Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Finding Fanny & But Always

Two days, two day-and-date releases of Asian movies at Fenway, both of which offered the opportunity grumble a bit about how the quality of everyone's English!

In all seriousness, Finding Fanny was kind of weird on that count. If you've ever watched an Indian movie, you'll notice that there are a lot of English phrases dropped right in the middle of Hindi dialogue, but generally still subtitled because it can be hard for one's brain to shift from reading to listening at just the right time. Fanny is subtitled, so it took ten minutes or so for me to realize that the whole thing was actually in English, period, with almost no Hindi dialogue but just a few words dropped in mid-sentence. The subtitles were helpful with the accents, much like Americans sometimes need it with Scots and working-class Englishmen, although I wonder if I'd have been able to understand better if they weren't there as a crutch.

In But Always, well, it's more of the usual - English that probably sounds pretty good to the Mandarin-speakers who make up the film's main audience but off to us Americans, including the supposedly native-speakers they meet in New York. Someday I want to find a polite way to ask someone how it happens - do Chinese studios just grab any western-looking people they can get off the street and offer them $20 for a day's work even if they're not actors or is this conscious direction, getting people who speak English perfectly well to use rhythms and emphasis that correspond to Mandarin much more than the language they're speaking so that the audience will pick up the right emotional cues?

Both of these movies turned out pretty rough in their own ways: As much as Finding Fanny made me laugh big at times, it had some bits in between that you have to grind through. And But Always... look, I'm probably the least gung-ho person I know when the subject of 9/11 comes up, but I felt like it was used pretty cheaply here, a specter raised in the very first scene that doesn't actually mean anything in the story aside from a potential extra tragedy/obstacle thrown into these two people's love story when the movie catches up, then a footnote implying that the world outside China is scary and dangerous and folks should stay home.

Ah, well. At least China Lion no longer seems to be strictly tied to AMC in America any more, and given how the folks booking movies for Fenway seem fairly willing to serve expatriate audiences with the Indian things, maybe they'll be more reliable in picking these movies up than Boston Common was (and if they could get Iceman next week and keep it around long enough for me to get back from Austin, that would be great too).

Finding Fanny

* * * (out of four)
Seen 14 September 2014 in Regal Fenway #8 (first-run, DCP)

After a year or so of going to the Indian movies at the local multiplex, one gets a certain idea of what to expect, generally a musical masala picture that's odd by conventional Hollywood standards. Sometimes, though, you get something like Finding Fanny, which is an entirely different sort of weird: A quirky indie-style comedy that's okay when cute but better when the claws come out.

It starts in Pocolim, Goa - the sort of village you won't find on a map and where life passes at the same speed you're moving, to quote narrator Angelina (Deepika Padukone). Ferdinand Pinto (Naseeruddin Shah) is the postmaster there, so it's odd that he has a letter in which he proposed to one Stefanie "Fanny" Fernandes returned forty-six years after it was sent. Angie sees that the only thing to do is to bring Ferdie to Fanny, but actually doing it will also involve Savio de Gama (Arjun Kapoor), just back from six years in Mumbai for his father's funeral, Don Pedro Cleto Colaco (Pankaj Kapur), a world-renowned artist who has recently taken up residence in the town, and Rosalie Eucharistica (Dimple Kapadia), Angie's busybody mother-in-law whom Don Pedro wished to be his voluptuous muse. It should just be a simple morning drive, but it's not surprising that things don't go according to plan for this group.

The initial burst of narration and character introductions may have viewers bracing themselves for an onslaught of too-cute small-town eccentricity, and it's not exactly unwarranted. The movie is filled with oddballs who seem to mostly spend their time being odd rather than accomplishing anything, with Angie fitting into the pixie slot while Savio comes off a bit of a curmudgeon. It's not unpleasant, most of the time, and in fact has some nice little moments as the cast plays off of each other. Director Homi Adajania and co-writer Kersi Khambatta just seem to make the common assumption that weird automatically implies funny or delightful.

Full review at EFC

Yi Sheng Yi Shi (But Always)

* * (out of four)
Seen 15 September 2014 in Regal Fenway #12 (first-run, DCP)

Is it cynical of me to start counting shots between a "New York 2001" caption and the first glimpse of the World Trade Center, or of writer/director Snow Zou for putting the audience in that position? That's not the worst thing about But Always, though; which takes an inoffensive but enjoyable romance and finds ways to make it uncomfortable when a little bit of thought is applied.

After that opening, the film jumps back to 1976 Beijing, when a doctor goes off on a dangerous mission to help earthquake victims, but gives her 4-year-old daughter Anran the dream of following in her footsteps. Five years later, her father sends Anran to a school in a different neighborhood where she meets poor orphan Zhao Yongyuan, although his uncle Ji (Lam Suet) takes him out of town when his grandmother dies. Come 1993, Yongyuan (Nicholas Tse) returns to Beijing, where Anran (Gao Yuanyuan) is finishing college with an eye toward medical school in America. Their paths cross, and they fall in love, but it won't be that easy.

The thing is, it could be that easy. The story pivots on Yongyuan deciding to break things off for Arjan's own good, which is kind of insulting even in the best of uses, but Zou never seems to see it that way, and the New York set latter segments of the movie not only fail to acknowledge this, but actually push Anran's and Yongyuan's reunion to a kind of creepy place. It's that area where men are applying pressure disguised as grand gestures and what choices the woman makes are either born out of guilt or what men will either give permission or deny opportunity to do. It looks romantic because nobody seems to have consciously bad intentions and scenes call back to earlier moments that were the real deal, but there's something not right underneath.

Full review at EFC

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Pirates and yet more Fantasia Catch-up.

Between Roaring Currents a few weeks ago, The Pirates yesterday, and Haemoo, another sea-faring Korean adventure, on my hypothetical list for Fantastic Fest in a few days, I'm starting to wonder if some Korean studio built a big shooting pool like James Cameron did for Titanic and is going to get some use out of it no matter what. Not that I'm complaining, I love these things, and if South Korea wants to keep making them for me, they can go right ahead.

It was one of the more sparse crowds I've seen for a Korean movie in Revere lately, especially after the multi-week runs Roaring Currents and Kundo got, although I did have to get up pretty early to get there, leaving Central Square by quarter of eleven for a 12:15pm movie; I suspect the local college students who might be inclined to make the trip out to Revere may have gone for the show might have been waiting for the next show.

It does make me a little sad that this didn't play Fantasia, although there's no knowing if it would have made the cut. As much as I'm glad I get to see some of these movies either at the same time they play in their native land or just weeks later, them being pre-sold and moved to screens fast enough to do so means they are skipping the festival part of their run, which means that instead of seeing them with a big crowd of excited people in Montreal, there's three of us in a rather empty room in Revere. It's selfish to think like this - when Well Go manages to get this on screens, it gets more people in seats than one or two screenings at festivals that the folks in the right place at the right time do, and I don't want to deny folks a chance to see it because I am often one of those folks in the right place and right time, even if the individual experience is better at the festival. No real solution to it other than to enjoy both when you get the chance.

Speaking of Fantasia, here's another five reviews completed over the past week: WolfCop, Hunter X Hunter: Phantom Rouge, Black Butler, Time Lapse, and 3D Naked Ambition. Seven to go. It's going to be close, as far as getting one festival done before the next is concerned.

Haejuk: Badaro Gan Sanjuk (The Pirates)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 13 September 2014 in Showcase Cinemas de Lux Revere #2 (first-run, DCP)

That they can be given names as generic as "Pirates of the Caribbean" or, in this case, just "The Pirates", without fear of confusion means just one thing: There are not enough pirate movies being made these days. This one is occasionally on the silly side, but it's packed full of quality swashbuckling, and not nearly enough trips to the theater deliver that.

It starts in 1388, introducing us to Jang Sa-jung (Kim Nam-gil), who decides he would rather be a bandit than a rebel soldier as his leader Yi Song-gye seems to have more concern for himself than the people, though he must fight his way through captain Mo Hong-gab (Kim Tae-woo) to desert. At sea, Yeo-wol (Son Ye-jin) may be the only woman in a pirate crew, but she's first mate and clearly the most capable, even if she's not nearly so cold-blooded as captain Soma (Lee Kyoung-young). Three years later, Yi has become king, but a royal seal from the Ming Emperor meant to legitimize his rule is lost at sea, swallowed by a whale. Yeo-wol has no taste for hunting such a creature, but she is backed into it, and soon finds Jang to be competing with her.

