeronauts, starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones as pioneering baloonists doing revolutionary 19th-Century weather research, will be on Amazon Prime in a couple of weeks, but its limited theatrical run will be big, with most of the showtimes at The Coolidge Corner Theatre playing in 70mm, with a few on DCP (as well as all the shows at Kendall Square).

    After midnight, the Coolidge also starts a month full of (mostly) holiday genre movies, with a 35mm print of Silent Night, Deadly Night on Friday and the original Suspiria with a Haus of Oni drag preshow on Saturday. Their are special presentation throughout the week as well: Sunday's Goethe-Institut show is The Most Beautiful Couple, Jeff Rapsis will be in town to accompany a Buster Keaton double feature of The Cameraman & Sherlock Jr. for "Sound of Silents", there's Open Screen on Tuesday, a Panomara show of documentary Parkland Rising with director Cheryl Horner McDonough and several of the subjects in person on Wednesday, and another documentary screening on Thursday, with the world premiere of Women of Earth in partnership with Rise Up & Care.
  • Kendall Square also picks up Little Joe, which features Emily Beecham as a plant breeder whose new creation is a perfect flower - beautiful, sweet-smelling, and able to actually make people happy - obviously, it is sinister. And with the Amazon movie on one screen, they have Netflix's The Two Popes on another, with Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce as Popes Benedict and Francis in a dramatization of the day when they passed the torch, something usually only done upon death.
  • The Brattle Theatre opens the final film from Agnès Varda, the self-examining Varda by Agnès, which runs through Thursday and plays as a double feature with Varda's One Sings, the Other Doesn't on Saturday & Sunday afternoon. The late show from Friday to Wednesday is Knives and Skin, a nifty, surreal small-town murder story that I really liked at Fantasia.
  • The weekend's new Chinese movie is The Whistleblower, with Tang Wei investigating a new and apparently dangerous piece of mining technology in this Australian co-production. Two Tigers is also sticking around.

    The new Bollywood epic at Apple Fresh Pond is Panipat, based upon the 1761 battle of the same name. There are also scattered shows of other Indian movies: The Kannada-language Babru is a thriller about a road trip across the United States plays Friday and Saturday, a special digitally remastered show of Bashaa with Superstar Rajinikanth on Saturday, and something called "Mismatch" on Sunday, with Bala still going.

    They also pick up a couple American indies: A Million Little Pieces stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson (whose wife Sam directs) as an aspiring writer with addiction issues, with Billy Bob Thornton, Juliette Lewis, Odessa Young, and Giovanni Ribisi co-starring; while A New Christmas stars Pranshantt Guptha and Grace Wacuka as two strangers in New York who meet during the holiday season.
  • The West Newton Cinema has one late-afternoon show of day of Skin, which is by the people who made the inexplicably-Oscar-winning short of the same name and attacks similar themes but is a different story entirely
  • The Harvard Film Archive starts a short run of Susan Sontag's recently restored (for its 50th anniversary) Duet for Cannibals, with two shows Friday night and one on Monday. On Sunday, they pay tribute to their longtime projectionist Steve Livernash, with a reception in the afternoon and a free 35mm of his favorite film, The Rules of the Game, at 7pm.
  • It's not quite All Coen Brothers All The Time at The Museum of Fine Arts, but they continue their retrospective with Miller's Crossing (Friday/Sunday), Raising Arizona (Friday/Saturday), Blood Simple (Saturday), Barton Fink (Sunday/Wednesday), and Fargo (Thursday). They also start a run of George T. Nierenberg's 1983 documentary on gospel music, Say Amen, Somebody, with shows on Wednesday and Thursday.
  • The ICA screens Kusama: Infinity on Saturday afternoon, free with museum admission (tickets can be reserved ahead of time); note that it is separate from their Yayoi Kusama exhibition.
  • The Boston Underground Film Festival has their monthly Dispatches from the Underground at The Somerville Theatre on Wednesday with "A Very Duke Mitchell XMas", a collection of trailers, found footage, ads, and other oddities from London's Duke Mitchell Film Club. Note that the Somerville is going to be down a screen for much of December, with "The Slutcracker" taking up residence in the big room for shows on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Thursday.
  • BUFF's friends at the Weird Local Film Festival have their 11th program at Warehouse XI in Somerville on Thursday night.
  • The Luna Theater has The Lighthouse on Friday and Saturday evening, Going Attractions: The Definitive Story of the Movie Palace on Saturday afternoon, WBCN and the American Revolution at twilight on Saturday and Tuesday evening, and a full day of Gremlins on Sunday, as well as the usual free surprise packages of Saturday Morning Cartoons, Sunday "Magic Mystery Movie Club", and Weirdo Wednesday

I'm seeing The Aeronauts on the big film, Little Joe, and The Whistleblower, and probably (finally) catching up on A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Queen and Slim, and Jojo Rabbit. Very tempted by Apollo 11 and They Shall Not Grow Old, because those are just different on the big screen.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 25 November 2019 - 1 December 2019

Working from home is no fun and I'm glad I'm done with it for a while, barring snow.

This Week in Tickets

It does lead to some interesting scheduling like we saw at the start of the last few weeks, where I headed to the Brattle for the very nifty The Last of Sheila and was then able to convince myself that heading out to Boston Common for Harriet wouldn't keep me out too late because it wasn't like I had to catch the bus the next morning. Similarly, even though I wound up plugging away at stuff until late on Tuesday, it was easy enough to do the 9:45pm night-before screening of Knives Out just in case people were eager to spoil the murder mystery (which it is hard not to do without just writing "it's good, go see it!" in more words).

