Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Boston Underground Film Festival 2014.4: Crimes Against Humanity, American Jesus, Starry Eyes, about half of EDSA XXX

Some year, I'm going to be up and about early enough for BUFF's Saturday Morning Cartoons program, although maybe it's better that I don't. As much as I think I've got a pretty good attitude about not getting wrapped up in nostalgia or romanticizing my youth, seeing a bunch of folks half my age enjoying the stuff I loved wholeheartedly as a kid ironically will move me toward years and/or rage. Yes, that means I'm feeling my age, which also means that I don't mind skipping the music video program that comes afterward to have a festival day that starts at 5pm and doesn't follow a full day of work.

"Crimes Against Humanity" filmmakers

First up: Crimes Against Humanity, with director Jerzy Rose and company on hand. It's a gleefully black comedy set partly in academia, which got maybe a little more play than it should have. It's a fairly universal comedy of terrible things happening to the people who don't go out of their way to be jerks to each other, although the environment of a college campus does have some unique features. More importantly, though, Rose had that sort of "assistant to the dean" job at one point and at least noted that there was some absurdity to be mined from it.

Frank Schaeffer Jr. of American Jesus

There was no guest planned for American Jesus, but Frank Schaeffer Jr. showed up, and it sounded more like he realized that a documentary that he was interviewed for was playing near his home and decided to show up than the festival folks hearing that one of the people involved was local and calling him up. I may have that wrong, but it certainly seemed like there was that kind of confusion going on.

At least it turned out that Schaeffer had an interesting background and was in a good position to converse on the entire sweep of the film rather than just his involvement as a result: He was raised by what now would be considered a very unusual evangelical family in Europe, promoted the cause as a filmmaker during its first jump forward in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and then fell away from it as his politics and outlook changed while the movement itself grew more fortified. So, yes, he had thoughts about America's many brand of self-defined Christianity, and often appears on talk shows to discuss them.

He also mentioned that he doesn't hold much truck with the militant atheists, and these days attends Greek Orthodox services, but stopped short of identifying himself as still being a believe. He said he was drawn to the mysticism of the Orthodox Church, which is admittedly weird to me; I tend to think that once you've become fed up with the hypocrisy and twisting the world to suit your dogma of a religion, you might as well follow that all the way down and rip out the roots rather than search for a branch you like better, but I guess when a certain thing speaks to you, it speaks to you.

Almost completely unrelated: This had the logo of Larry Fessenden's Glass Eye Pix on it, and he was listed as a producer. Just another reminder that despite being a guy best known for directing horror movies, he certainly has his hands in a while bunch of interesting things.

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Now, there's something you don't see at every film festival, especially before a movie filled with cynicism and blood. But, then, that's part of what makes festivals like this awesome; there is a community here, so if you're going to have a whole bunch of friends in a room anyway, why not say some vows? Sure, you've also got a whole bunch of random people like me in there, but by this point in the festival, we've got a bunch of affection for Nicole and Evrim too, and our congratulations are far from obligatory.

"Starry Eyes" filmmakers

There was, in fact, a movie playing in that slot, and Starry Eyes filmmakers Dennis Widmyer & Kevin Kölsch were there for a post-movie Q&A. Their movie was actually one that had me dancing around things in the review, because even if they were laid out in the festival program, they were far enough out of my head by the time they happened for me to be taken aback, and it seemed worth preserving the surprise. But, since you really can't talk about this movie without getting into the last act...


I wish I was able to formulate what I thought of a movie more quickly, because I'm kind of curious just how much of this movie was about literalizing casual statements like "I'm pulling out my hair" or "I'd kill/sell my soul for that part", and how many I missed. They do a pretty impressive job with it, building just enough of a backstory so that the metaphor doesn't seem entirely naked, and making it work from both ends. Yes, this is a story about a young woman selling herself for fame, but it also covers the flip side of the studios co-opting young talent and using that to destroy possible independent competition. I'm almost surprised that the movie didn't take things a step or two further and have Sarah played by a different actress at the end rather than just having a new look, although that's probably more my personal fondness for complete transformations, and more an Old Hollywood type of story anyway.

One thing they did talk about was really being excited by the idea of introducing an obvious heroine and seeing how long it took for the audience to realize that she was not actually a good person, but was in fact willing to take the shortcuts, betray her friend, and sell her soul for a piece of the big time rather than build something on her own. It's a nifty track we don't see that much of; even though Sarah goes bad pretty quickly here, it's very impressive how it happens right in front of our faces without feeling like a turn until there is absolutely no going back.


Good, interesting Q&A, and between that and the pre-movie ceremonies, the hour between the end of Starry Eyes and the start of EDSA XXX on the schedule pretty much vanished, so I didn't have "well, I don't want to just hang around Harvard Square in the wet" as an excuse to bail on the midnight and get a couple hours more sleep in my bed. Shouldn't have needed the excuse, of course, as I wound up drifting off during that last film a lot, and, well, let's just say that I'm not going to be looking out for it on other festival schedules.

"Oui, Meu Amor" ("Hi, My Love")

* * * (out of four)
Seen 29 March 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (BUFF 16, digital)

Setup, obvious (at least in retrospect) punchline, roll credits. That's what you can do in four minutes, and director Robert G. Putka hits that target well.

It's not quite that simple, obviously; a big part of why this one works is because it is played completely straight, right up through the final gag, to the point where it doesn't even have to play like a comedy piece if that's not where the viewer's head is at that moment. That is actually pretty neat.

"Where Does It Go from Here?"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 March 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (BUFF 16, digital)

This is the second short film directed by Robert G. Putka in the block before the rather short Crimes Against Humanity, although at thirteen minutes it's not quite the same sort of tight joke setup, and that hurts it a little bit, because the payoff is trying to recast much more material in a somewhat different light. Also, the gags leading up to it - man is just a general jerk in situations where a little tact might be advised - is kind of tricky. The short is building up the "he won't actually go there with his sick mother" bit, but it's barely ahead of the rate at which it's alienating the audience, and by the end, n the two are more or less neck-and-neck. I think the funny comes out ahead, but it's awfully close.

Crimes Against Humanity

* * * (out of four)
Seen 29 March 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (BUFF 16, digital)

Even by black comedy standards, Crimes Against Humanity is kind of on the mean side. That's no knock; mean can work, especially in a movie like this that is more about tying jokes together than building to one thing - especially if it's got some pretty good jokes.

