Friday, March 24, 2017

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 24 March 2017 - 30 March 2017

Who schedules two film festivals for the same weekend? Embarrassment of riches, but having to make certain choices is even more of a bummer than usual.

  • If you like the weird, go with the Boston Underground Film Festival, playing through Sunday at The Brattle Theatre with some shows at the Harvard Film Archive because they’ve just got too much for one screen. One of the screenings at the Brattle on Friday is a secret, but if it’s what I think we’re in for a good time. I do know I’ve seen one of the others (the intriguing-but-peculiar She’s Allergic to Cats on Saturday night), and once again kind of bummed that I can’t make the kid-friendly Saturday Morning Cartoon party fit my schedule.

    After the festival ends, the Brattle has a 35mm secret screening of their own on Tuesday, and my guess for it is also something a movie I really love. Then on Wednesday and Thursday, they have a couple days of the ”Final Cut” of Blade Runner, which Warner is apparently taking out of theatrical distribution while gearing up for the new sequel.
  • Meanwhile, a couple stops up the Red Line, The Somerville Theatre hosts the Irish Film Festival, with “Director’s Choice” A Date for Mad Mary on Friday evening and then a full slate on two screens all day Saturday and then Sunday afternoon.

    After that’s done, they continue their Wednesday repertory series with Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie, which will keep the projectionist busy, as this documentary is 267 minutes long and they’re showing it on a 35mm print.
  • They’re also one of the theaters opening Wilson, along with Kendall Square, the Embassy, Boston Common, and Revere. It’s an adaptation of the Daniel Clowes graphic novel starring Woody Harrelson as a man who aims to reunite with an old flame only to discover that they’ve got a teenage daughter. Speaking of folks that have been away, Kendall Square and Boston Common also open T2 Trainspotting, with Danny Boyle reuniting with Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremmer, and Jonny Lee Miller for a twenty-years-later sequel to the film that put them on the map.

    Kendall Square also has a one-week booking of The Son of Joseph, which features a French teenager looking for his father despite the fact that his single mother won’t divulge his identity. WIth that name, I’m guessing there will be some biblical allusions served up as well.
  • In more mainstream spots, there are three openings, all action-oriented in one way or another. Life is the horror-oriented one, with Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Rebecca Ferguson playing astronauts on the ISS who apparently have the first encounter with alien life, which isn’t good. It’s at the Arlington Capitol, Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere. The comedic one is CHiPs, with Dax Shepard teaming with Michael Pena for a spoof of the 1970s/1980s cop show. I think it had a memorable theme, which seems to be half of what gets stuff remade sometimes. That plays Apple Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere.

    The more kid-friendly remake is Power Rangers, which looks like a bigger-budget version of what started out as cheap teen stuff combined with repurposed sentai action scenes, though this flick shells out for Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa and Bryan Cranston as Zordon. It alarms me that stuff that came after my time is now getting nostalgia remakes, but if it’s not past yours, it can be found at the Capitol, Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, Revere, and the SuperLux. Boston Common and Revere both have one more screening of Passengers Saturday morning as they try to push it over some milestone, and previews of Smurfs: The Lost Village later in that afternoon.
  • Terrence Malick’s fresh-from-SXSW-and-probably-involving-SXSW-because-it’s-set-in-the-Austin-music-scene Song to Song plays at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Kendall Square, and Boston Common. Nice cast with Ryan Gosling, Natalie Portman, Michael Fassbender, and Rooney Mara, at least.

    The Coolidge also has a new release of sorts for the midnights with The Devil’s Candy, which I found disappointing when I saw it at Fantasia last summer - I liked the fun metalhead family facing demons in their new house, but the story and scares didn’t do much for me - but most folks seemed to really go for the new one from the maker of The Loved Ones. They go with Werner Herzog and his best fiend Klaus Kinski at midnight on the other screen, showing their take on Nosferatu the Vampyre Friday night and Fitzcarraldo on Saturday (starting at 11:30, since it’s a long one), both on 35mm. There’s also a “Science on Screen” presentation of The Grapes of Wrath on Tuesday, with Bill McKibben using it as a jumping-off point to talk about climate change. They also have their final Francophone Film Festival screening on Thursday, with Polina, Danser sa Vie coming from France and telling the story of a ballerina who makes it to the Bolshoi at the age of 18.
  • Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond keeps Badrinath Ki Dulhani around, and also opens Phillauri, a Bollywood comedy about someone who must marry a tree, only… Well, the tree apparently has a spirit of some sort. There’s also Telugu-language action movie Katamarayudu, and Wednesday/Thursday-night screenings of Kannada “family action” movie Raajakumara.
  • In addition to BUFF, The Harvard Film Archive has guests. Thai director Anocha Suwichakornpong visits Friday and Saturday with her films Mundane History and By the Time It Gets Dark, respectively (the first on 35mm and shown with a short), while Terence Davies is in person for the most recent two films of his retrospective, Sunset Song (Sunday 7pm), and A Quiet Passion (Monday 7pm). In between - at 5pm Sunday - they have French indie Remnants of Madness.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has more of the Boston Turkish Film Festival, with Toss Up (Friday) and Mr. Mushin (Friday with the awards ceremony and possibly a Q&A with the star), two programs of documentary shorts (Saturday), Don’t Tell Orhan Pamuk That His Novel Snow Is in the FIlm I Made About Kars (Sunday), Second Chance (Sunday), The Search Engine (Wednesday) and it’s making-of docoumentary In Search of a Film (Wednesday), Dragon Trap (Thursday), and Young Wrestlers (Thursday).
  • Emerson’s Bright Lights screenings this week are both from the same director, alumnus Alex Lehmann, for two different types of film: Blue Jay, playing Tuesday, looks like a walk-and-talk featuring Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson as people who dated in high school who meet again years later; Duplass also produced Thursday’s Asperger’s Are Us, a documentary about an improv troupe with the syndrome of the title. Both are in the Paramount Theater’s Bright Screening Room and free, as usual; the latter is part of The ReelAbilities Film Festival, showcasing films by and about the disabled, which starts on Wednesday with Life, Animated at the Museum of Science and also features The Rebound at the Pappas Rehabilitation Hospital in Canton.
  • There are also two screenings for MIT’s Women Take the Reel Festival, with Kate Bornstein Is a Queer and Pleasant Danger playing at MIT on Friday and Southwest of Salem at Tufts on Wednesday.
  • Belmont World Film’s 2017 series moves back to Monday nights at the Studio Cinema with Fukushima Mon Amour, in which a German backpacker and a former geisha are thrown together after the Fukushima earthquake; as with most films in the series, there will be a pre-film speaker, in this case Ryo Morimoto, who did field work in that part of Japan during that time frame.

  • The ICA hosts opening night of Wicked Queer on Thursday with Signature Move, which injects lucha libre wrestling into a story about a Pakistani-American attorney trying to balance her new girlfriend and her conservative mother. Director Jennifer Reeder and co-star Sari Sanchez will be at the screening.


I’ll be in Harvard Square for BUFF, and then probably try to catch up with the last couple weeks of new releases after that.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 17 March 2017 - 23 March 2017

So, what’s Boston going to have for movies when I get back? Well, at least some good stuff, because it’s BUFF-time!

