Sunday, August 25, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 12 August 2019 - 18 August 2019

The next time someone talks about superhero movie fatigue, remind them that the Brattle was able to program a whole series of films noirs celebrating their 75th anniversary this summer, and I don't know how many people were talking about "murder drama fatigue" in 1944.

This Week in Tickets

Granted, there was a war on and people didn't recognize "film noir" as a genre yet, so there were probably other things to talk about. Still, it's been making for a fun way to revisit some nifty movies, with Tuesday's pair being Robert Siodmak's nifty Phantom Lady and Fritz Lang's Ministry of Fear. Both of them, in addition to being solid little mysteries, are compact 90-minute movies.

The weekend started with Friday's Red Sox game, which was, thankfully, the sort of game you should be expecting them to have against the Orioles - the Red Sox score a lot of, the Orioles don't, and the whole thing never gets bogged down but still lasts long enough that you don't feel ripped off. This has not happened often enough this year.

Saturday was a cross-river double feature of Line Walker 2: Invisible Spy & The Nightingale. I liked the former a bit and the latter a lot, enough that I'm kind of surprised that it's really passed through the Boston area quickly, going from two screens to one small one and then gone at the Kendall and starting in the screening room and quickly reduced to sharing the Goldscreen at the Coolidge. It feels like it should be a hit, but isn't. I wonder if everybody (including myself) talking about how it's so violent and intense scared people off.

Sunday was another day split between two theaters, with a "Silents, Please" screening of The Woman Disputed at the Somerville and then Olivia at the Brattle. Both were interesting but not really my thing. Combine all that with the noir playing the next Monday night, though, and that's seven Academy-ratio movies in seven days, which is especially funny since the TV I've been watching is 2.35:1.

Falling behind on my Letterboxd page. Sorry about that.

Phantom Lady

* * * (out of four)
Seen 13 August 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (Noirversary, 35mm)

I find that Phantom Lady makes a terrific second impression, in that while it seems kind of all over the place and silly the first time around, it's very easy to discount those weird bits or find them charming later, and every viewing after that will have a viewer anticipating the good moments and letting the rest pass by.

The bulk of those good moments come from Elsa Raines as one of film's pluckiest amateur sleuths, a secretary obviously in love with the boss who has been framed for murder but not mooning over him, and able to both amusingly and believably capture how this is a thrill for her but also terrifying when she knows that she's in the middle of danger. She's a fun alternative to the usual clipped professionals or dour pessimists that lead this sort of thriller, with Franchot Tone gleefully diving into the sort of insane villain that has (happily) been kind of discredited by now.

It rolls, though. A lot of mysteries just seem artificial the second time through, badly-paced when you know what's going to happen, but this one is just more comfortable. It's the sort of thing where I'm torn between buying a disc or hoping it comes around on 35mm on a regular basis.

eFilmCritic review from 2015

Ministry of Fear

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 13 August 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (Noirversary, 35mm)

One of the fun things about how I've been keeping this blog is that, even if I haven't actually found time to write up Ministry of Fear before, I can search the "Next Week in Tickets" entries and see that this shows up in Boston fairly often - indeed, this screening was behind schedule, as I have records of it playing 2012 (twice), 2014, and 2016. There are a lot of reasons to revisit it, and maybe the print is more available than some other things.

It plays as an odd little mystery that's got a bit of everything, from the Blitz to supernatural quackery to a dark secret that's not quite so dark as all that. I'm curious how some of it played when it showed up back in 1944; I tend to associate the bit with the medium with earlier periods of history, and the awkward bits of spycraft toward the start seem maybe a bit more surreal than they should - would someone who hasn't been in a mental hospital for a couple of years accept any of it? It's especially strange because the more realistic outlandishness of the air raids and hiding him away as a fugitive aren't quite the right contrast.

You've still got Fritz Lang behind the camera, though, and even if the script is said to lose a lot of the feel of Graham Greene's novel, you can't easily squander that amount of sheer talent. Lang has always done spy stuff well, and captures the sinister nature of what it's like to find oneself in the middle of this very well. I'm kind of curious about the odd lack of xenophobia shown in the movie - I don't know Lang's personal experience as a refugee at the time, but it's kind of curious that nobody seems to suspect the siblings with Austrian accents as being anything but what they say.

The Woman Disputed

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 18 August 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (first-run, 35mm)

Thinking back on The Woman Disputed the better part of a week later, what it's trying to do is a little clearer - keep putting Norma Talmadge's Mary Ann Wagner into situations where people are able to think the best or the worst of her, such that even the man who loves her and stood up for her before is reluctant to believe her - and it's not entirely the film's fault that, 91 years on, its often less-than-feminist attitudes are just as eyebrow-raising as the decision to frame the Austrians as victims of Russian invaders in World War I (to be fair, WWI was a mess).

Even taking the whole product-of-its-time thing into account, though, the pacing is weird. It takes a while to get started, spins its wheels for a while, and then pushes the thing that feels like it should be the main engine of the film - will Mary Ann betray her fiancé to protect refugees and maybe help a spy get vital information out of the city? - is pushed toward the end with almost no time to deal with the fallout. It really exacerbates how even the people who say they love Mary Ann treat her terribly, and the end where Paul basically needs a man to publicly tell him that Mary Ann is a hero seems kind of egregious even for 1928.

The good news is that it's pretty easy to project Talmadge as recognizing that this is garbage along with the shame meant to be closer to the fore; she's got a scrappy charm that offsets the melodramatic woe nicely.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 18 August 2019 at the Brattle Theatre (special engagement, DCP)

The kind of distracting thing about Olivia is that star Marie-Claire Olivia looks right on the border of "too old to play a teenager", although given that it's a mid-century French film, it might just be filmmakers fetishizing and sexualizing innocence. That it's the rare film from that time and place directed by a woman doesn't really change that much, because it's queer as heck.

