Saturday, January 14, 2017

This Week In Tickets: 2 January 2016 - 8 January 2016

Let's try this again in the new year, after not really making it into February in 2016.

This Week in Tickets

Stubless: Beyond the Gates, 5 January 2017 in my living room.

So, yeah, things got away from me last year, which means I'm going to be following a few more rules to make sure things get done and the process is enjoyable. Number one: When I start falling a week or two behind, I'm accepting that I can't keep up, and not writing stuff up in full. Number two: I'm trying to see and write far less out of "well, someone on the site has to" obligation than before. If eFilmCritic doesn't have a review of a new release, or I can't keep up with a festival schedule, it's okay. I'll post something every day or two, and spend less time worrying about how to get all 70+ movies I see at Fantasia written up.

That said - I do want EFC to cover as much as it can, and encourage anyone who would like to write for it to submit a sample. There's no money, and that ancient-looking page is kind of indicative of what you're looking at behind the scenes, but it probably gets you more hits than your (or my) blog and is pretty helpful in getting credentialed for festivals.

So, okay, how was that first week?

Well, okay, it didn't start off well. La La Land is a pretty decent movie, but I got pretty nauseous for unrelated reasons during the screening and wound up puking twice on the way home. I felt ill enough to work from home the next day, and then instead of going out decided to catch up with Beyond the Gates on demand the next night. I'd conked out while watching it at Monster Fest but kind of liked what I saw enough to give it a second chance.

Feeling better on Friday, I checked out the new Jackie Chan movie, Railroad Tigers, finding it somewhat disappointing, but then being pleasantly surprised that Master, intially only listed as playing at 10am, had a full slate of showtimes. It turned out to be pretty decent, and has a heck of a good Korean cast.

And that was it; I had a lazy Sunday reading piled-up comics and emptying the DVR. There will come a point this year when I'm seeing and writing about movies constantly, but not just yet.


La La Land
Beyond the Gates
Railroad Tigers
Master

Friday, January 13, 2017

Monster Fest 2016.02: Autohead, A Dark Song, Beyond the Gates, Night gallery shorts, etc.

To what extent was I still on east-coast-of-North-America rather than east-coast-of-Australia time here? I zonked out for close to two complete features at the end of the day, to various levels of regret. Beyond the Gates at made enough of an impression of being a nifty horror movie that I would later rewatch it via VOD (maybe not the greatest idea), but I could not tell you anything about Dead Hands Dig Deep under the most effective combination of torture and hypnotherapy you can imagine. Kind of a shame, as the folks who came out for it really liked it - and it was a pretty impressive crowd for a documentary of an obscure American metal band in Australia. Then again, metal really travels sometimes; there’s a hard core that is fascinated by metal around the world. The filmmakers had some pretty crazy stories to tell, as well.

So did these guys:

Short filmmakers at Monster Fest

From left to right, you’ve got short film programmer Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, “Secretions” director Goran Spoljaric, and “Tanglewood” director Jordan Prosser. Very friendly group of locals, and I regret that I don’t have a lot more to say about their individual films a month and a half later. Both were effusive about their casts and crews, with Prosser especially proud of the caliber of people that they got to go out in the woods to shoot.

Autohead

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 November 2016 in Lido Cinemas #8 (Monster Fest 2016, DCP)

There are a few moments in documentary-style drama Autohead when somebody asks either the filmmakers or the subject just why they would be making a movie about this guy, and it would probably help matters a bit if they had some sort of ready answer. The most likely one is that they were looking for exactly the thing they got, a glimpse at something ugly and potentially dangerous, but there are only hints of that, although the "ugly and dangerous" part is well-done.

The subject of their documentary is Narayan, a Mumbai rickshaw cab driver who, in addition to the regular business of bringing random customers from point A to point B, has a regular enough customer in call girl Rupa to be referred to as her pimp, and a spots crush as well. He shares a single room with the less outgoing Mohan and two others who are currently visiting their home village. This is not exactly impressive to his visiting mother, and while he seems fairly relaxed in front of the cameras, that visit may have him a bit on edge.

The first scene of the film doesn't quite set the tone, but it points the audience in the general direction that things will go, with Rupa finding the idea of anyone doing a movie about Narayan bizarre - he's no Salman Khan, after all - and most of the gag at the moment being her half-flirting with the crew, implying that they would find he a much more interesting and glamorous subject. Her casually disdainful comments about Narayan quickly inform the portrait of the man, and it is a somewhat familiar one, the sort of guy who seldom refers to a woman as anything but "bitch" but takes her interest in him for granted. His problems aren't entirely with women; he often seems an indifferent cabbie who half-heartedly tries to run up his fares, but it's women that he most feels able to intimidate. He's hardly unique in this, as seemingly everyone in Mumbai tries to establish dominance in every confrontation, but he's the one who pushes it the farthest when he can and folds otherwise.

Full review on EFC.

"Max"

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 November 2016 in Lido Cinemas #8 (Monster Fest 2016, DCP)

"Max" is the sort of horror short where I'm not sure whether expanding it a bit would allow some sort of connecting mythology emerge or would just see filmmaker Ryan Paturzo-Polson glue more bits on, all of which could certainly be a part of its premise even if none seem absolutely essential. It's one of those things where there's no reason why the creepy shadow can't become a boy's imaginary friend and can't then see his pregnant mother as a target, but building a situation that can happen that way is easy - one makes one's own rules when telling supernatural stories, after all - one that feels like it must happen that way is a trickier thing.

This one does, at least, have a nice performance by Lee McClenaghan as the quite reasonably alarmed mother; it's not necessarily easy to build from being amiable (even if she is the serious one in the family) through increasing fright to the sort of panic that seems well-earned to the audience but excessive to her husband in just down minutes. She's the glue that holds a somewhat makeshift ghost story together when the rest is kind of random but decent pieces.