A lot of the rancor comes from Lewis Henry (Mike Lopez), whom we first meet passively-aggressively reminding his girlfriend Brownie (Lyra Hill) that he's off to work and maybe she should work on that. Said job is as an assistant to the dean at a local university, where he's having a grand time acting as a liaison to a private eye (Adam Paul) investigating something untoward in the ethnomusicology department. While he's doing that, Brownie has her first bit of just terrible luck, and while there may seem to be a silver lining in how it connects her with similarly-troubled Rory (Ted Temper), things are going to get much worse for her.

How bad? Well, that would be spoiling things, but make no mistake, writer/director Jerzy Rose has a cruel streak, and some of the indignities he and co-writer Halle Butler visit upon the cast are the actual literal epitomes of random ill fortune. They're still funny, though, in part because every character has had some trait or another exaggerated to the point where it is kind of annoying. Sure, it's kind of being a jerk for Lewis, but Brownie's tendency toward helplessness does make a dent in how sweet she can be. Even the straight men whose job it is to kind of talk sense to the lunatics around them push it too far, so it's kind of fun to see them take a literal or figurative beating, even if it is comically out of proportion.

Full review at EFC

American Jesus

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (BUFF 16, digital)

As one of the many interviewees in this documentary notes, developed countries worldwide have generally seen a rise in the standard of living reflected by a decrease in strong religious faith, with the United States of America as an anomaly: As other nations grow more secular, vocal Christians grow ever more prominent in this nation. Why this is the case is just one of the questions Spanish director Aram Garriga asks, and even if he doesn't exactly answer any of them, what he finds along the way is generally interesting.

As the film starts, though, it feels less like a pointed investigation than a survey. The filmmakers travel the country, finding specialty churches all around: Hippie churches, surfer churches, mixed martial artists getting together to share their beliefs. Some seem to be commercially inspired (the MMA guy sells t-shirts), but most come across as fairly sincere. Eventually, the film gets to things like snake-handlers, mega-churches, and the birth of the modern evangelical movement in the 1970s.

Garriga and his team are, perhaps, building the film in the only way that makes sense; it's a very different movie if you start from the folks pushing a unified political agenda and then proceed outward to the eccentrics, and choppy if you go back and forth. The trouble is that the evangelicals are the most visible facet of American Christianity whether you're looking at the U.S. from inside or outside, so this movie initially seems to be dancing around the important stuff, and by the time it gets there, it is trying to juggle more topics than it can properly handle. And even with all that going on, it can still feel like it ignores the mainstream.

Full review at EFC


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 29 March 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (BUFF 16, digital)

A basic horror short which doesn't do anything particularly wrong and actually manages a good, gritty authenticity, but while it's got a hook that seems like it could come to something genuinely creepy - a persistent sound one can't get rid of is identifiable and also potentially nightmarish - there actually doesn't turn out to be a whole lot you can do with it. It's horrible, sure, but there's no story there, and when director Iain Marcks tries to boost that, there's no time to get into what's going on.

Starry Eyes

* * * (out of four)
Seen 29 March 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (BUFF 16, digital)

I am going to guess that the makers of Starry Eyes have not necessarily always enjoyed their time trying to make it in L.A. Sure, just by having made this movie, they have managed to get further than their characters, but it's not hard to see the inspiration for this movie: Take everything people say in jest about what it takes to succeed in Hollywood, and mean it.

As things start, Sarah Walker (Alex Essoe) is saying those things. She's pretty, young, tight-bodied, not untalented, and willing to spend almost every hour she's not working at a dinner with a kind of pervy dress code in acting class to improve her craft. But just when it looks like she has failed another audition for another crappy horror movie, a casting assistant makes note of the frustration and desperation that has her pulling out her hair in the ladies' room afterward and tells her to make use of that - one way or the other.

Sarah is not alone in this, of course - she's got a roommate in roughly the same situation and other friends with similar goals - but she's the one that's going to be tested, and there's dark territory to get through before anyone comes out on the other side. How dark? Enough that when things get really crazy toward the end, the audience is ready to accept this as the logical extension of everything else that has been going on, rather than the sudden and drastic shift in genres as which it might otherwise register. It's probably still going to lose some viewers, but more for the explicit way it goes about making this shift than the shift itself.

Full review at EFC


N/A (out of four)
Seen 29 March 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (BUFF 16, digital)

If there's another film by Khavn at Fantasia or the next Boston Underground, you might argue that whether or not I wind up seeing it is any kind of referendum on my ability to learn. The last film of his that I tried to see, Mondomanila, knocked me out mid-afternoon, and while I felt pretty good going into this midnight screening... Well, there are large chunks I never saw. I'm beginning to suspect that liking Son of God as much as I did is as much related to him having a co-director and making something that I could at least mistake for a regular documentary.

To be fair, I suspect that this one will fall somewhat flat for anybody without a connection to the Philippines. The satire is very specific, and those of us who haven't kept on the archipelago's history beyond vaguely remembering the awful absurdity of Ferdinand & Imelda Marcos will be lost to some extent. And as awesome as the idea of guys making movies with whatever they've got is, I think you've got to be a little more accessible for it to be worth cutting through the camp.

Monday, April 14, 2014


I was kind of surprised to see that Joe was only showing up on one screen in the metro Boston area, and that one a multiplex; this is a thing that has been getting great reviews, and while David Gordon Green's art-house productions can sometimes be an acquired taste, this is a movie with a marquee-worthy star and a pretty solid plot. It is, in short, really accessible, and i wondered why there wasn't more accessing being done.

Well, as it turns out, we were lucky to get this much, as it's getting a day-and-date release on demand, and the local theaters, for the most part, avoid those like the plague. I've heard it's actually policy at AMC and Regal, although it appears that AMC will make exceptions in a few cases - the big Veronica Mars buy by Warner Brothers, for instance, and I wouldn't be totally shocked if Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions offered the chain a good incentive to put this on the "AMC Independent" schedule, which at least included some posters hung in the lobby. I kind of hate the way that while on-demand services are generally a good thing in terms of getting a movie to a broad audience while people are still talking about it (after living in Portland, ME and Worcester, MA, I know what it's like for them to never make it near me until they're old news), that also pulls them out of theaters because they rightly or wrongly don't think they can compete with VOD.

Sad, if true - although I know a lot of folks who will say that they don't think the theatrical experience is important for movies like Joe which don't have a lot of big action and visual effects, I do think the big-screen environment helps it immensely. It was, admittedly, a small audience when i saw it, but that probably owed as much to it being a 10pm show (I had other things on the schedule) than lack of interest.