Indeed, Olivia (character and namesake actress) seems kind of peripheral to the really interesting story of two older women who are clearly each other's true loves but who had a rift develop sometime in the past that they've never been able to close. Mademoiselle Julie probably did, once upon a time, look at the young women in her charge a little too closely, especially the ones like Olivia who clearly like girls; another member of the staff has used this as a wedge to ingratiate herself with Mademoiselle Cara. It's the slow-motion fallout of an inciting event that itself doesn't matter. The students' devotion to one or the other of the pair feels like it could be a good way to represent this schism, but director Jacqueline Audry and the writers (adaptation of Colette Audry, dialogue by Pierre Laroche) don't make much of it.

It's still charming and often upbeat, enough to understand why the narration is sentimental despite a rather melancholy end. And given how unique a film it is for its time and place, a little imperfection or not connecting to people like me who are not its main audience is not something to worry about too much.

Phantom Lady & Ministry of Fear
Red Sox 9, Orioles 1
Line Walker 2: Invisible Spy
The Nightingale
The Woman Disputed

Friday, August 23, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 23 August 2019 - 29 August 2019

Summer is winding right down, isn't it?

  • Ready or Not opened up on Wednesday, and it's a fair amount of fun, good in the details of its family who has a ritual of sacrificing new people who enter the family even if it could use one or two really good action sequences. It's playing the Somerville, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, the Kendall, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    The biggest release is Angel Has Fallen, the third film featuring Geard Butler as a rule-breaking Secret Service agent, this time framed for the attempted assassination of the president, with Nick Nolte as the black-sheep father whom he turns to while on the run. That's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport (in Icon-X), South Bay (in Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema), the Embassy, Revere (including XPlus & MX4D), and the SuperLux. There's also a small release for Overcomer, a bit of generic-looking faith-based stuff, with it playing South Bay and Revere.

    The month's Ghibli Fest selection is My Neighbor Totoro, a charming film by Hayao Miyazaki playing Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, and Revere in English Sunday & Wednesday and subtitled on Monday. Over at Boston Common, they'll be giving a screen to DreamWorks Animation, rotating Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, Trolls, Madagascar, The Croods, and How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World over the course of the next week. Revere has the "Final Cut" of Apocalypse Now on Wednesday and Thursday.
  • A surprisingly wide opening for The Peanut Butter Falcon, with Shia LaBeouf as a guy who helps a young man with Down's Syndrome realize his dream of becoming a professional wrestler. Looking at the co-stars, I had no idea Jake "The Snake" Roberts was still alive even before getting to the rest of a fun group (John Hawkes, Thomas Haden Church, Jon Bernthal, Bruce Dern). It's at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, West Newton, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, and Revere.

    The Coolidge has a spiffy new website, which lays their regular and repertory programming out clearly. The latter includes the duelling volcano movies from 1997 at midnight, with Volcano on Friday and Dante's Peak on Saturday, both on 35mm. Monday's Big Screen Classic is Blazing Saddles, also on 35mm, as is Thursday's "Rewind!" show of The Goonies
  • Kendall Square also gets IFFBoston alum Love, Antosha, a documentary on the sadly truncated life of Anton Yelchin.
  • Apple Fresh Pond picks up Telugu-language film Kousalya Krishnamurthy, a remake of Bollywood's Kanaa, in which the title character is a woman who dreams of becoming a professional cricketer. Mission Mangal, Batla House, and Evaru continue there, while Boston Common keeps around Hong Kong actioner Line Walker 2 (which is not, it turns out, technically a sequel to Line Walker).
  • The Brattle Theatre spends the weekend paying tribute to Doris Day, with a 35mm print of The Man Who Knew Too Much on Friday, a double feature of Calamity Jane & Young Man with a Horn (35mm) on Saturday, and a 35mm twin-bill of Midnight Lace & Pillow Talk on Sunday. They also have late shows of Luz, for those who couldn't get to the midnight shows at the Coolidge a couple weeks ago.

    With summer wrapping up, so do the vertical columns on their calendar. Noirversary wraps up with a supernaturally-tinged pair on Monday (The Uninvited & The Curse of the Cat People) and To Have and Have Not on Tuesday (potentially all three are 35mm, although Curse isn't confirmed). They're closed on Wednesday, but Reel Music wraps on Thursday with a double feature of Babylon & The Harder They Come.
  • The Harvard Film Archive has a new restoration of Old Boyfriends on 35mm, Joan Tewkesbury's 1979 film featuring Talia Shire as a woman trying to figure herself out by sifting through her exes, with shows Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 7pm, plus a 4:30pm matinee on Sunday. The Complete Howard Hawks continues in between, with Red Line 7000 (16mm) at 9pm Friday, and Today We Live (35mm) at the same time Saturday. On Monday, there's the monthly "Cinema of "Resistance" presentation, and it's jumbo-sized, a 35mm bring of Francesco Rosi's Christ Stopped at Eboli, a 220-minute epic originally made for Italian TV.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts resumes its run of Walking on Water, a documentary following artist Christo as he attempts to realize a project initiated by his late wife and partner, with shows on Friday, Sunday, and Thursday. "Space Exploration on Film" continues with 2001: A Space Odyssey (Friday) and Moon (Sunday), while "A Splinter in Your Mind: Films from '99" includes 35mm prints of Magnolia (Saturday), Fight Club (Saturday), and The Matrix (Thursday).
  • The Slaughterhouse Movie Club returns to The Somerville Theatre with a "Big Bada Boom" burlesque before The Fifth Element on Friday, which should be something. On Saturday, they have a special presentation of Pick It Up! Ska in the '90s at 7:30pm, with a 35mm midnight special of Cabin Boy later. The "Play It Cool" show on Wednesday is a 35mm print of M*A*S*H, with film also being used for the Thursday Jack Attack presentation, The Crossing Guard. Up the street a little ways, their friends at The Capitol have a Throwback Thursday show of Rocky on the 29th.
  • The Regent Theatre has music documentary Murder in the Front Row on Thursday, billed as "The San Francisco Bay Area Thrash Metal Story".
  • Cinema Salem looks to be the place to go for a couple of IFFBoston selections: Cold Case Hammarskjöld, Max Brugger's documentary that starts from the title and ends up somewhere else entirely, plays in the screening room, while Wild Rose appears to be on a larger screen. The Luna Theater has more shows of Midsommar on Friday, Saturday, and Tuesday evenings, Mike Wallace Is Here on Saturday afternoon, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom on Sunday, as well as free surprises from the "Magical Mystery Movie Club" on Saturday and Sunday mornings and Weirdo Wednesday. The AMC at the Liberty Tree Mall has Burn, with Josh Hutcherson as the guy robbing a gas station and Suki Waterhouse as the employee who finds a connection with him.
  • Joe's Free Films reminds us that it is Films at the Gate weekend on the Greenway, an outdoor film festival for nearby Chinatown which this year features Tyrus (a documentary about a Chinese-American artist who contributed to movies from Bambi to The Wild Bunch) on Friday, Little Big Soldier (one of the best things Jackie Chan has done in the last ten years or so) on Saturday, and Donnie Yen in Big Brother (with martial arts demonstrations by mother Bow Sim Mark's school and an introduction from father Klysler Yen) on Sunday. Elsewhere, Tim Burton's Dumbo remake seems to be the most popular outdoor movie this week.