After that it was Thanksgiving, which meant a trip up to Maine, turkey and pie at various houses, and both enjoying seeing family and being kind of glad to get back to quiet the next day. I started playing around with a non-movie-related project after that, but made it to Last Christmas that evening, since the Icon at the Seaport seemed to be having unusually low member prices all weekend. Not great, but due a bit of grudging respect.

Saturday afternoon was spent at Boston Common for the one show a day that Charlie's Angels has been quickly reduced to, before hanging around a bit for Two Tigers. Not the greatest import from China, but not the worst.

Sunday was spent writing before heading into the teeth of the first snow of the year for three at the Brattle - giving thanks for Bogie in Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon in the afternoon - and idly wondering if Thanksgiving-weekend shows of the first indicate that Warner is going to yank it around Valentine's Day next year - before catching Greener Grass for the nightcap.

That gets us pretty current on my Letterboxd page, and here's hoping that the snow being predicted doesn't keep me from adding more in the next few days.

The Last of Sheila

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 November 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (Hollywood Whodunits, 35mm)

Come for a delightfully nasty James Coburn, stay for "little child molester" being considered a merely embarrassing secret. Hollywood in the 1970s was apparently something else, both in terms of producing this movie and the showbiz-adjacent characters within it!

That mean-spirited nature does make this murder mystery filled with a bit of inside baseball a lot of fun. It's got the meticulous but rickety structure of a flick that's as much puzzle as story, broadly comic bits with a nasty sting, and one mystery story built on top of another. It sets something fun up then abandons it to get everyone in a room, then almost goes on too long before resolving things in enjoyably abrupt fashion, because as much as the audience will have their thoughts on this group twisted up nicely by the time they're through, simple justice would not do. It's a nifty little movie that gets to be more than nifty by the time it's done.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 November 2019 in AMC Boston Common #10 (first-run, 3D DCP)

Harriet often feels a bit like the trailers for faith-based movies, so built around the power of prayer and/or visions that they don't actually show their characters doing anything of consequence and making them feel less proactive when they do. Harriet Tubman did astonishing things, but this telling of her story focuses enough on her "spells" and visions that it's like her own biography doesn't give her enough credit.

As it starts, "Minty" (Cynthia Erivo) is owned by the Brodess family, though married to free man John Tubman (Zackary Momoh) and looking to start a family as a free woman. Even taking when and where she lives into account, she's got an argument - provisions had been made in the will of Gideon Brodess's grandfather to free Minty's mother and her family, but slaveowners tend to ignore such agreements. Punished for talking back and threatened with sale to a faraway plantation, Minty escapes, with surprising help from Reverend Green (Vondie Curtis-Hall), who normally pleases the masters by emphasizing the parts of the Bible that stress obedience and good behavior. She evades capture and makes her way to Philadelphia, where William Still (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Marie Buchanon (Janelle Monáe) welcome her and encourage her to reject her slave name, but initially try to dissuade her from attempting to rescue her husband and family.

She does, of course, despite her small stature and having just recently learned how to read, and it lays the importance of Tubman's story beyond the basic good of freeing slaves out clearly: You may first do something out of desperation to save yourself, but the true test is being willing to do it again to save others, getting smarter and more ambitious about it, even as your personal connection to those you would help decreases. That Tubman has visions which seem to occasionally steer her right doesn't invalidate her story, but director Kasi Lemmons and her co-writer Gregory Allen Howard could maybe interrogate it a little more. After all, part of her escape is possible because Reverend Green says God's word is one thing but secretly acts contrary to his preaching, and her making the choice to act despite not obviously being suited for it, and building herself into the woman she became, could perhaps get a little more time and the things that worked out a little less.

Full review at EFilmCritic

Knives Out

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 November 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (first-run, DCP)

There are a lot of delightful things about Knives Out starting from the very beginning, but the first moment when Rian Johnson and company reveal what they are really up to here is when audiences should smile big, because sometimes there's genuine delight in being baited and switched on a grander scale than you were expecting. Murder mysteries are fun but they can often stall or require excessive amounts of twists to stretch past the length of a short story; revealing his hand early lets him have a lot of fun for the rest of the movie.

And there is a lot of fun to be had here, as Johnson and Daniel Craig make private detective Benoit Blanc a clever but not invincible sleuth, something he half-confesses to in saying that his method is to figure out where something is going and then wait for the guilty party to arrive. That gives the cast room to play on the one hand and sets up a great game of cat and mouse on the other. Parts of the script are downright joyously silly, from how one character can't lie while another is misheard in a fashion that would be groan-worthy as the only solution to the case but is worth a chuckle with everything else Johnson's got going on.

Knives Out may not be the best movie of the year - the route to its terrific last shot is ultimately kind of a side path that can't quite be as important as Johnson wants with all the crime in the foreground - but it will certainly be among my favorites, and I'm already looking forward to a second go.

Last Christmas

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 29 November 2019 in ShowPlace Icon the Seaport #10 (first-run, DCP)

At the end of this movie, I was pretty sure Emma Thompson wrote it on a dare to extrapolate an entire screenplay from one line of one song, or maybe just did so to keep in practice, and somehow it was just good enough to make its way through the development and attract some talent after she accidentally forwarded it to her agent. Eventually, you get this decent-enough movie whose resolution has been staring you in the face since the start. And, honestly, I kind of respect the professionalism and craft of that. Both the idea of making a jukebox musical from George Michael's songs and the plot of the movie are silly, but she and director Paul Feig get a watchable movie out of it.

