Monday, October 23, 2017

Loving Vincent

Good job, movie - you got booked at Kendall Square for a one-week engagement, but I caught you during week #3 when you still were still running a full schedule. You've made over a million bucks, which is not a small achievement for an animated film for adults from a tiny, tiny distributor, and you maybe haven't even hit the top of your curve. As much as this isn't a movie I really love - I found myself kind of impatient at a few points and was kind of surprised by the applause at the end - but you've got to root for an independent movie having that kind of success, even if it's an order of magnitude or two less than what usually passes for a box-office success story.

Loving Vincent

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 October 2017 in Landmark Kendall Square #2 (first-run, DCP)

The opening titles of Loving Vincent make sure to remind the audience that every frame has been hand-painted by hundreds of artists, and in a way, that's the same sort of thing as "based on a true story", making a viewer feel guilty for any shortcomings they find even if that's not strictly the intention. One is going to be struck by the way this movie looks, regardless of whether the rest of the way the story is told has its bumps.

And, make no mistake, this film is striking; from the opening credits which evoke "Starry Night" to the end, filmmakers Dorota Kobiela & Hugh Welchman have chosen to evoke Vincent van Gogh's work with oil-painted backgrounds and foregrounds, often with thick gobs of paint that show the brushstrokes, occasionally having the scene open with a specific work or resolve into one. It is, obviously, a formidable effort made only a little less impressive when one watches the end credits and sees that there has been some compositing going on - it's still a lot of strokes that it's impressive are kept straight from frame to frame, let alone second to second. Kobiela & Welchman seldom present truly static images, but are judicious in their motion - the instants captured by van Gogh are not swallowed by busy animation, but they give figures from those paintings a messy life that they cannot have on canvas, no matter how evocative the original pieces may be.

But what do the filmmakers use that life they have bestowed for? They open the film in Arles, a year after van Gogh's death, with postmaster Joseph Roulin (Chris O'Dowd) charging his ne'er-do-well son Armand (Douglas Booth) with delivering a letter Vincent had sent to his brother Theo. Armand has little enthusiasm for the job - he did not think of the eccentric artist as fondly as his father did - but makes his way to Paris to meet art supplier Pere Tanguy (John Sessions), only to find out that Theo followed his brother six months later, with his family vanishing from Paris soon after. He does offer a tip, saying that Armand should meet Doctor Gachet (Jerome Flynn) in Auvers-sur-Oise, where the painter died, but as he waits for an appointment, he soon finds himself not simply looking for a forwarding address, but trying to solve the mystery of the man's death, as suicide seems out of character, but every conversation with people from Gachet's daughter Marguerite (Saoirse Ronan) to the local innkeeper (Eleanor Tomlinson) and the boatman with whom van Gogh spent a great deal of time (Aidan Turner) gives contradictory information which further suggests to Armand that something is being covered up.

Full review on EFC.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Fortress

Well, that was kind of disappointing. Not really bad, but never exciting, and it certainly didn't help that I think there were two of us in the theater. As much as I love Lee Byung-hun, I kind of wish that AMC had chosen to book the other Korean movie getting an American release this week. Resurrected Victims may not have had the big Korean stars this one had (and a name director, although anyone buying a ticket because they enjoyed Miss Granny and figured he'd do something similar was likely in for an even bigger let-down), but the premise of the dead coming back as ghouls to punish their killers and the hero trying to prove he was framed under those circumstances sounds like it'd be a heck of a lot more fun & exciting.

Namhansanseong (The Fortress)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 October 2017 in AMC Stonebriar #22 (first-run, DCP)

The Fortress is not what one would call a rousing war epic, but while it may inevitably serve as an anti-war story of sorts, it is perhaps too cerebral, too involved in the specific intrigues of this particular siege, to have a genuine message along those lines. That is not in and of itself particularly negative; what happens in this fortress is interesting enough. But it often means that the larger issues that might resonate in the present get left behind - this and that happened, and as a result, Korean history took a turn, and that's all there is to it.