As inciting incidents go, anything that includes the phrase "swallowed by a whale" is pretty unlikely, but the neat thing about such improbability is that it gives writer Cheon Seong-il and director Lee Suk-hoon the opportunity to play things both straight and comedically without a lot of the tonal whiplash that can come when movies try to do both. The filmmakers are certainly able to present the villains as real threats, but there are extended periods of outright slapstick comedy - watch mountain bandits who don't know what a whale is get in a boat to catch one! - and the two are able to intersect without one undercutting the other much better than is often the case.

Full review at EFC

WolfCop

* * * (out of four)
Seen 1 August 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Contrary to any expectations one might have from buying a ticket based upon the name alone, this movie is not "RoboCop, but he's a werewolf". So, get over that and hope that someone else takes that particular idea and runs with it. There, now you can appreciate WolfCop as an enjoyable bit of supernatural action-comedy - I don't think it's actually trying hard enough to scare anybody to call it horror.

In this one, a crappy cop by the name of Lou Garou (Leo Fafard) in a small Canadian town is investigating a report out in the woods when... Well, he's not quite sure, but he wakes up with a pentagram carved on his chest and more trouble getting a close shave than usual, but one gets the impression that strange stuff has happened to him while drinking before. This actually inspires him to do a little investigation, though, even if he does spend more time talking to conspiracy theorist/taxidermist Willie (Jonathan Cherry) and busty bartender Jessica (Sarah Lind) than his by-the-book partner Tina (Amy Matysio). It soon becomes clear what's going on, and the only question is whether the full moon will leave Lou as more wolf... or cop!

Director Lowell Dean and co-writer Bannister Bergen are playing this with their tongue firmly in their cheek, clear from the first time you see an advertisement for an establishment called "Liquor Donuts", and they don't ever do much to mitigate this. There are plentiful jokes about stuff small towns where there isn't much to do other than drink and hunt (the Drink & Shoot is, in fact, the place's signature event), although it doesn't spend all of its time mocking the locals. Most of the jokes land well, and when they don't, the next one is not far off. There's a winning self-awareness of the story's absurdity and the production's limited budget that stops just short of breaking the fourth wall. Heck, the main character is actually named "Lou Garou", and is played by an appropriately hairy guy.

Full review on EFC

Gekijouban HUNTERxHUNTER Hiiro no Genei (Hunter X Hunter: Phantom Rouge)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: AXIS, HD)

Every time a film that is spun out of a long-running manga or anime series lands on the festival schedule (or, less frequently, plays locally), I get the idea of grabbing one of the Wednesday regulars at the comic shop and asking what I need to know, though I never do. As a result, I've really got no idea how Phantom Rouge plays to longtime fans of Hunter X Hunter, although I'd guess they will go for it, as might the rest of us if we catch up.

The two Hunters who take the lead in this adventure are Gon and Kilua, twelve-year-old boys who nevertheless are exceptionally well-trained martial artists who can enhance their abilities by tapping into a force called "nen". While the Hunter Academy is training them to be adventurers and peacekeepers in a world of strange powers and mysteries, their newest mission is personal: Their friend and fellow Hunter Kurapika has had his eyes stolen by an evil magician, although he still receives enough imagery through them to direct Gon and Kilua to look for a manor with a certain view. Gon winds up enlisting the help of street puppeteer Retsu, although Kilua is wary, not so much because he doesn't like girls, but because he was born into a family of assassins and struggles with the entire idea of friends, including Gon.

Well, that certainly describes an animated movie based upon a manga I have never read that was as a result kind of difficult to wrap my head around. Kudos to those involved for keeping it from becoming incomprehensible, though - along with the trés kawaii bit that opened the movie to introduce Gon, Kilua, and Hunter Academy to newbies like me, the filmmakers do a fair job of explaining as they go. A benefit, perhaps, of having preteen heroes still learning about the frantic world around them. It can still be somewhat overwhelming, especially since the exposition is not spread around evenly: There's full background on Kurapika despite him spending much of the movie sidelined, just enough on Kilua to feel like half the story, while main character Gon is left fairly simple. Still, the last-act pile-up of characters is shockingly manageable, even if all the talk of "nen" does sort of become gobbledegook to an outsider such as me.

Full review on EFC

Kuroshitsuji (Black Butler)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Action!, DCP)

One of the women in front of me was throwing her hands up roughly every ten minutes or so during this movie, and I wondered off the top of my head whether she was just having a general "what the hell is this thing?" reaction to a movie that always has some other crazy thing to offer its audience or a more specific "what the hell have they done to my favorite manga because it's not supposed to be like this?" one. I gather the film takes some pretty extreme liberties with the source material, and maybe if I'd read more than a few chapters in Yen Press's brief attempt at a weekly Japanese-style manga anthology, I'd be upset too. But I haven't, and I'm not, because this thing is just gloriously daffy.

It features 17-year-old heroine Shiori Genpo (Ayame Gouriki), who cross-dresses as her illegitimate brother Kiyoharu so that she can inherit the family fortune and title in an alternate 2020 where there is still a powerful aristocracy - some members of whom, like Shiori, serve as secret agents for the Western Queen. Her butler Sebastian (Hiro Mizushima) is a demon who protects her and serves as a partner so that he may someday consume the soul she sold to him as a child in order to escape and bring the men who kidnapped her and killed her parents to justice (the world believes Shiori to be dead). Almost immediately after breaking up a human-trafficking ring, "Kiyoharu" is assigned a new mission: Discover who is behind the spontaneous mummifications happening throughout the city. Aunt Hanae (Yuka) may be able to get her "nephew" entree to the club that seems to be the epicenter, and Shiori's investigations not only discover links between new drug "necrosis" and arms dealer Youzo Shinozaki (Ichirota Miyagawa), but that someone else involved, Shinpei Kuzo (Masato Ibu), may also have been part of Shiori's kidnapping ten years ago.

Some fantasy adventures are content to insert one new thing into the familiar, but between original manga-ka Yana Toboso and screenwriter Tsutomu Kuroiwa, Black Butler throws one thing after another onto the pile, and why not? Once you've got the demon in there and made the decision to change the setting from Victorian England to an alternate reality (which made it much less weird to shoot with a Japanese cast), there's not much end to what you can do. What's most surprising about going this direction, though, is that both the writers and directors Kentaro Otani & Keiichi Sato opt not to take the frequent winking "isn't this all so wacky?" attitude most pulp mash-ups go for; this is a surprisingly intense action movie for being so downright weird, though it stops well short of making the whole thing a joyless trudge through ever-darker territory.

Full review on EFC

Time Lapse

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2014 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia Festival: Paradigm Shifters, DCP)

Time Lapse is a standout even for one of the best sci-fi years I can remember Fantasia having, and while those are rankings that may not mean much to non-attendees, it is meant as high praise. There's always room for an enjoyably devilish effect-before-cause story that, as many of the best do, fits together like an exceptionally well-constructed puzzle.

This one starts with Finn (Matt O'Leary), a struggling artist keeping a roof over his head by serving as the housing department's superintendent. He shares this apartment with girlfriend Callie (Danielle Panabaker) and best friend Jasper (George Finn), and lives across the way from a scientist whose mail is starting to pile up ominously. When they go to check, Mr. Bezzeredes is missing, but the front room of his apartment is filled with a massive camera pointed at their place. The lines of Polaroids covering the wall are creepy, but the kicker is when they discover that these photographs are taken automatically once a day - and show the view of their apartment from twenty-four hours in the future.

This isn't, strictly speaking, a time-travel movie, but it's in the same family. The tension in these stories comes not just from the forces within the story itself but in how different aspects appeal to the head (the puzzle that involves present and future events being locked into place) and heart (the idea that one's efforts matter and can make things better), working at cross purposes. Director Bradley King and his co-writer B.P. Cooper do an exceptionally good job of maintaining this conflict, because it's not just about leaving them both as possibilities until the end; we've got to feel that Finn and company can act even as we assemble puzzle pieces assuming that they can't. King & Cooper do an excellent job of making sure that the intellectual half of it is well-constructed - I didn't quite figure out the missing piece exactly, but did wind up appreciating that bits were hidden in plain sight without becoming predictable.

Full review on EFC

Naked Ambition

* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, Xpand 3D)

I wonder how many of the critics who regularly make sure to include something along the lines of "don't pay the extra for 3D, there's nothing that merits it" for seemingly every movie released in the format will pause when considering Anri Okita's L-cups in 3D Naked Ambition. After all, even someone who usually likes the format such as myself can find this to be a bit of a long hour-forty-five with glasses on despite the movie being quite funny, although it's hard to overlook things that make an impression.

