Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Boutique, hold the subtitles: Layer Cake and The Girl From Monday

Not a good-looking weekend at the boutique houses, eh?

It's my fault, though, for being such a sci-fi nerd. I think Matthew Vaughn was still slated to direct X-Men 3, and even if he wasn't, I was curious to see the movie that had made Fox so keen on him in the first place. Besides, if his fingerprints were still going to be all over the script, I wondered what that would mean. The verdict: The man has some skills, but this movie is just Yet Another Brit Gangster Movie.

As to The Girl From Monday... It's bad, which is annoying because I'm predisposed to like things with Sabrina Lloyd in them, especially when they include the phrase "sentenced to six years hard labor teaching high school". The bright side is that it let me rant a little on what is and isn't science fiction, which is often a great deal of fun, even if the reasons aren't. I keep hoping for smart sci-fi movies, even as I devour the big action/adventure stuff. I'd like to see someone give Greg Pak some money, to see what he could do with a large canvas.

Next up: 3-D!

Layer Cake

* * (out of four)
Seen 4 June 2005 at Landmark Kendall Square #3 (first-run)

It's not surprising that Daniel Craig's unnamed narrator in Layer Cake wants to get out of the business of drug dealing. After all, he's made his pot, and there's a distressing amount of violence and occupational danger involved, especially when compared to managing the real estate holdings he's invested in. Since there wouldn't be a movie if he peacefully retired to the tropics, he's instead threatened with grievous bodily harm if he doesn't do a crime boss one little favor. From there, things get predictably sticky.

Okay, maybe not entirely predictably; Matthew Vaughn's film has enough twists and turns to keep the audience guessing (or confused). But the way it all happens is familiar by now: Charming but potentially violent guys at the middle level, grey-haired men with purchased respectability to shield their ruthlessness at the top, and idiotic screw-ups at the bottom. Sardonic narration, which in addition to telling the story also gives us the ins and outs of the drug business. Street names that are hard to imagine anyone using in conversation. Quick zooms and rapid-fire cutting, to better fit in about twice as much plot and twice as many characters than a hundred-minute movie really needs.

Read the rest on HBS.

The Girl From Monday

* ¼ (out of four)
Seen 5 June 2005 at the Brattle Theater (Special Engagements)

Being a fan of both science fiction and serious film is incredibly frustrating experience. The Venn diagram has a teeny-tiny sliver of an intersection, and if you're passionate enough to want to see them really done well, you can come off like you don't like anything but Gattaca. But you keep trying, because when the two click, it's fantastic. Unfortunately, you often wind up seeing crud like The Girl From Monday, which is sheer pretentious torture.

It starts with the opening credits, which describe it as "A Science Fiction By Hal Hartley". Which is, I suppose, technically accurate, but a weird thing to speak or write. It's followed with a great big slab of expository narration from main character Jack (Bill Sage), which describes the film's future world. There's a lot of exposition, because Hartley doesn't have the budget to make New York and Jersey City actually look like the future, although the people involved will probably say that that's deliberate, because it's a satire.

Read the rest at HBS.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

From Away: Keka, Joint Secuirty Area, Happily Ever After, and Howl's Moving Castle

The other day, I got a copy of Kiki's Delivery Service in the mail and promptly put it in another envelope to mail to a couple little girls that used to come to my mother's day care center. I already had a copy, of course, but when Disney offered a free DVD with the purchase of the most recent three Ghibli DVDs they released, I figured, what's a couple of bucks to let someone else experience these fantastic movies. It was happy coincidence that I saw Howl's Moving Castle the same day. And, well, I hope they enjoy Kiki nearly as much as I enjoyed Howl. There aren't many filmmakers out there better than Hayao Miyazaki, regardless of the medium. It's unfortunate that Miyazaki's films are only moving from the art-house to the mainstream slowly in the U.S., and if Christin's and Madison's mom wants to find more, she'll probably have to dig through the anime section of the store, which shelves them next to some rather not-kid-friendly stuff.