Kind of curious about The Peanut Butter Falcon, Mission Mangal, and the noir this week.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

IFFBoston 2019.116: The Nightingale plus Line Walker 2

The Nightingale isn't quite the platonic ideal of the movie I skip at IFFBoston despite trying to find reasons not to, but it's close: Already has distribution lined up, the cast and crew aren't traveling from Australia to Boston from for a Q&A, and just long enough that it's going to block two slots with movies I potentially can't see elsewhere. So I wait and see it playing smaller screens than the Brattle when it does show up.

And I might have waited a day or two longer, except the timing actually worked out really well to just roll right into there after Line Walker 2, which isn't perfect but has a Shaw Brothers logo as one of roughly a dozen vanity cards before the picture started, and that always feels good. It's far away from the cool one with the tinny horns and probably only appears because this series started out as a show on Sir Run Run Shaw's TVB network, but, still, it feels good to see.

Not that the movie had a lot to do with that show, other than both co-starring Francis Ng and being about long-term undercover cops; it's become yet another Hong Kong series which is more thematically connected than sequential. Not that I quite realized this until I got home and started looking things like my previous review up, to the point where I wondered how much I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't been trying to figure out how things fit.

(More amusing: For all that Hong Kong films are not shy about crediting the action director separately or bringing in specialists for certain kinds of action, I'm not sure what to make of the credit for "Rubik's Cube Director". Was someone standing out of camera range and telling or showing Louis Koo, Nick Cheung, and the young actors what to do? It actually makes a lot of sense, and I hope this person put it on his or her résumé!)

Anyway, that's the thing Well Go was able to book in Boston this weekend, though they couldn't find a screen for Fantasia closer The Divine Fury (EFilmCritic review here); this, I guess, says something about how the area has a Chinatown but not a Koreatown, with there likely being a lot more students and other expatriates here from China rather than Korea. It's interesting to note that the studio's trailer for Takashi Miike's First Love played in front of The Nightingale at the Kendall rather than in front of their own release at Boston Common, which I guess makes a certain amount of sense - the Kendall has played Miike before and I guess this particular movie is a step closer to the art-house stuff that plays there versus the Funimation stuff that hits Boston Common and Fenway. Weird that it seems to be more or less bypassing Fantasia, although maybe it's still in post and will just be ready in time for Toronto/Austin/wide-ish release. Weird having nothing by either Miike or Sion Sono at the festival this year, though.

After that, it was time for The Nightingale, and it lived up to expectations and then some. Funny thing about those expectations was that, when I go back and look at my review for The Babadook, it doesn't quite seem properly enthusiastic, and I wonder if that' just a case of the environment having an effect. I saw it at Fantastic Fest, which was not a great experience for me between movies, and though I thought I'd done pretty well in not letting that taint my opinions of the actual the films, maybe not. Or maybe it just grows in one's estimation as one has time to think about it.

There was an intriguing credit at the end of this one, which goes past the usual nice Australian practice of acknowledging the traditional residents of the land and explains that the Aboriginal dialogue in the film is in Palawa Kani, a twentieth/twenty-first century invention, because there are not nearly enough records of the various Aboriginal records spoken in Tasmania at the time to know how they would have spoken, and this generic reconstruction is as close as they can come. The film may be less Billy's story than Clare's, but it's a sharp reminder of the immense cultural violence that colonization has done to native peoples.

(And now, if you'll excuse me, I'll be off checking submissions at eFilmCritic because there have got to be better people than yet another middle-aged white guy to talk about that, the way rape is used in the film, and how Clare's continued lactation is a smart way to address her loss that the men who have often written these rape-revenge films would never have thought of.)

Line Walker 2: Invisible Spy

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 17 August 2019 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, DCP)

This only covers what's been released in North America, but Line Walker 2 is Louis Koo's third movie in as many months to be numbered like the second in the series without actually being a sequel, which is an impressively productive year but also very confusing, considering that the first Line Walker movie was explicitly a continuation of a TV series. Truth be told, I didn't realize this one wasn't connected until I got home and re-read my review from 2016, and now I'm wondering if maybe I wouldn't have enjoyed it more if I'd been treating it as its own crazy thing rather than trying to reconcile it with the previous story.

(Don't tell me a character played by one of the returning actors died last time; who remembers every detail of every movie they saw three years ago and has time to rewatch it even if it were on a service they subscribe to?)

