Thursday, May 27, 2010

This Week In Tickets: 17 May 2010 to 23 May 2010

This Memorial Day Weekend preview is for you, as I won't be around - I leave tomorrow evening (Friday, 28 May 2010) to take an overnight train to Baltimore, from whence I shall take a Greyhound bus to Annapolis, where my cousin David is getting married on Sunday. Congratulations to the happy couple.

I'll be sticking around Baltimore and Washington for a week after, going to the three Red Sox/Orioles games the next weekend. I probably won't be seeing many movies during that time - although I will try to get to at least one screening in Baltimore's legendary Senator Theater. So, expect an extremely thin TWIT next week.

But if you're in Boston, here's some things you should look forward to for the movie week starting 28 May 2010:

  • Reunion Weekend at the Brattle - coinciding with Harvard's class reunions, 35mm prints of film celebrating big anniversaries: 25th Anniversary screenings of The Goonies on Friday and Saturday, 75th Anniversary double feature of The 39 Steps and Top Hat on Sunday, 50th Anniversary double feature of La Dolce Vita and the original Ocean's Eleven on Monday.

  • The Brattle finishes off the week with some great stop-motion animation. A Town Called Panic plays Tuesday - Thursday, technically as the second part of a double feature wtih Fantastic Mr. Fox, but the Brattle's website still lists the Wes Anderson picture as tentative. Even if it doesn't show, though, Panic is awesome, one of the most whimsical and hilarious animated features of 2009, a great year for the medium.

  • The Aquarium opens Sea Rex 3D: Journey to a Prehistoric World on their genuine IMAX screen, which it shares with Hubble 3D, Ultimate Wave Tahiti 3D, Under the Sea 3D, and Avatar: The IMAX 3D Experience. All except Avatar are short, $9.95 movies ($15.95 for double features, cheaper for kids and members), but most likely worth the money, with amazing, clear cinematography and excellently utilized 3-D. I, admittedly, have only seen Avatar and Hubble, but I mean to rectify that when I get back, because even though they are short, you generally get to see awesome things.

  • The Coolidge keeps running with Please Give and Babies, but shakes things up at midnight, with the local premiere of Journey of the Childmen: The Mighty Boosh on Tour, and in the digital screening rooms, with Vincere and Soundtrack for a Revolution. The Secret in Their Eyes moves to the larger screens. And, for the kids (and adults who love funny things), Looney Tunes on the big screen, Saturday and Sunday at 10:30am.

  • The one-week warning at the Kendall is for Survival of the Dead, George Romero's latest zombie picture. They're also opening The City of Your Final Destination, and keeping OSS 117: Lost in Rio around for a couple shows a day (you've still got a chance to go for free Monday-Thursday; see this post for details).

  • The multiplexes offer Sex and the City 2 and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. The latter asks the question of why American actors playing ancient Persians choose to affect British accents; the former "why, just why?"

    I kid; I haven't been closer to the source material of either than watching my brother play the video game (though what possessed him to buy a Sex & the City game is beyond me), so for all I know, both are awesome. Prince of Persia looks like it could be kind of fun, but, geez, look what's at the Brattle!

  • Holy crap, they're changing movies at Stuart Street! You've got another chance to see No One Knows About Persian Cats! And Babies. A weird double feature, but to be honest, a Babies chaser after the end of Persian Cats might not be a bad idea.

  • The Harvard Film Archive is back to showing John Ford movies - "Late Ford" on Friday, "Ford at War" Saturday to Monday; co-star Donna Reed's daughter introduces They Were Expendable on Sunday. The MFA counters with Sidney Lumet.

This Week In Tickets!

Another quiet week, where I actually got a chance to write up everything I saw. Granted, the Shrek Forever After post is much more about the new screen that AMC has installed in the #2 auditorium of their Boston Common location, and that I use the "LieMax" term in there probably gives some indication where I come down on that.

I thought of a couple of things while writing that piece that didn't make it in, because they're kind of stretching the point. One, I really should actually follow through on the "Boston Theater Guide" article for EFC that I was planning to do a few years ago. The price comparison at the end helped to hammer home just how screwy movie theater pricing is becoming. Boston Common now has three different pricing tiers based on medium (35mm/DLP, RealD, LieMax), three based on age (kid, adult, senior), and three based on time of day ("AM Cinema", noon-four, evening), for a potential total of twenty-seven different price points for a movie like Shrek Forever After. That's crazy, especially for films that attract families. I'm imagining groups including kids, parents, and grandparents half-paralyzed trying to figure out how much seeing Toy Story 3 will cost, and should they see the show now or wait fifteen minutes for the cheaper/cooler one. I also strongly suspect that few people know just what kind of great bargains you can find at the Somerville and Arlington Capitol.