The film picks up on 14 December 1636, when Joseon King Injo (Park Hae-il) and his cabinet has retreated to the Namhan Fortress ahead of the Chinese Qing army, which aims to put Korea under its control despite it being loyal to the Ming Dynasty. Though defensible, Namhan is easily isolated, which is why Choi Myeong-gil (Lee Byung-hun), Minister of the Interior, meets with Qing General Ingguldai to attempt to negotiate peace. That's a move strongly opposed by Kim Sang-hoon (Kim Yun-seok), Minister of Rites, who feels that the best option is to fight, and soon, as the greater Qing Army - including the Khan himself - is approaching. As they debate this, villagers like blacksmith Deo Nal-soi (Go Soo) and his brother Chil-bok ("David" Lee Da-wit) are conscripted, and the only hope seems to be getting a message out to the field marshal of the southern army, but the Qing are rapidly cutting off all routes to and from the fortress.

While Sang-hoon's opposition to Myeong-gil is staunch and principled, it is often nothing compared to Prime Minister Kim Ryu (Song Young-chang) and the bulk of the courtiers, who call for the would-be diplomat's head but are often far more focused on "dignity" and respect than the practicalities of this difficult fight. It's a promising core for the movie - the ideas introduced right from the start about the perils of a ruling class that holds itself separate from its people while still counting on a certain exceptionalism are good, meaty issues which have application will beyond 15th-century kings and courtiers. When writer/director Hwang Dong-hyuk is poking at them, there's interest to the movie, and as it goes on, the fact that the two characters most positioned in opposition to each other actually have more in common by way of their having actual ideals and connection to the people makes for genuine curiosity at how they may find common ground. Both are introduced with clear indications of their commitment to serving the kingdom despite risk to themselves and their souls, without an obvious way to reconcile their difference.

Full review on EFC.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 20 October 2017 - 26 October 2017

Some poisonous reviews for the weekend's two biggest releases, so it's probably a good thing that, six months having passed since the 2017 edition of Independent Film Festival Boston, they're ready for more with the better part of a week's worth of previewing some of the fall's more interesting movies.

  • That would be the IFFBoston Fall Focus (or, as we like to call it around here, "IFFBoston 2017½"), encompassing seven films over four nights at The Brattle Theatre, and opening on Sunday night with Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird and Takashi Miike's Blade of the Immortal. It continues on Tuesday with Richard Linklater's Last Flag Flying and Faith Aiken's In the Fade, Wednesday with Thoroughreds and Thelma, and closes Thursday with Martin McDonagh's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Some of these have upcoming theatrical releases, but in some cases it's your only chance to see them on the big screen.

    Before that starts, though, they have the new restoration of Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris, playing as a double feature with Stalker (which is a lot of deliberately-paced Soviet science fiction) from Friday to Sunday afternoon. They also have a DocYard presentation on Monday, with director Salomé Jashi dialing in after The Dazzling Light of Sunset to talk about her look at a low-budget local news team in the Eastern European country of Georgia.
  • In other festival programming, The Boston Asian American Film Festival moves from the Brattle to the Bright Screening Room at the Paramount Theater, which is fairly small, so a bunch of shows are already sold out. There still seem to be tickets available for Friday's AKA Seoul, Saturday's Finding Kukan and Resistance at Tule Lake, as well as Sunday's I Can I Will I Did.

    The room goes back to Bright Lights presentations after that, with Rasheed playing on Tuesday with director Samia Badih doing Q&A afterward and An Inconvenient Sequel on Tuesday, preceded by a live feed from Al Gore and a panel discussion afterward. As always, these are free and open to the public, but, again, small room, so RSVP early.
  • The two biggest mainstream releases have apparently been dressed up to look nice after sitting on shelves for a while, which is a shame. I was really looking forward to The Snowman, with Tomas Alfredson (who did Let the Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) adapting one of Jo Nesbø's Harry Hole novels with Michael Fassbender as the detective in question, but the word is not good. It's at Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere. Then there's Geostorm, a film with Gerard Butler fighting sabotage of a global weather-control system from Dean Devlin, which is finally getting a big 3D/Imax release after sitting on shelves for a couple years. It's at Apple Fresh Pond (2D only), Jordan's Furniture (Imax 3D), the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway (including 2D RPX), Assembly Row (including Imax 3D), Revere (including MX4D), and the SuperLux (2D only). Also said to stink: Tyler Perry's Boo 2! A Madea Halloween (which is, if nothing else, a punctuation nightmare), which plays at Apple Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    Getting better reviews is Only the Brave, which follows an elite group of firefighters as they attempt to control one of the worst wildfires in history. Nice cast (Josh Brolin, Miles teller, Jennifer Connelly, Andie MacDowell, Jeff Bridges), and I suspect director Joseph Kosinski will be really good at handling the large-scale action (he was good at scale, if not story, with Tron Legacy and Oblivion). It's at Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux. There's also Same Kind of Different As Me, with Greg Kinnear and Renee Zellweger as a couple whose marriage is falling apart until a homeless man played by Djimon Hounsou comes into their lives, though you have to head out to Revere for that one.

