Saturday, February 06, 2016

This Week In Tickets: 25 January 2016 - 31 January 2016

This week, right here? This is the last time I was caught up last year, and I don't see how I avoid the same sort of falling behind like crazy in 2016.

This Week in Tickets

That's because it's the last week before a festival, and I hit those hard. This week was almost calm in comparison, although seeing all six movies at different venues was a neat trick.

First up was the Somerville Theatre for The Revenant, a case where hearing too much about it beforehand may have skewed my reaction a little more toward the negative than the film deserved, but that happens sometimes. Impressive as heck in some ways, though.

A couple days off, then to the Bright Screening Room in the Paramount Theater for The Final Girls, which zipped through theaters and VOD so fast that it barely had any chance for me to be aware of what turns out to be a fun little movie before the Emerson alum who directed it came back to his alma mater for a screening. Compared to that quick entry and exit, Mojave, in its own way a sort of genre movie about movies, had a long, luxurious four-day stay at the Bratte.

Saturday was spent trying to get caught up on other things, and I almost didn't make it to Appropriate Behavior at Uforge in Jamaica Plain. That was a Chlotrudis screening to showcase a Buried Treasure nominee, although it fit pretty well into the "shouldn't be buried, not quite a treasure" category.

Then, on Sunday, I planned on a pretty quick double feature, which would have worked if I'd just stayed in one place, but I misread times and thought I could leave the Boston Common screening of Jane Got a Gun and use my Christmas gift card for Kung Fu Panda 3 at Fenway, but they didn't line up and I wound up going home and back again for the latter. Didn't mind - it was enjoyable - but I've got to plan that sort of thing better.

The lesson I learn looking at this page? Always get two programs when you go to an unticketed film series, one to keep and one to cut up. Doesn't The Final Girls look cooler than Appropriate Behavior?

The Revenant

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 January 2016 in Somerville Theatre #5 (first-run, DCP)

It can be surprisingly easy to hear too much about a movie, absorb that, and basically have the actual experience of watching it be confirmation bias. I heard a lot about how The Revenant was a lot of beautiful but empty tragedy, to the point where that's what I was looking for and inevitably found. I think I would have found it to be such anyway, especially at this length.

Don't misunderstand; there's a lot that is just stunning about this movie; the opening attack sequence, with so much happening while the camera moves about, is one of the most amazing things of its sort that you'll ever see. It also helps that is at the beginning, so that when director Alejandro González Iñárritu does that one more thing a few times within it, the bit of suffering or mutilation that goes beyond what's necessary to communicate the level of danger and violence always present on the frontier, it's still shocking, where later on Iñárritu has repeated the technique so much that is hard to see it as anything other than a blunt instrument on his part.

He uses a lot of blunt instruments, making Leonardo DiCaprio's Hugh Glad very verbal for much of the movie and having Tom Hardy grunt for less obvious reasons (I wonder if Hardy is drawn to thick-accented, nearly-inarticulate characters, or if that's just how the industry has seen him since Bronson). The film is filed with beautiful but stark landscapes, and it sometimes seems like the only character who is more than a wind-up toy walking in a straight line is Will Poulter's Bridger, a young trapper who winds up attached to Hardy's John Fitzgerald and seems to struggle with his basic decency because he knows that he will likely die if left behind, and thus must be somewhat willfully ignorant of the ruthless measures Fitzgerald is taking.

One other thing that seems a bit off is how Native Americans are used in the film, particularly the one character who is there just to help the white guy and then get killed one he's no longer useful. Taken in aggregate, it's better than most movies do, but these guys especially seem to be fairly extreme stereotypes as individuals. In another movie, it might not be so frustrating, but Iñárritu is so obvious in his simple focus on noble suffering that nothing and nobody gets a chance to become more than a means toward that, even if the cast and crew is doing great work to support it.

The RevenantThe Final GirlsMojaveAppropriate BehaviorJane Got a GunKung Fu Panda 3

Appropriate Behavior

As much as I know that a gallery space is the natural home of independent film presentations like this - way too off the beaten path to get anything like a run, but not obviously the work of a respected-enough artiste to play a bigger venue - it feels like a weird place for me to be, even if I would have liked to move some of the stuff on their walls to my own and a twitter-friend works at and/or exhibits at Uforge, where the Chlotrudis Society is showing a few of the "buried treasure" nominees this winter. I'll be missing the next one, but take a look at what's under "events" to see if you've got a moment.

