Saturday, May 28, 2016

Stuff from China: Phantom of the Theatre, MBA Partners, SPL 2 (Kill Zone 2)

In a chorus that's going to get repeated a lot over the next few days/weeks, I wanted to write these up in a more timely fashion, but it just wasn't happening, and but at least SPL 2 is still available on-demand while Phantom, having also received its American distribution via WellGo, will at least get a timely home-video/streaming release.

Seeing these three come out over consecutive weeks certainly highlights how much of a bummer it is that we don't see nearly as many Hong Kong movies coming out as ones from the Mainland; SPL 2 has this great "anything can happen" feel that the others just don't manage, even though the HK guys making Phantom of the Theatre are trying their damnedest.

Not much else to say other than this: I kind of had no idea when Phantom of the Theatre was taking place because I am terrible at judging cars and fashions and the like, so I noted that a movie theater marquee was showing the Tom Mix silent 3 Gold Coins in the "13 years ago" flashback, looked that up, and arrived at the bulk of the movie taking place in the mid-1930s. Which makes sense, with the theater marquee proudly proclaiming its modern sound capabilities, although I kind of figured it had been abandoned for longer.

Mo Gong Mei Ying (Phantom of the Theatre)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 8 May 2016 in AMC Boston Common #19 (first-run, DCP)

Making a horror movie in China is not an easy thing; though one occasionally sneaks through, the supernatural is on the censorship board's "don't" list, despite the fact that, as a character in Phantom of the Theatre attests, ghosts are a terrifically rich metaphor for the past catching up with people. Of course, this character is also trying to shoot his film in a haunted theater, so his production has other problems a mite bigger that seeming like it can't tell exactly the story the filmmakers want.

The Shanghai theater in question has, by the mid-1930s, earned enough of a reputation that the police won't chase a pickpocket when he dashes in, only to be confronted by ghosts that seemingly burn him from the inside out, puzzling coroner "Phyllis" Fei Lisi (Huang Huan). Shanghai was, for a time, the center of the Chinese movie industry, and while Pan Ruyu (Natalie Meng Yao) is feted as the local "film queen" at a local ceremony, up and coming actress Meng Sifan (Ruby Lin Xin-ru) gets just as much attention for being named "Miss Photogenic" - most notably from Pan's lover, producer Tang Shirao ("Jungle" Lin Jiang-guo). Tang won't give much attention to would-be director Gu Weibang (Tony Yang You-ning), the would-be director, until he convinces Sifan to star. Then Tang steps up to bring in heartthrob Liu Kang (Wu Xu-dong) as the male lead. Weibang has a personal reason to want to shoot his movie there - as a child, his warlord father Mingshan (Simon Yam Tat-wah) had rented out the theater for a birthday party, leading to the tragedy that gave the place its reputation.

Writers Hana Li Jing-ling and Sandra Yang Mei-yuan have a bit of a tendency to overdo things a bit; for instance, Lisi being Weibang's girlfriend at the start doesn't do enough to bring her into the story and acts as a drag when sparks start to fly between Weibang and Sifan later on. Then there's the necessity to hold the supernatural at arms' length, which runs the risk of what happened with Mojin a few months ago, where the alternate explanations necessary to placate the censors that there's nothing paranormal going on are even goofier than "a ghost did it". It crowds out what is actually a pretty decent haunted house story, not shy about having The Phantom of the Opera as an ancestor but vey much its own thing, with a little more more going on in both the present and past than one might expect. That gives the filmmakers plenty of time to lay out broad hints, have a few scares, and maybe thin out the cast a bit before laying all the cards on the table and leading up to a final confrontation.

Full review on EFC.

MBA Partners (aka Miss Partners)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 8 May 2016 in AMC Boston Common #19 (first-run, DCP)

I just spent a few minutes Googling a couple of things from this movie on the off-chance that it's based upon a true story - it's set a few years in the past and has its characters highly visible during real-life events - just in case I found myself saying that something that actually happened was far-fetched. That doesn't seem to be the case, so those are just odd choices in a movie that's otherwise enjoyably lightweight.

Though the title refers to partners, the film initially focuses on Lu "Xiaoxi" Zhen-xi (Yao Chen), who grew up in the southern part of China looking up to a merchant uncle (Lam Suet) driven out of business by more professional competitors. She goes to New York with her boyfriend (Wang Yi-bo) to study business, but is deported after working as a street hawker to pay the bills. She can't afford to actually enroll in the China Asia International Business School back home, but lands a job as the personal assistant to Professor Meng Xiao-jun (Aaron Kwok Fu-sing) and is able to audit his classes. Seeing overlap between one of Xiaoxi's business plans and those of two of her classmates, Meng asks them to work together, although they're not exactly compatible personalities - Gu Qiao-yin (Tiffany Tang Yan) is looking for a rich boyfriend and Wen Qing (Hao Lei) is already an important part of her husband's company (though perhaps becoming less so with a new young thing in the picture). Still, with the help of Xiaoxi's lifelong friend-who-obviously-has-a-thing-for-her Niu Jun-cheng (Jerry Li Chen), they build an e-commerce business built on personal service for women.