Before those particular breasts are thrust into the audience, we're introduced to Wyman Chan (Chapman To), a writer of erotic fiction for a Hong Kong periodical, although his editor Larry (Tyson Chak) has to let him go. Commiserating with adult-video store owner Simon (Derek Tsang), they come up with a new idea - a tour of Tokyo where fellow AV fans can contribute ideas and watch a for-collectors-only movie be filmed. With the help of liaison Shodaiko Hatoyama (Josie Ho), things are going well until the actor storms off, at which point Wyman is drafted to fill in and... Well, things go off-script. This makes him a laughingstock back home, but is tremendously popular with Japanese women, so he starts a new career as "Mario Ozawa".

That screen name is a reference to a well-known actress in this genre, although not so well that I would have heard of her, not being the sort of aficionado that Wyman and his friends are. I suspect that there are a lot of gags in the movie that play to a knowledgeable audience, whether that involves familiarity with Asian porn or the sort of extremely local jokes Hong Kong filmmakers throw into Category III movies like this which they know stand no chance of getting past Mainland China's censorship board. I suspect most people who would be up for this will at least recognize the basis of the most frequently recurring gag - turning the tables on well-known AV scenarios to have "Mario" playing the victim of sexually aggressive women - just through osmosis. There's a surprising amount of teeth to it, actually, both for pointing out how repetitive the scenarios are and how ugly these fantasies are, even if there is something absurd about Wyman being overpowered.

Full review on EFC

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 12 September - 18 September 2014

Hey, Boston, I'm grateful for everything you're trying to sneak in before I leave town for a week, but I really can't do it all this weekend. There are some harsh decisions to be made, even if you ignore the bigger releases.

  • For instance, one of my favorite events on the Boston moviegoing calendar is Films at the Gate, when the Asian Community Development Corporation takes over Chinatown Park on the Rose Kennedy Greenway and shows Chinese movies outside, weather permitting. So grab some take-out from local merchants, make a donation to the youth programs, and arrive at 6:30pm for lion dancing and martial arts demonstrations before the 7:30pm movies, Friday to Sunday. This year, the movies are Jackie Chan's Fearless Hyena on Friday, Herman Yau's The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake (a biography of poet Qiu Jin starring Crystal Huang and Anthony Wong) on Saturday, and King Hu's Come Drink with Me on Sunday, the latter featuring Cheng Pei Pei and action directed by Sammo Hung.
  • Roughly at the same time, The Somerville Theatre is showing this year's Spike & Mike's Festival of Animation, with the Classic show at 8pm Friday & Saturday and the Sick & Twisted program at 10pm on the same days. Both are on the big screen, as is Sunday's "Silents, Please!" presentation, this one featuring Harold Lloyd in The Kid Brother, along with short "The Eastern Westerner", in 35mm with Jeff Rapsis on the organ. The Kid Brother isn't quite as well known as some of Lloyd's other features, but it's one of his best. Saturday night also has the monthly All Things Horror presentation, Karen Lam's Evangeline, in the screening room along with two short films.
  • Also opening at the Somerville (and other places) is The Drop, featuring Tom Hardy and the late James Gandolfini as operators of a Brooklyn "drop bar" (a spot where mob money is held) who gets robbed of its take. It's from a Dennis Lehane short story - he also wrote the screenplay - and has Noomi Rapace and Matthias Schoenaerts as part of a nice cast. It's at Somerville, Kendall Square, Embassy, Fenway (including RPX), Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    Also opening in wide release are two others: Dolphin Tale 2, apparently the rare case of a true story with an actual sequel, with a group that includes Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman, Harry Connick Jr., and Kris Kristofferson rescuing another dolphin. It's at the Capitol, Apple, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere. There's also No Good Deed, with Idris Elba as an escaped prisoner holding a mother (Taraji P. Henson) and her kids hostage. It's at Apple, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    As has become a strangely regular occurrence, there's a Korean film opening in Revere, in this case The Pirates, which features Kim Nam-gil and Son Ye-jin as rival outlaws of the high seas seeking a lost treasure. In a bit of a swerve, Chinese romance But Always opens at Fenway, a bit further from Chinatown than China Lion films used to play, but maybe more will be picked up now. Boston Common, on the other hand, opens up Atlas Shrugged Part III: Who is John Galt?, and good lord, they've recast the entire thing again.

    Boston Common also has Good Will Hunting on Sunday and Wednesday for $6. The places with Imax-branded screens (Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Jordan's) will be putting Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on those screens for a week, with Boston Common having Transformers 4 for the 9:45pm shows instead. The Capitol and West Newton Cinema pick up The One I Love
  • Kendall Square has two films on top of The Drop, both adapted from plays. The Man on Her mind stars Amy McAllister and Samuel James as two people who, after a blind date several months back, started fantasizing relationships with idealized versions of each other. The one-week booking, meanwhile, is for A Master Builder, which stars Wallace Shawn as the title character in his own new translation of Ibsen's play about a domineering architect, with Jonathan Demme directing.

    There's also a one-night "Globe on Screen" presentation of Twelfth Night on Tuesday, and since it's the "original practices" version with Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry that I saw on-stage in London in December 2012, I can heartily recommend it. They also start the Midnight Madness program up again, with Dazed and Confused playing Friday and Saturday nights, with State Park restaurant hosting a pre-screening party before Friday's show.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre opts for Spice World as their Friday/Saturday midnight this week. Sunday features the return of the monthly Goethe-Institut German film, with this month's selection the black comedy Age of Cannibals. They also pick up The Trip to Italy, including an "Off The Couch" screening on Tuesday, where special guest psychiatrists will likely discuss Coogan & Brydon's co-ependent relationship.
  • Both Apple Cinemas/iMovieCafe and Fenway keep Mary Kom around and also open Finding Fanny, a Hindi comedy about five neighbors who go looking for the postman's lost love, but get lost and likely find some romance themselves. It's oddly short for Bollywood - 102 minutes - but does feature Deepika Padukone. Apple also picks up Telugu-language action/adventure film, Power.
  • The Brattle plays host to the Boston Comedy Arts Festival Friday and Saturday, with the only movie screening being Road to Ninja - Naruto the Movie. Sunday and Monday, they have a restoration of Los Angeles Plays Itself (not sure how it's restored, being ten years old and made of film clips, but it's probably more a case of being out of rights hell and cleaned up a bit), with companion films that reflect the city - a double feature of Sunset Boulevard & Chinatown (and a 35mm late show of Repo Man) on Sunday, and Rebel Without a Cause on Monday.

    There are more one-off events through the week - a preview screening of Pride on Tuesday, the Andrew Alden Ensemble performing live accompaniment to The General on Wednesday, and a 35mm double-feature of giallo classics The Bird with the Crystal Plumage & What Have You Done to Solange on Thursday, likely to whet the audience's appetite for The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears the next weekend.
  • More Marco Bellocchio at the Harvard Film Archive: The Nanny (Friday 7pm), Sorelle Mai (Friday 9:15pm), The Void (Saturday 7pm), Slap the Monster on Page One (Saturday 9:30pm), The Prince of Homburg (Sunday 5pm), The Wedding Director (Sunday 7pm), and vincere (Monday 7pm). All are 35mm.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues their Documentary Spotlight, with both The Kill Team and Expedition to the End of the World playing Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday, with Expedition also playing Thursday. Wednesday also brings a return of French Favorites, with Philippe Garrel's Jealousy playing Wednesday and Thursday and Chris Marker's Level Five on Thursday.
  • ArtsEmerson has a premiere on Friday night, What a World, a documentary on local world musician collective DÜNYA.; there will be discussion befoe and after The free Bright Lights presentations are The Act of Killing (with post-screening discussion) on Tuesday and Balagan presentation Outré Montreal on Thursday.
  • the Regent Theatre has two film presentations - Jumanji on Sunday night as an Alzheimer's fundraiser and Faith Connections as part of the Gathr Alive Mind series.


My plans? At least Come Drink with Me in Chinatown, The Pirates, But Always, The Kid Brother, and The Drop, hopefully managing A Master Builder, because that preview looked fantastic. On Thursday, I'll be leaving for Austin for my first trip to Fantastic Fest.

Of course, the jury duty I've got Monday could really screw that up.

Monday, September 08, 2014

This Week In Tickets: 1 September 2014 - 7 September 2014

Why, yes, that ticket was in my pants when I did the laundry.

This Week in Tickets

Weirdly busy week at work, with a burst of stuff that needs to get done at the end of the day, pushing my exit from work late enough that I couldn't catch what I was planning on. Kind of frustrating, but it's what gets me paid, and I got out early enough to see Cantinflas on Thursday. Interesting timing, the same time of year as Instructions not Included last year. Same kind of accessible bilingual release, and entertaining enough.

Friday night was baseball night, and I'd like to dress it up as a microcosm of the Red Sox season, except that they won, eveni f it did take a disaster inning on the part of Blue Jays reliever Casey Janssen. It is still rather satisfying to witness a walk-off win when everybody else has bailed, though.

