Friday, May 22, 2015

Piku

Yes, this thing where I occasionally watch Bollywood movies has reached the point where, upon seeing a trailer for this before Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!, I recognized the entire main cast and said yes, I like them, I'm in.

Piku

* * (out of four)
Seen 20 May 2015 in Apple Cinemas Cambridge #5 (first-run, DCP)

Even if you're not a real fan of Indian film but just sort of generally aware of it (and maybe not even that), the cast of Piku should make you take note: Amitabh Bachchan is an institution who has been popular for decades and patriarch of a major acting family, Deepika Padukone is one of the country's most popular leading ladies, and Irrfan Khan is in tremendous demand in both Bollywood and Hollywood. And, yet, despite what seems like it should be a fun premise, the film is a real bore because this great cast is given nothing to do.

Piku Banerjee (Padukone) is an intimidating, pushy woman working at a Delhi design firm, and she comes by it honestly - her 70-year-old father Bhaskor (Bachchan) is just as disagreeable, and in fact his hypochondria is the only thing that can really push her around. When a brush with mortality makes him decide to take a trip back to the family home in Kolkata, they decide (for various reasons) to take a cab those 1,500 kilometers, but both have browbeat the local drivers so badly that it falls to the taxi company's owner, Rana Choudhury (Irrfan).

The cast probably did not sign on to Piku because of the creative, never-before-seen story, but that's okay; this is the sort of set-up that a great cast and crew can make sing. The trouble is, writer Juhi Chaturvedi and director Shoojit Sircar seem not to realize that they've got a road trip movie on their hands; it takes a thoroughly unreasonable forty-five minutes for the characters to get into into the taxi for a trip that takes a mere half-hour of screen time before another forty-five minutes in Kolkata. The intermission is placed right in the middle of that time on the road with one of the least exciting cliffhangers ever. You can argue that this doesn't have to be a road trip movie, but it should be; the road is where things can happen because everybody is in close quarters and out of their comfort zone, as well as being a natural way to communicate characters in transition.

Full review on EFC.

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 22 May 2015 - 28 May 2015

Heading out of town in two different directions, so what's the point of potentially getting upset about a booking that would otherwise tick me off?

  • I mean, seriously, Good Kill, the new film by Andrew Niccol starring Ethan Hawke, is only playing two shows a day at The West Newton Cinema, with the only other vaguely local option Salem? That's disappointing, since the last time Niccol did this sort of contemporary thing we got the pretty good Lord of War, and having Hawke as an Air Force pilot now operating drones from Nevada is at least interesting material. They will also be opening Saint Laurent (see below) and Girlhood, which played the Brattle for a weekend a few weeks ago and is pretty great.

    And speaking of bringing things back, listings and an active website have popped back up for their sister cinema, the Belmont Studio, which has been closed since January for various code violations and was written off as dead by a number of places. They'll be running Age of Adaline this week.
  • It's another two-movie week at the multiplexes. The big name is Brad Bird's Tomorrowland, starring Britt Robertson as a girl who finds a secret (but lost) place where geniuses have tried to engineer a better world. George Clooney's in it too. It's at the Capitol, Apple Fresh Pond, Jordan's Furniture (in Imax), the Embassy, Fenway, Boston Common (including Imax), Assembly Square (including Imax), Revere, and the Superlux.

    There's also a remake of Poltergeist, with Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt as the parents and a completely different type of psychic (to be fair, there are some actresses that just aren't easily replaced). Sam Raimi produces, but likely wasn't nearly as involved as Steven Spielberg was with the original. 2D-only at the Somerville, 2D and 3D at Apple Fresh Pond, Fenway (including RPX), Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Revere.
  • It's a fashion-forward week at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, which opens opulent biopic Saint Laurent, which follows Yves Saint Laurent's life from 1967 to 1975 (and shouldn't be confused with the other YSL movie which came out last year). It also plays at the Kendall and West Newton. The Coolidge and West Newton also pick up Iris, Albert Maysles's biography of New York fashion icon Iris Apfel, which opened at the Kendall last week.

    There's one other new release getting midnight screenings, the nifty haunted-house thriller We Are Still Here, probably my favorite thing from this year's Boston Underground Film Festival. Don't miss it. Joining it for Friday/Saturday late shows is a 35mm print of Harold and Maude. For a holiday weekend, there are surprisingly no other specials aside from Thursday's "Wine & Film" presentation, the obvious but still entertaining choice of Sideways.
  • In addition to Saint Laurent, Kendall Square has IFFBoston selection I'll See You in My Dreams, a nice enough film starring Blythe Danner as a still-vital widow in her sixties who attracts the attention of men her own age (Sam Elliott) and younger (Martin Starr). There's also a one-week booking of Italian fact-based Mafia story Black Souls.
  • It's Reunion Weekend in Harvard Square, so The Brattle Theatre is breaking out the multiples of twenty-five for anniversary screenings: Single features of The Great Dictator (75th) and Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (50th) on Friday, a 50th-anniversary double feature of The Knack...And How to Get It! & What's New Pussycat? on Saturday, a thriller two-shot of Rebecca (75th) and Repulsion (50th) on Monday, and single programs of My Little Chickadee (75th) and Akira Kurosawa's Dreams (25th) on Monday. They also kick off the next weekly "Reel Weird Brattle" series ("25 Years Weird") at 11:30pm Saturday night with Troll 2. Almost all of these movies are on 35mm, with Troll 2 and maybe Rebecca as the exceptions.

    On Tuesday, they have the monthly "Elements of Cinema" screening with Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep at 6pm, followed by a discussion with Boston University's Aaron Garrett. Later that evening (and through Wednesday and Thursday), they have Roar, a rediscovered oddity set on an African wildlife preserve shot with untrained lions.
  • Piku and Bombay Velvet continue to chug along for Bollywood fans, and both Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond/iMovieCafe and Fenway pick up Tanu Weds Manu Returns, which reteams Kangana Ranautand R. Madhavan, and if the trailer I saw the other night is correct, they've broken up/divorced and now Manu is falling for a girl who is a dead ringer for Tanu while she is reconnecting with an old boyfriend. If you speak Telugu, Apple also has Mosagallaku Mosagadu, an action-adventure flick ofsome sort.
  • The Harvard Film Archive presents a pair of linked documentaries on Friday and Saturday: 1975's Torre Bela by Thomas Harlan, which presents a battle between aristocracy and commoners in Portugal from inside, and José Filipe Costa's Red Line, which followed the film and situation up in 2012.