This one starts by flashing back thirty-odd years to an orphanage in the Philippines, where two friends are inseparable until someone gets wind of just how brilliant they are. In the present, a financial CEO gets in his car and drives it into a crowd. The police are tipped off by Yiu Ho Yee (Jiang Pei Yao), a freelance reporter and hacker who has uncovered evidence of a global conspiracy - which has placed moles in the HKPD long ago. She was brought in by Central Intelligence Bureau's Ching To (Nick Cheung Ka-Fai), with Yip Chi Fan (Francis Ng Chun-Yu) spearheading the investigation, but Security Wing head Cheng Chun Yin (Louis Koo in-Lok) soon takes over, as it falls under his jurisdiction. She has more data with her colleague Bill (Liu Yuning) in Myanmar, but a joint operation between Cheng, Ching, and local SWAT goes south, leaving one missing, one wounded, and reverberations felt all the way in Madrid, where mysterious Mr. Tung (Huang Zhizhong) is masterminding the cabal's response.

You kind of have to respect this sort of movie's deep commitment, even if it's commitment to being dumb but energetic. There is not quite a new twist every ten minutes, but it can sometimes seem that way, especially when since they never quite seem done with the implications of the last one by the time they get to the next. The film is built around paranoia and puppet masters, and long term conspiracies playing out, but there's never quite time to marinate in this and have the characters look at each other sideways like they can't be trusted. You can sometimes justify this later by showing that characters knew things before it was obvious, but that just explains things retroactively (and often incompletely); the earlier scenes don't become more exciting retroactively. Eventually, it's kind of like the Rubik's Cubes the characters play with - you can twist them into a lot of arrangements but most are just gibberish, and the solution doesn't really mean anything.

Full review on EFilmCritic

The Nightingale

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 August 2019 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, DCP)

The nine-screen multiplex where I saw The Nightingale had a sign warning potential customers about the violence by the box office, and I spent a few moments wondering why it was the sole film to get this treatment recently. It's not a bad thing for the theater to have done that - it's a harsh film that could certainly dredge up traumatic experiences - it's curiosity at the application. Writer/director Jennifer Kent appears to have crossed a line that others tend to shy away from, but I don't know that I'd have it otherwise.

What's now called Tasmania was "Van Diemen's Land" in 1820, and Clare Carrol (Aisling Franciosi) is one of a number who arrived as convicts. By rights, she and her husband Aidan (Michael Sheasby) should be free, but she's got a pretty enough face and voice that Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin) hasn't put the paperwork in, and Irish convicts don't have any recourse, no matter what their "sponsors" do. Aidan thinks they should leave anyway, but the timing is terrible, as Hawkins has just been told he will not be recommended for a promotion and opts to go to the city to demand it, stopping at the Carrol shed to vent his frustration with violence that will leave Clare hell-bent on revenge, offering everything she has to Aboriginal guide Billy (Baykali Ganambarr) if he'll help her overtake Hawkins on the trail.

Many might start a movie like this by depicting some sort of idyll or peaceful equilibrium, but Kent is having none of that; for all that Clare and Aidan clearly love each other and their infant daughter, there's hate and intolerance at every level of society, with even the other young servants often begrudging any accommodation made for the baby or acting like Clare is putting on airs when she's made to perform for the garrison like it's her idea. She pointedly has Hawkins's sergeant Ruse (Damon Herriman) belittle the men under his command as "girls" and doesn't back off the contempt Clare has for Billy even if she'll need his expertise. There are people up the ladder who clearly find this distasteful, but are loath to do much about it and challenge the order that has them where they are.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Saturday, August 17, 2019

IFFBoston 2019.02: Them That Follow & The Death of Dick Long

So very late. Mostly because I've been busy with fun things, sure, and because I was trying to catch up with the previous festival, but also because the plan of doing quick write-ups on Letterboxd while waiting in line apparently didn't happen with these two, which just had star ratings. You'd think I'd have had time on the T ride I had to take after each one, but maybe the app was buggy. So this gets posted the day after Them That Follow closes in/around Boston.

A shame, because I liked the movie, and it was fun having one of the two directors (Daniel Savage, on the left) there for interrogation. One of the main topics of discussion was, of course, the cast; IIRC, Alice Elgort, probably the least-known of the main cast, was actually who they started with and built around, which surprised me a bit.

One thing that kind of amused me and once again reminded me that it's good for us to get out of our silos sometimes is the number of people who only recognized Olivia Colman in that cast and came for her. Blew my mind, it did, because these people clearly need to watch Justified to get good and familiar with Walton Goggins, who was admittedly the reason I came. Start with Season 2, which also features co-star Kaitlyn Dever and Margo Martindale, if you must. It also seems like more likely to pull people into this sort of movie than The Crown, but, again, silos.

Speaking of Dever, she's amassed an awfully impressive "holy cow, that's the same person?" career growing up, between Justified, Short Term 10, Them That Follow, and Booksmart. I've loved all of those and I think I maybe recognized her as being the same person in Justified and Them That Follow because the context was a bit closer. She's great and hopefully will soon be written off that Tim Allen thing as being away at college so that she can do more good stuff.

Two stops down, BUFF & IFFBoston teamed for The Death of Dick Long, which I think was the first movie to surprise me by having a studio logo in front of it at the festival. I generally try and choose what I see at festivals by what seems least likely to show up on the same screens again later, and this seems like a prime candidate for that, but apparently A24 is putting it out in September. I wonder if that's the inevitable future of second-tier festivals like IFFBoston - Amazon/Netflix/A24 are slurping up so much at Sundance and SXSW that these festivals become preview screenings with guests and local showcases. Which are both good things to have, and it's probably better that things get bought quickly rather than linger in uncertainty.

Anyway, here's writer Billy Chew, director Daniel Scheinert, and critic Jason Gorber, who wanted to lead the Q&A as a fan of the film. There was a lot of talk about The Thing That Happens but I don't recall it being much more than an attempt to push the envelope. Scheinert also assured us that "Daniels" wasn't broken up, but just doing separate projects.