A Dark Song

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 November 2016 in Lido Cinemas #8 (Monster Fest 2016, DCP)

Tales of the supernatural naturally tend to rely on a lot of hand-waving when it comes to details, both because their audiences often kind of want things to be able to come out of nowhere and because more detail will inevitably bump up against the audience's basic suspension of disbelief, because this stuff isn't real and each bit of explanation is a potential spot where the viewer no longer buys it. It's especially tricky when the movie needs an expert who can't really show his or her expertise beyond results, at least most of the time. That A Dark Song attempts to buck that trend, building a whole movie around the process and logic of working with the supernatural, would make it interesting even if it wasn't also a tense drama.

Sophia Howard (Catherine Walker) is not an expert on the supernatural herself, although she knows enough about what she plans to do to rent a house to certain specifications for a year in anticipation of the arrival of Joseph Solomon (Steve Oram), a modern-day Gnostic mystic who has, he says, attempted the rituals she is requesting three times, succeeding once. Her quest to once again hear her dead child's voice will not be easy - it will likely at least require six months of total commitment where neither can leave the house, with lessons on the Kabbalah and repeated rites filling their time. Not exactly an exciting sabbatical in concept, its very nature meaning that each is sharing space with a stubborn, demanding housemate, but Solomon warns of dire consequences of either crosses the salt line drawn around the building's perimeter.

Writer/director Liam Gavin needn't go into a whole lot of detail where all the magical details are concerned, although he peppers the film with enough that the audience will recognize the various fragments as things which have power - symbolic shapes, numbers which have meaning in their interactions, blood sacrifices, abstinence which turns one's focus inward. How accurately this reflects actual Gnosticism, I don't have the expertise to say, but even if it doesn't, there's something to be said for making it a sort of folklore stew, not aligned with any specific religious tradition, because for the purposes of this movie, magic has to be hard, something that requires extensive study and concentration, rather than working as a short cut. To go through with this requires a sort of mania, not a moment of transcendent emotion.

Full review on EFC.

"The Home"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 November 2016 in Lido Cinemas #1 (Monster Fest 2016: Night Gallery Shorts, digital)

Apparently "The Home" is going to be expanded to feature length, and that sounds like pretty good news. At about eight minutes long, with some time taken to establish the setting, it seems like it has barely started to get going before its heroines have been overwhelmed. There is an awfully good supernatural siege movie to be made when you combine the snowy isolation of an Irish Catholic home for unwed pregnant women, the vulnerability and highly-motivated nature of the potential victims, some monsters who might look even better with a bigger visual effects budget, and a nice cast.

Indeed, it's the time for smaller moments that impresses me the most - there is not really a lot of time to get to know the cast of characters, and on a certain level not a lot of point, as some aren't going to be around very long at all, but there's a lived-in reality to the setting and a careful consideration of how arbitrary the disruption is that makes the whole thing work. That brevity isn't ideal, and not just because director L. Gustavo Cooper handles things well enough that I want to see more - things do feel rushed. But there's something impressively solid here, and I really do hope to see it built out.

"Det Sjunkne Kloster " ("The Sunken Convent")

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 25 November 2016 in Lido Cinemas #1 (Monster Fest 2016: Night Gallery Shorts, digital)

Well, that was nasty.

It's interesting to see "The Sunken Convent" right after "The Home", because while the former seemed to use its eye for detail to build connections and draw the audience in, this one attempts to use detail to isolate and unnerve, focusing on a man (Claus Flygare) with peculiar and grotesque habits, mostly eschewing dialogue to highlight how unconnected he is. It's not quite so effective; while it certainly gets a reaction from even those not inclined to be squeamish, the details tend to be little more than side ornamentation for the story, which peters out a bit after one final bid on filmmaker Michael Panduro's part to be transgressive, with the act of transgression seeming like the point rather than a tool to push into challenging territory.

Sure, that final bit is some memorable nastiness, but it's just one more ugly thing in a line of them, rather than the awful culmination of what's come before.

"The Puppet Man"

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 November 2016 in Lido Cinemas #1 (Monster Fest 2016: Night Gallery Shorts, digital)

John Carpenter's late-career transformation into a touring musician, digging out the "Lost Themes" for movies he hasn't been able to make (he has only directed two featues in the twenty-first century), will likely seem peculiar to me no matter how many horror fans I know treating him like a rock star; it seems like a weird consolation prize, even as more folks are doing blatantly Carpenter-inspired material. I doubt these two trends can cross-pollinate more completely than here, where writer/director Jacqueline Castel goes for a Carpenter-style film using those Carpenter tracks as her score and with the man actually doing a cameo.

It's some pretty basic slasher stuff, with a group of college kids choosing the wrong bar to stop in - as in, the one with a freaky spree-killer in the back room. I have to admit, Johnny Scuotto's Puppet Man didn't really work the gimmick that well for me, but he's certainly an energetic slasher, with Bradley Bailey making a good front man, and while he and the ill-fated quartet of potential victims are occasionally kind of rough performance-wise, there's a genuine grindhouse nastiness to the movie that extends beyond the faux-grain and pastiche elements.

"Inferno"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 November 2016 in Lido Cinemas #1 (Monster Fest 2016: Night Gallery Shorts, digital)

I'm not sure if it's fair to talk about a twist in "Inferno" as being obvious or predictable, although I sometimes feel like I should talk to a filmmaker friend or two about how much they consider the fact that these short films will likely be shown at genre film festivals or as part of horror blocks, and whether that challenges them to build things in such a way that audiences have to attack it with the understanding of how these things usually go firmly in mind. As soon as characters start using the same vague phrasing again and again, the "twist" becomes clear.

So writer/director Dionne Copland kind of has to play things in such a way that convinces us that it maybe won't go in the typical horror-short direction. A good chunk of that comes from having a very likable pair of leads: Lee Booker is charming as heck as Bambi, the girl working her first night at the strip club, not so naive as this character is usually played, with Dallas Petersen doing the same as Jason, the youngest of a group of fraternity brothers. Copland does a neat job, mostly following Bambi and the girls and having Jason and his group intersect with them at various points. As much as one knows where this is going to go, the easy appeal of these two makes it seem less inevitable.