  • That would be the Boston Underground Film Festival, which kicks off at The Brattle Theatre starting Wednesday the 23rd, and I can vouch for three of the five programs on the first two days. Opening night is Alice Lowe’s Prevenge, a nifty little flick about an expectant mother whose unborn child is urging her to kill, and a 35mm print of Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales, which may or may not be due for a reappraisal, but has a downright weird performance from Dwayne Johnson and some actual pretty great work from Seann William Scott. Thursday starts with an afternoon program of international shorts, “Disordered States”, followed by Australian short Hounds of Love, with the evening wrapping up with the genuinely creepy A Dark Song.

    Before that, the Brattle will run Contemporary Color, a record of a David Byrne project that combined new music from a variety of artists with top color-guard squads, although there will be some holes in that schedule. Sunday has both a free presentation of ”Shortfish”, a selection of short films from Icelandic film festival “Stockfish”, and the Chlotrudis Awards, the (mostly) local film society of the same name’s annual recognition of fine independent films. On Monday, the DocYard welcomes Mary Jane Doherty for a program of her documentary shorts, ”Things Ricky Forgot to Teach But Somehow I Learned Them Anyway”, with the centerpiece being “Gravity”, after which she’ll be joined by that film’s subject, Nobel-Laureate-to-be Dr. Rainer Weiss, for a discussion. And, if that all sounds like a weird lead-up to BUFF, remember that Tuesday is Trash Night.
  • Over at the multiplexes, you’ve got a lot of Beauty and the Beast, which from the trailers looks like an exceptionally close 3D live-action remake of Disney’s animated film from (gasp!) just over twenty-five years ago, although a well-cast one. It’s at the Capitol (2D only), Apple Fresh Pond, the Belmont Studio (2D only), West Newton (2D only), Jordan’s Furniture (Imax 2D/3D), Boston Common (including Imax 2D/3D), Assembly Row (including Imax 2D/3D), Fenway (including RPX 3D), Revere (including MX4D and XPlus), and the SuperLux.

    Also opening in the multiplexes is The Belko Experiment, a sort of Battle Royale-in-an-office thing written by James Gunn and directed by Greg MacLean. It’s at Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere.
  • Over at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, the major opening is The Sense of an Ending, starring Jim Broadbent as a retiree who mostly keeps to himself, at least until an inheritance forces him to confront some events from his past. It also plays at the Kendall, the Embassy, and Boston Common.

    With Friday being St. Patrick’s Day, the midnight programmers dig up Leprechaun, which just seemed like a dumb horror movie when released that still somehow spawned a bunch of sequels with Warwick Davis (including one, famously, in space), but later became noted as the embarrassing early work on Jennifer Aniston’s filmography. Saturday’s late show (it actually starts at 11:30 rather than midnight) is also sort of Irish, a 35mm print of The Departed. They’ll also be doing a Saturday morning screening of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory for kids, while Sunday morning has a Goethe-Institut screening of Fritz Lang, which focuses on how his move from silents to talkies meant moving away from grand fantasies to crime pictures like M. There’s an Open Screen on Tuesday, a special free preview of Theory of Conflict with director Rahman Oladigbolu and some of the film’s subjects on-hand, and a group of Five Shorts as part of the Francophone Film Festival on Thursday.
  • Kendall Square and Boston Common have Personal Shopper, which reunites director Olivier Assayas with actress Kristen Stewart, this time having her play the dresser of the title, only she is also a medium who may be getting more than she expects with her latest job.

    If you want to get a jump-start on BUFF, the Kendall also has Raw, a gross but often fascinating film about a girl sent away to veterinary college who has not been told about the cravings she would inherit. That one’s scheduled for one week, which is probably the likely booking for Neruda, with Luis Gnecco playing the poet of the title and Gael Garcia Bernal as the policeman chasing him down in revolutionary Chile. There’s also a single screening of Tickling Giants, a documentary on comedy and satire in Egypt, on Tuesday evening.
  • Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond continues Badrinath Ki Dulhani for fans of Indian cinema (there’s also Kannada-language Chowka on Saturday and Tamil-language Baashha on Sunday), but also has two small English-language films: Fittest on Earth: A Decade of Fitness documents the 2016 CrossFit games (which I guess have been going on for ten years?), and plays twice a day; You Can’t Have It gets the tough matinees-only schedule, which looks mostly notable for some of the folks in smaller roles (Armand Assante, Dominique Swain, and New England Patriot Rob Gronkowski).
  • The Harvard Film Archive finishes their Christophe Honoré series with In Paris (Friday 7pm), My Mother (Saturday 9pm), and CLose to Leo (Sunday 5pm), the first two on 35mm film. They also have the next entry in their Terence Davies retrospective with The Neon Bible, on 35mm at 9pm on Friday. In between all of those is a series of Contemporary French Alternatives, with Staying Vertical (Saturday 7pm) and Suite Armoricaine (Sunday 7pm). Another series starting this week ties in with the 75th anniversary University’s Houghton Library by showcasing films adapted from material in their collections, starting with The Miracle Worker on 35mm Monday night.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts gives most of the week to their Boston Turkish Film Festival: There Where Atilla Passes (Friday), Blue Bicycle (Friday), The Half (Sunday), My Mother’s Wound (Sunday), Bad Cat (Wednesday), We Were Dining and I Decided (Wednesday), Private Cemetery (Thursday), and Wedding Dance (Thursday). They also have the second “Exhibition on Screen” presentation of I, Claude Monet on Sunday morning.
  • The Bright Lights screenings at the Paramount Theater this week are both part of MIT’s Women Take the Reel Festival, with director Cheyenne Picardo discussing her film Remedy on Tuesday and director Mia Donovan there for her documentary Deprogrammed. The first screening of that series for this week - Daughters of the Dust at MIT - will not have the director there, but will have pizza.
  • The Somerville Theatre continues their spring repertory series with a 35mm print of Downfall on Wednesday, and then will play host to the Irish Film Festival starting on Thursday, with Best Breakthrough Feature winner The Young Offenders - a comedy about bike thieves trying to get their hands on a missing bale of cocaine worth 7 million euros - playing with actor Dominic MacHale in attendance. It’s paired with short “Gridlock”, whose producer Simon Doyle will be there.
  • Belmont World Film starts their 2017 program on Sunday night at the Studio Cinema with Tanna, the Oscar-nominated Vanuatu story of a forbidden love. Co-directors Bentley Dean and Martin Butler will Skype in, and there’s a separate event offering a special Vanuatu dinner beforehand


  • The Regent Theatre has “A Town Teen Video Contest”-winning shorts on Friday night, featuring work from young filmmakers in the Boston area.


I’m still in California through Monday, so my movie-going will likely be limited to an IFFBoston preview and the first couple nights of BUFF.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Other stuff seen in (or on the way to) Australia: My Beloved Bodyguard, War on Everyone, The Magnificent Nine, and Your Name

Yes, that’s right, I’m milking what a great time I had in Melbourne right up until I land in California for my next vacation, and then I’ll probably milk that until Montreal and so on and so forth. There won’t be a lot of movies in San Diego, because my evening activity will be baseball, but when I’m visiting other places, whether for work or fun, I’ll probably catch some movies, because I’m generally on my own and don’t drink, so not a whole lot of typical evening activities are really pitched at me besides movies.

