Friday, April 20, 2018

Beirut

Not that Beirut is a bad movie, but there was a point during it when I wondered if I might rather see Brad Anderson direct Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike in a romantic comedy, if only because it's been nearly twenty years since he's made one. And I've got to wonder if the reason that Anderson never really seems to have made the leap from capable B-movies and TV to being a can't-miss filmmaker is that he hasn't done one.

Consider: His first feature to grab attention was Next Stop Wonderland, followed by Happy Accidents, and then after that, he did two genuinely harrowing movies in Session 9 and The Machinist. I don't know Anderson's process or approach, but it sure seems like shifting gears allowed him to focus on the contrast and really do something elemental on those. He's made good movies since then and done good TV (he was a big part of why Fringe was as strong as it was), but never anything to approach that 1998-2004 run. Since then, he's more or less done thrillers, and he's good at them - this one, for instance, shifts into a higher gear after a slow start - but none of them have been truly exceptional. It might be worth switching things up to see if doing so would produce a more memorable movie.

Beirut

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 17 April 2018 in AMC Boston Common #7 (first-run, DCP)

A movie's name just being its location doesn't always mean that the filmmakers had a sense of that but not the story, but it's not a bad way to bet. Certainly, it's not a theory that Beirut seems keen to debunk; much of the film's first half is explaining to the audience that Lebanon in general and its capital in particular were nervously cosmopolitan melting pots before the civil war, and then touring the blasted remains afterward. It takes a while for the specific story to really kick into gear.

The initial explanation comes during a prelude, as American diplomat Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm) describes the history of the place to a visiting Congressional delegation when he receives a visitor - his co-worker Cal (Mark Pellegrino), warning him that Karim Abou Rajal, the Palestinian boy Mason and wife Nadia (Leila Bekhti) have taken in, has a terrorist big brother, and they want to question him now, since brother Raffik is suspected to be in town. It goes badly, and ten years later, in 1982, Mason is now mediating small labor disputes in Boston, but is recruited to give a lecture at American University in Beirut. He knows that's cover for something else, and it is: Cal is now head the CIA's head of station and has been abducted, with the kidnapper (Idir Chender) only willing to negotiate with Mason, demanding Raffik's release. The team on station - Donald Gaines (Dean Norris), Sandy Crowder (Rosamund Pike), and Gary Ruzak (Shea Whigham) - are reluctant to work with this burnout, but the pieces that don't add up soon threaten to snowball into a much bigger problem… Though that might suit some of the people involved just fine.

When all of this does start to come together, it's not really because the pieces are particularly fascinating or well-established; the opening establishes a setting, but not the relationships that are going to drive the movie. The opening lays a bit of groundwork for what would happen later, but not necessarily the bits that would wind up being most important; you'd think that Cal and Mason were more rivals than close friends from the prologue. Still, the economy to Tony Gilroy's script that can lead to not initially seeing that pair in full turns out to be fairly useful once it shifts from atmosphere to thriller; the plot may not be terribly complex, but there's enough to it for a couple of surprises and satisfying moments that are not exactly surprises. It also threads a needle that many period thrillers don't, creating a story that has high stakes without inserting too much into the actual history.

Full review on EFC

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 20 April 2018 - 26 April 2018

It's not that there's nothing notable this weekend, but if you've got stuff you want to see and have been putting off, better get it in before stuff both massive and local eats up a lot of screens.

  • The big local event is Independent Film Festival Boston 2018, which starts up on Wednesday and continues for the next week. The opening night film in the Somerville Theatre's big room is Eighth Grade, with director Bo Burnham and actress Elsie Fisher; on Thursday, they expand to the other four screens and the Brattle, with a bunch of short films, American Animals, A Kid Like Jake, This One's for the Ladies, and more.

    The Somerville Theatre has a couple of live events in the big room before that, plus a special "Aisle of Dogs" screening of Isle of Dogs where you can bring your dog and also raise money for a good cause. Their sister cinema in Arlington, The Capitol, has a "Throwback Thursday" show on the 26th, screening Flashdance.
  • Before that, the multiplexes get some things that could serve as counterprogramming to the big stuff hitting every screen next week. I Feel Pretty stars Amy Schumer as a woman who, after a bonk on the head, believes herself to be the most attractive and capable woman in the world, although, it's not like Schumer is unattractive already, except maybe by exaggerated movie-star standards. It's at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux. There's also Super Troopers 2, which I think might be Broken Lizard's first production as a group in over a decade, but I guess folks liked the first. This one has the group manning a border area after hostilities erupt between the U.S. and Canada, and plays Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    There's a slightly smaller release for Traffik, a thriller featuring Paula Patton and Omar Epps as a couple vacationing in an isolated cabin only to find themselves surrounded by by bikers. It's at Boston Common, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    This year's monthly Studio Ghibli series kicks off this week with The Cat Returns, playing Fenway and Revere in an English dub on Sunday and Wednesday, and Japanese subtitles on Monday. Wednesday at those spots also features a special premiere of the "Cobra Kai" YouTube series, which follows up on the original The Karate Kid thirty-odd years later; the event includes the original film before the first half-hour episode. And while it looks like there won't be any Marvel Marathons leading up to Avengers: Infinity War opening Thursday night, it'll probably be very difficult to see anything else at the multiplexes after 6pm or so.
  • Kendall Square gets Kodachrome, which stars Ed Harris and Jason Sudeikis as a father and son on a road trip to the last lab developing the film of the title lest certain memories be locked away forever. There's also A Bag of Marbles; that story of two Jewish brothers fleeing the Nazis in rural France is slated for a week.
  • After an initial "Cinema Jukebox" presentation on Thursday, The Coolidge Corner Theatre starts a run of Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami, a documentary on the pop-punk icon that, by all accounts, she more or less took over, because nobody makes Grace Jones a passive subject. They also pick up equine family adventure Lean on Pete, though it's mostly in the smaller rooms aside from a Friday "Box Office Babies" screening.