Of course, Copland does wind up in the general direction expected, which isn't exactly disappointing, but maybe not quite as fun as it seemed like it could have gone. At times, it almost seems like Booker and Petersen made placeholders more entertaining than they were in the script, to the point where just hitting the expected beats isn't quite enough.

"Secretions"

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 November 2016 in Lido Cinemas #1 (Monster Fest 2016: Night Gallery Shorts, digital)

Wouldn't be a horror film festival if there wasn't something that basically makes me think "well, that was gross", would it. And "Secretions" is pretty gross.

It is, at least, not just gross; writer/director Goran Spoljaric lays out a simple, grim story and grinds through it fairly efficiently, with the imprisoned woman whose secretions are being harvested having a chance at revenge and taking it in mostly-satisfying fashion. It’s the kind of short that, at 13 minutes, probably has a little more time for things other than cruelty being met with cruelty than it uses, but taking that tack doesn’t hurt it much.

"Eveless"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 November 2016 in Lido Cinemas #1 (Monster Fest 2016: Night Gallery Shorts, digital)

“Eveless”, meanwhile, is the kind of gross-out short I most enjoy seeing in this sort of block. Built around one guy who probably didn’t graduate an accredited medical school (Vin Kridakorn) doing a Caesarian Section on someone just as male (Greg Engbrecht), it sketches out an outlandish premise, serves up a fair amount of stuff that’s not for the squeamish, and has a sense of its own absurdity. Co-writer/director Antonio Padovan doesn’t make it particularly silly - there’s tension and danger to what’s going on - but he and co-writer Dolores Diaz and company don’t try to bludgeon the audience with what serious business this is, which is something very welcome in the middle of a block.

"The Man Who Caught a Mermaid"

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 November 2016 in Lido Cinemas #1 (Monster Fest 2016: Night Gallery Shorts, digital)

And lo, this short and I have circumnavigated the globe over the course of 2016, as I first saw it back in February at the Boston Sci-Fi Festival, despite it actually being made by Melburnians from Swinburne University, which was promoed before every movie at MonsterFest. Crazy that this, then, winds up being its Aussie premiere!

It’s still solidly in the “pretty decent” category, with a couple different directions it can go despite the horror block often making what’s going on a foregone conclusion. There’s plenty of lesser shorts to see twice in a year.

"The Past Inside the Present"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 November 2016 in Lido Cinemas #8 (Monster Fest 2016, digital)

As pairings with Beyond the Gates go, you don’t get much better than “The Past Inside the Present”, a nifty animated short presented by Larry Fessenden’s Glass Eye Pix. It starts from grainy black-and-white footage of Betamax tapes, but then eventually has the camera zoom inside for a visit to a wonderfully trippy universe.

As someone who is no fan of nostalgia for moribund formats despite having a closet full of them - I’m generally okay right up until the point where it’s suggested that there is some sort of surperior magic to the thing that is less capable - I really like filmmaker James Siewert’s approach here. The grainy style evokes videotape in general, though the bits of impressive clarity suggest Beta in particular (the format was good enough to hang around in pro circles for some time), but diving inside presents a different landscape of imagination and possibility. It’s great fun to look at without being unrealistic about limitations or overly maudlin about how the world has moved on.

Which, admittedly, doesn’t quite describe the actual plot - lovers retreating into recorded memories rather than living in the present - quite so well, but that’s okay. It’s more a melancholy film than an angry or desperate one, and as such it makes sense for the audience to feel the pull of the past compared to the troubles of the present, or at least have that be what sticks with them.

Beyond the Gates

* * (out of four)
Seen 25 November 2016 in Lido Cinemas #8 (Monster Fest 2016, DCP)
Seen 5 January 2017 in Jay’s Latest Living Room (Monster Fest 2016 revisit, Amazon streaming)

Movies like Beyond the Gates are what happens when the enthusiasm many fans have for horror movies run hard into how difficult making an actual quality picture can be. Filmmaker Jackson Stewart has a better idea of where to start than most people building high-concept, low-budget gorefests do, but the sheer number of details that require money, some particular type of talent, and time overwhelms him and his crew to the point where a good start becomes a disappointing finish.

For instance, it’s a fine idea to play upon nostalgia that is both broadly understood and quirkily specific: Everybody of a certain age has fond memories of video rental shops, for instance, even if the one that brothers Gordon (Graham Skipper) and John (Chase Williamson) are packing up only stayed open nearly twenty-five years out of their father’s stubbornness. WIth him having vanished off the face of the Earth months ago, there’s nobody to keep it going. There’s a bit of truth in that idea - that this sort of place persists in a changing world on the back of dedicated eccentrics and will vanish once they do - that isn’t necessarily a main theme of the movie, but it’s a real thing that the audience will feel and empathize with. Fewer people particularly recall VHS board games, which involved snippets of video being used as part of play, but they wind up being just the right level of obscure, something all involved can recall vaguely, but which may require a bit of explanation, and also works as a thing that might have consumed the father, as strange hobbies do.

The main cast isn’t bad, either. Graham Skipper and Chase Williamson play the sort of separated siblings that many wouldn’t necessarily peg as related, not just in appearance but demeanor, with Skipper especially occasionally showing that awkward attitude where he wants to try to be closer but finds that the expectations of familial closeness leave him not quite sure what to do. It’s a nice contrast with Williamson’s John, whose relative comfort in his environment leaves him able to snap a bit more. Skipper also handles Gordon’s fear of his family’s self-destructive tendencies nicely, while, Brea Grant livens things up as the character’s girlfriend Margot. She often gets charged with pulling things forward with enthusiasm, and it’s a shame Steward and co-writer Stephen Scarlata don’t always have a great way to inject her into what is basically a brother movie. Barbara Crampton pops up as the “gamemaster” giving instruction on the tape, bringing a little unexpected tartness to various points.

Full review on EFC.