Next up.... Probably day #5, as two movies from that have opened recently.

Them That Follow

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2019 in Somerville Theatre #5 (IFFBoston, DCP)

Movies like Them That Follow often have a hard time finding the right balance of respect and alarm in regard to the fringes of society where their characters exist, and in this case filmmakers Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage maybe veer too far toward the respectful. They've got too fine a cast to not make a good movie, but the naturally soapy elements get a bit blunted by not wanting to be insensitive and exploitative where its snake-handling community is concerned.

Lemuel (Walton Goggins) is the preacher for that community, seemingly sincere in his beliefs but also experienced enough with how the outside world reacts to them to lay low. He's got a daughter, Mara (Alice Englert), who has been expected to marry his deacon Garret (Lewis Pullman) for some time, though she's really got eyes for Augie (Thomas Mann); his parents Hope (Olivia Colman) and Zeke (Jim Gaffigan) are part of Lemuel's flock, but he doesn't attend. It's a situation that is only likely to become more tense as Lemuel takes in Dilly (Kaitlyn Dever), an impressionable young teen whose parents have abandoned her; a parishioner is bitten during services; and Mara misses a period.

There's not a whole lot of clutter to this film, which is likely part of the point. Though law enforcement is mentioned and some shuffling goes on to avoid Lemuel being charged with any injuries or deaths that occur at his services, they're not seen directly very often; Dilly's junkie mother is most noted for her absence and the mess she leaves behind. Maybe it's just summer, but there's no sign that Dilly is attending school, and though Augie clearly has things going on outside of this community, that side is similarly seldom glimpsed. It's an arrangement that can often diminish how cult-like this group seems, which should lead to a bigger impact when the more extreme facets of their faith become important, but more often just makes it feel like this story could take place in any community built around faith. The broad strokes apply to so many cases that this one could use being more specific at times.

Full review on EFilmCritic

The Death of Dick Long

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2019 in the Brattle Theatre #5 (IFFBoston, DCP)

Just enough time passed between my seeing The Death of Dick Long and getting around to fleshing my notes out into a full review that it took me a while moment to remember exactly what about it made it stand out among "dumb person crime" movies, and I'm not entirely sure whether that speaks well of it or not. One the one hand, it's an entertaining dark comedy even without the twist, but on the other, I've got to wonder what it says that the filmmakers couldn't get that image lodged in my brain. Of course, maybe it says something about me.

It opens with Zeke Olsen (Michael Abbot Jr.), Earl Wyeth (Andre Hyland), and Dick Long (Daniel Scheinert) wrapping up a garage session - their band Pink Freud doesn't play many gigs, but that's not exactly the point of getting together to jam - before one says "let's get weird" and they proceed to get messed up on something stronger than beer. We don't see how the night ends, but the next morning begins with Dick dead, Earl ready to cut and run, and Zeke having no idea how to get all the blood out of his car's back seat before driving daughter Cynthia (Poppy Cunningham) to school. It gets worse - Cynthia's teacher (Jess Weixler) is Dick's wife, and the body that is soon brought to the attention of Sheriff Spenser (Janelle Cochrane) is in rather alarming condition.

A big part of what makes this sort of movie fun - and makes the good ones work - is how they split naturally in two, with one half of the film covering how a couple of guys who aren't that bright and aren't exactly criminals by nature try to dig their way out of the mess they find themselves in while the other covers how the small-town cops try to reluctantly dig their way into it, and how a film handles that second part can make or break it - if this is dull in comparison to the hijinks, or makes the very idea of right and wrong look too foolish, or too fully turns the audience against the hapless guys they're chasing, it can be a real mess. That Janelle Cochrane and especially Sarah Baker are so good as the local constabulary thus becomes one of the best parts of the film. It's easy to map Cochrane's Sheriff Spenser as the equivalent of Frances McDormand's character in Fargo, although she's a little less casually good at her job and a little more jaded at her own position even if what's happened to this difficult-to-identify body still has her rattled. As much as she often seems like the only reasonable adult in this town, there's a bit of a weight to how people don't respect the authority of women in their fifties even if they radiate experience. She's also quite wary of "Duds" Dudley's enthusiasm, and it's understandable, but Dudley and Baker's take on her are a great complement - she's enthusiastic but not exactly a natural crime-solver, and the way she's often a half-step behind Spenser but also less intimidated by what they're getting into makes her a fun comedic foil. It also makes her very sympathetic; the viewer occasionally laughs at her but also identifies with how she's learning, and how in some ways she's not far off from the dopey guys in the other half even if her trajectory is different.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Friday, August 16, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 16 August 2019 - 22 August 2019

Mid-August, kids already back in school, studios getting the not-great stuff out.

  • A couple of these are getting surprisingly good reviews, though. Good Boys, for instance, has been getting great reviews, although the previews for this movie where 12-year-olds get into decidedly R-rated misadventures have been dreadful. It's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere. So is Blinded by the Light, the new one from director Gurinder Chadna, about a teenager in 1987 Britain who becomes a big fan of Bruce Springsteen. It's at Somerville, the Lexington Venue, West Newton, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema and a repeat of the "Springsteen Fan Event" on Tuesday afternoon), the Embassy, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    There's also Where'd You Go, Bernadette, the new film from Richard Linklater, starring Cate Blanchett as a suburban mom who needs some adventure in her life, at the Somerville, Kendall Square, West Newton, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux. 47 Meters Down: Uncaged comes from the same team as the first and is disappointingly not called "48 Meters Down", featuring four teenagers providing the sharks multiple targets. It plays Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere.

    Angry Birds 2 opened on Wednesday, and continues this week at the Capitol (2D only), Fresh Pond (2D only), Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere. Next Wednesday's opening is Ready or Not, a Fantasia selection featuring Samara Weaving as a new bride whose in-laws intend to kill her on their wedding night as part of some ritual, unless she can win a game of hide-and-seek. It will open at Boston Common, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and probably others.