Anyway, I suspect Joe won't be long for the theaters it's in, but it's well worth seeing. It may just be my favorite thing David Gordon Green has done and one of Nicolas Cage's best performances.


* * * * (out of four)
Seen 12 April 2014 in AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run, DCP)

Look at Joe, and you see a couple of people who haven't necessarily done their best work for the past few years. Some will say director David Gordon Green's Prince Avalanche was a return to form after a string of crude Hollywood comedies, but even those who liked it more than I can look at star Nicolas Cage's career and point out that just doing one good movie doesn't put things back on the right track; you've got to stick with it. And while there's no guarantee that this is the start of a good run for either, it's the best work either has done for some time, both working at the top of their game to make a terrific movie.

The title character, played by Cage, makes a living poisoning trees with his crew - the logic being that the land's owners are prevented from repurposing this land while healthy trees are there, but if they die, it can be developed or replanted with profitable pines (as you might expect, this is an off-the-books cash business). His path intersects in a couple of ways with Gary (Tye Sheridan), a 15-year-old boy whose family has drifted into town, chased away from their last squat by Gary's father Wade (Gary Poulter) getting into trouble again. Joe gives both jobs, but only Gary impresses. And while Joe may be a better role model for Gary than Wade, that is a low, low bar to clear.

We are told, early on, that Joe has had his problems, and he talks about how so many of his decisions are made as a deliberate attempt at restraint. Restraint is, safe to say, not what Cage is best known for, and both he and Green make some good use of this: Even behind a full beard, there's often a sign of something feral in his eyes and an ever-increasing tightness in how he speaks and holds himself. This holds up even when he's softening around Gary, and that he does so is not totally surprising; for as much as he makes Joe a dangerous, combustible guy, it never seems odd that the people of this small town mostly seem to like him, there's something earnest along with the danger.

Full review at EFC

Saturday, April 12, 2014

L'image Manquante (The Missing Picture)

The story from the first paragraph of the EFC review is absolutely true - the bus I take home seemed to skip a circuit, so by the time I was at Central Square on the Red Line, I was doing the math that said it would take a few minutes to get from here to the next stop, and then I've timed myself at about seven minutes between the T stop and the theater, which gives me a five minute cushion, but they really don't have anything starting afterward that I want to use as a plan B if that's not enough, and I'm kind of worn out and there's baseball on TV and aw, screw it, I'll get off here and go home. I'm hungry for something that doesn't come from a concession stand anyway.

I'll be honest, every time there is a blank day on a This Week in Tickets page, I've probably had some variant of that conversation with myself, and it's a lot easier to go home when the movie involved is certain to be the sort of downer that had phrases like "Khmer Rouge work camp" in the title. I admire the folks who can spend a much bigger chunk of their leisure time watching the news, or focusing on things that have something important to say while I'm planning my movie-watching around the French cartoon with the mouse and bear. I think the importance of the latter is often underestimated, but I know that I talk myself out of the difficult material all too often.

That's probably not going to change, but I do wish I hadn't delayed seeing this one those twenty-four hours. Maybe I would have had something written in time to possibly interest one or two people in seeing it before the end of its brief Boston-area run (seven days, and splitting a screen with Particle Fever for those). It's an interesting documentary, both for what it's about and the creative way the filmmakers get it across, and I hope people find other ways to discover it.

L'Image Manquante (The Missing Picture)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 9 April 2014 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, DCP)

I passed on seeing The Missing Picture one night this week, overstating in my head how tight a squeeze it would be to get to the theater on time because I wasn't in the mood for it that night. The trouble with that thinking, though, is that one might never truly be in the mood for a documentary about someone's experiences in a Khmer Rouge labor camp, especially during the short window such a film will play theatrically in most cities, even with an Oscar nomination to its name. So, considering that, I went the next day, and was glad I did; if nothing else, the way Rithy Panh chooses to tell his story is quite memorable.

The story itself is horrific, although one that is frequently lost amid history: Director Rithy Panh was living in Phnom Penh, part of a middle-class family, when Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge took the city in 1975. From there his story matches that of many others: Assigned new first names, clothes dyed a uniform black, he and his family are put to work in a camp growing rice without nearly enough food, water, or medicine to make this experiment in a new Kampuchea work. A great many die, with Panh's survival seeming equal parts tenacity and randomness.

Panh has produced, directed, and appeared in plenty of conventional documentaries about those events over the course of his adult life, so this time out he tries something different. There are no on-screen interviews in this movie, just narration spoken by Randal Douc, a stream-of-consciousness ramble that captures the confusion of a child thrown into a strange, dangerous, and quite frankly insane environment, even as an adult sorrow is an important aspect of the tone. Douc's voice is the soundtrack to mostly black-and-white stock footage at times, while at others the screen is filled with hand-carved and painted clay figurines, set up in dioramas to tell Panh's personal story which neither pre-revolutionary stock footage nor propaganda shots of the camp can convey.

Full review at EFC

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Boston Underground Film Festival 2014.3: Kept, Homegrown Horror, Doomsdays, The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears

I took the day off work so that I could see Kept, and almost didn't make it in time. That is, apparently, just the way I roll when trying to write during festivals or not going to them straight from work.

Anyway, there were plentiful guests on Friday. I didn't get a picture of Marc Walkow introducing Kept because of how late I got there, but I was glad to see him. It's not a real genre/underground festival unless he's there presenting something from Japan, and it was a nifty switch to see him involved with a movie that does not involve a post-film Q&A in a diaper.

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After that came the Homegrown Horror segment, which was plenty of fun, and since it was by definition local, a lot of folks game out to support it. I'm somewhat critical of the movies involved in the rundown, but it's worth noting that "New England" is not a huge pool to draw from, so getting this much good and promising stuff is pretty impressive.

"Doomsdays" director Eddie Mullins photo DSCN00691_zpsc1095eee.jpg

Is it just me, or does Doomsdays director Eddie Mullins look more at ease with the whole filmmaker Q&A thing than he did last summer? Maybe it was just the situation - primetime slot at BUFF's only screen as opposed to a later slot at Fantasia's secondary venue - but it struck me as looser than before. It is interesting to me that former critic Mullins does tend to talk technically much more than guys who came to filmmaking from a more traditional direction do. He'll talk about hating doing coverage or continuity cutting, where others will use less jargon, saying "it's what works emotionally" or the like. I wonder, a bit, whether it's being much more conscious of what he's doing or being more inclined to articulate it in detail.

After that was done, The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears, which knocked me out enough that I can't even fake reviewing it, which meant that the midnight shorts program was right out of the question.