I probably won't see enough to be able to vote in this category, which is a bummer, but I get really busy with other movie stuff when the rest of the group sees a wide-open period for catching up. I do kind of hope the next one is a bit brighter - this looked really dark, with some scenes seeming like complete blackness.

If I do get to another one, I'm going to have to remember to give myself more time to get out to Jamaica Plain. The Orange Line isn't bad, but I didn't take Google Maps seriously when it said the half a mile from the station would take fifteen minutes to walk, but JP has some twisty roads.

Appropriate Behavior

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 February 2016 in Uforge Gallery (Chlotrudis, projected DVD)

Movies like Appropriate Behavior are good checks for figuring out just to what degree you are becoming a grumpy old person. Do you find the main character whiny and irritating from the start? Do you get over it? Certainly, the filmmakers have a fair amount of say in this, especially in terms of overcoming those issues and becoming reasonably entertaining, as this one manages.

It follows Shirin (Desiree Akhavan), who is just breaking up with girlfriend Maxine (Rebecca Henderson) as things get started, although a fair amount of time will be spent looking at that relationship from start to finish. Shirin has not told her parents (Anh Duong & Hooman Majd) that she's bisexual, and she's not exactly putting her M.A. in journalism to good use, either. Her friend Crystal (Halley Feiffer) does get her a line on a job, though, although teaching an after-school movie-making class to five-year-olds is probably not her dream career.

Desiree Akhavan writes and directs in addition to playing Shirin, and it often seems like one of those cases where the filmmaker has taken "write what you know" to heart even though they don't have the age or experience of doing anything but studying film and making film/TV/web videos. So there's a lot of chatting, bonding over what people dislike, and general obliviousness that takes a while to come across as self-aware; self-centered characters in a relationship (or just out of it) that doesn't have enough warmth or scope to matter to an audience.

Full review on EFC.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 5 February 2016 - 11 February 2016

So, between the sci-fi festival, Chinese New Year, and a new Coen Brothers movie, I figure to enter movie theaters late Friday afternoon and not leave until President's Day, with brief trips to work to break it up.

  • Most of that time will be in the lower floor of The Somerville Theatre, seeing films selected as part of the Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival. It is a long warm-up to next weekend's main event, and I've had some issues with it before, but let's try to be optimistic before being cynical. Warner Archive night on Wednesday looks particularly fun.
  • That location is also one of the theaters opening Hail, Caesar!, the star-studded new screwball comedy from Joel & Ethan Coen. It gets the big room at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, and also plays at Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    The Coolidge will also have two programs worth of Oscar-Nominated Documentary Shorts in the Screening Room. Separate admissions. They also start a "highways to hell" program for the midnights with a 35mm print of The Hitcher on Friday and Saturday night. The original, with C. Thomas Howell and Rutger Hauer. There's also Open Screen on Tuesday and Mortified's Doomed Valentine's Day.
  • It's Chinese New Year come Monday, which means this is one of the biggest film release weekends in the Chinas, which means we get a couple new ones at Boston Common. Amusingly, they're both sequels to movies which haven't had any sort of official release in the United States, although we should be able to jump in pretty clean. The Monkey King 2 recasts the main character with the actor who played the villain in the first one (Aaron Kwok), and features him meeting the monk with whom he would make the Journey to the West, as well as Gong Li and Feng Shaofeng. From Vegas to Macau 3 brings back Chow Yun-fat and Nicholas Tse as master gamblers in a slapstick comedy (at least, if the first is anything to go on). Amusingly, Monkey King 2 is in 3D and Vegas to Macau 3 in 2D. Ip Man 3 also sticks around Boston Common and Revere.
  • Aside from Hail,Casesar!, the multiplexes also get a couple other things. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is pretty much what it sounds like, with Lily James as Elizabeth in a version of the Jane Austen story with the undead added. It's at Apple Fresh Pond, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Revere. Those locations also get The Choice, the most recent adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel, this one apparently involving euthanasia.

