Thursday, October 30, 2014

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 31 October - 6 November 2014

Halloween on a Friday, which means theaters want something scary, but opening something that day means most of its weekend is after the day, so it's actually kind of quiet.

  • The big release is Nightcrawler, featuring Jake Gyllenhaal as a freelance crime-scene videographer who starts crossing lines in his zeal to get even closer to the story. It's at Apple, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway (including RPX), Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    The next-biggest opening is a tenth-anniversary rerelease of the original Saw, which means it's been ten years since the first Boston Fantastic Film Festival, which means that actually predated Fantastic Fest. I thought it was the same year. Huh. Anyway, nifty little movie that spawned an increasingly convoluted series and kicked-started James Wan's career. It's at Apple, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Square, and Revere. Boston Common also brings back Harry Selick's The Nightmare Before Christmas on Friday, Sunday, and Wednesday, and also has The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Friday as well as the usual Saturday. Showcase Cinemas (including Revere) are showing John Carpenter's Halloween on Friday.

    There's also Before I Go to Sleep, with Nicole Kidman as a woman with no memory, short or long-term. Colin Firth and Mark Strong co-star, and it plays at Apple, Fenway, Boston Common, and Assembly Row.
  • The Brattle opens Horns on Halloween and has it play through Wednesday; it'sbased upon the book by Joe Hill and stars Daniel Radcliffe as a murder suspect who wakes to to find horns have grown from his head and people are compelled to tell him their sins. It's directed by Alexandre Aja and has a pretty spiffy cast. It's also playing at Boston Common, in case the other programs at the Brattle get in the way.

    Those include a special 10pm screening of the original theatrical cut of Donnie Darko on Halloween night, which figures in the movie. There's also DocYard presentation Hoax_Canular on Monday, with filmmaker Dominc Gagnon on hand to discuss his movie stitched together from teenagers' YouTube videos about the end of the world. Tuesday night is Trash Night, which this month is The Taking of Beverly Hills, and, come on, that's a movie I have on VHS because I enjoyed it unironically, not really sub-cult crap (I hope)! Then on Wednesday, there's a late-afternoon show of Gringo Trails and an evening screening of Tom Rush: No Regrets to benefit FOLK New England.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre mostly keeps the same line-up, but is one of three venues taking part in the Boston Jewish Film Festival's opening days, with opening night film Run Boy Run on Wednesday, while Transit andGett, the Trial of Viviane Ansalem play there Thursday. That's the day the Brattle has "The Gordin Cell" and Zero Motivation, while the Museum of Fine Arts shows the "Footsteps in Jerusalem" shorts program.

    Before that, they finish up their Halloween programming with a 35mm print of the Bela Lugosi Dracula at midnight on Friday and Saturday. Monday has another 35mm print, The Abyss, as part of the "Science on Screen" series, with marine geochemist Dr. Graham Shimmield there to introduce the movie.
  • Kendall Square has two one-week bookings this week. Citizenfour is a documentary about a filmmaker who goes to Hong Kong to meet a source that turns out to be Edward Snowden. The other is White Bird in a Blizzard, a pretty good mystery from Gregg Araki that features Eva Green as a dissatisfied wife who just disappears one day, Shailene Woodley as the daughter left behind, and Christopher Meloni as the husband. I liked it at Fantasia.
  • The only new Indian movie from Apple Cinemas/iMovieCafe, Karthikeya is in Telugu without subtitles, but Fenway has two opening. ROAR: Tigers of the Sundarbans is an action/adventure about a guy who brings an apparently-orphaned tiger cub into his village only to face the wrath of its mother, while features Rekha as a grandmother who becomes a model.
  • The Harvard Film Archive concludes their Hou Hsiao-hsien series with Three Times (Friday 7pm), Daughter of the Nile (Friday 9:30pm), and Flowers of Shanghai (Sunday 4:30pm), all in 35mm, the latter a new print. Saturday they have a tribute to Robert Gardner, screening about three hours of the man's documentarian's work starting at 5pm with free admission. On Sunday night they have a program of very rare Fritz Lang Silents (Four Around a Woman and "The Wandering Image") at 7pm with Jeff Rapsis accompanying the restored 35mm prints. Then on Monday night, they will be showing a 35mm print of Tian Zhuangzhuang's 2002 version of Springtime in a Small Town (note that a visit by cinematographer Mark Lee Ping Bin has unfortunately been cancelled).
  • Before getting to the BJFF, The Museum of Fine Arts continues screening Listen Up Philip (Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday) and Fifi Howls from Happiness (Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday). There's also a special screening of John Stewart's directorial debut Rosewater on Tuesday, with tickets available on a first-come, first-served basis starting at 5:30pm
  • ArtsEmerson's film program in the Bright screening room features the first weekend of their Polish Film Festival: Three Andrzej Wajda classics in Ashes and Diamonds (Friday & Saturday), Innocent Sorcerers (Saturday), and The Wedding (Sunday). The Festival also includes new film In the Name of (Saturday, with star Andrezj Chyra on-hand). Sunday evening also features AWAKE: The Life of Yogananda, a biographical documentary on the life of the man who brought yoga to the west in the 1920s. During the week, the Bright Lights free screenings include three short films by Emerson professor Cristina Kotz Cornejo on Tuesday and "Stumped", a short documentary about a filmmaker who suddenly finds himself a quadruple-amputee. The subject will do a comedy set and participate in a Q&A session with the director afterward.
  • The Regent Theatre has an "Alive Mind" presentation of Monk with a Camera, the story of photographer and Buddhist monk Nicholas Vreeland, on Tuesday. There's also a presentation of MOTO 6: The Movie, with tons of motorcross action, on Thursday.
  • The Somerville Theatre's Halloween program is only half film, as they'll have Jeffrey Combs's one-man Edgar Allan Poe show Nevermore on stage to celebrate the recent unveiling of the Poe bust at the Boston Public Library. Ticketholders for that get to stay for the 10pm show of The Masque of the Red Death with Vincent Price, presented on 35mm film. They also have a Boston Asian-American Film Festival presentation of To Be Takei on Monday night, with subject George Takei on hand. The 5 Point Film Festival, a collection of adventure films, runs Wednesday and Thursday.