It goes down a lot easier when you've got this cast. Emilia Clarke honestly makes Kate a little too cute from the word go, keeping her from really seeming like the walking disaster she is supposed to be as opposed to just comedically unlucky. She bounces nicely off Henry Golding, who is not quite too charming to sell off being adorably dorky, and then you've got Thompson and Michelle Yeoh in parts that they can do at something like one-quarter effort, and since they're dialed up to 50%, they can steal scenes. It makes for a movie that is really almost impossibly nice to the point where you can almost feel the filmmakers giving an embarrassed grin as they stick another George Michael song in. This was the pitch, we've gotta do it, but are you going to complain about a little more of this talented, upbeat singer or cast?

It will be on video next year, ready for an exhausted family to watch after trimming the tree or doing as much baking as they'd done in the previous four months, and probably just the right thing to watch at that point. It's not made for intensity, but doesn't seem like it would be bad in a relaxed setting at all.

Charlie's Angels '19

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 30 November 2019 in AMC Boston Common #10 (first-run, DCP)

I try not to think of the calculations that go on in studio executives' heads too much, because it's frightening and tends to put one at a distance from the actual merits of the films themselves, but it gets kind of interest in a movie like this. I suspect that most studios would like to have an action/adventure series along the general lines of this movie, and if you own the name "Charlie's Angels", why not make it part of that franchise? Maybe nobody is really looking for a new Charlie's Angels - fans of the first iteration are around retirement age, the second was sold on its cast, and the third bombed - but does the association help or hurt a relatively unremarkable action/adventure film at the box office?

The "Angels" work for The Townsend Agency, which was once a relatively small Los Angeles concern but has in recent years expanded to a worldwide troubleshooting network of female operatives, thanks to retiring co-founder John Bosley (Patrick Stewart), whose name has become synonymous with the agents' handlers. Their latest case comes from Elena Houghlin (Naomi Scott), an engineer in Hamburg alarmed that a clean-energy system which can be weaponized to create lethal electromagnetic pulses is being rushed into production. Sabina Wilson (Kristen Stewart) and Jane Kano (Ella Balinska) are assigned to the case, which soon becomes more complicated than just aiding and protecting a whistleblower, even with a new Bosley (Elizabeth Banks) who is the first former Angel in the job.

Along the way, there are supervisors who try to take credit for their employees' work, especially that of the women like Helena, turncoats, a tattooed assassin who is a notch more intense than the other thugs, a fabulous party to infiltrate, and the seemingly inevitable trip to Istanbul, which must have a fabulous tax-incentive-for-spy-movies program. It's fun stuff, especially since the Angels are more likely to be outfitted their whimsical James Bond tech than 007 is these days, but the film can't help but feel like a remix of familiar elements that never gets beyond the surface cool and is sometimes a bit too self-referential for its own good.

Full review at EFilmCritic


* * * * (out of four)
Seen 1 December 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (Giving Thanks for Bogie, 35mm)

Casablanca is an odd sort of classic, in that for a certain type of viewer, myself included, it can be easier to remember the silly bits that feel like they should sink it than the ways in which it is genuinely brilliant. It hits its emotional targets so perfectly that those of us who are analytically inclined can't quite describe what's so terrific about it when the letters of transit make no sense and other bits are just as silly.

But it is great, and I think it's the central flashback that does it. In a movie which spends a lot of time explaining its characters' feelings and how they make things happen, this is when you get to see Rick and Ilsa as different from what they are now and make your own connections about how they evolved. It's just a notch better than the rest of a movie that's already witty and big-hearted despite the cynicism everyone is trying to sell, and it makes one more willing to trust the rest.

Full review at EFilmCritic

The Maltese Falcon

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 1 December 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (Giving Thanks for Bogie, 35mm)

The Maltese Falcon gets a little more bottom-heavy for me with each viewing, as all the running around in the first half and easily dismissable material with Gladys George's Iva Archer has a bit less weight each time, weird screwball energy that doesn't quite fit with the rest, and I'm a little bit less convinced that there's any actual chemistry between Humphrey Bogart's Sam Spade and Mary Astor's Brigid O'Shaughnessy each time. Spade is so apparently amoral that pairing him with anyone requires a little more time than the movie's got to give, especially when there are so many characters that are colorful on their own.

Still, the style is still there and the end is among the best even if you choose to read what Sam is telling Brigid as telling her that he's effectively done with her rather than actual affection. It's maybe not the scene that Bogie will best be known for because Casablanca exists, but it's a bracing moment where a hint of idealism breaks through even though it's at times hard to separate from the cynicism around it.

Full review at EFilmCritic

The Last of Sheila
Knives Out
Last Christmas
Charlie's Angels '19
Two Tigers
Casablanca & The Maltese Falcon
Greener Grass

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

IFFBoston 2019.232: Greener Grass

An online acquaintance tweeted about how disappointed she was that the theater was awful quiet for this to the point where she felt uncomfortable laughing as hard as she did, and I have been there. Not for this movie - I was a couple rows behind Alex and very much one of the folks not laughing very often, instead dealing with the sinking feeling of dread that comes when, two minutes in, the movie has announced that it is going to be very eccentric, I'm not feeling it, and there's another hour and a half to go.