    Boston Common also re-opens Creed, upconverted to 3D for some reason, and has a GlobeDocs preview screening of Where to Invade Next on Wednesday evening. Speaking of the Globe, Assembly Row brings back Spotlight (which has been hanging around other theatersas well).
  • Originally slated to play at the sci-fi festival, Dreams Rewired plays The Brattle Theatre from Friday to Sunday. Narrated by Tilda Swinton and pieced together from footage from silent films and early talkies, it describes the history of communication and media. That also lets them segue into a brief all-35mm Surveillance Cinema series, with a double feature of 1984 & Brazil on Tuesday, Caché & Red Road together on Wednesday, and single features of The Lives of Others and Enemy of the State on Thursday. In between, there's a DocYard showing of Kingdom of Shadows, an up-close look at the US/Mexico drug war, on Monday, with director Bernardo Ruiz on-hand for a Q&A.
  • Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond has a few Indian movies opening this weekend and mostly sharing one screen: Bangalore Naatkal is a subtitled Tamil comedy, Speedunnodu a Telugu romantic comedy, Visaranai a Tamil thriller, and Irudhi Suttru is a subtitled boxing drama. They will also be opening the American coming-out comedy 4th Man Out, although just for a couple shows a day.
  • The Harvard Film Archive moves the weekend's "Innocence Abroad" screening up to Friday night this week, with the film in question being David Lean's Summertime, an intimate picture featuring Katharine Hepburn as an American spinster taking a Venice vacation in the 1950s. They continue their Jean Epstein retrospective later that evening with a collection of shorter works, and then re-show Jean Rivette's Out 1 Saturday and Sunday (warning: it's a lot of movie). Then on Monday, VES professor Giuliana Bruno introduces No Home Movie, the final film by Chantal Akerman, which focuses on the relationship between the filmmaker and her mother.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts offers a few more chances to see Matthew Barney's three-act beast River of Fundament, with the complete trilogy showing this Friday and Sunday while there are separate shows of Act 1 on Wednesday, Act 2 on Thursday, and Act 3 next Friday. In between, they are also doing Stanley Kubrick: A Retrospective with Fear and Desire (Sunday/Wednesday), Killer's Kiss (Wednesday/Thursday), and The Killing (Thursday).
  • The Institute of Contemporary Art will be screening the Oscar-Nominated Live Action Shorts Sunday afternoon. Screenings will continue through the month and both this and the Animated program continues at Kendall Square (which otherwise leaves its schedule as-is).
  • This week's Bright Lights teams up with the UMass Boston Film Series for Tuesday's free screening of The Wolfpack; several members of the Angulo family will be on-hand to chat afterward. Producer Anne Carey will visit on Thursday for a screening of Diary of a Teenage Girl


So, yeah, I'll be living at the Somerville Theatre for the sci-fi fest with weekend-morning jaunts downtown for Chinese. I kind of wish the Blu-rays of the earlier installments of those had arrived by now, but when was I doing to watch them?

Thursday, February 04, 2016

The Finest Hours

I haven't been to the "MX4D" screen at the Showcase Cinema in Revere yet, and they don't even have The Finest Hours playinig on it this week. Pretty clearly a waste, because as much as it's a decent movie and machines which jerk the audience around are probably an even greater affront to the director's vision and the idea of cinema as an art form than a hasty 3D post-conversion job, but sitting in theater #2 of the Somerville Theatre, the screen not quite filling my field of vision, I couldn't help but think that would be a lot of fun.

One thing that I did like about it was that the ship itself seemed right. I love walking around on old ships when I travel, loving the cramped spaces and taking a bunch of pictures that probably don't do much for anybody I show them to. Because of my hobbies, I do notice that shooting a movie on them would be night-impossible - there is just no room, so it's impressive how well this movie makes it feel right while still giving everybody room to move.

Jane Got a Gun

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 1 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #2 (first-run, DCP)

Movies like The Finest Hours win people Oscars. Not folks like Chris Pine and Carry Affleck, but the guys listed as doing research and development for the visual effects companies at the other end of the closing credits, who spend months researching the motion of large bodies of water and figuring out how to replicate it on-screen while other engineers build state of the art machinery to both safely twist a set in any conceivable direction and precisely record this movement (while being buffeted by wind and rain machines) so that a third set of people can digitally stitch it together. These accomplishments alone aren't enough to rate a ticket purchase today, but they're a big part of why a movie like this can be dismissed as enjoyable but not extraordinary, and they'll be making movies better well after we move on to the next thing at the multiplex.

