Saturday, October 25, 2014

Revenge of the Green Dragons

Very glad I got to see this in a theater - as I think I mentioned before, this was originally scheduled to play the Boston Film Festival about a month ago, but during a slot when I was flying back from Austin. So, when it got pulled at the last minute and later announced as the opening night film of the Boston Asian American Film Festival, I was a happy camper.

And, hey - guests!

 photo IMAG0967_zpsc0951839.jpg

(For as often as I'm forced to use the "horrible photography" tag, that is some accidentally awesome composition, no?)

From left to right, that's executive producer Alan Pao, co-stars Geoff Lee, Celia Au, and Carl Li, directors Andrew Loo & Andrew Lau, co-star Shing Ka, and Devon Diep, who performed the title song. Pretty good turn-out, probably in part because the film is getting a limited theatrical release starting this weekend (it's also available on demand via DirecTV).

It's a pretty great get for BAAFF, because it's probably one of the highest-profile movies made with a primarily Asian-American cast in some time, at least since the last Harold & Kumar entry. It's pulp, but it's pretty good as pulp goes. And as much of the cast attested, that's something they don't necessarily often get the chance to do, as opposed to playing a lot of restaurant workers or grad students.

They also all mentioned that director "Andrew" Lau Wai-keung worked fast, getting one or two takes and then moving on. Lau was kind of the big draw for me; he co-directed Infernal Affairs, which got remade as The Departed, making it only fair for Martin Scorsese to executive produce this movie. It's not his first American movie - he did something called The Flock a few years back, although the American version had reshoots directed by someone else - but what I like about it is how much it feels like something from both America and Hong Kong, which is as it should be.

Also cool: He seemed to dig the Brattle Theatre; apparently the tour has had them screening Dragons in a lot of slick new venues, and he really seemed to dig playing it in a theater that was actually around during the time when this film took place. He seemed to stumble on getting it out in just that way - he seemed to be telling Creative Director Ned Hinkle that he liked the place because it's kind of old and run-down, but we can see it as him being glad the Brattle isn't trying to be something it's not and losing its personality, right?

The other interesting thing that came up was that they did a lot of open auditions in New York, and a lot of the older immigrants they talked to said that if they had it to do over again, they probably wouldn't have come to America, what with the danger, near-slavery, and prejudice they face. Something you hate to hear, but given some of what you see in the movie and can learn about elsewhere, not exactly surprising. It ties in with the short film that played before the feature (and similar ones which played during Films at the Gate), which talk about a real feeling of isolation until people find specifically Asian-American groups to connect with.

Revenge of the Green Dragons

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 October 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Asian American Film Festival, DCP)

Don't let some of the pedigree that Revenge of the Green Dragons can whip out fool you - executive producer/"presenter" Martin Scorsese and co-director Andrew Lau have made some transcendent gangster movies, but this one is more or less the sort of lurid fare its name suggests. This is not an argument against it, mind you; what better way is there to tell the story of an Asian-American street gang than by bringing some Hong Kong style to old-school grindhouse?

The Green Dragons recruited Steven Wong and his foster brother Sonny early, when they were middle-schoolers fairly fresh off the boat in 1982. Seven years later, they've moved up; Sonny (Justin Chon) is handling collections, while the more fiery Steven (Kevin Wu) brandishes a knife. It roughly parallels the gang's leaders, clean-cut Paul Wrong (Harry Shum Jr.) and his right-hand-man Chen Chung (Leonard Wu), who know that if they keep things relatively clean, the NYPD will mostly assign rookie cops, even if one guy at the FBI (Ray Liotta) is starting to sniff around due to a general belief that immigration is a ticking time bomb.

The film is based upon actual people and events, but it doesn't really need to be; while it may not follow the gangster-movie template exactly, there is not a lot to the movie that audiences have not seen before. If anything, the screenplay by Michael Di Jiacomo and co-director Andrew Loo primarily distinguishes itself via exceptional cynicism: There is never much effort made to build the Green Dragons or other gangs up as social structures offering some sort of honor, unity, or camaraderie; they are assemblies of thugs from minute one, appealing mainly because the alternative seems to be exploitation that is tantamount to slavery.

Full review at EFC.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 24 October - 30 October 2014

Ah, mid-October. The colors turn, the festival films start their platform releases in earnest, and various big movies come out for Halloween and Diwali. It's a weird week that's going to inspire weird tangents. You've been warned.