Ra (Kept)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (BUFF 16, digital)

The folks who made Kept don't usually do this sort of thing; their names usually show up on light-hearted but bloody genre movies. The same lo-fi methods and sensibilities are in place here as Maki Mizui makes her first film as a director, even if the subject matter trends toward real-world horrors.

Those threats don't come with a whole lot of warning; Misasto (Mohoma), a woman in her early twenties, is walking home from work one evening when she is snatched off the street, blindfolded, and taken to a quiet area by an anonymous man who is about the same age (Ken Koba). Misato starts talking to her abductor, whether from nerves or figuring it will make him less likely to do something even more violent, and maybe that's part of why things go the way they do over the next several weeks or months.

Mizui could have followed a number of well-worn paths - the procedural, the revenge thriller, the drama emphasizing others' reactions - but instead half the movie seems to go into a state of shell-shock. It's a thorough enough withdrawal that when new characters are introduced, they almost seem like complete replacements of the previous protagonists, setting up a structure akin to Psycho. It's not quite what Mizui is going for, creating a bit of confusion later on, but it works on other fronts.

Full review at EFC

Homegrown Horror

Seen 28 March 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (BUFF 16, digital)

I kind of hate reviewing this program - one friend put it together, another had a film in it, there's a good chance any short made around Boston or Portland could be friends of friends... And I can be pretty fussy where horror and shorts are concerned. So, please, don't get too upset, guys.

"Vlog" - Kind of a fun premise here, with a self-styled vampire hunter keeping a video blog of his exploits, eventually discovering and clashing with a nemesis both on YouTube and in the real world. It's fairly amusing bit, although while director Arik Beatty mostly sidesteps one of my regular amateur-filmmaking issues, it does occasionally make you wonder about who's holding the camera. Also, do people who aren't filmmakers actually vlog? It seems like something much more likely to be used in movies than real life.

"The Creed" - Kevin James's parody is one of the more actually entertaining horror spoofs you'll see, in large part because it's not just goofing on genre conventions in that one can describe it in a way that doesn't reference them at all. Folks get "woman haunted by her past bad taste in music", and Julie Becker gives a cheerful, funny performance as the lady in question. And while I must admit that I couldn't tell you anything about Creed other than that they are often used as a punchline, you don't actually have to share the filmmakers' taste in music to laugh at the jokes. For something that could have smothered itself under two layers of snobbery, that's a nice trick.

"The Cost of Doing Business" - Not a particular favorite; it's a "turning the tables on someone who worked for a lousy company" story that never hits the right balance between getting the audience behind or repulsed by its viciousness.

"M Is for Mundane" - An ABCs of Death tryout whose title sums it up fairly well. An expected twist given the environment but pretty good gore.

"Syrup" - Nice try, Everett Bunker & Caroline O'Connor, but you're not going to make something as wonderful as maple syrup scary. I mean, just tapping out the words makes me want pancakes. Still, it's a nifty little short that gets enjoyably trippy at times.

"Picket" - Izzy Lee's the filmmaker I know from this, and the thing about her movies is that they're just as direct as she is, and maybe could benefit from being a little more roundabout. Like "Legitimate", her previous outing, this one's a very straight line between someone whose beliefs rightly piss her off and a nasty supernatural punishment, and it could perhaps use a little more irony to go with the impressive demonic makeup job.

"Midnight Mass" - A nifty one from Alex Pucci, which shows that you can do a fine slow build in less than ten minutes, as an altar boy who feels the need to confess and seek help gets the rug pulled out from under him. I'm not sure I wholly buy the twist, but the tension getting there is excellent.

"Telephoto" - The longest piece in the package, this one from Ian Carlsen & Jeff Griecci follows a magazine photographer who finds she has captured more than she bargained for in an insular town where the locals may not necessarily side with an outsider over a local criminal. It's tense, suspenseful, and occasionally kind of funny, a nifty little thriller that could probably survive expansion to a feature without falling apart.

"Mach 9"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (BUFF 16, digital)

This sort (playing before Doomsdays), is a weird, tacky-as-heck thing, but also one of the funniest things playing in the festival. Filmmaker Jamie Heinrich pushes a bit too hard when splicing 1980s sitcom theme songs into the movie, but the idea that it doesn't take much (if anything) to mutate a TV comedy's premise into something kind of disturbing. He co-writers (and also co-stars) Jason Carrougher and Sean Fahlen mash a whole ton of these plots into something the length of one sitcom episode, and it's a pretty inspired skewering


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (BUFF 16, DCP)

It's always good to see that comedies hold up on second viewings; they're far from the only types of movies that get heavy mileage out of surprise, but they can be pretty mood-dependent. I loved Doomsdays last July, and was pretty pleased to see it still amused me greatly in March. It's a funny movie not just for how it drops unexpected things on the audience, but for getting into excellent rhythms: The jokes are good in large part because their construction is pretty perfect.

One thing that kind of interested me in the reactions afterward was the people saying it had more than jokes going on. And... Well, sure, I guess, you can find stuff about how a man needs more than either principles or cynicism, or even the two combined, but I don't know as that's meant to make a much bigger impression than the jokes. It gives the movie a place to stop, important in and of itself, especially since I think director Eddie Mullins was playing with the making of a movie as much as anything.

Original Fantasia review at EFC

L'étrange couleur des larmes de ton corps (The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears

* * (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (BUFF 16, DCP)

As much as I loved the previous film by Bruno Forzani & Hélène Cattet ,Amer, this one just didn't work for me at all. I strongly suspect that 75% of that can be chalked up to it being the fourth screening of the day and just being worn out enough to nod off a few times. That was far more frustrating than usual, though, because while that often leaves me feeling (rightly) like I have missed something, this one made me feel like I had slid back somehow, and I was watching the same scene over and over again and not gleaning anything new. And when you aren't enjoying a movie in this sort of situation, it just never seems to end.

I actually hope this is at Fantasia this summer, maybe showing at 7:30pm or so. It is gorgeous, and much like Amer, it is certainly able to create some atmosphere. Given that the plot is self-consciously surreal and self-referential, it needs more attention than I was able to give it, and I'd like to have a chance to do so on a big screen with an audience (with 35mm being a bonus).

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 11 April 2014 - 17 April 2014

After last week's one-movie slate of new releases, there's a whole lot of new options this weekend, spread around a bit more than one might expect.