All of this technology is in service of a story about people pulling off some impressive feats of their own when a storm and the captain's recklessness tears the tanker Pendleton in half off the coast of Massachusetts in 1952. With the ship's control and communication systems down, engineer Ray Sybert (Affleck) hatches a desperate plan to riff up a manual rudder and run what's left of the ship aground, hoping for rescue before the rising water levels flood the engines and render the pumps inoperable. That rescue will have to come from Bernie Webber (Pine), helming a boat small enough that just getting out of the harbor through the waves the storm is kicking up alive is unlikely.

There are, of course, plenty of other things going on around this - it's about a year since Bernie was unable to rescue the crew of another boat in a similar storm; things are getting serious with Miriam (Holliday Grainger), who is modern and assertive in most ways but skittish about the water; some in the Pendleton crew want to take their chances in the lifeboats; and many of them aren't too fond of Sybert - as there must be to create a little bit of space between the dangerous bits and give the audience reason to remember these guys' names. It's basic stuff that shows up in most movies of this type but the screenwriters seem to do better than most in not piling on with events that oversell the story and director Craig Gillespie doesn't emphasize personal drama in a way that implies that this is what's really challenging very often.

Full review on EFC.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Kung Fu Panda 3

Some recommended reading that I was thinking of during the early going here: A recent "Kaiju Shakedown" column by Grady Hendrix, in which he uses the recent release of Ip Man 3 to discuss the see-saw history of kung fu and wuxia in Chinese entertainment. It's not quite the way is always thought of it - I'd always had the impression of wuxia as swordplay versus kung fu's fists and feet - but the way Hendrix divides it up is interesting and gives me a little hope that maybe the more realistic martial arts will ascend again, because it's cyclical.

It came to mind, obviously, because of the opening sequence which takes in the spirit realm which is a grander sort of fantasy than the film has traded in, which feels like graduation for the characters, although it makes Po and the other characters so powerful that it's hard to imagine what sort of foe they could fight next time. But, like I mention in the review, it seems like a good place to stop. Ironically, that's where Madagascar 3 ended up when they added Bryan Cranston to the cast - more obviously done, sure, but threatening to overflow anyway.

Not that the Kung Fu Panda series is likely to end here - it actually opened bigger in China than the U.S., and there's no way a studio is going to drop something with that sort of pan-Pacific appeal right now. Heck, DreamWorks even worked things so that they could get it considered a Chinese production - it is technically a co-production with "Oriental DreamWorks" which is technically a separate company - so it isn't considered part of the quota of 34 foreign films per year which can only play 30 days each. Po and company are probably the company's best beachhead into that territory, so I don't see them being retired.

Kung Fu Panda 3

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 31 January 2016 in Regal Fenway #7 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

Kung Fu Panda 2 ended with a tease of a hidden panda village, which makes it surprising to me that DreamWorks let four and a half years pass before following that up. Sure, that's partly just how it goes with animation - this stuff takes time - but it's a heck of a long gap considering that the kids who loved the first back in 2008 are teenagers by now, probably feeling like they've outgrown this sort of thing. And while these movies are still plenty of fun, they haven't exactly grown up with their audience.

Before reuniting title character Po (voice of Jack Black) with his long-lost biological father Li Shan (voice of Bryan Cranston), the film introduces its villain: Kai (voice of JK Simmons), a former friend of Master Oogway (voice of Randall Duk Kim) dispatched to the spirit realm 500 years ago when he tried to use the pandas' chi techniques to conquer the world and since forgotten. As Kai escapes to the mortal realm, Master Shifu (voice of Dustin Hoffman) announces his plans to retire and put Po in charge of training, although both Li's arrival and Kai's approach will have the adopted Po seeking to reconnect with his panda roots, especially if that's how he can learn how to harness chi and defeat Kai.

