Friday, August 26, 2016

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 26 August 2016 - 1 September 2016

I don't actually think that the various film venues and programs should be consulting with each other and checking my social media feeds to know what works best for me is, but twice in the last couple of days I've thought like that - once when realizing the screening of Police Story 2 the Brattle added would bump against something else, once when I realized I didn't have to work around the one show of Time Raiders last weekend.

  • Still, having to work around something this weekend means that it's time for one of my favorite Boston movie events of the year, Films at the Gate, where the Asian Community Development Center shows Chinese movies outside on the Greenway, following martial arts demonstrations and shorts. They're going for deeper cuts this year - documentary Pui Chan: Kung Fu Pioneer on Friday, recent Herman Yau production Woman Knight of Mirror Lake on Saturday, and Shaw Brothers action-comedy The Kid with a Tattoo. Head on out, get some snacks in Chinatown, and have a ball.
    While in the Chinatown area, you can catch Time Raiders in either 2D or 3D at Boston Common, and while it's got some serious problems, it might look pretty cool in 3D. If your tastes run toward Korean, Boston Common also opens The Tunnel, in which a man is trapped in a collapsed stretch of road. It's got an all-star cast (Ha Jung-woo, Bae Doo-na, and Oh Dal-su), and filmmaker Kim Seong-hoon made the pretty fun A Hard Day.
  • End-of-summer is generally a place where people don't get excited about what's coming out, although there seems to be some excitement about Don't Breathe, which was the closing-night film at Fantasia and comes from Evil Dead remake director Fede Alvarez, who sends some kids to rob a blind man's home, which proves a spectacularly bad idea. It's at Apple Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway (including RPX), Revere (including XPlus/MX4D), and the SuperLux.

    More typical: The thing people thought might be an Oscar contender but might be a cut below that line. That's what Hands of Stone looks like, starring Edgar Ramirez as Panamanian boxer Roberto Duran and Robert De Niro as his trainer. That's at Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere. Then there's the not-very-good action movie, Mechanic: Resurrection, with Jason Statham returning as a generic hitman character and Tommy Lee Jones, Jessica Alba, and Michelle Yeoh cashing checks. It plays Apple Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere.

    There are a bunch of little one-and-two-off shows in theaters this week too. Revere has animated toy tie-in Welcome to Monster High on Saturday morning, a TCM presentation of The King and I on Sunday and Thursday, and the "premiere party" for Kevin Smith's Yoga Hosers on Tuesday. Rob Zombie's latest, 31, also skips a regular theatrical release and shows Thursday at 7pm in Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere. The Imax-branded screens, also shake things up, with Assembly Row keeping Suicide Squad in 2D and 3D, Boston Common playing The Jungle Book (3D) in the afternoon and Jason Bourne in the evening, Jordan's Natick going with Bourne all day and Jordan's Reading showing The Secret Lives of Pets (3D).
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre picks up Hell or High Water, which also expands to the Embassy and Revere and sticks around the Kendall and Boston Common. There's also a surprisingly wide release for Southside with You, a romance that chronicles the day-long first date between Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson back in 1989; they seem to have done all right for themselves since. It's at the Coolidge, The West Newton Cinema, Kendall Square, Boston Common, and Fenway.

    The August Animals Attack series presented by the Boston Yeti waps up this weekend with midnight shows of Piranha II: The Spawning on 35mm Friday & Saturday night; it is technically James Cameron's first directing credit although to ask him they mostly needed a Canadian listed as director to get tax benefits. Cameron would later direct a seuel to Monday night's big screen classic, Alien, though I would argue that Ridley Scott's original is still the series's best by far.
  • On top of Southside with You, Kendall Square brings in A Tale of Love and Darkness, Natalie Portman's first feature as writer & director as well as playing the mother of Amos Oz (Amir Tessler) in an adaptation of his stories of his youth in Palestine after his Jewish family fled there to escape the war in Europe. Also opening there is Miss Sharon Jones!, a documentary on an R&B musician who broke through relatively late and battle illness alongside the release of her anticipated new album.
  • Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond is the venue for IFFBoston Closing Night film The Intervention, a very funny ensemble company from Clea DuVal in which she and several other friends hosts a weekend getaway to tell her sister (Cobie Smulders) that she really should divorce her husband. They also have Natural Selection, which looks to be an indie drama about a high-school kid being pushed toward the point of explosion.

    Several Indian films open as well, including A Flying Jatt, starring Tiger Shroff as a bumbling Bengali superhero. Hey, he may have action-star potential. No listings for subtitles on Telegu-language romantic comedy 100 Days of Love or Maalik, an Urdu-language film from Pakistan with writer/director Ashir Azeem starring as a special forces soldier who becomes entangled in politics; I don't recall seeing films from Pakistan there before. Ditto for Bichagadu, which plays Sunday morning and Monday evening, or Janatha Garage, also Telegu and opening Wednesday.
  • The Brattle Theatre spends much of the weekend playing host to The Massachusetts Independent Film Festival, which runs from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon and has guests at almost every screening. Lots of interesting, off-beat stuff there.