Soon after writing it, my SXSW roomie Jason Whyte sent me a link to another moviegoing blog - 100 Movies 100 Theaters whose mission statement is right there in the title - attempting to see 100 movies at 100 different theaters during 2010. Naturally, my first impulse was to say "hey, this guy's documenting his moviegoing with images of tickets, that's MY schtick!", even though I stole the device shamelessly. But my second was to marvel that it might be possible for him to do so - apparently he counted 113 venues in the SF Bay Area. Boston may have that, if you count all the libraries and college classrooms that show up on the @BostonFreeFilms twitter feed. Throwing my address into Google Movies only shows 18 for today; the Flixter app on my droid shows 44 within 20 miles. The two cities are roughly the same size, but Boston seems to be sadly underscreened, or more of our screens are concentrated into the downtown AMC and Regal theaters. Even last year, where I saw movies in four metro areas that I remember (Boston, Montreal, Austin, and New York City), I probably didn't get close to 100 different theaters, maybe not even 100 different screens.

I'll have to run some math on last year's TWIT posts and do a "making lists is stupid post" sometime. Although if I'm bored enough to do it in the next week, I'm doing vacation wrong.

BluebeardNo One Knows About Persian CatsOSS 117: Lost in RioShrek Forever After

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

AMC Boston Common's new "imax" screen and the movie shown on it: Shrek Forever After

I believe reports of AMC installing an IMAX screen in their Boston Common location first appeared in the summer of 2008, allegedly to open that September, probably timed to Eagle Eye. Since then, signs have gone up, come down, and gone back up again. Initial speculation that this would be accommodated by expanding theater #2 upward into the space occupied by "The Back Lot" - a bar & lounge area located on the otherwise-unused second floor between the lobby and the 17 theaters on the third - stopped once a complete lack of activity was seen there, other than papering over the windows, and the IMAX Digital Theaters became better known.

I say "IMAX Digital Theaters" there like it's a brand name, but it's not, which is one of the problems with them. There is no branding at all to differentiate the IMAX screens which use horizontally-fed 70mm film (or, as I like to call it, genuine reels-of-film-that-require-a-forklift-to-move-with-single-frames-the-size-of-your-fist-projected-with-a-bulb-that-doubles-as-a-death-ray-onto-a-screen-the-size-of-a-medium-sized-office-building IMAX) from these "new" digital projection rooms. This is probably by design, and the future of IMAX's business; from what I gather, there are no new large-format-film theaters in the planning or construction stages. Everything about the digital technology is more cost-effective, and they probably make the IMAX corporation much more money in the short term. IMAX and the cinemas installing their digital projection system want you to think IMAX is IMAX is IMAX, especially if you have lingering (or recent) memories of seeing the film version at the science museum.

I think this will hurt them in the long term, though. Last year's online uproar from comedian Aziz Ansari buying a ticket for an IMAX movie only to be presented with what many call "IMIN" or "LieMAX" and tweeting his anger seems to have blown over, and awareness of the difference between the two is probably not great right now. Within five years, many likely won't realize that IMAX used to represent something an order of magnitude or two better than standard 35mm projection, not an incremental improvement over standard DLP projection. And once that happens, what prevents Dolby or RealD or, heck, Technicolor, from launching their own premium branding, and undercutting IMAX's costs? IMAX could become just another brand name in a crowded sector, and will have likely laid off everyone involved in film R&D and production.

But that's their problem. Let's get down to cases.

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I like film projection. Heck, you can probably guess that from just what's been written here. I make no secret of it; I think that the different grain structures of individual frames makes images that are not perfect horizontal or vertical lines look smoother, and that shooting digital offers a much lower upper limit to how good a movie can look with future technologies (think how the HD channels can show much more shot-on-film programming from the 1960s than shot-on-video shows from the 1980s).

There are positives to digital, though. Data files don't degrade nearly as quickly as prints. Independent films can get to many more theaters. Digital 3-D looks very good. On the production side, directors and cinematographers can get what they need without having to worry about chemicals.

So, what's that mean for the new IMAX-branded screen at Boston Common?

As expected, the auditorium selected for the upgrade is screen #2, the larger of the two screens on the first floor. It's been a couple months since I last saw a film on that screen (Green Zone, 13 March 2010), so its previous dimensions are not as firmly set in my mind as they might have been if I had seen something there the week before Iron Man 2 opened. It appears that, as is typically the case, they have removed two or three rows from the "flat" front section, replacing them with a larger, concave screen. The new screen, interestingly, is not flush with the back wall; when walking in, there is the brief impression that it is free-standing, like a large, warped LCD television.