    The Lexington Venue has 50th Anniversary screenings of A Boy Named Charlie Brown on Saturday & Sunday mornings, while Revere shows it Wednesday afternoon and the Regent in Arlington has it Wednesday afternoon and evening. Satoshi Kon's Millennium Actress plays Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, and Revere on Tuesday. Boston Common and Revere have Fantasia alum Kingdom, a fun Japanese take on China's warring kingdom period, from Tuesday through Thursday Fenway also has concert film Rush: Cinema Strangiato on Wednesday, and Revere has Taxi Driver on Thursday. Bring the Soul: The Movie continues at Revere through Sunday and Boston Common through Wednesday
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre picks up the The Nightingale, although on the smaller screens, which also hold over Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am.

    The midnights at the Coolidge this weekend come from Paul Verhoeven, with Showgirls on Friday and Starship Troopers on Saturday, both on 35mm. They've got a special screening of Sonic Youth: 30 Years of Daydream Nature on Sunday afternoon, followed by a panel discussion with Steve Shelley, writer Byron Coley, and Sonic Youth archivist Aaron Mullan. Monday's Big Screen Classic is the annual The Big Lebowski party. There's also a Tuesday screening of Dateline-Saigon with a post-screening discussion, as well as a (free/RSVP required) GlobeDocs screening of Behind the Bullet with director Heidi Yewman. Thursday's "Summer of '69" show is Medium Cool.
  • Kendall Square and West Newton open After the Wedding, with Michelle Williams as a woman running an orphanage who finds herself in increasingly difficult situations after meeting her benefactor (Julianne Moore). The two places also open Tel Aviv on Fire, a comedy that takes place behind the scenes of a Palestinian soap opera.

    The Kendall also opens IFFBoston selection One Child Nation (aka Born in China), in which director Wang Nanfu looks back at China's One Child policy as she has her first child and remembers how her family was ostracized because of her younger brother.
  • Apple Fresh Pond does a big refresh of their movies for Indian Independence Day, with Hindi-language Mission Mangal featuring Akshay Kumar in a film about the Indian Space Research Organization launching the Mars Orbiter Mission on a strict budget. Batla House is also in Hindi, an action movie based on a real-life 2008 raid. Ranarangam is a bit of "mobster who thought he was out but gets pulled back in" in the Telugu language. Also in Telugu is Evaru, with Adivi Sesh as an internal affairs officer investigating the murder of a high-ranking cop who had been killed by his alleged rape victim.

    Line Walker 2 opens at Boston Common, though it's maybe not a great time for a movie about undercover Hong Kong cops, although it looks less like a continuation of the TV series as the first was and more Francis Ng, Louis Koo, and Nick Cheung are fighting Taiwanese hackers. They also have night-time screenings of Chinese firefighting movie The Bravest.
  • The Brattle Theatre gives most of the weekend to a new restoration of Olivia, a 1951 film directed by Jacqueline Audry, one of the few female filmmakers working at that time. It follows a new girl at a 19th-century boarding school with two manipulative headmistresses. It plays Friday through Sunday, although the last show of the day at 9:30 is reserved for Booksmart, Olivia Wilde's hilarious comedy about two high-achieving girls trying to fit all the fun they missed into the night before graduation.

    Noirversary falls on Monday this week with the pairing of The Woman in the Window & The Mask of Dimitrios, both on 35mm, while Tuesday is Trash Night. Wednesday's Recent Rave is Joanna Hogg's The Souvenir; and Reel Music on Thursday is a two single showings, a special presentation of the "Buy Me Boston Video Loft" and Penelope Spheeris's Suburbia.
  • The Harvard Film Archive has a full slate of The Complete Howard Hawks this week, with seven prints: Rio Lobo (Friday 7pm), The Road to Glory (Friday 9:30pm), A Song Is Born (Saturday 7pm on 16mm), O. Henry's Full House (Saturday 9pm), Come and Get It (Sunday 4:30pm), Barbary Coast (Sunday 7pm), and The Crowd Roars (Monday 7pm).
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues two repertory series this weekend. "Space Exploration on Film" features Apollo 11 (Friday/Sunday) and the Tarkovsky Solaris (Saturday); "A Splinter in Your Mind: Films from '99" includes Magnolia (Friday), Boys Don't Cry (Saturday), and Election (Sunday), with the 1999 films all on 35mm.
  • Saturday's Midnight Special at The Somerville Theatre is The Song Remains the Same, and they're also starting to let other things share screen #1 with Once Upon a Time In Hollywood during regular hours. Sunday, for instance, features the return of "Silents, Please", with Jeff Rapsis accompanying The Woman Disputed, which stars Norma Talmadge in an adaptation of a Guy de Maupassant story about an adventuress who becomes a general's mistress to free hostages. "Play It Cool" returns on Wednesday with California Split, while Jack Attack continues on Thursday with Wolf. All of those repertory programs are on 35mm film. That's not likely the case with Wednesday's The Boston Underground Film Festival "Dispatches from the Underground", although that's still listed as TBA and so may not still be on this month.
  • The Regent Theatre has live performances much of the weekend, but Tuesday's presentation of Jiro Dreams of Sushi is free with RSVP and includes a small popcorn and soda. A Boy Named Charlie Brown plays Wednesday.
  • Cinema Salem has nifty Swedish science fiction film Aniara in the screening room this weekend, as well as screenings of Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am. The Luna Theater has Midsommar on Friday and Saturday evenings, Psycho Beach Party on Saturday afternoon, and Rosemary's Baby on Sunday, along with the free mystery boxes of the "Magical Mystery Movie Club" on Saturday and Sunday mornings and Weirdo Wednesday.
  • Joe's Free Films shows the outdoor films as very Marvel-oriented this week, with multiple chances to see Captain Marvel and Into the Spider-Verse along with at least one Black Panther, in addition to other mostly-family-friendly options.