After that, I spent much of the weekend sitting on the deck, working on getting Fantasia reviews done while listening either to baseball or the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack. For evening shows, I caught Mary Kom on Saturday and Innocence on Sunday, finding both flawed, but still fairly interesting.

CantinflasUnexpected Walk-OffMary KomInnocence

Innocence (and more Fantasia catch-up)



I was fairly undecided about which of the two low-profile movies opening this weekend to check out Sunday night until clicking a few extra links in Innocence reminded me of where I'd heard the director's name before: Hillary Brougher directed The Sticky Fingers of Time, which I think may have been the first movie I saw at the Coolidge Corner Theatre when I moved to Boston fifteen years ago. I may have been the only one in the theater catching a 9:30pm show on its last day in town, because that thing was pretty far out there on the indie scale, a time-traveling romance between two women with no special effects aside from someone having a tail in one scene. That thing was weird to 25-year-old me, although who knows how I'd react to it if I took the DVD off the shelf and have it a spin tomorrow.

As mentioned in the review, that was her first movie, and Innocence I'd her third, fifteen years later, with both seeming to have a hard time getting finished and/or picked up for distribution. That's the kind of thing that really terrifies me about the very idea of being a filmmaker - what happens between those dry spells? For all I know, Ms. Brougher had kept plenty busy, working in theater or commercial work and maybe getting attached to projects that never get made our doing rewrite work that gets hidden by the WGA arbitration process, but I don't know if I'd have the temperament for that sort of uncertainty.

The other thing that caught my eye was that it seems to be cut from the same basic cloth as Another Me a couple weeks ago, with both being horror movies (or at least "dark fantasies") based on young-adult novels adapted by women with backgrounds that are pretty solidly in the independent film world. I suspect that there was a bit of a land-rush when Twilight hit, with producers buying up properties and then looking for people who could work cheap, and that two adapted by women got released in close proximity makes me see patterns when there aren't any. Two movies isn't quite a trend anyway, especially since at least one seems to have sat on the shelf for a while, but I kind of hope it is; I remember seeing Jennifer's Body a few years back and feeling kind of ashamed that scary movies by, for, and about women were rare enough for that one to feel like a real anomaly, a response to all the genre movies asked at young men that mostly used young women as ornamentation. Innocence and Another Me aren't perfect - I think I can safely say that even acknowledging that they are very much not made with me in mind - but they're mainstream, even if they're not getting wide releases. They're movies being made for an audience that some still deny exists, by folks who understand that audience much better than the likes of me or all the middle-aged make filmmakers who look like me.

That's pretty awesome, and not just because I know quite a few women who like this stuff and want the chance to make it, but still sometimes feel the need to use pen names that imply being male, or because it seems to be providing overlooked filmmakers a way to the mainstream. The multiplex is starting to look a bit more interesting, even if these movies are still only getting semi-limited releases.

Anyway, even though this isn't a Fantasia film, it could have been, so let's run through the latest batch of reviews I've done for that festival: Creep, The Search for Weng Weng, Ju-on: The Beginning of the End, Four Corners, Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder, Steel Cold Winter, Miss Granny, and Bros Before Hos. Twelve to go.

Innocence

* * * (out of four)
Seen 7 September 2014 in AMC Boston Common #18 (first-run, DCP)

The concept that Innocence plays with is an old one, but that's the way it is with a lot of movies: Whether you're talking about vampires, possession, or any of the other great horror concepts, they can be re-used because there's plenty of room to continue examining them; they're descended from something primal. Such is the case here; the filmmakers are doing a slick update of a horror story that doesn't get as much play as it used to.

Four months ago, the mother of Beckett Warner (Sophie Curtis) died from a freak aneurysm; now she and father Miles (Linus Roache) are moving into New York City, where Miles's publisher Natalie (Stephanie March) has secured Beckett a spot in a prestigious girls' school. There, she makes the acquaintance of students Sunday Wilson (Chloe Levine), Jen Dunham (Sarah Sutherland), and Chloe Murray (Annie Q.), as well as principal Moira Neal (Liya Kebede), nurse Pamela Hamilton (Kelly Reilly), and therapist Vera Kent (Sarita Choudhury), and it's not long before she gets the inkling that there is something very peculiar going on.

Innocence is freely adapted from Jane Mendelsohn's novel by director Hilary Brougher and co-writer Tristine Skyler, an interesting filmmaker though not a prolific one - this is her third film, with her first, The Sticky Fingers of Time, released in 1999. All have been built around women's perspectives, with this one featuring just one or two make characters of any consequence compared to almost a dozen girls and women. Brougher signals where the story is going to go fairly early on in an English Literature lecture, and but soon starts twisting the idea of a young woman's value being tired to her "purity" around. It's not the most revolutionary or subversive take on the concept, but it's played out with a broad enough cast of characters that nobody is forced into being an archetype and there's even room for some black humor in a spot or two.

Full review at EFC

Creep

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2014 in Salle D.B. Clakre (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

My only issues with Creep have nothing whatsoever to do with the movie itself. First, there's the generic title - it's only been ten years since the movie by that name with Franka Potente - and word that two sequels are already planned. I don't know how that works. But look at the movie itself, and it's a work of minimalist near-perfection, tremendously funny and with just enough edge to be a legitimate thriller.

It starts with Aaron (Patrick Brice) telling his camera that he's been hired for a bit of video work, and while it's kind of weird, a job's a job. This one involves following Josef (Mark Duplass) for a day, as he is dying of a brain tumor and wants to leave a testimonial for his unborn son. And while Josef seems very friendly, he's also, to put it mildly, eccentric.

It is a dead-simple premise; Patrick Brice and Mark Duplass have come up with a good reason for a found-footage style movie to be generating said footage and execute it almost by themselves, improvising much of the dialog from their story with Brice directing and shooting from the camera used in-story. They pile every joke that they can on and sell the heck out of each, whether they are shaggy-dog stories, one-liners, or putting a scene together visually in a way that's both funny and disturbing. Creep is a tremendously funny movie, and even when it starts getting into more unsettling territory, the jokes are perfectly executed. It's "wait, what?" humor executed more or less perfectly.

Full review on EFC

The Search for Weng Weng

* * * (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2014 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia Festival: Documentaries from the Edge, DCP)

Going in, I half-thought that I had seen The Search for Weng Weng before, what with IMDB showing a date of 2007 on it and there being at least some time spent on the 2'9" Filipino action hero in Machete Maidens Unleashed, another Aussie doc about the Philippine movie industry. If there was a 2007 version, though, director Andrew Leavold has added a great deal to it to make something quite memorable in its latest incarnation.

When Leovold started the film, the video store operator - 20 years running Trash Video in Brisbane - didn't realize that there was more to Weng Weng's ouevre than For Your Height Only. But, when he comes to the Philippines with a rough cut of the film and a request for any information that those in attendence have, he soon finds himself not only finding more movies Weng Weng starred in, but meeting a lot of colorful characters along the way, from former movie stars back in working class circumstances to the Marcos family.

It's not without bumps, as Leavold, something of an underground filmmaker, is filming his own quest and finds himself going around in circles a bit, often returning to the same point, letting information that will be contradicted stand, and ultimately allowing a lot of the uncertainty of making the film overshadow what he's learning during the making of it. It perhaps reflects the way he learned things, but it doesn't really feel like he's avoiding the straight line for a purpose as opposed to being new at this. Not that I'd want much of this material removed - even if a lot of the the people seem to have the same things to say, they're all worth meeting and giving enough face time that a viewer doesn't ask who that guy is when a group is shown together. Similarly, a side trip to see Imelda Marcos goes on a bit long and doesn't come across as quite so surreal as his narration builds it up to be, but it is still kind of eye-popping; there is probably another great documentary to be made about the apparent affection many Filipinos seem to still have for their long-time first lady even though westerners probably assumed that she and her husband were strung up after Ferdinand Marcos was deposed.

Full review on EFC

Ju-on: Owari no hajimari (Ju-on: The Beginning of the End)

* * (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, HD)

I suspect that the Ju-on franchise must take the ignominious prize for being restarted the most often in the last amount of time - since the original Japanese TV-movie in 2000 (for the sake of simplicity, let's ignore the prototypes made as part of an anthology series), there have been Japanese theatrical features, American features, and now this Japanese theatrical reboot. Oh, and there are rumors of an American reboot. It's understandable - the hook to these ghost stories is still good even if there's a bizarre resistance to expanding the eminently expandable mythos - but it's produced a version 4.0 that brings nothing but a new, inevitably younger, cast.