It is large, but not staggeringly large. When one walks into the Simons IMAX theater at the New England Aquarium, the eight-story screen seems to go on forever; the effect is not quite so pronounced at Jordan's Furniture Reading, but it's still there. This looks like a good-sized movie screen. It is almost certainly the largest screen for digital projection in the greater Boston area, but I am honestly not sure how it compares to some of the larger film screens (#1s at Coolidge Corner & Somerville; #12 & #13 at Fenway). My hunch says this new one is slightly bigger, with its closeness serving to make it appear larger. From my seat, it filled my vision nicely, and there's an argument that anything more is overkill.

(I did kind of scratch my head at the folks seating in the back half of the auditorium as I entered; the room was far from full at 10:30am Sunday morning, and why shell out the extra dough for IMAX branding if you're going to sit far enough back to make it look like a regular screen?)

Shrek Forever After was not the ideal situation for judging image quality; much of the film takes place in relatively dark environs, effectively neutralizing one of these screens' stated advantages (bright, clear projection). The picture looked pretty good, although not perfect; I would occasionally note things looking a bit sketchy in the background, but since this isn't a case of something being upscaled like it would be if I saw it on a real IMAX screen, it's just what the movie looks like. Pixel structure was occasionally visible, but likely only for someone like me who has accidentally trained himself to notice it. One odd thing I noticed was that the 3-D glasses used seemed to be different from the Real-D ones used on other screens, and until the overhead lights went down, the glasses caught the light in a weird way, creating two vertical lines in my field of vision.

The biggest upgrade was the sound - AMC has cranked it in this theater, and the rumbling bass that kicked in with the Tron Legacy trailer (note to self: see Tron all the way through sometime this year) was pretty nice. Not quite the individual-subwoofers-in-every-seat awesomeness of Jordan's, but it's aggressive, far more so than any of the 35mm/conventional DLP theaters in the area. That's something that deserves play and praise.

But, let's look at this chart:

ScreenPrice (before noon)Price (afternoon)Price (evening)
AMC Boston Common, 35mm/DLP$6.00$9.00$11.50
AMC Boston Common, Real-D 3-D$9.00$12.50$14.50
AMC Boston Common, IMAX Digital [3-D]$10.00$13.50$15.50
Jordan's Furniture Reading, IMAX [3-D]$11.50$11.50$11.50
New England Aquarium, IMAX [3-D] N/AN/A$12.95

All prices at AMC and Jordan's are for Shrek Forever After; the Aquarium prices are for Avatar (they show one second-run IMAX film a day; the 40-60 minute IMAX documentaries cost $9.95). All prices are adult tickets as of tonight.

More than ever, there is some real cost-benefit analysis to be done when going to the movies. Personally, I find the IMAX digital screen a very tough sell - the quality at Jordan's is much better, and while it takes me time to get out there and back, the ticket price is often cheaper for what is undeniably a better product, even if I order online and pay a $1.25 service charge. And while it's nice, is it up to a 66% price hike nice for 2-D films (even in the evening, it's about 35%)?

Looking at those numbers, I sort of doubt that I'll be using this new screen much - it doesn't offer the same "wow" as the film-based IMAX screens, and since I don't mind the hours tacked on riding the bus out to Reading on the weekend Saturday, I'll generally opt for that. I can actually go either way on IMAX Digital versus Real-D; I'm honestly not sure whether the new screen is that much better, but $1 out of $9-$15 isn't a big surcharge. I will not be seeing movies converted to 3-D in post-production in 3-D; it's too much for for something that generally looks pretty poor.

It's a nice screen. It kind of kills me, though, that the Aquarium doesn't play more first-run films. As I said, calling both what the Aquarium has and what AMC has "IMAX" does an incredible disservice to the truly gigantic IMAX screen, which is often actually a better bargain - for a few weeks this year, both were playing the same film (Avatar), one on IMAX and one in digital 3-D, and at the late-afternoon/early-evening hours when Avatar was screening at the Aquarium, you would save $1.50 seeing it on the much larger, louder screen.

Anyway... When the eccentric millionaire gives me a chance to open my own dream theater, it will have "real" IMAX, and that's where my preferences still lie after seeing the new screen downtown. But if Reading is not practical for you, it's not a bad second choice.