Does this film really need Qing and Qiao-yin? So much of the start of the movie is dedicated to relating Xiaoxi's history that when the other two partners are introduced, it's almost too late for them to be considered important parts of the story, and not only does their camaraderie never quite become the heart of the movie, but it takes up just enough air that there's not a whole lot of room for the love triangle between Xiaoxi, Xiao-jun, and Jun-cheng to develop, if that's what it's going to be. They're good characters, and there's probably a pretty good story to be told about how Qing and Qiao-yin see each other and work together, but it doesn't quite work as part of Xiaoxi's story.

Full review on EFC.

Saat po long 2 (Kill Zone 2)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 13 May 2016 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, DCP)

The standard "you don't need to see the first to enjoy the sequel" comments apply more than usual with Kill Zone 2 (Saat po long 2 in Cantonese, Sha puo lang 2 in Mandarin) - it retains a couple of cast members from the first, though in different roles, with the main connection being that both are unusually good fusions of gritty crime movies with high-octane martial-arts action. The "sequel" may not be quite the instant classic of Hong Kong action cinema that its predecessor was, but when the fighting starts, it gets close.

This one supplies the action between Hong Kong and Bangkok, opposite ends of an organ-smuggling ring run by Hung Man-Tong (Louis Koo Tin-lok), an ironically sickly man who needs a heart transplant, though the only compatible donor is his brother Man-biu (Jun Kung Shek-Leung). Police lieutenant Chen Kwok-wah (Simon Yam Tat-Wah) has managed to embed his nephew Chan Chi-kit (Jackie Wu Jing) into the gang, but a disastrous rescue attempt leaves the police mistaken on which Hung is the gang leader. Meanwhile, in Thailand, prison guard Chai (Tony Jaa) has a daughter (Unda Kunteera Yhordchanng) with leukemia, and Kit is the only match they've found for her bone marrow - but he has no idea that prison warden Ko Hung (John Zhang Jin) is Man-Tong's partner, and the new Chinese prisoner who doesn't speak any Thai is there for his role in keeping Man-Tong from taking his brother's heart.

The first film in this series was a strong crime melodrama, and while the second doesn't quite reach the same heights, it's got the combination of nastiness and elegance that many genre films aspire to: Writers Jill Leung Lai-yin & Huang Ying may set up obvious parallels between the heroes and villains in their desperation to medically extend life, but they let it simmer rather than having it lead to faux-philosophical discussions, letting the fact that the villans will use this for leverage rather than feel a moment of sympathy make them even more vile (although the film's opening moments leave little chance of receiving sympathy). Director Cheang Pou-soi applies a moody filter to that emotion, lingering over the grimy environs and tainting any potentially upbeat moments by having the brightest scenes take place in a children's cancer ward, and even then, the good guys find things cramped while Man-Tong has access to large, clean spaces. He knows when to linger on sadness and speed up to enhance desperation, making death and cruel fate lurk in every corner.

Full review on EFC.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 27 May 2016 - 2 June 2016

Man, Memorial Day weekend used to be a bigger deal, but now Star Wars has left it for Christmas and Marvel schedules their releases for Free Comic Book Day, so now we've got a couple of movies that look like they should be big deals but don't feel like it.

  • Of course, one of the week's two 3D releases is Marvel-descended as well, as X-Men: Apocalypse brings the "First Class" series of movies back around to where the veteran X-Men of the first film (back in 2000!) are just arriving at Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, just in time to fight an ancient mutant played by Oscar Isaac. It's at the Somerville (2D only), Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway (including RPX), Revere (including MX4D). The other is Alice Through the Looking Glass, a Tim Burton-less sequel to his Alice in Wonderland that adds Sacha Baron Cohen as Time. Absurdly great cast, including Alan Rickman's final (voice) role. That one plays at the Capitol (2D only), Apple Fresh Pond, Jordan's (Imax 3D), Boston Common (including Imax 3D), Assembly Row (including Imax 3D), Revere (including XPlus), and the SuperLux.
  • Kendall Square consolidates quite a bit, with two movies playing on two screens (Love & Friendship and The Lobster) and all the ones hanging around for one or two shows dailly clearing out. They've got guests coming with two of their three new films this week, though: IFFBoston selecction Weiner, which followed a disgraced New York politician on an ill-advised mayoral campaign, has director Josh Kriegman on-hand for the 7:05pm show on Friday. Sunday is when director Athina Rachel Tsangari will host a screening of her film Chevalier, which comes from Greece and has the people on a luxury yacht competing to be "the best" with some sort of points system.