    Those are also the days that they get Interstellar early because they didn't rip all their 35mm projectors out when adding digital like so many theaters did, so go see it there and give Ian & Dave high-fives for keeping real film alive as much as they can. Boston Common will also be screening it on film those days, and I'm mildly curious as to whether they're bringing projection in for the occasion or if they kept one or two around, because I can't remember the last time I saw 35mm there.


My plans? All the stuff I meant to see last weekend but didn't, Nevermore, Nightcrawler, and hopefully The Abyss. Plus supporting the Somerville showing what looks like some pretty darn hard sci-fi on real film with money.

This That Week In Tickets: 6 October 2014 - 12 October 2014

When we last left "This Week in Tickets", Jay had managed to catch a cold just before heading to Maine for various family things. Would the lingering effects of said ailment put a crimp in his moviegoing schedule?

This Week in Tickets

No, not really. I did manage to give it to my mother and her husband, though, forcing them to cut their vacation short. Sorry about that.

I did wind up feeling kind of lousy for most of the week, but for better or worse, I need the situation to be more drastic than that before I stop going out. Thus, I headed to the Coolidge on Monday night for the monthly "Science on Screen" presentation, less because of the attached lecture (which was fun and informative if not exactly sticky) than because the movie in question, Soylent Green, is one that I really should have seen by now as someone who lives science fiction and good movies. Happily, it lives up to its reputation as a legitimate classic.

Tuesday night wound up being a second shoot at my original plans for Friday the 3rd, when Chinese import Breakup Buddies surprised me something fierce by being sold out despite a second screen being added. It was probably giveaway-aided to a certain extent, but it is still kind of cool to actually have an enthusiastic crowd for a mainstream foreign film like this without having to go to a festival. The film itself was fairly decent as well, even if I may be giving it more credit than it deserves for clever misdirection that may have been a function of subtitling more than intent.

Then the cold kind of came back and I kind of stayed in for the rest of the week before giving Saturday to the Somerville Theatre's thirteen-hour Terror-Thon. It wasn't quite the cool "one film per decade" format as last year, but it was still all 35mm and great-looking, and a fun and varied line-up: The Cat and the Canary (silent, with Jeff Rapsis on the organ), Poltergeist, Creature from the Black Lagoon (anaglyph 3D), The Thing (on a fantastic print), Wait Until Dark, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, and Let the Right One In.

It's probably not the greatest idea to get home from a marathon that ends at 1am and then go to a morning matinee the next day, but that's when the not-horrible-expensive 3D screening of The Boxtrolls was, so I tried to sleep quickly. Not a bad movie, and it certainly looked gorgeous, as Laika's stop-motion tends to do.

Soylent Green

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 6 October 2014 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (Science on Screen, 35mm (?))