It was kind of a tough situation, though - Sunday late shows aren't often packed houses, and it was snowing just enough that people might be staying in, so even when a joke did land, the laughter wasn't ever going to fill the Brattle, and maybe that made it feel less well-received than it actually was. I don't know if it filled the room at IFFBoston this spring, but I'll bet that was a different experience, as is seeing it at home where your laughter won't feel small.

Anyway, it's got one more night at the Brattle (tonight, 3 December 2019). You may be one of its people, even if I'm not!

Greener Grass

* * (out of four)
Seen 1 December 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (special engagement, DCP)

If you can damn something with faint praise, then you can also praise it with uncertain damnation, and sometimes you must, because what else can you do for a comedy that only sporadically works for you and is so completely absurdist as to resist being pulled apart and examined? Greener Grass is weird and most definitely not to everyone's taste but has just enough bits that really work that I can't help but try to figure out whether it will work for someone who likes that sort of comedy or if it's just bad.

The film takes place in a bright-colored suburb where everybody drives golf carts and all the adults have braces, and though there's a killer on the loose, everyone's pretty sure it's the bagger from the grocery store and that weirdly makes it feel like a tight-knit neighborhood. Jill (Jacelyn DeBoer) and Lisa (Dawn Luebbe) are best friends, with sons Julian (Julian Hilliard) and Bob (Asher Miles Fallica) in the same second-grade class. The boys are playing soccer when Jill gives Lisa her baby, which is more than a bit odd to their husbands Nick (Beck Bennett) and Dennis (Neil Casey) - this is really the sort of thing they should talk about! But they're still all friends, and that's what's important.

It's kind of horrible to be two minutes into a 95-minute movie and realize that it does not seem to be your thing at all. Sure, you can just shut it off at home and this is not the sort of thing that necessarily sells out a theater, so you could probably bail, but there's a good chance that if you spent money on this movie (which hopefully has not been given a deceptively generic and sensible poster or bit of art to identify it), you're not the type to give up easily. Still, it's potentially difficult going from that first moment when Jill just gives Lisa her baby like that's a totally believable thing to do, and there are a lot of times when it's fair to wonder if creators Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe (who produce, write, direct, and star in the film) have put together an hour and a half of private, grotesque jokes into the sort of movie that inspires narratives about the emperor having no clothes, like they've tricked people into assuming that something that screwed-up must be genius.

Full review at EFilmCritic

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Two Tigers

Well, the description for this movie looked a lot more entertaining than the final result wound up being, which was kind of a bummer, because it looks like Chinese imports are going to be in a bit of a dull place until Ip Man 4 at Christmas. The previews for the two likely coming between them are kind of weird - The Whistleblower shows all English-language dialogue even though the graphics are in Chinese, and Feng Xiaogang's Only Cloud Knows looks aggressively art-house in a way that is almost parodically off-putting. Meanwhile, the "Simon Yam and his dog" movie is nowhere to be found anymore.

Also weird: Among the many production company animations at the front of the film was one for "PULIN Production", which starts with a big "PU" above water, with the "LIN" initially shown as a reflection, which is kind of clever, but makes me wonder if anybody making that logo knew what "pee-yew!" means in English. Oddly fitting, I think, for how the movie often just doesn't seem to be entirely thought through.

Liang zhi lao hu (Two Tigers)

* * (out of four)
Seen 30 November 2019 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run, DCP)

Here's a fun thing: The Chinese nursery rhyme "Two Tigers" maps pretty much directly onto the traditional French song "Frère Jacques" that I presume many westerners still learn in elementary school, which means that the opening scene of this movie, where generally ominous music becomes and imposing version of the song, is still funny even if you don't know about it until the song becomes part of the story. It would be more impressive if this weren't the high point of the movie, sure, but sometimes you take what you can get.

That opening shot is fun in other ways; it's shot from the perspective of Yu Kai-Xuan (Qiao Shan), who is following another car, and his point of view shows the goofy cartoon ornaments on his dashboard, as well as all the junk piled on his messy passenger seat. Combine it with the music, and the idea that this goofball is about to kidnap wealthy businessman Zhang Cheng-Gong (Ge You) is clearly being presented as absurd, but it's where the movie's going, and this opening does a fairly delightful job of getting the audience there without having to do a bit where Yu is suddenly revealed as kind of a screw-up. It's there from the start, even if the movie does need this bit of competence to get things rolling.

After that, it becomes clear that Yu hasn't thought this through as well as he could - he's got a place to stash Zhang away (an abandoned public swimming pool), but hasn't done enough research to realize that Zhang has no friends or family to whom he should send a ransom demand. Heck, Zhang is insulted when Yu asks him for a mere million yuan ($142,200), and negotiates Yu up to two - although Yu will have to do him three favors in that case. Having already botched things up and shown himself to not really have the stomach for violence, Yu decides to go along with it.

Full review at EFilmCritic

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 27 November 2019 - 5 December 2019

Hey, the ArcLight opened on Causeway Street! Mostly; it's a 10-plex with Fandango only showing 7 screens worth of movies right now, and I don't see the big screen listed. We'll give it a little more of a look when it's ready. But, in the meantime, Thanksgiving means a big long movie weekend!

Which raises the question of what we want to call it - "The ArcLight", "Causeway Street", or "North Station"? I'm going with the first for now, but am leaning toward the second for the future.