    Along with that, The summer repatory series all wrap up this week, though in pretty fine form: Saturday offers a late-night double feature of Police Story 2 on 35mm and a new DCP restoration of Snake in Eagles Shadow. The final Femmes Fatales of Film Noir double feature on Monday & Tuesday jumps into color with Leave Her to Heaven & Gone Girl; while Wednesday's "Under the Influence" pairing is The Hateful Eight and Cut-Throats Nine, both on 35mm. Kiki's Delivery Service & My Neighbor Totoro finish up "Kids International: A GKids Retrospective", though both will have weekend matinees as well.
  • The Regent Theatre will be the home for The Witness, a film about the infamous murder of Kitty Genovese in broad daylight and her brother Bill's attempts to find justice after new information surfaces fifty years later, all week long. Saturday night's screening will be followed by a Q&A including Bill and cinematographer Trish Govoni

  • The Harvard Film Archive heads into the Rouben Mamoulian retrospective's homestretch as the summer calendar nears the end with a bunch of classics: Golden Boy (Friday 7pm), City Streets (Friday 9pm), Queen Christina (Saturday 7pm), We Live Again (Saturday 9pm), swan song Silk Stockings (Sunday 4:30pm), The Mark of Zorro (Sunday 7pm), and High, Wide, and Handsome (Monday 7pm). All films are on 35mm.

  • The Museum of Fine Arts has five films rotating this week: Bulgarian parable Viktoria (Friday/Saturday), Korean documentary My Love, Don't Cross That River (Friday/Saturday), new addition The Other Side, which combines documentary footage and a fictional story for a look at paranoid backwoods Louisiana (Friday/Sunday/Thursday), 1982 German sci-fi noir Kamikaze '89 (Saturday/Sunday/Thursday), and Eva Hesse, a documentary on the short-lived 1960s sculptor.

  • The ICA will have a special outdoor screening of A One Man Show, a Grace Jones concert video with a live performance by Neon Music and a DJ set by Light Asylum's Shannon Funchess on Friday.

  • Outdoor movies are winding down (aside from Films at the Gate), but Joe's Boston Free Films shows a couple chances to see Ant-Man, along with Some Like it Hot and others.
I've got a couple of baseball tickets this week, so it'll be harder to get to everything, but I'm looking at The Tunnel, Don't Breathe, A Flying Jatt, Southside with You, and some time at the Gate.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Mechanic: Resurrection

Well, that wasn't very good. Not that there were a whole lot of great options playing at a time which would work so that I could use MoviePass on a 7:10pm show the next night, although I remembered that this might not be necessary when I got the ticket. Ah, well.

I am kind of confused about what sequels are getting Jason Statham and which ones aren't these days. Last year's The Transporter Refueled recast his part, despite that character being pretty strongly associated with Statham, and folks really like both those movies and Statham in them. Meanwhile, I can't remember very much about The Mecahnic at all, other than it involved an apprentice who didn't make it into the sequel, and looks like the sort of thing where the sequels go direct to VOD with a new Mechanic played by a less bankable actor. But, no, they somehow got Statham back. Go figure.

Kind of funny thing: I was working on the review of Blood Father on my way to the movie, talking a lot about how Mel Gibson is in movie jail, and one of the best previews for this was for Hacksaw Ridge, billed as "from the director of Braveheart", which is weird - that movie is pretty strongly associated with him, but apparently saying his name is the point where he becomes an unacceptable liability.

Mechanic: Resurrection (2016)

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 August 2016 in AMC Boston Common #6 (first-run, DCP)

That Mechanic: Resurrection was a sketchy idea was obvious to begin with; Jason Statham's first go-around with this character was not exactly a hit or considered the sort of mid-level of action movie that executes better than the bigger-budget ones (and the best element of that movie, Ben Foster as Statham's protege, wasn't returning). Still, when Michelle Yeoh's character asks Statham's to beat up just one obnoxious goon... Well, geez, that's not great use of resources on display.

If you don't remember how the previous film ended (I certainly didn't), top assassin Arthur Bishop (Statham) has faked his death and now is living off the grid in Rio. Old "friend" Crain (Sam Hazeldine) has discovered him, though, and soon has blackmailed Bishop into carrying out three hits that must look like accidents - African war criminal Krill (Femi Elufowoju Jr.), Australian human trafficker Adrian Cook (Toby Eddington), and American arms dealer Max Adams (Tommy Lee Jones), using pretty relief worker Gina (Jessica Alba) as a hostage.

The action crosses the globe, from Rio to Thailand to Australia to Bulgaria, maybe not all places where action films go to shoot relatively cheap, but the pattern is pretty clear, and it's a weirdly modular movie: It's understandable enough that each of the targets only shows up in one location, but Crain's headquarters on a boat isolates him and Gina - after she's introduced in Thailand, they could have shot all her scenes in one spot even as they're supposedly travelling the world. Characters whom it seems might recur disappear, and the episodes fail to build on each other in interesting ways. The repetition of material from Rio in Thailand and the way Crain finally enlisting Bishop takes forever makes one wonder if a lot could have been cut out of those segments.