Say what you want about Charlton Heston, but the man had a knack for choosing genre projects that would burrow their ways so deep into popular culture that one needn't have actually seen them to be up on their iconic finales. Plus, they let Heston be a star of sorts without having to try and be charming in a way that really would not have suited him. He'll be an icon for much longer than contemporaries who were better-known (or better actors) because of those choices.

Of course, while the end of Soylent Green is what everybody knows, it's not all that makes the movie great. Director Richard Fleischer and screenwriter Stanley L. Greenberg take the standard trick of making their sci-fi story a police procedural and ground it even more by making Heston's Detective Thorn casually corrupt instead of any sort of idealistic seeker of justice, even if there is a sort of dogged determination underneath. It really does fine job of highlighting what sort of dystopic future these people are living in while still saving the crushing blow for later. I also suspect that it's the result of a lot of the crew knowing real suffering, either in World War II or even the Depression. Despite taking place in an exaggeratedly overcrowded New York, the little details seem true-to-life, and there certainly has to be some intent in having the "books" near the end resemble Holocaust survivors.

Part of what's amazing, though, is just how wonderfully melancholy the movie is. The idea that most of the women we see are "furniture girls" is pretty disheartening, but watching Leigh Taylor-Young fret about her future in that position is a great little detail that arguably plays into the theme of human beings as a commodity. And, man, those last scenes with Edward G. Robinson, as he realizes he can't live in a world where what he's discovered is true are heartbreaking, especially watching the gruff Thorn break down. I feel awful about not recognizing him, because I love Robinson during his film noir prime. At least he went out with a good movie, even if he might have thought doing sci-fi was slumming it at the time.

The Boxtrolls

* * * (out of four)
Seen 12 October 2014 in AMC Boston Common #5 (first-run, RealD)

Yow, what a great-looking movie. Not necessarily pretty, but with a level of detail that is kind of mind-boggling in this type of stop-motion animation, and combination of smoothness and a slight hitch (maybe exaggerated by the 3D projection) that makes sure that the audience knows just what is being pulled off

It's an oddly prickly movie at times, though, in large part due to the kid characters at the center. Winnie (voiced by Elle Fanning with a bratty British accent) is the kind of kid who revels in being pushy and in charge, even if it's reined in enough to mostly be funny. Newcomer Isaac Hempstead Wright voices Eggs - a boy raised by the Boxtrolls of the title (scavengers who live beneath the city streets) - and manages to capture not just how he is something of an innocent in the human world but that he also has an impatience to him that feels like a real kid who hasn't yet learned that lashing out can be a bad idea even if you are right.

There's a fun group of grown-up voices around them - Ben Kingsley as the villain, Nick Frost as a hulking henchman unsure of the morality of their actions, Jared Harris as Winnie's inattentive father - and the filmmakers use them to tap into a dry Brit-type class-skewering humor that is anything but reserved. Character designs and settings are fairly extreme caricatures, sight gags are peculiar (and sometimes grotesque) but funny, and when it comes time for a chase or confrontation, the animators do some pretty amazing things. It might be odd enough to be a tough sell for kids and parents at times, but it's at least always something impressive to look at.

One question, though: Where do jokes about English folks loving cheese come from in these movies? It's one of the recurring gags in Wallace & Gromit, too, and I don't know if I've seen this cheese-obsession in real life. I'm guessing it's a matter of going into obsessive detail over anything commonplace, and kids like cheese much more than other targets like wine, beer, electronics components, etc. Of course, it's best exemplified by Monty Python's Cheese Shop sketch, which isn't exactly kid's stuff.

Okay, that's enough overthinking things for one post.

Soylent GreenBreakup BuddiesTerror-ThonThe Boxtrolls

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Terror-Thon 2014: The Cat and the Canary, Poltergeist, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Thing, Wait Until Dark, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, Let the Right One In

I wasn't sure I was going to do this, because it was just a week after the miserable day where a cold decided to manifest on the bus on the way to a wedding. But a combination of a silent, some big deal movies I'd never seen, and some favorites got me there, and it was a pretty good time. I don't think I infected too many people.

At some point, Ian commented that they might choose a different weekend next year, because overlapping Honk! Fest meant that Davis Square was really crowded, and when we paused for a dinner break at around five, the environment was far from spooky

The Cat and the Canary (1927)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 11 October 2014 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Terror-Thon 2014, 35mm with live musical accompaniment)

There really should be some sort of revival of "old dark house" movies, because for as much as everything about them would likely come off as absurdly dated today, there is a great deal of fun to be had when you play by the rules in place at the time. But given that you're already kind of doing that with silent movies anyway, it's not that big a leap, and it makes for an amusing diversion.