  • So get yourself to Knives Out, already! It's a fun murder mystery directed by Rian Johnson with Daniel Craig as the detective, Christopher Plummer as the victim, and Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Toni Colette, Michael Shannon, and more as suspects. It looks great, takes place in the Boston area, and even takes place here! It's at the Somerville, Fresh Pond, West Newton, Boston Common, the ArcLight, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, the Embassy, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    The other wide opening this week is Queen & Slim, with Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith as a couple on their first date who wind up folk heroes on the run after a harassing traffic stop turns deadly. It's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, the ArcLight, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    Dark Waters opens semi-wide, with Todd Haynes's film starring Mark Ruffalo as a corporate attorney who starts digging into a case about pollution in his hometown opening at Kendall Square, Boston Common, and the ArcLight before presumably going wider in December. Boston Common also opens Lauren Greenfield's Imelda Marcos (and family) documentary The Kingmaker on Friday.

    Fenway has one of their occasional Russian movies, with Another Woman playing one show tonight (Wednesday the 27th), starring Anna Mikhalkova as a woman whose husband leaves her who "resorts to supernatural forces" to get him back. Fenway also starts a month of Saturday Christmas matinees with Elf. There are 30th anniversary screenings of When Harry Met Sally… at Fenway and Assembly Row on Sunday and Monday, and a 40th anniversary celebration of Mobile Suit Gundam with the new movie Char's Counter Attack at Fenway, South Bay, and Revere on Thursday. Apparently Faustina: Love and Mercy did well enough a month ago to have encores at Fenway, South Bay, and Assembly Row on Monday, while Revere has an encore of Everybody's Everything tonight.
  • In addition to Dark Waters on Wednesday, Kendall Square also opens White Snake on Friday, an animated Chinese film that is a pretty nifty take on this fantasy tale that I liked well enough at Fantasia this summer, though I'm kind of surprised to see it get a U.S. release. Most shows are subtitled, but it looks like at least the first show of the afternoon will be dubbed.
  • Apple Fresh Pond opens Tamil action flick Enai Noki Paayum Thota for late shows starting on Thursday (Thanksgiving), while Bala continues to chug along.

    Boston Common opens Chinese dark comedy Two Tigers, starring Ge You as a kidnapped businessman who turns the tables on his captors, on Friday, knocking Better Days down to a show or two per day.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre looks to be keeping its same schedule for the week, but still has some fun repertory stuff. The new, re-gore-ified restoration of Tammy and the T-Rex plays at midnight on Friday, while a 35mm print of Alex Winter's Freaked plays at that time on Saturday. Switching gears, An American Tail plays as a Sunday morning kids show. Monday's "Science on Screen" presentation of Bong Joon-Ho's The Host plays on 35mm, with microbiologist Silvia Caballero introducing it, and while Wednesday-the-4th's special screenings of Fantastic Fungi are not technically part of that series, subject Michael Pollan will be around for a Q&A of the (sold-out) 7pm show while executive producer Stephen Apkon will be there for the 7pm and 9:45pm shows
  • The Brattle Theatre wraps "Hollywood Whodunits" tonight with Clue before "Giving Thanks for Bogie" with a 35mm double feature of The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca from Thursday to Sunday. IFFBoston alumnus Greener Grass plays at 9:30pm those days, as well as a full day of screenings on Tuesday.

    There's also a DocYard screening of Irish "Troubles" documentary The Image You Missed on Monday, with director Dónal Foreman there in person. They also have the latest Grrl Haus Cinema program on Wednesday and a free Elements of Cinema show of The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover on Thursday, presented on 35mm and with David R. Gammons leading discussion.
  • With fewer students around, The Harvard Film Archive has a somewhat shorter schedule, wrapping "Make My" day up on Saturday with 35mm prints of Back to the Future and Blue Velvet. Sunday is a one-off screening of Wolf-Eckart Bühler's The Shipwrecker, while Monday gets December's "Cinema of Resistance" screening in early with a 16mm print of Yama - Attack to Attack. There's also a special screening of The Black Godfather including Q&A with director Reginald Hudlin, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Nicole Avant at 6pm Tuesday; RSVP for a free seat.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts finishes their November calendar with their last couple of screenings of Mr. Klein on Friday and Saturday, and gets a slight early start on the December one by starting Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project on Friday, with Matt Wolf's documentary on a woman who obsessively recorded TV news 24/7 for over thirty years also playing Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday (the 4th), and Thursday (the 5th). That gives way on Thursday the 5th to the first show in their month-long Coen Brothers series, Blood Simple.
  • The Museum of Science brings back IMAX film "Rocky Mountain Express" to go with their "All Aboard! Trains at Science Park" and "Thomas & Friends" exhibits.
  • The Lexington Venue picks up Harriet for one show a day, and also has a special free screening of short film "Watch Room" on Saturday morning with director and Lexington native on-hand to talk afterward.
  • The Regent Theatre has their annual Sing-Along The Sound of Music show from Thursday to Sunday. Sadly, they do not seem to be doing the same for Anna and the Apocalypse later this month.
  • The ICA has another screening of short film program "A Wall Is a Wall" on Sunday, with tickets free with museum admission and ready to reserve starting Friday.
  • The Luna Theater gets into the Christmas spirit with full days of Elf on Friday and Saturday and White Christmas on Sunday. They take a slight break from that for a screening of Going Attractions: The Definitive Story of the Movie Palace on Tuesday, but who knows how holiday-themed Weirdo Wednesday(s), the Saturday Morning Cartoons, and Sunday "Magic Mystery Movie Club" will be?