  • Draft Day isn't getting the most screens, but it might have the broadest appeal, with Kevin Costner playing the general manager of the Cleveland Browns on the eve of the NFL draft. Ivan Reitman directs, and there's a nice supporting cast (Denis Leary, Jennifer Gardner, Sam Elliott, Terry Crews) looking at a high-pressure situation. It's at the Capitol, Apple, Fenway, Boston Common, and the Superlux.

    It's niches the rest of the way around, with Rio 2, which has the last two blue macaws from the first film going from the city to the Amazon with their three hatchlings in tow, targeting the kids. It's produced by animation studio Blue Sky, and as such looks to be bright, colorful, and pretty in 3D at the very least. It's at the Capitol, Apple, Studio Cinema Belmont (2D only), West Newton (2D only), Boston Common, and Fenway.

    Oculus is there for the horror fans, presumably getting a little extra notice from Karen Gillan (of Doctor Who) and Katee Sackhoff (from Battlestar Galactica) in the cast. It's written and directed by Mike Flanagan, who actually did a short with this subject and also did a pretty nifty supernatural thriller by the name of Absentia a few years back, so I'm hoping for good things at Somerville, Apple, Fenway, and Boston Common. The other big genre movie is The Raid 2: Berendal, a follow-up to the Indonesian film of a few years ago that is being called one of the biggest and most intense action movies ever made. It's at Kendall Square, the Embassy, Boston Common, and Fenway.

    And, huh, Boston Common seems to be the only place in the area getting Joe this week. That one has director David Gordon Green firmly back in small, gritty southern movie territory, with Nicolas Cage supposedly doing his best work in years as the title character, an ex-con impressed by a 15-year-old kid who turns to him in a time of trouble.
  • The Coolidge is one of several theaters picking up Under the Skin, the first feature from Jonathan Glazer in almost ten years, and promising to be just as weird as Birth was then, what with Scarlett Johansson playing an alien hitchhiking around Scotland and apparently draining the humanity of her victims (it's also at Kendall Square, the Embassy, and 2 Boston Common screens; the Tuesday screening at the Coolidge will be an "Off the Couch" screening.) They'll also be giving half a screen to A Birder's Guide to Everything, a coming-of-age movie about an avid birdwatcher. It will mostly be in the very small Goldscreen room, although the screening on Wednesday the 16th will be a "Science on Screen" presentation in the main auditorium with both director Rob Meyer and wild-bird expert Kenn Kaufman on hand.

    Other special presentations are limited to the weekend, starting with the midnight shows of The Warriors on Friday & Saturday, now dedicated to the memory of the recently-passed Ultimate Warrior; The Room also has its monthly midnight screening on Friday. Another monthly feature, the Goethe-Institut's German film selection, pops up Sunday with Banklady, featuring Nadeshda Brennicke as a woman who turns bank robber in 1960s Hamburg.
  • In addition to Under the Skin and The Raid 2, Kendall Square is also sharing Dom Hemingway with Boston Common. It's got Jude Law as a brash safecracker who has just spent over a decade in prison and is looking to both reconnect with his daughter and do One Last Job. Not being shared is Watermark, a documentary by director Jennifer Baichwal and photographer Edward Burtynsky about how humanity and the planet's water systems have shaped each other. The trailers have looked stunning, and both Baichwal & Burtynsky will be on-hand for the Friday night screenings (Q&A at 7, introduction at 9:45) that start this one-week booking
  • The Somerville Theatre has one of their more eye-popping anniversary screening weeks coming up, with double features of Taxi Driver & Klute on Friday, John Travolta singing and dancing in Grease & Saturday Night Fever on Saturday, and the inspired pairing of The Muppet Movie and The Sting on Sunday. Then it's a bit quiet until Thursday when they have Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is cool, because I haven't seen it on that particular Boston screen yet. All anniversary screenings are in 35mm, of course.

    Downstairs, Somerville Subterranean Cinema and All Things Horror are teaming up with IFC Midnight again for Alien Abduction in the micro, a found-footage take on the big-headed grey guys. Oh, and get used to me going on about how SSC will have The Machine in mid-May; tickets already on sale for my favorite movie from last year's Fantasia Festival.
  • The Boston LGBT Film Festival wraps up with screenings at the Brattle Theatre, ArtsEmerson's Paramount Theater, and the MFA on Friday and Saturday.

    The Brattle fills in their post-fest schedule for the week with a number of one-offs, starting with a double feature of The Great Beauty and La Dolce Vita on Sunday night. Monday is DocYard night, with directors Sierra Pettengill & Jamila Wignot presenting their documentary Town Hall, a look at two "Tea Party" Republican activists. Tuesday night they've got Terry Gilliam's Brazil, while Wednesday brings Jay Craven, who has been making movies in Northern Vermont for twenty-five years, to introduce his latest, Northern Borders. Pretty impressive cast for something made there, with Bruce Dern and Geneviève Bujold playing grandparents of a kid sent to live on their farm in 1956. And then on Thursday, the Balagan folks have another program of 16mm films, "Waldeinsamkeit", which is German for "woodland solitude".
  • The Museum of Fine Arts, on the other hand, takes a bit of a break after the festival, but starts showing films again on Wednesday with two films about kids in war zones: When I Saw You and In Bloom. The former tells the tale of a boy in a Jordanian refugee camp in 1967 while the latter focuses on two girls in present-day Georgia (the European one). Both play daily through the weekend, with a few other screenings planned for after that.
  • The Harvard Film Archive starts a new series on Friday, with The Capra Touch covering both Frank Capra's well-known and less famous works. It will be popping up intermittently until June, so there are only two screenings this weekend: Meet John Doe Friday evening and The Miracle Woman on Sunday afternoon. Corneliu Porumboiu will not be on-hand for the screening of 12:08 East of Bucharest at 9:30pm on Friday, but will be there to screen his latest, When Evening Falls on Bucharest (aka Metabolism), on Saturday night, as well as Police, Adjective on Sunday. Another guest, Robert Gardner Fellow Eloy Encisco Cacheferio, will visit on Monday to screen his documentary Arrianos, which immerses the viewer in the titular village located in Galicia (the northwestern portion of Spain).
  • Emerson's Bright Lights has no actual film screenings this week, but will be hosting novelist and screenwriter Rafael Yglesias on Thursday the 17th
  • Running from April 11th to the 21st, It looks like The Boston International Film Festival will not be overlapping Independent Film Festival Boston at all this year! As always, it will be taking place at AMC Boston Common. There looks to be some interesting things in there, but, man, is their website still not helping anyone find it.
My plans? Man, I don't know, there's a lot! Oculus, Under the Skin, Draft Day, The Raid 2, Joe, and maybe Watermark from the new releases, Raiders, Alien Abduction, Banklady, and maybe The Muppet Movie from the special engagements, and there are holdovers I want to hit as well.