In the same way that the first Kung Fu Panda seemed like a stroke of obvious genius for making characters to match animal-inspired fighting styles, the opening scenes of this movie are a delight: It's every trippy "higher plane" scene from a fantasy wuxia film realized in a way that even the best wire-fu and digital backlot techniques can't quite manage, and that it involves an ox and a turtle doesn't really matter. Heck, that helps keep the audience from getting jolted out of the picture because the characters are doing things that they shouldn't be able to. As expected, this sort of scene demonstrates just how well DreamWorks animators use 3D, as in addition to how great their rendering engine is throughout. Aside from the tech, the filmmakers do a great job of filling the screen with good-looking stuff without it becoming too much for the adults in the audience, even during a big action scene where Po and half a dozen other kung fu matters have enough to keep them busy. They get a lot of good jokes out of their menagerie of characters as well.

Full review on EFC.

Jane Got a Gun

In addition to the Weinstein Brothers shenanigans that have kept Jane Got a Gun on the shelf for two years or so, there was a Relativity banner at the front of the movie, although I don't recall seeing them credited in the titles at all, so I'm curious as to whether that was also part of the film's sporty history. That production company with Sudo ambitions seems to be reaching the end of its bankruptcy reorganization, so I can see that being a hold-up.

Even if that's the case, there seems to be little doubt that Lynn Ramsey walking away days before production started is the defining event for this movie, no matter how much has happened since then. The "trivia" part of this thing's IMDB page is a dizzying merry-go-round of recasting, people quitting in solidarity, and others coming in last-minute. At the time, I wondered why the film went ahead at all and couldn't come up with any answer other than Natalie Portman still being attached and really wanting to do it, especially since she was a producer as well as the star. I suppose it's also possible enough work had been done (and enough people were being paid regardless) that the producers figured they ought to spend a bit more money to have a movie that might sell some tickets, discs, and streams to eventually make up the difference.

As much as I tried to review just what was on screen without making any suppositions, I can't help but be really curious about how the switch off directors and subsequent recasting changed the movie. Portman and Joel Edgerton were Ramsey hires (though Edgerton for a different role), and they give pretty low-key performances, with Ram McGregor a bit more boisterous, and I wonder how much of that was the holdover carrying Ramsay's vision of the movie (presumably very naturalistic with the director working to pull something sharp from her cast) over despite O'Connor's more meat-and-paps style. You kind of see it in the general look of the movie, too - everything is built to be weathered, worn-down, and busy in the present, and I suspect Ramsey and her cinematographer might have gone for tighter, darker shots than the brightly-lit movie (with one notable exception) that got made. Even if that's not the case, it must be pretty strange to take over a wild west town built to another filmmaker's specifications.

SPOILERS!

The end, for what it's worth, feels like it must have been changed at some point, like some sort of gut-punch has been removed and an improbable reunion inserted in its stead. It makes the movie feel like it's about it always being possible to return to how things should be despite everything up until then being about how things have changed the characters irrevocably.

!SRELIOPS

And for one last observation - digital is no way to see a Western, no matter who did what. Sitting in the front section for what is presumably 2K projection probably doesn't help, but seeing it that way just looked wrong.

Jane Got a Gun

* * (out of four)
Seen 31 January 2016 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, DCP)

I wonder, idly, if The Weinstein Company sat on Jane Got a Gun so long in the hopes that it would become "that sort of disappointing western" rather than "that movie that self-destructed in spectacular fashion and was put back together without many of the things that made it interesting". I don't know that it becomes a great movie with Lynn Ramsey directing the original cast, but it seems like one where just a little more investment could have made a big difference.

It opens with Jane Hammond (Natalie Portman) playing with her daughter at their homestead in 1871 New Mexico, just as husband Bill (Noah Emmerich) arrives. It's not a happy reunion, as he falls off his horse with three bullets in his back. Old enemies the Bishop Boys have caught up with him, and with "Ham" to injured to move, Jane drops their daughter off with a friend and loads up on weapons, recruiting gunslinger Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton) to defend them. Billy Bishop (Ewan McGregor) has about a dozen men, and there's also the issue of what Jane's and Dan's history adds to the situation.