"What Happened to Her"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 November 2016 in Lido Cinemas #8 (Monster Fest 2016, digital)

There are a lot of weird jobs in show business, and “What Happened to Her” looks at one of the more peculiar: Playing dead bodies. It’s somewhere between acting and modeling, requiring the performer to be treated like a prop and then further dehumanized as the rest of the cast talks about “her” as a thing in take after take. And, even compared to other jobs, nudity is often going to be required, often sprung on the actress at the last second.

It’s unnerving, although the narration from Danyi Deats (who has taken this job a number of times) tends to forcus more on things of a professional nature rather than an emotional one, talking about how the conditions stink and directors are demanding. At least, that’s what her words say; her voice gives an indication of how dehumanizing the whole thing can feel. Director Kristy Guevera-Flanagan lets her talk and shapes the monologue into something informative and intriguing, complementing it with archive footage of bodies being found in various episodes of Law & Order and other procedurals. It’s interesting that she chooses those scenes, by and large, rather than mixing them up with autopsies and the like: It’s arguably when the characters stop existing as people and become objects to the world at large, as opposed to just the murderer, but these are also scenes that generally take place in the first five minutes of the show and give a reason for the rest of it to happen - in short, though it’s a thankless job, it’s also one that the rest of the action can’t start without.

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 13 January 2017 - 19 January 2017

January continues, with a lot of stuff that doesn’t look very good and not as much expansion.

  • Given that we’re Boston, Live By Night is likely the big opening, as it’s the latest from Ben Affleck, once again adapting a novel by Dennis Lehane. Nice cast with spiffy production, although it’s apparently not quite so good as his previous films, which is a shame if true. That’s at the Somerville, Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    More crime is on the offing in Sleepless, with Jamie Foxx as a cop being blackmailed by a gangster who has his son, and Michelle Monaghan as the Internal Affairs detective working with/against him. If this sounds familiar, maybe you spotted the original French version, Sleepless Night, a few years ago; it was pretty darn good. The new one is at Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere.

    Then there’s the more-or-less straight dumps. The Bye Bye Man is the horror film, with the title character one of those guys that appears and does violence when one says its name. It’s at Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere. The 3D kids’ movie is Monster Trucks, with MacGyver’s Lucas TIll as a “teenager” who discovers an unknown species that takes up residence in his truck. It’s also got Jane Levy, a bunch of neat supporting players, and direction by animator Chris Wedge. Looks dumb, but maybe kids will dig it. It’s at Apple Fresh Pond (2D only), Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere.

    There’s also some expansion, with Silence adding the Somerville and Fenway; Patriot’s Day the Capitol and Embassy (while grabbing the RPX screen at Fenway). La La Land moves to the Imax screen at Boston Common and opens at the Venue, while Jackie from Somerville to the Capitol.

    For one-offs, there’s a Disney Junior show at Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere on Saturday; Singin’ in the Rain Sunday and Wednesday at Assembly Row, Fenway, Revere, and Boston Common (Sunday only); plus the Sherlock finale on Monday and Wednesday at Boston Common, Fenway, and Revere.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre is one of several places to get 20th Century Women, which comes from the maker of Beginners and features Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, ad Greta Gerwig as three women with interconnected stories in 1970s California. It’s also at Kendall Square and Boston Common.

    I suppose it has happened, but I honestly can’t remember the last Friday the 13th that came without one of the movies playing at the Coolidge. Instead, the weekend’s Friday/Saturday midnight movie is The Running Man, which is notable for placing its futuristic reality-television-dominated dystopia in 2017. Saturday morning’s Kids’ Show is Fantastic Mr. Fox, while Sunday morning offers of a Goethe-Institut German film, with 24 Weeks following the difficult decisions a couple faces stemming from the discovery that their unborn child has severe Down Syndrome, at least.
  • The new film from Pedro Almodovar opens at Kendall Square: Julieta features Emma Suarez as a middle-aged woman who, before remarrying, returns to her previous home in an effort to reconnect with her daughter. They also have two more screenings of One Piece: Gold in English, Saturday afternoon and Tuesday evenings.
  • This week’s Chinese film at Boston Common is Some Like It Hot, which is not a Mandarin remake of the Marilyn Monroe classic, but a different sort of zany comedy about a guy who, with his friends going on a wacky journey after the death of a close friend.

    For Indian films, OK Jaanu features opens at both Fenway and Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond, and follows a young couple who have a passionate but not exaclty committed relationship, which may well be threatened by their careers. Apple also picks up Telugu picture Shatamanam Bhavati; not sure about subtitles on that one.

    They also pick up British drama 100 Streets, starring Idris Elba and Gemma Arterton as a former rugby star and his wife whose lives intersect with both street dealers and the wealthy.
  • The Brattle Theatre has more of (Some of) The Best of 2016 series: 10 Cloverfield Lane & Green Room on Friday, American Honey & Certain Women Saturday, a double feature of Kubo and the Two Strings & Pete’s Dragon Sunday (with Train to Busan a separate show at 9:15), My Golden Days on Monday, Cameraperson & Kate Plays Christine Tuesday, an as-yet-unannounced selection on Wednesday, and Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden on Thursday.
  • The Brattle will, for the first time this year, be one of the venues for Belmont World Film’s Family Film Festival, this year combining “When Books Come Alive” with special visitors from Aardman Animation, who will present Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit at the Arlington Regent on Friday and two (already sold out) model-making workshops at the Belmont Media Center on Saturday. Saturday and Sunday have afternoon features and shorts programs at the Belmont Studio, before closing day at the Brattle on Monday, including a Martin Luther King program on the school holiday honoring the man.
  • There’s yet more Busby Berkely Babylon at The Harvard Film Archive this weekend, with Friday night’s 7pm show pairing “Night World”, a featurette reuinting Boris Karloff and Mae Clark a year after Frankenstein with Fast and Furious, a Thin Man-style comic mystery that has nothing to do with fast cars. Also showing are Take Me Out to the Ball Game (Friday 9:30pm), Strike Up the Band (Saturday 7pm), Call Me Mister (Saturday 9:30pm), Million Dollar Mermaid (Sunday 4:30pm), Hollywood Hotel (Sunday 7pm), and In Caliente (Monday 7pm). All are from 35mm prints aside from Mermaid, which is 16mm.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has more showings of The Battle of Algiers, with screenings Friday. Friday also has the the latest to screen Nick Cave music/concert documentary One More Time With Feeling. The Pierre Étaix retrospective continues with As Long as You’re Healthy (Saturday), The Land of Milk and Honey (Sunday), Yoyo (Wednesday), all in 35mm and all but Milk and Honey preceded by one of the director’s short films. They have the “Exhibition on Screen” presentation The Curious World of Hieronymus Bosch screening on Saturday and Sunday, and begin the annual Festival of Films From Iran on Wednesday with a 35mm print of A Taste of Cherry.
  • The ICA screens selections from the Ottowa International Festival of Animation twice on Sunday afternoon.
  • In addition to the Children’s Film Festival, The Regent Theatre will be hosting a special screening of Sunset Boulevard on Thursday to help raise funds for a local drama company that will be presenting the musical based upon the film later this year.