Not cool on a weekend where the Sox are playing the Yankees, distributors and exhibitors. Not cool at all!

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Boston Underground Film Festival 2014.2: Animation for Adults, My Name Is Jonah, Why Don't You Play in Hell?

Thursday being the day when folks in my department are encouraged to work from home may not be a big deal for me because of its stated purpose (saving gas), but it certainly does come in useful on occasion, such as when a festival's shorts program starts at five-thirty. No way I'm making that starting from Burlington, but from a house fifteen minutes from the Brattle on foot? Eminently doable.

That program, "Animation for Adults", wound up being fairly impressive, too, which isn't always a given. Sure, the Spike & Mike "Sick & Twisted" program (if that's still a thing) will often supply what it says on the ticket, but often wind up rather short on any accompanying wit. This may have been a gleefully R-rating-worthy program, but it was an impressively solid one.

After that, though, things went a bit ooff the rails in one of the most truly impressive examples of a festival's listed start times being a rather optimistic plan rather than something you can make plans around. My Name Is Jonah was scheduled for 7:30, and while folks just starting to get to their seats by that time is to be expected, it wasn't long before we were given a projected start time of 8:30, as that was apparently how long it would take for the DCP system to "ingest" the digital file. I must admit to being kind of shocked by this; you'd think that when deciding on a system to be the standard for theatrical projection for the foreseeable future, exhibitors would go for something as plug-and-play as possible. Apparently, this is not always the case.

"My Name Is Jonah" filmmakers photo DSCN00661_zpsc72961a2.jpg

So, what to do? Well, one option is to do the Q&A before the film. That is, I believe, filmmakers Phil Healy, JB Sapienza, and Jon Caron, in some order. The audience was full of people who either worked on the film or were friends who followed its production, what worth them being local, so there actually were some questions about the making of the movie to go along with the jokes and questions about Jonah himself (apparently, his Myspace page and whatever followed it are one of those internet big deals that it is actually rather easy to never hear of).

Jonah of "My Name Is Jonah photo DSCN00671_zps17b2eac8.jpg

Jonah himself was on hand in the balcony, waving and playing some harmonica when asked. I half-wonder if he would have been part of the Q&A had things played out in a more customary manner; as much as the filmmakers seemed to be genuinely fond of him, there were comments afterwards from some in the audience about this being one of the saddest things they had ever seen, so that might have gotten awkward. Or not, as the BUFF crowd, for all the love of gross, dark things, is pretty friendly.

(This is probably more "spoilers" than the filmmakers would like - they actually contacted me when the review went up on EFC about dialing some things back - but sometimes you can't write your thoughts about something without talking about the whole thing, and this is especially true with documentaries.)

It wasn't a bad movie, but it ran too long to begin with, and I really hope the delay in getting started didn't dissuade too many people from sticking around for Why Don't You Play in Hell?. That was one of the best of the festival, but it started an hour late and ran until after the T shut down, and I certainly was grumbling that if Jonah's delay had me falling asleep during the movie I really wanted to see, I was going to be pretty angry. Fortunately, that didn't happen, so the night ended pretty well.

Animation for Adults

Seen 27 March 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (BUFF 16, digital)

As mentioned, a pretty strong program, but one plagued by some technical issues (story of the evening, I guess), so I'll stick to some mostly-quick thoughts.

"Keep Your Head Down" - A music video for the band Bury Me Standing's song by director Ruth Lingford, with some interesting bits of things changing into other things.

"American Waste" - I'm as anti-war and skeptical of the military as anybody, so while I like the animation of Michael Hadley, I must admit that the story was a bit hammer-ish.

"Lady and the Tooth" - A creepy little story by Shaun Clark, which is plenty creative but pushed a bit far for my tastes - without dialogue, the story seems more vague than necessary, which makes the weirdness not exactly the fun sort of unsettling.

"Little Vulvah and Her Clitoral Awareness" - A really disarmingly cute bit from Sara Koppel, one that follows one of the oldest cartoon templates (cute girl wandering a morphing dreamworld) but slips in occasional reminders that such dreams can often have an erotic component. It's actually pretty neat, because the "cute" part is still earnestly enjoyable, while the inclusion of bare lady-parts seldom feels dirty, even if it can often be jarring.

"Domestika, Chapter 3: Le Petit Mort" - Well, that's something. I don't know how much continuity there is to Jennifer Linton's series, but it's a genuinely peculiar bit of paper-cut animation that makes me at least a little curious about the rest.

"Trusts & Estates" - One of those things where an animator (in this case, Jeanette Bonds) takes a real conversation and gives its participants a distinct visual style, with the intriguing result that it feels different than it might in live-action. There's still a bunch of hot-shot lawyer smarm here, but it feels surreal as much as obnoxious. It's a neat effect, and a fairly funny bit to boot.

"King Tigermore in Strawberry Fields" - One of two or three items in the program to really suffer from technical trouble, there was no sound to this, a shame because it seemed like an awesomely odd pastiche of a kids' adventure show, and I've got no idea just how straight or parodically it was being played. It looked neat and creative, like it could work either as a spoof or the thing being spoofed. (Seeing it at the link with its actual soundtrack makes it something else entirely, which is also pretty neat)

"We Are Golden" - One of my absolute favorites of the program, Jonathan Seligson's music video has a great retro look (malleable, rounded figures, Pac-Man eyes, plenty of music and chaos), packs a cool adventure story with polar bears, pirates, and more into four minutes, and doors so with a keen soundtrack. I was just disappointed when it reached the end; I wanted more right away!

"Virtuous Virtuell" - One of the spiffier bits of abstract animation I've seen in a while, with Thomas & Stellmach and Maja Oschmann transforming an opera score into ink-on-paper that avoids personification but always looks striking.

"Cochemare" - A pretty amazing-looking live-action/animation hybrid, which splits its time between an enchanted forest and a space station. Weird, sexy, creepy, and beautiful, I see that there's a 3D version and wish that more festivals were equipped for that.

"Coyotes" - An interesting work by Nick Gibney in how it combines a bunch of different styles smoothly to tell a small but but well-realized story. Not hugely fond of the stroboscopic effects, but it was an interesting change-up from the genuinely muted main style.

"Drunker Than a Skunk" - Another one hurry badly by playback issues. Not only did the sound cut in and out, but the picture stuttered quite a bit, so it was almost impossible to follow. Shame, as it's the new one by Bill Plympton, and it looked like a nifty take on a funny story.