Full review on EFC.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Three days of good stuff for the kids: Pete's Dragon '16, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and Kubo and the Two Strings

Say what you want about summer 2016 being disappointing where movies are concerned, but come Christmas, I'll be able to get each of my four young nieces a new release and have stuff left over for birthdays. I'd like it if more of them had girls as their main protagonists, but Finding Dory, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, The BFG, Ghostbusters, Phantom Boy, The Little Prince, Pete's Dragon, and Kubo and the Two Strings is a pretty nice few months of stuff I'd give to kids, even if I'm taking a couple of things on faith and maybe stretching with Ghostbusters, but, look, it's a movie where a bunch of ladies get together to do science without much in the way of sex, swearing, or particularly nasty violence, so I'm obviously going to recommend it to my nieces.

It doesn't look like some of these are doing that well, though, which is a real shame - Pete's Dragon and Kubo deserve more, and Wilderpeople has sort of stuck around boutique places more than having been a hit. Still, the latter part of the summer especially has been quality stuff, and, I swear, if some of the crappy things I saw preview for do better, I'll... Well, shake my head sadly. Don't make me do that.

Pete's Dragon (2016)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 August 2016 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, RealD DCP)

A few years ago, a friend argued that a certain movie was not as good as it could be because it let the audience see its creatures right away rather than hiding them for a big reveal later, even though it wasn't about discovery. I was reminded of that when this new version of Pete's Dragon showed the dragon in the second or third scene, thinking that the kids that this movie was made for wouldn't have internalized those expectations based upon what used to be prohibitively expensive. That thought soon fled my mind, though - while the modern ability to put something fantastic on screen with relatively little restriction is a big part of what makes this film a delight, its big heart and the filmmakers' steady hands do even more to make this one of the best family films to come out in a year that has had plenty.

That first glimpse of the dragon comes after we're introduced to a five-year-old and his parents driving to a new home, though an accident leaves the boy on his own. Six years later, we hear a tale of a dragon from old man Meacham (Robert Redford), though his forest-ranger daughter Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) has never seen such a thing in the woods. Grace is engaged to Jack (Wes Bentley), one of the brothers who owns the local sawmill, which causes some friction as Gavin (Karl Urban) tends to extend their logging operations a bit further than allowed. It's during one of these disputes that Jack's daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence) finds Pete (Oakes Fegley), who tries to run when the adults take him to the hospital. He wants to get back to the only friend he has had for the past six years, and the dragon he calls Elliott is worried about what happened to his boy.

It's important that we not only see the dragon early, but hear of him from the perspective of Grace's quite sane-seeming father as opposed to some outcast who comes across as a nut or drink or the like. This take on the material, co-written and directed by David Lowery, does not seek to find adult sophistication through ambiguity and unreliable narrators, even if it does allow for a healthy skepticism. We get to know Elliott as a character, and he's a funny, likable creature often akin to a gigantic and loyal dog, but Lowery and co-writer Toby Halbrooks, without hurting Elliott's individual playfulness and concern for Pete, quietly make him a symbol for wonder and awe. Meacham speaks of a sort of magic when describing his own youthful encounter with a dragon that is akin to spirituality but which is a more genuine sense of awe, not too different from the way everybody looks at Pete for having survived so long while so young. Gavin maybe can't see it that way at first, and it ties in to a quiet environmental message, where simple near-term practically is often more short-sighed and hollow than actively evil.

Full review on EFC.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 August 2016 in Landmark Kendall Square #8 (first-run, DCP)

You know that thing when, even though everyone seems to like a movie, you're just never in the right mood, and to be totally honest you didn't really love the director's last movie that the same everybody went nuts for, but eventually it's only got 3 days left? That is pretty much what I was looking at Monday night - I hadn't really been putting this off, but there always seemed to be something I wanted to see a little more that day, and this had the look of a movie that could have a crazy Lobster-like run. It did pretty well on that count.

And it deserved to. It's a nifty little movie about two people who have a hard time getting on with others losing the person who made accepting each of them for what they were look easy and having to find some common ground on the run from a system that doesn't know how to deal with them. It's a tricky thing filmmaker Taika Waititi pulls off, balancing how kids like Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) are not bad seeds but actually full of the same enthusiasm as more fortunate people while still maintaining some weight. It's an extremely empathetic film that nevertheless is able to find all of its characters at least a little ridiculous and build crazy adventures out of that.

Mostly, though, it is able to build a great pairing in Julian Dennison and Sam Neill. The latter being terrific should not surprise anyone; he's almost always excellent, even if he only occasionally gets material worthy of him, and it's fun to watch him never actually lose Hec's gruffness even as the guy finds himself growing fond of the kid - this adventure is going to reinforce some of his less sterling qualities, especially when it comes to dealing with people other than Ricky. Julian Dennison, meanwhile, is a riot, making Ricky a confused but ultimately good-hearted kid, an appealing hero even when he is being the sort of dumb that could easily cause someone to lose patience. There's a game supporting cast - Rima Te Wiata is utterly antitank as the very funny glue that puts this family together in the first place - but it's Dennison and Neill that form one of the year's most appealing odd couples.