My plans: Yikes, is A Monster Calls almost gone already? Guess that, some other catch-up, Live By Night, Sleepless, and Silence.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Asian Action Weekend: Railroad Tigers & Master

It’s pretty rare for a Korean movie to release internationally the exact same day that it does in its native land, unlike Chinese and Indian movies, and Master is no exception, although I suspect that in its case the delay of a couple weeks also involved not getting completely buried in North America by the big holiday movies. The same almost certainly holds true for Railroad Tigers, which came out 23 December in China but which Well Go held back for a couple weeks.

Still, it initially looked like this didn’t exactly do CJ Entertainment a lot of good in terms of getting screens; when Master popped up in the Fandango listings, it was initially only showing at 10am, even right up until I was checking the listings on Thursday night for Friday and Saturday. It immediately put me in mind of the way Fantasia schedules anime at 11am on Saturday and Sunday and BUFF does something similar with films made by local directors: You know that there’s a dedicated audience for this stuff, dedicated enough to not party and drink the night before if that’s what it takes (or show up anyway), so you take advantage of that loyalty. I don’t know that those of us who go for Korean films in Boston are the same way - we used to haul our butts out to Revere when we had to, which isn’t nothing - but I suppose it would make sense if these movies didn’t get a big audience. Give them a show at somewhat odd hours when they’re not really displacing any Rogue One tickets, and it’s good. I kind of suspected as much was coming when I got an email survey about viewing habits/preferences for Asian movies a few weeks ago.

It turned out not to be the case, though - when I arrived for the 8pm show of Railroad Tigers on Friday, I saw that there was a 9pm Master, and a full slate the next day. Which was good - I wound up seeing a 3pm show after some other errands rather than getting out of the house on a working day’s schedule on Saturday - although it initially looked like I’d be seeing it alone. Not the case, as some student-aged folks showed up right around the start time, but I’d be just as willing to chalk that up to winter as lack of demand anyway.

(Not that Saturday’s snow “storm” was that big a deal; girl scouts were selling cookies in the T Stations, and if they can get out to do that, you can go see a movie or two.)

They did bolt before the end credits were done, missing a weird post-credits scene in Master, one of the weirdest of those I’ve seen. Can’t imagine they were that anxious to get back out into the snow.

Railroad Tigers

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 6 January 2017 in AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run, DCP)

To fully grasp how disappointing Railroad Tigers is, start with one basic truth: Action sequences are generally something like 20% better when set on a train, whether you choose “on” to mean “riding” or “on top of”, but despite this film being a string of those, it never quite gets exciting. And that’s before it dawns on one how few of them feature Jackie Chan doing something that stands out as impressive. Indeed, the whole thing seems muted, often unable to even go big on the broad comedy or aggressive nationalism that can at least make mainstream Chinese pictures at least an unusual experience.

The film has Chan playing Ma Yuan, the head porter at a rural train station during the Sino-Japanese war whose crew also liberates the cargo belonging to the occupying Japanese government. They aren’t exactly at the top of the Emperor’s most wanted list - they’re pretty small-time - although that may change after a Chinese soldier stumbles into the neighborhood he calls home: He’s the only survivor of a unit set to blow up a bridge before a major shipment comes over it in four days time, which means that if it’s going to be done, Ma and his friends will have to outsmart not just Captain Yamaguchi (Ikeuchi Hiroyuki), but recently-arrived troubleshooter Yuko (Xu Fan).

From the start, the gang is talking about “missions”, and writer/director/editor Ding Sheng divides the movie up that way, whether they be heists, rescues, or supply runs, with titles popping up on screen the same way character name/job/catchphrases do when introduced. A lot of movies are built that way, but Railroad Tigers feels odd in that this structure seems to highlight how much it’s running in place, with the results of each action scene neither feeling like it has brought the characters closer to a goal or even set them back, instead just running the clock until the big finale. There’s not even a sense of the team gelling or individual stories reaching turning points through this action.

Full review on EFC.

Master

* * * (out of four)
Seen 12 January 2017 in AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run, DCP)

Korean thriller Master feels like it should have an Indian-style intermission in the middle as it shuffles characters up, changes locations, and basically feels like filmmaker Jo Ui-seok has made both a tight, entertaining thriller and its decent sequel, then stitched them together to make something that works as one movie but feels a little stretched out. Ten minutes to stretch your legs and get ready for something new would have helped, although it still makes fine use of a great cast regardless.

It kicks off with financial fraud detectives Kim Jae-myung (Gang Dong-won) and Shin Gemma (Uhm Ji-won) attending a presentation of the “One Network”, an investment firm that promises daily dividends and full transparency, already boasting over a hundred thousand members and poised to grow even larger with its plans to acquire a savings back; they think President Jin Hyun-pil (Lee Byung-hun) is running South Korea’s largest pyramid scheme. Close to bringing it down, they consider the real prizes to be One’s data center and a ledger full of blackmail material that would help Jin, PR handler “Mama” Kim Eom-ma (Jin Kyung), and systems chief Park Jang-goon (Kim Woo-bin) escape persecution. Their plan is to turn Park, although the cocky young man already seems to have contingency plans in place.