    They've got a special midnight screening of Best F(r)iends on Friday, with star Greg Sestero in person for the Room fans. That's not their "4/20" movie, and I don't know if Friday qualifies, though Saturday's Half-Baked fills that slot. Both of those are on 35mm film. Saturday also has a midnight screening of Lowlife, a loopy crime flick (one of the characters is a disgraced luchador) which is genuinely terrific, one of the best finds at Fantasia last summer (it plays next weekend, too). There's also a "Stage & Screen" presentation of Working Girl on Monday (promoting the Huntington Theater Company's production of Top Girls). There's also a "Wide Lens" presentation of Richard Jenkins in The Visitor, followed by a discussion of undocumented immigration. Thursday night is a live show, "Talk/Play" with Kenny Werner.
  • The Brattle Theatre plays host to the Women In Comedy Festival for much of the weekend, and then a number of one-nighters before IFFBoston moves in on Thursday. There's a free "Elements of Cinema" screening of People on Sunday on… well, Sunday, including a short and discussion with BU professor Peter J. Schwartz, while director Jason Kohn is the guest for Monday's DocYard screening of tennis documentary Love Means Zero. Tuesday is Trash Night, and then on Wednesday they decide that they're going to taunt those of us who like both independent and big franchise films by playing Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, with The Last Jedi on the schedule for a week later.
  • Apple Fresh Pond continues Hindi feature October (as does Fenway), and Telugu film Bharat Ane Nenu, also opening Hindi/Iranian film Beyond the Clouds, in which a family's black sheep drags his sister into trouble while on the run.

    If you like Chinese films, Boston Common has Dude's Manual, a college romantic comedy. Revere still has Dominican film Veneno.
  • The Harvard Film Archive and Goethe-Institut program a new retrospective, The Management of Shattered Identity: German Films, 1945-1957, looking at the postwar entries in what had been one of Europe's most vibrant national cinemas. The weekend's selections are Under the Bridges (Friday 7pm on 16mm), Film Without a Title (Friday 9pm on 35mm), Between Yesterday and Tomorrow (Saturday 7pm), Peter Lorre's The Lost One (Saturday 9:15pm on 35mm), and Jonas (Monday 7pm on 35mm). The gaps in that schedule include a special $5 Saturday screening of The Sound of Music, and two documentaries in their Wim Wenders series on Sunday: Buena Vista Social Club at 4pm and The Salt of the Earth at 7pm.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues the three films they have been running for the last week, with scattered screenings of November (Saturday/Sunday/Wednesday), 24 Frames (Friday/Thursday), and Cezanne: Portrait of a Life (Friday/Saturday/Sunday/Wednesday).
  • The Boston Jewish Film Festival has a special retrospective at The West Newton Cinema over the next week, showing some of the most popular presentations from their 30-year-history: Paper Clips plays Sunday afternoon with one of the documentary's subjects on hand, Live and Become with special guest on Monday, Above & Beyond on Tuesday, and Walk on Water on Wednesday.
  • Monday's Belmont World Film show at Studio Cinema is What Will People Say, in which a second-generation immigrant in Norway is sent to Pakistand for having a local boyfriend, only to get shipped back north for a scandal there.
  • CinemaSalem has the latest from IFFBoston alum Lynn Shelton, Outside In, starring Jay Duplass as an ex-con drawn to the former teacher who was one of the biggest advocates for his release..

I'll probably catch Kodachrome and A Quiet Place before the festival, and even if I can't get to Lowlife and November, the rest of you should, because they're pretty fantastic.

This Week In Tickets: 9 April 2018 - 15 April 2018

Isn't it supposed to be spring now? Because it was cold out this week, whether in the bleachers at Fenway or killing time in Harvard Square before a show at the Brattle.

This Week in Tickets

I mean, I actually hung around work for an extra hour or so because that meant I could come close to rolling off the bus and into the Brattle for the DocYard presentation of Spettacolo, which I missed at IFFBoston last year despite being curious about the new one from the makers of Marwencol. Unfortunately, I really wasn't into it; it seemed like a decent enough movie, but I was in and out. Remind me to catch it on Prime sometime.