For those that missed it the first three times around, a Ju-on is like a sort of living grudge, an imprint of pure anger manifesting as the victims at the scene of a murder that affects those who visit, driving them to their own madness and crimes. As before, it is the Saeki family - father Takeo (Yauhito Hida), mother Kayako (Misaki Saisho), and eight-year-old soon Toshio (Kai Kobayashi) - at the center, with others serving as points of entry: Yui Ikuno (Nozomi Sasaki) is the new teacher for Toshio's third-grade class, as the previous one mysteriously disappeared (hmmm); she's got a screenwriter boyfriend, Naoto (Sho Aoyogi). There's also tall-but-timid teenager Nanami (Reina Triendl), pushed by her new friends Yayoi (Yuina Kuroshima), Rina (Miho Kanazawa), and Aoi (Haori Takahashi) to explore a very familiar house that Ali's realtor sister is having trouble selling because of its history.

I may have missed something in the untranslated credits, but I believe that this is the first entry in the franchise made without even the town involvement of creator Takashi Shimizu (after directing six of the things and consulting on 2009's direct-to-video entries, he may have had enough), and his participation does seem to be missed. New director Masayuki Ochiai and co-writer Takashige Ichise retain almost all of the movies' trademarks, from breaking the movie into intersecting chapters that don't always fit together in the expected ways to the creaking sound by which the ghosts announce their presence, but as with the ”White Ghost " and "Black Ghost" entries, the results don't quite measure up - the new Toshio doesn't perfectly appear in the shadows, for instance, and the line between precisely creating a foreboding atmosphere and just showing something weird can be awfully thin. There are hints that they might try something new, style-wise, when the movie opens with a first-person sequence, but that soon falls by the wayside.

Full review on EFC

Four Corners

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2014 in Salle D.B. Clarke (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

I must admit to not having a particular affinity for movies about gangs, and I kind of worry that being drawn to this one because it is set in South Africa rather than an American city doesn't speak well of me - I'm too willing to dismiss these stories as alien rather than close-to-home. Still, the environment that director Ian Gabriel and company visit in Four Corners is a large part of its appeal, showing gangs functioning like secret societies inside prison and a run-down but still somewhat sustaining part of Cape Town, and it serves as background for a fine bit of drama.

The opening titles inform those of us who were not aware that South Africa's "numbers gangs", specifically the 28s and 26s, have been fighting for over a hundred years, and right now, the 26s control the neighborhood where 13-year-old Ricardo Galam (Jezzriel Skei) lives, mostly trying to keep his head down and avoid recruitment. A couple of not-quite-newcomers are going to shake things up, though: Farakhan (Brendon Daniels), a general in the 28s once known as "Lee Marvin" and just released from prison, intends to leave the life and move back into his old house despite the 26 now living there; Leila Domingo (Lindiwe Matshikiza), a doctor sent to live in England as a teen has come to bury her father and is not sure about Manzy (Jerry Mofokeng), a homeless man her father took in. Meanwhile, police Captain Tito Hanekom (Abduragman Adams) does what he can to keep the peace and solve a series of murders that have the gangs on edge.

According to the publicity materials, director Ian Gabriel and his crew shot their movie primarily in authentic locations, the sort of places that even chips and reporters tend to stay out of for their own safety, and also shooting in the local Sabela dialect. How much it represents the actual experience of being there, I can't say, but it feels genuine in ways that aren't always the case: Rather than just the dark interiors of some run-down buildings, this movie spends a lot of time outside, in a neighborhood that is at least crowded if not quite bustling; there are almost always plenty of people in the background, going about their lives, even though the gang presence can be overwhelming. Much of the cast, from background players to people as prominent as Manzy, are former gang members sporting real ink, slotted into roles that for them like gloves.

Full review on EFC

Doktor Proktors prompepulver (Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 1 August 2014 in the rented apartment (Fantasia Festival, DVD-on-laptop)

All things considered, Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder has got to be one of the least likely kids' film imaginable, and I can't help but imagine a scenario where I'm recommending it to friends and family members with young children and digging myself a bigger hole with everything I say about it. After all, it comes from the director of the earnest but kind of harsh (and crude) Fatso and is based on a series of books by Jo Nesbø, the writer of some blackly funny, but very adult, crime stories. It's also delightfully silly and high-spirited; the kids will love it.

After all, they'll probably empathize with Lise (Emilly Glaister), an ordinary girl in a quaint Oslo neighborhood whose next-door neighbor and best friend has just moved away and whose parents barely notice she's around. One neighbor moving out means another moving in, though, and in this case that's Nilly (Eilif Hellum Noraker), a tiny boy with messy hair who is as excitable and curious as Lise is shy, which leads them to investigate a cloud of smoke coming from the home of reclusive inventor Doctor Proctor (Kristopher Joner). He's down in the dumps, too, afraid he will never invent something useful, especially since his latest powder yields nothing but loud, odorless flatulence. The kids, naturally, think this is fantastic, especially once they discover that with enough, you can launch yourself in the air. At that point, it grabs the attention of the neighborhood's other inventor, the jealous Herr Thrane (Alte Antonsen)

How powerful is Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder? They eventually contact NASA. It's a thoroughly goofy and juvenile sort of set-up, but it's kind of a delight. There's something great about a kids' movie that acknowledges that farts are funny, and rides that without ever making it actually gross. As much as director Arild Fröhlich and screenwriter Johan Bogaeus milk the material, it's almost always done without being rude, which fits well with the colorful neighborhood that feels like a kid's playland - Proctor's house and lab has a slide, Thrane's has a secret underground lab, and everybody wears perfect colorful costumes. Even the bullies (Thrane's kids, of course) are sort of perfect movie bullies, pushing other kids around at their mean father's behest and kind of sad when it means they get left out of stuff. There's danger in the form of a great big snake living in the sewers - animated with the sort of style that will never have it confused for the real thing - and some slimy situations, but it's almost all in fun.

Full review on EFC

Sonyeo (Steel Cold Winter)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 1 August 2014 in the rented apartment (Fantasia Festival: The Best Years of Our Lives?, DVD-on-laptop)

Apparently the literal translation of this movie's Korean title ("Sonyeo") is simplly "Girl". Fair enough, and evocative in its own way; maybe in some ways a little better than the English-language title it's been given for the festival circuit. I like the chill of the latter, though; it helps show that this is a fairly specific mystery rather than "just" a nifty tale of a dangerous and exciting first love.

After all, the girl is the first thing that Suh Yoon-su (Kim Shi-hoo) sees of the rural village that his parents are delivering him to after a traumatic incident that makes them figure time away from Seoul would do their teenage son good; she's skating on a frozen river in her school uniform. Yoon-su proves quite popular in the tiny farming village's school, although the girl he saw, Hye-won (Kim Yoon-hye) is decidedly not - there are ugly rumors about her and her father (Jung In-gi) that have both of them shunned. Yoon-su can't resist, though, and soon finds himself in a mess that a guy who still has psychosomatic pain in his ears from his friend's suicide back home may not be set to deal with.

Not a bad little take on the "new kid comes to school, finds himself attracted to the outsider" drama canon. One thing I like that director Choi Jin-seong and writer Choi Yoon-jin did is that it's very much winter in this village; oftentimes filmmakers will set a movie like this during the school year but have the weather be temperate. The chill helps here, not just because the image of Hye-won skating are the sort of thing that one can easily see taking root in Yoon-su's head, or because the cold can serve as a genuine danger for a family as poor as Hye-won and her father, but in general attitude. I don't know if Korean has the same way of describing people as "chilly" but people do insulate themselves and do more desperate things then; it also clears out the area so that things are even more lonely for a city kid like Yoon-su.

Full review on EFC

Susanghan geunyeo (Miss Granny)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 1 August 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Sitting down for Miss Granny, I had a horrible fear - what if this was 200 Pounds Beauty again? The template, right down to the newly-cute protagonist becoming a singer, was sort of the same, and it certainly had the chance to play into cruel stereotypes even if it wasn't quite so wrong-headed as building a better life through plastic surgery. The idea further solidified as Shim Eun-kyung proceeded to be just terrific in a potentially disastrous role. Fortunately, this Cinderella story manages to be funny without much in the way of guilt attached.