  • For instance, there's actually a movie based upon the Ouija board coming out this weekend, because of course a PG-13 tie-in to a Hasbro toy gets an order of magnitude or two more theaters than any of the dozens of really good horror movies I saw at festivals this year. The ones in the Boston area include Apple, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, Revere, and the SuperLux. Still, I'm racking my brain to think of two other movies I saw this year that involved these things. They amused me because they were Asian, and the Japanese one had a hand-written kana grid like from my classes, while the Chinese one had dozens and dozens of symbols arranged in rings.

    Speaking of festivals, everyone at Fantastic Fest had great things to say about John Wick, with Keanu Reeves as the title character, a former assassin who goes full mayhem on the gangsters who killed his dog (it is, apparently, over the top in many, many ways). It's directed by stuntmen who know big action, and plays at Apple, Revere, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Jordan's. Imax at the last three (in fact, Imax-only at Assembly Row), and it seems like the things playing those particular screens have basically been because you have to use that proprietary set-up for something between Guardians of the Galaxy and Intersteller.

    Speaking of festival films, IFFBoston alum Dear White People opens at West Newton, the Kendall, Fenway, and Boston Common; it's a pretty darn funny story about race relations on campus, especially considering how no character is ever entirely what you might expect. And while it already opened last week at Kendall Square, St. Vincent expands to Somerville, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, and the SuperLux.

    At Boston Common, the weekly classic is Psycho, playing Sunday and Wednesday. Fenway and Revere, meanwhile, celebrate Halloween with encores of the Danny Boyle-directed NT Live Frankenstein, with Jonny Lee Miller as Victor & Benedict Cumberbatch as the Creature on Monday and the rolls reversed on Wednesday (the AMC in Braintree has them on opposite days, and the Coolidge plays one on Thursday, but it's already sold out). It's pretty nifty, although I've only seen Cumberbatch as Victor.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre opens two noteworthy movies on the big screens this weekend. Birdman is a black comedy from the normally very dour Alejandro González Iñárritu, and it also features some bang-on fantastic casting - Michael Keaton as an actor who has disappeared from the limelight since passing on doing a third superhero movie twenty years ago, now trying to make a comeback on Broadway. Had me at "Michael Keaton", but Edward Norton, Emma Watson, Naomi Watts, and a bunch of other great folks don't hurt. It's also at the Kendall and Boston Common.

    They also get Whiplash, featuring Miles Teller as a talented young drummer whose new teacher (J.K. Simmons) is monstrous in his determination to make the student the best. I'm kind of intrigued that it's directed by Damien Chazelle, because I did not like his first movie (Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench) much at all, but wonder what he can do with something that has an actual story to it. It also plays the Kendall, Embassy, and Boston Common.

    There's an enjoyably Halloween-y slant to the special programming. Friday night's midnight show is a 35mm print of The Monster Squad, while Saturday is the midnight-to-morning Halloween Horror Marathon, which starts with Boris Karloff as Frankenstein and then Joel Schumacher's The Lost Boys, both in 35mm. Four more unannounced 35mm movies follow, with seances, costume contests, trailers, shorts, and other good stuff stretching things until noon. The scary vibe continues on Monday, as the Big Screen Classic presentation is American Werewolf in London, also in 35mm. Then, on Thursday, that NT Live Frankenstein, although it appears to be sold out.
  • In addition to Birdman, Dear White People, and Whiplash, Kendall Square has a one-week booking of The Irish Pub, which is just what it sounds like, a celebration of that fine Celtic institution. Director Alex Fegan will be on-hand Friday night, doing a Q&A after the 7pm show and introducing the one at 9:15. Their Firday/Saturday midnight movie is David Fincher's Seven, and Tuesday's "Globe on Screen" presentation is The Tempest.
  • I'm not quite sure on the specifics of Diwali, but I know that's when a lot of big Indian films get released, with this year's big release being Happy New Year, featuring Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, and Abishek Bachchan in a great big diamond heist caper; it's at both Apple Cinemas and Fenway. The iMovieCafe guys will also be showing two Tamil-language films there, Kathithi and Poojai, without subtitles.