Tuesday night was the first game in my Red Sox season ticket package, and despite it being something like 38 degrees Fahrenheit, which is not idea. What is ideal - Chris Sale pitching and the Sox hitters pulverizing the Yankees' supposed ace. It was fantastic really, with the one obnoxiously loud Yankees fan in my section eventually getting shut up after having shrieked at Aaron Judge's home run like it did more than turn a 5-0 game to a 5-1 game. My seat is right behind the visiting dugout, and there was a point in the 9-run sixth inning where a guy yelled "you're next!" at the guy warming up like it was a threat. Which it was; the pitcher loaded the bases and then saw Mookie Betts hit a grand slam. It was fantastic.

Since it was a Yankees series, I kind of stayed in and watched NESN the next couple nights, and then headed back to the Brattle on Friday for Claire's Camera, in for a quick weekend engagement kind of tied to a Hong Sang-soo retrospetive at the Harvard Film Archive. It's kind of neat. The next night was Big Fish & Begonia, which I thought was going to be subtitled, but was shown dubbed instead. I suspet the original version is better, but wasn't quite up for seeing it a second time to be sure.

Finally, on Sunday, I went to the Icon for Rampage, and you know what was weird? There was a credit for "inspired by the Rampage video game", but no company credit like you'd usually see. Has it just been lost in bankruptcies and mergers and such, or has it been swallowed by Warner? Odd. They also started a thing where local chefs design a popcorn bucket, with this one featuring pecans. Weirdly sticky.

Still more BUFF reviews catch-up to do, and I'm always updating my Letterboxd account.

Spettacolo

N/A (out of four)
Seen on 9 April 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (The DocYard, DCP)

I was just not up for this movie like I thought I was going to be, zoning out badly at several pints and really not connecting with things brought up during the post-film discussion at all. It would up feeling like an interesting idea that just never had the right details cohere. That's how it works with documentaries sometimes - the story they saw in the beginning didn't really emerge, and what did became self-aware in a way that didn't quite work for me.

Rampage

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen on 15 April 2018 in Showplace Icon Boston #2 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

A good-enough giant monster movie, which isn't a bad result if you want to see giant monsters level a city and fight every once in a while. It's not smart like the original Godzilla (or its recent reboot), and it doesn't have any single bit of action as delightful as Gipsy Danger picking up a ship and bludgeoning an alien to death in Pacific Rim. When it does actually have giant mutated animals fighting, though, there is some fun to be had, with the last act being a pretty well-sustained brawl.

It doesn't hurt that Dwayne Johnson never just coats even in a movie where he'll be upstaged by lots of digital effects, either - he's always giving his all and has a game partner in Naomie Harris, who makes for a love interest/scientist that's a lot of fun on her own. It gets sketchy after that - Malin Akerman and Jeffrey Dean Morgan sometimes seem to be chewing a bit too much scenery, even given the plot they've got to work with - especially given the good work by the mocap/effets guys to bring the big albino ape to life.


Spettacolo
Red Sox 14, Yankees 1
Claire's Camera
Big Fish & Begonia
Rampage

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Big Fish & Begonia

Probably not much time to catch this even if you're reading the review just as it goes up, as it's only playing single evening shows at Kendall Square and Boston Common for tonight and tomorrow, and I think only tonight's screening at Kendall Square is subtitled. That surprises me a bit - I actually went through the listings on AMC's website to see whether they were showing subtitles or dubs, and they all seemed to be listed as subtitles. I get there Saturday night, though, and it's all in English.

Kind of a bummer, that, and surprising - they play a lot of Chinese stuff there, and most of the times they've played animated films from Shout! and Funimation before, they've been subtitled. Makes me wonder if they drew bigger crowds for the dubbed In This Corner of the World than the original subtitled run. It brought back memories of watching anime dubbed by the U.S. distributor's office staff, and that's not exactly a plus in my book, although I gather that this sort of voice-over talent has its own fandom.

It's one to put on the list of "animated films with young female leads to give my nieces", but not that high - it's not exactly violent but overwhelming, and sends something of a mixed message.

Dayu haitang (Big Fish & Begonia)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 14 April 2018 in AMC Boston Common #6 (first-run, DCP)

I wonder, a bit, if I would have enjoyed Big Fish & Begonia a bit more if it had played subtitled (as advertised) rather than in an English dub, or if a better handle on Chinese folklore would help. It would have still bumped up against some technical issues, I think, but, likely would have had a lot fewer "wait, why" moments. I don't imagine kids would stop and scratch their heads quite so much, but this movie is just far enough off the beaten path outside of China that kids might have to be led there.

It opens in a world beneath our own, where the ocean is like the sky, populated by magical beings who control the natural world above. Chun will control the blossoming of begonias someday, and like the other sixteen-year-old godlings, she is to spend a week in the world above in the form of a red dolphin, observing how their action affect it, though she is not to make contact with the humans. She almost doesn't make it back, getting caught in a net during a storm, but a young fisherman frees her at terrible cost. Overwhelmed by guilt, she makes a deal with the man who keeps the souls of humans who have passed on - they take the form of fish in this other world - intending to raise the one there on her account until it is large enough to swim home and return to life. But though her friend Qiu will help her with anything - he's got a powerful crush - they're just kids, and not prepared for how others will see this as a chance to satisfy their own ambitions, or how Chun raising "Kun" may have dire consequences for their whole world.