Kubo and the Two Strings

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 August 2016 in AMC Boston Common #9 (first-run, RealD DCP)

If Laika's first four movies - Coraline, ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls, and now Kubo and the Two Strings - are not considered such a strong group as to give the company the same sort of trust and reputation as Disney, Pixar, and DreamWorks, it can't be by very much, at least when you narrow the audience to dedicated fans of animation as a medium. They don't seem to have quite reached the same place with a broader audience, and looking at that list, I see part of the reason why: They love their meticulously crafted monsters and scaring children, and when you look this different, it might be good business to come up with something a little cuddlier to start.

Still, by doing what they do, they make thrilling adventures that nobody else can match. Kubo is no exception; after a brief prologue and opening that establishes a lot about the title character's personality and how his magic works, the film sends him to an even more fantastic land, giving him both new allies - a grumpy Monkey (voice of Charlize Theron) and a forgetful samurai beetle (voice of Matthew McConaughey) - and incredible new challenges to overcome. It's an intense quest with high stakes, although one tempered a bit by some entertaining banter between the trio, and the filmmakers are looking to pop eyeballs with their stop-motion creatures - in one case quite literally. Though it may get a little scary for some of the younger kids, their older siblings and parents will spend a lot of time with jaws on the floor because not only is the design and animation amazing (including what is as almost certainly native-shot 3D), but it's backed up by terrific cutting and choreography, and there's never a fight that doesn't pack an emotional punch at some point.

The animation is amazing, a point which really can't be made often enough, especially when you ponder just what sort of careful work was involved in a couple of characters just giving each other a puzzled look that sums them up perfectly. Intriguingly, some of its best moments are when it's not silky-smooth; it reminds the viewer of the specific techniques being used and that this is not photorealistic, but it ties in with with how storytelling is power in this film by allowing the audience to see it happening. It's obvious in some ways, but less so in others - myth is a form of storytelling here, and as such it counteracts the limits on what storytelling can't do. On top of that, though, there's a really nice thread on not knowing what you can or can't do until you try.

More than just about any movie to come out this year, it will be great when it comes out on video (even if I may hold off giving it to a niece for a year because of the intensity), but it won't be nearly as great as it is given your full field of vision in a dark theater with 3D glasses. Do not miss it in that format if you've got the chance, because it's one of the great ways to spend a couple hours in the movies this year.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

This week's Chinese stuff: Line Walker: The Movie and Time Raiders

Thing I've been pondering over the last few weeks (surrounding Fantasia) - multiplexes like the one where I saw both of these films have gotten cannier about scheduling similar movies to make double features harder, haven't they? It's certainly seemed that way every weekend where Boston Common has two Chinese movies, and the special one-show-only booking of Time Raiders really makes it clear: The 9pm showtime just didn't work with Line Walker or Sweet Sixteen at all, meaning I wound up hanging around a couple hours between my two movies. I get it; folks seeing two movies are probably not only not going to buy two snacks, but they might even actually go for that free refill on the large soda. Better to get us to come two separate days.

Line Walker: The Movie

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 August 2016 in AMC Boston Common #4 (first-run, DCP)

It's not exactly fair, but you say "Hong Kong crime movie with lost undercover cops", and my head's going to go to Infernal Affairs, which, as an all-time classic, is setting the bar pretty high, when it's probably enough just to be a decent enough cops and crooks movie. Line Walker: The Movie, is no Infernal Affairs; for all I know, it's not even up to the standard of the TV series that launched it. On the other hand, there ain't no shootout like a Hong Kong shootout, and this does deliver the crime-movie goods quite nicely when it gets down to it.

Two years ago, Deputy Police Commissioner Hong Do-heng of the HKPD's Central Intelligence Bureau was assassinated, but he had just enough time to delete the records of the undercover operatives he was handling before their covers could be blown. The CIB believed that they had brought the whole group in, but one of them, Ding Siu-ka (Charmaine Sheh See-man), receives a message in Hong's code signed "Blackjack", and Inspector Q (Francis Ng Chun-yu) - her boyfriend and the one who tracked down the undercover operatives - says that there was a corrupted file by that name on Hong's computer. The text leads them to a party at an investment firm that also serves as a Triad front, and which gets attacked by the team of Lam (Nick Cheung Ka-fai) and Shiu (Louis Koo Tin-lok), underlings of rival gangster Kwok Ming. They escape before Q and Ding can discover whether either is Blackjack, but the speed with which they were on the scene means that Lam, Shiu, Ming, bodyguard Siu Ying (Clara Lee Ching-man), and big boss Tung Pak-ho all know that there is a mole in their midst, threatening both their local operations and a big drug deal in Brazil.