When it starts, Oh Mal-soon (Na Moon-hee) is the very picture of an ajumma, a stereotypical granny with a sharp tongue, a tight purse, hair permed like broccoli, and a lot more fondness for her son Hyun-chul (Sung Dong-il), a professor of elder studies, than his wife Ae-ja (Hwang Jung-min). She works in a seniors' cafe with lifelong friend Mr. Park (Park In-hwan), oblivious to how he thinks about her. When Ae-ja falls ill in part due to the stress Mal-soon puts on her, there's talk of finding a home for her, which is when she finds the "Forever Young" photography studio, whose proprietor promises to take fifty years off her - and does, giving her the face and body she had before her son was born. Unable to go home, "Oh Doo-ri" (Shim Eun-kyung) rents a room at Mr. Park's house, and when grandson Ji-ha (Jin Young) loses his band's lead singer, she winds up joining, which eventually grabs the attention of Seung-woo (Lee Jin-wook), the producer of a popular televised music series.

The movie tends to back off from the really questionable issues and goes for the big joke most of the time, even as it has fun with Ji-ha's unknowing infatuation. Part of it is how, like the character itself, the movie is tart but not really mean: Director Hwang Dong-hyuk and the team of writers get that Oh looking like a sort of hipster pixie in her 1960s-inspired outfits is funny and a bit ironic but not really a target to be made sport of, so the audience can laugh at the idea when it hits them without it being beaten into the ground (or maybe this is an American pop culture thing that I'm projecting onto a Korean film). The last act softens up a bit to play with the idea of assimilation as well as just oddity, and does it well enough that I might have enjoyed a more thoughtful comedy which played on the idea of new and old identities in addition to gags about an old lady in a young body, especially since the measures that the script takes to avoid it are kind of drastic.

Full review on EFC

Bros Before Hos

* * * (out of four)
Seen 1 August 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

I wasn't really looking forward to this one, having kind of hated the first New Kids movie enough to skip the second, but it was the only English-friendly thing playing and I wanted to see what came after, so I stuck around. I'm glad I did; it's a fun romantic comedy even if its sweetness can sometimes be buried deep underneath quite the crude exterior.

The "bros" of the title are Max (Tim Haars) and Jules (Daniel Arends), who made a promise as kids to never commit to any woman. They're still getting more action than one might expect of a video store clerk and a supermarket manager, and it would seem like things would keep going on that way until Anna (Sylvia Hoeks) appears. Max feels an immediate connection, but Jules gets there first, and rather than a simple one-night stand, he keeps going out with her, leaving Tom with dueling feelings of envy and portrayal.

As immature as that description makes the brothers sound, it doesn't really scratch the surface - there's also their friend Rene (Henry Van Loon), joining in with the man-child banter, the sex-obsessed autistic guy at the mental health institution where Anna works, and general vulgarity that is mostly delivered with the sort of wide smile that (mostly) lets the audience buy into it coming from a place of immaturity rather than true disdain or malice. I think it might have been better with about 80% less guys calling each other "niggah", "bitch", and "faggot"; though filmmakers Steffen Haars & Flip van der Kuil are likely going for a gag of how it makes them looking stupid, they play it exuberantly enough that it's easy to miss the irony. On balance, the Farrelly Brothers-and-then-some enthusiasm generally wins out, even if you might want the characters to be called out as the movie starts needing charm toward the end.

Full review on EFC

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Mary Kom

Here's a weird thing I've noticed about going to Bollywood movies: For as much as they are often very star-driven - I've mentioned the crazy credit that Rajnikanth gets at the start of his movies before, and the posters shown on iMovieCafe are often nothing but the stars with nothing about the movie - the previews almost never mention them by name. I saw the trailer for Mary Kom three or four times, for instance, and I didn't realize it was a Priyanka Chopra movie until I was looking it up on IMDB a week or so ago. Which struck me as weird, as she's a pretty big star and this is very much a star vehicle.

Now, to a certain extent this is just not being immersed in someone else's pop culture; if I were Hindi, I'd see Ms. Chopra on posters, in advertisements, on whatever the Indian equivalent of Entertainment Tonight or Letterman is, and I'd just know her, even if she is transforming herself a bit for this part. Then again, that's not always the case; I don't always recognize Tom Hardy, for instance, and he's a guy I really like. I'd think that Chopra is part of what you'd want to push about the movie, more aggressively than the film's advertising does.

Producers get billed in the previews though, though, which is kind of curious - are movie producers the sort of recognizable brands that bear promotion in India? Or is it more an ego thing? I find it rather odd that Indian studios seem to think that fixing the name of the producers in the audience's minds at the end of a preview is more effective than doing so with the stars.

The other side of this is the opening credits for the films, where in addition to the studio and production company logos there is a huge string of sponsors and partners. This isn't unique to Bollywood, though they usually come during the end credits in the Chinese and Japanese films which have a bunch of them. This one was unusually long, the sort of length where one is tempted to start yelling for them to start the actual movie already, or maybe take down a list to see who got the most product-placement bang for their buck. It does make you appreciate Hollywood, where the big multimedia collossi don't need to sell such prominent sponsorship (but let's not give them any ideas).

Mary Kom

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 6 September 2014 in Regal Fenway #5 (first-run, DCP)

Mary Kom opens with the title character going into labor in the middle of an armed rebellion in 2007, and that's the sort of thing that one might think would have been a bit of a bigger factor in a story which does come back to regional tensions later. It doesn't quite fit the inspirational sports narrative, which may be why it's pushed off to the side until it can fit that structure, albeit oddly. It's a good sports movie, although moments like that certainly highlight just how much it's playing from the standard playbook.

The dangerous streets cast her mind back sixteen years, when young Mangte Chungneijang Kom (Mridul Satam) finds a boxing glove in the wreckage after a plane crash in Kangathei, Manipur and becomes attached right away, much to the chagrin of her father Tonpa (Robin Das). Chungneijang grows into a pugnacious teenager, taking swings at her friend's crappy boyfriend, until the chase leads her (Priyanka Chopra) into a gym where she makes an impression on coach M. Narjit Singh (Sunil Thapa). She soon becomes one of India's top female boxers under the name "MC Mary Kom", meeting soccer player Onler (Darshan Kumaar) along the way. There are challenges, both in the form of corrupt federation official Sharma (Shakti Sinha) and motherhood.

There is a regular arc to this sort of movie - inspiration, commitment, championship, injury, comeback - and pregnancy is a different twist on the "injury" portion of that narrative. That the story is familiar isn't necessarily a bad thing, even if it likely does mean distorting the true-life story somewhat. It would be nice if it weren't done so nakedly; as much as real lives don't always resolve things in a way that fits tidily in a screenplay, the script by Saiwyn Quadras has a tendency to bring things up that are dramatic in the moment but not really explore them: There's never a sense of why Chungneijang is lashing out so much, for instance, and though there is occasional talk about discrimination and neglect toward Manipur versus other regions of India, it doesn't happen on-screen in an impactful way - the moments when this may be going on can come across as Chungneijang digging a hole for herself.

Full review at EFC

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Cantinflas

This movie hit theaters at just about the same time that Instructions Not Included did last year, the weekend before Labor Day, and while I don't know if it will have the same staying power, it's got enough in common with last year's Mexican sleeper - a specifically bilingual/cross-border story, what I presume is a noteworthy Mexican cast, and a concerted attempt to appeal to a broad audience - that I could see history repeating. It's still a bit of an underserved market.

Obviously, I'm not exactly the target audience for this movie, as I had a moment at the box office where I probably looked a bit of a fool asking for a ticket to "Cant-in-flass" as opposed to "cahn-teen-flas" - clearly, the lady behind the box office was much better with the Spanish than me, enough to make me kind of wish I'd just used the ticketing kiosk. It was a minor comfort to see Michael Imperioli's character mispronounce it the same way within the film.

Very odd set of trailers before it; I didn't realize that the movie had a straight PG rating - a rarity for films not directly aimed at children - so I was a bit surprised that I walked in during a preview for Dolphin Tale 2. Things got a bit odd after that - the trailer for The Boxtrolls had the narration in Spanish, but all the dialogue in English, while the clearly Mexican-inspired Book of Life was all English. The group wound up with a decent-looking thing called Spare Parts featuring George Lopez as an inspirational teacher, but smack in the middle - between the two animated films, in fact - was one for Más Negro que la Noche, a straight-out horror movie apparently set to hit US theaters later this month (it played Mexico in August). All-Spanish trailer, promise of 3D, doesn't look particularly compatible with Cantinflas at all - but, hey, when you only play Spanish-language films every few months, you string them together however you can.

Cantinflas

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 4 September 2014 in AMC Boston Common #17 (first-run, DCP)

It might be interesting to watch Catinflas while making tick marks to see just how much is in Spanish with English subtitles and how much is in English with Spanish subtitles. It's probably not 50/50, or even that close, but there is clearly an effort being made to create a movie that plays well from one end of North America to the other (and beyond). Filmmaker Sebastian del Amo does well enough by that goal, but it's fair to wonder whether our not he in doing so has limited the film to being generally okay rather than specifically great.