    They (and The West Newton Cinema) also have Dark Horse, a documentary about a group of working-class people in a Welsh mining town who invest in a race horse, despite that usually being an upper-class thing.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre also picks up The Lobster (as does the Embassy), with the Coolidge playing it on the main screen. That's also where they'll play Alien 3 at midnight Friday & Saturday on a 35mm print.
  • It's Harvard's Reunion Weekend, and since The Brattle Theatre is the local theater, they'll be doing anniversary screenigs: Friday offers single features of Citizen Kane and Night on Earth, both on 35mm, with Kane also playing Saturday at noon. After that, Saturday offers a double feature of Suspicion (35mm) & Silence of the Lambs, followed by an 11:30pm "Reel Weird Brattle" screening of Drop Dead Fred. Sunday's double feature is Persona & Seconds, both celebrating their 50th, while Monday offers a 75th anniversary double feature of Sullivan's Travels and the less-famous Barbara Stanwyck vehile Ball of Fire (35mm).
  • Sadly, it's the last week for Time and Place are Nonsense! The Cinema According to Seijun Suzuki at The Harvard Film Archive and Brattle, which is sad because it has been a ton of fun. This week's cinematic insanity are Kagero-za (Friday 7pm HFA), Story of a Prostitute (Saturday 7pm HFA), Carmen from Kawachi (Saturday 9pm HFA), Fighting Elegy (Sunday 5pm HFA), Yumeji (Sunday 7pm HFA), Kanto Wanderer (Monday 7pm HFA), Tattooed Life (Tuesday 8:30pm Brattle), Princess Raccoon (Wednesday 7pm Brattle), A Tale of Sorrow and Sadness (Wednesday 9:30pm Brattle), Branded to Kill (Thursday 7:30pm Brattle), and Pistol Opera (Thursday 9:30pm Brattle). All but Branded to Kill are 35mm.
  • Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond gives indie A Remarkable Life a couple showtimes a day; it reunites the director and star of Last of the Romantics with a story about a guy struggling to find his footing after his wife leaves him for another woman by working in his father's pawn shop. It splits a screen Tamil-language romantic comedy Idhu Namma Aalu, which is playing with English subtitles. There's also matinee screenings of Kannada-language thriller U-Turn from Saturday to Monday; Telugu-language A Aa plays on Tuesday & Thursday.
  • The Meddler moves from The Somerville Theatre to The Capitol and West Newton pick up The Man Who Knew Infinity.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues artist documentary Hockney; it plays Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. By and About Chantal Akerman, pairing I Don't Belong Anywhere: The Cinema of Chantal Akerman with her last film, No Home Movie, also plays those days. They will also start an "Arab Film Weekend" series on Thursday with Theeb.
  • The Regent Theatre
  • will host The 7th Annual Ciclismo Classico Bike Travel Film Festival on Wednesday, featuring 80-odd minutes of shorts about seeing the world on bicycles.



My plans include a lot of Seijun Suzuki, and then probably trying to fit X-Men, The Lobster, and Neighbors 2 around that.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Almost Gone: A Monster with a Thousand Heads & Keanu

If you're in Boston and you run out to the theater now, you just might be able to catch these two before they leave (I gather Keanu has a few more days of very early shows, but it's effectively done). Didn't get to see them until Monday, and I haven't been able to nearly as much writing during business hours while working from home as I thought I don't have those distraction-free hours to write on the bus any more.

Speaking of working from home, I wound up making a double feature of this, because these couple months working from home (we had to be out of our old office last week and the new one won't be open until late July at the earliest) mean that I can pretty much roll out of bed at 8:45am if I want. So, two movies on Monday night with the last one getting you home at midnight? No problem! Well, other than how the increasingly long combinations of film, trailer package, and "pre-show entertainment" is really stretching the distance between early-evening and late-evening shows. When I worked at a theater during college, we had a pretty standard schedule of one group going in between 7:00pm and 7:30pm and the second between 9:30pm and 10:00pm (and, because it was a four-plex, it was usually ten-minute intervals). There is just no way that gets pulled off today, so the first group creeps up to before seven, making a pre-film dinner tricky, and the last show often going in at 10:40 or so. I have no idea how that even works at a place like Boston Common, where there's no parking and the MBTA doesn't run particularly late. Probably not as well as it should.

This makes the 74-minute runtime of A Monster with a Thousand Heads even more of a blessing, really - aside from not a minute being wasted, it just fit into a lot of schedules well.

Un monstruo de mil cabezas (A Monster with a Thousand Heads)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 May 2016 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, DCP)

As a strong proponent of the seventy-five minute thriller, I would likely approve of A Monster with a Thousand Heads even if it didn't turn out to be a quietly twisty film that is not just admirably compact, but which also uses that efficiency to keep a familiar story feeling new.

It opens with Memo, an husband and father with cancer, waking up in the middle of the night in tremendous pain; his wife Sonia (Jana Raluy) sees to him quickly, and the next morning is on the phone to his doctor and insurance company to try to get him back on the therapy where he had shown improvement. She runs into roadblocks, naturally, and when Dr. Villalba (Hugo Albores) blows her off, she and son Dario (Sebastian Aguirre) follow him home - and then, when he continues to dismiss her concerns, Sonia pulls a gun on him.

Before this has happened, director Rodrigo Plá and writer Laura Santullo have made it clear that this isn't going to be a tale where quiet, polite persistence eventually resolves issues for the better; as the scene where Sonia finds herself stonewalled by a receptionist ends with a voiceover of that woman giving testimony in court, a device that the filmmakers will return to on occasion, but which keeps the audience from being too enthusiastic about where things are going. After all, it may not escape the audience's notice, after Sonia and Dario make a couple more stops, that this is basically Richard Stark's The Hunter (adapted as Point Blank and Payback) with the insurance industry substituted for organized crime, something that many in the audience might find to be a lateral move. Knowing things are going to go wrong prevents it from playing as a revenge thriller from which the audience is supposed to derive glee.