Of course, I can’t exactly use my MoviePass on other continents, so I tend to try and concentrate on stuff that I can’t easily see in Boston (or which isn’t going to be playing in a spiffy format when I return). In this case, it was kind of funny how the various movies got chosen. For example, I get much more reluctant to watch a film for the first time as the presentation and environment decreases, and “on a plane” is about as non-ideal as you can get. I’ll still page through the options on the entertainment system to see what’s available just out of curiosity, especially when I’m on a Chinese airline and curious about how well what makes it to North America correlates with what people overseas actually watch. Still, when I’m halfway across the Pacific and it’s clear that getting some sleep isn’t going to be an option because I’m in a middle seat and the guy with the window is diabetic and needs to pee every couple hours, I’ll remember that Sammo Hung’s The Bodyguard was on the list and figure sure, why not?

Then when I’ve finally landed in Melbourne and want to (a) make sure I know the location of the cinema where the festival will be and (b) try to stay up long enough to be on something resembling local time the next day, I might as well look at what’s playing there, note that War on Everyone looks like something I would like and which went direct to video in America for no apparent reason (I mean, it’s got to be better than the C.Hi.P.s movie coming out in a couple of weeks that also co-stars Michael Pena, right?). I might also remember a thing on the internet about a super-popular Japanese movie getting a release date set for Australia but not the States, and check where that’s playing, then try to get there at the end of the day only to see it sold out. Two days in a row. Grr.

In more pleasant news, I went to the local film & television museum in between and noticed that they had pamphlets out for a Japanese film festival that was doing some shows there. Because I’m me, I pick it up, note that some shows are at the same theater as the other movie, and noting that one I would really like to see is playing at the same theater as the other one, I hatch a plan, buying tickets for The Magnificent Nine and while I’m at the box office, getting tickets to the next night’s subtitled screening of Your Name. It would probably have been easier to buy them online or grabbing the next day from the kiosk, but that can be tricky overseas; the postal code field for verification doesn’t match, and there are some places my cards don’t work (I can use my debit card at an ATM, but even in Canada, I can’t use it in movie-theater kiosks and some restaurants).

It amused me to see a big ol’ Hoyts sign on the theater, too.

When I was growing up in southern Maine and living there after college, Hoyts was a pretty ubiquitous chain (as in, they operated two of the area’s three or four multiplexes), although they seem to have eventually pulled out of the United States and gone back to concentrating on their home territory. I don’t recall whether my brother said they they or Regal were more miserable to work for as the Falmouth place got passed around, but I seem to recall him not liking either. Still, they’re what you’ve got in Australia, so no holding grudges on his behalf!

I do have to admit, I’m always a little disappointed when seeing a movie in a mainstream multiplex is basically the same on the other side of the world as it is back home. The Lido was a bit different, in that it often times seemed like a bar with screening rooms you went into after you’ve had your drinks, and you were kind of expected to hang out in the lobby, buying drinks and snacks to munch on until you went into auditorium, no more than five minutes before the expected start time, but the Hoyts was basically the same as the AMCs and Regals back home. I wasn’t exactly expecting them to have kangaroo jerky rather than popcorn, just curious about the possibility. I did notice that some of my go-tos tasted a bit off, though I have no idea how Coke Zero and Peanut M&Ms would vary.

One thing that was kind of odd was that all of the theaters I went to had reserved seating, but unlike back at home where even buying tickets to the box office pops up a seat map where you either jab at the touchscreen or give an exact location to the attendant, everywhere I went in Melbourne asked your general preference and then had varying definitions of what “on the centerline, fairly close to the screen” meant. On the other hand, though I didn’t get to test it, the multiplex seemed to handle 3D movies the way I’d want to if I ever opened a theater: Same price for 2D and 3D movies, with glasses available in a vending machine (or presumably at the box office), and I presume no frisking to make sure you had an unopened pair rather than the perfectly fine ones you paid $3 for a couple years ago. That would probably never fly here, as the studios want a piece of the 3D surcharge, but it seems obviously to be the most fair, least wasteful way to do it.

CANTONESE (The Bodyguard, aka My Beloved Bodyguard)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 November 2016-ish on Air China flight #982 (random, crappy video)

Would I have necessarily had My Beloved Bodyguard on my radar if Asian Film Strike hadn’t tweeted out it’s 23rd poster (roughly), which was apparently drawn by a little kid with crayons? Maybe; I have, after all, traveled to the New York Asian Film Festival because Sammo Hung was a guest in the past, and have liked the guy ever since he had a show on CBS for a couple of years (that pre-handover period when Hong Kong stars and filmmakers were trying to stake out Hollywood careers rather than work for the Communists was kind of fun, if a bit odd in retrospect). How sticky it would have been, I don’t know. Maybe it would have fallen into the same gap some of Hung’s other recent films have.

But it didn’t, and I’m glad, both despite and because this movie is kind of an odd thing. It will, of course, be sold as an action movie, which is not technically untrue, although there’s really only one or two scenes where Hung gets to show his stuff. Instead, it turns out to be a fairly dark look at growing old in the twenty-first century; Hung plays Ding Hu, at various points a soldier, and an operative for a major personal security firm, but now living in a town on the Chinese/Russian border that has a smattering of North Koreans living there, with dementia starting to set in. He’s estranged from his family, and just well-enough aware of what’s happening to him that he discourages the locals who want to connect. Cherry Li (Jacqueline Chan Pui-yin), the pre-teen daughter of the guy next door who may be into some shady stuff (Andy Lau Tak-wah), is the one who is most determined to wedge herself inside her life, which may be helpful when her father disappears.

In a lot of cases, screenwriter Jiang Jun would find ways to pile extra action sequences into the movie - flashbacks to Ding in his prime, scenes where the bad guys show they mean business or Ding fends off some random mugger, that sort of thing. Instead, Jiang and Hung (who also directs) save it toward the end except for brief flashes and some small plot-advancing stuff that doesn’t really involve Ding. It gives a little poignancy to some of the cameos sprinkled throughout the film - aside from Yuen Biao as the local chief of police, there are a number of other retired martial-arts stars, some of whom apparently haven’t been in a movie in decades, playing the old guys hanging around on a stoop, hinting at a place where these guys go when they’re spent. There’s a sadness to the story that is not broken up in the way one might expect.

Full review on EFC.

War on Everyone

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 November 2016 in Lido Cinema #7 (first-run, DCP)

John Michael McDonagh has made a couple of downright terrific films in The Guard and Calvary, and War on Everyone simply being pretty decent is enough to get one speculating as to whether he was being propped up by Brendan Gleeson or felt lost when the setting moved from Ireland to America. That, I think, is unfair; he’s made a funny movie, even if people don’t necessarily expect this particular sort of sharp wit in an American buddy cop thing.

The buddies are fun, though, with Alexander Skarsgard playing Terry, the kind of meatheaded one, and Michael Pena the wiseass Bob, both gleefully corrupt cops in Albuquerque who don’t particularly hide that they’re shaking people down and tell their captain (Paul Reiser) to lighten up about the bills for equipment and other property damage their methods lead to; it’s working out, right? That is, until Terry becomes more smitten than usual with call girl Jackie Hollis (Tessa Thompson) and that leads to butting heads with Lord James Mangan (Theo James), a businessman dipping a toe into the drug trade who is much more formidable than the street criminals they’re used to intimidating. But is Mangan or any of his crew actually that much smarter?