Having already seen a few of these, I am down for Queen & Slim, the Bogie, Greener Grass, Two Tigers, and whatever else is already on the way out that I haven't gotten around to.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 18 November 2019 - 24 November 2019

I'm not going to lie, I'm disappointed in myself for how my moviegoing plans didn't match with my achievements this week

This Week in Tickets

This was the first of a couple weeks working from home because my massive employer didn't arrange things so that we'd be able to go straight from one office to another, and it messed up my rhythms in some ways - a lot more screwing around in the morning and then working late to make up for it because it's not like I have to worry about catching a bus. On the other hand, it meant I could actually not cut out early but still make it to a 6pm show of Warrior Queen of Jhansi on Wednesday. Not necessarily a great decision, but sometimes you go to what looks like a bad movie because you're really curious to compare it to another, in this case the Indian Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi. Devika Bhise not being quite so accomplished as Kananga Ranaut is just the start of that movie's issues.

It also lets you get to a 6:30pm screening of Frozen II and be mildly surprised it's not crawling with kids. I guess folks really don't like 3D that much here, which is a bit of a shame; the stereo work is nice and while the film isn't as great as the first one, it's got some challenging themes and is pretty darn decent.

I wanted to get to that early because I planned to hit the repertory theaters hard over the weekend, and made a decent start with Friday's double feature of Daughter of Shanghai & Phantom of Chinatown at the Harvard Film Archive, but whiffed on the Hollywood Whodunits at the Brattle. Early errands bit into the first parts of double/triple features, and it was rainy enough that I really didn't feel like walking to the T.

At least, not until a little refreshing pages in Chrome led me to see that the new Arclight on Causeway Street - long-said to be opening in late November but not showing signs of life as the month wound down - actually had showtimes. Obviously, I had to check it out, and while the complex is not quite 100% done, 21 Bridges was actually better than I'd be led to expect, if not all it could be.

I whiled away some of the weekend by watching the two features on the 3-D Film Archives "3-D Nudie Cuties" collection, Adam and Six Eves and The Bellboy and the Playgirls, which, despite the work of a young Francis Ford Coppola on the second, are quite bad indeed. On top of that, I didn't realize that most of the second was a dubbed version of a German film, so I was screwing around with the AV Sync to try to get that to line up.

I wrapped that just in time to get to the local theater for The Irishman, paying, what, two-thirds of the price of a Netflix monthly subscription to see one of their movies. It's pretty good, although mob stuff was never really my thing and I found it kind of hard to separate the actors from the parts in a lot of cases, and I kind of wonder how those two things interact.

Anyway, bookmark my Letterboxd page and if you're a member, consider paying the $19 for Pro. The ability to filter out "Person A liked Person B's review of Movie C" has made it so much easier to pick out the amount I can actually digest.

The Warrior Queen of Jhansi

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 November 2019 in AMC Boston Common #18 (first-run, DCP)

I wasn't a particularly big fan of the year's first film about Rani Lakshmibai, but its faults that needed to be remedied didn't include "British characters who were too unsympathetic". Badly acted, yes, but it's not like this story felt incomplete without Queen Victoria (Jodhi May) very concerned about the excesses of the British East India Tea Company, a sympathetic soldier who was the Rani's childhood friend, and so on. And even with some more recognizable names here, the bad acting is still a problem. I seem to vaguely recall Rupert Everett once being a guy I looked forward to seeing in a movie, but he's impressively awful here, and most of the rest aren't much better.

The performance of Devika Bhise at the center isn't bad - she also worked on the script and produced, with her mother directing - and she is youthful enough to capture that this is a woman who was married at 15 and is as such both in a bit over her head and impressively defiant. She is mostly isolated, though, with this script switching characters for her rani to interact with in and out that it's hard to measure her against them in a meaningful way, and there's just so much of her life packed into the film that large bits have to be covered as part of narration in the first five minutes and others sketched out quickly.

Like that other film, this one falters mostly in trying to assert its queen's greatness rather than demonstrating it, and it's hampered by a budget that doesn't give the filmmakers much room for spectacle or even well-choreographed action at a smaller scale. The film feels small when it needs grandeur, spending a lot of time on details not shown to matter and historical footnotes.

One thing that's interesting about seeing both this and Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi is how, between them, they've got an interesting bit of symbolism, with Manikarnika opening with a shot that implies the rani was born from the waters of India while Warrior Queen finishes by having her vanish into them rather than definitively dying on the battlefield. It's an odd symmetry, one which you'd expect to see in the same move rather than spread across two.

Frozen II

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 November 2019 in AMC Assembly Row #9 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

Though there's ultimately only one name on the screenplay, this movie reminds me of how the stories for animated Disney films used to come about from absolutely everyone in the company tossing in an idea or a bit of concept art or storyboarding or what have you, the whole thing being synthesized into something that works exceptionally well. Here, that's not quite the case - the competing themes never quite gelled, resulting in something that's kind of The Fifth Element for kids with a side of war crimes, except that, being a sequel, it's got to toss in a whole bunch of explanations that the first movie did quite well without.

(Also, I find myself darkly amused that, having already killed off Anna and Elsa's parents in the first film, the filmmakers had to go back to kill their grandfather to create a motivating tragedy, although the whole thing becomes something different eventually.)

It's still fairly entertaining - Disney can throw a whole lot of manpower at an animated movie to make it pretty, if nothing else, and this movie is gorgeous, even if the new models for Anna and Else seem a bit odd in how they don't seem to feel quite so mimic the classic animated Disney Princess look quite so much. There may be too many bits of story to this, and some weird inconsistencies in tone, like how the power-ballad spoof is good, but maybe not quite a fit for an otherwise sincere movie. Still, that's a case of how it never really becomes a mess, since even when it gets close to the point where it's too self-aware, it never quite crosses a bad line.