    Later those nights, Ben Rivers' Midnite Movies return with The Visitor, which is ten minutes of weird surrounding an hour and a half of boring, and Re-Animator (on 35mm), Stuart Gordon's bizarre Lovecraft tale. Then, on Sunday, it's another Lav Diaz marathon, with the seven-and-a-half-hour Melancholia starting at 2pm.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts starts a sporadic run of Winter Sleep on Friday, Wednesday, and Thursday (continuing through 3 June); it's the latest from Turkish filmmaker NuriBilge Ceylan. In it, a former actor who now runs a hotel with his wife gets snowed in with his sister. They also have a second weekend of The Boston International Children's Film Festival on Saturday and Sunday, with more screenings of Moomins on the Riviera, Mune, and two short blocks, as as well as and English-dubbed version of French/Belgian animated film Wolfy, The Incredible Secret.
  • The Capitol continues "Mel Brooks in May" with Blazing Saddles at 11pm on Friday & Saturday.
  • The Regent Theatre has had the stage booked for the past month, but they return to showing film Tuesday the 26th with "Alive Mind" screening Seeds of Time, chronicling Cary Fowler's race to preserve the seeds of vanishing plant species. Enid Hart Bosberg, recently retired from a local seed library, will give a coinciding talk. They also have the 6th Annual Ciclismo Classico Bike Travel Film Festival on Wednesday, featuring a curated block of short films focused on travel by bicycle


I'll be heading north for a family thing on Saturday, at the ballpark Sunday, and flying west for vacation (which includes the San Francisco Silent Film Festival) on Monday, so it likely won't be a big movie weekend. Probably Tomorrowland, maybe Faster Pussycat, and then see if Good Kill is playing in SF before the festival.

IFFBoston 2015 Day #07: I'll See You in My Dreams and The Wolfpack

Today in "different priorities at film festivals", I talk about how I mostly try to prioritize movies that I might not otherwise be able to see, so when the last two days of IFFBoston come and it's basically "stuff that's already got distribution and will open on this very screen in a couple of weeks"... Well, it's cool that those coming for Q&As or to see things early got some of that.

"I'll See You In My Dreams" director Brett Haley

First up: I'll See You in My Dreams writer/director Brett Haley, who was genuinely thrilled about having gotten that distribution and had plenty of stories about how Blythe Danner was terrific to work with, especially since the song she chose for the karaoke scene (one she had sung in cafes herself when younger) fit the film so well. A lot of talk about being a younger guy making a film about older women as well.



Next up was Crystal Moselle, who made The Wolfpack, giving the sort of Q&A that I tend to think of as "frustratingly informative". A lot of questions were built from premises that it was easy to infer from the film but which are not actually the case - for example, it is very easy to assume that the family has lived in that apartment for the kids' entire lives, which is not what happened. We also learned that she met one of the kids on the street, after they had started going outside, and kind of followed him home. There were other things mentioned, such as why we don't see much of the sister (she's developmentally disabled, so the feeling is this would be exploitative).

It gave me a bit of a weird feeling - shouldn't this stuff have been in the movie? It's more interesting than a lot of stuff that was, after all! But, on the other hand, is it not in some ways very impressive editing that she was able to build the film that shuffled a lot of things that were not so important to the story she was looking to tell off to the side? Probably.

I'll See You in My Dreams

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 April 2015 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2015, DCP)

Thing to ponder: I can put a note in my phone or computer that says "revisit I'll See You In My Dreams twenty-five years from now", and it could follow me from device to device over that time, and it will actually remind me to give this movie I liked well enough in 2015 another look with the proper amount of life experience. I like it; I'd like to see how much it speaks to me at that age.

It focuses on Carol Petersen (Blythe Danner), an independent widow in southern California. Though best friend Sally (Rhea Perlman) and the rest of their bridge game (June Squibb & Mary Kay Place) live in a nearby retirement community, she's still in her own home, which has its minuses, such as when a rat startles her into sleeping on the back porch. New pool cleaner Lloyd (Martin Starr) finds her and strikes up an unlikely friendship, later meeting up for karaoke. She and the new guy at the complex, Bill (Sam Elliott), also catch each other's eyes.

And that's kind of where things stay, for the most part; this isn't really about building to something as much getting snippets of Carol's life at what's not exactly a turning point but is maybe the most interesting it's been in a while. There are bits that could probably be popped out of the movie with little damage and others that have a bit of padding around moments that nudge things forward. It's a pace that can aptly be called "retiring", not exactly slow but with even the significant moments a bit muted. These people are at a point in their life where disastrous decisions are likely, and the movie reflects this.

Full review on EFC.

The Wolfpack

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 April 2015 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2015, DCP)

I suspect that film fans are going to talk The Wolfpack up more than it truly merits; the only thing we like more than an amazing story is meeting folks who love movies as much as we do, and there's no denying that this movie has both. The thing is, while "meeting" the Angulo brothers certainly makes one want to like the movie, I wonder how much it will hide the film's flaws to those who aren't the same sort of fanatics.

When director Crystal Moselle met the half-dozen brothers, they lived in a small New York apartment with their parents, home-schooled, almost never leaving the building. In many ways, their only connection to the outside world is through movies, which they love, devour, and meticulously recreate. They spend hours transcribing the dialog, building cardboard props, and putting together costumes, all within the confines of just a few rooms - but what happens when one finally gets the courage to go outside?

The first movie we see the boys recreating, right at the start, is Reservoir Dogs, and it's kind of interesting that Moselle starts with them re-enacting a Tarantino movie - as much as he's an extremely talented director, he is also famous for constructing his films from other bits of pop culture rather than creating things from whole cloth. Is there some significance to the fact that much of the first thing we're seeing is in some ways a copy of a copy?

Full review on EFC.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Weird Brattle double feature: I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story and Lost River

Hey, they booked it that way, so this isn't just me being weird.