Well, no, and not that much more creative; villain roles in this sort of movie tend to be forgettable, because they’re running on the chemistry of the leads more than the actual plot. Eventually, things can’t help but seem a little rudderless - Terry and Bob are making a half-hearted attempt to keep their noses clean, Mangan is doing bad things but not uniquely threatening ones, and Jackie is getting caught in the middle, with Terry dragging her into the mess as much as vice versa. This sort of generic plot really has nowhere to climax except in terms of being more violent, so the bits where things start to come together in the end is mean and unpleasant without the zippy back and forth that makes it fun.

Full review on EFC.

Tono, Risoku de Gozaru! (The Magnificent Nine, aka Lord, It’s Interest!)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 November in Hoyts Melbourne Central #6 (Japanese Film Festival, DCP)

There’s a thread running through many of director Yoshihiro Nakamura’s best films that makes them leave an even better impression than they might, an often-upbeat ability to find power in community. Think of the seemingly-disconnected threads that come together in Fish Story, or the friendships that rescue a framed fugitive in Golden Slumbers, stories where connection is not so much the lesson that the protagonist must learn but the force which determines whether people will thrive or not. The Magnificent Nine is likely his most literal presentation of this idea, a friendly primer on what people can accomplish working together.

After a brief prologue, the film picks up in 1766, when sake brewer Juzaburo Kokudaya (Sadao Abe) is returning to his hometown of Oshioka with a new young wife (Maika Yamamoto), becoming reacquainted with old friend Tokuheiji Sugawaraya (Eita), a tea grower who explains the bind that the town is in - the feudal lord is broke, so he increases taxes; since nobody can pay, they go into debt; leaving town is seen as running out on your debts and gets you arrested, but without a way to pay them off; and a bad harvest exacerbates the cycle, with Jinnai Asanoya (Satoshi Tsumabuki), a fellow brewer and owner of the town’s general store, really the only one making any money. One night, Juzaburo idly ponders that if the people of the town were to pool what cash they had and make a loan to the lord, they could likely live on the interest. Toki (Yuko Takeuchi), the owner of the local bar, is especially taken with the idea, and starts organizing, although it must be done in secret, as the peasantry loaning to the gentry is technically illegal.

The plan is, of course, more complicated than that, needing, as you might guess from the English name it has been given, at least nine investors, back-channel approaches through friendly retainers, and some trickery with how certain commodities have different prices depending on whether they are paid for with gold and silver. I suspect that the exact mechanics of the plan Juzaburo and Tokuheiji come up with may be somewhat opaque, even for a Japanese audience, although Nakamura and co-writer Kenichi Suzuki (working from a novel by Michifumi Isoda) do a good job in making just enough clear that the general type and difficulty of the challenges the group faces is easy to follow, pushing the audience toward concern, discomfort, and relief as is appropriate, while also giving some appreciation of the balance of clever and desperate they must be to come up with this plan.

Full review on EFC.

Kimi no na wa (Your Name)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 1 December in Hoyts Melbourne Central #7 (first-run, DCP)

Last summer, some friends and I were talking about how certain great, much-beloved Japanese animators were retiring and leaving a void that the up-and-coming talents didn’t quite seem to be filling, at least as we saw it from America, lamenting the situation until it became clear that we didn’t know what we were talking about: Roughly a week later, stories started showing up about an animated movie that was a massive hit, breaking box office records in Japan, and it was weirdly gratifying as a fan to see that it was the latest from Makoto Shinkai, someone who has continually impressed since making the brilliant 20-minute short “Voices from a Distant Sky” solo on his laptop. Your Name will probably not achieve the same tremendous popularity abroad that it did in its native land - both its eccentricities and its broad appeal are rather specifically Japanese - but it’s still a fine film as well as a must-see for lovers of animation.

It introduces the audience to two teenagers who are opposites: Mitsuwa Miyamizu (voice of Mone Kamishiraishi) is a teenage girl who, though her father is the mayor of her small town, lives with grandmother Hitoha (voice of Etsuko Ichihara) and kid sister Yotsuha (voice of Kanon Tani) at the family shrine. The rites bore her, and she dreams of going to live in the city. This turns out quite literal, but with a twist - some mornings, she will wake up as a boy living in Tokyo, having to stumble her way through this other life. When she wakes up the day after that, it feels like a dream, except that her friends and family are asking her she was acting so weird before. So it’s probably no surprise to learn that Taki Tachibana (voice of Ryunosuke Kamiki), a high-school boy in Tokyo with a crush on Miki Okudera (voice of Masami Nagasawa), the manager at his part-time job, is having similarly weird dreams where he’s a girl in the country. It barely seems real until they start leaving each other notes on their smartphones, and start to wonder how this is happening and to what end.

Shinkai’s film became a sensation in Japan in part because he was able to tap into a number of facets of Japanese identity exceptionally well, finding much to love about both the bustling city and the more traditional village, and using Mitsuwa and Taki to bridge this divide in a way that many of the recent spate of nostalgic films couldn’t quite do in such a satisfying manner. Here, it’s possible - and possibly vital - to have a place in both of these worlds, rather than simply seeing them in conflict. Demonstrating it by having a boy and a girl switch places is a clever-enough metaphor on its own - it’s not hard to cast the country as feminine and the city as masculine - but it apparently works even better in this context; Shinkai has talked about how he found inspiration for the story within Japanese folklore, though he adapts it in such a way that this sort of gender-bending and spiritual exchange doesn’t play as the ancient mythology that gets tweaked or poked fun at.

Full review on EFC.

Friday, March 10, 2017

My Life as a Zucchini

Now that I’ve finally got the review written, the showtimes at Kendall Square have been cut down to matinees, but, to compensate, they’re subtitled as opposed to dubbed (when I went Monday, it was English before sunset, French after). I still recommend the movie quite a bit, though; though my horse in the Oscar category was Kubo and the Two Strings at the time, this one likely edges it out now that I’ve seen all of them.

Sticking around through the credits, by the way, is highly recommended; the filmmakers animate the audio of their first meeting with the kid who wound up voicing Courgette and it is adorable, but in a way that complements the rest of the film, as he talks about how his parents’ divorce would probably be something he pulls from before talking about how Zucchini is gross and maybe the kid could have a different name.

Probably won’t get this one for a niece come birthdays/Christmas - the one who will be eleven can probably handle it, but it is often a downer, even if it is ultimately hopeful. It’s very much a “know your kid” movie, but an excellent one if your kid is up for it.

”Le génie de la boîte de raviolis” (“The Genie in a Tin of Ravioli”)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 6 March 2017 in Landmark Kendall Square #4 (pre-film short, DCP)

Sent to theaters as part of a package with his rather short feature My Life as a Zucchini to help pad out the runtime, Claude Barras’s “The Genie in a Tin of Ravioli” is a fairly simple film, with the very mildest conflict propelling its story and simple dialog the order of the day to go with its deceptively simple animation. The credits mark it as adapted from a bande dessinée, which makes me wonder if that phrase encompasses children’s books as well as the comics I most often see it used for.

It’s a sweet little thing, though, quickly introducing viewers to Armand, who works daily in a ravioli factory and then eats the stuff for dinner when he gets home, only to have a grand, triangular genie pop out when he opens one night’s can. The genie offers to grant two wishes, and there’s an interesting balance to it: Armand’s wishes are initially small, with the genie having to coax him into asking for more than a flower in a pot. Initially, it’s easy to walk away from the short thinking it’s entirely about his modesty and kindness, and that’s important, but look a little deeper, and maybe Armand needs to be reminded that, even if he is a poor factory worker and an immigrant, he deserves natural beauty and good food as much as anyone.