    Revere, Assembly Row, and Fenway all have "Disney Junior at the Movies: Halloween Party" on Saturday Morning, with Fenway and Assembly also having matinee screenings on Thursday. Regals' Halloween series continues at Fenway with a double feature of the 1982 Cat People & Videodrome on Monday and Jaws on Tuesday, while Revere goes with The Witches of Eastwick on Thursday.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre is one place to get Goodbye Christopher Robin, featuring Domhnall Gleeson as author A.A. Milne, who created the Winnie the Pooh stories based on his son's toys. It also plays at Kendall Square.

    The Coolidge also continues with a bunch of Halloween programming, doubling up on midnights this weekend: They'll have the new 4K restoration of Rawhead Rex upstairs on Friday and Saturday night, while Dario Argento's The Stendahl Syndrome plays in the main theater at midnight Friday (also newly restored), while Argento's Deep Red plays on 35mm Saturday. There's a break from the scary stuff as Goethe-Institut presents The Young Karl Marx at 11am Sunday (from I Am Not Your Negro director Raoul Peck), but then it's back to horror: The special "Composer's Cut" of The Beyond plays Tuesday night, with Fabrio Frizzi conducting a live orchestra playing his expanded score, along with opening band Dust Witch. Then, on Thursday, there's a 35mm "Rewind!" screening of The Monster Squad, with after-party at Osaka.
  • In addition to Goodbye Christopher Robin, Kendall Square opensBreathe, featuring Andrew Garfield as a man who is paralyzed from the neck down at a young age, but who invents a portable mechanical lung so he is not simply warehoused like many others who need assistance breathing. It's also at Boston Common and West Newton. They also have a special one-week booking of The King's Choice, featuring Jesper Christensen as King Haakon VII, who was on the Norwegian throne when the Nazis invaded during World War II.
  • It's Diwali, so not only are some big Bollywood movies being released, but Apple Fresh Pond has to share them with the bigger chains. Secret Superstar, for instance, also plays Boston Common, while Golmaal Again takes its wacky gang rivalry to Fenway as well. Tamil-language Mersal and Telugu Raja the Great are also sticking around at Fresh Pond.

    If you're more interested in Korean fare, Boston Common has The Fortress just a couple weeks after it opened in its home country, with Lee Byung-hun and Kim Yun-seok as royal retainers trying to convince the King to negotiate or fight their way out of a siege.
  • The Somerville Theatre continues their month of Halloween programming with an eclectic group of 35mm prints: Cabin in the Woods plays as part of a "Cabaret in the Woods" themen night on Friday, while Sunday features a double feature of Don Knotts in The Ghost & Mr. Chicken and Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy, and Wednesday features the original version of The Haunting. There's also a Boston Underground Film Festival shorts program on the calendar, but neither the theater nor the festival has more information than that.

    CinemaSalem has a lot of "The History of Halloween" shows, and while they have a fair amount of live events this weekend, they've also got Rocky Horror on Saturday (different live show than AMC Boston Common, which also has one that day), the restored Night of the Living Dead on Sunday, and the 10th annual Druid Underground Film Festival program on Thursday.
  • The Harvard Film Archive welcomes Croation filmmaker Rajko Grlic on Friday to present his latest film, The Constitution, which examines the nation through the eyes of a cross-section living in a Zagreb apartment building. There was going to be another filmmaker visit over the weekend, and though it was cancelled, Danny Lyon's "Soc. Sci 127" & "Little Boy" will play Saturday evening while his Willie plays on 16mm Sunday night. The Chantal Akerman series finishes Sunday afternoon with Hotel Monterey, while Warren Beatty's Reds plays on 35mm Monday night, with an introduction by Houghton Library director Thomas Hyry.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts begins their annual Boston Palestine Film Festival on Friday with Ghost Hunting (which also plays Saturday); it also features A Magical Substance Flows Into Me (Saturday), a shorts program (Sunday), Off Frame (Sunday), and Personal Affairs (Thursday). They also have a Thursday-afternoonscreening of Kékszakállú (Bluebeard).
  • The late-night Saturday Night Creature Features at the The Museum of Science planetarium wasgood last week, so they make up for it with This Island Earth at 11pm this Saturday.
  • Jeff Rapsis visits The Regent Theatre to accompany silent thriller The Man Who Laughs, these days best known for inspiring the look of Batman nemesis The Joker but a classic in its own right, on Wednesday. That's followed on Thursday night by a group of local filmmakers in the "Iconic Film Fest".