I was kind of let down that I didn't get to go to Friday night's Big Bird shows with Caroll Spinney on-hand - they were sold out well ahead of time and I generally can't bet on arriving for movies on time working out in Burlington. Sure, the odds would be good, but not guaranteed. It's a bummer, because Spinney brought an Oscar the Grouch puppet and I could have probably snapped a selfie that would make my nieces green with envy (plus, yeah, interacting with Oscar would be a lot of fun).

There was a bit of time between the two films which I used to hit the ATM to get some money for snacks and see, hey, the big check I'd written for first/last/security for the new place had been cashed, and if I did the match for the fees still owed and another month's rent on the current place... Well, it was looking close. I say this not to gain anybody's sympathy, but to note that I went into Lost River with a bit of housing/money-related anxiety, the first I've felt in some time, and it couldn't help but color my perception of the film. I'm not sure whether that's the best or worst state of mind in which to see that particular movie, and I think I'd have really liked it anyway.

Just a couple of things that could really shift the experience of seeing a movie that the filmmakers can't hope to control.

I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Sorry

* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 May 2015 in The Brattle Theatre #5 (first-run/special engagement, DCP)

There was another documentary about the man behind one of Sesame Street's most beloved Muppets a couple years back, and even before it certain allegations (most later rescinded) were made, it didn't really feel like Becoming Elmo gave the viewer a complete picture of Kevin Clash. I think that I Am Big Bird does a better job of giving us a full picture of Caroll Spinney, perhaps because less is being held back, perhaps because he's had a longer life to draw from. Of course, it probably also doesn't hurt that this viewer is of an age that Spinney's greatest hits as Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch hit the nostalgia button a lot harder than Elmo's.

There are still some things that seem to be a little bit under-played in part because they don't help the film's general aim of showing just how much of Big Bird's sunny, inquisitive outlook on life comes from his puppeteer. Interviewees will half-joke that Spinney is also Oscar, for instance, and it might be interesting to draw a line between that and the darker periods of his life. That one of the show's long-time directors apparently didn't get along with him is brought up just long enough to seem like more than an oddity but then dropped quickly. Granted, the few minutes these things get in a ninety-minute movie are probably proportional to their actual importance, but it does feel a little bit like something is being held back.

When filmmakers Dave LaMattina and Chad N. Walker stay on target, on the other hand, they do a fine job of getting this idea across. Spinney is an engaging subject, coming across as friendly without ever seeming calculatingly ingratiating, and though he seldom if ever gives a name or label to it, he's impressively open about how he has struggled with various types of anxiety over the course of his life. Both Caroll and Debra Spinney seem like warm people who have grown comfortable with their own lives, and though this is clearly Caroll's story, even when the two are being interviewed separately, Walker cuts their relating the same things together to emphasize their closeness.

Full review on EFC.

Lost River

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 May 2015 in The Brattle Theatre #5 (special engagement, DCP)

Filmmaker Ryan Gosling thanks a number of filmmakers toward the end of the credits to Lost River, some of whom he has worked with as an actor, and of that group, it's Nicolas Winding Refn who leaps to mind when watching Gosling's first film as writer/director. The influence of Drive and Only God Forgives is unmistakable, and Gosling uses what he learned working on those films to create a stylish, haunting tale of his own.

Lost River is a town in Michigan, likely not far from Detroit, and like that town it's collapsing, with houses becoming overgrown as the residents cut bait and move south. Single mother of two Billy (Christina Hendricks) aims to stick it out, but she's three months behind on the mortgage and the job that the new bank manager (Been Mendelsohn) refers her to would not be her first choice. Older son Bones (Iain De Caestecker) aims to leave as soon as he's got his car fixed, but his only source of income is scavenging copper from abandoned buildings, and a cruel thug calling himself Bully (Matt Smith) aims to corner that market. It's while fleeing Bully that Bones finds a road that leads underwater; girl next door Rat (Saoirse Ronan) explains the local lore.

The characters in this film have names out of a fairy tale, but Gosling sets his sights higher, stretching toward the mythic in his conception of societal death and rebirth, building toward parallel climaxes where Billy and Bones journey to separate underworlds. For Billy, it's a grotesque man-made version of hell designed to damage her soul in exchange for the money she needs to stay. Simple prostitution would almost am to let her off too easily, so Gosling instead creates a situation where she has trapped herself in a place where death and decay are seen as entertainment.

Full review on EFC.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

IFFBoston 2015 Day #06: Manglehorn and Future Shock!: The Story of 2000AD

Monday at IFFBoston is always kind of a quiet day, nestled between the weekend Gorge and the last two days of films that the organizers seem so confident of that they get a competition-free showcase. It's full of choices that are less agonizing than reluctant.

I went for Manglehorn in the first slot; it was one of those where I scam the description, think it sounds good bit will play theaters, but then get reminded that the director is David Gordon Green and his last movie's release was a blip (plus, it may hit Boston while I'm in Montreal). It was pretty good; not a choice to regret by any means.

The 9:30 block was a little tougher; it was between Posthumous and Future Shock!, with the former winning out until the last minute - nice cast, amusing premise (artist invents a twin brother when erroneous reports of his death send the process of his work through the roof) - especially since I've read a fair amount about 2000 AD's early history in the Megazine. Ultimately, though, I sort of figured that if Nancy, Brian, and company we'd going to program a movie so specifically asked at me, it would be terribly ungracious not to go.

Kind of a shame no local comic shops were there as official presenters. I know there are about three of us that subscribe at the Million Year Picnic (and I was the only one of that group at the movie). On the other hand, it looks like they gave away a fair number of samplers at Free Comic Book Day later in the week. It works out that the next batch of comics to come in after the screening is all new stories, so a great place to start, too.

I hope some of the folks who came to the movie start picking it up, at least; it's more than Judge Dredd, and that isn't bad itself.

Manglehorn

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 April 2015 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2015, DCP)

David Gordon Green seems to make movies in spurts-first some noteworthy independent dramas, then some crude studio comedies. Now, a year after doing Joe and reminding audiences that, yeah, Nicholas Cage can act a little when he decides to apply himself, Green has teamed up with another actor who does not always choose roles that match his talent level, Al Pacino. The results are not bad at all, although it can at times be hard to embrace them.