    The cinema at Fresh Pond will also be screening Bitter Honey this week, a documentary seven years in the making examining the practice of polygamy in Bali. They'll also be doing a horror quadruple-feature on Sunday, with each part also running during the week: The Lost Boys (also Wednesday), Evil Dead 2 (also Thursday), The Cabin in the Woods (also Monday), and 28 Days Later (also Tuesday). The whole thing will repeat again on Halloween with Trick R Treat added to the end; I'm not sure if either the Sunday or Halloween shows are single admission or can be purchased as a single ticket.
  • The Brattle ramps up to Halloween with The Master of Schlock: A Centennial Tribute to William Castle, filling their schedule with some of the theatrical hustler's most well-known films. Friday night is an unusual double feature of The Whistler (on 35mm) & The Lady from Shanghai (which he produced). Saturday starts with another one he wanted to direct but only produced, Rosemary's Baby (which also runs on Wednesday); that is followed by a double feature of The Old Dark House & The House on Haunted Hill (the 7:30pm screening in EMERGO!). Sunday offers a double feature of The Tingler (with Percepto!) and 13 Ghosts (in 35mm and Illusion-O!); the twin bill also plays Thursday. Monday's single feature is a 35mm print of Homicidal, and Strait-Jacket shows at 10pm on Tuesday, also in 35mm.

    Amidst all that, there are other screenings, some less scary than others. The Visitor wraps up the "Reel Weird Brattle" program at 11:30pm on Saturday, and that's on a vintage 35mm print, rather than the new digital restoration. Sunday afternoon features a special screening of recent Filipino thriller Rekorder with star Ronnie Quizon in person. The monthly free Elements of Cinema screening on Monday is Rolling Stones documentary Gimme Shelter, with discussion afterward, and Tuesday's IFFB Fall Focus presentation is the pretty darn excellent horror movie The Babadook.
  • The Harvard Film Archive hosts Martin Parr this weekend, with "Think of England" on Friday night and the filmmaker himself in person for his new film Turkey and Tinsel on Saturday evening, following an afternoon discussion of his new photo book. They also continue their Hou Hsiao-hsien series with Millennium Mambo at 8:30pm on Friday and The Sandwich Man & Goodbye South, Goodbye on Sunday. They then cap the weekend with a fortieth anniversary screening of Vietnam documentary Hearts and Minds on Monday, with director Peter Davis there in person.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has the closing portion of their Boston Palestine Film Festival this weekend, with screenings Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. On Wednesday the 29th, they have the first screenings of two films that will show intermittently over the next few weeks: Listen Up Philip, which features Jason Schwartzman as an egocentric novelist, and Fifi Howls from Happiness, a documentary that pays tribute to "Persian Picasso" Bahman Mohassess.
  • The Bright screening room at Emerson's Paramount Theater plays host to the Boston Asian-American Film Festival, which includes some 25 shorts and features on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I can vouch for Saturday's centerpiece showing, 9-Man, although I gather it's down to rush tickets. During the week, the Bright Lights series features two free screenings: Kisses to the Children, a documentary about hidden Greek-Jewish children during the German occupation, plays Tuesday night with the director and other special guests having a discussion afterwards. Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive has a special screening Thursday night.
  • The Regent Theatre just has one film program this week, the 9th Annual Boston Bike Film Festival on Friday night.
  • The UMass Boston Film Series has a screening on Thursday, Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart, done up a little fancier than usual with a reception beforehand and a special panel discussion afterward.

My plans? Birdman, John Wick, Whiplash, Happy New Year, the Frankenstein I haven't seen yet, and maybe a few others.

The Blue Room

Last day to see this at the Coolidge, so go for it tonight if you're interested. It's worth a look, and it's only 76 minutes. More movies should just be that long.

I like it for a lot more than it's no-messing-around length, though. Mathieu Almaric has a kind of pleasant Tim Curry thing going on, and it's got Lea Drucker, whom I did not recognize from "Just Before Losing Everything", but should have, because she was fantastic in one of last year's best short films.

I kind of wondered whether it was made for television when the curtains pulled in to the tight 1.33:1 aspect ratio - which might also explain the compact running time - although I don't know why anyone would use that aspect ratio for TV any more. Even if the US is unusual for having gone all-in with HDTV and its 1.78:1 aspect ratio, I was under the impression that a lot of European television productions shot for widescreen anyway. I also wondered if any of the people sitting closer to the ends of rows scooted toward the center when the curtains closed, what with their seats now to the left of the frame.