"Invocation" - I saw this one at Fantasia, and didn't mind seeing it a second time at all. Robert Morgan's take on the "animated characters turn the tables" set-up is nifty for how it's done via stop-motion and features some impressively grotesque results, as well as sound design that increases the creepiness.

My Name Is Jonah

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 27 March 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (BUFF 16, DCP)

I wonder where filmmakers start and wind up, in terms of motivation and attitude, when making something like My Name Is Jonah. It seems awfully cynical if the final product is what they envisioned, but if not... Well, there are different ways to look at the end result, even as it drags on long enough to make things seem drearier than they might have been.

Jonah Washnis lives in Greece, a small town in upstate New York, where he plays the harmonica when there's a gig and toils at various working class jobs in between. He's internet-famous, though, for what he posted on MySpace, most notably a series of pulp-inspired holiday cards that he created and posed for over twenty-five years or so. As the film opens, he's had a fairly rough run of it, although he's fairly upbeat - after all, he does and has done things that most guys only dream of!

Well, probably not really; despite having created a hyper-masculine persona online and even before that was a thing, actual acts of badassery are tough to uncover despite how he has a lot of footage of himself. Eventually, what filmmakers Phil Healy, JB Sapienza, and Jon Caron put on display is more sad than anything else: An affably nerdy fellow trying to present himself as The Punisher, boosting about how many Facebook friends he has when he doesn't seem to have that many in the real world, especially now that his dog is gone.

Full review at EFC

Jigoku de Maze Warui (Why Don't You Play in Hell?

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 27 March 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (BUFF 16, DCP)

So it's come to this: The festival program describes Sion Sono's latest as an ode to 35mm cinema, and while "ode" doesn't necessarily mean "requiem", it's often not far off. Fortunately, even if this is a eulogy for making movies on actual film, Sono is not one to look back wistfully and be over-sentimental; he's going to send it off with a bang, and to do so he creates a riotously fun two hours of yakuza mayhem, all captured on film.

It's literally riotous at the start, as a group of teens calling themselves the "Fuck Bombers" are shooting their amateur film when they see youth gangs starting to rumble and not only does their leader Hirata (Hiroki Hasegawa) decide to capture it, but he starts trying to direct it as well. Sasaki, one of the fighters, winds up coming with them, and it looks like the sky is them limit, even as the wife of a prominent yakuza is dispatching potential assassins across town. Ten years later, not much has changed for the Fuck Bombers, which is starting to really frustrate Sasaki (Tak Sakaguchi). A full-blown hang war is threatening to erupt between the clams led by Muto (Jun Kunimura) and Ikegami (Shinichi Tsutsumi), although Muto is more concerned with getting the film debut of teen daughter Michiko (Fumi Nikaido) finished before wife Shizue (Tomochika) is released from jail. Tricky, because she has run off and is next seen with Koji (Gen Hoshino), who is not the filmmaker that Muto believes (and kind of needs) him to be.

Those who a long harangue on 35mm's superiority to digital are likely to be disappointed; as much as Sono has Hirata speak of his love of film, the most direct attack has the older Fuck Bombers watching something on a small TV in the middle of a shuttered theater. Sono likely plays the reference game fairly well, although some of the most interesting is rather self-referential: I'm not sure if people were exactly calling Tak Sakaguchi Japan's answer to Bruce Lee when he first came on the scene ten or fifteen years ago in Versus, but he certainly got a lot of notoriety that his movies haven't quite lived up to. And it may just be coincidence, but one of the most recent movies of the very prolific Sono's to see release and the festival circuit is Bad Film, an only recently completed picture shot when Sono was the same sort of raw, guerrilla-style filmmaker as the Fuck Bombers, and I wonder if finishing that influenced or inspired the making of this one in any way.

Full review at EFC

Sunday, April 06, 2014


I'm going to be so annoyed in a few weeks, when The Machine doesn't make any sort of appearance in Boston at all even though Jinn did. I bring up The Machine because I loved it at Fantasia last year, but there are plenty of interesting genre movies made every year that don't get any sort of visible theatrical release that it's incredibly frustrating to see something this bad sneak in on a week where all the major studios were avoiding Captain America. I'm guessing it was probably four-walled, but even if that's the case, you'd have to think there were better movies vying to rent a few screens.

There was only one other person in the theater for the opening-night screening, but we got an interesting selection of trailers. I sometimes think that multiplexes just don't know what to do when they wind up with something out of the ordinary booked there; I'll see trailers for stuff that came and went months ago, or for things that I strongly suspect they have no intention of booking, or which are just wildly inappropriate. Or maybe they are just things that could probably use a boost from being attached to something more high-profile. Consider this group.

* The Hornet's Nest, a documentary on embedded war photographers in Afghanistan. It's got "Real War, Real Heroes" lines, as well as the obligatory "we're defending freedom even for those who don't think we should be there" bits, which are kind of icky on their own (especially "real war", like this is an appealing thing), but when you consider that this is a movie dealing with middle-eastern mythology, is something about Americans in Afghanistan really the right pairing? Admittedly, I thought that before seeing how thoroughly Jinn tried to erase any mention of all things Muslim.

* From the Rough - Looks like a forgettable sports movie... Wait, is that Michael Clarke Duncan? Isn't he...? Yep, passed away a year and a half ago. A little more digging on IMDB reveals that this thing was shot in 2010. Wow.

* Walking with the Enemy. This one looks like a garden-variety bad movie, but IMDB says this one was shot in 2009. It looks somewhat polished, so maybe it's just been in post-production for a long time, but every once in a while you just get a painful lesson on what sort of limbo a movie can fall into.

* Under the Skin has been getting a ton of good reviews, and the trailer actually looks pretty intriguing, though I get the idea that it doesn't reveal one single bit of information about the movie.

* Locke comes from the same studio as Under the Skin, and it's got a similar slick look that draws the audience in without giving away a whole lot about the movie. Given that it stars Tom Hardy rather than Scarlet Johansson, I strongly suspect it's not getting anywhere near Regal Fenway.

On the other end of the movie, it had one of the more prolonged "after the climax" extensions I've seen in a movie that was not desperately trying to make feature length: A "one year later" bit, the main credits, a mid-credits scene, a very slow end closing roll with effects behind it, and then a post-credits scene that seemed to be shot entirely in slow motion for very little payoff. I stuck around, because I paid for the whole movie, but boy, was that a bad idea.