Full review on EFC.

Keanu

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 May 2016 in AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run, DCP)

A couple of days after watching Keanu, I thought, hey, what if this isn't just a fairly amusing bunch of jokes, including callbacks to some of stars Keegan-Michael Key's and Jordan Peele's most famous sketch-comedy bits, but a sort of riff on what it's like to be a minority who doesn't exactly fit the most popular view of that means. I can't exactly speak to that, but I can say that I laughed quite a bit, even though I was only vaguely aware of Key & Peele before.

They respectively play Clarence Goobril and Rell Williams, the former an overly-giving family man and the latter a bit of a schlub who has just been dumped by his girlfriend. The good news is that an adorable kitten has just appeared outside his door; potentially less good news is that it escaped from a shootout at a drug dealer's hideout. And, indeed, when Rell's house is broken into a few weeks later, it turns out that the guy who wrecked the place and took Keanu is a gangster who goes by the name "Cheddar" (Clifford "Method Man" Smith). It seems the only way to get Keanu back is the pose as tough guys themselves, although Cheddar's lieutenant Hi-C (Tiffany Haddish) is justifiably skeptical.

Key & Peele have been working as a team for a while, so it's not surprising to see that they've got a solid dynamic hammered out - Key is the manic one, eager to please in a way that becomes somewhat off-putting, while Peele is more laid-back, although he's mastered the art of catching the audience off-balance by undercutting this with a surprising determination. Both director Peter Atencio and Peele's co-writer Alex Rubens worked on the Key & Peele television series, so it's not surprising that the group seems well-practiced, changing tempos between Key's fast delivery and Peele's more relaxed responses, and unlike a lot of buddy movies where the pair seems to get on each other's nerves enough to make one question how much they really enjoy each other's company, there's a genuine sense that these guys genuinely like each other.

Full review on EFC.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Last Weekend at the Brattle: Mountains May Depart & Belladonna of Sadness

Odd coincidence - these two movies that played the Brattle as sort of a split-admission double feature are both being released on home video the same day this summer Second odd coincidence; this was the second stop in the Boston area for each, as Mountains May Depart was part of the Belmont World Film Series and Belladonna of Sadness was an opening night film for the Boston Underground Film Festival.

Seeing that makes me a little less frustrated to not get something up while they were still playing the Brattle; I've been generally dragging this year and am really hoping to make up some ground in the next few weeks.

Shan he gu ren (Mountains May Depart)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 14 May 2016 in the Brattle Theatre (first-run, DCP)

The future is just as much a part of our lives as the past, but it often makes storytellers wary. Who wants to remembered for guessing wrong on details, let alone major happenings? Is risky, but sometimes your story has to extend that far in order to fully express what is teller is getting at, the way Mountains May Depart ("Shan he gu ren" in Mandarin) does. Its unconventional third act is not all that makes it an intriguing and noteworthy drama, though it is an essential part of the story.

The seeds, of course, are laid in the past, when 25-year-old beauty Shen Tao (Zhao Tao) has two suitors - "elite" Zhang Jinsheng (Zhang Yi), whose wealthy family owns the local gas station among other things, and Liang Jangjung (Liang Jing-dong), who like most of their town of Fenying has a job tied to the nearby coal mine. Though the coal is running out, Jinsheng buys the mine, which turns out to be a decent short-term investment as the price of coal goes up. By 2014, things aren't going so well for everyone; Tao is divorced, with her son Daole living with his father in Shanghai, while her other suitor is returning home in ill health. In 2025, "Dollar" (Dong Zijian) is living in Melbourne, 18 years old, barely able to communicate with the increasingly bitter father who has never really learned English, and the most interest he has in any of his classes involves Mia (Sylvia Chang), the fortyish but still striking teacher of his Mandarin class.

Mining towns like Fenying are dying all around the world; someone watching this in West Virginia would probably nod sadly at how familiar some of it is, even though writer/director Jia Zhangke seldom directly addresses the town as a whole rather than Tao, her friends, and her family. It's still an important reflection of what the characters do - in the past, the mine is something everybody practically takes for granted even if they know intellectually that it can't last forever, but the middle section of the movie lingers on death, whether it be the inevitable decay associated with mining coal or simple age. Jia doesn't portray Fenying as a ghost town at that point, but it's still very clear that the future is elsewhere, with Doale clearly not there for more than a visit in the middle and only the briefest of glimpses of the town.

Full review on EFC.

Kanashimi no Beradonna (Belladonna of Sadness)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 14 May 2016 in the Brattle Theatre (Special Engagement, DCP)

There wasn't much of a market for Japanese animation in the United States when Eiichi Yamamoto's Belladonna of Sadness was released in 1973, let alone films with the sort of limited animation and adult content that Yamamoto and producer Osamu Tezuka (often justifiably described as Japan's Walt Disney) were making in that period. As a result, it would take over forty years and a restoration for this film to get a theatrical and home video release in America, and while it's probably not worth that long a wait, it is worth discovering, especially for fans of art-house animation.