I'll probably hang out at the Brattle for most of the week, but will be unable to resist some of the less-impressive mainstream stuff. I will check out The Fortress, of course.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Foreigner

There's probably a great book to be written about Jackie Chan and the not-quite-inevitable rise of China, and how he went from courting the west in the 1990s as the specter of the handover hung over Hong Kong to being one of the most enthusiastic Hong Kong stars to make the jump to the mainland, becoming a real cheerleader for China. And, hey, fair enough; it's his country one way or the other, although it's interesting to note that he's been one of the louder voices talking about how Chinese film is disrespected compared to other world cinemas, especially now that there's a lot of money in Mandarin-language film, even if it is almost entirely a matter of domestic grosses.

(For example, did you know a Jackie Chan movie made $250M this year? It's true, Kung Fu Yoga did that, almost entirely in the People's Republic.)

There's reason why Chinese film hasn't necessarily gained the respect that, say, South Korean film has despite the Chinese audience now being a tremendous part of any smart producer's business plan; the actual censorship board and the other pressures on filmmakers to produce a product that shows China in a certain light leads to films that often feel compromised, and the fact that the PRC is submitting Wolf Warrior 2 to the Oscars' foreign language category isn't a great look - it made a ton of money, but it's just an okay action movie whose rah-rah politics aren't going to appeal to the mostly-Western voters in the Academy.

But, both Chinese and American producers see too much money on the other side of the Pacific to not try and grab both, although there's been something almost deliciously random about how attempts to appeal to the "world market" succeed or fail: Donnie Yen in Star Wars doesn't make for a huge hit in China, but Donnie Yen in xXx does (while kind of tanking in America). Jackie Chan and Johnny Knoxville in Skiptrace goes straight to VOD in North America (to the point where people are saying Chan hasn't done an English-language movie since The Karate Kid), despite being a lot of fun. This comes out, and does okay in China (it'll probably make more there than in English-speaking territories), but seems like it really shouldn't - it's not very Chinese at all.

There's something a bit quixotic about how, being able to achieve the same sort of massive success back home that he couldn't sustain in Hollywood, he's now driven to find a way to have a crossover hit with both audiences and critics, an even bigger goal.

The Foreigner

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 16 October 2017 in AMC Stonebriar #22 (first-run, DCP)

That The Foreigner could likely function almost as well without his title character is either its main weakness or what makes it interesting: It's a fine IRA thriller with a potentially game-changing wild card, and though it does not play that card quite as often as it might, that very fact can sometimes keep the audience off-balance as much as it provides expected thrills.

It's been nearly twenty years since the Good Friday Agreement, but as the film opens, a bomb goes off in London, killing 18 and wounding more, with a group calling itself "the Authentic IRA" claiming responsibility. Deputy Minister for Northern Ireland Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan) is immediately called away from his young lover Maggie (Charlie Murphy), to try and use his background - he was a member of both the IRA and Sinn Fein in his younger years - but though he professes shock, he also sees an opportunity to pressure cabinet minister Katherine Davies (Lia Williams) on a matter of pardoning fugitives, saying it could help defuse the situation, even as he meets other IRA leaders to demand an inventory of their arms and explosives to find who is supporting this rogue group. As all this is going on, Quan Ngoc Minh (Jackie Chan) - an immigrant who lost his daughter Fan (Katie Leung) in the blast after losing the rest of his family fleeing Vietnam - visits first Richard Bromley (Ray Fearon), the head of the counter-terrorism investigation, and then Hennessy, looking for answers. Certain Hennessey knows more than he's saying, Quan resolves to pressure him in a way the former terrorist can understand.