Speaking of great filmmakers, I'm rather surprised to see that I now consider Park Chan-wook to be one, after how negative my reaction to Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance was. But there's not much denying that his other two movies to be released in the U.S., Oldboy and Joint Security Area, put him in the "great" category. It's astonishing to see how assured he is as a storyteller in his first film, and maybe Sympathy was a learning experience so that he could make Oldboy as flashy as it is.

Next up: A couple less-than inspiring English-language boutique films. I'm starting to seriously doubt that I'm going to get caught up before heading to Montreal for FantAsia (there are 25 films on my "to review list"; 3-D week and Howard Lloyd week piled the movies on while sucking up time to write about them).


* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 June 2005 at the Brattle Theater (Asian CineVisions) (projected video)

Even more than the rest of Asia, the Philippine islands seem to have had their culture just smashed into small bits by the West. Just looking at the cast and credits; the facial features are mostly Pacific Islander, but the names are mostly Spanish, and there are a lot of English words heard amidst the Filipino/Tagalog dialog. I mention this not just because this is the first Filipino film I can recall seeing, but because the movie itself seems built of parts that don't quite fit together cleanly, and not just in terms of combining romantic comedy and revenge thriller. Writer/director Quark Henares doesn't quite seem to know how he wants to tell his story, and basically throws his hands up at the end.

Props to the beginning, though, where we're treated to a couple of Dates From Hell. In the first, a man drones on and on about himself, quickly revealing himself as a prize jerk, and after a few minutes, his date Francesca "Keka" Jose (Katya Santos) makes her way to the refrigerator, pulls out a garrotte, and strangles him. Having nearly as bad a time is policeman Jason Sanchez (Wendell Ramos), who makes a quick trip to the men's room to psyche himself up to propose to his beautiful girlfriend, only to be dumped. The two will, of course, have a couple of chance meetings later, and start dating, but first we learn about Keka.

Read the rest at HBS.

Joint Security Area (Gongdong Gyeongbi Guyeok JSA)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 2 June 2005 at the Brattle Theater (Asian CineVisions)

It's easy to see why Hollywood would want to do a Americanized remake of Joint Security Area; if I were a studio executive seeing it at a festival, I'd think "great, taut thriller, a murder mystery with the specter of war hanging over it; we could sell a lot of tickets if not for the subtitle thing." Most executives probably stopped there, realizing that although you could theoretically set the story on any border in the world, few will be as inherently dramatic as the demilitarized zone between the Koreas - meaning you're a step behind even before starting the screenplay. So be smart, and go directly to Park Chan-wook's Korean original before the guys who didn't realize that this movie can't be changed without being diminished crank out an inferior version.

The movie starts with a potential disaster - shots fired on the North Korean side of the border, and a soldier from the South trying to crawl back home. Two North Koreans are dead, and one seriously injured. It's the sort of incident that could lead to a great deal of saber-rattling and perhaps even war, but fortunately cooler heads prevail, and a Neutral Nation commission is given the job to investigate, with Major Sophie Jean (Lee Yeong-ae), a Swiss officer of Korean descent, flown in to head up the inquiry.

Read the rest at HBS

Happily Ever After (Ils se marièrent et eurent beaucoup d'enfants)

* * (out of four)
Seen 11 June 2005 at Landmark Kendall Square #2 (first-run)

Memo to my brothers and friends: If, ten years or so down the road, I start acting like the guys in Happily Ever After, please kick the crap out of me. I'll deserve that sort of wake-up call if I become that kind of sad whiner who doesn't appreciate his good fortune. Yvan Attal doesn't deserve a beating for merely making a movie about such people. Maybe just a little slapping around.

It is, I guess, a mid-life crisis movie that focuses on three friends around the age of forty. Fred (Alain Cohen) is still single, going out with a different younger woman every night. Georges (Alain Chabat) and his wife Nathalie (Emmanuelle Seigner) fight constantly and loudly, greatly annoying their neighbors. Vincent (Attal), on the other hand, still seems to greatly enjoy being with his lovely wife Gabrielle (Attal's real-life wife Charlotte Gainsbourg); they have food fights while their son Joseph (Ben Attal) is asleep and role-play in a bar to open the movie. So how come Vincent is having an affair with the mother of one of Joseph's classmates, and why do we see Gabrielle flirting with a man she sees in a record store?