This one starts from the premise that old Mr. West died two decades ago, hounded by greedy relatives, and aiming to deny them any sort of quick satisfaction, he insisted his will not be read until midnight of the twentieth anniversary of his death (he also resented his family calling him crazy, and one of the conditions of the will is that the inheritor be medically examined to have his or her sanity confirmed). That day has come, and now lawyer Roger Crosby (Tully Marshall) and the maid who has been keeping the place tidy (Martha Mattox) await the would-be heirs: Charles Wilder (Forrest Stanley) and Harry Blythe (Arthur Edmund Carewe), who have some sort of grudge between them; blonde flapper Cecily Young (Gertrude Astor) and her aunt Susan Sillsby (Flora Finch); easily frightened Paul Jones (Creighton Hale); and Annabelle West (Laura La Plante), said to resemble her great-uncle - including, perhaps, his madness, although she seems nice enough. Everyone winds up staying the night, even if the locals say the house is haunted and a guard the nearby asylum (George Siegmann) warns of an escaped lunatic.

That's a lot of characters for somebody to potentially be picking off, but the stabs in that direction are actually rather minimal; director Paul Leni and the various writers adapting John Willard's play aim as much for goofy hijinks as mystery and suspense. That's not to say there's never any sort of sinister air to the production; the opening scenes set up things to keep in mind as things play out later, and a low body count is probably far more effective than a high one if the goal is to either drive Annabelle mad, or at least to make her appear that way. A modern audience may find something campy about early-twentieth-century attitudes toward mental illness or the secret panels and passages that appear to riddle this old house, but Leni does not present then that way - a hand emerging from a bed's headboard to menace a sleeping woman comes off as genuinely creepy, for instance, and it's possible that certain bits can be scary or funny depending on what the accompanist does with it.

Full review at EFC.

Poltergeist (1983)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 11 October 2014 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Terror-Thon 2014, 35mm)

Every movie-lover, even those whose whose affections tend to fall along specific lines, has a few things that they haven't seen, because time and opportunity is just not distributed fairly. Poltergeist was one of mine, which is strange, because I really like Steven Spielberg when he decides that it would be fun to scare kids in a movie.

I'm glad I saw it this way, though, because I found myself wondering early on if the flickering effect when a room is primarily lit by the television would have had the same feel on video or digital projection; it feels like an effect that is kind of film-specific, enhanced by the differences between how film and television work. I could be talking completely out of my butt here, but it feels fairly film-specific. On top of that, though, seeing the film in its natural environment brings out how great the effects were, and how even if a part didn't necessarily make you jump, there was still plenty of fun in hearing the guy two seats down yelp.

Something that can easily get lost in the spookiness, though, is just how fun and occasionally funny this movie is. There's a dark, sarcastic streak that runs through the first half of the movie, along with something really charming in how the mother living in the haunted house initially has a "this is kind of neat, let's see how it works" attitude toward the poltergeists in the house. It gets tense in a hurry, though, although I do kind of love the down-to-earth group of paranormal investigators that soon arrives. There's a genuine feeling of not knowing how to react in the face of something truly incomprehensible. It's why I think a little air leaves the movie when Zelda Rubinstein shows up as a medium. As much as the story needs a way toward resolution (other than everybody dies and the house remains haunted and dooooom...), that sort of sudden, instant credibility sort of feels like a cheat, with her weirdness kind of destabilizing the protagonists' easy relatability.

Still, I'll probably pick this up on Blu-ray sometime, especially if they release a super-spiffy version to tie in with the upcoming remake. Despite Tobe Hooper's name being on it (and his contributions not being minor), it's got enough Spielberg DNA expressed well to become a potential favorite.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 11 October 2014 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Terror-Thon 2014, 35mm/anaglyph 3D)

Looking at my review from almost ten years ago, I seem to have given it a lot more thought back then than I did this time around. I didn't see anything gay at all this time!

I still think that this is one of the lesser Universal Monster movies, in large part because there's no humanity to the Creature. I think this makes it ripe for a remake, though - as much as it's remembered as a classic and thus a sort of brand name, there's plenty of room for improvement, and I'd love to see what a modern FX crew could come up with for an updated monster. There's a chance to build mythology here as opposed to try and retrofit the source material, and the underwater environment is perfect for the inevitable 3D shooting.