Shrek Forever After

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 May 2010 at the Landmark Kendall Square #4 (first-run)

It sounds kind of damning that I'm spending so much time talking about the screen upon which Shrek Forever After was projected but relatively little on the movie itself, and it shouldn't, really. It's just that by the time you get to the fourth movie in a series, there's not a whole lot new to say. We know the characters. We know the animation style. We know the sort of soundtrack and pop-culture references that are going to get thrown in.

And that's okay. This combination of things has tended to work for Shrek - digging back through my memories of the series, I remember the first being pretty darn good, and clever (especially since DreamWorks hadn't yet made it the template upon which most of their animated films would be based); the second got big points for introducing Antonio Banderas as Puss In Boots and John Cleese as Fiona's father, but I'll be darned if I can remember a single bit of it beyond the giant gingerbread man using Godzilla sound effects and the brilliant use of "Hero" on the soundtrack; the third was pretty dreadful, just going through the motions. The fourth isn't as good as the first two, but it's certainly not the vortex of bland that the third was. It's funny at points, and has a few takes on fairy tale bits that work pretty well.

The big plus this time around is Walt Dohrn, a story and art guy who does the voice of Rumpelstiltskin and helps him become one of the series' most memorable villains. The character is younger than I tend to think of him - he looks to be in his twenties, rather than a shrunken old man, and is very funny to go with being bitter and nasty. I suspect this is one of those cases where Dohrn was doing the voice as placeholder, much like Joe Ranfft in A Bug's Life, but they kept him because he wound up being perfect. Kudos on DreamWorks for doing that, as they generally tend to overdose on celebrity voices (heck, swing by IMDB and see how many recognizable names are playing ogres and witches with a line or two apiece).

The movie looks pretty good, although the frequently dark environment (necessary because of a plot point) certainly recalls attempts to disguise iffy CGI in the past. One interesting thing is that the models really haven't changed much since the first Shrek; human figures, especially the witches, tend to have a rubbery look that isn't state of the art, but consistent with earlier films. There are some nifty flying sequences, which I suspect are going to become de riguer in animated films made with 3-D in mind.

It's not a bad return to the well, and at the end, I even felt, yeah, that works. I don't need any more, but this does allow the series to come to a graceful conclusion.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Kendall calendar & contest: No One Knows About Persian Cats and OSS 117: Lost in Rio


I will give this pass away. Somehow.

It's easy - send me an email or (re)tweet a link to one of my reviews of entertaining foreign movies, like this page (making sure @JaySeaver is in there somewhere so that I can see it), and you're entered. I'll select someone randomly at midnight as soon as I have a day with entries. You get a pass for two to see OSS 117: Lost in Rio Monday - Thursday at Kendall Square Cinemas in Cambridge as soon as I have your email address. Enter fast, and you can use it tomorrow!


It's Tuesday, which means you can look at Landmark's website to see what is going to stay and what is going to go at their Boston theaters come Friday. That's actually really useful if you like independent film, because a lot of these movies are in and out awfully quick. We're warned that the movies on their calendar are only booked for one week, but some of them do stick around longer - I see OSS 117: Lost in Rio is getting a second week (so you've got four more days to go see it if you claim the pass!).

The current schedule is actually a pretty good one - I'm kind of disappointed that I'll be out of town for Survival of the Dead, but happy to see that Air Doll will be waiting for me when I get back. It's also weird to see that the Cremaster cycle is on the list - I remember that bouncing around the various indie venues a few years ago (if I recall correctly, it started at the Allston Cinema Underground that Clinton McClung programmed, later played the Brattle, and then, maybe, went to the MFA). According to the program, the filmmaker has pledged that these films will never appear on home video.

Anyway, I'm kind of disappointed Persian Cats didn't get a longer run; it's a pretty darn good movie that grew on me as it played and afterward. And while I'm relatively lukewarm on Lost in Rio, it's still funny more often than not, certainly worth a look (especially if you can get in for free, right?).

Kasi az gorbehaye irani khabar nadareh (No One Knows About Persian Cats)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 18 May 2010 at the Landmark Kendall Square #4 (first-run)

No One Knows About Persian Cats doesn't initially look remarkable; indeed, midway through it, it appears slight of frame but bloated by music videos; interesting, but trying to be two things and doing neither well. But it eventually becomes clear that those musical interludes are not nearly as extraneous as they may at first seem, and that's before director Bahman Ghobadi really drops the hammer on us.