I didn't catch The Nightingale last week, so I'll likely do that, Line Walker 2, Ready or Not, the noir, the silent, and maybe whatever one of the new releases is playing when I happen to be getting out of work.

Monday, August 12, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 5 August 2019 - 11 August 2019

Back from Montreal, and London not long before that, and Hong Kong a little while earlier, and I'll often say the MBTA isn't that bad, but, yikes, while those places aren't perfect, there's a certain basic level of reliability to their public transportation that I kind of miss

This Week in Tickets

Anyway, I'm leaving a gap here for Fantasia, and after getting my rest after the trip back, it was back to work and back to the movies on Monday, when I opted to catch Crawl because I'd heard good things online - which were pretty deserved; it knows what it's doing and does it well. And then, when I get home, there's a package with a new camera waiting, which is an ironic thing to get the day after arriving home from vacation.

The next night, I had a ticket to the Red Sox, and my encounters with the T went "the 350 bus is 20 minutes late", "the 350 bus breaks down and we wait by the side of the road for 20 minutes", "ten minute wait for the Red Line at Alewife", "two Green Line trains leave as I arrive at Park Street", and somehow I managed to avoid any more delays on the way to Kenmore (where it fortunately takes just a minute or two to buy some 35mm film for the camera). Once there, the game is not good; the Red Sox lose to the Royals 6-2, and I missed the first couple innings. What the heck happened to this team after last year, right?

Wednesday was for picking up a month's worth of comics (what the hell is DC doing these days? Who actually enjoys this "Year of the Villain" garbage enough for it to be in every damn book?), Thursday had me leaving work at a weird time, and then Friday's ride home just kind of wore me out and threw me off: I got to Alewife, and then actually got stuck in the tunnel between Alewife and Davis, eventually going back and moving to another train. I've gotta say, I kind of figured being on the train that held the whole Red Line up would be more exciting.

I briefly toyed with the idea of heading out to the Liberty Tree Mall to catch Nekrotronic, but guess I'll just settle for VOD after it took a few minutes longer than I'd allotted to get a haircut and I got cold feet at the times listed for transfers on Google, which could leave me all the way out in Salem and having to turn back. Instead, I caught Chinese firefighting adventure The Bravest early and then headed home, watched some baseball, and then caught Once Upon a Time in Hollywood in 35mm at the Somerville, a reminder that film looks great and giving it up for the same of easier workflow was a mistake.

Sunday was laundry day, capped with Fast & Furious Presents Hobbs & Show on Assembly Row's Imax-branded screen. Not bad, but a little try-hard, and it's kind of crazy how weirdly big the spin-off from what started as a pretty modest series (and isn't nearly this grandiose) wound up being.

Sadly, my my Letterboxd page has fallen behind because I couldn't keep up in Montreal, but I'll do my best to keep it current while backfilling the festival stuff.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 5 August 2019 in AMC Boston Common #8 (first-run, DCP)

This movie does what it's supposed to do with no fuss and does it less than 90 minutes, which is something more horror movies should aspire to. It is a killer-animal movie that knows its job and spends just enough time building everything up to make everything that plays out extremely satisfying. It is the sort of thing you go into knowing it's a large alligator movie, where you spend the first act scoping out the terrain of the house and thinking about just what sort of trouble a corner will be when the reptiles finally appear, and still go "holy shit, gator!" when one shows up.

Around there, it's smart about knowing just how cranked up to be. Kaya Scodelario's Haley and Barry Pepper's father aren't stoic - they react to huge alligators in their basement during a Category Five hurricane with a believable amount of alarm - but they feel like people who can survive and won't exhaust the audience in doing so. The filmmakers are also pretty slick at getting the most of their effects - the CGI gators mesh very well with the practical ones (he says, assuming there are practical gators), and there's just enough gore the get the audience to react without getting to the point where it's taken for granted. They do a nice job of getting the light and sky to feel right, too.

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 10 August 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (first-run, 35mm)

Quentin Tarantino has always been more than a bit heavy-handed, but something about this movie makes me wonder if, for all the ways in which he is a terrible human being, Harvey Weinstein had a knack for reeling him in just enough. There are a lot of scenes that run just a bit too long here, and cameos that feel just a little too cute in part because people watching the movie know who his rep stable is. Maybe he could use a producer who knows how to say "this is great, but..."

Of course, the movie is great in a lot of ways - Tarantino's pure love of Hollywood and the movies comes through in how Margot Robbie's Sharon Tate seems to be radiating pure joy most of the time on-screen, even as a bit about not being recognized at the box office of a theater showing a movie she's in hints at how fleeting fame can be, for instance. He gives the audience a couple of men who have made complete messes of their lives and lets the audience wonder just how worthy of second chances they are even while acknowledging that they can't just stop living and working. I don't know that Leonardo DiCaprio is quite playing against type here, but he vanishes inside the tough-guy actor who is in truth a mess of insecurities in a way that he has seldom done before. It's a performance that's almost too funny and bombastic to feel good, but it nevertheless plays as authentic.

And it's gorgeous, between how Tarantino clearly shoots this to be seen on film first and foremost, framing shots wide enough that even 2K high definition is going to lose significant detail and making great use of twilight, and how the crew puts 1969 Los Angeles together, both via visual effects and in terms of design, with the occasional wink toward how filmmakers make the past feel contemporary without being anachronistic. It's fun to see Zoe Bell graduate to full stunt coordinator here; this isn't an action movie, but her and Quentin being on the same wavelength helps out a lot when the time for action comes. There's a great sequence in the middle that does a fantastic job of making the Manson Family the stuff of horror movies but also showing how people can dismiss it and the like until it's too late.