Pacino plays the Manglehorn of the title, A.J., a locksmith in a small Texas town. Though not shy about offering his opinion, he is fairly private, spending most of his time at home with his ailing cat. He's fond enough of a certain teller at the bank that the line knows to go around him so that he can talk to Dawn (Holly Hunter), although the true love of his life left him forty years ago, and as the daily letters returned to sender and shrine in his house indicate, he's not close to being over it.

Manglehorn is a character who could really play to Pacino's worst habits, having a tendency to go from charming to blustering rage without necessarily having a whole lot of space in between. Fortunately, he and the filmmakers realize that he doesn't have to charm the audience here, and can instead play up the lower-key ways that someone can be anti-social or consumed by an obsession. Pacino perfectly zeroes in on the tone that will push the person he's talking to away even while A.J. is outwardly trying to be friendly, and it's a performance that makes the audience just put off enough that when Managlehorn shows us his worst, it's not a betrayal but it's still fairly shocking.

Full review on EFC.

Future Shock! The Story of 2000 AD

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 April 2015 in Somerville Theatre #5 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2015, digital)

2000 AD is not the only comic that could believably have its history scored with punk rock, but most of the rest burned out fast, or never made any sort of popular impact. 2000 AD has been a big deal for the better part of 40 years, and while Future Shock! may not be telling fans a lot that they don't already know - regular artist "interrogations" in the Judge Dredd Megazine do a good job of keeping the history alive - it's a good overview. After all, it's always nice to have something to point to when someone asks me why this comic is kind of a big deal.

For those that don't know, 2000 AD is a weekly British sci-fi anthology comic that started in 1977, created and edited by Pat Mills, who figured that the futuristic material might help it avoid the controversy that had doomed his previous magazine, Action!, despite its popularity with its target audience of young boys. Over the years, the magazine would launch dozens of popular characters - the most well-known being Judge Dredd - as well as the careers of comic-book creators popular on both sides of the Atlantic.

There aren't exactly a lot of surprising twists and turns to the story - people came and made comics, often moved on, but the magazine endured with new writers and artists. Director Paul Goodwin does a good job of building a sort of progression out of it anyway, generally moving forward in time but also bending the timeline so that he can examine a character or feature and talk about how it is relevant to the book's history and evolution. Judge Dredd, for example, is able to endure because it works both satirical commentary and as an example of what it parodies without losing equilibrium, making him a bit harder to outgrow. In particular, Nemesis comes across as very personal for Mills.

Full review on EFC.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Left Ear

There are Chinese movies which slip into American theaters under the radar, and there are things like this, which appears to have opened in Boston on the 8th but which didn't show up on the theater's website when I was checking it late on the 7th, and wasn't on the MoviePass app when I finally saw it listed on another site/app during the week. I almost wonder if it didn't start until Monday the 11th, when the theater decided that they could cut down on just how many screens were showing Avengers: Age of Ultron.

It got bounced around a bit when I went to see it on Friday as well; the listings all said 6:55, but when I got there, it was scheduled for 7:15, since they had apparently decided to put Mad Max: Fury Road on another screen during the afternoon. In fact, that time was cutting it pretty close (I'm guessing they didn't figure the typical twenty-minute trailer package in when rescheduling), as Fury Road was still playing when I went in the door that said "Now Seating: The Left Ear" at 6:50, and the previous movie didn't get out until about 7:14. On the one hand, great for Mad Max exceeding demand, but I was worried for a moment that I was going to be in the same situation as that whiny story getting a lot of shares/retweets about a theater cancelling a screening of Ex Machina to which they had sold two tickets so that they could sell 200 Avengers tickets. Not the case - there were a couple dozen people for this one - but I wonder if it happened earlier in the day.

No trailers, so I couldn't see what other Chinese movies are on the way in the near future. Seeing that, once again, we didn't get the new Donnie Yen one, I bet Police Story: Lockdown is out of the question, and there don't seem to be many others on the schedule.

Zuo Er (The Left Ear)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 May 2015 in Regal Fenway #9 (first-run, DCP)

Even after reading a description of this movie that I thought might give too much away and seeing the dedication at the start, I spent a good chunk of The Left Ear thinking it was going to be something else, something far more pulpy or at least soapy than the earnest narration about how Li Er is deaf in that ear but that since it is closest to the heart, tradition holds that she will know if someone whispers "I love you" in that ear. It eventually settles into the youthful drama it was meant to be, and I suppose it works well enough that way, though I'd kind of like to see director Alec Su make the oddball movie he seems to start with.

As this one starts, it's 2005 and Li Er (Chen Duling) is 17, a hundred days away from her college exams in coastal Chinese city Tianyi. She's got a crush on classmate Xu Yi (Yang Yang) and bikes to school every day with doting cousin You Ta (Hu Xia). On the other side of town, dropout Li Bala (Ma Sichun) is about the same age and singing in seedy bars. She's got a thing for Xu Yi's basketball teammate Zhang Yang (Ou Hao), despite kind of being with gangster Hei Ren (Duan Bowen) and Zhang already having a rich girlfriend in Jiang Jiao (Guan Xiaotong), but Zhang says he'll be with her if she ruins Xu Yi first. And yet, unexpectedly, good girl Li Er and bad girl Li Bala become close friends.

Femmes fatales, gangsters, and revenge plots - there are moments when the first chunk of The Left Ear almost feels like a Chinese version of Rian Johnson's high-school noir Brick. The filmmakers don't commit to that path the way Johnson's does, but even when it becomes more like a year of a high-school soap compressed into two hours, it's an enjoyably salacious alternative to the more nostalgic high school movies that seem to be more common than present-day ones in the Chinas (at least in terms of what crosses the Pacific). Even when the film does become that later on, it drains a bit of the maudlin sentimentality off.

Full review on EFC.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

IFFBoston 2015 Day #05: The Chinese Mayor, A Brilliant Young Mind, The Look of Silence, and The Keeping Room

No horrible photography for this day, where the day was built around equal parts "I want to see The Look of Silence" and "I'm not terribly fond of music-oriented documentaries", which led to spending the afternoon at the Brattle and then heading up the Red Line to see The Keeping Room. The funny thing is, this plan actually resulted in me attending movies that I might have had a little more interest in than most, as I've had family in municipal government and competed in the math team.