Yamamoto and co-writer Yoshiyuki Fukuda base their film on a nineteenth-century history of witchcraft by French historian Jules Michelet which contains several hypothetical short stories, which may explain why the story is so choppy - they are either trying to stretch something originally just a few pages long into ninety minutes or taking parts from several and making a single narrative out of them. So the film winds up having a reasonable enough frame, as poor farmer Jean (voice of Katsutaka Ito) and local beauty Jeanne (voice of Aiko Nagayama) marry, only for the local Lord (voice of Masaya Takahashi) find Jean's tribute offerings insufficient, leading to a prima nocte gang-rape that hangs like a cloud over the pair's intimacy, eventually leading to a deal with the Devil (voice of Tatsuya Nakadai).

In the middle of all this is a story of the young couple rising and falling separately (both become the town's tax collector at different points), the Lord committing to a costly war, and his mistress (voice of Shigako Shimegi) trying to strike at Jeanne out of jealousy. Knowing that Michelet's La Sorcière was more history than novel explains this somewhat - Jeanne's tribulations become a list of the pressures that medieval women had to deal with, which is interesting for scholarship, but not nearly as interesting an individual story as Jeanne finding herself punished and distrusted for being attractive, even by those who love her, and having to weaponize it to survive. That would not be original, perhaps, but it resonates in any place and time.

Full review on EFC.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 20 May 2016 - 26 May 2016

A pretty fun-looking week for movies, I think, loaded enough that I'm glad I caught one of the releases as a preview.

  • The new one that I'm most looking forward to, though, is The Nice Guys, which has writer/director Shane Black teaming Russell Crowe as a goon-for-hire and Ryan Gosling as a private eye on the trail of a killer and a missing woman. It's at the Somerville, Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, Revere, and the SuperLux. Those theaters also open Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, where Seth Rogen's and Rose Byrne's characters must contend with new loud neighbors - this time a sorority looking to be just as independent and potentially raucous as the frats. It should please Ian at the Somerville - he was happy that the first didn't overstay its welcome at 97 minutes, and this one is just 92!

    The Angry Birds Movie aims at a younger audience, although I've got no idea if the game is still a thing with kids (animation takes a while, so it's impossible to strike while the iron's hot). Looks like it could be amusing or disastrous, in 3D and 2D. It's playing at the Capitol (2D only), Apple Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, Revere, and the SuperLux (including XPlus). Revere also has Saturday & Sunday matinees of something called Shimmer and Shine, a pair of twin genie sisters who grant wishes to their human friend.
  • The one I saw and quite liked is Love & Friendship, which has Whit Stillman adapting Jane Austen's lesser-known novell "Lady Susan", with Kate Beckinsale in the title role. It's at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, The West Newton Cinema, Kendall Square, and Boston Common.

    The Coolidge also has some good special events, with a 35mm print of Demolition Man playing at midnight Friday and Saturday and making me really wish that the MBTA hadn't discontinued late service on the subway and 66 bus. Monday's Big Screen Classic is Funny Face, which is also pretty goofy, with Fred Astaire as a photographer who becomes smitten with Audrey Hepburn's bookstore clerk even if she is far more interested in a Paris psuedo-philosopher. The big one, though, comes on Wednesday, as they screen a 35mm print of Ingmar Bergman's Persona for its 50th anniversary with the film's star Liv Ullmann joinging Boston Globe critic Ty Burr onstage afterward to discuss both the film and her long-time collaboration with Bergman.
  • Kendall Square, in addition to Love & Friendship, will be sharing The Lobster with Boston Common (and the Coolidge next week). It's the English-language debut of Yorgos Lanthimos, whose Greek films have a reputation for strangeness that this one - with Colin Farrell as a man who, if he doesn't find true love within a month and a half of being dumped by his wife, will be turned into an animal of his choice, because that's how things are in his world - will likely do little to change.

    They also get the new one from Terence Davies, Sunset Song, with Agyness Deyn as a young woman living in a small Scottish town in the years before World War I. There's also a single-week booking of A Monster with a Thousand Faces, a Mexican thriller about a woman who decides to take direct action when her insurance company refuses to cover her husband's care.
  • The Brattle Theatre will be playing a double feature of FILM and NOTFILM (both on DCP for those looking to make format-based jokes like myself) from Friday to Monday. The former is a 22-minute chase film from 1965 written by samuel Beckett and starring Buster Keaton; the latter is a 130-minute visual essay about its production and meaning by Ross Lipman. They also have a "Reel Weird Brattle: Through the Looking Glass, Down the Rabbit Hole" screening at 11:30pm Saturday - a 35mm print of Vera Chytilová's Daisies for the fiftieth anniversary of this film about women toying with the men who desire them.
  • The Harvard Film Archive and Brattle both continue Time and Place are Nonsense! The Cinema According to Seijun Suzuki, and it is some fun stuff. This week's films are Carmen from Kawachi (Friday 7pm HFA), The Sleeping Beast Inside (Friday 9pm HFA), Pistol Opera (Saturday 7pm HFA), A Tale of Sorrow and Sadness (Saturday 9:30pm HFA), Gate of Flesh (Sunday 5pm HFA), Capone Cries a Lot (Sunday 7pm HFA), Youth of the Beast (Monday 7pm HFA), Eight Hours of Fear (Tuesday 7:30pm Brattle), Passport to Darkness (Tuesday 9:30pm Brattle), Fighting Elegy (Wednesday 7:30pm Brattle), Smashing the O-Line (Wednesday 9:30pm Brattle), and Zigeunerweisen (Thursday 7:30pm Brattle). All of this week's shows are 35mm.
  • Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond does the "it's on VOD but we've got a spare screen, so what the heck" thing with Manhattan Night, with Adrien Brody as a tabloid reporter seduced by a woman (Yvonne Strahovski) into investigating the murder of her husband (Campbell Scott).