That last part, which sets up the danger of the situation, too often doesn't make a whole lot of sense; Big Fish & Begonia is the sort of fantasy where every use of magic comes with strikingly cataclysmic side effects not detailed until after the fact that don't necessarily follow from the actual situation, with seemingly just as many adjustments to actually achieve the desired result after the fact. It shows a fair amount of plotting where, even if simply telling the truth might have made things worse, it never even seems to come up as an option. On top of that, the writers seem afraid of the life triangle at the center - understandable, when two of the people involved are almost never human at the same time, and making them seemingly sexless at the end just confuses matters more.

Full review on EFC

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Claire's Camera

Sorry about not getting this finished/posted in time for it to serve as a recommendation to catch the movie before it leaves the Brattle, or any of the Hong Sang-soo films at the Harvard Film Archive; sometimes the words just don't come and the 70-minute film that you figure can get by with a paragraph less proves hard to pin down.

The film itself is pretty good, but one of the things I liked that doesn't necessarily play into the rest of what I thought of the movie was how Hong used the location: Though the Cannes film festival is an important part of the film's background, he avoids it aside from some rented office space and a reference to a party, and while that might have been a practical matter - I suspect that even when made by festival favorites, shooting the red carpets and such might have been a big outlay for a small indie - pushing the glamor to the side, kind of focusing on the business end, works for this movie. It did bump Cannes and the French Riviera in general a bit higher up on my list of places to visit, though probably well away from festival time. Hong makes the city look like a really pleasant combination of Paris and San Diego, and does that sound terrific or what?

La caméra de Claire (La caméra de Claire)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 13 April 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (first-run, DCP)

Cannes has become so associated with its film festival that just setting a movie there seems to warp perception of it and the people involved; it becomes part of this insular world that means something to filmmakers and influential critics who perhaps don't realize how many people it can leave on the outside. Claire's Camera mostly avoids that - it's set in that world and in many ways about it, but not so much so that it loses its basic charm.

Part of that is that it makes the closest thing the film has to a native - Isabelle Huppert's Claire, a Parisian teacher who carries around an instant camera and has come to see a friend's movie at the festival - the most complete tourist among the central group of characters. She's not out of place - Claire can sling the artsy musings as well as anybody who does it for a living - but she's just enough of an outsider to have a little bit of a raised eyebrow at the antics of the film people. It's a fun part for Isabelle Huppert, who is not exactly best known for cheerful, upbeat roles, but plays Claire as something of a much-loved aunt here, often surprised and curious but clearly enjoying the new situations she's finding.

Though Huppert is first-billed, the film spends more time following Jeon Man-hee (Kim Min-hee), who works in film sales and who, between the first and second time the audience sees her, goes from clearly being reluctant to join her boss Nam Yang-hye (Chang Mi-hee) and director So Wan-soo (Jung Jin-young) at a party to having been pressured to quit, though she hangs around rather than go back to Seoul because it's not like Nam is going to pay the fees to change her ticket (not that Nam considers this). What's going on between that trio isn't terribly complicated, but they're a pleasure to watch nonetheless - Kim Min-hee has an easy charm whether working in Korean or English, and she's able to make Man-hee's stumbles in her second language work for the character: It highlights her inexperience in some sports but never marks her as truly ignorant, and it highlights what a likable, gregarious person she is that she keeps trying (and, when she has a wordless moment of understanding, the clarity on her face is twice as effective). Chang Mi-hee has moments when Nam is trying to keep So in line or be his bad cop that echo Lesley Manville's Phantom Thread performance nicely, but with more of a desire for approval in there. Jung jin-young, meanwhile, is perhaps most notable for sort of shifting 45 degrees emotionally at a certain point; he plays the familiar image of a somewhat spoiled artist who seduces when it seduces him and then acts patrician to try and keep young women in line. It's well-done, right down to the layer of charm showing a little wear.

Full review on EFC

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Boston Underground Film Festival 2018.03: The Queen of Hollywood Blvd & Let the Corpses Tan

Friday night at the festival, and I felt pretty gassed by the end of the week - it was either the week I ran out of patience with something at work or the next, when I was really throwing myself into trying to get the thing I proposed doing instead out. Even if I were a guy who went for the edgy midnight shorts program or parties, I just wasn't going to be up for it this night

I'll bet these guys were, though.



That's Queen of Hollywood Blvd director Orson Oblowitz in the center, and his mother (and star of the movie) Rosemary Hochschild on the right. They aren't really the folks they play in their movie, but you can sort of see where Queen Mary came from in Hochschild, a certain flamboyance that's hard to fake.