Putting these three in a house together should make things plenty tense regardless of how close the Bishop Boys are, and yet it often seems surprisingly businesslike, with the idea of these three being an uneasy alliance far more involving than what actually happens on screen. There are flashbacks enough to go around, and the occasional conversation discussing what those scenes miss, but this serves more to point out that there's tension and history between these people, and maybe explain it, but seldom to bring it into sharp relief. The best moments along those lines are probably the least articulated verbally, as Ham lies in the bed, every part of his body rapidly failing him, watching his wife's former lover take his place. It's a hellish scenario and director Gavin O'Connor makes the most of it, blurring the picture in point-of-view shots and being very careful with when Ham is in frame.

Full review on EFC.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Mojave

Barely getting this up before the film finishes it's Brattle run, but that's OK; it's available on demand, which itself probably explains why its theatrical presence is so tiny. I like it, though, and it looks nice enough on screen to be worth a trip to the theater.

One thing that does kind of interest me:

SPOILERS!

In the review, I imply that writer/director William Monahan likely identified more with the bookish hitman than the film director, which is obviously complete supposition. But if it is the case, I'm curious what the end means. Maybe nothing, maybe just that even when you think you've got something figured out, it can turn around and bite you in the ass.

!SRELIOPS

Mojave

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 29 January 2016 in the Brattle Theatre (first-run/Special Presentation, DCP)

William Monahan's new film is right on the line between the crime movies where the filmmakers are aware of the genre's tropes and can therefore share a wink as it uses or avoids them and the movies which spend so much time examining their own archetypes that they neglect their own stories. It would probably take only the smallest of pushes for Mojave to end up on the wrong side of that line, and it may wind up that way for some; for the rest, it should work nicely as a compact bit of Hollywood crime.

Thomas (Garrett Hedlund) is a creature of Hollywood, both as a motion picture director and as a guy famous and powerful enough to be frustratingly erratic. He takes a drive out into the desert and wrecks his car, although he's resourceful enough to make his way back out. On the way, he bumps into Jack (Oscar Isaac), an apparent drifter with a rifle who likes his Shakespeare and is probably just as dangerous as he seems. Thomas gets away, and is soon back to business as usual with his producer (Mark Wahlberg), agent (Walton Goggins), and star/mistress (Louise Bourgoin), but he's become a loose end for Jack, who is just as intelligent as he is crazy.

Monahan pursued scholarly and satirical writing before winding up in the movie business, and as such has probably placed more of himself in Jack, the nominal antagonist, than any other character. Jack's a smart guy, well-read in the classics and philosophy, and as such both an odd fit for the movie world but also capable of moving through it like a hungry shark when he gets acclimated. There's a sense throughout of there being riches there for the taken unless things are derailed by the odd, amoral people who live there, so wrapped up in their own highly-specific struggles that they don't think much about actual physical danger when it appears. Monahan uses Jack to present what is likely his own point of view, someone able to navigate Hollywood despite not still being of it, not blind to the decay around him.

Full review on EFC.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Final Girls

So, after noting them in Next Week In Tickets for a long time, being interested in it just because programmer Anna Feder always seemed genuinely enthusiastic about what she was doing when working with the Boston Underground Film Festival, and liking both free movies and the space they occupy, I finally made my first trip out to the Bright Lights series for The Final Girls.

Since it's an Emerson College presentation, there's a very real possibility that I was twice the meidan age of the folks attending. That's sobering.

Todd Strauss-Schulson at Bright Lights photo 20160128_2048161_zpsiuwdyk8g.jpg

Give this to director Todd Strauss-Schulson - he was down for a good Q&A, sticking around for about an hour or so, seeming genuinely enthusiastic that the audience at his alma mater showed up for and dug his movie, and speaking pretty frankly about being disappointed by how the sales and distribution end worked: A prime spot at SXSW didn't really translate into any offers from places that would do more than Stage 6 (Sony's VOD-focused label) would despite the fact that this is a movie that works pretty well with an audience.

It was kind of interesting to hear him talk about how they were kind of hands-on, in that he seemed to resent it as is natural and probably healthy but most of what came out of it was pretty good ideas: They insisted what was a fairly gory screenplay become a PG-13 movie, but audiences getting into the kills might have undercut what the movie was going for; there were reshoots after a test screening indicated that the obligatory romance wasn't enough for the ending to rest on, and it really was obligatory; and so on. I kind of wonder where the line is between filmmakers feeling it was helpful and not.