    Two Indian films get full-screen openings. Sarbjit tells the story of a man (Randeep Hooda) who accidentally crosses the India/Pakistan border and is sentenced to death as a spy, leading his sister (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) to spend twenty years fighting to prove his innocence. It's in Hindi and presumably subtitled; Brahmotsavam is Telugu and may not be; that one is a family drama about a man trying to find his roots. There are also matinee screening sof Marathi-language romance Sairat on Saturday and Sunday.
  • The Somerville Theatre and Lexington Venue both add The Meddler, and The Capitol and West Newton pick up The Man Who Knew Infinity.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has their final JewishFilm.2016 screening on Friday with Israeli Academy Award winner Wedding Doll, although it and Carvalho's Journey will also screen Sunday in West Newton (as will Baba Joon, though that one is sold out).

    The rest of their week will feature artists of various types. Hockney is a documentary about artist David Hockney, and plays Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday, as well as into next week. The same goes for By and About Chantal Akerman, which plays the same days and includes two features - No Home Movie, in which the director films her mother, who survived the Holocaust and now seldom leaves her apartment in Brussels; and I Don't Belong Anywhere: The Cinema of Chantal Akerman, a documentary on Ms. Akerman by Marianne Lambert, largely built around a conversation between her and longtime editor Claire Atherton.
  • ArtsEmerson has their monthly "Reel Life Experience" screening at the Paramount Theatre's Bright Screening Room on Saturday night with The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, which is free with RSVP, and will be sandwiched between a reception and a post-film talk with special guests involved in the "My Brother's Keeper" initiative.


My plans? The Nice Guys, The Lobster, Neighbors 2, and a bunch of Seijun Suzuki.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Post-festival guests: 3rd Street Blackout and Love & Friendship

Ugh - just no time to write, so not only is this "post-festival" post going up before any of three festivals I've attended this year are getting completed write-ups, but the idea was to write about 3rd Street Breakup while it was still at the Somerville Theatre. Failure. Looking at the last year-plus, it might be time to just abandon trying to get everything down, maybe use Letterboxd more or something.

Jeremy Greenleaf & Negin Farsad of 3RD STREET BLACKOUT

One part horrible photography, one part Jeremy Greenleaf should have been warned that wearing a cap in those rooms makes it almost impossible to see your face. I am now idly wondering if the festival or theater has a list of these sort of things that they advise guests.

Very funny folks, as you might expect given that it's literally their job. Negin Farsad especially has a very quick wit, and that this is her first feature after a couple of documentaries makes her a bit more interesting as a filmmaker. She mentioned that she did wind up in the middle of romantic shenanigans during the post-Sandy blackout, although not exactly this sort.

She also mentioned that they were in Green Room upstairs during the movie and that it was really intense. I've got to catch that sometime.

Whit Stillman hosting LOVE & FRIENDSHIP

Just a couple days later, it was time for another Q&A, with IFFBoston hosting Whit Stillman and Love & Friendship just a few days after concluding their main event for the year. Someone saw me writing before the film and asked if I was a fan, and I said that it was tough to really be that - his early run was when I was just starting to be able to see independent film regularly, and then he had a long period of not getting stuff off the ground before Damsels in Distress, and then it's been another seven years. I've liked all of his stuff that I've seen (unfortunately, Amazon isn't streaming the Cosmopolitans pilot, with the weird reason that their agreement with the content provider doesn't allow it, despite that being them), though.

As always, he's a lot of fun to see discuss his movie; he's both very detailed and irreverent (and he doesn't mind saying "uh, no" when someone advances their own theories. His best story, in this case, was that while editing, they kind of fell in love with a temp track, but it had been used in Barry Lyndon, so they went with another classical piece, only to find out it was the music that was used in A Clockwork Orange. Stillman, it turns out, isn't much of a Kubrick fan beyond Lyndon, and so didn't realize.

He also mentioned that they had Stephen Fry for just one day, and while that was a huge deal - getting him legitimized the project in many ways, and he's generally terrific - but it does explain why it felt like they could have done more with him; for all that Susan and Alicia complain that he's horrible, Fry doesn't really get a chance to play it that big.