Those that don’t follow Korean cinema particularly closely will probably, at most, recognize the name of Lee Byung-hun, who has appeared in a number of Hollywood productions over the past few years, and even they will likely be surprised to see him playing the villain with a bit of a weathered face and a touch of silver in his hair. It turns out to be fun casting against type as he’s able to sell Jin as the charismatic entrepreneur in the opening before he starts shedding his fake bonhomie backstage, a pivot that’s funny in real time but doesn’t stop him from still coming off as half-convincing when Jin’s trying to scam people later on. If you are a fan of Korean film, though… That’s a heck of a cast. Gang Dong-won is coming off a string of hits and brings a very enjoyable swagger to the righteous chief investigator, Kim Woo-bin is one of South Korea’s most popular up-and-coming young actors, Jin Kyung and Uhm Ji-won are reliable familiar faces, and the film even breaks out reliable actor Oh Dal-su to play a breezily corrupt lawyer in the second half.

Full review on EFC.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

La La Land

I talk about wanting to see how La La Land holds up to a second viewing in the review, but I kind of leave out a big part of the reason why I figure my opinion might change: About an hour and a half or so into the movie, whatever stomach bug was in my system decided to make itself known, and it was a good one, the sort that finds a nice central spot in your digestive tract and creates pressure in both directions. Not great under the best of circumstances, but when a movie ends on a “some time later” epilogue that not only seems wholly unnecessary but just generally counter to the rest of what the film is trying to do, well, that’s going to come off even worse.

Made for one of the few times I didn’t stay in my seat through the end credits, though, and instead dashed for the men’s room. Though I was (mostly) good for the usual Wednesday-night trip to the comic shop, I had to hit two restrooms on the way home, worried about the fact that, even in a relatively small apartment, getting to the toilet from bed means changing directions five times (a straight shot doesn’t upset your stomach as much), and worked from home the next day.

Understand, I don’t hold La La Land responsible for this. I do, however, wonder if it has any hand in my being more willing to focus on the shortcomings of a movie I mostly enjoyed than the parts I did like.

La La Land

* * * (out of four)
Seen 4 January 2017 in Somerville Theatre #1 (first-run, DCP)

I’m moderately curious what Damien Chazelle’s La La Land will look like on a second viewing, because there’s something about it that doesn’t quite click on the first: It’s got moments of delight and wit, and it certainly looks great, exactly the way a traditional musical brought into the twenty-first century should. It’s just hard to shake the feeling that it’s an assembly of pieces of movies that Chazelle would like to make and emulate rather than something truly its own.

It is, at its heart, a love story between Mia (Emma Stone), a would-be actress chasing down auditions while working at the Starbucks on the Warner Brothers lot, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a piano player who dreams of opening his own jazz club. Their paths cross a couple of times before they actually talk long enough to see how in sync they are in a sarcastic but not particularly mean-spirited exchange. As the interchangeable Los Angeles seasons pass, he joins an old classmate’s ensemble despite it not exactly being traditional jazz, and she decides to write her own one-woman show.

This is kind of familiar territory, and Chazelle doesn’t bring a lot of new, interesting details to it. An early conversation with Sebastian’s never-glimpsed-again sister can be summarized as “does this girl you want to set me up with like jazz, because that is the one thing that defines me as a character?”, and Mia’s soon-to-be-dumped boyfriend and the other couple they’re having dinner with are the laziest business-buzzword-mouthing placeholders imaginable. The L.A. and showbiz jokes feel recycled, only occasionally having a new punchline. The film often seems to coast on its leads for the “Spring” and “Summer” legs, but when it has to introduce conflict and challenges for the relationship, what the audience gets hardly feels personal, leading to some last-act back-and-forthing and what feels like the end of one Jacques Demy film tacked onto another.

Full review on EFC.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 6 January 2017 - 12 January 2017

New year, new mix of expanding platform releases, start-of-year crud, and oddball releases trying to find a spot where the can grab some eyeballs.

  • I have to say, I originally expected Hidden Figures to be in the crud category, but it got a Christmas release in some cities, so I’m hopeful (plus, my brother liked it). It recounts the story of three African-American women working at NASA during the lead-up to the attempts to put John Glenn in orbit. It’s at the Capitol, Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, Revere. Also expanding is A Monster Calls, in which a kid who has learned his mother (Felicity Jones) has cancer manifests a giant creature (voiced by Liam Neeson) as a means to deal with his terror. It’s at Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Revere. I could have sworn I saw 3D previews for it, but all screenings here are 2D.

    The week’s 2D/3D release is the one that’s part of the January “dumping ground” release, Underworld: Blood Wars, which I guess is the fifth in a series that I dropped after the first. Kate Beckinsale’s still doing the things, though, and vampires are still fighting werewolves sometime in the future. It’s at Apple Fresh Pond (2D only), Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere (2D only).

    Revere has the dubbed version of Princess Mononoke on Monday evening, and a 60th anniversary screening of Carousel on Wednesday.
  • Another high-profile expansion is Silence, Martin Scorcese’s long-in-development passion project featuring Liam Neeson as a Jesuit priest who has gone missing in Japan at a time when Christianity was illegal there, with Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield as the missionaries trying to find him and Tadanobu Asano as their interpreter. That one is at Kendall Square, West Newton, and Boston Common, and is apparently emotionally brutal. Kendall Square also has a more cheerful Japan-based picture, with an English dub of One Piece: Gold, the latest in the tremendously popular anime/manga series, on Tuesday.
  • Jackie Chan’s latest, Railroad Tigers, opens at Boston Common; it’s a big action comedy set on a moving train which reteams him with Little Big Soldier director Ding Sheng. From across the Sea of Japan, they also get Master (cutely spelled “MA$TER”), the latest from Cold Eyes director Jo Ui-seok with Gang Dong-won, Lee Byun-hun, and Oh Dal-su, which is a nice group. You’ve got to be pretty dedicated to see it, though, as it is only screening at 10am. Which means, hey, $8 tickets, and it’s better than it not playing Boston at all, but this is kind of brutal scheduling.