It actually made for a relaxing day; without Q&As and with the single screen of the Brattle making it relatively to keep things from slipping - though, to be fair, it's not like things were egregiously late at the Somerville at any point, more like a relatively constant fifteen minutes after the start time, which is pretty reasonable for trying to get folks in the rush line seated.

Funny thing I heard about scheduling: The Somerville Theatre put new seats in last year (or was it the year before), which means that screens three and five are now smaller than the Brattle, which means that they get slightly higher-profile movies. I hadn't realized that the seating upgrades had quite so great an effect, and I don't ever recall them getting less interesting movies, but I don't recall often spending the better part of a whole day there, either.

The Chinese Mayor

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 April 2015 in The Brattle Theatre (Independent Film Festival Boston 2015, digital)

Here in Boston, we've recently been threatened with hosting the Olympics, and though the recent experience of the Big Dig should really have the whole city threatening to string up whoever first thought this was a good idea, there's something about the very idea of the transformative public works project that can get one excited regardless. And not only is the one in The Chinese Mayor a doozy, but it gives an interesting look at how municipal government works in China.

Specifically, the town of Datong, where mayor Geng Yanbo has an audacious plan to revitalize the most polluted city in China: He intends to rebuild the city wall from when it was the capital 1600 years ago, but doing so will require razing large sections of the city and relocating their residents to a public housing development that is ambitious in its own right. As one might expect, those displaced have a great many issues with this, although Geng is still one of most popular mayors in the city's history.

It's not hard to see why; filmmaker Zhou Hao shadows the longtime public official closely enough that the audience gets a good chance to see him working long hours and generally being a lot more immediately responsive to his constituents' requests than one might expect from a guy who, for security reasons, resides at a military facility. There's a genuine pleasure in watching him light into some contractor who is not delivering the speed or quality expected, and not necessarily behind closed doors.

Full review on EFC.

A Brilliant Young Mind (aka X + Y)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 April 2015 in The Brattle Theatre (Independent Film Festival Boston 2015, digital)

This winter, when someone made a comment on there being two biographies of mathematical geniuses up for awards, I responded that after an eternity of movies about poets and musicians whose genius apparently made up for their being substance-abusing jerks to those who cared about them, folks in the sciences were due. I do worry that if enough show up to fall into their own pattern, they'll look something like this; after all, A Brilliant Young Mind (aka X + Y) already kind of feels kind of formulaic.

The genius in this case is Nathan Ellis, diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum when he was younger, and always more with his father Michael (Martin McCann) than his mother Julie (Sally Hawkins) - a situation only exacerbated when his father dies. As a young teenager (Asa Butterfield), he's tutored by an unconventional teacher (Rafe Spall), who motivates Nathan with a chance at the International Mathematics Olympiad, and when he makes that team, there's a trip to Taiwan where he makes friends with Zhang Mei (Jo Yang), one of the Chinese team members

Man, there were no trips to freaking Taiwan (without any binding competition, even) when I was on the math team in high school! This doesn't exactly make me doubt its based-on-a-true-story bona fides, but there are certainly moments that feel like embellishment and wish-fulfillment. I'm not sure that I really ever bought into the sole girls on both the English and Choose teams each being drawn to Nathan, for instance, and the number of complicated things he picks up easily is awfully high. The last act especially seems to be full of contrivances designed to make the film more obviously dramatic.

Full review on EFC.

The Look of Silence

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 26 April 2015 in The Brattle Theatre (Independent Film Festival Boston 2015, DCP)

Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing is one of the most stunning documentaries to see wide release (by the less extravagant standards of non-fiction films) in recent years, presenting the sort of true-life horror we are naturally inclined to look away from in a manner so unorthodox and daring as to make averting one's gaze difficult. Though few who saw it will say that the medium overpowered the message, it is still nice to see Oppenheimer make that film's complement, a laser-focused examination of the same people and events from the other perspective that feels no less original for disposing of the previous film's unusual methodology.

This one focuses on Adi, an optometrist in his forties whom we initially see watching The Act of Killing on television. He does so quietly, occasionally turning his attention to his children. Elsewhere, an old woman washes her ancient husband. They are his parents and they had another child, Ramli, who was killed during the purges of "communists" (in reality, anybody who spoke up about the Indonesian government) in the 1960s. Inspired, Adi visits some of the people who remain from that time, fitting them for eyeglasses and trying to learn just what happened to this brother murdered before he was born.

If The Look of Silence is one's first encounter with stories of the Indonesian death squads, it is certainly informative and interesting. As much as the film is about Adi's search for answers and learning more about the unsavory parts of his country's history, it is perhaps most interesting for observing how decades of the silence that gives the film its title has manifested itself, burying this part of history even while the people involved remain prominent. There's weird self-censorship and some terribly tortured doublespeak in Adi's son's history class.

Full review on EFC.

The Keeping Room

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 April 2015 in Somerville Theatre #3 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2015, DCP)

The Keeping Room is a nicely-built little thriller that takes place during the American Civil War and which uses the details of that period so well in moving the action forward that some might miss what makes it genuinely clever: From the start, writer Julia Hart and director Daniel Barber do an impressive job of blurring the moral line between good people and the causes they are aligned with, creating a tension that can stick with the audience until well after the film finishes.

After a brief prologue that demonstrates what the film's heroines will be up against, the audience is introduced to the three women living on a small farm in the south: Augusta (Brit Marling), who is the head of the household with all the men off fighting; Louise (Hailee Steinfeld), her somewhat spoiled younger sister; and Mad (Muna Otaru), the family's only slave. They are just scraping by, but are probably better off remaining isolated - though the Union Army is not particularly nearby, the two soldiers sent to scout ahead (Sam Worthington & Kyle Soller) have either gone rogue or are simply using the situation to exercise their worst impulses.

Start with the surface: This is a nifty little thriller in part because Barber & Hart do an exceptional job of establishing just what a knife's edge the women are on from the very start, giving the film an air of desperation that means they actually could have skipped the prologue. From there, every thing that happens makes what Augusta and the others face more daunting, though never in a way that feels contrived or has the various pieces working against each other. Despite the smallish cast, the filmmakers still manage to find ways to pull off surprising (and lethal) escalations and reversals as the film goes on.