Though the film opens with a cute scene between Quan and his daughter, and spends a fair amount of time showing his utter devastation upon losing her, the bulk of the film takes place in Belfast, focusing on Hennessy and treating the question of whether he had some part of planning the attack or whether he's just a smart politician who can work a bad situation to his advantage even as he tries to resolve it. The film plays this enjoyably close to the vest while also exploring how, despite the official peace, the situation remains fraught because there are older folks who can't let go and younger people who don't remember just how bad the bad old days were. It's an intriguing plot for a thriller on its own, meaty enough to carry the film.

Full review on EFC.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Happy Death Day

Happy coincidence: I just finished fleshing out my review of A Day from Fantasia a couple weeks ago (catch up here!), so it's kind of fresh in my mind as I write up another time-loop horror, this one played much funnier even if it does hit a few of the same themes. I like this one a whole lot more, and a bit more than I thought I would, despite despite liking the trailer more than a lot of the ones for youth-oriented horror I tend to roll my eyes at. That's pretty impressive, because I wasn't terribly fond of director Christopher Landon's previous film (The Scouts Guide to the Apocalypse) nor the comic-book work of writer Scott Lobdell (a guy who always seemed to have the least interesting runs on the books he picked up).

It does give me a real appreciation for how well they rearranged the typical slasher/mystery plot, though. Most successful slashers get any initial whodunit impulses smothered by sequels, with Scream probably the most notable exception - it actually leaned harder on the murder mystery with the follow-ups even as it was talking about horror movie tropes, with resurrection off the table. It's a really great way of changing things up, though, as despite the supernatural elements, this really becomes "who wants to kill Tree bad enough to actually go through with it" rather than "what awful secret do all these people share" while still giving the audience plenty of kills. It's a clever-enough way to get the two genres in line that it will be hard to repeat.

Of course, Blumhouse probably will try to repeat it, and I've kind of got no idea how that works. Sure, resurrection is a part of the premise, but it's not a mystery if you bring the same Babyface back and I don't think it needs the complication. Sure, you could just do the same thing again with new characters, but I'd hate to lose Jessica Rothe (either as an early-movie kill or as not present because there's a new cast). But, then, I didn't really figure this would work, so I'm willing to be surprised.

Happy Death Day

* * * (out of four)
Seen 15 October 2017 in AMC Stonebriar #16 (first-run, DCP)

There's an old-man part of me that is inclined to grumble about how Happy Death Day never really spends a whole lot of time on the whys of its time-loop plot, chalking it up to kids raised on video games just taking the idea of multiple lives for granted (at least, until realizing that the people actually making the movie are a generation older and grew up playing the same Atari 2600s I did). That's the part of this particular movie the audience has to just go with, but when you put that aside, there's still a fun scary movie underneath, one that arguably hides its clever construction well enough to come off as enjoyably dumb fun.

The girl stuck in the loop is Teresa "Tree" Gelbman (Jessica Rothe), a sorority brat who wakes up the morning of her birthday in the dorm room - dorm room! - of Carter Davis (Israel Broussard), though she can't remember much of the previous night, although both Carter and sorority sister Danielle (Rachel Matthews) make it clear she was even more drunkenly out of hand than usual, flirting with Danielle's boyfriend Nick (Blaine Kern III). She blows off her father's phone calls, tells a guy she went on one date with (Caleb Spillyards) to buzz off, and tosses the cupcake her fellow pre-med roommate Lori (Ruby Modine) baked for her in the trash. All this makes her late for class, but she's sleeping with teacher Gregory Butler (Charles Aitken), an MD who also practices at the local hospital. She's still got time for a couple more displays of random bitchiness before being attacked by a guy wearing the mask of her college's creepy baby mascot on the way to a party and winding up dead. Fortunately for her, the day resets, although it will take a few iterations for her to realize it's not just a really scary form of deja vu.

Happy Death Day has done well enough at the box office that, if a sequel isn't already being planned, it will be hard to resist, but such a movie will have difficulty tapping into what makes this one work: Writer Scott Lobdell seems to spot how a lot of slasher movies are, at their heart, whodunits where the potential victims must figure out who is behind the mask, but how this kind of doesn't work that well because you need a motive for the murderer to kill a lot of people, which makes for an unsatisfying murder mystery ("he's nuts" only goes so far and "they all deserve it" isn't much better). Letting "Babyface" knock Tree off again and again gives the audience the fun multiple kills of a slasher movie while keeping the mystery angle fairly focused on Tree.