One other thing I'm curious about is


whether the name of the film has a more universal meaning in France than just the color of the characters' hotel room. The last few shots of the movie had frequent cuts to the upper portion of the courtroom, which was painted blue. Is this a universal thing? The decor feels kind of official even if the actual courthouse isn't as opulent as one in a larger city might be. If so, nifty double meaning. If not, I still like it; it's a neat way of tying the start to the end, just like the drops of blood & jam lead to the final murder.


I must admit, though, I was a bit at sea not knowing how the court system in France works. I remember seeing Dick Wolf talking about the process of adapting Law & Order to the UK on a DVD extra and casually mentioning that it wasn't necessarily that hard, as the systems are very much related, and that when they did Special Victims Unit in France, where you don't have presumption of innocence, that was a lot trickier. Fortunately, it got me more curious than frustrated, but I don't know if that would be the case for everyone.

La Chambre Bleue (The Blue Room)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 October 2014 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (first-run, DCP)

Georges Simenon wrote La Chambre Bleue (The Blue Room in English) about sixty years ago, and it appears to be the sort of elemental crime story where only small details need be changed to bring it into the present day. Mathieu Amalric's adaptation is tight in almost every way it can be, just what you want from this sort of elemental story.

The blue room of the title is in a local hotel, where Julien Gahyde (Amalric) and Esther Despierre (Stéphanie Cléau) have met and made love eight times in the last eleven months. They knew each other as teenagers and reconnected when Julien moved back four years ago, leading to vague talk of leaving their respective spouses. But while it doesn't look like Julien wants to end it with his wife Delphine (Lea Drucker), other conversations - with police, lawyers, psychologists, and judges - soon follow.

This situation is behind half of all the mystery thrillers ever made, and this one doesn't necessarily add many new twists to the plot: There just aren't enough characters for particularly unique permutations to emerge. What The Blue Room does, then, is to slice up the story and put it back together in an interesting way. In fact, the basic structure of this story is almost inverted, presenting the audience with the accused and their motives fairly quickly but taking plenty of time to tease out what actual crime has been committed.

Full review at EFC.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Not entirely sure what happened with this one last week - it was on the schedule for one show at Boston Common on Friday night, but when I showed up, the ticket kiosk had it marked "cancelled" Then, a week later, it gets booked for two shows daily. I half-wonder if the fact that the director first got noticed for his BU thesis film (back in '98) was part of why it was getting booked here at all; I suspect last week's booking might have been a personal appearance he couldn't make.

At any rate, I'm glad it did eventually get released. It may not necessarily be great, but it's good, and I think the other person at the room liked it as well. That's what seeing an indie in a multiplex after the weekend is like, especially when the two previews going on (for John Wick and Birdman) seemed to suck the air out of the rest of the theater.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 October 2014 in AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run, DCP)

Given that its name is a hashtag, one might expect #Stuck to have social media play some sort of central part of the story, and maybe cringe at the inevitable mishandling. Fortunately, filmmaker Stuart Acher doesn't choose to stack storytelling gimmicks three deep, instead mostly just choosing to let the romantic comedy rest on its actors' performances. It's not a bad plan.

That leaves two gimmicks, of course. The first is that the bulk of the movie takes place in one car stuck in a Los Angeles traffic jam, with Guy (Joel David Moore) trying to deliver his one-night stand Sarah (Madeline Zima) back to the car she left near the bar the night before. The second is that the two were apparently wasted enough to not remember anything about the night before, including each other's names, and it is coming back to both of them in reverse chronological order, which is how the audience sees the flashbacks.

It makes for kind of a rough start; just by the nature of the beast, folks in the middle of a traffic jam are testy at best and often abrasive, which winds up amplifying the traditional "romantic comedy leads don't initially like each other" to the point where it starts to actually become worrisome. It's also kind of predictable, as the first scenes of the traffic jam introduce all the familiar characters for that situation and only one or two draw much of a laugh. The initial flashbacks are also kind of weird, and not always in a good way, often emphasizing awkwardness over sexiness and often being shot from a first-person point of view that often feels too close in or distorted, like Acher's trying to do something with their self-image and how they see the other, but it's just out of reach.

Full review at EFC.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Sunday's plan: Go to Somerville, arrive when both Gone Girl and Fury would be starting within five minutes of each other, and see whichever one was on the big screen. Then figure out the rest of the afternoon. Which wound up being "see the other one". Projectionist Dave Kornfeld offered to make Gone Girl out of focus just for me, and possibly out of spite because director David Fincher loves working with digital in a way that the theater's Dave, well, doesn't.