Read the rest at HBS.

Howl's Moving Castle (Hauru no ugoku shiro)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 24 June 2005 at Landmark Kendall Square #4 (first-run) (subtitled)

The work coming out of Japan (Hayao Miyazaki being the greatest example) should really shame American animation studios. I'm not just talking about the cleverly designed by purely commercial things like Robots and Madagascar, but even the best American animated features aren't nearly as adventurous and full of amazing sights and stories. Even the greatest American animated features, the universally beloved films from Pixar, tend to focus on the familiar and comfortable.

Not so Howl's Moving Castle. The very first scene gives a look at the chicken-legged mechanical mountain of the title, and we've barely met the hero and heroine before they're being menaced by creepy, tar-like blob men. The town they run through looks like nineteenth-century Switzerland, but it has an express train running through the center, flying motorcycles, storefront wizards, and titanic floating battleships. There's a friendly fire demon who initially looks like floating eyes until you realize they're part of the fire, and flying monsters that we're told are wizards who have forgotten how to turn themselves human again. There's hellish visions of war and beautifully pastoral images.

Read the rest at HBS.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Animated: Madagascar and Robots

I was going to throw Howl's Moving Castle in here, too, but I haven't gotten there yet - back-to-back cool series at the Coolids and the Brattle have more or less eaten my movie-going time. I enjoyed both, though they really solidified my belief that animation absolutely must have interesting, consistent design above almost everything else. As much as I like the story and voice-acting in The Incredibles, I really don't find myself terribly fond of the way the characters look


* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 May 2005 at AMC Fenway #12 (first-run)

For some reason, the folks who make movies for kids seem to think they need a bunch of secondary characters. The cynical will claim that this is done for the sole purpose of selling more tie-in merchandise, and they've probably got a point. There's no particular need for the hippo or the giraffe in Madagascar, for instance, and neither likely will be anybody's favorite character, but neither actually takes anything away from the movie, which winds up pretty entertaining as a whole.

I won't lie and say it's as good as some of DreamWorks' previous animated features. It's closer in tone to the likes of SharkTale than Antz; the early indications that DreamWorks would grow into a more sophisticated, adult-oriented animation studio have pretty much been dashed (with the exception of their occasional anime acquisitions). A quick look at the character designs for this movie will tell anybody watching everything it needs to know about the intended target audience. This is a movie for kids, no matter how many adult-oriented pop-culture references or celebrity voices the filmmakers include.

Read the rest at HBS.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 May 2005 at Arlington Capitol #2 (second-run)

Look at that title: Robots. I'll be that one word was bulk of the pitch to Fox, too. As in "do you know what's a natural for a computer animated feature? Robots." After all, they've got no hair, are made up of pretty basic geometric shapes, and can believably use simple color schemes; that has got to save on the processing power. Of course, Robots is hardly the first digitally-animated feature to suggest that sort of origin. Consider Toy Story, Antz, A Bug's Life, or SharkTale (which ironically started life with a more story-oriented name, "Shark-Slayer").

The thoroughly mercenary origins suggested by the name don't disqualify Robots from being a good movie. Director Chris Wedge realizes his robot world as a place of bright colors, whimsical architecture, and a delightfully retro-futuristic design sense. It would be an even better movie if some of the five credited writers had stretched, coming up with something really unique and more consistently funny.

Read the rest at HBS.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

The Brattle's Classic Western series

I once read that the Old West was the best place to set a movie. Being about thirteen and sort of locked into sci-fi as my genre of choice, I scoffed at this idea. And, besides, if Westerns were so darn good, why didn't they make them any more? I don't know if I saw one at all before Unforgiven, which piqued my interest when I saw the trailer before Patriot Games - it was the Old West, but it was dark, and they were throwing Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman at us... Then Clint turns around and every man in the theater squeals like a little girl.