There are two points of entry, one for each language. Hollywood in 1955 features Mike Todd (Michael Imperioli), a Broadway producer whose first foray into the world of film is an attempt to shoot Around the World in 80 Days with an international, cameo-filled cast. Elizabeth Taylor (Barbara Mori) is his first target, but the focus soon shifts to wooing Mexico's biggest star, Mario "Cantinflas" Moreno. The other track starts in 1931, when Moreno (Óscar Jaenada) aims to become a boxer, but his footwork is more suited for slapstick than sport. He's soon discovered by Stanislao Scilinski (Luis Gerardo Méndez), whose father-in-law rubs a tent show in Mexico City. It's there that Mario refines the Cantinflas character, meets future wife Valentina Ivanov's (Ilse Salas), and keeps an eye out for opportunities to move up in the business.

Either one of these threads has the potential for making an interesting story on its own, and as Mario's narrative catches up with Mike's, it's not hard to see why del Amo saw the potential in connecting them, especially once Julian Sedgwick shows up in a fun little role that connects things in a clever, witty way. The trouble is that in fitting both in, del Amo winds up leaving what seem like some important pieces out: The audience never really gets to see Mike as the clever producer who can turn a situation to his advantage, while Mario's rise just seems to happen with little action on his part beyond stubbornness as a performer; there a bit of a disconnect between the naturally funny man of the people who improvises in part because he is unable to memorize lines in 1931 and the canny mogul of 1955, with that side of the story reduced almost to being inattentive to his wife. On the other hand, while it's hard to leave young Elizabeth Taylor out of any story she might have been involved with, she's a tangent that does not do much for the film.

Full review at EFC

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 5 September - 11 September 2014

It seemed to take the various sites/pages with movie times forever to update this week, and when they did, I sort of imagined that the reason was because the multiplexes were calling up the distributors, saying something along the lines of "really? these are our options?"

  • So, let's run with the independent cinemas. The Coolidge Corner Theatre gets Love Is Strange - as does Kendall Square and West Newton - which features Jon Lithgow and Alfred Molina as a couple finally able to get married, only for the Catholic school where one works to fire him now that what they've known all along is official. They wind up selling their apartment and living apart while trying to find a new one, which puts a lot of strange tensions on their lives. It's in the bigger rooms at the Coolidge, while No-No: A Dockumentary, has three shows a day on the small GoldScreen, telling the story of Dock Ellis, known for both claiming to have thrown a no-hitter while high on LSD and advocating for civil rights.

    The specials include a 35mm print of They Live! at midnight on Friday and Saturday, a Stage & Screen presentation of Jungle Fever on Monday with Todd Kreidler (who is opening an adaptation of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner at the Huntington Theater Company) and Open Screen on Tuesday.
  • In addition to Love Is Strange, Kendall Square and West Newton get The Last of Robin Hood, which features Kevin Kline as late-stake Errol Flynn, romancing a very young starlet (Dakota Fanning), enabled by her mother (Susan Sarandon). But, you know, they had me at "Kevin Kline". There's also a single show on Wednesday of Duran Duran: Unstaged, with David Lynch directing this concert film, so that should be something. That also plays at the Regent Theatre, Showcase in Revere, and the SuperLux.
  • West Newton Cinema (who have a spiffy new website) opens those two plus matinee showings of Thunder and the House of Magic, an animated movie about a stray kitten who finds shelter from a storm in a crazy inventor's house. It's being released in 3D, but I don't think it's screening that way in West Newton.
  • Apple Cinemas also has an indie opening, The Longest Week, which features Jason Bateman as a gentleman of leisure who suddenly loses access to his fortune, moves in with a friend (Billy Crudup), and falls for his girlfriend (Olivia Wilde). From India, their iMovieCafe opens Mary Kom, which features Priyanka Chopra as a young woman who takes up boxing and becomes a five time champion around challenges in her personal life; it also opens at Fenway. There's also something called Rabhasa, but you need to speak Telugu for that.
  • The Brattle has something close to a straight-up regular release this week, showing The Congress all week. It's a nifty science-fiction story featuring Robin Wright as a fictionalized version of herself, an actress who sells her likeness and later gets trapped inside an animated future. The only break from that is at 7pm on Wednesday, where the Irish Film Festival of Boston has a special premiere screening of A Terrible Beauty, a film about Ireland's 1916 Easter Revolution.
  • It's quiet enough on the mainstream front that a lot of places are keeping Ghostbusters around, while Forrest Gump gets a week on Imax screens at Jordan's, Boston Common, and Assembly Row. Other than that, there are two main choices: The Identical, which features Blake Rayne as identical twins separated at birth during the Depression, both of whom find their way into music as they grow up. Nice supporting cast, including Ashley Judd, Ray Liotta, Sseth Green, and Joe Pantoliano, whom it seems we haven't seen in a long time. It's at Apple, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    There's also Innocence, which features Sophie Curtis as a transfer student who discovers that someone at her prep school is staying young by bathing in the blood of virgins. It also has some interesting folks in the supporting cast, like Kelly Reilly and Linus Roache, and plays at Boston Common, Fenway, and Revere. Boston Common will also have the Brian De Palma Scarface on Sunday & Wednesday for $6.
  • The Harvard Film Archive starts its fall program with a retrospective of Marco Bellocchio, the Moral Anarchist, including Fists in the Pocket (Friday 7pm), Devil in the Flesh (Friday 9pm), Good Morning, Night (Saturday 7pm), "Let's Discuss" & In the Name of the Father (Saturday 9pm), Henry IV (Sunday 5pm), My Mother's Smile (Sunday 7pm), and Victory March (Monday 7pm).
  • The Museum of Fine Arts finishes their runs of Exhibition (Friday) and Norte, the End of History (Friday & Saturday). On Wednesday, they begin a Documentary Spotlight, with screenings of The Kill Team - featuring Adam Winfield, who attempted to blow the whistle on war crimes his platoon was committing in Afghanistan - and Expedition to the End of the World, chronicling a Danish expedition to Greenland. Both screen on Wednesday and Thursday.
  • ArtsEmerson restarts their free Bright Lights series on Tuesday, with Chuck Workman's What Is Cinema? playing on Tuesday and American Arab on Thursday, each followed by discussions - Emerson faculty for the first and director Usama Alshaibi (via Skype) on Thursday.
  • In addition to the Duran Duran show, the Regent Theatre also has a presentation of short films from local student filmmakers on Thursday. Gathr still needs 50 tickets sold in the next week for a screening of Who Is Dayani Crystal? (co-directed by Gael Garcia Bernal) there on the 24th.
  • Joe's Calendar still shows a couple of outdoor screenings on Friday, with Jaws at the Frog Pond and E.T. at the Milk Bottle. They also list Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work showing at the Revere Hotel's Screen 1 (formerly the Stuart Street Playhouse) on Tuesday evening.


My plans? A couple Red Sox games, Last of Robin Hood, Mary Kom, The Longest Week, and maybe Innocence or The Identical.

This Week In Tickets: 25 August 2014 - 31 August 2014

Spent more time than I'd like trying to have every ticket touch the day it was used, but then you can't and there's that big space in the corner...

This Week in Tickets

I wasn't going to do the Doctor Who season premiere in the theater, but then I saw it was remembered that Ben Wheatley was directing and figured, what's twelve bucks? The really crazy thing is that a lot of people seem to have done so; the 7pm show was expanded to two screens, which means about three or four hundred people decided to do the same at Boston Common, plus however many folks were at Fenway, Assembly Row, and the further suburbs. That's despite it being shown on free television a couple days earlier.

Crazy, really. I joke about how the stuff I loved as a kid is ridiculously popular now, and where were all the cute college girls in costumes paying cash money to watch this thing when I was a teenager?... But, really, it's kind of amazing.

Tuesday, I took the long train to Chestnut Hill, because if I'm going to pay 3D money for Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, it may as well be at the fancy place. Just barely made it because I was hit with a couple of delays on the T, and it took until a couple minutes in to get the 3D properly turned on, but it's looked pretty good.

Then came a long weekend, and checking out four movies that hit the multiplexes but apparently had nobody reviewing them for eFilmCritic - The November Man on Thursday, As Above, So Below on Friday, Kundo: Age fo the Rampant on Saturday, and Raja Natwartal on Sunday. The big surprise among them was As Above, So Below, a pretty standard-looking found-footage film that benefits from having Perdita Weeks and just works in terms of getting the scares it wants.