Full review on EFC.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 15 May 2015 - 21 May 2015

Two big sequels this week, one thirty years coming, and apparently well worth the wait.

  • That would be Mad Max: Fury Road, with George Miller back making crazy post-apocalyptic action after a couple decades of making movies about pigs and penguins. It's a shame Mel Gibson isn't back, but Tom Hardy's pretty great and supposedly Charlize Theron is even better. Plus, insane vehicular mayhem. It's playing in 2D and 3D at The Somerville Theatre, Embassy, Apple Fresh Pond, Fenway (including RPX), Boston Common, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    Those theaters also open Pitch Perfect 2, which follows the college a cappella group from the first during their senior year after a scandal resets things back to zero.
  • Fairly quiet weekend at Kendall Square, which opens IFFBoston selection Iris, the final film legendary documentarian Albert Maysles made on his own. It's a profile of Iris Apfel, a 93-year-old fixture on the Manhattan fashion scene. They also bring back New Zealand zombie comedy What We Do in Shadows.
  • The Brattle Theatre has two premieres this weekend. First up is I Am Big Bird, a documentary following 81-year-old Caroll Spinney, who has performed Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch for Sesame Street's entire 45-year run. He'll be there in person on Friday night, although the 7:30pm show has sold out. That also includes a starring role in Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird, which plays at 11:30am on Saturday and Sunday. It runs through Monday.

    Not much call for that during the later hours, so they'll be playing Ryan Gosling's directorial debut, Lost River, in which a small family finds strange mysteries in an all-but-abandoned city. Nice cast, including Christina Hendricks, Saoirse Ronan, Ben Mendelsohn, and Eva Mendes. There's also a Trash Night presentation on Tuesday (Shredder Orpheus), and a special preview of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (which was pretty good when it closed IFFBoston) on Wednesday, and there's a bunch of guests - director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, writer Jesse Andres, and from the cast, Olivia Cooke, Thoms Mann, and R.J. Cyler.
  • Once again, The Coolidge Corner Theatre has their only new opening in the GoldScreen, although One Cut, One Life will move into larger screens for the three shows where this collaboration between subject Pincus and co-director Lucia Small will play host to filmmaker Q&As and panels with guests.

    Speaking of guests, this month's screening of The Room at 11:45pm on Friday will feature cast member Greg Sestero, promoting his upcoming book on the film, The Disaster Artist. That's in 35mm, as is the other midnight screening on Friday & Saturday, Death Wish 3. You never hear about Death Wish 2, do you? On Sunday morning, the Geothe-Institut presents To Life!, an odd-couple film about a man with a secret and a Jewish cabaret singer in 1960s Berlin. There's also a Cinema Jukebox screening of Amadeus on 35mm Monday evening, as well as the start of a month-long "Wine & Film" series on Thursday, where Somm, a documentary on the test to become a Master Sommelier, will be paired with a tasting.
  • Piku continues with full shows at Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond/iMovieCafe, so it must be doing pretty well. They also open unsubtitled Tamil-language films 36 Vayadhinile & Purampokku Engira Podhuvudamai, but the larger opening is Bombay Velvet, which takes place in the Golden Age of Bollywood and also opens at Fenway.

    Fenway also opened Mandarin-language drama The Left Ear last week, sneaking it onto the schedule at the last minute with no fanfare. It's a love quadrangle of sorts, starting out when its protagonists are about 17.
  • The Harvard Film Archive has been showing astonishingly long films by Filipino director Lav Diaz for the past month or two, but when the guy arrives in person, what do they have? His latest film, Storm Children, Book One plays Friday night; this documentary about the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda, and runs a mere 143 minutes. Saturday's film, "Butterflies Have No Memories", is just under an hour (it's paired with 31 minute short "Prologue to the Great Desaparecido", although that sort of serves as a trailer for him. C'mon, let him talk about one of the beasts!

    Sunday has a free screening of Breaking Away as part of Bay State Bike Week, and then the HFA picks the Wojciech Jerzy Has series back up: Gold Dreams on Sunday evening and An Uneventful Story on Monday. Wednesday has another free screening at 3pm, Robert Flaherty's "A Night of Storytelling".
  • Jewishfilm.2015 concludes at The Museum of Fine Arts on Friday with The Kindergarten Teacher, in which the title character becomes fascinated with one of her students, who composes poetry far beyond the typical capabilities of a five-year-old. Kids are the focus of the rest of the weekend there, where The Boston International Children's Film Festival presents two features on Saturday (Moomins on the Riviera and Mune) and two blocks of short films on Sunday.

    There's also a special presentation of Angkor's Children on Saturday afternoon, with director Lauren Shaw and Arn Chorn Pond (a former refugee whose foundation is part of this film about young people reclaiming the arts in Cambodia) on hand for Q&A. I saw it at IFFBoston and it's pretty neat.
  • The Belmont World Film Series officially ended last week, but it has a special presentation on Monday at The West Newton Cinema - Os Gatos Nao Tem Vertigens, presented as part of the Boston Portuguese Festival and showing a small-time crook in Lisbon get taken in by a lonely widow.
  • The Capitol brings While We're Young over from Somerville, and continues "Mel Brooks in May" with Young Frankenstein at 11pm on Friday & Saturday.


My plans include Max Max: Fury Road, Piku, The Left Ear, and probably more, although I really should be packing up to move.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

IFFBoston 2015 Day #04: Stray Dog, H., Lost Conquest, Call Me Lucky, and Day Release

This is taking forever to get finished, so let's just get straight to the horrible photography.



Left to right, that's Stray Dog producer/editor Victoria Steward, director Debra Granik, and The DocYard's Sara Archambault (along with her plus one). Nice folks, and they led an entertaining and interesting Q&A - as you might expect, making a film with a Vietnam veteran biker with a somewhat colorful entourage left them with some curious stories. They mentioned being very grateful to not just subject Ronnie Hill but his therapist for permission to show a session, and how editing can sometimes be surprising: Apparently, one of the things that drew them to Hall as a subject was him being this big leather-clad guy who tends toward little dogs rather than the larger breeds you might expect from a biker, and caring for dogs like that has been good for vets with PTSD. They figured that would come out more explicitly in the movie, but no opportunity came to mention it.