The Line Walker television series was a massive hit in Hong Kong and China, although one need not be familiar with to follow the film (which is good, because while I'll stream a movie or two to get caught up when the higher-profile sequel comes out, a 31-episode series that does not appear to be legitimately available with English subtitles is something else). There are a couple moments when a character will be introduced with music that hints that the viewer should recognize his significance, and some flashbacks that seem more like reminders than exposition, but Ding and Q are the only returning main characters, with Koo and Cheung fairly big movie stars who are definitely new to the series. Writer Cat Kwan and director Jazz Boon occasionally use that to their advantage, especially in the beginning, establishing things fast so that the newcomers can get up to speed without boring the fans.

Full review on EFC.

Daomu biji (Time Raiders)

* * (out of four)
Seen 20 August 2016 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run, DCP)

Treasure-hunting stories are currently pretty big in China, and though it's tempting to see something about a nation with a very specific present and targeted future reconciling with a long, very different past, we don't do that with Indiana Jones. Those movies are just extremely well-built adventures. Time Raiders isn't quite so well-built - it's a jumble of things found in cliffhanging adventure stories that takes their awesomeness for granted rather than building something greater than the sun of their individual joys - but when you're in the middle of a tomb raider craze, this can scratch the itch.

Of course, there are tomb raiders and there are tomb raiders. The first one we see is Hendrix (Vanni Corbellini), a Westerner terrorizing mystics near the Tibet/Nepal border to find the lady of "24 Divine Pieces" that will serve as a map to a Chinese secret of immortality, although the monks are saved by Zhang Qiling (Jing Boran), one of their number with preternatural martial-arts skills. Fifty years later, though, there's Wu Xie (Lu Han), a young man from a family that has been robbing graves for centuries, though they imagine a more legitimate future for him. Which means, of course, that he will be the one to discover the secret passage in The Widow's Tomb, leading to a clockwork key that seems far too sophisticated for the Warring Kingdoms era it dates from (though it seems to be counting down to something just a week away), and which leads his uncle Wu Sanxing (Wang Jingchun) to Kunlun Qiala to unearth the legendary tomb of the Snake Empress (Mallika Sherawai) and King Xiang (Sammy Hung). His crew includes someone who is at least a dead ringer for Qiling, but an ageless martial artist may be just what the Wu family needs when a team of well-armed mercenaries financed by Hendrix and led by Captain Ning A (Ma Sichun) arrives on the scene.

Lovers of swashbuckling pulp adventures will likely have a big grin on their faces through at least the first half of Time Raiders, because it has a bit of everything: A young hero whose family wants something better for him than the family's traditional business, even if the centuries mean it's in his blood; a mysterious partner who is silent about his past; an obsessed villain who has devoted a lifetime to his quest; mysterious artifacts hidden in plain sight; a mercenary who is as capable as she is attractive; relics which seem impossibly advanced for their provenance; an impossibly large underground complex. The jaded may yawn at this, reciting dozens of pulps and serials made from the same ingredients, but director Daniel Lee and writer "Uncle Three" roll with this - seem through the eyes of Wu Xie, it is sort of familiar despite his family's attempts to direct his talents elsewhere, but when he encounters these things in real life, there's some awe to be found in discovering a world that is grand, fantastic, and dangerous beyond his own experience.

And then things go downright insane.

Full review on EFC.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Spaceman

Normally when I go to a movie and folks near me are talking - something that has been happening with annoying frequency of late - I want to yell "nobody came to see and hear you" but just grit my teeth. I suppose that's technically true when seated next to a very animated Bill Lee for Spaceman, but he'd at least have an argument.

I didn't know that Lee and filmmaker Brett Rapkin would be on hand for the opening night, although it would have been a pretty decent guess; the Somerville Theatre has it in the Micro for most of the week but this screening was bumping Star Trek Beyond from screen #3, so Ian probably knew something was going to bring in a crowd, even if it did mean screening off a Blu-ray in one of the larger rooms.

BTW, when I said I was sitting next to Bill Lee, I mean it, though there was a courtesy single seat between us, meaning my Q&A photos were crappier than normal:

Bill Lee and Brett Rapkin at the Somerville Theatre for Spaceman

Decent shot of Rapkin on the right, though.

I kind of got a running commentary on which details were correct. It worth noting that the bars Lee went to in both Montreal and Boston are apparently still standing, because he approved when they showed up on screen. He had a brown VW camper rather than a "puke green bus", though. A few things got a loud f-you; for instance, though not named in the film, I'm guessing his wife's first name was Mary Lou. Apparently, these were better seats than he got at Montreal's showing - which I was tempted to go to, as it was part of the Montreal Baseball Weekend when the Red Sox played the Blue Jays at Stade Olympique. I think it was kind of a pricey charity screening, though.

He did seem kind of amused that Orion was releasing the movie, though, and I like that. I have the same reaction whenever I see the Orion Pictures logo on a new movie. He was quick to mention that he was blackballed more for being a successful union rep than his bad behavior, and while it's clear his favorite subject is Bill Lee, he was also very keen to note that he is not close to unique in his love of the game, talking up a lot of people he had met in his post-MLB barnstorming career.