But the Old West is the best place to set a movie. It's familiar, not just because there have been thousands of Westerns to establish the iconography, but because it is accessible to a Twentieth (or Twenty-First) Century moviegoer. Even if the movie is technically a period piece, the characters are speaking familiar English, wearing modern-ish clothing, and using recognizable technology. Even the stuff that's not current has easily identified analogs, like a stagecoach being a bus pulled by horses. The differences serve to heighten the drama - there's not so much quick communication possible, for instance, and you have to reload a whole lot more.

I think what makes the genre particularly compelling - and why there are so many people who opt to make movies in other genres that are really Westerns in disguise (whether the movie in question is Serenity, Copland or either Assault on Precinct 13) is that these stories take place on the razor's edge of civilization and lawlessness. The Old West was technically part of the United States, so most people had the expectation that those around them would act like Americans, and follow American laws. But all too often, there was no way to enforce that, so miniature feudalisms or anarchies could develop where there was supposed to be democracy. America was founded on loftier principles than "might makes right", and in a good Western, those principles are tested.

At least, that's how I see it. I noticed my enjoyment of the movies corresponded to roughly how important that theme was. The ones that were about the rule of law versus the rule of the strong (Rio Bravo, High Plains Drifter) really worked for me, but the ones which focused on the more obvious, less thematic, hallmarks (The Tall T, Winchester '73)... didn't.

Which actually makes me worried about revisiting the last movie on the Brattle's program, which I didn't make it to. The Quick & the Dead has a killer cast and is directed by personal favorite Sam Raimi, but it's almost all about the trappings. I'll have to give it another watch sometime next month, when I've got more time for such things.

Rio Bravo

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 13 May 2005 at the Brattle Theater (Classic Westerns)

Even if you've never seen Rio Bravo, you've probably seen movies influenced by it. John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13, for instance, is essentially a present-day remake. The basic premise probably predates this movie and the short story it's based upon, and while Carpenter's film is the most direct descendant, any number of action, war, horror, and sci-fi movies have the basic siege structure - small group of heroes waiting out an inevitable attack by a superior force. Few filmmakers have done it better than Howard Hawks does here.

The specifics of the story are familiar - Sheriff John T. Chance (John Wayne) has locked up Joe Burdette (Claude Akins) for a cold-blooded murder, but half the town is on the payroll of Joe's brother Nathan (John Russell), a powerful and ruthless rancher. Chance's allies are Stumpy (Walter Brennan), a lamed jailor, and Dude (Dean Martin), the town laughingstock who used to be a crack shot, but crawled inside the bottle a year ago and is just now coming out. Arriving in town while Chance and company await the U.S. Marshals are a beautiful gambler (Angie Dickinson), a rancher (Ward Bond) who is an old friend of Chance's, and his chief hand (Ricky Nelson).

Read the rest at HBS.

The Searchers

* * * (out of four)
Seen 13 May 2005 at the Brattle Theater (Classic Westerns)

There's evil everywhere in The Searchers, and obsession, too. It's about how, though we often need the services of people who can handle a gun, we should often be wary of the people who are comfortable wielding them. It may contain John Wayne's best performance, although you'd have to ask someone who has seen many more of his films than I have to get a useful perspective.

That role is Ethan Edwards, a former Confederate officer who appears to have continued soldiering after the war ends. When he arrives at his brother's Texas ranch, the kids are excited to see him, although he makes their parents a bit nervous - he's larger than life, and not always pleasant, especially around Martin (Jeffrey Hunter), whom the Edwardses took in as a child; his being a half-breed didn't matter to the rest of the family like it does to Ethan. Laurie Jorgensen (Vera Miles), the teenage daughter of neighboring farmers, doesn't seem to mind, though. Some of Ethan's prejudices seem validated when a Comanche attack leaves most of the family dead, and youngest daughter Debbie (Lana Wood) kidnapped. Ethan joins a posse to find the kidnapped girl, but it will soon be reduced to just him and Martin seeking Debbie (by now played by Natalie Wood). But is Ethan still looking to rescue her?

Read the rest at HBS.

3:10 to Yuma

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 May 2005 at the Brattle Theater (Classic Westerns)

3:10 to Yuma starts out in a perfectly B-movie fashion, with a title song that promises adventure. And it is, in fact, kind of a stock western, with a reluctant hero and a murderous gang, time spent out on the open range and in wild west towns, with justice a tricky thing to acquire: There's just not enough law to go around sometimes.