It's a shame that they couldn't get a real print of Fury, in that case, because the promotional stuff I saw as part of some theater's pre-show had the cast talking about how this was an old-school, shot-in-35mm war movie, which had me holding out a little hope that it might screen that way, and Dave & Ian would be all over that. Sadly, it doesn't look like they got that opportunity, which is a shame. Curse you for getting my hopes up, electronic-press-kit-makers! Even I I did enjoy it well enough as a DCP.

One part o the movie I liked more than expected, but which didn't really fit in the review, is Shia LaBeouf. I've never really hated him as an actor although I've always wondered what Steven Spielberg saw in him to keep recommeding him when not casting the guy himself, even before he'd gone and made his name a punchline. Apparently, he just needed the right mustache, because it kind of gives him a young Sam Elliott thing here. Someone should find a way to cast them as the same character 30-40 years apart sometime.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 19 October 2014 in Somerville Theatre #3 (first-run, DCP)

David Ayer seems unlikely to make a romantic comedy any time soon; his films are testosterone baths packed with bloody action and male bonding, an unrepentant couple hours of traditional masculinity with just enough self-awareness that, even if that's not your thing, you can at least acknowledge it as a fair examination of manhood. And if it is your thing, Fury is a darn good war movie, no closer examination necessary.

It follows the crew of a Tiger I tank (with "Fury" written across the barrell of its cannon) during the final months of World War II. Sergeant Don "Wardaddy" Collier (Brad Pitt) has held the group together for much of the war, enough to come out of a slaughter almost intact - driver Trini "Gordo" Garcia (Michael Pena), gunner Boyd "Bible" Swan (Shia LaBeouf), and mechanic Grady "Coon-Ass" Travis (Jon Bernthal). Their other driver dead, they have been assigned the extremely green Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), a clerk with no training and no experience. Dispatched as part of a group meant to flush out Nazi defenses and hold a critical crossroads, Collier and his crew don't intend to let Norman's squeamishness hold them back.

Ayer has no intention of abstracting things from the very start; though a tank movie could easily be played like plane movies often are - war depicted as a clash of machines, rather mechanical even as you get to know their crews - we're introduced to Collier as he leaps out from cover and slits a mounted Nazi's throat. Then, of course, he frees the horse, for it is a noble beast that does not deserve to be sullied by any further association with the SS, a rugged moment of kindness. That will set the tone for much of the rest of the movie, as Ayer piles on reminders that war is a horrific thing, even if it is also something that must be fully embraced to be survived, with any more sentimental impulses taking the form of stoicism.

Full review at EFC.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Book of Life

That I often wind up seeing animated movies on Saturday morning isn't something I ever planned as a nostalgic return to how I spent weekends as a kid; it's just that I like 3D but have issues with paying fifteen bucks or more for a movie. So, I hit the pre-noon shows, which are currently seven bucks plus a four-dollar 3D surcharge. Gotta be thrifty.

I do lament the end of Saturday morning cartoons, even though it's the sort of thing I make the effort to not oversentimentalize. Twenty years ago, I loved what Fox and the WB were programming on Saturday mornings - including Earthworm Jim by Book of Life co-writer Doug Langdale - and found myself envying the kids who would think that this is the baseline for how good cartoons were supposed to be. They weren't so good in the 1980s, as I discovered to my horror when the DVDs for the first season of Transformers came out.

The switch to cable came later, and that's when cartoons sort of left me behind. As much as I like the idea of how Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon giving much the creators of the animated series much more room to execute their own visions than used to be the case, I actually tended not to like a lot of the individual visions; it got weird and grotesque on me. I blame Ren & Stimpy, with folks chasing very bizarre designs and quirky-to-the-point-of-random characterization.

The Book of Life has some of that (those noses really bugged me), so it's not really for me. Still, even if I'm inclined to grumble a bit because kids aren't experiencing animation the way I did (which was great at the time), I certainly never got much this stylishly daring or smartly multicultural, and I kind of thing that that's because the three networks programming four hours a week just didn't have room for it.

The Book of Life (2014)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 18 October 2014 in Regal Fenway #9 (first-run, RealD 3D)

The Saturday morning cartoon block officially became a thing of a past this fall, although every obituary has mentioned that television now has more animation than ever; it just migrated to syndication and then cable. What emerged was a different sort of cartoon, more irreverent and as likely to reflect an individual creator's aesthetic as a company's house style (which, as a side-effect, often makes them more authentically multicultural). The Book of Life is that progression making its way to theaters, a high-energy animated adventure with style and a big-screen voice cast.