It's an enjoyable enough movie, I think, and will probably make for a fun-enough outing for Red Sox (and Expos) fans this week, even if they will be seeing it in the Micro in Boston. Doesn't seem to be playing Montreal yet, although maybe it just doesn't have Canadian distribution.

Spaceman

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 August 2016 in Somerville Theatre #3 (first-run, Blu-ray)

Say this for writer/director Brett Rapkin - not a lot of folks have made a documentary feature and then been able to return to the subject for a narrative one. Of the top of my head, that puts him on a short list with Werner Herzog and a few others. Not at the top of the list or anywhere near it, since this year's Spaceman, at least, is just an average sports bio, but there's a little something to be said for both practice and for doing movies about things that hold one's attention over a long period.

By the time the film picks up in early 1982, William Francis "Spaceman" Lee (Josh Duhamel) had already had quite the checkered career, picking fights with the front office in Boston until they traded him to the Montreal Expos and now proving himself too colorful for even that city, and when he walks out to protest the release of teammate and friend Rodney Scott (Sterling K. Brown), the team cuts ties with him. Fellow barfly Dick Dennis (W. Earl Brown) offers to be his agent, but no team wants the headaches that come with him, and he starts playing with a local senior-league team even as the rest of his life spirals out of control.

Ask Bill Lee (or just find yourself in the same general area as Bill Lee) and he'll tell you that he wasn't blacklisted from Major League Baseball as for his bad behavior so much as for being one of the players' union representatives who worked with Marvin Miller to gain arbitration and free-agency rights, but that's a very different story about a very different thing. Rapkin wants to tell the story of how a passionate, talented man handles a fall, but what make's Lee's story tricky is that the fall comes primarily as a result of his own arrogance, and Rapkin likes Lee too much to really maintain that as an issue throughout the movie. His initial flameout is compelling in large part because the audience can see him bringing it upon himself, but once that happens, it seldom seems to be something inside Lee that either digs him in deeper or pulls him out - for much of the second half of the movie, stuff just happens off-screen. Narration tells us that Lee rents his basement to a drug dealer, for instance, but because we don't see it (and the film initially makes a joke of it), this doesn't seem like something Lee does or which reflects on his state of mind; it's background that he's somewhat disconnected from. There's a cut between the next to last scene and the last that feels good, but which also skips over Lee doing what needs to be done to bridge what had been set up as a large gap, and then the film jumps to his later life as a baseball vagabond without the audience really seeing him attack his issues. It's missing a lot of what would make the story feel complete, rather than a sketch with just one part filled out.

Full review on EFC.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 19 August 2016 - 25 August 2016

One of my most anticipated movies of the summer finally arrives this weekend, as does one whose existence kind of baffles me. There's other stuff, too, which you may have to dig for.

  • If there were any justice, a new film from Laika would be a major event on a par with Disney and DreamWorks releases; their stop-motion films are stunning, genuinely worth a 3D ticket, and well-crafted stories on top of that. Their latest is Kubo and the Two Strings, inspired by Japanese folklore and telling the story of a young boy with the family gift to make the stories he tells real. It's at Apple Fresh Pond (2D only), Boston Common, Assembly row, Fenway, and Revere.

    There's also a new, 3D version of Ben-Hur, which strikes me as the kind of remake you don't do unless you know it's going to be an awards-worthy centerpiece, and though you don't necessarily know what it's going to be before you make it, Jack Huston in the lead role and Timur Bekmambetov directing suggests otherwise, even with Morgan Freeman picking up a paycheck. He probably does a decent chariot race, though. It's at the Capitol (3D only), Apple Fresh Pond (2D only), Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere.

    Then again, for all that those movies are interesting, the biggest opening of the week winds up being War Dogs, featuring Jonah Hill and Miles Teller as a pair of twenty-ish guys who start bidding on military contracts and wind up getting in way above their head, from the director of The Hangover. It's at the Somerville, Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, the Belmont Studio, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    On the other end of the spectrum, Showcase Revere will have matinee screenings of the Maya the Bee Movie, about a worker bee who wants more than just the inside of a hive, on Saturday and Sunday.
  • Kendall Square just has the one new release this week, but it's a good one. That would be Werner Herzog's latest documentary (well, second-latest, as he's got another one ready to release), Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World, in which he examines the history and the present-day reality of the Internet. It is, like all of Herzog's best work, driven by an insatiable curiosity and fascination with the world around him, even if it can come off as dry or cynical in how he meets the less-joyful parts of the topic head on. One of my favorites at IFFBoston.
  • The Brattle Theatre has Cosmos, a surrealistic tale of men and women at loose ends in and around a rural guesthouse and the final film from Czech auteur Andrzej Zulawski, this weekend. It runs Friday through Monday.

    It's not quite alone; Saturday afternoon featues an encore screening of The Painting, while late Saturday night and Sunday afternoon include the week's "Starring Jackie Chan" entry, Supercop, originally known as Police Story 3 but retitled when given a big American release after Rumble in the Bronx was a surprising success; it's also notable for being America's introduction to Michelle Yeoh. The 35mm print is dubbed in English, although with Chan and Yeoh doing their own voice work, it's not as bad as it could be.