3rd Street Blackout

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 6 May 2016 in Somerville Theatre #3 (first-run, DCP)

I don't think 3rd Street Blackout made it to theaters (well, a few theaters) before anything with a more somber take on Hurricane Sandy, but this goofy little thing coming along at about the same time is sort of appropriate - while it was a mess that caused a lot of upheaval, it's also something where people just went about their business as best they could afterward, and that business was occasionally shenanigans, and amusing ones at that.

In this case, Mina Shamkhali (Negin Farsad) has barely arrived home at the apartment she shares with boyfriend Rudy Higgins (Jeremy Redleaf) from giving a TED Talk when the power goes out in Manhattan, and as highly-connected twenty-first century people, that's thrown them a little more than maybe it would have their parents. The party they have to finish off their perishable food on the second night of the blackout has an unexpected guest - Nathan Blonket (Ed Weeks), a venture capitalist who offered Mina a lot more than research funding, driving Rudy to bail for Brooklyn with his hacker friends Ari (Jordan Carlos) and Christina (Katie Hartman).

3rd Street Blackout may not be the nerdiest movie you'll ever see, but it's authentically so, full of people who are often awkward and bizarre but well-meaning rather than typical romantic leads with some atypical references sprinkled into the dialogue. It's the modern-day form of nerdery that's loud and confident, full of trash-talk and often joyfully vulgar because the folks involved don't have to worry about how they look outside their tribe.

Full review on EFC.

Love & Friendship

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 8 May 2016 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (IFFBoston Presents, DCP)

Period comedies are relatively rare productions, which means that since first gaining attention in things like Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing, Cold Comfort Farm, and a television adaptation of Emma, Kate Beckinsale has spent much of the rest of her career doing things that she was less suited for, even if they were occasionally lucrative. It's easy to forget just how good she is at stuff like this, and reuniting her with The Last Days of Disco filmmaker Whit Stillman is close to an ideal way for her to get back to this sort of material.

She plays Lady Susan Vernon, a widow at around the turn of the 19th Century with no property, little income, and a bad reputation that has chased her from the home of Lord Manwaring (Lochlann O'Mearáin). Staying in London with her best friend Alicia Johnson (Chloë Sevigny) is not an option, as her husband (Stephen Fry) has threatened to move to Connecticut to oversee their holdings there should she and Susan have any contact. So she settles on the home of her late husband's brother, Charles Vernon (Justin Edwards), though his wife Catherine (Emma Greenwell) is wary. As well she should be; Susan sets her sights on Catherine's brother Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel), while also trying to set up her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) with the very wealthy - but deeply stupid - Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett).

It's easy to think of this sort of story as somewhat generic, especially from a distance; their plots do not necessarily reflect larger changes going on in the world, and the rules governing this sort of upper-class society are rigid enough that there's not much visible room for subversion. That can also be wonderfully focusing - it forces the creators to align all the moving parts and pepper each available moment with clever lines. This, happily, is something that Stillman has always excelled at, both giving his characters clever things to say as a writer and making sure that they are delivered without calling attention to how witty they are but giving the audience a chance to react. He does have a few moments when the story trips him up a bit, especially toward the end, when fairly important things happen off-screen. It may be related to the source material - Jane Austen's original novella "Lady Susan" was not only in the form of letters which could set a scene in the first paragraphs, but was apparently not considered strong enough to be published in her lifetime - but he's frequently had movies key on abrupt shifts.

Full review on EFC.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 13 May 2016 - 19 May 2016

Such a relatively quiet weekend that a local theater is consenting to show something that's also on video on demand. But it's still basically Marvel's world.

  • A couple big multiplex openings, though. The big, star-driven one is Money Monster, with George Clooney as TV host who is more bluster than expertise about finance, Julia Roberts as his producer, and Jack O'Connell as the guy who derails the show by waving a gun around. Jodie Foster directs, and it's at the Somerville, Apple Fresh Pond, West Newton, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    There's also The Darkness, with Kevin Bacon and Radha Mitchell as the heads of a family that comes back from a family vacation with a ghost or demon or some such. It's at Apple Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere. Boston Common and Revere have a single screening of The Abolitionists, a documentary about the fight to stop human trafficking, while Fenway and Revere will show Ferris Beuller's Day Off on Sunday and Wednesday.
  • The big thing in the boutique houses is A Bigger Splash, at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Kendall Square, and Boston Common. It's the new one from director Luca Guadagnino, with Tilda Swinton as a rock legend, Matthias Scheonaerts as her partner, Ralph Fiennes as an old flame, and Dakota Johnson as his daughter. Tuesday evening's screening at the Coolidge is an "Off The Couch" show, with members of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society talking about what can be learned from it afterward.

    The Coolidge's big After Midnite show this weekend is technically neither after midnight nor at the Coolidge, but it's Friday the 13th, and they'll be at the Rocky Woods Reservation with Friday the 13th Part 3D & The Final Chapter. No idea whether they'll be handing out glasses for the first, and the second is, shall we say, inaccurately named. Then, on Saturday, they do their other usual thing, with The Room on 35mm.