I'll still probably be happy to catch it again on 35mm while my local place is still running it that way, even if it's not quite up there with my favorite Tarantino flicks.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 11 August 2019 in AMC Assembly Row #1 (first-run, Imax digital)

There are credits for 3D conversion on this movie, nestled among an honestly absurd number of mid/post-credit scenes, but we don't get 3D in America, which is kind of a shame: This big dumb movie that just doesn't know when to scale back and never has any heft despite always cranking up the scale could not only use a bit of fake 3D, it probably deserves it.

(Yes, I checked the Hong Kong movie times app that is still on my phone to see if they got it in 3D - they did - and did you know there is a sequel to Minuscule and a new movie starring Simon Yam and Weathering with You playing there?)

Anyway, for as much fun as the Dwayne Johnson/Jason Statham team-ups were in the previous F&F movies, a whole movie is a lot of two puffed-up headcases bickering, especially since the intended counterweight is Vanessa Kirby just wanting no part of their stupidity. They're all trying too hard to be cool but never get tested in a way that makes them overcome it. Meanwhile, Idris Elba is given a potentially great true believer of an antagonist but the script makes him muscle rather than mastermind - apparently they're saving the alpha villain for a sequel - and the two cameos that could have actually served as fun complements to the very serious stars are trying too hard to be scene-stealers.

David Leitch is still pretty good at action even when he doesn't have people as happy to get down and dirty as Keanu Reeves or Charlize Theron (that Statham is less tied up in being an unstoppable force than Johnson tends to make him more fun to watch), but he's got a solid sense of how things move and tug at each other, from Elba's motorcycle that seems like an extension of the cyborg assassin and seemingly wants to be with him to the finale which, while shown plenty in the trailer, is still a genuinely terrific set-piece, even if it seems as deliberate in the world of the film as it does as part of a film.

It's fun, even if its old-school James Bond villains seem as far removed from the later Fast & Furious movies as they themselves are from the first movie's plot that involved stealing a few VCRs. It's a big, dumb movie, but probably wouldn't have worked smaller and smarter.

Red Sox 2, Royals 6
The Bravest
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Hobbs & Shaw

Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Bravest

About the only thing I can really say about the firefighting in The Bravest - which was obviously never going to take the same sort of critical look at its characters as something like Rescue Me, and so maybe can't really be criticized that much from that direction - is that I don't think they used a ladder truck at any point in the movie. Is that not a thing in China? It felt like kind of a weird omission when the characters were going through the burning building to get to the third floor, and later when faced with a 20-meter tank on fire or seas of flames that they needed to get past.

Looking stuff up about the movie sent me down a small tech-spec rabbit hole, though - it really looks like something built to be seen in 3D, but I couldn't find any mention of stereographers or stereo conversion in the credits, and it's not listed in the credits. What is listed is that the film was apparently shot at 48fps and released that way on some screens in China, which is interesting. The relatively few big films released that way here have shown potential but also feel like it's a more challenging tool than filmmakers expect: Peter Jackson really only seemed to get the hang of it by the third Hobbit film (although regular 24fps 3D looked much less impressive after the first), and Ang Lee's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk got an interesting sense of heightened reality out of it, enough that I'm curious to see what he does with it in Gemini Man come October. It feels like it might have done hellish things to this movie's budget - that's twice as many frames of fire to render! - but with all the slow-motion, that could have been really different. That's the trick with high-frame-rate stuff - we've grown so used to 24fps as the standard, our brains aren't really ready to process it differently until the film's over, and then we probably won't have another chance any time soon.

A little way down the rabbit hole, I saw that Detective Dee and the Four Heavenly Kings was also released in 48fps, and I thought I was kind of missing out not seeing it in 3D (somehow, the film still hasn't come out on Hong Kong Blu-ray, so I haven't been able to get a 3D disc). The Detective Dee flicks aren't really martial-arts movies so much as action/adventures with plenty of fighting, but seeing what Tsui Hark and his crew could do with the sort of clarity a high frame rate affords has me really curious.

Lie huo ying xiong (The Bravest)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 10 August 2019 in AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run, DCP)

It seems like it would be hard to go too far over the top with a movie about heroic firefighters facing a massive but somewhat plausible danger, but The Bravest gives it a shot. The wall-to-wall firefighting action is more or less on point, but filmmaker Tony Chan Kwoik-Fai has trouble letting the heroism stand on its own, and there's sometimes an awful thin line between the moments that successfully make the audience stand up and cheer and the ones that try and get a snicker instead.

As it opens, Jiang Liwei (Huang Xiaoming) is the captain of the Bingang fire department's special response squadron, personally running into a burning hot pot restaurant to rescue a little girl in the top floor apartment - but also taking the fall when the fire flares up again after apparently being out. He's assigned to a smaller station while second-in-command Ma Weiguo (Du Jiang) takes his old job, and his psych evaluation suggests that he should retire as a result of his PTSD. A fire at the port will put all hands on deck - Jiang, Ma, Fire Inspector Wang Lu (Yang Zi), and her fiancé Xu Xiaobin (Ou Hao). Of principal concern is Tank A01, a hundred thousand cubic meters of crude oil, across the street from chemical tanks containing benzene, xylene, and cyanide. If it explodes, it could wipe out this city of eight million and create a far-reaching environmental catastrophe.

This seems to undersell the danger a bit; the fictional city of Bingang appears to be modeled on Tianjin, a major port with a population of twelve million. It is kind of odd that Chan and co-writer Yu Yonggan used a made-up setting for a film built to be one of three major flag-waving films coming out in China over the next few months, but there is only so much of this potential disaster that can be blamed on foreign negligence (though, make no mistake, that does appear to be the proximate cause of all this); you can make all firefighters heroes without implying that some actual city's public servants have been slacking on the job - or that someone like this film's harbor master would withhold information. It's an odd dance that must take place when making movies in an environment hyper-sensitive to that sort of thing, and truth be told, Chan and Yu handle the fact that people in the institutions one wishes to exalt must occasionally screw up in order to keep the movie going than many trying to do the same manage.

Full review on EFilmCritic