    The week's Femme Fatale is Rita Hayworth, whose double feature on Monday afternoon and Tuesday is a pair of classics, Gilda and The Lady from Shanghai. Wednesday's "Under the Influence" series pairs Hail, Caesar! with one of the many films that influenced the Coens in creating it - specifically On the Town, with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra as sailors whose numbers aren't quite so weird as Channing Tatum's (the scheduled Neptune's Daughter, unfortunatley, will not screen). Then, on Thursday, the "Kids International" series includes the two last films to come from Studio Ghibli, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya and When Marnie Was There, both excellent. Note that they don't have matinees next weekend because of other programming, as many others in the series have.
  • The Somerville Theatre is the landing spot for Spaceman, a movie about former Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee (Josh Duhamel) when he spent some time playing in an independent French-Canadian league after being released by the Montreal Expos. This is actually Rapkin's second pass at this material; documentary Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey came out ten years ago. Note that only the Friday 7:40pm show currently appears to be scheduled for a full-size screen, with the others in the 30-person Micro-Cinema, so buy tickets in advance (guessing on that, but when there are six 7pm shows scheduled for what is basically a 5-screen house, it seems most likely).
  • Anybody know where you can find the Hong Kong TV series with English subtitles on line? I ask because Line Walker at Boston Common is a spin-off of an extremely popular TVB series, though as far as I can tell only Charmaine Sheh returns as an undercover cop trying to find others whose names have been removed from the HKPD's records, leaving them adrift in the underworld. Still, it's big Hong Kong action, though hopefully not impenetrable if you don't binge-watch the 31-episode series to get up to speed.

    Another Chinese film opened Wednesday, Sweet Sixteen, which looks like a young-adult thriller starring Kris Wu Yi-fan as a troubled teenager who only finds some sort of peace with the girl next door. My Best Friend's Wedding sticks around, though just with early-afternoon screenings, and there appears to be a single Saturday-night screening of Time Raiders, a big treasure-hunting adventure that is apparently a huge hit in China.

    Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond opens Dharma Durai, a Tamil-language drama with English subtitles, but I'm having a hard time seeing any information on what it's about (doctors facing government resistence, I think), while the two holdovers, Mohenjo Daro and Rustom, are subtitled Hindi. There are also apparently-unsubtitled screenings of Kannada-language thriller Karva and Tamil satire Joker on Saturday.

    They've also got an American action film, Billionaire Ransom, in which rich-kid teens at a reform school fight back after a group of criminals take the place over in hopes of extorting money from their parents, playing a couple of times a day even though it's also on VOD.
  • It's one of those quiet weeks at The Coolidge Corner Theatre where one of the midnight movies - a reissue of John Waters's early bit of vulgarity Multiple Maniacs, which bounces between screens, so check showtimes. 10pm all week, with midnight showings Friday and Satuday.

    The other midnight presentation on Friday and Saturday continues the Boston Yeti's creature feature series with Grizzly, which is pretty much what it says on the tin, with a freakishly-large, angry bear killing campers. The big-screen classic on Monday is Federico Fellini's 8 1/2.
  • The Harvard Film Archive dives deep into their Rouben Mamoulian series this week, including the 1932 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Friday 7pm), Summer Holiday (Friday 9pm), Love Me Tonight (Saturday 7pm), The Gay Desperado (Saturday 9pm), Becky Sharp (Sunday 5pm), and Rings on Her Fingers (Sunday 7pm). After those, they wrap their Theo Angelopoulos on Monday evening with Eternity and a Day. All films are on 35mm.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues their runs of Korean documentary My Love, Don't Cross That River and Bulgarian parable Viktoria, with both screening once each on Friday,Saturday, Sunday, and Thursday. Kamikaze '89, a new restoration of Wolf Gremm's German cyberpunk noir from 1982 that includes Rainer Werner Fassbinder's final role.
  • Outdoor movies on Joe's Boston Free Films include plenty of chances to see Zootopia, Up, and other recent animated films; the most interesting appears to be The Witches in Harvard Square on Thursday.

    Also free that night (though not appearing on The Regent Theatre's website) is a screening of Indie Game: The Movie, which even includes free popcorn, sponsored by UXPA Boston


I intend to take in Spaceman, Kubo, Pete's Dragon, Line Walker, and Time Raiders, and hopefully catch up on some other things as well.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Not much time for these imports My Best Friend's Wedding '16 and Operation Chromite

Does anybody else do the thing, starting on Tuesday, where you start refreshing Fandango and other movie ticket websites to see what will still be around on Friday because it looks awful tight to see everything you want by Thursday night and it would be really good to push something to its second week? No, just me?

Well, now that most of the showtimes for the weekend are out, it doesn't look like pushing one of these off would have done me any good; Wedding will be down to one early-afternoon show a day at Boston Common and Chromite one true matinee (10:15am) in Revere next weekend. Probably wouldn't do either, and probably shouldn't, as both of these films are just not very good, although not the sort of bad that makes me regret seeing them, though I've got a lower threshold for that than some (many). After all, I'm going to be down for Shu Qi (or a Korean action movie) no matter what.