It tells the story of a bet between the rulers of Mexico's two afterlives - La Muerte (voice of Kate del Castillo) of the Land of the Remembered and Xibalba (voice of Ron Perlman) of the Land of the Forgotten - over whether Manolo (voice of Diego Luna), the scion of a family of bullfighters who would rather play guitar, or mustachioed soldier Joaquin (voice of Diego Luna) will marry the general's daughter Maria (voice of Zoe Saldana). Though unaware of the bet, Maria isn't exactly thrilled that people are thinking of her as a prize; and that's not all: Xibalba intends to tilt the odds in his favor by sending Manolo to the land of the dead, and a dangerous outlaw seeks the magic medal which makes Joaquin invulnerable.

This is bookended and occasionally interrupted by a museum tour guide (voice of Christina Applegate) telling the story to a group of American kids, and while there are a few amusing gags that come from breaking it up that way, other reasons are probably more important: Explaining the Day of the Dead and other bits of Mexican mythology to those who don't know them, giving the younger members of the audience a chance to settle down and see their feelings reflected onscreen after characters are [apparently] killed by snakebites, or providing an in-story reason for why the characters look like wooden toys. It's kind of cute, but also a bit of a distraction from the main story that the audience really cares about - especially since the style contrast is more "wood versus plastic" than "real vs dolls".

Full review at EFC.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Golden Era

So, I'm not sure what China Lion is doing differently now - or if they're not doing anything different, but Regal is doing a different sort of promotion than AMC in places where I can't see it - but this is the second opening night of one of their films in a row that extra shows were put on last-minute because the screens were packed; the room was already pretty well-populated when I got there ten minutes before showtime, and folks just kept showing up until about twenty minutes into the movie (probably figuring on the usual twenty-minute preview package, but Regal apparently doesn't do that on three-hour foreign movies when they don't have the next preview of a movie from that country they may run handy). Probably 150 people for the screening, which breaks down to roughly 149 college students of Chinese ancestry and me.

Kind of interesting, because I don't know that the movies China Lion has success with are things I'd normally think of as college-kid movies. This is a three-hour biography of a writer active in the 1930s in a fairly unhealthy relationship, which doesn't necessarily scream "date movie" to me, although I have never been at college on the other side of the planet in a country where movies in my native never play theatrically. I think it's a bit of a younger crowd than used to show up when these movies were playing Boston Common, which makes me wonder if it's a matter of playing less intuitive demographics: I always assumed that the Boston Common theater, being right next to Chinatown, would be the ideal spot for these movies to open, but I wonder if Fenway is actually better for attracting all the Chinese and Chinese-American college kids - do the students living in Allston consider that their local theater? Or is it just a matter of China Lion's deal with AMC (which was frustratingly reluctant to book/promote these movies in Boston) running out and them shifting who they target at roughly the same time?

I've got no idea, still, but I must admit that it continues to fascinate me, if only because I want to see these movies here and it's starting to look kind of viable. I've been giving my fellow Chlotrudis members (hopefully) friendly reminders that the new movie by the director of A Simple Life, which won their signature "Buried Treasure" award a couple years ago, is playing in theaters, and I think it's kid of amazing that there's a pretty good chance that The Golden Era, despite seeming like a much niche-ier picture, will probably make too much money to qualify for that one.

Which is good. If quick American releases of Chinese romances by well-regarded directors are making money, then that means my chances of being able to see Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2 in theaters next month is pretty good.

Huang jin shi dai (The Golden Era)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 October 2014 in Regal Fenway #11 (first-run, DCP)

Most of the descriptions of Xiao Hong biography The Golden Era spend some time talking about what made her remarkable as a writer, and the film does give those of us not terribly familiar with 1930s Chinese literature a bit of a taste of her words and why they are remembered despite her short career and life. But while the focus is less on what she created and more on how what she wanted - a "quiet place to write" - was elusive, the way in which screenwriter Li Qiang and director Ann Hui tell the story is often what will be the most striking.