The usual question of "have the subjects seen the movie" came up, and Granik mentioned that it's something you always plan for, although they were kind of terrified. Hall, it turned out, was "hugely amused", and apparently the therapy scenes mentioned were a part of why he wound up giving it the thumbs-up, hoping that other vets might see it and see how useful therapy can be. There were also questions about how everybody is doing now (mostly good, though the Mexican stepsons were still struggling with Missouri). I didn't have the guts to ask whether doing this after Winter's Bone was entirely her decision or an example of how women who direct a successful independent feature don't get the same opportunities their male counterparts do - not mine to ask - but I have to admit to wondering.



Nobody came for H. (and I probably should have gone for GTFO, as I often amused myself during this Troy-set movie by writing down restaurant names with the intention of asking friends who went to RPI if they were any good), but there were filmmakers on hand for Lost Conquest: Director Mike Scholtz and producers Valerie Coit & Michael Pickering. Scholtz was (I think) the only filmmaker to send me an email this year, apparently remembering that I reviewed one he produced (Wicker Kittens) in a previous year. I don't know that it necessarily decided what I would be seeing in this slot - but even if I don't reply to the email you send, it doesn't hurt.

Glad I did, because this was a fun movie and a just-as-enjoyable Q&A. Scholtz joked that, seeing as this movie could be seen as making fun of Minnesotans, they decided to have their world premiere as far from that state as possible, which meant Boston. I didn't really see it this way - Scholtz could have been really mean if he wanted to, but generally seemed more affectionate than taunting to me. There was one moment when the audience (myself included) did sort of gasp at what was being said, but that also solidified what the movie was really about. As Scholtz said, "I made a movie about faith, but I lured you in with funny Viking costumes".



That Q&A ran long enough that I didn't even leave the theater for the line-up, just making a left turn into theater #1 for Call Me Lucky, where both subject Barry Crimmins and director Bobcat Goldthwait were on hand.

Goldthwait is one of my very favorite festival guests, and not just because he genuinely seems to love coming back to Boston, or greets us by saying "for some reason, I'm dressed as Doctor Who". He's a recognizable name who doesn't just show up for his movie and then fly back home, but attends screenings (both here and in Montreal); he's also genuinely independent. I think it's mostly because he gets ideas that nobody else will touch, and he's pretty unique as a guy that people will recognize that dives into this sort of material.

Which includes the life of Barry Crimmins, whose story is compelling but probably won't be something where a studio finances a biopic. Though the movie makes a pretty hard shift away from his comedy career midway through (for good reason), with even the recent performance footage more monologue than stand-up, he's still got great timing, so having him and Bobcat up there made for a Q&A that was both earnest and very funny.

One fun thing learned from the film: Goldthwait's nickname came from him and then-partner Tom Kenney goofing on Crimmins (nicknamed "Bearcat") while working at one of his comedy clubs by calling themselves "Bobcat" and "Tomcat". Less fun, but interesting, was learning that Robin Williams was the one who suggested Goldthwait shoot it as a documentary, even kicking in some funding, and leading to a story about how when World's Greatest Dad closed IFFBoston, Goldthwait was in the back of the auditorium, talking to Williams on the phone, holding it up so that he could hear that the audience was laughing. In case you handn't heard, losing Williams is a damn shame.



The last film and Q&A of the day was kind of an impromptu choice, apparently on both sides. I was hemming and hawing about staying at Somerville for Day Release or heading to the Brattle for Deathgasm, but I gambled that with the latter being a decent-looking horror-comedy featuring metalheads, the only thing that would prevent Mitch Davis and company from booking it at Fantasia would be it receiving Canadian distribution, and I was right there - it's on the initial list of films booked for Fantasia this July. Meanwhile, director Geoffrey Cowper and star Jesus Lloveras (above) said that they made a last-minute decision to road-trip to Boston after appearing at the Chicago Latino Film Festival two days earlier. Maybe that's exaggerated, but I don't care, because it's a fun story, as is the film getting made because Cowper's grandfather put up the money and now enjoys calling himself a film producer.

Cowper also mentioned that the opening titles say that this was based upon a true story because they are fans of Fargo and, like the Coens, enjoy seeing if they can get an audience to take a movie more seriously by saying that. Basically, it was inspired by an armored car robbery that took place near a mall where either he or Lloveras (who co-wrote the film) was working, although everything else is fabrication. He also described that the sort of weekend release the film's main character was on isn't terribly unusual in Europe compared to America. Nobody in the audience mentioned that such a furlough was a big part of torpedoing the presidential campaign one of our state's former governors.

Well, that's a lot of movies. Hopefully, getting caught up on this festival is all downhill from here.

Stray Dog

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2015 in Somerville Theatre #5 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2015, digital)

You may have heard of director Debra Granik's previous film, a great backwoods number called "Winter's Bone" that got a bunch of praise and is arguably the foundation for Jennifer Lawrence being as big a star as she is, so it's a bit surprising to see her next feature be this very small-scale documentary; in a lot of cases, one would think, she'd get a chance at something bigger. On the other hand, since she met the subject(s) of this movie on the set of that one, maybe making this her next project felt like a more natural next step than trying to grab some studio job.

This movie is focused on Ronnie "Stray Dog" Hall, a Vietnam veteran and biker who operates a trailer park in Branson, Missouri. He's a pretty good dude, letting tenants who are down on their luck slide, learning Spanish to better communicate with his wife Alicia and her sons (19-year-old twins still residing in Mexico City), and taking part in a lot of commemorative programs and rides. He's a big-hearted guy, whether he's around family, friends, strangers, or the for small dogs who live in his house.

Being generous of spirit does not make him uncomplicated; an early session with his therapist drops a bit of information that will certainly stick in the audience's head through the rest of the movie, even if Granik never really returns to it. It's one of several things we observe about Hall that intrigues, even if it is in large part built out of how Granik emphasizes things: That scene is isolated, while a relatively uninterrupted string of scenes that focus on him attending events memorializing the Vietnam War are almost fatiguing. A viewer may get restless, finding it almost sad that Hall's life has never moved beyond that point. That's not necessarily what one thinks of as good editing, but bogging down here is useful, driving home just how large that experience looms in a veteran's life.