Barras is artful in how he gets this across using stop-motion animation; the design is simple-looking, with bold colors and relatively little fiddly detail. But look how he uses it - the factory is fanciful enough that Armand’s apartment and the neighborhood around it seems drab in comparison, but the meadow he’s transported to is roomy, with great spaces between the flowers that let him appreciate them more even as they also give characters room to move in a way that a more conventional take, with overwhelming flora in every square inch. The gait and movement of every character is also delightfully individual, the result of tremendously fastidious stop-motion work whose sheer effort can easily be overlooked.

Ma vie de Courgette (My Life as a Zucchini)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 6 March 2017 in Landmark Kendall Square #4 (first-run, DCP)

The charm in this film is appropriately low-key, as there's a clear, earnest darkness to it even before the event that has the title character shipped off to a group home. Fortunately, this doesn't make for a joyless movie; it may have moments of horror and bits of sadness that can't be escaped, but it's as much a film about resilient children rather than broken ones. And it’s a pretty terrific one.

As it opens, 9-year-old Icare - whom his perpetually-drunk mother calls “Courgette”, (“Zucchini” in English) - is making the best of his situation, playing in his attic by flying a kite with a superhero drawn on it out the window and stacking the alarming number of empty beer cans strewn about the apartment into a tower. It draws the ire of Courgette’s mother, and after she falls climbing to the attic, a friendly policeman (voiced by Michel Vuillermoz in French/Nick Offerman in English) brings Courgette (voices of Gaspard Schlatter/Erick Abbate) to a group home in a different neighborhood. Most of the kids there are nervous or timid, but Simon (voices of Paulin Jaccoud/Romy Beckman) is kind of a bullying brat. Courgette will not be the new kid for long - soon Camille (voices of Sixtine Murat/Ness Krell) is in the girls’ bedroom, with a similar story but also a mean Aunt Ida (voices of Brigitte Rosset/Amy Sedaris) whom Camille is afraid to be alone with.

This relatively short feature is playing with one of director Claude Barras’s short films in its American release, and one thing I immediately noted carrying over is how carefully he creates environments. The opening of this movie will not strike a viewer as looking realistic, but there’s something about the barren right angles of the apartment with walls covered by crayon drawings that doesn’t feel like a stop-motion set, especially as Barras pushes his camera in close. It’s the same with the police station, where Barrass zooms into a screen that looks like the sort of MS-DOS application that likely lingers in underfunded government offices, but doesn’t show a keyboard that might look adorably reduced or like an excessively precise miniature reproduction. As Raymond drives Courgette to his new home, though, the feel changes: Simple shapes now seem to reflect a child’s point of view, as do cars making just slightly impossible turns as if guided by someone’s hand and the lack of precisely squared borders. There’s space where there wasn’t before, and even if Mme. Papineau’s home isn’t luxuriously large, there’s room to move around. From moment to moment, the animation style allows this movie to be a fantasy, a memory, and the way a kid might tell his own story.

Full review on EFC.

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 10 March 2017 - 16 March 2017

Weird opening weekend - a big movie that seems like it should be bigger, a mainstream-seeming movie that is an indie because the studios don’t make modest movies any more.

  • The big one is Kong: Skull Island, a big new Imax 3D take on King Kong from Legendary which will tie in with the American Godzilla from a couple years back. It’s just twelve years since Peter Jackson’s take, and it really seems like it should be more a once-a-generation event to me. It’s at the Somerville (2D only), Apple Fresh Pond (2D only), Jordan’s Furniture (Imax 3D), the Embassy, Boston Common (including Imax 3D), Assembly Row (including Imax 3D), Fenway, Revere (including MX4D), and the SuperLux.
  • Meanwhile, it seems like just a few years ago that something like The Last Word would have been a wholly average part of a major studio’s release schedule, but instead, it’s a indie opening at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Kendall Square, and Boston Common. It’s a cute enough idea, with Shirley MacLaine as a pushy retiree who decides to take control of her obituary, to be written by Amanda Seyfried. The Coolidge and the Somerville Theatre also pick up Kedi, an awful charming documentary on the stray cats of Istanbul.

    The Coolidge offers Kazuo Koike samurai stuff at midnight this weekend: A 35mm print of Shogun Assassin plays Friday; that one’s an English-dubbed picture edited together in 1980 from a couple of early-1970s Lone Wolf and Cub movies, while on Saturday night they have Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance. On Monday, they partner with the Huntington Theater, showing a 35mm print of Menace II Society as a tie-in to the company’s production of Topdog/Underdog. There’s an Open Screen on Tuesday, and a sold out show of Sunn O))) on Thursday night.
  • The Brattle Theatre will play host to the Boston Underground Film Festival in a couple of weeks, but first, they bring back last year’s opening night film, The Lure. I saw that at Fantasia last summer, and folks loved it, and even if you don’t love it, you probably haven’t seen much like this Polish horror-musical about mermaid girls working as cabaret singers in the 1980s. It’s got the place more or less to itself all week, with the exception of a free preview of T2 Trainspotting on Thursday evening.
  • Kendall Square, meanwhile, not only has The Last Word, but they have documentary Mr. Gaga, which follows groundbreaking Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin. The one-week booking is actually three movies, a new restoration of Marcel Pagnol’s “Marseille Trilogy”. Marius plays Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Thursday; Fanny on Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday; and Cesar Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

    They also have another “Deconstructing the Beatles” presentation, this one focused on Revolver. And, like many of the theaters that still have La La Land around (including West Newton, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere), they will be having some shows designated as sing-along presentation.
  • Speaking of sing-alongs, there’s also a Friday night screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Showat Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond, with a different shadow cast than Boston Common’s regular Saturday night presentation.

    The week’s big Bollywood opening at Fresh Pond is Badrinath Ki Dulhani, which looks like an opposites-attract thing about two people from small towns meeting in the city. Could very well have catchier songs than La La Land, too! Other movies playing there for Holi include Tamil action ensemble piece Maanagaram (apparently called Nagaram for the Telugu-language screenings).
  • The Harvard Film Archive has a couple of special screenings this weekend: Friday evening they welcome back benshi Ichiro Kataoka, who presents two Japanese shorts (“Taro’s Train” and “Blood’s Up in Takadanobaba”) and Lois Weber feature Shoes with narration, as was the most popular way to view silent films in Japan. It’s a fun show, and he’ll be accompanied by Jeff Rapsis on piano. On Saturday afternoon, they will have their first monthly Saturday matinee show, where film fans of all ages can catch E.T.The Extra-Terrestrial on 35mm film at 3pm.

    Later Saturday, they will start a Terence Davies retrospective with The House of Mirth on 35mm at 7pm. After that, they continue their Christophe Honoré series with Man at Bath (shown with the apparently-unsubtitled “Hotel Kuntz” at 9:30pm Saturday) and a 35mm print of his Beloved on Monday. In between, they use Sunday for a couple of films from the Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub series that were cancelled due to bad weather: The pair’s Sciilia! (5pm) and Pedro Costa’s documentary about the pair, Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie? (7pm), both on 35mm.
  • Frederick Wiseman: For the Record is at The Museum of Fine Arts for the long haul (into June), and this week’s selections are Deaf (Friday), Multi-Handicapped (Friday), Adjustment and Work (Sunday/Wednesday), Blind (Sunday/Wednesday), and Manoeuvre (Thursday). They will also have the first of two “Exhibition On Screen” presentations of I, Claude Monet on Sunday.