I don't figure my nieces will love it as much as the first, although maybe they'll get that Anna is the hero of these movies (even if Elsa has the superpowers) by the end, and be just as eager to cosplay her as the other.

Daughter of Shanghai

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 November 2019 in the Harvard Film Archive (The B-Film: Low-Budget Hollywood Cinema 1935-1959, 35mm)

A couple of scenes toward the start of this movie show to just what extent it's not messing around, and that sort of pulp cruelty helps it push through moments when it might otherwise get a bit sloppy. Fortunately, at an hour long it doesn't really have time to go off on tangents that lead nowhere or really get mired in the stupider bits of its plot, and director Robert Florey shows a nifty touch toward the end, making the last act an unusual combination of light wisecracks and urgent action that doesn't work nearly so often as people have tried it - even now, when it can often seem like the default.

It's also got a pretty appealing pair of Asian-American leads in Anna May Wong and Philip Ahn, who have a nifty chemistry that doesn't feel particularly romantic despite a tossed-in final scene; their characters are just smart, determined people who respect each other. It's the sort of B movie that benefits from having folks who would on occasion break through to bigger and better things in the cast - Cecil Cunningham is great switching from open-minded friend to ruthless villain, and she's got Buster Crabbe and Anthony Quinn as henchmen - as well as some special effects work that admittedly looks dated but not slapdash.

It's also a bit weird to look at from a modern perspective, with a story built on protecting borders but mostly-immigrant heroes and little attempt to reconcile this; it builds up roles for its Asian-American characters but plays to pretty broad stereotypes for black and Irish people. It's a strange sensation of people almost realizing that their fondness for individuals and generally racist attitudes are in opposition, but maybe not quite getting there.

Phantom of Chinatown

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 22 November 2019 in the Harvard Film Archive (The B-Film: Low-Budget Hollywood Cinema 1935-1959, 35mm)

A rare - perhaps singular - Asian-detective movie which actually featured an Asian-American star, this isn't nearly as good as the film the HFA paired it with (Daughter of Shanghai), but it makes up for a lot of that by being kind of delightfully self-aware, making jokes about the predictable structures of mystery movies or occasionally undercutting expectations where Asian characters were concerned with glee, though it's never actually breaking the fourth wall and winking at the audience. Keye Luke and Lotus Long are both kind of delightful even if most of the Caucasian cast is not, like their downright thrilled to have leading roles even if their co-stars feel like they're slumming.

Still, there's an awful thin line between being clever about the tropes your subverting and hoping that hanging a lantern on them will convince the audience to let them slide, and Phantom spends a lot of time on the wrong side of it. It's never a terribly compelling or coherent mystery, it still trades in a bunch of tacky stereotypes, and it eventually runs out of charm, with the "I'm just a simple American detective" character especially grating.

Adam and Six Eves

* ¼ (out of four)
Seen 23 November 2019 in Jay's Living Room (3-D nudie cuties features, Blu-ray)

You buy the disc that has the girlie movie where Francis Ford Coppola directed some scenes, you also get this, shot in 3D but not released that way until this new disc. It's gorgeously preserved/restored/presented, quite possibly looking the best it ever has, seeing as those shots composed for 3D to make sure that it feels like a lady's nipple could stab you in the eye must have looked really awkward flat even before you take into consideration that this probably did not play in the theaters with the best projectionists in a given town.

On the other hand, it's more or less a five page fumetti stretched out to an hour of live-action, the whole of it dubbed over with narration from a donkey, which is, admittedly, actually peppered with good one-liners. Complaining about the story for this film is kind of pointless - it exists to give topless girls a reason to walk around and pose, with a few giggles on the soundtrack, although the fact that it's dubbed over people talking makes one wonder if there was an attempt at a plot and it was just too bad for even this sort of thing. Like, even for a bit of pure exploitation, it looks cheap and lazy.

I kind of wonder what happened to some of these girls; IMDB doesn't show them credited for anything else, for the most part, and one especially looks really uncomfortable with the whole thing at times. Does something like this get treated as a funny story or a dirty secret?

The Bellboy and the Playgirls

* (out of four)
Seen 24 November 2019 in Jay's Living Room (3-D nudie cuties features, Blu-ray)

Well, that's not good. That's not good at all. That was so bad that I was spending large swathes of it fiddling with my phone and whatnot, waiting to get to the 3D scenes, when I wasn't fiddling with the settings because I didn't realize that the black-and-white segments were dubbed into English from German.

Give Francis Ford Coppola credit, though - for a thankless job done quickly and cheaply, he does decent work in making it look like the original German footage and the new American stuff actually belongs as part of the same movie. He can compose a shot pretty well in this first feature, and gets decent-enough work out of Playboy model June Wilkinson that it's too bad there wasn't really a good way to actually make her the lead character or just make a farce about her lingerie designer and her goofy models getting into wacky hijinks in the hotel.

The 3-D content was pretty lousy, though - nice depth, but just girls walking in and out of frame and sitting down to talk.

The Irishman

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 24 November 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (first-run, DCP)

It's kind of funny that Martin Scorsese has gotten himself caught up in an apparent beef with superhero-movie fans, because aside from it being kind of canny publicity - it's reminded people that he's got a movie in theaters when a lot of the usual theatrical promotion hasn't been done because Netflix produced this movie - it's also bigger than life and meant to draw in people for their favorites all appearing together in a grander tale than their usual. Sound like anything familiar?