Full review on EFC.

H.

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2015 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2015, digital)

Movies like H., with its deliberately un-evocative title, unexplained strange events, and ostentatiously non-standard structure, can bring out my least favorite reaction to a movie - the urge to shoot that the emperor has no clothes and the audience is being played for suckers who don't want to admit that they can't see what's going on. Most of the time, I can see that there's some idea at play, even if I can't get at it because it's poorly thought out or expressed. That's where I stand with H.; it's too well-executed to dismiss but far too messy to praise.

The film is broken up into chapters, with the first focusing on Roy Brajisky (Julian Gamble) and his wife Helen (Robin Bartlett), longtime residents of Troy, New York. They have been growing distant of late, especially with Helen becoming obsessed with her extremely realistic "reborn baby doll", which a number of older women in the area have purchased; they're meeting for a party at the Brajiskys' later. The second brings the focus to Alex Kovacs (Will Janowitz) and Helen Castro (Rebecca Dayan), artists expecting their first child, though Helen frets about Alex leaving her. Also located in Troy, they are on the front lines when strange things start happening in the city, perhaps related to the meteor that's been seen in the sky.

There's clearly something going on here - filmmakers Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia don't just give their female leads the same first name and motherhood-related stories that are even more parallel than they first appear randomly, after all. When Attieh & Garcia focus on those ideas, they really seem to be on to something; Helen Brajisky and her doll go from kind of funny to genuinely unnerving very quickly, and while the other couple's story relies more on the paranormal incidents to put the audience on edge, the dynamic between these controversy-courting artists facing a potentially more conventional life is potentially fascinating.

Full review on EFC.

Lost Conquest

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2015 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2015, digital)

The comedic documentary is not exactly rare, but it is generally reserved for people famous for being funny - after all, if something is funny, it is seldom considered important enough for a film that gets any sort of wide notice. That's unfortunate, because it means that Lost Conquest is a rarity - a film that is actually able to sneak an important idea into a group that might not otherwise consider it, while still being tremendously entertaining.

The film begins with an a bit of text stating that Minnesota was the "Vinland" that Leif Ericsson discovered a thousand years ago, according to some, although with a bit more of a wink than that. The evidence is a stone tablet covered in runes discovered by farmer Olof Ohman around the turn off the twentieth century, and though its provenance is questionable at best, this has not stopped a number of museums housing or and other supposed Norse artifacts from popping up, with the idea becoming as much a part of the region's identity as it is a cottage industry. Despite it generally being accepted in academic circles that the Vikings only made it as far as Canada's maritime provinces, could they have reached the Land of a Thousand Lakes?

Spoiler alert: Almost certainly not. It's a claim that writer/director Mike Scholtz could probably have demolished in quick, decisive, straight-faced fashion, but where would the fun be in that? Instead, he spends a great deal of time not just visiting the people who are only too happy to talk about it, but also looking at "Viking culture" in his home state, which includes a thriving group of enthusiasts and re-enactors, who are by and large a jovial group for whom he shows a great deal of fondness. Indeed, though there are moments when Scholtz's subjects seem to run the relatively short gamut from nerds to crackpots, it's almost unheard of for the tone to approach mockery; he may find them funny, but he doesn't want to point and laugh.

Full review on EFC.

Call Me Lucky

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2015 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2015, DCP)

It's common to ask whether someone other than the person that wound up making a movie could have done so, but I think it's a fair question with Call Me Lucky. Subject Barry Crimmins and director Bobcat Goldthwait go way back, so there is trust there, which is important. Perhaps just as important, though, is that Goldthwait is a guy willing and able to make the movie that the material demands, whether that means going from funny to uncomfortable or making a documentary rather than the narrative he'd originally envisioned.

Crimmins, who has returned to upstate New York after spending much of his adult life elsewhere, was a stand-up comic of unusual sharpness and political outrage during the Reagan years when that was not necessarily in fashion; he would also become a driving force in the Boston comedy scene, discovering and encouraging people from Goldthwait to Kevin Meaney to Lenny Clarke. And then, during a set at Stitches in 1992, he dropped a bombshell during his monologue that stunned everybody.

Goldthwait has often been one to build his movies by stretching comedy over some pretty dark material, though it's easy to miss at least the extreme of it here. Crimmins is a curmudgeon both now and then, but Goldthwait tends to paint the biting comedy of the younger Crimmins as focused and perceptive rather than that of a man lashing out because of the injustice done to him. Goldthwait approaches the first half of the film in much the way he might handle a more conventional look at a comedian's life and career, talking with his peers, showing some footage, and spotlighting the times Crimmins staged something larger-scale than standing on a stage and telling jokes with a beer in his hand. Any hints at what's to come are planted quietly.

Full review on EFC.

Tercer Grado (Day Release)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2015 in Somerville Theatre #5 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2015, digital)

There's a casual feel to certain crime flicks that makes them seem simultaneously streams and natural, like they take place in a more impulsive parallel universe where what makes a good story more easily trumps good sense and is much easier to just drop into a situation and be part of it than it may be in reality. Day Release tries for that and mostly manages it, although sorting up the foundations just a bit wouldn't hurt.

Mark Rodriguez (Jesus Lloveras) has screwed up a lot in his life, although the way his brother Toni (Javier Beltran) describes him - a "drug-trafficking murderer" - is probably more harsh than necessary; that sort of reprobate doesn't tend to get parole after just five years. Pushed away by Toni, he decides to check in on Mia (Sara Casasnovas), the girl he rather rudely kicked out of his cast when they woke up in the back seat in the morning. That may be his best decision of the day, although when he walks out of the cafe where she works, there's an armored car being violently robbed in the parking lot, and he decides that his best course of action is to follow the perpetrators afterward.

Stories built around guys like Mark must be tough nuts to crack - the odds are against him whether it comes to out-fighting or out-thinking his opponents, and there's not really any sort of hidden quality likely to give him any special chance to succeed. It winds up making Day Release a caper movie where the protagonist is very much in over his head, and that's kind of a wobbly thing; watching Mark come up with a plan and execute it isn't quite the same sort fun as when things really slide into place. At the same time, it never exactly feels like Mark is suffering from terrible hubris.

Full review on EFC.