Full review on EFC.

Friday, October 13, 2017

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

Ugh, basically five days of the next seven in a Dallas suburb for a business trip. There is a theater there, but I bet they're going to try and make us do team-building stuff instead.

  • Could Jackie Chan's best movie this year be an English-language one? The Foreigner actually looks interesting, with Chan playing a Vietnamese special forces veteran who, after his daughter is killed in a bombing, decides to go after a government official (who used to be with the IRA) played by Pierce Brosnan, reuniting with GoldenEye director Martin Campbell. It's at Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere. There's also Happy Death Day, a time-loop movie about a college student who relives the day of her murder until, hopefully, she finds a way to avoid it. It's at Apple Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere (including XPlus).

    The most interesting-looking thing this weekend is probably Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, featuring Luke Evans as the college-professor creator of Wonder Woman, Rebecca Hall as his wife, and Bella Heathcote as their lover. So, yeah, going to get into the kinky aspects of Marston and his creation. It's at the Arlington Capitol, The West Newton Cinema, Boston Common, Revere, and the SuperLux. Another biography coming out this week is Marshall, with Chadwick Boseman adding Thurgood Marshall to his roster of noteworthy real-life figures played, although I've seen word that Josh Gad is playing the actual protagonist. Either way, it's at Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    Fenway also picks up an Irish documentary of some local interest, Rocky Ros Muc, which tells the story of Sean Mannion, a boxer from Galway who made his way with Boston and wound up in contact with the city's gangsters. Boston Common goes for Scotland rather than Ireland, with Brave the last film in their series of Disney Princess films.

    There's also special screenings of The Princess Bride at Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere on Sunday and Wednesday, and the Samurai Jack movie is at the same places on Monday. There's also a surprisingly big release of Tokyo Ghoul, which I kind of liked at Fantasia, at Boston Common (Monday through Wednesday), Fenway (Monday/Tuesday/Thursday), Kendall Square (Wednesday and next Sunday), and Revere (Monday/Tuesday/Thursday). Fenway also has the Regal Halloween shows, with a double feature of King Kong & Them! on Monday and the original Nightmare on Elm Street on Tuesday.
  • The Florida Project, the new one from Tangerine director Sean Baker, opens at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Kendall Square, and Boston Common. It follows a mother and daughter living week-to-week in a hotel outside Orlando; it also feature Willem Dafoe. Tuesday's 7:15pm show at the Coolidge is an "Off the Couch" show, with folks from the Boston Psychoanalytic Society leading a post-film discussion. The Coolidge also picks up IFFBoston's Dolores, which also continues at Kendall Square.

    Since it's Friday the 13th, they've got an off-site event at Rocky Woods Reservation, showing the second and seventh movies in the series. If you can't get out there, they've got The Room on 35mm at midnight. They're also the New England stop for the newly discovered uncut 35mm print of Suspiria, running it at midnight on Saturday (already sold out), and Tuesday evening as part of a double feature with Inferno. There's also a Science on Screen presentation of Guillermo del Toro's Mimic on Monday, with BU professor Jerome O. Klein talking about insect-borne diseases beforehand. They also welcome another set of guests on Thursday, with the Alloy Orchestra accompanying Sergei Eisenstein's Strike!.
  • Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House opens up at Kendall Square & the Embassy, featuring Liam Neeson as the title character, better known as Watergate source Deep Throat. Kendall Square also opens The Meyerowitz Stories: New and Selected, with Noah Baumbach presenting another family of New Yorkers who don't really get along, this one including Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, and Noah Baumbach. Probably just opening for a week, because it's also on Netflix, but it's at least good to see the streaming service try and get stuff out for a week.

    Also likely only around for a week at the Kendall is Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton, with director Rory Kennedy on hand Saturday evening to answer questions about her documentary of the surfing legend.
  • The Brattle Theatre serves as the main home of the GlobeDocs Film Festival from Friday to Sunday, with Ai Weiwei's Human Flow serving as a centerpiece show on Friday night, though they also return to the Coolidge on Sunday for I Am Evidence and closing night film A Fine Line, with special first looks at WGBH productions at the station's Yawkey Theater.