    On Thursday, they have the opening night of their annual Boston Turkish Film Festival, with Onur Karaman’s There Where Atilla Passes, whose Turkish protagonist was adopted by a Quebeçois couple when he was young, although he has just met a girl from Istanbul.
  • Free stuff at the Paramount Theater’s Bright Screening Room starts on Friday as ArtsEmerson presents Chapter and Verse, a man-just-out-of-prison drama that will be followed by a conversation with director Jamal Joseph and former Boston Assistant District Attorney Adam Foss.

    After that, Bright Lights returns (must have been spring break last week) on Tuesday with a screening of Trumbo followed by a discussion with Emerson faculty member tom Kingdon. On Thursday, in association with MIT’s Women Take the Reel Festival, they will screen Equity, with producer/actor David Alan basche around for a Q&A. That series has three other screenings at area colleges that night: No Mas Bebes at Boston College, Trapped at Northeastern, and Mothers of Bedford at Tufts.
  • For some reason, Warner isn’t sending The Somerville Theatre a 70mm print of Kong, hopefully not because of a couple fun-looking one-night shows during the week: Swing Away, on Tuesday, stars Shannon Elizabeth as a professional golfer who, after being booted from the tour, reconnects with her roots in Greece; it’s also got John O’Hurley as another pro who apparently based his characterization on Donald Trump. Completely coincidentally, Wednesday’s repertory screening is a 35mm print of A Face in the Crowd, Andy Griffith’s cynical but pretty terrific debut that did not really set the tone for the likable career that followed.


I will catch Kong, Get Out, and Shoes (although, wow, that’s the same movie he did when he was here last time, AND it just played at the Brattle) at some point over the weekend, and then I’ve got vacation to use before the end of March, so why not fly out to San Diego and catch the second round of the World Baseball Classic? Better way of seeing early baseball than last year, when I went to Montreal and it was freezing!

Monday, March 06, 2017

Logan

Mildly surprised to see that Logan didn’t get screen 1 at the Somerville, even though there’s not really a bunch of live events or special screenings there this week to offer up a “moving the DCPs around is a pain in the neck” rationale. I guess Get Out is just doing really well, especially since it’s splitting screen #3 with Logan in addition to having the main screen, and the show I was at was packed.

I liked Logan a lot - you can read about the specifics below and on eFilmCritic - and I’ll miss the Jackman/Stewart/McKellan X-Men series a bit, although not as much as I will other comic-derived properties and other sorts of adaptations of things I like. Of course, part of it is that I don’t really love Wolverine or the X-Men; I’ve got fairly lengthy runs of a fair number of comics, both in single and collected form, these are characters I’ll dip into based upon who is working on it. Brian Bendis and Stuart Immomen on All-New X-Men? Yep! Warren Ellis’s Astonishing? Yes, please! Frank Cho pitting Logan against dinosaurs in Savage Wolverine? Uh-huh. Writers and artists I don’t have quite so much affinity for on the same books? Well, hang on, let me see what new titles Warren and Stuart are doing.

From what I gather, X-Men is something you fall in love with in your teens, or not at all, and that may go double for Wolverine, who is built to be a teen’s idea of a cool, brooding anti-hero: Mysterious, gruff, able to take a near-infinite amount of punishment, often disdainful toward the more idealistic members of the team willing to use lethal force when the others won’t. Different writers can graft different things onto him, making him a samurai, giving him shady underworld contacts, and all that, but as someone who discovered comics in college, he seemed a bit too exaggerated to me, trying too hard to be cool. To a certain extent, the same thing would happen a generation later, when smart-alecky self-referentiality became teens’ new measurement of what was cool, especially when wedded to higher levels of violence, and Deadpool started blowing up in the way Wolverine used to.

As it is with comics, so it is with movies - I wind up watching all the X-stuff, if only because it’s easier for me to a bit of a completist with films than it is with comics, but my excitement is a lot more contingent on the people involved than the brand name. Bryan Singer (circa 2000), James Mangold, and Matthew Vaughn are better at grabbing my attention than Bryan Singer (circa 2016), Gavin Hood, and Brett Ratner. It happens, but I find it kind of amusing, because while I probably won’t be the only American guy writing about comic-based movies to be more excited about the idea of a Valerian & Laureline movie than another outing for Wolverine, I suspect we’re kind of a small fraternity.

I suspect that the same is true for those of us that look at the last act of Logan and lament the limits on what this sort of comic-book continuity and interconnectivity will allow:

SPOILERS!

Seeing Laura and her friends escaping a corporation’s paramilitary troops on their own, after Laura kind of shockingly makes the killshot on X-24, makes me think of what a next-generation X-Men could be: The heightened version of millennials and the generation to come after them, stuck in a world where former-hippie baby boomers and [hopefully not too many] Generation X’ers have opted to feather their own nests and to heck with the environmental disaster, spiralling costs and devestated job market that their kids and grandkids face inherited, but still being shockingly altruistic and civic-minded even if they often sound bitter, sarcastic, entitled, and silly to their elders. It’s a potentially great take on the material, one that would be even stronger with the old X-Men to compare to.

It will never happen, of course - movies are expensive, and even if comics aren’t expensive, they have thin enough margins that moving on from the characters who have long-term fans and the strength of brand recognition and pop-culture history on their side. It’s much simpler to just roll the timeline forward or do a reboot, even if doing so pulls them further from the forces that shaped them. Even when someone tries to make a clean break, like DC did with the New 52, they can’t entirely let go, and they don’t wind up creating something new or even making something old relevant again. It’s churn that seldom recaptures the emotional core that made something resonate in the first place.

But, like I say, don’t ding Logan for this. It’s got people who are for-real done, and it’s kind of a valuable skill in superhero fandom to be able to appreciate and feel the power of an ending or transformative event even as you know that, someday, perhaps even soon, it will be moot. It’s part and parcel of liking to read or watch but being educated enough to know the rules.

!SRELIOPS

The most important thing: It’s a really good movie, no matter what type or level X-Men fan you are.

Logan

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 4 March 2017 in Somerville Theatre #3 (first-run, DCP)

If Logan is not the actual end of the line for the X-Men movies that began in 2000, it probably should be, because there is not going to be a better opportunity for the cycle to end both fittingly and well than this. Twentieth Century Fox doesn’t have to make stop making stuff with Marvel’s mutant characters - just say that Deadpool and Legion are the start of a new continuity and take the lesson that they and this film offer to heart - that there is room for a lot of different styles under the X-Men umbrella, even if this finale doesn’t seem like an obvious match for the other films using the same characters and setting.