Xiao Hong (Tang Wei) was born Zhang Naiying on 2 June 1911, in Manchuria, and as we're informed right away, she died on 22 January 1942 in Hong Kong. The film spends little time on her childhood, aside from an excerpt from her writing that described her grandfather as the most encouraging part of it, though it was her early adulthood that seemed most disastrous: Having run away to escape an arranged marriage, she returned home in disgrace, eventually pregnant and held prisoner for debts in the city of Harbin until she connects with the local literary magazine. That's when she meets Sun Lang (Feng Shaofeng), pen name "Xiao Jun", who would become her partner in literature and life. It would not be an easy partnership, though - while both were part of the Shanghai literary circle of legendary writer Lu Xun (Wang Zhiwen), Xiao Jun was more drawn to political activism in the nascent Communist Party than Xiao Hong during a very turbulent period in Chinese history, to say nothing of the other woman.

One of the first shots of the film is a black and white image of Xiao Hong relating the time and place of her birth and death, and it's an interesting choice, if it does initially seem a bit conventionally unconventional. Soon other voices are added, and while having Xiao Hong narrate her life story would have perhaps have given the film a false sense of omniscience, Li and Hui instead quickly move to establish just how limited what people know can be: Xiao Jun points out that there were no pictures of some members of his family, leaving them as unknown, and narration points out that not only did the man to whom Xiao Hong was betrothed disappear, but so did his entire family; finding out more about this chapter of her life is a dead end.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Art and Craft

Hey, it's another example of that Kendall Square phenomenon:

(1) Show preview in front of every movie for a month or three
(2) Advertise that the movie is only playing for a week
(3) Get enough business that it gets held over!

I occasionally wonder if both (1) & (2) are necessary for (3) to happen, combining well-seeded interest with manufactured urgency. It worked well enough on me, I guess, although I may have seen that this and The Two Faces of January were held over before buying a ticket.

Also: They must have been showing some sort of sneak preview Tuesday night, because although the line at the box office was easily manageable, the one for snacks was out the door. Not sure I've ever seen that happen before, and I'm kind of curious what the movie was (guess: St. Vincent).

Art and Craft

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 14 October 2014 in Landmark Kendall Square #6 (first-run, DCP)

One of the neat things about Art and Craft is that it hints at a number of different angles to an already-interesting story, acknowledging that it is all but impossible to fit the entirety of a tale of art forgery and con artistry that spans decades into a ninety-minute documentary produced at the tail end. Faced with this situation, many filmmakers will wind up calling attention to the gaps rather than maintaining a sharp focus that allows them to make a strong movie with the material they can get.

That, in large part, involves following Mark Landis, who has spent much of his adult life copying artwork and donating his facsimiles to various museums, seldom being caught and never prosecuted - "lying" does not legally become "fraud" until money changes hands, and Landis never asked for payment. Time is also spent with Matthew Leninger, the registrar at the Cincinnati Art Museum who has spent the most time documenting Landis's activities and actually met him when working a similar job in Oklahoma City, as well as Aaron Cowan, a curator at the University of Cincinnati's art museum, and John Copper, the Financial Times Magazine writer who ended Landis's anonymity with a major profile article.

To say Landis is a peculiar case is to severely understate the matter. It's not that a writer couldn't make him up if this story was a fiction, but he or she might get accused of building something exaggerated and a little too on-the-nose: He has a stooped posture and is extremely soft-spoken, with a manner of incorporating quotations from film and television into his speech that makes for an easy parallel with his forgeries - he never claims the words or artwork as his own, but always comes off as mimicking the surface rather than examining what's underneath. There's a telling moment when he says he would have been a good priest because he can imitate what the title character does on Father Brown (although it's not hard to imagine him toiling away in a monastery, perfectly transcribing illustrated texts, in some previous century).

Full review at EFC.

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 17 October - 23 October 2014

After a packed schedule last weekend, things are a little less nuts, although there are also things playing which didn't plaly when they were first scheduled.

  • The big opening is Fury, with David Ayer directing Brad Pitt and a pretty solid supporting cast as a tank crew behind the lines in Nazi Germany. That plays at Somerville, Apple, Embassy, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway (including RPX), Revere, and the SuperLux. That being testosterone central, The Best of Me probably makes fine counter-programming, being a Nicholas Sparks adaptation starring Michelle Monaghan and James Marsden as lovers reuniting after a long separation. It's at Somerville, Apple, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    Then there's one for the entire family with The Book of Life, an animated adventure directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez and produced by Guillermo del Toro with Diego Luna and Channing Tatum voicing romantic rivals to a princess (Zoe Saldana), with a great look and more fun voice acting. It's at the Arlington Capitol, West Newton, Apple, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Revere. A really surprisingly small number of 3D screenings - it's 2D-only at the first three locations.