    The Brattle fills Sunday evening with their last two 35mm shows of Baby Driver, After that, they piece a schedule for the next four days together. The DocYard welcomes Strong Island director Yance Ford on Monday, while Tuesday is Trash Night. There's a free Harvard University Native American Program screening of documentary More than a Word on Wednesday afternoon, although the evening show has not yet been announced. On Thursday, they host opening night of The Boston Asian American Film Festival, featuring The Jade Pendant.
  • Bending the Arc was the sold out opening night of GlobeDocs, but The Somerville Theatre gives it a one-week booking, giving more of us a chance to see this documentary about doctors who united to save a Haitian village in the late 1980s. They also continue their Halloween programming, with Poltergeist in 35mm on Friday, the "Old School Game Show Halloween Hellraiser" on Saturday, a 35mm double feature of The Love Witch & The Horror of Dracula on Sunday, The Babadook on Monday, and a double-feature of The Amityville Horror & Session 9 on Wednesday (the latter three say digital on the calendar, but they were able to dig up a print of Scream last week, so maybe you'll get lucky). Their sister theater, The Capitol in Arlington, also goes for spooky stuff, with a double feature of Friday The 13th 1 & 2 on Friday the 13th, and Jeff Rapsis accompanying silent The Golem on Throwback Thursday. Jeff will also be at the Aeronaut Brewery on Sunday, accompanying Nosferatu.

    CinemaSalem continues to show "The History of Halloween"in the small room, and has some interesting double features in one of the larger rooms over the weekend: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge & Crusing on Friday, Halloween III: Season of the Witch & Videodrome on Saturday, and Let the Right One In & Fright Night on Sunday.
  • The Harvard Film Archive is all special events, opening the weekend with "The Lyric Lens", a collection of three Stan Brakhage short films on 16mm introduced by Nathaniel Dorsky & Jerome Hiler. Saturday is another special event, with Jerome Hiller doing a presentation called "Cinema Before 1300", and Nathaniel Dorsky introducing his own new 16mm films on Sunday. Rick Prelinger is on-hand to introduce his experimental documentary Lost Landscapes of Los Angeles on Monday, and then gives a lecture ("Effacements in the Repository: Do Physical Objects Have the Right To Exist?") at the Lamont Library on Tuesday afternoon. (Accidentally listed this incorrectly last week; sorry!)
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has more screenings of Kékszakállú (Bluebeard) (Friday/Wednesday), Ex Libris: New York Public Library (Sunday/Wednesday), and Swim Team (Thursday). They also have two "Costa-Gavras: Encounters with History" screenings: Amen. on Sunday and Z on Thursday, the latter shown on 35mm film and followed by a panel discussion.
  • Apple Fresh Pond keeps showing Judwaa 2 and Mahanubhavudu, with Malayalam film Udaharanam Sujatha Saturday afternoon, while Mersal, a Tamil-language thriller starring Vijay in three parts, and Telugu action flick Raja the Great open Tuesday and Bollywood musical Secret Superstar opens Thursday. They also have a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Friday with the Teseracte Players, who also bring the show to CinemaSalem on Saturday. As usual, Boston Common also has one on Saturday, though with a different group of people making it an interactive experience..
  • The Museum of Science appears to be altering good and bad Saturday Night Creature Features in the planetarium during October, as last weekend's crap-fest gives way to the absolutely fantastic Forbidden Planet at 11pm this week.
  • The free Bright Lights screenings in the Paramount Theater's Bright Screening Room this week are Band Aid on Tuesday and Colossal on Thursday, both followed by Q&As - the former with producers (and Northeastern alums) Natalia Anderson & Kristen Murtha, the latter with professor Sarah Zaidan.
  • The Regent Theatre has Swing Away on Saturday, which is apparently its regular release despite having played at the Somerville six months ago.

My plans involve being out of town and thus only to see whatever's at a mall multiplex rather than all the cool Halloween stuff (though I may try and cram Poltergeist in). So, The Foreigner, Wonder Women, maybe Happy Death Day and The Florida Project.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

City of Rock

I mention it a bit in the review, but I find it kind of interesting that Well Go USA is the label distributing City of Rock in North America, because they seem a bit more focused on the general audience than the likes of China Lion, Magnum/Chopflix, and Cheng Cheng, which tend to target the Chinese emigrant/expatriate audience and consider any tickets purchased by the likes of me a windfall. It's not specifically Chinese in some ways - you can transplant the basic story anywhere and it would still work - but there are a bunch of unsubtitled songs and cameos that I suspect relatively few of us outside the Mandarin-speaking audience will get.