Oblowitz also talked a great deal about how excited he was to work with Michael Parks, and that his role in the movie eventually came to reflect his reticence to accept it, that his voice was going and he couldn't really sing anymore. In fact, a chunk of the Q&A had Oblowitz on his phone, trying to bring up the sweet, rambling message he got from Parks saying that he didn't think he could take the job because of it (and to not talk so fast when leaving a message himself).

After that was Let the Corpses Tan, which reminded me that I've got to order a copy of The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears and get through it sometime; I think I saw it at BUFF in a 10pm (or later) slot and wasn't really able to stay awake through much at all, despite having loved the same filmmakers' Amer. There was not much chance of that being the case for this - though I was as fatigued as I've ever been three days into a film festival, the gunshots in this movie are mixed as loud as any I've ever heard, and will jolt you to full alertness any time you're even thinking of drifting off.

The Queen of Hollywood Blvd

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 March 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, DCP)

The folks who made The Queen of Hollywood Blvd probably don't consider themselves lucky that it wound up being the last thing that Michael Parks worked on before his death, but it probably won't hurt them to be the answer to a trivia question, in either the short or long term. They don't really need to trade off that - the film is just eccentric and singular enough to stand out from a potential sea of modern grindhouse flicks on its own - but it's not as if the title character would pass up that sort of boost to her business.

That would be "Queen Mary" (Rosemary Hochschild), who has been running her strip club, "Mary's Dine & Dance", for decades, although it seems that she's never actually owned it, and loan shark Duke (Roger Guenveur Smith) has decided to repossess it on her 60th birthday. He sends a fellow called Punk Rock Charlie (Matthew Berkowitz) to get the keys and take over as manager, and she does not go quietly so Duke goes to plan B - kidnapping her son and saying she'll maybe get him back if she kills a different thorn in his side.

Star Rosemary Hochschild is the mother of writer/director Orson Oblowitz, and that he wrote this movie with her in mind, flatly refusing to make with anybody else, might make one stare blankly for a moment or two before commenting that this must be an interesting family. It makes more sense once you see the movie; though Oblowitz is not exactly on-screen long enough as Mary's mush-mouthed idiot of a son to serve as much more than a plot device - there's a more obvious maternal bond with Grace (Ana Mulvoy Ten), the teenager a pimp (Jon Sklaroff) is trying to place in the bar - it's not hard to see the admiration that Oblowitz has for her even if he's also written Mary as dangerously impulsive and occasionally walking a fine line between non-judgmentally cosmopolitan and ruthlessly amoral. She's a fighter with a decent core surrounded by rough edges of which she is categorically unashamed, and Oblowitz shoots her larger than life, either pushed to the front of the frame to dominate it or given a wide berth as she walks down the Boulevard in slow motion, one of the many colorful characters that reside in that part of town made the center of attention.

Full review on EFC

Laissez bronzer les cadavres (Let the Corpses Tan)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 March 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, DCP)

Let the Corpses Tan isn't the same sort of ultra-violence as high art as other films you might describe that way - it's more about the striking image than the impeccable choreography, the sort of thing that you can screen-capture and show to someone who doesn't necessarily go for big action rather than the clips you dissect looking for cuts and doubling. Fortunately, it's in the hands of some of the best in the business at creating striking images and just enough to stitch them together, and they're happy to dispense with subtlety.

The story is simple enough - it's July, the sun is pounding down in a sparsely populated area near the Mediterranean, and Luce (Elina Löwensohn) has a couple of guests at her villa - friend-and-likely-lover Max (Marc Barbé) and his lawyer (Michelangelo Marchese) - but doesn't know said lawyer is working with a criminal crew led by Rhino (Stéphane Ferrara) planning to knock over an armored car and lay low at Luce's place with the quarter-ton of gold within. Of course, that's not the sort of crime that goes unnoticed in the best of cases, and things start to get fairly crowded when not just the police, but Max's estranged wife (Dorylia Calmel) shows up with son (Pierre NIsse) and nanny (Marine Sainsily) in tow. And when all hell breaks loose, the timetable for an inevitable double-cross tends to get moved up.

Belgian filmmakers Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani did not go in for complicated stories in their previous two films, and Corpses doesn't exactly break that pattern. But while they still don't supply a lot of detail in the plot, what there is serves to clarify rather than confuse, putting the connections between scenes within reach rather than pushing them just out of reach. They still aren't providing a lot of exposition, and having the whole thing turn into a big shootout doesn't mean they won't occasionally fragment the narrative, but they're serving a different sort of emotional end here, looking for adrenaline-charged thrills rather than mounting unease, which leads them to sometimes be a little more playful.

Full review on EFC

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 6 April 2018 - 12 April 2018

Kind of a weird weekend for new releases, to be honest: Two counting on questionable name-recognition, two named after fall months despite coming out in April, a couple that opened Wednesday.