Speaking of which, I'm kind of disappointed that this is the 3D movie the Somerville Theatre guys chose to include/could get their hands on for the marathon, as it meant anaglyph 3D, and that's the way I saw it before, when Universal supplied it to the Coolidge that way despite them gearing up for "Natural-Vision". The Kendall played it in 3D a week later as part of their "Midnight Madness" series, and I suspect that said DCP would have used the current polarized tech. I wasn't going to see a movie I don't love twice in two weeks, but I'm curious what this thing looks like without red and blue filters on my eyes.

Full review (from 2005) at EFC.

The Thing (1982)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 11 October 2014 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Terror-Thon 2014, 35mm)

Same thing I said back in 2007: This is really a near-perfect movie that, if it shows any age now, does so in a way that makes even someone like me pine for the good old days when they actually built things for movies. It's utterly tactile and any issues I might have are completely put aside by the great work John Carpenter and his team, from cinematographer Dean Cundey to composer Ennio Morricone, put in.

In fact, the tight way they melded atmosphere with storytelling is what really impresses me. I really like to keep track of what is going on, who has been killed and replaced when, etc., but I stop worrying about such things quickly when watching The Thing. Carpenter pulls me into this movie in a way that I tend to resist, and I appreciate the heck out of that.

Wait Until Dark

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 11 October 2014 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Terror-Thon 2014, 35mm)

Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin were born five years apart, but while Wait Until Dark is near the beginning of Arkin's career, Hepburn would would enter semi-retirement afterward, not yet forty. This means that while Audrey is still Audrey, young Alan Arkin (with hair!) might seem rather jarring to those who know him as an older character actor. But you get used to it, especially since the movie itself is a thriller so taut that it's not uncommon to have people describe it as a horror movie.

It starts with some heroin being sewn inside a doll so that it can be smuggled from Montreal to New York, but it went astray on the way. Mr. Roat (Arkin) knows that courier Lisa (Samantha Jones) gave it to unsuspecting graphic designer Mike Talman (Efram Zimbalist Jr.). Roat strong-arms small-time crook Mike Talman (Richard Crenna) and former cop Carlino (Jack Weston) into getting it out of the Hendrix apartment - ideally by talking wife Susy (Hepburn) into giving it to them. And if words aren't enough, well, Susy recently lost her sight, and is still somewhat dependent on the neighbors' daughter Gloria (Julie Herrod) for help - and might not realize what's going on in and around her apartment while she's supposedly alone.

Wait Until Dark started life as a play by Frederick Knott, and if you remove the hardly-necessary scenes in Montreal and the airport from the beginning, it becomes more clearly so, with almost all the action taking place within Susy's apartment or just outside, with director Terence Young and director of photography Charles Lang frequently choosing angles that don't necessarily put the entire apartment in the same shot as might be the case on the stage, but which let the audience see where everything is, both for later reference and to rub their noses in just what Susy is up against, as one side of the screen will often show her while the other has something sinister happening within her line of sight.

Full review at EFC.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1983)

* * (out of four)
Seen 11 October 2014 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Terror-Thon 2014, 35mm)

Believe it or not, I had never seen an entry in the big three 1980s horror franchises before this marathon - no Nightmares on Elm Street, no Fridays the 13th, no Halloweens. I'm not sure how that happened, aside from growing up in a small town and not really going to movies with folks who liked this sort of thing when we did head to the city; when I got to college, these series had more or less played themselves out.

Watching Dream Warriors, I kind of got the idea that I didn't miss much. Don't get me wrong, I kind of admire the ambition on display here; a lot of slashers are just about jumping out at kids with a knife, but the Elm Street movies come up with trippy, bizarre kills realized with some very cool practical effects. It is filled with cool-looking things. Unfortunately, it is also filled with some truly terrible acting, a plot that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and goofy jokes that escape being groaningly dated mostly because they were probably kitschy at the time (Dick Cavett and Zsa Zsa Gabor were never actually cool, ater all).

The funny thing is, I think I did about four or five double takes during the credits. Patricia Arquette is in this? "Larry" Fishburne? Some guy I've never heard of named Craig Wasson was apparently considered a big enough deal to get an "And" credit (to be fair, he did star in Body Double)? Frank Darabont contributed to the screenplay? Chuck Russell directed? As to that last, it's probably worth mentioning that all of the Elm Street movies bar #2 seem to have directors that would have careers - or at least stretches - worth noticing when so many horror helmers wind up anonymous.

Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 11 October 2014 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Terror-Thon 2014, 35mm)

Is it really six years since I saw this at Fantasia and found myself bowled over? Wow, but time flies.

One thing that really amazes me about it is that, though I've seen it enough that it really doesn't scare me any more, it is still astonishingly engrossing. The cast is fantastic, the environment is still perfect, and there's still a palpable tension on display. When it first came out, everybody writing reviews said that it wasn't just a great horror movie, but a great movie period, but we kind of didn't know that until it's had the chance to age a bit.

Having done so - yeah, it's still great. I told the guy next to me who had seen everything on the schedule that he was in for a treat, and I certainly suspect that he agreed with me by the end.

Full review (from 2008) at EFC.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Happy New Year

Do other American moviegoers do the thing where you see someone you like in a foreign movie and immediately start wondering how good his or her English is, and if he or she will be coming to Hollywood soon? It's selfish and petty and I've been doing it with Deepika Padukone for the last couple years. That said, I'm also kind of enjoying being the only person I know who knows about her, and I kind of fear that Finding Fanny might indicate that some of her charisma might be lost doing something outside of her native language(s).

That said: She's awesome.

I was kind of surprised that they had a full 15-minute preview block ahead of Happy New Year, what with it being three hours long and all. As usual, the Indian movie previews are weird - big declarations of the producers but not really acknowledging the stars at all. Full animation on the studio and production company logos, compared to US previews which generally get a couple seconds as a still during previews. And, hey, wasn't Dr. Cabbie supposed to come out a month ago? Did it only come out in Canada but not have its US/India release yet? Are they waiting for Adrienne Palicki to get a higher profile with John Wick and Agents of SHIELD? And, man, what was that absolutely bizarre preview for something in the Tamil language? It's the strangest thing I've seen on a movie screen in months and I hope like heck there are English subtitles, because I have no idea what's going on with it.

Happy New Year

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 25 October 2014 in Regal Fenway #4 (first-run, DCP)

If you've read my reviews of Bollywood movies over the past couple of years, you'll find a couple of patterns: Just because I enjoy them as a change of pace from the usual Hollywood fare doesn't necessarily mean that I don't get extremely frustrated with their shortcomings, and I really like Deepika Padukone. Happy New Year does not exactly deviate from that - she's the best part of a heist movie that gets fairly seriously lost over the course of its three hours.

The mastermind is Chandramohan "Charlie" Sharma (Shah Rukh Khan), who has his eyes on a Christmas Eve caper in Dubai that will get him revenge on Charan Grover (Jacki Shroff), the man who framed Charlie's father Manohar for theft and built a lucrative security business on Sharma Senior's inventions. He puts together a team of well-motivated accomplices: Temhton "Tammy" Irani (Boman Irani), a safecracker with a tendency for fits; Jagmohan "Jag" Prakash (Sonu Sood), a demolitions expert deaf in one ear; Rohan Singh (Vivaan Shah), Jag's hacker nephew; and Nandu Bhide (Abishek Bachchan), a dead ringer for Charan's son Vikky. There's just one catch: The plan involves posing as Team India in the World Dance Championships, and Rohan's hacking the audience vote will only get them so far. Thus, they bring in Mohini Joshi (Deepika Padukone), a bar dancer, to lead their "troupe" without knowing what's really going on.

There are some fairly improbable bits in Charlie's plan, but that's not really the half of the movie that makes Happy New Year feel kind of off. The dance competition portion of the movie is relatively slow to develop in the first half, enough so that the audience can't quite invest in it as "real", but it winds up enough in the foreground that the guys' lack of ability makes for some eye-rolling. Writer/director Farah Khan gets a couple of good laughs out of "Team Diamond" cheating their way into the world championships, but once you do that, it's more than a bit disingenuous to try and stir patriotic feelings in the audience by having them root for Team India, no matter how catching "Indiawaale" may be as a song.

Full review at EFC.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Revenge of the Green Dragons

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

And, hey - guests!

 photo IMAG0967_zpsc0951839.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revenge of the Green Dragons

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

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

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

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

Full review at EFC.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Blue Room

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

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

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

One other thing I'm curious about is

SPOILERS!

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

!SRELIOPS

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

La Chambre Bleue (The Blue Room)

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

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

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

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

Full review at EFC.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

#Stuck

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

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

#Stuck

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

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

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

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

Full review at EFC.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fury

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

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

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

Fury

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

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

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

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

Full review at EFC.