The original plan was to catch them over the weekend, but it just didn't work out - baseball, apartment-hunting, and an adorable niece's birthday party were all much higher priorities, as they should be. Just make for a long Tuesday night, as there was no getting them nearly back-to-back. Nope, My Best Friend's Wedding played at 6:50pm and ran for 95 minutes plus two previews, and then Operation Chronicle didn't start until 10:20pm and was 115 minutes plus something close to the standard 20 minute preview package. Lucky to get home, but there was a lot of time to kill in between movies, enough to make me wish theaters still had game rooms.

Wo Zui Hao Peng you De Hun Li (My Best Friend's Wedding '16)

* * (out of four)
Seen 16 August 2016 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run, DCP)

I get why Chinese filmmakers have been remaking English-language romantic comedies a lot over the last few years; these are fun, crowd-pleasing stories that work better if there's some familiarity to the fantasy. Still, it's kind of weird to remake My Best Friend's Wedding with Chinese stars speaking Mandarin and then set it in London, right? It's the sort of thing that maybe makes one wonder if this hasn't been thought all the way through.

It makes a couple stops before London, starting in Beijing where Gu Jia (Shu Qi) is the editor-in-chief of a fashion magazine, about to head out to cover fashion week in Milan. Her assistant Ma Li (Ye Qing) has a packed schedule, but that all goes out the window when Jia's best friend since the age of three, Lin Ran (William Feng Shaofeng) calls and announces he's getting married the next weekend. Realizing she doesn't want anybody else to marry him, she heads for London where the situation is as bad as she thought; Meng Yixuan (Victoria Song Qian) is a millennial twit, but maybe Jia can stop this disaster with the help of Nick (Rhydian Vaughan), a good-looking Eurasian guy she met on the plane.

I doubt if I've seen the original American version since it's 1997 theatrical release, so it's not exactly close to my heart, but a big part of why it worked was that the secondary characters - the bride-to-be played by Cameron Diaz along with Rupert Everett more or less inventing the modern Gay Best Friend - were a bit more three-dimensional than you might expect, and their counterparts here don't stack up: Victoria Song's "Xuan Xuan" is not evil or awful or anything, and she's pretty, but when Jia has the chance to feed the allergic younger woman a cupcake with peanut butter in it, the audience's concern is entirely about how ruthless Jia is willing to be. Rhydia Vaughan's Nick, on the other hand, finds himself inserted and pulled out of the story entirely based upon momentary convenience - he's apparently well-off enough to be next to Jia in first class but tending bar when she has to stumble upon him later, and the filmmakers completely skip over Jia somehow convincing him to pose as her boyfriend in an effort to make Lin Ran jealous after he's been portrayed as wanting to give Jia a wide berth because she's a walking disaster.

Full review on EFC.

Incheonsangryookjakjun (Operation Chromite)

* * (out of four)
Seen 16 August 2016 in AMC Boston Common #10 (first-run, DCP)

It's no secret that South Korean entertainment companies have been looking to access the American market directly the same way that China and India do, even if they are more trying to translate their industry's great reputation into an audience the size that they feel it deserves than serve a large expatriate and emigrant population. Inserting a familiar western face into a movie is one way to get it a higher American profile, although audiences going to Operation Chromite under the impression that it stars Liam Neeson will likely be disappointed, though in a different way than folks looking for a truly great Korean War movie.

"Operation Chromite" was the name that American General Douglas MacArthur (Neeson) gave to the 15 September 1950 invasion of occupied South Korean at Incheon, a daring operation given one-in-five-thousand odds to succeed given the narrow harbor filled with mines, massive swells, and steep cliffs to be overcome. That's why the movie opens a couple weeks earlier, with Operation X-Ray, in which Lieutenant Jang Hak-soo (Lee Jung-jae) leads a group of eight ROK soldiers into the occupied city disguised as North Korean inspectors, their mission to discover the location for the mines and capture a crucially-placed lighthouse. Unfortunately for them, their zeal to accomplish this quickly has Colonel Lim Gye-jin (Lee Beom-soo) smelling a rat.

Though the film opens with a title card stating that it was based upon actual events, as near as I can tell that refers to the Incheon invasion itself, with the bulk of the film fictional (and the "Trudy Jackson" team never mentioned). War movies that take that tack are kind of odd - it seems disrespectful to insert fictional characters into actual events as being crucial rather than focusing on the biographical or telling smaller stories that can happen in history's margins. Instead, Operation Chromite takes a setup that seemingly demands a spy story's careful maneuvering and jumps to slam-bang action very early. It's got some room to build - the climax is a going to be massive naval bombardment with thousands of soldiers making a beachhead - but feels like it's climaxing early and then struggling to get back to trying to get back to the same level twice before the finale, doubly hard because the film occasionally jumps over to Tokyo where MacArthur is having meetings.

Full review on EFC.