* ¼ (out of four)
Seen 4 April 2014 in Regal Fenway #6 (first-run, DCP)

This is a terrible little supernatural thriller, one of the more clumsily-executed movies I've seen at a mainstream multiplex in some time. It's bad enough that one really doesn't need to get into how timid it is in order to be properly disappointed in it, but that timidity is part of what makes it so frustrating: There's the opportunity to make a different flavor of horror movie here, and filmmaker Ajmal Zaheer Ahmad runs from it.

The film starts with a flashback to India in 1901, where a man chasing after a jinni is told that it will return and kill his descendants. Jump forward to present day Ann Arbor, and it looks as though the last of those is Shawn Walker (Dominic Rains), born Sian Amin but adopted after his birth parents perished in a fire. He receives a mysterious message that may connect with the creepy things going on around himself and his wife Jasmine (Serinda Swan), eventually being told by the mysterious Gabriel (Ray Park) and Father Westhoff (William Atherton) that the ones responsible are a particularly nasty segment of jinn.

The jinn, we are told, are the third creation of God, made from fire as man was sculpted from clay and angels from light. What is not mentioned is that they are primarily pre-Islamic Arabic folklore that was integrated into Muslim beliefs; indeed, the story of the jinn is introduced via lines implying that they come from the Judeo-Christian tradition. It's understandable that Ahmad would go this route from a commercial standpoint, and there's actually something laudable about how he tries to emphasize the common ground between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, even if it is done in some fairly awkward ways. Just erasing the provenance of these creatures to substitute a familiar Catholic priest and never actually giving any indication of Shawn's beliefs doesn't do this attempt at inclusiveness any favors, and as much as I'm seldom going to argue that we need more religion in our pop culture, this isn't the way to go about minimizing it.

Full review at EFC

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Dans la France: Le Week-End, Ernest & Celestine

Have I mentioned that I went to Paris a few months ago and had a great time recently? Yes? Constantly, to the point where it's becoming really annoying? Well, sorry, but...

This wasn't quite the first movie set there that I've seen since returning - even if you don't count The Monuments Men because "World War II Paris" isn't the same as the place I visited, there was still 3 Days to Kill. In fact, I even remember shaking my head in sympathy as Costner tried to get on the Metro at the last minute, as those doors close fast and will probably happily crush any limb you insert to stop them.

Still, it didn't feel like Paris the way Le Week-End does - or maybe the latter just captures the feeling of visiting the city, which has something amazingly beautiful or historic around every corner, but is actually amazingly friendly and unpretentious for all that it's kind of intimidating. There's a point in it where Lindsay Duncan's Meg wonders why one would want to live anywhere else, and I suspect that anybody who has been there gets the same feeling at some point. I admittedly also wonder if I'd feel that from the movie if I hadn't been there recently.

That wasn't actually the reason I went to Kendall Square that night; I was looking to see Ernest & Celestine, and Kendall was once more doing the thing where they alternate dubbed and subtitled version. I'm always going to go for subs, especially since I do know enough French to at least recognize what's being emphasized. That screening was at 9:40pm, though, and since I'm generally pretty terrible about going back out once I've arrived home, I figured to make it a double feature, and there was no way I was going to start an evening that I hoped to finish with an adorable kids' movie with Nymphomaniac.

I wish I'd been able to write about it quicker, though - by the time I had something to say, it was already out of theaters. I think I only know a couple of folks with kids in the Boston area, though I know a fair amount who like animation, so they might have gone for it. I will recommend its video release whole-heartedly, though - it's a downright adorable movie.

Le Week-End

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 1 April 2014 in Landmark Kendall Square #4 (first-run, DCP)

Vicarious travel is one of the more underrated joys of going to the movies even if it can't carry a film itself, and Le Week-End uses it well: It could have just been another nicely-acted argument that runs for ninety minutes, but having the characters visit Paris puts it in the world, gives the audience something to experience beyond the voyeurism of being an unseen observer of someone else's marriage, and exerts an influence on the story that a generic location wouldn't. The location doesn't upstage Jim Broadbent or Lindsay Duncan, but it gives them something extra to work with.

They play Nick and Meg, a couple returning to the city where they honeymooned for their thirtieth anniversary, not sure what the rest of their life is going to look like with the kids out of the house. The hotel Nick booked is small and drab, so Meg insists on an upgrade - they are, after all, at an age when they could use a rest between excursions. During one of those walks about town, they meet Nick's college friend Morgan (Jeff Goldblum), a quite successful writer who invites them to a soirée at his apartment the next night.

While Paris itself, Jeff Goldblum, and a few other characters who enter the picture in the final act certainly have notable effects on the movie, it is still going to find itself rising and falling on how the audience relates to Meet and Nick. Happily, they are an interesting pair to watch, both because a fine pair of actors have been cast in the parts and because they are something of a role reversal for how the couple in a movie like this is usually built: Meg is more the prickly curmudgeon of the pair, with Nick more the sentimental, steadying type. That is, naturally, a gross oversimplification of the pair; Nick is also plenty prone to making things blow up in his own face, for instance, and both are individual enough to make things interesting.

Full review at EFC

Ernest et Célestine (Ernest & Celestine

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 1 April 2014 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, DCP, subtitled)

You can't decide a whole lot about the quality of one movie from the others it references, but it still has to be considered a pretty good sign when that a poster for A Town Called Panic hangs on a kid's wall in Ernest & Celestine. Though the same filmmakers worked on both, they are quite different types of animated feature both in style and their types of humor, equally excellent at making kids laugh and grown-ups smile.

Celestine is a little mouse girl more interested in drawing pictures that show mice and bears being friends than the things she's supposed to be doing; Ernest is a hungry bear who likes making music more than anything else. They meet while Celestine is scavenging in the bears' city as part of her internship, and while they help each other out, Ernest being spotted in the mice's tunnels gets them both in trouble, so that they eventually have to hide out.

The movie is taken from the bandes dessinées albums by Gabrielle Vincent, although there are lines in the movie that suggest that Daniel Pennac's script takes some liberties. It does, when you get down to it present the kid with a rather mixed message - although friendship, bravery, and not being prejudiced are important, a little more attention to how stealing is wrong maybe wouldn't have hurt. Them again, it's not like Bugs Bunny ever had any particular qualms about taking carrots from anybody's garden (or would Jerry Mouse be a better example?). It's a pretty easy thing to overlook, though, as these characters may be roguish (especially Ernest), but they're seldom rude or disrespectful, which can carry a lot of weight with parents.

Full review at EFC