    Boston Common also has #Stuck on the schedule again, this time as a regular booking rather than just a couple of shows (which were cancelled last week). Their Sunday/Wednesday "classic" screening this week is Good Will Hunting. Down the Green Line at Fenway, The Golden Era, Hong Kong's submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, show up just a couple weeks after opening in China. It stars Tang Wei as a renowned writer from the 1930s.
  • Kendall Square shares St. Vincent with Boston Common; it stars Bill Murray as a curmudgeon who winds up looking after the son of the single mother next door (Melissa McCarthy). Naomi Watts also co-stars. They also have a one-week booking of Lilting, which features Cheng Pei Pei as a retiree who didn't learn her son was gay before he died, and is now confronted with his lover (Ben Whishaw). There's also a single screening of We the Economy, a package of twenty shorts overseen by Morgan Spurlock, playing on Monday.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre has The Blue Room bouncing between screen #2 and the smaller screens; Mathieu Amalric stars and directs this adaptation of a Georges Simenon novel. Could be nifty, and it's a tight 76 minutes. They also pick up The Two Faces of January in the Goldscreen.

    There's a weekend full of special programs, too. The two midnights on Friday & Saturday are Cronos - Guillermo del Toro's first feature - and Frankenweenie, Tim Burton's expansion of an early short into a feature. Sunday morning features two special screenings - the monthy Geothe-Institut German film screening is West, a story of a single mother crossing into West Germany in the 1970s, while the Talk Cinema presentation is Force Majeure, a pretty darn great story about a marriage seeming to get just the push it needs to unravel during a ski vacation.
  • The Brattle will be running The Princess Bride for most of the weekend (Friday through Sunday), with star Cary Elwes on hand for Friday night's show after a reading/signing of his new book As You Wish. Saturday evening also features ski movie Days of My Youth with a 35mm print of the bizarre Al Adamson creation Carnival Magic playing at 11:30pm as part of "Reel Weird Brattle".

    After the weekend, there are a number of special events: Monday features a DocYard presentation of Return to Homs, with director Talal Derki skyping in after the showto discuss the documentary about two activists in Syria. Wednesday brings director Henry Corra (and some of the subjects) of 2006 film Same Sex America. Then, on Thursday, the Boston Asian American Film Festival kicks off with Revenge of the Green Dragons, with directors Andrew Lau and Andrew Loo doing a Q&A after their first English-language feature. This had been scheduled for the Boston Film Festival, but apparently got pulled to make its Boston debut as part of this festival, which says something about how far the BFF has fallen.
  • All Things Horror doesn't appear to be calling their big triple feature at The Somerville Theatre "ShudderFest" this year, but ten bucks in advance or twelve at the door gets you admission to The Last Buck Hunt, The Creep Behind the Camera, and Bag Boy Lover Boy.
  • The Harvard Film Archive mixes and matches a bit this weekend, showing both of Athina Rachel Tsangari's films - Attenberg on Friday with the director (and visiting professor) in attendance and The Slow Business of Going at 4pm on Sunday. There are free screenings on Saturday and Sunday - Home Movie Day Saturday afternoon, and two from the Hou Hsiao-hsien series - The Puppetmaster on Saturday evening and A City of Sadness Saturday night. And then, on Monday night, director Jim Hubbard will be present to screen his documentary United in Anger: A History of ACT UP.
  • After one last screening of Field of Dogs on Friday afternoon, The Museum of Fine Arts starts the Boston Palestine Film Festival, with screenings Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Thursday.
  • Emerson's Bright Lights series also has a Palestine Film Festival presentation, with the pretty-nifty Omar screening Tuesday. On Thursday, they have a Queer Awareness Month screening of "Alone with People" in their Paramount Theater's Bright Screening Room.
  • The Regent Theatre continues the Arlington International Film Festival that started on Thursday through Sunday. They've also got a screening of Who Is Dayani Cristal? on Wednesday night.
  • The ICA has three film screenings this week: Born to Fly on Saturday night, The Notorious Mr. Bout on Sunday, and Sam Green's The Measure of ALl Things on Thursday.

My plans? Fury, The Golden Age, Book of Life, St. Vincent, The Blue Room and the other stuff I haven't gotten around to yet.