It starts off kind of cute, with a recording engineer talking with a friend about how the man he's recording is planning to make a movie, starring local musicians. He mentions two by name, and we soon meet them: Negar (Negar Shaghaghi) is a singer and songwriter who has managed to keep her record clean. Her boyfriend Ashkan (Ashkan Koshanejad) has not; he's just spent some time in jail for the crime of playing indie rock. Negar has a chance to play in London, but that involves getting a band together and acquiring papers. The DVD/CD bootlegger who copies their demo, Nader (Hamed Behdad), flips for it, and promises to help them put a band together and stage a concert to help pay a document forger to make up passports and visas. It sounds great, but even in countries where rock & roll is not a crime, folks like Nader tend to promise more than they can deliver.

There's independent film, and then there's what Persian Cats represents: A film made with what I presume are mostly non-professional actors and shot without permits in a country where expressing some of the views espoused can get you thrown in jail or worse. I initially presumed that it was shot in some relatively safe country, like Jordan or Morocco, using stock footage to create an illusion that the characters were in Tehran. It appears to be the real deal, though, which I guess explains why one of the music video segments opts not to show the singer directly, but instead either has the camera pointed off to the side or focuses on the extreme foreground, leaving her an obstructed blur. I'm kind of amazed that other musicians didn't demand similar treatment, especially the rap group.

Full review at EFC.

OSS 117: Rio ne répond plus (OSS 117: Lost in Rio)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 May 2010 at the Landmark Kendall Square #7 (first-run)

I was pretty fond of filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius's previous comedic revival of the OSS 117 franchise and character (Cairo, Nest of Spies); it did a lot of things right and did them in ways that an American audience almost certainly wouldn't expect. The followup, Lost in Rio, isn't bad; it remains amiable and funny despite stumbling into most of the traps waiting for comedy sequels.

This time around, it is 1967, and after a mission "protecting" a Chinese princess in Gstaad, France's top secret agent, OSS agent 117 Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath (Jean Dujardin), is being dispatched to Rio de Janeiro. Escaped Nazi Doktor Von Zimmel (Rudiger Vogler) is blackmailing France with a strip of microfilm that contains the name of wartime collaborators, and Hubert is being sent to pay him off. Of course, he's not the only secret agent on his way there - there's his American comrade Bill Trumendous (Ken Samuels), and beautiful Mossad agent Delores Koulechov (Louise Monot), and a whole slew of Chinese assassins, whose involvement Hubert can't quite figure. Their best lead is Heinrich Von Zimmel (Alex Lutz), the Doktor's hippie son.

Early on in the previous movie, we learned that Hubert was a bit past being a politically incorrect guy who liked the ladies; the version in this film series is casually sexist and racist, and utterly oblivious to just how insulting his off-hand comments were. It was surprising at first, but also a deviously reflexive joke, the hero of a revived franchise serving as a rebuke to nostalgia - a reminder that in the simpler times people supposedly pined for, that sort of behavior was common. It's not quite such an effective bit in a sequel, especially since Hazanavicius and co-writer Jean-François Halin are a bit more clumsy with it; rather than settling for the awkward pauses and looks, the joke is drawn out, occasionally too far.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, May 21, 2010

This Week in Tickets EXTRA (with contest!)

I don't think I missed anything big in the regular TWIT post. There are a couple of notable events at the FEI Theater chain: The Somerville Theatre is offering swag bags for the first 50 people to come to 8pm show of Sex and the City 2 on Thursday (27 May 2010); the Arlington Capitol has HD presentations of Norma (Saturday, 22 May 2010), part of an Opera In Cinema series, and Psycho as part of a weekly "Capitol Classic Films: Hitchcock in HD" series (Sunday, 23 May 2010 at 3pm with a repeat Thursday 27 May 2010 at 7:30pm).

(The notable bit there being that Universal is pushing a bunch of HD Hitch transfers good enough to be shown in theaters; hopefully Blu-ray releases aren't far behind!)

But, the main reason for this post is that the good people at Music Box Films have provided me with a pair of tickets to OSS 117: Lost In Rio to give away. They're good for any showing of OSS 117: Lost in Rio at the Kendall Square Theatre in Cambridge, MA on Monday - Thursday during its run. Since Lost in Rio is only scheduled for a one week run, that basically means 24 May 2010 - 27 May 2010, unless you want to gamble on it being held over another week.

This is my first giveaway, so I'll keep it simple and non-judgmental: If you're not doing so already, follow me on Twitter (@JaySeaver) and (re)tweet a link to a review of a fun foreign film (either here or at eFilmCritic); I'll randomly select one at 11:59pm Sunday and contact the winner for his/her email address, so that Music Box can send you tickets in time for a Monday matinee.