As the movie opens, a rancher and his two sons are minding their herd, with father Dan Evans (Van Heflin) mindful of how much the drought is costing him. Their path intersects with a gang that has just robbed a stagecoach, losing their horses in the process. The thieves stop in the nearby town of Contention for a drink, strutting around like they own the place, until their leader, Ben Wade (Glenn Ford), is captured. He's not terribly worried, though - a lot can happen between Contention and Yuma, and his gang is far more organized than the law in those parts. He hasn't counted on that quietly resourceful rancher, though, the one who doesn't want to get involved but can't say no when the stage line's owner (Robert Emhardt) offers enough money to keep his farm going...

Read the rest at HBS.

The Tall T

* * (out of four)
Seen 16 May 2005 at the Brattle Theater (Classic Westerns)

I've been writing about Westerns all week, and there have been a few times when I stopped myself from writing "one of the reasons it's so good is that it's not just a western, it's a thriller/drama/adventure that can work in any time period"; I figured that sells the western short as a genre, like that setting is something to be overcome. But I have to admit - The Tall T IS just a western, and that's part of the reason I'm not so fond of it.

It's got what appears to be a fine pedigree - it's based upon a story by Elmore Leonard. Its supporting cast includes Maureen O'Sullivan and Richard Boone (who would soon take the role of Paladin in Have Gun, Will Travel). It combines screenwriter Burt Kennedy, director Budd Boetticher, producer Harry Joe Brown, and producer/star Randolph Scott, who collaborated on several successful Westerns. Or, as nearly every description of Brown & Scott's production company put it, "medium-budget Westerns". And perhaps that's what the problem is - its ambitions are far too modest.

Read the rest at HBS.

High Plains Drifter

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 17 May 2005 at the Brattle Theater (Classic Westerns)

For the modern audience, Clint Eastwood and the western genre are more or less synonymous. Oh, the casual film fan is well aware that John Wayne made a lot of them, and maybe that John Ford directed a lot of them. And every few years a new one comes out, but it's a gimmick, or a curiosity - it's part science-fiction, or it's something where the star or director thinks doing a western would be neat, even if they don't really know the first thing about the genre. They spend a lot of time trying to overcome their genre, because there aren't really western fans any more. A movie being set in that time period doesn't really lead to anticipation.

Unless Clint is in it.

Eastwood got his start in westerns, and even though he has gone on to create a diverse body of work as both an actor and a director, he's the only guy left where the audience just assumes comfort with (and knowledge of) the genre. So it's interesting to consider that High Plains Drifter, the first western where he was the director as well as the star, seems to be where everything about the genre changed. Part of this is just because of when it was released: Film was evolving in the 1970s, becoming more realistic and less idealized, and this film from '73 sucks the romance right out of the Western, finishing the deconstruction that the spaghetti westerns had started. The film's setting is a dirty, violent town populated by nasty people with dark secrets; there's not a hero to be found here. Drifter also seems to be a fairly early example of the genre-bending trend.

Read the rest at HBS.

Winchester '73

* * (out of four)
Seen 17 May 2005 at the Brattle Theater (Classic Westerns)

Genre films have certain trappings. They're comfortable, and they work as shorthand. The trouble with Winchester '73 is that some trappings don't age particularly well, and spending a lot of time on others may only interest those who really get into the details of the specific topic.

Here, the troublesome details are guns and Indians. I don't think many will disagree when I say that fifty-odd years ago, the average American looked at both rather differently than they do now. Watching Ron Howard's The Missing was a bizarre experience, with its simplistically villainous Native Americans; it's a characterization we have mostly grown past. Kids don't play Cowboys & Indians any more. Of course, part of the reason they don't is that that involves guns, and the general population isn't as fond of or knowledgeable about guns as they once were. There are groups that do, and they're not all violent nuts, but there's a more widespread distaste for firearms, even among men who would have grown up with them had they been around when this movie was originally released in 1950.