    Sunday morning, they team up with Jewishfilm.2016 and Goethe-Institut for A Life for Football, which tells the tale of the Jewish owner of Munich's soccer team and his return after World War II, and another Jewishfilm selection, The Demon, plays Tuesday. The Big Screen Classic on Monday is a new restoration of Chimes at Midnight, where Orson Welles wove the various times Falstaff appeared in Shakespeare's plays into a single narrative. Finally, on Thursday, they're the latest home of Balagan, which presents a set of films by Will Hindle on 16mm film.
  • On top of A Bigger Splash, Kendall Square has High-Rise, the newest from Ben Wheatley. It adapts a famous J.G. Ballard novel about a class war taking place in a retro-futuristic skyscraper. They also have special screenings of the anime adaptation of Project Itoh's Harmony on Tuesday and Wednesday, and unlike last month, the Tuesday show is subtitled, while Wednesday's is dubbed.
  • The West Newton Cinema, off all places, will be showing The Trust, the latest Nicolas Cage nearly-straight-to-VOD action flick, where he co-stars with Elijah Wood as uniformed cops who discover a secret vault. Apparently, the director(s) will be on-hand Sunday, although there's nothing to say whether it's at the 1:15 or 9pm show.
  • The Harvard Film Archive kicks off Time and Place are Nonsense! The Cinema According to Seijun Suzuki, which tracks the director's career from his early Nikkatsu Action! films to the present day, and it's a wild ride, with many films screening on 35mm prints specially imported from Japan. The first weekend includes Tokyo Drifter (Friday 7pm on DCP), Passport to Darkness (Friday 9pm), Gate of Flesh (Saturday 7pm), The Call of Blood (Saturday 9pm), Branded to Kill (Sunday 7pm), and Smashing the O-Line (Monday 7pm). They also have a pair of short films at 5pm Sunday, "Basil Bunting" (digital) edited by Philip Trevelyan and "Lambing" (16mm) directed by him.
  • The Brattle Theatre has two films playing a quick run from Friday to Monday, with Mountains May Depart playing most of the day and Belladonna of Sadness playing late in the evening. The former is the new one by Jia Zhangke, and follows a group of people through the past, present, and future. The latter was the opening night film at the Boston Underground Film Festival, a recently-restored classic of Japanese adult animation that has a starklly different style than much of the anime produced in the 40 years since.

    There's a secret screening for members only on Tuesday, and my best guess at what it could be doesn't see like it would necessarily be a secret. Then, on Wednesday, they start sharing the Seijun Suzuki series with the HFA, with Youth of the Beast that day and a double feature of Kanto Wanderer and Tokyo Drifter on Thursday.
  • Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond has Azhar as the new Bollywood opening, telling the story of popular cricketer Mohammad Azharuddin. They're also keeping Tamil and Telugu screenings of 24, and will screen Bengali-language drama Rupkotha Noy on Saturday & Sunday afternoons, with Malayalam-language comedy King Liar also playing Sunday. There's also a Friday midnight screening of Rocky Horror with shadow-cast.

    A different shadow-cast accompanies that show at Boston Common's Saturday midnight show, and I wonder if there's a rivalry between them. Boston Common will also be showing Sha Po Lang 2, aka Kill Zone 2, during the evening, and if you didn't see the first, don't worry, it's only vaguely connected, with the important thing being that Wu Jing, Tony Jaa, Zhang Jin, Kouis Koo, and more will be beating the living crap out of each other. They're also keeping Finding Mr. Right 2 around for an extra week.
  • The Somerville Theatre has their second documentary on Market Basket in roughly as many months, although Food Fight: Inside the Battle for Market Basket will only play for three shows on Saturday. Their monthly "Silents, Please!" screening is on Sunday afternoon, with the Library of Congress supplying a 35mm print of Paths to Paradise and Jeff Rapsis supplying music for the story of two con artists (Betty Compson & raymond Griffith) trying to get one up on each other; Rapsis will also be playing a ways down the road in Somerville that evening, with "Sherlock Jr." & Three Ages at the Aeronaut Brewing Company. Over in Arlington , Sing Street expands to The Capitol.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues JewishFilm.2016 on Friday (Tango Glories and Demon), Saturday (Rabin, the Last Day with director Amos Gitai and Baba Joon), Wednesday (The Law), and Thursday (Arabic Movie, Drawing Against Oblivion, and Summer Solstice); many will have post-film Q&As with local academics.
  • The Belmont World Film Series concludes on Sunday, with Casa Grande playing at Belmont Studio Cinema. Like many of the films in this year's series, it's from Brazil, and looks at the class system there as a teenager rebels against parents who are going bankrupt. It will be preceded by a separate-admission reception featuring Brazilian cuisine.
  • GlobeDocs presents Love Between the Covers at Theater 1 in the Revere Hotel in downtown Boston (it used to be the Stuart Street Cinema); director Laurie Kahn will be on-hand to discuss her documentary about romance novelists and their business afterward.


Sure, I could see Sha Po Lang 2 and High-Rise at home, but why do that? I'll probably also try and check out some Seijin Suzuki, Chimes at Midnight, and Harmony, and I still haven't seen Green Room.