It opens in 2029, some time after mutantkind has ceased to be a major concern for the world and at least twenty-five since the last known mutant birth. James “Wolverine” Howlett (Hugh Jackman), known for much of his extended life as “Logan”, lives under the radar, driving a limo in El Paso but actually living across the border, where he and another former X-Man, Caliban (Stephen Merchant), care for Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Charles is still an immensely powerful telepath, but that’s more a danger than a super-power now, as the 90-year-old professor is suffering symptoms of dementia and his outbursts and seizures can have dangerous effects on the people around him. Logan isn’t doing so hot either - his healing abilities keep him spry as he approaches the end of his second century, but the adamantium bonded to his skeleton has started poisoning him faster than he can heal. Enter Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), a Mexican nurse who wants to hire Logan for a far longer, more dangerous drive than usual, bringing her and 11-year-old Laura (Dafne Keen) - a mutant with powers similar to Logan’s - to North Dakota. But, of course, also enter Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), a bounty hunter working for the corporation that created Laura and a host of other children like her that want their property back.

Put like that, it sounds a little absurd, not like the more serious-minded, spandex-free, mature superhero movie it pitches itself as, and indeed, I would not necessarily recommend it to those who have looked down their nose at the genre but have some interest in this one because it is different. Like the comics that inspire the film, a great deal of the gravitas that Logan can boast comes from the sheer weight of in-story continuity and the history that the viewer has with the characters. The little moments that Jackman has had in seven previous movies over seventeen years give the audience an affinity for the character that would be hard to build from scratch, while having previously seen Patrick Stewart play Xavier as a wise mentor for as long (and even seeing James McAvoy as a cocky younger iteration) lend an extra level of tragedy to his degradation. Even the lesser movies in the series - and they don’t get much lesser than X-Men Origins: Wolverine - help build this one up; director James Mangold (with co-writers Scott Frank and Michael Green) can reference the Weapon X program without showing it or skip a lot of exposition about Xavier’s powers and history, thus not shifting the tone they’ve created for broad science fiction.

Full review on EFC.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 3 March 2017 - 9 March 2017

Excited about the program at the Brattle this week, which means the MBTA will be working on the Red Line between there and my apartment. Fortunately, a lot of the other stuff I want to see is right at the Somerville, and some other neat stuff.

  • The big release this weekend is Logan, which certainly looks like the final go-around for Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart as their X-Men characters, looking like a combination of “Old Man Logan” and “X-23”. James Mangold directs, and he did a surprisingly good job with the previous entry, The Wolverine (although having each of the Wolverine solo movies basically be named after the character is weird). It’s at the Somerville Theatre, Apple Fresh Pond, Jordan’s Furniture (Imax), the Embassy, Boston Common (including Imax), Assembly Row (including Imax), Fenway (including RPX), and Revere.

    Less prominent is Table 19, starring Anna Kendrick as the maid of honor at a wedding who finds herself pushed out of the role when the best man dumps him, and she winds up at the table in the corner where all the other single people who don’t really fit in go. That’s at the Somerville Theatre, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, and Revere. Before I Fall has at least gotten a lot of trailer play for a young adult time-loop movie where someone apparently just has to go to a party and get killed in a car crash over and over again. It’s at Apple Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere. Not the weirdest thing coming out, though, as The Shack apparently tells the story of a grieving man who gets an invitation to a place where one can talk to God (played ,apparently, by Octavia Spencer and Graham Greene).

    Oscar-winners Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea re-expand - the former to the Arlington Capitol, Coolidge Corner, the Studio Cinema Belmont, West Newton, Kendall Square, Boston Common, Fenway, and the SuperLux; the latter to the Studio Cinema Belmont, West Newton, and Boston Common. There’s also screenings of All About Eve on Sunday and Wednesday at Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere; those spots also have an anime presentation of Sword Art Online: The Movie - Ordinal Scale on Thursday. Sometimes I think Japan just strings random words together.
  • Speaking of just stringing random words together for the title of an animated film, Kendall Square opens Oscar-nominated animated film My Life as a Zucchini, a stop-motion-looking coming-of-age story set in an orphanage. Daytime showings are dubbed into English, evening shows are in French, and all are preceded by the director’s short “The Genie in the Ravioli Can”.

    They also open another Oscar nominee, that being Denmark’s entry in the foreign-language category Land of Mine. That one’s a World War II drama, in which German POWs are put to work finding and defusing the mines that their country placed during the war. I’ve heard some say that it’s actually the best of nominees, though it doesn’t have the same sort of events hook that some of the others did.
  • The Brattle Theatre kicks off Women’s History Month with a two-pronged approach. Much of their time will be spent on The Women Who Built Hollywood, featuring films from the silent and early talkie eras, when women frequently had major roles behind the scenes. Friday features a double feature of Lois Weber’s Shoes & Dumb Girl of Portici (the only surviving performance of dancer/actress Anna Pavlova), with Shoes playing again Saturday afternoon. Saturday’s main event is a Lillian Gish double feature with Little Annie Rooney and The Wind (35mm); Sunday is a double feature of Dinner at Eight (35mm) & Tillie’s Punctured Romance (16mm), the latter screening with Mabel Normand/Charlie Chaplin short “Mabel’s Married Life”. It picks back up again on Tuesday with a 35mm double feature of the Anita Loos-written Red-Headed Woman (starring Jean Harlow) and The Big House, a prison drama which won writer Francis Marion an Oscar. There’s more 35mm film on Wednesday with Man’s Castle (edited by Viola Lawrence) and Bombshell, edited by Margaret Booth and starring Harlow.

    A lot of those double features start relatively early, because the 9:30pm show from Friday to Wednesday is another female-led program, the horror anthology XX, whose segments and interstitials are directed by Roxanne Benjamin, Karen Kusama, St. Vincent, Jovanka Vuckovic, and Sofia Carillo. There are also a couple of special presentations, with the DocYard/Balagan presentation of The Illinois Parables on Monday, featuring Deborah Stratman on-hand to show her new experimental documentary on 16mm film, kind of fitting into the week of female filmmakers. And then, for something completely different, Thursday features a documentary on video game/wrestling guys League of Heels - complete with the subjects in person - paired up with 1980s wrestling oddity Body Slam on 35mm.
  • Aside from bringing back Moonlight, The Coolidge Corner Theatre has an eclectic as heck set of special features. The midnights kick off a “The Russkies Are Coming” month with 35mm prints of the original version of Red Dawn on Friday and classic James Bond flick From Russia With Love on Saturday - and for those too old or too dependent on public transportation to do these midnights, the latter will also play Sunday afternoon as part of “Reel Film Day”.