    Over at Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond, they pick up Tamil thriller Dhuruvangal Pathinaa, with Telugu flick Khaidi No. 150 opening Tuesday, Gautamiputra Satakar (also Telgugu) and subtitled Tamil action/adventure Bairavaa coming Wednesday, but Bollywood hit Dangal is the main attraction, even expanding to Fenway.
  • The Brattle Theatre continues their Refreshed! Renewed! Restored! series from Friday to Tuesday, with a Daughters of the Dust headlining and playing at least once each day. Pan’s Labyrinth, (Friday/Saturday in 35mm), Time Bandits (Saturday/Sunday), and Tampopo (Sunday/Monday) round out the series.

    Tuesday night is Trash Night, with Quigley being Gary Busey’s inevitable entry in the “guy reincarnated as an animal” genre. After that, they start their annual (Some of) The Best of 2016 series, with a double feature of The Fits (kind of amazing) & Ixcanul on Wednesday and one of Kaili Blues & Embrace of the Serpent on Thursday.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre keeps up the same schedule they’ve had since Christmas, but also offers up Surviving the Game on 35mm at midnight on Friday and Saturday. They’ve also got a Stage & Screen presentation of Scenes from a Marriage on Monday, Open Screen on Tuesday, and a special screening of The Breakfast Club on Thursday with Searching for John Hughes author Jason Diamond there as a guest of Brookline Booksmith.
  • No members’ weekend coming out of Christmas Break for The Harvard Film Archive, but they do get right back into Busby Berkely Babylon with 35mm prints of Gold Diggers of 1935 (Friday 7pm), 42nd Street (Friday 9pm), Babes in Arms (Saturday 7pm with an introduction from Rhae Lynn Barnes), Babes on Broadway (Saturday 9pm), Palmy Days (Sunday 5pm), Gold Diggers in Paris (Sunday 7pm), and Wonder Bar (Monday 7pm with an introduction by Sam Parler).
  • The Museum of Fine Arts kicks off a monthly “On The Fringe” on Friday night with Altered States, while also continuing their run of the restored The Battle of Algiers (Friday/Saturday/Sunday/Wednesday). They also begin a series looking at the films of Pierre Étaix with The Suitor (Saturday/Thursday), Yoyo (Sunday), The Land of Milk and Honey (Wednesday), and As Long as You’re Healthy (Thursday), all in 35mm and all but Milk and Honey preceded by one of the director’s short films.
  • The ICA will have afternoon screenings of a program of short films from the Ottowa International Festival of Animation, one of the world’s most prestigious, on Saturday and Sunday.
  • Jeff Rapsis will be at Somerville’s Aeronaut Brewery Sunday evening to accompany Metropolis.
  • The Boston Jewish Film Festival and ReelAbilities pair for a special screening of My Hero Brother at the Somerville Theatre on Thursday, with the documentary featuring a group of Israelis with Down Syndrome and their siblings hiking the Himalayas. Director Yonatan Nir will be on hand for a Q&A.
  • I’ve been meaning to get out to CinemaSalem, which often has at least one movie not playing anywhere else, at some point, and while this probably won’t be the thing that does it, Two Lovers and a Bear stars Dane DeHaan and Tatiana Malasny as two people living in a tiny town way the heck up north. It’s so Canadian that Gordon Pinsent is credited as “Voice of the Bear”, and I know some folks who go for that.

My plans: A bunch of catch-up, Railroad Tigers, Master, Hidden Figures, and A Monster Calls.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

IFFBoston Fall Focus 2016.04: After the Storm & The Autopsy of Jane Doe

Sorry, every festival I went to last year - this is as far back as I’m going to try and write full reviews before making one of my New Year’s Resolutions to not let this stuff pile up - if I can’t write something full-length in a week or two, it just gets kicked down to shorter length for This Week in Tickets. This year, things just got way out of hand, and while I’m picking some speed back up on the bus right now, it’s a bit of a grind and the stuff you do as a hobby should not be a grind.

Still, it’s sometimes fun to see patterns emerge after the fact, especially when you’re writing while looking back. I suspect that this wasn’t necessarily intended to be a double feature, as opposed to a six-day/six-movie series accommodating another event in the theater in the middle of it, but now that I write it up, these two movie both feature fathers dragging families down with them.

Anyway, on to writing up MonsterFest, where I could have seen The Autopsy of Jane Doe again, and was in fact kind of tempted, especially since it was playing with a short film by director Andre Ovredal. But, nope, I went to Dead Hands Dig Deep instead, and pretty much slept through the whole thing (not really still on East Coast of North America time, but still kind of wiped out), so maybe it’s just as well; I might have been taking up a seat that could have gone to someone who really wanted it.

That one, like After the Storm, is currently on VOD in the United States, but if you’re in the Boston area, it’s worth noting that it will be back at the Brattle Theatre on 3 February, through the 9th. It’s a good one, well worth seeing with a crowd.

Umi yori mo mada fukaku (After the Storm)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 October 2016 in the Brattle Theatre (IFFBoston Fall Focus, DCP)

There's a typhoon in Hirokazu Kore-eda's After the Storm, but it arrives late, too late to be the complete inspiration for the film's English language title (the original Japanese, "Umi yori mo mada fukaku", translates to "Even Deeper than the Sea"). Whoever came up with it was onto something, though; despite the understated, observational bent of Kore-eda's films, there is implied turmoil in these characters' pasts that makes how they tackle the present worth watching.

At the center is Ryota (Hiroshi Abe), who won an award for his first novel some years ago but has been working at a small firm of private investigators for so long that his description of it as research for a new book has worn thin. He has at least learned how to keep tabs on his ex-wife Kyoko (Yoko Maki) and 11-year-old son Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa), though his gambling keeps him from paying his alimony which may lose him visitation. So he tries to borrow from sister Chinatsu (Satomi Kobayashi) or find a valuable possession of his late father's, though he doesn't tell mother Yoshiko (Kirin Kiki) that he's looking to swipe something from the family home.