Open to everyone except @seaverm and @GastroJunkie (or other family members), because I'm not wholly corrupt and would like to do this again after next week.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

This Week In Tickets: 10 May 2010 to 16 May 2010

It looks like I could wind up spending some time at the Kendall this week:

* The Kendall's one-week warning is for OSS 117: Rio ne repond plus; I write that rather than English title OSS 117: Lost in Rio because this was playing in Montreal when I was there for Fantasia last year, and I saw posters for it dozens of times. I'm pretty happy to see it playing in Boston for a week, as I half-suspected that a sequel to a foreign language comedy would be a tough sell, despite the fact that OSS 117 was really, really funny.

Also at Kendall, a chance to look wise for which films you chose to see at IFFBoston, as both Looking for Eric and Casino Jack and the United States of Money open this weekend. They've also got Princess Kaiulani opening.

* Guests of various quality are at both the Brattle and Coolidge this weekend: On Friday and Saturday, directors Josh and Benny Safdie will be at the Brattle to introduce and take questions at the 7pm shows of their new film Daddy Longlegs; other guests are also scheduled for these shows. Daddy Longlegs continues through Thursday (27 May 2010) at the Brattle.

The Coolidge, meanwhile, is giving the screening room over to two new films from hack Larry Blamire: The Lost Skeleton Returns Again and Dark and Stormy Night. Actor Bob Deveau will be present for the Friday evening shows; they're also playing midnights this weekend, alongside the persisten Human Centipede.

* Major openings are MacGruber, which is apparently ducking press screenings even though everyone I've talked to who saw it at SXSW loved it; and Shrek Forever After,which may spur me to check out the new IMAX-branded screen at Boston Common.

* More Cesar Monteiro at the Harvard Film Archive; the MFA spotlights Sidney Lumet in the 1970s, Boston Jewish Film Festival encores, and 759: Boy Scouts of Harlem, a documentary about city kids in the country

* The Bollywood opening at Fresh Pond is notable - it's Kites, which is getting a notable American push. This is the original version; there is also a "remix" being released in a week or two which adds a bit more skin in, tightens the editing, removes extraneous dance numbers, and generally makes it feel more like an American movie. It should be an interesting comparison.

This Week In Tickets!

Okay, that's not a lot. It was a beautiful weekend, the park that has been under construction outside the house ever since I moved here three or four years ago is finally open for relaxing in.

I took advantage of it to take a good chunk out of Donald Westlake's final novel, Memory. It's different from the usual Hard Case book, as it doesn't really have a specific mystery or thriller element to it (although there's a recurring image that suggests something), instead doing an intriguing look inside the head of a man whose memory is severely damaged. As much as Memento was a neat gimmick for a thriller, this seems much more real and scary.

I've got a couple other Westlake books in my "to-read" pile, both under his own name and his Richard Stark alias. It's a shame that there's no more coming from him, but I'm at least glad he's had a long, illustrious career, because I'm going to have a good time catching up.

And now, the final IFFBoston 2010 index, or at least until I get to the screeners I've got:

21 April 2010: The Extra Man
22 April 2010: Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam, Cracks
23 April 2010: Winter's Bone, Down Terrace, Machotaildrop
24 April 2010: Pelada, War Don Don, The Freebie, I Am Love, The Good, The Bad, the Weird
25 April 2010: The Parking Lot Movie, NY Export: Opus Jazz, Hipsters, The Killer Inside Me
26 April 2010: Tiny Furniture, Shorts 3: Animation
27 April 2010: Marwencol, Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child
28 April 2010: Micmacs

The Girl on the Train

Recent French stuff: The Girl on the Train and Bluebeard

There is officially neither rhyme nor reason to how boutique films get booked in Boston, as these relatively late-arriving imports from France demonstrate. Bluebeard, okay, that's in large part about when the Brattle has an opening in their schedule, which can be especially difficult right now (it still had to share space with the end of the Boston LGBT Film Festival), but I didn't realize that The Girl on the Train was lagging so long after its New York release. I tend to expect a film to hit Boston within a couple weeks of New York, and I was kind of surprised when I saw that it actually took almost four months for it to hit Boston. I saw it on the last day of what turned out to be a two-week run at the Kendall; five days later it was on DVD. I'm kind of surprised that Boston ended up at the tail end this time, but I guess we should be considered lucky it got booked at all - plenty of midsized cities probably didn't get that, and I'm pretty sure it would have just blown right past me without a video release.

It's interesting that I found The Girl on the Train so much better than Bluebeard, if only because they've got a certain amount in common - both recent French films, picked up by Strand for distribution, with about the same "just okay" scores on IMDB. They're both also rather more passive than I usually go for. And while I think that Girl is a much better film, I wonder how much the attached name that I recognized influenced me.