Read the rest at HBS.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

3-D Movies at the Coolidge

Doing the Cinetrix thing here; reminding Boston-area film lovers that Brookline's Coolidge Corner Theater is running 3-D movies through Thursday. They're using dual projectors and polarized lenses, so it looks roughly a zillion times better than red/blue anaglyph - the Technicolor Kiss Me Kate I saw today was fantastic-looking.

So, if you're up here (this means you, Matt), come to the Coolidge. They're playing Howl's Moving Castle, too.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

That's some impressive talent: The Interpreter and Unleashed

One thing I noticed while watching The Interpreter and writing about Unleashed is that both of these movies have a whole ton of talent attached to them. Morgan Freeman is kind of what you'd call an incredible amount of acting ability overkill in a fight-fest like Unleashed, but on the flip side, the movie wouldn't be nearly as good without him. That's a tough part to not make look silly, I think

On the other hand, Sean Penn really is overkill on The Interpreter. I mean, you expect Nicole Kidman to do this kind of good but ultimately inconsequential movie every once in a while to keep her profile up, but Penn seems to be slumming here (Kidman is, after all, a Movie Star while Penn is an Actor).

Anyway, both of these are good movies with impressive casts and crews, but not something I'll feel the need to own on DVD. And that's cool; not every movie can or should be immortal.

The Interpreter

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 1 May 2005 at Loews Harvard Square #1 (first-run)

There's some grade-A talent on The Interpreter. Nicole Kidman is a movie star with enough talent to deserve the title; Sean Penn is one of the best actors working today. Sydney Pollack is behind the camera, and he's a craftsman who tends to go too long between films. And though some of the names of the writers may not be familiar, Scott Frank (Dead Again, Minority Report, Out of Sight) and Steven Zallian (Schindler's List, Clear and Present Danger) are among the best in the business, especially for movies of this type. Put them all together, and you get the filmic equivalent of a beach novel: A smart, well-executed thriller that compels the audience to take it seriously despite ingredients that often form the basis of easily-dismissed movies.

The plot involves Silvia Broome (Kidman), a United Nations interpreter, overhearing some information that seems to point to an upcoming assassination attempt. Tobin Keller (Penn), the Secret Service agent assigned to investigate, is initially suspicious because there's no other intelligence to indicate it, and it very quickly appears that Ms. Broome has a personal connection to the likely suspects and a partisan interest in the target: She grew up in the African country that the tyrant in question rules, and her parents were killed in the fighting. There's probably something going on, since it wouldn't make sense for her to come to the authorities if she were trying to kill him, but her reluctance to provide details is vexing.

Read the rest at HBS.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 11 May 2005 at Loews Boston Common #14 (preview)

"Come on," I told my brother. "I've got tickets for a preview of Unleashed. It's got Jet Li punching and kicking people, many of them in the head!" He wasn't sure; he was already spending one night away from his girlfriend that week. "AND it's got Bob Hoskins being crazy!"

Now, there are some who say that you need more than a man beating up dozens of larger, better-armed fighters to make a good movie. These people are spoilsports, but to appease them, the movie is roughly half other stuff, so they can have reasons for their fighting. Bart (Hoskins) is a gangster who has a secret weapon: Danny (Li), whom he has brought up from childhood to be an attack dog - docile so long as he has his collar on, but a tornado of violent action as soon as it comes off. A witness to one of these beatdowns offers Bart a chance to make Danny an attraction at his underground fight club, but Bart will soon lose Danny during a car crash, with Danny taken in by Sam (Morgan Freeman), a blind piano tuner, and his foster daughter Victoria (Kerry Condon). It is, of course, only a matter of time before Bart finds his now-domesticated dog and tries to put him back to use - which, of course, puts his new family in danger.

Read the rest at HBS.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Boutique stuff: Assisted Living, 3-Iron, Millions

I don't head out to the Fresh Pond Cinemas area much any more; though they were acceptable when I moved here from Portland, General Cities and Loews soon built some nice theaters in Boston proper, and the distance is not that much farther to walk on a nice day. So I basically don't get to that part of town unless I'm going to keep going past them and hit the Arlington Capitol. But I made a couple stops, and offer these random observations, only tangentially related to the movies I've seen in this category:

The Newbury Comics at Fresh Pond has seperate racks for "Foreign Films", "Asian Cinema", and "Martial Arts". Within "Martial Arts", there are subsections for Jackie Chan and Jet Li. It's really amazing how DVD has grown, although I can't get the image of the racks dividing in a bizarre sort of mitosis out of my head - the "DVD" rack gets wider and wider until it starts to sag in the middle, at which point it rips itself into smaller ones ("Comedy", "Action", "Drama").