  • Then again, you don't really need to remember the 1980s arcade game to be interested in Rampage, which is Dwayne Johnson and some fun character actors running around while Chicago (eventually) gets messed up by giant mutated animals in 3D. That plays the Capitol (2D only), Fresh Pond (2D only), the Belmont Studio (2D only), Jordan's Furniture (Imax 2D), the Embassy (2D only), Boston Common (including Imax 2D), Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport, South Bay (including Imax 2D & Dolby), Assembly Row (including Imax 2D), Revere (including MX4D & XPlus), and the SuperLux (2D only). Meanwhile, horror movie Truth or Dare seems to be getting marketed as "Blumhouse's Truth or Dare", and I don't know how many people outside horror nuts really care about Blumhouse, but maybe the Madonna documentary casts a long shadow. Anyway, this one has Lucy Hale as a college kid who plays the wrong game in the wrong room or some such and people start dying when they don't play along. It's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    I am mildly and morbidly curious about Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero, an animated movie from "Fun Academy Motion Pictures" about a stray dog adopted by a soldier during World War I who is, apparently, the most decorated dog in U.S. military history. The main filmmakers are guys who make war documentaries and serve as military advisors rather than animators, and the voice cast includes Logan Lerman, Helena Bonham Carter, and Gerard Depardieu. It's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, and Revere. The Icon theater in the Seaport plays Boston for a week around Patriot's Day.

    Some of last week's one-offs continue into this weekend, with Grease playing Fenway Assembly Row on Saturday and Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior plays Revere on Sunday. Family movie Phoenix Wilder and the Great Elephant Adventure plays Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere on Monday; The Dating Project plays those places Tuesday.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Kendall Square, and open You Were Never Really Here, with Joaquin Phoenix as a traumatized vet who tracks down missing kids and finds himself on a case that may break him, especially considering this is a Lynn Ramsey movie and she doesn't mess around. The Tuesday show at the Coolidge is an "Off the Couch" screening, and that theater also opens IFFBoston alum The Peacemaker in the Goldscreen, a documentary about Padraig O'Malley.

    This Friday is a 13th, so that means the midnight show that night is a 35mm double feature of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter & Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI, skipping the one in between. Saturday, they go with the last Hammer Frankenstein film, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, also on 35mm. Members get free admission to the Strano Film Festival Showcase on Sunday, with special guests related to each short in this Earth Day presentation. Another short film package, the Animation Show of Shows, plays Wednesday morning for all the kids on vacation. They also get a jump on their run of Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami, with a "Cinema Jukebox" screening on Thursday night.
  • Kendall Square opened Beiruit on Wednesday, as did the Capitol, the Embassy, Boston Common, and Revere; it's the new one from director Brad Anderson, who feels like he should have gotten something big by now, written by Tony Gilroy and starring Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike in a period thriller. The Kendall also opens Lean on Pete, with Charlie Plummer as a teenager who makes friends with an aging racehorse at his summer job, and a one-week booking of Belle du Jour, which just got a new digital restoration.

    They also host the remaining sessions of The Boston International Film Festival (which is NOT IFFBoston) through Monday, and it might be worth checking the schedule - there are gaps where a bunch of programs aren't listed on the site any more.
  • The Brattle Theatre has a brief weekend between festivals, and plays Hong Sang-soo's latest, Claire's Camera, which has the Korean director (who has a retrospective finishing up at the HFA this weekend) in France with the rare comedic performance by Isabelle Huppert as a schoolteacher on her first visit to Cannes. It runs Friday to Sunday, although the 9:30pm slot those days is the tail end of Awesome, We're F*ckin' Ten: An Oscilloscope Retrospective, which features a 35mm print of Bellflower on Friday, Shut Up and Play the Hits on Saturday, and The Road Movie on Sunday.

    After that, it's Muppet Marathon Madness on Marathon Monday, with a quadruple feature of Labyrinth, Muppet Treasure Island (on 35mm film), a Muppet Movie sing-along, and The Dark Crystal. Then it's back to festival festivities, as they tie into the Cambridge Science Festival with a quick Loving the A.I. series: The Final Cut of Blade Runner on Tuesday, a 35mm print of Her on Wednesday, and Ex Machina on Thursday.
  • In a weird coincidence, Apple Fresh Pond also has something from a director who just had an HFA series, with Submergence the latest from Wim Wenders. It splits time between James More as a man held prisoner by terrorists and Alicia Vikander as a scientist exploring the ocean floor, the two having met the Christmas before. They also have An Ordinary Man, starring Ben Kingsley as a war criminal in hiding.

    One of their Indian movies this week is interesting in that it is apparently dialogue-free (I'll bet it's not actually "silent" as it claims), with Mercury looking like a slasher-type with the youngsters being attacked by a man driven mad by mercury poisoning; the filmmaker seems to have mostly worked in Tamil. They also get subtitled Hindi feature October, with Varun Dhawan and Banita Sandhu as interns in the same hotel - only two shows a day at Fresh Pond, but a full slate at Fenway. Telugu film Krishnarjuna Yudham continues, and they'll be opening Bharat Ane Nenu in that language on Thursday.