After all, I was kind of excited to see Girl on the Train once I saw that Émilie Dequenne was the star; Dequenne, you see, was the damsel in distress in Brotherhood of the Wolf, a thoroughly entertaining action movie from about ten years ago that I loved all-around (I imported an HD-DVD from the United Kingdom a couple years ago so that I could have it in HD format, and find it frustrating as hell that director Simon Gans hasn't done anything besides Silent Hill since), and Ms. Dequenne specifically. While she's been working steadily, not much has been the sort of thing that makes its way to the U.S., and a poster that sells the show with "hey, one of your movie crushes is still really pretty" puts you in a good mood.

On the other hand, Bluebeard comes from director Catherine Breillat, who is known as a provocateur; she does movies like Fat Girl and Rape Me that get a reputation for unpleasantness to match their reputation as pretty good movies. I've generally got little time for that sort of film, so I've avoided her stuff in the past. So, I'm coming in thinking "movie by pretentious lady most known for shock value", which isn't so encouraging.

It's probably worth mentioning that Bluebeard was the Chlotrudis movie outing of the week, and you never look forward to the movie someone else chooses as much as the one you choose yourself, but I was planning to see it; this just wound up choosing which day I did. It led to one of those uncomfortable post-film discussions with friends, where everyone else seems to enjoy it and I'm wondering what sort of drugs they took before I got there. It also really seemed as if the others were trying to make it better than it actually was at times.

One example of that was pointing out that one of the children telling the story share's Breillat's first name, and maybe this is significant. And I suppose it may be - the names of these two kids were the names of the sisters inside the story rearranged (Marie-Anne and Catherine become Anne and Marie-Catherine), and if what happens in the end is autobiographical, that's a hell of a thing. But I kind of think it doesn't matter; does knowing this make the movie any better, or does it simply make it more obviously self-indulgent? I think the latter, and if that's the case, I kind of resent that a bit - it's a huge part of the movie that doesn't work unless you know the director's personal history, because the events in question are pretty random otherwise.

La fille du RER (The Girl on the Train)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 13 May 2010 at the Landmark Kendall Square #1 (first-run)

The Girl on the Train is based upon an incident that drew a fair amount of attention in its native France, but makes an unusual choice or two in telling the story. Director André Téchiné and co-writer Jean-Marie Besset (who had previously done this story on the stage) pay little attention to what the incident meant for the public at large, instead trying to get inside the head of the girl in question.

There's nothing extraordinary about Jeanne (Émilie Dequenne). She's quite pretty, maybe a bit spoiled by her mother Louise (Catherine Deneuve). She spends most of her time rollerblading around Paris, catching the eye of Franck (Nicolas Duvauchelle), a handsome young man training to be an Olympic wrestler. Her mother encourages her to apply for a job with Samuel Bleistein (Michel Blanc), who served in the army with Jeanne's father, while Franck gets them set up as "caretakers" of an electronics shop that mainly serves as a front for moving drugs. An incident there leaves Jeanne shaken, leading her to...

Well, now we're getting into stuff that happens relatively deep in the movie. Let's just say it kicks up a stir, and Louise turns to Samuel for help. In many cases, we'd see that stir, and it would serve as a reason to examine the tensions that exist in today's France, and Jeanne's behavior would be a symptom of those troubles. That's not the case here, though; instead, we spend a lot of time watching Jeanne do things that establish her as quite unremarkable, and if she's an exemplar of some societal ill, it's not the one that gets headlines after she goes to the police.

Full review at EFC.

Barbe Bleue (Bluebeard)

* * (out of four)
Seen 18 May 2010 at the Brattle Theatre (Special Engagement)

I don't think there have been any musical animated adaptations of "Bluebeard", and the reason why is pretty obvious: Once you remove the sex and violence to make it family-friendly, there isn't much left at all. Surprisingly, given her reputation, director Catherine Breillat avoids the lurid nature of this fable for as long as she can, before draining the fun right out of it.

Once upon a time, there were two sisters, Anne (Daphné Baiwir) and Marie-Catherine (Lola Créton), who were summarily sent home from boarding school after their father's death means their tuition will no longer be paid. They look to have no prospects, at least until invited to a party by a local noble (Dominique Thomas), whom the ladies shy away from because of his bizarre blue beard. Well, and because he's old and fat. Oh, and, right, there's the little matter of how he seems to take a new wife each year because he allegedly murders them. Still, younger sister Marie-Catherine is undeterred; she sees something in him other than grotesquerie and might even be strong-willed enough to live with him - at least, until he leaves on a trip to the provinces, giving her they keys to the castle but saying she must never use that one...