Anyway, they talked about how it was apparently developing a cult following, noting that there was a midnight screening lined up at the Cooldige in April and that there's been a good response online, including fanfic and mashups. I kind of wonder if that will be used as a measuring stick eventually.

It's not bad, and I'm glad I got to see it with a crowd.

(Pointless aside: Co-star Alexander Ludwig apparently also appeared in a movie named "Final Girl" last year. That's not confusing at all!)

The Final Girls

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 January 2016 in the Bright Screening Room (Bright Lights, digital)

You can tell from the title that this movie is going to be playing on horror movie tropes - the "final girl" being the last survivor of a massacre who takes down the killer - but that's often the last interesting thing in play with it. On the other hand, it's got a very nice cast and a hook that invites the audience to actually care from the start rather than just snickering at how silly the whole thing is.

The setup introduces the audience to Max Cartwright (Taissa Farmiga), a high-school senior whose actress mother Amanda (Malin Akerman) died in a car accident three years ago; her best friend Gertie (Allia Shawkat); Gertie's step-brother Duncan (Thomas Middleditch); Chris (Alexander Ludwig), the tutor Max has a crush on; and Vicki (Nina Dobrev), Chris's envious ex. The cinema where Duncan works is screening one of Amanda's old movies, Camp Bloodbath, and because of a bunch of jerks who don't know how to act in a movie theater, they wind up trying to escape a fire via the emergency exit behind the screen. Instead, they wind up inside the movie, where Amanda's girl-next-door Nancy is just one of several characters slated to be dismembered.

They quickly figure that the only way out of the movie is to be among the survivors at the end, but this part of the story really makes no sense whatsoever, from the theory being formulated to how it plays out to how inconsistent and hole-filled it is in between. The whole "sex equals death in horror movies" trope feels like warmed-over Scream, good for some broad comedy as campers Kurt (Adam DeVine) and Tina (Angela Trimbur) bounce about in a way that is basically asking for it given that set-up but not exactly fresh material satirically. When this material is actually driving decision-making, it can get sort of frustrating, as director Todd Strauss-Schulson and writers M.A. Fortin & Joshua John Miller seem to have the characters adopt "movie logic" that can't quite be pinned down a bit too readily, struggling with how it conflicts with actual logic.

Full review on EFC.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 29 January 2016 - 4 February 2016

Man, all those previews for Lazer Team and it doesn't show up. Not that I wanted it to, but that's something like a half hour of my life a lot of aggregate screen-time given an ad that amounted to nothing.

(Hopefully it won't be a case where the local theater guys don't realize that it's been bypassed and keep putting the trailer on things well after its release; that's happened too).

Anyway, on to what actually is playing!

  • DreamWorks gets a jumpstart on Chinese New Year with Kung Fu Panda 3, the newest installment of the series with Jack Black voicing a roly-poly fanboy who becomes a kung fu master, picking up on the tease from, yikes, four and a half years ago that promises more pandas. In 2D and 3D at the Arlington Capitol (2D only), Apple Fresh Pond, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Revere (including MX4D & XPlus). Boston Common cleans its Chinese offerings up a bit, but keeps Ip Man 3, which also expands to Revere. Revere is also keeping Brazilian comedy Vai que Cola around, as well.

    The Finest Hours is also playing in 2D/3D, although it seems like more an after-the-fact conversion than something doing 3D natively. That one, about a seemingly doomed rescue of a fishing vessel during a mammoth storm, plays at the Somerville Theatre (2D only), Apple Fresh Pond (2D only), Fenway (RPX screen only), , Boston Common (including Imax 3D), Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    Slightly smaller openings are on tap for a couple more: Fifty Shades of Black stars Marlon Wayans and spoofs... Well, you can guess. It's at Apple Fresh Pond, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Revere. And believe it or not, Jane Got a Gun - a western starring Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor that had crazy behind-the-scenes issues and has basically sat on the shelf for nearly two years - finally comes out. It's at Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere.