Also, I nearly missed the movies I was planning to see because I went poking around in Toys R Us and started playing with one of those TV Games things. I'm going to need to get the paddle one, because Circus Atari is the best game ever.

Assisted Living

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 April 2005 at Kendall Square #2 (preview)

Assisted Living is as independent as independent films get. You probably haven't heard of writer/director Elliot Greenebaum; the lead actor, Michael Bonsignore, has five times as many credits as a grip than as an actor. It's shot on one or two actual locations, and features a blurs the line with reality by apparently having a few actors and featured extras basically playing themselves.

There's nothing wrong with that; not every new filmmaker has to burst onto the scene. Greenebaum and Bonsignore's names aren't going to be on everyone's lips because everyone in Hollywood got excited about this movie. Indeed, this film didn't play Slamdance until a year and a half after its first showings, and then has quietly slipped into a limited release, where it lasted a couple of weeks before (likely) heading to IFC and a tiny video release. But everyone will get a line on their respective resumés, and if the industry doesn't beat their doors down, it will at least give them more serious consideration.

Read the rest at HBS.

3-Iron (Bin-jip)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 9 May 2005 at Embassy Square #1 (first-run)

The modern world is crowded, busy, and filled with ways to identify or track its inhabitants. It would seem that the only ways to disappear in such a world are to go "off the grid", moving away from people and technology and records, or to fall "through the cracks", living on the street in a life of squalor and want. What the characters of 3-Iron recognize is that there are empty spaces; they just don't stay empty for very long.

Tae-suk (Jae Hee) owns very little; a motorcycle and the clothes on his back. Rather than sleeping on the street, he puts circulars on doorknobs, coming back a day or two later to see which ones haven't been removed; those, he reasons, are houses or apartments where the owner is out of town. A quick spot of breaking and entering later, and he's got a place to stay for a night or two. While he's there, he'll clean up, do the laundry, fix things that need fixing. One night, though, the place he chooses isn't empty; it's still occupied by Sun-hwa (Lee Seung-yeon), a one-time model trapped in an abusive marriage. They intrigue each other, and when Sun-hwa's husband (Kwon Hyuk-ho) returns home, Tae-suk takes her with him, after pelting the husband with golf balls. Initially, Tae-suk tries to ignore this new addition to his life, but they inevitably find themselves growing closer.

Read the rest at HBS.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 May 2005 at Capitol Theater #6 (second-run)

It's intriguing how Millions in some ways represents Danny Boyle's career coming full circle after a tumultuous ten years, even as it demonstrates what a versatile filmmaker he has become (or, really, has always been). Looking at his early collaborations with John Hodge and Ewan MacGregor, the idea of a warm, family-friendly Boyle movie seems an unlikely one. Still, once you get past the age and innocence of the main characters, familiar motifs may seem familiar - a bag of money, contention among the people who find it, and sharp, witty, suspenseful direction.

The money falls from the sky, crushing the structure eight-year-old Damian (Alex Etel) has made from boxes discarded by people moving into a new housing development. Damian is smart enough to recognize that he has an active fantasy life, having taken to conversing with deceased saints since his mother's death, so he asks his older brother Anthony (Lewis Owen McGibbon) to verify that the money is, in fact, real. It is, and Anthony quickly starts formulating plans on how to spend or invest the money (I idly wondered if writer Frank Cottrell Boyce was inspired by the "Great Brain" young adult novels by John D. Fitzgerald in creating these characters). The first catch is that the money is all pounds, and Britain will be switching to the Euro on Christmas Day. The second is that, as Anthony deduces later, the money is stolen, and honest, trusting Damian accidentally points people in his direction.

Read the rest on HBS.