    Chinese animated film Big Fish & Begonia, in which a teenager from the spirit world visits Earth in the form of a dolphin, plays one nightly screening at Boston Common all week after having opened on Wednesday the 11th. It screens in subtitled Mandarin there, and there will also be two nights at Kendall Square, with Wednesday's dubbed in English and Thursday's subtitled. If Spanish-language film is more your speed, Dominican film Veneno opens in Revere, telling the story of the island's most famous wrestler.
  • The Somerville Theatre has the first of their bi-monthly "Slaughterhouse Movie Club" screenings on Friday, with "Crazy for Swayze", which combines a night of Patrick Swayze-inspired burlesque with a 35mm print of Road House. And while it's not until next weekend, tickets are probably going fast for "Aisle of Dogs", where you can watch Isle of Dogs with your pupper on the 21st, although you've got to bring a blanket for the to sit on.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts one-ups October with November, and I highly recommend it - this fantasy from Estonia is bizarre, imaginative, hilarious, and tragic, and has gorgeous black-and-white photography to boot; it may have been my favorite from last year's Fantasia Festival; it plays Friday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Other intermittent runs include Abbas Kiarostami's final film, 24 Frames (Saturday/Sunday/Wednesday/Thursday), and Cezanne: Portrait of a Life (Thursday)

    They also have their monthly "On the Fringe" screening on Friday, with Daughters of the Dust an essential part of the year-long "Indie FIlm in the 90s" program. There's also the back end of the annual Hollywood Scriptures series with two more"Childhood Stories" - The Florida Project on Saturday and The White Ribbon on Sunday.
  • The Museum of Science opens a condensed, 4-D version of The Martian this weekend, which lops a full two hours off the runtime to get it down to 15 minutes, but with a lot of in-theater effects; it's a $6 add-on to a museum visit. the New England Aquarium, just added Pandas last week and picks up Oceans 3D: Our Blue Planet this weekend
  • The Harvard Film Archive wraps their Hong Sang-soo retrospective with On the Beach at Night Alone (Friday 7pm), Right Now, Wrong Then (Friday 9:30pm), Yourself and Yours (Saturday 7pm), and The Day After (Saturday 9:30pm), with cross-square triple features possible by catching Claire's Camera at the Brattle in the afternoon. After that ends, they show both versions of The Beguiled, with the 1971 version directed by Don Siegel on Sunday night (on 35mm film), followed by Sofia Coppola visiting with her 2017 edition on Monday evening.
  • Emerson's Bright Lights program at Paramount Theater got to the end of its schedule, but they have "Matters of Life and Death: Short Film by Robert Todd" on Tuesday the 17th, with the professor doing a Q&A after his latest 16mm creations; I believe an earlier screening of this was cancelled due to the weather.
  • Belmont World Film continues Monday with Streaker at Studio Cinema; it comes from Switzerland and features a high school teacher taking bets on how long streakers can avoid security to raise money to build a museum
  • CinemaSalem has Furlough, a comedy with Tessa Thompson as a parole officer watching Melissa Leo, in the small room, and Borg vs McEnroe one one of their other screens.


There is some weird stuff this week! I'll try and catch some combo of Claire's Camera, Beiruit, You Were Never Really Here, and Big Fish & Begonia (okay, fine, and Rampage), and I'm weirdly curious about Sgt. Stubby and Mercury.

Monday, April 09, 2018

This Week In Tickets: 2 April 2018 - 1 April 2018

Kind of a quiet week, between work and staying it to watch baseball in my nice warm apartment.

This Week in Tickets

Still, I was able to get to a nicely-timed show of The Death of Stalin, which is kind of a delight. I probably would have seen more on the weekend, but my schedule got disrupted by some last-minute stuff at work Friday and sleeping in Saturday.

Actually, I planned to see Isle of Dogs Saturday night, but it was sold out, and I didn't realize until came back to see it on the larger screen Sunday that the theater at Boston Common is apparently now covered by MoviePass again. I guess they couldn't strong-arm AMC and decided to put off trying again until later (and, in related news, they appear to have dropped their prices again to get more members and thus more leverage). No big deal, but if I'd known, I might have gone about arranging things differently and not done the double feature and the full-price ticket for Gemini.

Not that I'm cheap or anything, just a wee bit frustrated that those guys can sometimes seem to go out of their way not to deliver useful information.

Anyway, short week, but there's more BUFF reviews coming up, and my Letterboxd account is always updating.

Isle of Dogs

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen on 8 April 2018 in Somerville Theatre #1 (first-run, DCP)

From the very first previews of Isle of Dogs, the movie seemed to rub me the wrong way, though I hoped it was just my problem. And maybe it is; other folks in the theater seemed to like it well enough. Still, it seems like the phoniest of Wes Anderson movies to me, so determined to be charming and cool but unable to understand that those are two of the hardest things to force individually, let alone at once.

It would feel mannered under the best of circumstances, but there's something about its use of Japanese imagery that seems especially tacky. Using a foreign land to focus the audience on the dogs' efforts isn't a bad idea, but Anderson doesn't commit to it enough to make humans, rather than Japanese, the others and the bit where the white exchange student usurps all of her local classmates... Well it's not a good look (and there are plenty of people who can speak to this more directly than I can).