    Sunday also features a Talk Cinema preview of Franck, the new thriller by François Ozon, and then things make a big shift on Tuesday, as The Sound of Silents offers a short program with Donald Sosin and Joanna Seaton accompanying Buster Keaton in “Cops” & “The Electric House” and Laurel & Hardy in the thought-lost “The Battle of the Century”. The latter features a massive pie fight, and will be followed by a pie-throwing contest. The week finishes with a couple of niche presentations in the screening room - Revolution: New Art for a New World on Wednesday and a Francophone Film Festival show of Quebec’s Le Journal d'Aurélie Laflamme on Thursday.
  • Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond adds a Bollywood romance Jeena Isi Ka Naam Ha and action flick Commando 2 from the same source(which has no apparent connection to the Schwarzeneggar “classic”), while Telugu speakers get action film Kittu Unnadu Jagratha and romance Dwarka, while there are a single Saturday showing of Malayalam-language horror movie Ezra. Rangoon also sticks around.
  • The Harvard Film Archive starts a new calendar by welcoming several special guests. Curator Go Hirasawa will introduce a selection of shorts by Three Radical Japanese Filmmakers on Friday night, a sort of preview of the punk-eiga series that begins in April. Saturday brings Lav Diaz to the Archive to present his latest king-sized opus, The Woman Who Left. Sunday and Monday welcome Christopher Honoré, with Sunday featuring two films of a thematic trilogy (The Beautiful Person and Love Songs) as a double feature, with the director introducing the second of the 35mm prints, and also present for Monday’s screening of Metamorphoses.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues Frederick Wiseman: For the Record, with this week’s films including Manoeuvre (Friday), Model (Friday/Saturday), Canal Zone (Saturday), The Store (Sunday/Wednesday), Racetrack (Sunday/Wednesday), Multi-Handicapped (Thursday), and Deaf (Thursday). All screen on 16mm film..
  • The ICA will follow a Friday afternoon artist’s talk with a screening/performance of Pierre Leguillon’s The Promise of the Screen, and will also have one more chance to see the Animated and Live-Action programs for the Oscar-Nominated Shorts (which also continue through Wednesday at the Kendall).
  • ArtsEmerson programs the Bright Screening Room at the Paramount this week, with Friday night’s show You’ll Never Be Alone, a presentation of the Wicked Queer Film Festival. Then on Saturday and Sunday, they have three screenings of Green Room, a downright terrific (and bloody) flick pitting Anton Yelchin’s punk musician against Patrick Stewart’s neo-Nazi.
  • In addition to a multimedia “Celebrating Bowie” event on Friday, The Regent Theatre will screen Loot 2 on Sunday and Monday. The original was apparently one of the biggest hits in Nepali cinema history.
  • CinemaSalem hosts the 2017 Salem Film Fest this week.


I am down for Logan, Get Out, Zucchini, Land of Mine, and a whole bunch of stuff at the Brattle, although I may head to the Coolidge for the silents on Tuesday (although I must admit to being a bit more excited when I thought there was going to be a pie fight rather than a pie-throwing contest). I think it’s also worth noting that, should you be so inclined, you can watch something on film every day this week, which is almost unheard-of in some places.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

The Red Turtle & Kedi

I wasn’t exactly planning a family-friendly Kendall Square double feature originally, but I forgot my book of tickets when going out for a bunch of movies over the weekend and was actually kind of wiped after my second movie on Saturday. So, no chance to see Oscar-nominated The Red Turtle before the ceremony, although I wasn’t necessarily going to be rooting one way or another in that category beyond pulling for Kubo.

Animation fans have been saying goodbye to Studio Ghibli a lot over the last few years, with The Wind Rises, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, and When Marnie Was There, each seeming to close off a period of the venerable animation studio’s history, at least in terms of feature films. The announcement that they would be co-producing The Red Turtle seemed like yet another final chapter, as it sounded like a one-off. Since then, it’s been announced that Hayao Miyazaki will be making the short he was working on into a feature, so things will at least be briefly “back to normal”.

After that, I stuck around for Kedi, kind of surprised that it wasn’t in theater #9 - the smallest room in the place, where things either on a one-week booking or on their way out usually play - but instead on screen #1, the main theater. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by that - I know a ton of local film people who are also big cat people, so it’s maybe not surprising that demand for the documentary about Istanbul alley cats found an audience here despite originally being one of those one-week bookings. Granted, I don’t know how many of those folks also saw the Turkish cat movie I saw at fantasia last year, with Bad Cat being a very different take on Istanbul cats, but I found it funny to see that the cartoonist whose work was adapted into it was one of the interview subjects. I wonder how many folks outside Turkey caught that.

Whenever I see a relatively family-friendly movie, I think about getting it for my nieces as a Christmas or birthday present, but these movies are tough calls there: The Red Turtle is kind of artsy with no dialogue, after all. And as to Kedi... I’ve done some eccentric movie choices where they’re concerned, but a Turkish-language documentary might be a weird choice, even coming from Uncle Jay.

La Tortue Rouge (The Red Turtle)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 27 February 2017 in Landmark Kendall Square #5 (first-run, DCP)

The Studio Ghibli logo at the start of The Red Turtle invites a lot of commentary on its own, representing as it does Japan’s most beloved animation studio giving a boost to up and coming animators worldwide in the wake of its founders’ retirements. But while most watching the movie will have just the vaguest idea of what sort of guidance Isao Takahata gave director Michael Dudok de Wit, we can certainly appreciate the signal boost the Ghibli name gives it, as this is the sort of beautiful but unconventional animated film that might otherwise struggle to find the visibility it deserves.

It is clearly a different beast from many other animated films visually, most notably for the black dots that serve as the eyes on the characters’ faces, a design quirk that combined with fairly realistic proportions may remind the audience of Tintin or other European comics that add a dash of artistic license to carefully-rendered images to simultaneously ground their world and hint that things out of the ordinary can happen. De Wit and his animators fill the movie with beautiful draftsmanship that can capture tremendous detail but will often sacrifice it for effect - consider the opening act of the movie, when a nameless castaway has just arrived on an island and the relatively plain rocks he climbs on and carefully chosen backgrounds give an impression of him being shrunken, surrounded by danger too large to fight, though he will fit the setting better later on without much visual change.

The man’s story is, of necessity, fairly simple - the lifeboat he’s in has been smashed, but he is able to land on an island relatively protected by a sandbar and with sources of food and fresh water. Naturally, he tries to build rafts and escape - there is plenty of bamboo - but something unseen keeps smashes them just before he gets too far to return to shore, eventually revealed as a large red turtle. Furious, he fights back, only to be surprised when a beautiful young woman appears on the island with little explanation.

Full review on EFC.

Kedi

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 February 2017 in Landmark Kendall Square #1 (first-run, DCP)

Toward the end of Kedi, the viewer might start to see director Ceyda Torun making a broader point about modern cities in general and Istanbul in particular, and how room for the organic rather than planned and parceled-out is precious but vanishing. That may not be her intention, of course; though the human subjects of the film certainly discuss things like that at times, it’s always in a way that relates to their feline friends. If one doesn’t see it that way, it’s fine; for all I know, she was simply trying to make a sweet little documentary about the stray cats of the city, and it is thoroughly adorable even if one doesn’t buy into it having a second layer.

Istanbul, the audience is told, is home to thousands of street cats; they originally came on trade ships from Norway and came to be considered useful when rats started infesting one of the world’s first sewage systems. Today, housecats are not uncommon but many more cats live on their own, domesticated to some extent but far from the property of any particular human, and Torun follows a number of them around the city, getting a look at their daily lives and hearing stories about the people they interact with.

Torun mostly tells the cats’ stories first, introducing them before the humans in their lives appear, giving the audience a chance to observe them a bit before the narration and interviews start being played directly off clips which highlight the point being made or certainly direct someone watching to recognize specific human traits in the cat’s expression. For the most part, these interviews are ordinary people, many of whom live and work around the waterways, although it likely amused some in Turkey that cartoonist Bülent Üstün was among those interviewed (his comics about Shero, a far more profane and horny orange fat cat than Garfield, were recently made into the animated feature Bad Cat). As the film goes on, the interviews tend to focus a bit less on the cats’ independence and a bit more on how their presence is good for the person in question, with the effort and expense some put into feeding these strays a bit eyebrow-raising.

Full review on EFC.