One of the things that struck me about the trailer when I saw it was that it played up the potentially-gay stuff a fair amount - Hu Liang dropping double entendres about sleeping in the same bed as Cheng Gong, what seemed like a reference to the hair-metal band that put the "City of Rock" on the map "coming out", and that latter part doesn't get mentioned in the film (and, to be fair, it seemed like a weird edit as much as something organic) while I'm kind of curious what people make of Hu Liang - it certainly seems like Da Peng plays him gay, and they don't pair him off with anybody at the end, although I was kind of under the impression that this was a no-no in Chinese film, so maybe it's some Celluloid Closet stuff.

Also worth noting: I got an email from someone asking where I saw Da Peng's first film, Jian Bing Man, a few weeks ago, which was kind of random, but I'm kind of surprised to see that, despite having come out theatrically in 2015, it's pretty darn impossible to watch - it didn't get a physical media release anywhere, and it's not streaming on any service that I can find. You would think, what with Well Go promoting City of Rock as Da Peng's follow-up to Jian Bing Man, they might have scooped up those rights and put it on their Amazon channel at the very least, but apparently not.

That, by the way, is nuts - how can a movie that was released in American theaters a mere two years ago just have so completely fallen off the map? Sure, maybe it's streaming on Chinese services, but, dang, I didn't think I'd be able to use "you might not get another chance to see it in the near future" as a reason to see new releases, even niche ones, in theaters with so many other options available these days!

Feng Ren Ji Yue Dui (City of Rock)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 9 October 2017 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, DCP)

As enjoyably goofy as I found Chengpeng "Da Peng" Dong's first film (Jian Bing Man, aka "Pancake Man"), it didn't quite prepare me for how charmingly silly and sweet City of Rock would be. It's the most familiar rock & roll movie plot ever (mismatched band has to put on a show to save their inspiration from a greedy developer), but the jokes are good, the music is catchy, and the cast is awfully easy to like. You don't necessarily need to innovate if you do all that well.

The city in question is Ji'an, described as a border town in the northeastern part of China, where the hard-rocking band "Broken Guitar" burst upon the scene twenty years ago, inspiring not just seven-year-old Hu Liang but leading the city to rename its public square the Park of Rock and erect a Grand Guitar monument. Now, though, the Park of Rock is threatened as developer Ding Wei (Wang Jinsong) looks to turn it into a theme park, so Liang (Qiao Shan) cold-calls Beijing talent manager Cheng Gong (Da Peng), offering 500,000 yuan to help mount a show to save the park. When Gong gets there, though, he finds out that Liang has neither money nor band, and the scramble to form one yields ten-year-old keyboard player Qiao Meixi (Qu Junxi), who has to sneak out to practice because her mother is strict and intimidating; Taiwanese drummer Explosive (Li Hongqi), who came to Ji'an to find the tattoo artist he fell in love with at first sight; bassist Ding Jingquo (Coulee Na Zha), looking for a distraction since she's just broken up with her boyfriend and broken her leg; and Yang Shuangshu (Han Tongsheng), an elderly gynecologist who was Broken Guitar's original guitarist but had a fall on-stage and left the band before they hit it big.

It's a measure of how effective things are that non-Mandarin speakers in the audience should be able to thoroughly enjoy it despite the fact that something like a third of it will blow right past them, as the songs were not subtitled in English and the end credits reveal a ton of cameos by Chinese rockers (just about every character who only popped up in one scene). In some ways, this works better than expected; subtitling a song often leads to awkwardly translated rhymes that take up more of the viewer's attention than they're supposed to; the only time the lyrics are truly necessary to a joke they got a line of dialogue, and none of the cameos stopped the movie for a look-at-this reaction. I doubt Da Peng was particularly trying to make it accessible to non-Chinese audiences, but the fact that it worked and is even being distributed by a label that targets a broader audience indicates just how well everything else works, even if you can't spot the reference.

Full review on EFC.