This doesn't make Isle of Dogs an awful movie, but it does diminish the good parts, which is a shame; there's a lot of quality animation and wit to it. There's just also a lot of Anderson's most obnoxious qualities to go along with his best.


The Death of Stalin
Isle of Dogs
Gemini

Gemini

It's not entirely unusual for a movie to wait a week between its initial American opening and playing Boston, but I don't really get the impression that Neon and Stage 6 were doing a tiered opening for this. In fact, I strongly suspect that Boston Common was planning to open Chinese horror film The Possessed on the 6th, and when China Lion canceled their release because the Chinese censor board removed it from the schedule in China - apparently, it was approved as a found-footage-style film built around people exposing exorcists in rural China, but the filmmakers started talking up the weird things they saw while making it, then it became too much about the supernatural - and it left the theater with a somewhat bigger hole in their schedule than they'd want want to fill with holdovers or extra shows for A Quiet Place and Blockers. I was kind of hoping for The Endless, but was kind of happy to see the new one from Aaron Katz; I'd liked his last three films.

It's a bit of a disappointment - I don't think there was really much of a story there - but I was glad to see it and a bit surprised that I'd heard nothing about it before; Katz's last, Land Ho!, managed to hang around here for a while, although I suspect that both it and this are enough of a departure from his earlier indie-youth work that there's not a lot of carry-over. It makes me wonder if it's notably harder to establish even a niche reputation now than it was even five or ten years ago - Katz hasn't yet had something go straight to Netflix and thus kind of flown lower on the radar, but it doesn't seem like "if screens only have 18 seats, you can program something with pretty narrow appeal" is exactly countering "fewer seats per screen means more of the same number of screens to a smaller number of films" the way I'd hope.

Still, it got out there, and I dig that Neon is, at least in this case, attaching a short to its feature. I don't know to what extent it's going to be their standard operating procedure - I'm guessing both the feature and the short have to be fairly compact, as is the case with the 93-minute Gemini and 4-minute "Aspirational" - but more people getting to see and enjoy short films seems like a good thing.

"Aspirational"

* * (out of four)
Seen 8 April 2018 in AMC Boston Common #6 (Neon Shorts, DCP)

Including "Aspirational" with Gemini is not a bad match as short/feature pairings go, although there's a bit of a backhanded compliment in there: Aside from having similar subject matter, it's also not exactly something that's going to overshadow the middling feature it's attached to. It's one easy joke, told well enough, and not really extended too long, but it's not really a good joke.

It's kind of punching down, having Kirsten Dunst flummoxed by two fans (of sorts) that just want to take selfies and maybe get the images tagged, not even asking questions. I half-wonder if it's the opposite of the usual critique that a feature would make a good short - this is a short that might make for a good bit within a feature, but which on its own seems like an isolated bit of sneering, without a punchline good or unexpected enough to stand on its own.

Gemini

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 8 April 2018 in AMC Boston Common #6 (first-run, DCP)

Gemini feels like the idea of a decent movie without much of the interesting detail, as if filmmaker Aaron Katz knew he wanted to do another mystery-influenced film along the lines of Cold Weather and was intrigued by the star/assistant dynamic, but overestimated how this sort of Hollywood story would appeal to outsiders by a lot. It looks good and sets a mood, but it comes perilously close to just being an outline with slick reference pictures, not something worthwhile on its own.

It starts out with Jill LeBeau (Lola Kirke), personal assistant to actress Heather Anderson (Zoe Kravitz), switching between phones in her car, fielding calls for her employer. Heather's ex Devin (Reeve Carney) is the first to say he's going to kill her over some slight, but not the last, as Heather sends Jill into a meeting to drop out of a movie for her. As that film's producer (Nelson Franklin) storms out, a fan (Jessica Parker Kennedy) shows up, asking if Heather and Jill are really as close as the rumors claim, along with an annoying paparazzo (James Ransone). There will be a few more stops that night - Jill's place, K-town karaoke with Heather's maybe-girlfriend Tracy Kim (Greta Lee), and then to Heather's. Jill's got an early meeting the next day - not satisfied with bailing on her next film, Heather doesn't want to do reshoots on the current one - and she returns to a crime scene. Detective Edward Ahn (John Cho) initially treats Jill as a witness, figuring she remembers details better than most, but she's soon the prime suspect and looking to figure it out on her own.

This is the sort of movie where the title seems like it gives the whole game away, although the one that it apparently started out with ("Heart Heather") isn't a whole lot better. That's not necessarily a big deal, since the solution to the mystery does not seem to be what's actually important - but if it isn't, then what is? Katz never really finds an answer to that. There are some vague thoughts about the demands of celebrity and the privilege of wealth and fame, but they're not exactly new and structuring the movie as a whodunit keeps Katz from diving in to look very closely lest he give things away too soon or stretch the story too far past its climax. That rich folks can be flaky and not realize the consequences of their changes of mind on those around them isn't much to hang even such a relatively short film on.

Full review on EFC