There's something about Hiroshi Abe that inspires, if not confidence, at least good feeling; he's tall and handsome enough to stick out in a crowd without being imposing, often coming off as amusingly befuddled when cast in a comedy. Here, he and Kore-eda use that charisma to remind the audience just how charming some toxic influences can be; there’s a hangdog weight to his body language, an air of guilt that pushes against his more selfish tendencies, a genuine fondness for his son that breaks through often-muted moments. It’s not an easy, boldfaced charisma, and in that way more easy to believe in his best intentions.

Full review on EFC.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 27 October 2016 in the Brattle Theatre (IFFBoston Fall Focus, DCP)

I expect a bit too much precision and consistency from horror movies in the best of circumstances, preferring that every element pull in the same direction, at least symbolically, even when I know that unpredictability and confusion is part of what makes them scary. Making a film about an autopsy, right from the very title, is only going to encourage that, leading me to nitpick The Autopsy of Jane Doe while the credits rolled. And though there certainly are things that could hang together better, it would be a mistake to focus on them at the expense of an exceptionally tense, intriguing, and well-executed thriller.

The Jane Doe that arrives at the funeral home that also serves as the local coroner’s office arrives at night, the result of another investigation, and while the county sheriff (Michael McElhatton) doesn’t like to impose, time is precious when investigating suspicious deaths. Coroner Tommy Tilden (Brian Cox) doesn’t mind too much; he’s a widower who has always retreated into his macabre work. He even tells son and assistant Austin (Emile Hirsch) to go have fun with his girlfriend Emma (Ophelia Lovlibond) as planned, but he decides to stay, meeting up with her later. This may be a bad decision - a lot of things about this corpse don’t add up, and as the Tildens try to figure out exactly who she is and how she died, the sense of unease seems to permeate the building with a lot more strange noises and things in the corners of their eyes not seeming right.

The investigation of all this is what drives the action, and writers Ian B. Goldberg and Richard Naing give director Andre Overdal a nifty path to follow. This sort of forensic horror can be a minefield, not just because it actively encourages a viewer to poke holes in something that by its nature does not fit in a rational universe, but because it also runs the risk of being frustrating by moving the finish line every time a solution seems to be in view or getting there and finding that what’s left is no longer mysterious and scary. Jane Doe does occasionally stumble in this regard - the repetition of a certain song is creepy when it starts playing in the mortuary, for instance, but doesn’t actually fit in the story that eventually emerges. Anachronistic details aside, though, what the autopsy serves up is impressively tantalizing: Not only is it fun to watch Tommy follow the trail of clues Sherlock Holmes-style, but even as Jane’s mysteries become stranger and more contradictory, they seldom seem entirely out of reach. As a bonus, the very work of uncovering them has a certain resonance - these two men are meaning well, but the way that they are digging into this woman’s body could take center stage if the filmmakers wanted to adjust their perspective just a bit.

Full review on EFC.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Assassin’s Creed

I knew this was going to be bad; I spent the last couple of months making variations of the joke in the opening paragraph of the EFC review; I honestly don’t understand why you don’t build the movie around what people know and like about the property, even if they only know it vaguely.

But, to be fair, it took two or three screw-ups for it to come to this. I had made plans to see the Doctor Who Christmas special at the Fenway theater, buying a ticket ahead of time while doing my last-minute shopping on Christmas Eve. Then I went up to Maine, spoiled my nieces rotten, and at some point the ticket disappears from my pocket, or wallet, or inside a Christmas card or wherever the heck I stuck it. It’s a $15 ticket with assigned seating, so I don’t feel too bad about getting in somehow. But, for whatever reason, the Red Line decides to be extremely slow, so it’s just past starting time when I get there, I figure I may be able to just buy a ticket for another show (I mean, if I wanted to be really sneaky, I didn’t use my MoviePass card when seeing Passengers because I saw it in 3D…), but by the time I was at a ticket kiosk and ready, it was quarter past, and it didn’t seem like I could get the ticket, hope that the the ushers were set up to rip in such a way that I could get to the right place… Bleh. So, not seeing that, I don’t intend to have spent that much time on the train and in the cold with no movie to show for it, it’s $5 off night at AMC, which is the current best circumstance to see a 3D movie, money-wise, so…

The lesson, as always, is never to go to a movie just because of starting time or for reasons other than “I really want to see that movie”.

Assassin’s Creed

* ¼ (out of four)
Seen 27 December 2016 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

Not being much of a gamer, my entire history with with the Assassin’s Creed franchise has been seeing previews for the games before movies at a film festival that their developer sponsored, and from those clips you’d never know that it was about much more than 15th-Century parkour. Movies and games have been built on less, but sometimes the problem comes when they’re built on more - in this case, a dreary present-day story that renders the fun bits moot while wasting a whole slew of talented actors.

In both 1492 and 2016, the Knights Templar are searching for the “Apple of Eden”, which allegedly contains the genetic code for human free will; possessing it would allow them to place the entire world under their complete control. In modern days, Templar Rikken (Jeremy Irons) is seeking it by faking the execution of murderer Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) and then using a device created by his daughter Sofia (Marion Cotillard), “the Animus”, to read his genetic memory to find where Aguilar (Fassbender), a member of the Assassin’s Creed that opposed the Templars, hid the device five hundred years ago.

You see the problem here: All the exciting things happens in flashbacks whose outcome is fairly easily deduced from the start - maybe not the details, but those are kind of unimportant - leaving the present-day material to try and make finding the location of the Apple interesting. Seemingly by accident, it inverts the way video games work, where the action sequences involve and stimulate the player while the cut-scenes in between give him or her a few moments to rest while dumping exposition; by metaphorically taking the controller out of the viewers’ hands, the talky bits are now expected to carry the story, and they can’t for a couple of reasons.

Full review on EFC.