  • Kendall Square gets a bit crowded with most of the award-nominated stuff sticking around while other stuff opens. That includes the Academy Nominated Short Films, at least in the animated and live action categories. They're sharing a theater, so it's a natural double feature. They and West Newton also pick up Lady in the Van, starring Maggies Smith as a homeless woman who parks her van in playwright Alan Bennett's driveway and sticks around for years.

  • The Brattle Theatre gets a new release this weekend with Mojave, the latest from William Monahan, which has a Hollywood type (Garrett Hedlund) meeting a drifter in the Mojave Desert, onlyl to have the guy follow him home. Nice cast which also includes Mark Wahlberg and Walton Goggins. It plays Friday to Monday.

    The theater is closed Tuesday, but has a David Bowie tribute on Wednesday with Labyrinth; the 7pm show has already sold out but there are likely still tickets for the 9:30pm. Then, on Thursday, they have a special screening of Forks Over Knives, with the documentary preceded by a meet & greet and book signing with Rip Esselstyn.

  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre re-opens Youth on Friday so that it's around as they pay tribute to co-star Jane Fonda, who will be there for a screening and Q&A at the 12pm show on Sunday. That will, in fact, be the only movie they show all day, as they make ready for An Evening with Jane Fonda at 8pm that night, where she will receive the annual Coolidge Award. Later in the week, Nine to Five screens on Wednesday.

    In other special presentations, they wrap up their Tarantino midnights with From Dusk Til Dawn on Friday and Saturday, screening it on 35mm. They also celebrate Groundhog Day on Tuesday by screening the movie with screenwriter Daniel Rubin on-hand for Q&A afterward.

  • The Harvard Film Archive has two new programs this week, with professor Sarah Keller introducing some early films by Jean Epstein on Friday - 6½ x 11 & "His Head" at 7pm and The Faithful Heart at 9:30pm. As these are early enough to be silent, Robert Humphreville will be providing musical accompaniment; the first two are presented on 35mm and the last on video. They'll stick to French legends on Saturday and Sunday, with all eight episodes of Jacques Rivette's Out 1 screening over two days. That's nearly 13 hours' worth, and if folks need to tap out, they will be re-run next weekend. It bumps the 35mm "Innocence Abroad" screening of The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone to Monday evening.

  • The Museum of Fine Arts finishes this year's Boston Festival of Films from Iran with 316 (Friday/Sunday), Melbourne (Friday/Saturday), Atomic Heart (Friday), and Avalanche (SaturdaySunday). They also start their February calendar with the king-sized River of Fundament, the latest from Matthew Barney which clocks in at nearly six hours in three acts ($22 for all three, $11 per) and stars Paul Giamatti, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Ellen Brunstyn. All three acts play in order on Wednesday and Thursday.

    • Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond, in addition to opening a few apparently-unsubtitled Indian movies, also has the odd booking of Israeli horror movie Jeruzalem for 11am screenings Friday-Sunday, moving to 1:30pm Monday-Thursday. That is some odd booking strategy on someone's part.
    • The UMass Boston Film Series starts their Spring season on Tuesday with a free screening of Field Niggas, the first documentary feature from photographer Khalik Allah, who will visit to discuss his portrait of the poorest, most beset residents of Harlem. As per usual, it is free for all at the Campus Center Ballroom.
    • The Institute of Contemporary Art has a group of short films for familys on Saturday as part of their Play Date events, which also includes a stop-motion workshop.
    • This week's Bright Lights screenings in the Bright Screening Room at ArtsEmerson's Paramount Theater are American Beatboxer on Tuesday, with producer Rich McKeown and beatboxer gene Shinozaki on-hand afterward, and Truth, with a post-film discussion of ethics in journalism.
    • Two movies at The Regent Theatre this week: A preview of "Homeplace Under Fire", a featurette about the attempt to keep family farms going presented by Farm Aid, with director Charles Thompson and others on-hand for a post-film Q&A. Another director will be on hand with his film on Thursday, as Eric Green presents Life on the V: The Story of V66, a documentary on Boston's over-the-air music video station of the mid-1980s.


    My plans: Kung Fu Panda 3, Mojave, The Finest Hours, Jane Got a Gun and whatever other catch-up I can do before the Sci-Fi Film Festival devours far more of my life than it deserves next week.