That one was meant mostly to serve as a warm-up for the only midnight show I got to at the Somerville this summer, The 'Burbs, and at first it seemed like I was planning things right - have the soda at 10pm so that the caffeine is hitting the system around midnight, but it's amazing how quickly one can go from chugging along to just dragging. It lasted right into the next day, as I was feeling pretty sluggish while watching Kundo, although I arrived back from Revere just in time to catch the last screening of "Monty Python Live (Mostly)" in the Bright Screening Room at the Paramount. First time I've been there in a while, but then, they did stop having a regular film program, and I haven't yet made it to the "Bright Lights" series.

Another packed house for a thing I have liked since I was young, and I wonder if Emerson managed to get the late booking (most places, including ArtsEmerson screened this in late July/early August) for incoming students. I'm guessing that's who a lot of the folks in there were, including a couple with the weird habit of announcing everything they recognized. Did they have girlfriends who weren't fans or something? Even in that case, I'm not sure what calling out "The Parrot Sketch!" gets you.

Doctor Who: "Deep Breath"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 25 August 2014 in AMC Boston Common #14 (Fathom Events, digital)

I've been looking forward to the new series of Doctor Who in large part because of Peter Capaldi and once again having the actor playing the part be discernibly older than I am the part played as an eccentric uncle rather than a potential boyfriend, or at least closer to that ideal. Given that Capaldi is a life-long fan of the show, having things move toward the original series excited me.

Well, it's not a total throwback; even though I half-suspect that the BBC suggested that the producers not worry about cutting it too much so that they could have the feature-length episode for theaters, leaving it kind of air-filled at a few moments, it's still running at a pretty frantic pace - a nice feat for an episode that, when you get right down to it, is rather dedicated to making a case that shouldn't have to be made - we've seen enough regenerations to know that the initially-prickly new guy will eventually be revealed as kind of a softie underneath, and basically the same person you've been following for the last X episodes/years/decades. It even goes so far as to basically borrow plot and villains from an earlier new-series episode. Why not just run with it?

Still, it's a fun episode. It's got a dinosaur (two, if you count Lady Vastra)! Capaldi, in the midst of talking about who he is as the new Doctor, does a very nice job of establishing the character, and while it seems like Clara is being reconfigured just as much as the Doctor (this repeated characterization as a control freak seems like a break from the caretaker of series 7+), Jenna Coleman is making it work. And while this was never going to be a full-fledged Ben Wheatley movie - he and Amy Jump didn't write it and he is making it for a much broader audience than his usual - but it's got a moment or two that I don't think a standard TV director would have gone for, with some jumps over the filler bits (I wonder what this would have looked like cut down to a more-standard 50 minutes). Having seen "Into the Dalek" since, I'm curious how others will handle the other Missy appearances; how many other directors will go for straight "I don't care if you don't get it right now" instead of "interesting, right?"

Also worth noting: The cinematic presentation was in the a roughly 2.35:1 aspect ratio, but the television presentation was HD-standard 1.78. I wonder which one Wheatley was framing for.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 26 August 2014 in Showcase Cinemas SuperLux Chestnut Hill #3 (first-run, RealD)

Crazy, isn't it, that the sequel to a movie which was a huge deal ten years ago can become a "just another" movie, even though Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller have still turned out something that looks and feels like nothing else out there aside from the first and Miller's The Spirit, and those weren't in 3D. But in that time, Zack Snyder has had picked up the "make it look exactly like the comics" ball, run with it, and moved on, which means that the gimmick isn't enough - to be as well-remembered as the first movie, it's going to have to be better.

And, unfair as it is, it's not. It's got some impressive pieces: Eva Green absolutely insists on grabbing the audience's attention, just leaning into the pulpiness of the material; if this is how Miller and the pulp authors he's emulating think of women, so be it, that's what she'll deliver. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Powers Boothe are good enough in their story that it's a bit of a shame they don't get to play off each other more. Rodriguez is one of the best at using 3D and he's at least enthusiastic where the pulp action is concerned. Rosario Dawson remains fantastic, even if she's in a role that's as ridiculous as her costume.

What's missing, then? Some sort of satisfaction, I think - not one of the four stories really has the "f--- yeah!" moment that makes the suffering that comes before - or the inevitable going down swinging - worth it. There are stabs, but they're not enough. Circumstances have hurt the cast, too: Dennis Haysbert replaces Michael Clarke Duncan, Josh Brolin takes Clive Owen's role (although that's got an in-story explanation), Brittany Murphy is gone, Bruce Willis is sidelined. Jessica Alba is a better actress than she was, but too much of the last act rests on her.

I'm a bit tempted to take out the old DVD of the first movie and see if it holds up, or if all the issues from the new one are there, but it was just different and exciting in 2005. But then, what good could come out of that?

The 'Burbs

* * * (out of four)
Seen 29 August 2014 in Somerville Theatre #3 (Midnight Specials, 35mm)

Like a lot of folks who really like movies, I'm always a bit puzzled why Joe Dante hasn't had more mainstream success. He's certainly made movies that people love, and his film-nut tendencies don't tend to wedge themselves in to an extent where audience feel put off when they don't get the reference, even when he is clearly making movies about movies. All his movies tend to be genuinely funny or scary as need be, and he's got a knack for making silly work that few other filmmakers do.

And that latter part may almost work against him - he can make movies that, even if they aren't targeted entirely to kids, certainly play well for them, which means that when he makes something like The 'Burbs, which is not just for adults but actually kind of hostile in tone, people don't know what to make of it. Dante and writer Dana Olsen aren't coating this particular look at suburban isolation and paranoia with any sort of fondness, and even though there are some pretty great gags in it and a mystery worth unraveling, it's not hard to see audiences coming away from it feeling like they're being accused. This is in fact the case, but not many filmmakers do it quite so flagrantly.

It's a bit of a shame that it can be so off-putting, because Tom Hanks is kind of great in it, hinting at the edge he would have in some of his later roles at a time when he hadn't really moved far outside of the audience's comedic comfort zone yet. There's a fun ensemble around him, and Dante uses what theater manager Ian Judge described as a long-standing set on the Universal lot extremely well - its half-familiarity and the way the camera flits around it help with the movie's accusatory tone, making this a little more our neighborhood.

I must admit, I do enjoy the cheerful, friendly Joe Dante (or at least the one who doesn't mess around scaring the audience) a bit more than the guy who made this movie. I'm still pretty fond of it, but I wonder if this is what pushed him to the side in Hollywood more than anything else.

Monty Python Live (Mostly)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 August 2014 in the Paramount Theater's Bright Screening Room (special presentation, digital)

I've got the Monty Python Instant Record Collection buried in a pile of CDs somewhere, but I always considered it a bit of an oddity; my impression of the troupe always came from the Flying Circus and Holy Grail, and I never thought of them as the group that performed Eric Idle's funny songs as opposed to the sketch-comedy troupe led by John Cleese and Graham Chapman. This live special, though, leans pretty heavily on Idle's music, with plentiful use of a chorus line to cover changes between skits. On the one hand, that means fewer moments with the surviving members of the troupe (including Carol Cleveland) actually on stage, but on the other, I feel happy for the dancers - how often do they actually get to be funny in their job?

As to the material... There's something definitely odd about watching all these routines that a couple of generations of high school/college kids memorized only to see the performers stumbling on, because they're septugenarians and their repetition of the material was for the most part done forty-plus years ago. There are uncomfortable moments when it feels like we might be seeing the beginning of the end for John Cleese, as the oldest member of the group seemed to forget his lines the most, although in that case it certainly helps to be playing against partners with the same kind of sharp comic timing and just generally be able to turn it into a self-referential bit about how the audience knows the material anyway.

And, let's face it, the stuff is still funny, even if this isn't quite the best possible version of it (live performance is nice, but being able to get it right and edit the best bits of each take together doesn't hurt). The performers have all had intriguingly different and successful careers since Python, but they still seem to have a fair amount of affection for the material and each other - Terry Gilliam especially seems absolutely delighted to be working with his old friends again, even if Cleese sort of seems to have a "not going to let people see me excited" thing going on. I do think that the moments when they go off the script we all know are the ones I enjoyed the most, whether it be Michael Palin covering for Cleese's flubs or a video bit with Professors Brian Cox and Stephen Hawking that has fun with nitpicking the science of a silly song.

When the live reunion shows were first announced, I seriously considered a London vacation to see them, although the money wasn't quite there and, besides, they were smack in the middle of the Fantasia Festival. I kind of wish I had - given that I was born in 1973, this was pretty close to a literal once-in-a-lifetime event, and being there would have been an extra jolt. In the future, I'll watch the sketches off my trusty 16-DVD set, but it was certainly neat to see this once.

Doctor Who: Deep BreathSin City: A Dame to Kill ForRaja NatwarlalThe November ManAs Above, So BelowThe 'BurbsKundo: Age of the RampantMonty Python Live (Mostly)