To a certain extent, it's using these iconic figures that makes the film a bit distancing for me; it is hard not to see Robert De Niro or Al Pacino rather than Frank Sheeran or Jimmy Hoffa, often reducing what could be fascinating looks inside these two real-life figures' heads and histories to examples of De Niro being working-class fussy and Pacino being larger and louder than life, things that they are exceptionally good at but also examples of playing the hits. It makes Joe Pesci's playing against type more noteworthy and fascinating - even in de-aged flashbacks, he's allowed to carry his age, look worn down, making Russell Bufalino be thoroughly conquered by his own corruption. He's not quite seductively reasonable, instead feeling like someone with a sort of moral cancer; it won't get you right away, but eventually there's nothing else left.

Scorsese and writer Steven Zallian are still awfully good at telling this sort of story. There's an early scene where Scorsese shows that moving through different time periods effortlessly doesn't mean doing it invisibly, letting the characters tell the audience that there's going to be some nostalgia and sentimentality to the next segment so that we can interact with it more certainty and understanding of what all these characters are feeling both as they experience and recall events. The lengthy film doesn't feel drawn out until the end, when it's supposed to, when you realize that the reward for surviving in and around the mob for this long is to be isolated because either your close friends in that life are dead or their deaths have taught you that their loyalty is conditional and the inherent violence is eventually going to drive everyone else away. It drags a bit, but not enough for it to reflect the experience of watching the movie as opposed to what the movie is trying to show.

That's pretty good. Not quite masterpiece-level, and I wonder what it would have been like with other people. I also wonder how many people will take this 210-minute movie as it comes, letting the weight of it settle so that last portion works, rather than breaking it up or pausing it for a bathroom break and thus resetting the clock, since it will be mostly be seen in living rooms rather than theaters.

The Warrior Queen of Jhansi
Frozen II
Daughter of Shanghai & Phantom of Chinatown
21 Bridges
Adam and Six Eves
The Bellboy and the Playgirls
The Irishman

Sunday, November 24, 2019

21 Bridges

I was going to make this a "new movie, new theater" review, but that would kind of be unfair because the ArcLight on Causeway Street doesn't really look finished yet - there's no permanent sign outside, the escalators aren't running yet, and there are a lot of spots where there are employers hanging around to make sure you go to the part of the building where they are showing movies rather than the part that's an unfinished construction site. As of right now, ArcLight Boston doesn't show up on their app and showtimes only started to appear on Fandango and the company's website yesterday, and still don't have showtimes listed after Monday (unless you want to reserve Star Wars tickets). It kind of feels overstaffed right now, as only a few people know it's open, to the point where the projectionist welcomed me to my private screening last night, and as a result there are a lot of people asking you if you enjoyed the movie on the way out or need help finding anything. Kind of weird, considering the rest of the place is built for you to both order tickets and snacks from kiosks.

I now find myself wondering if you even can pay cash anywhere but at the bar. Something to consider next time I try it out.

Coincidentally, I was writing about Bullitt yesterday, and while this isn't quite the same level of movie that is, I do wonder if director Brian Kirk has a bit of Peter Yates in him. This movie isn't often flashy but it's assured, often nailing down the action in a clear but unpretentious way the way Yates did. I don't know if Kirk has that sort of future, but he's made the sort of solid crime/action movie that I'd like to see more of even if I'd also like to see it done a bit better.

21 Bridges

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 November 2019 in Arclight Boston #8 (first-run, DCP)

There's a sharper version of 21 Bridges to be made which targets the way police culture becomes toxic as opposed to mostly letting it kick around in the background, but I suspect that's a hard thing to believably isolate, and would bring in things the filmmakers weren't totally ready to deal with. As it is, it becomes a bigger version of a story we've heard a few times before, told with some style even if it misses an opportunity or two.

In the middle of the night, Micahel Trujillo (Stephan James) and Ray Stevens (Taylor Kitsch) rob a wine shop that they expect to have 30kg of cocaine in the basement; instead there's 300, more than they are ready to transport, and the manager of the shop has called the cops. Eight are shot in the ensuing firefight, and NYPD brings in Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman) to direct the manhunt, teamed with narcotics detective Frankie Burns (Sienna Miller), likely not in spite of his reputation for being willing to use lethal force, but because of it. It's quickly established that the pair are in Manhattan, so Andre urges the city to close off the island until daybreak. The NYPD intends to be utterly relentless in running the ones who took out so many of their own down to ground, but Trujillo and Stevens are ex-military, with Michael smart enough to be a match for Andre.

The film opens with a scene of Andre as a child, attending the funeral of his policeman father, and it's built to be unnerving, built out of wide shots of a church while the preacher speaks not of forgiveness and sacrifice but of anger and glee that he was able to take two of his attackers with him. When the film cuts to Andre's latest Internal Affairs meeting, it becomes clear that he's spent his whole life steeped in that culture, enough that his making the proper noises about not shooting first or indiscriminately surprises and upsets the other officers. It's a point of view that might be made clearer if the film offered more than fleeting glances at a perspective outside of the police or their quarry, questioning the way that the police seem to respond much more enthusiastically to an attack on themselves than the people they're meant to protect. That idea is what gives the film a great deal of its tension in the early going but becomes a little less prominent toward the end, as the plot needs Andre to close in and writers Adam Mervis and Matthew Michael Carnahan don't really have the room to examine how corruption and entitlement are separate but entangled issues.

Full review on EFilmCritic