Soon, we see that the tale is being told by two more modern sisters exploring their attic, Marie-Anne (Lola Giovannetti) and Catherine (Marilou Lopes-Benites), with precocious younger sister Catherine teasing Marie-Anne for getting scared. These scenes seem a bit like padding, at least at first, but it's easily forgiven because these are cute kids, behaving in a way that sisters do, with Catherine clever for her age but not adult-smart. They're fun digressions.

Full review at EFC.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

IFFB 2010 Closing Night: Micmacs

The news hit Twitter on Monday - Saturday Night would not be the closing night film; for whatever reason, it wasn't available. Fortunately, they had lined up a replacement: Jean-Pierre Jeunet's new comedy, Micmacs. The news was incredibly well received - my favorite response was "Verdict: Upgrade!" - and I suspect that very few people who had purchased tickets for Saturday Night opted for a refund.

It's an example of just how completely crazy running a festival must be - you lock up your closing night film, use it in advertising, etc., and you must be pretty darn certain that it will play, only to have the rug ripped out from under you mid-festival, while you're busy trying to make sure that guests are happy, the hundreds of people in line outside the Somerville Theatre know which auditorium they're supposed to go into, and now you've got to get on the phone with studios and distributors and try to book a new movie on two days' notice - and not just any movie, but one impressive enough to be the closing night film for a pretty decent festival. That's crazy, and it impresses the heck out of me that they managed to pull it off.

(Also, nice job on throwing only the softest of back-handed disses to Saturday Night. I think that the festival staff maybe once said "it's better" rather than "it's even better.)

Makes my grumbling about having to take a taxi because my errands in Harvard Square took just long enough for me to see the 66 bus I needed to take pull away look pretty pathetic, so I will save my rants about how taking cabs drives me insane beyond all reason for another time.

And now, three weeks after this eight-day festival, it is good to be done with the reviews... Wait, what's this? Three or four screeners that I specifically asked for and that the producers paid postage on on...? Well, at least their details won't be falling out the back of my head as I try to get to reviewing them.

Micmacs à tire-larigot (Micmacs)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 28 April 2010 at the Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

Jean-Pierre Jeunet's newest film took a few days to grow on me, but that's the nature of Jeunet: The years between new films and intricate detail are often associated with weighty, "important" films, but Jeunet has a light touch at his best; his biggest mis-steps have come when trying to tell bigger stories. Here, he's mostly just having fun, and while that doesn't seem like much, it makes Micmacs a joy to watch.

Fun movies don't usually start with someone getting shot in the head, but that's what happens to Bazil (Dany Boon), a video store clerk who chooses the wrong moment to step outside. The doctors decide that the immediate risk of removing the bullet outweighs the fact that it could kill him at any time, so he's let go, but once he comes out of his coma, his job and apartment are gone. A group of misfits living in a nearby garbage dump take him in, though, and soon go along with his scheme to strike back at the munitions manufacturers who made both the bullet in his head and the land mine that killed his father.

Yes, the lovable misfits really do live in a garbage dump, albeit an unusually tidy one; Jeunet and co-writer Guillaume Laurant are not exactly hiding a metaphor there. They don't feel the need to shout it at the audience, though there are moments when the whimsy is pushed back. The extended flashback to Bazil's father, for instance, has a veneer of childish sentimentality to it, but is serious enough to give Bazil a layer of melancholy even though you could otherwise argue that getting shot in the head was a good thing for him (it led him to wonderful friends). And while there is a serious idea or two underneath the whimsy - merchants of death too concerned with one-upsmanship to care about the effects of their business - Jeunet never loses sight of his primary goal being to entertain an audience.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, May 14, 2010

IFFB 2010 Night Seven: Marwencol and Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child

To say I have a love-hate relationship with the second-to-last night of IFFBoston is to overstate things; it has, after all, only been a distinct entity for two years now, it's a clever idea, and I really like the ICA as a movie venue. I think I'd be a poor movie fan if I only went see movies that I knew I would like, and a poor human being if I only went to documentaries on subjects which I had existing interest in. I genuinely like knowing new things, so I like to combine that with my love of film by seeing documentaries whenever I can. And having a night of films on artists and the creative process at the ICA is a clever idea on IFFBoston's part (last year's here).

But, man, when I got the schedule and saw that, once again, the ICA was the only option on its night, I found it kind of annoying, especially since I had to make hard decisions on other parts of the festival. After all, if you've shelled out near two hundred bucks or inflated your websites hit count (kidding!) to get a pass, and want to use it as much as possible, it's not unreasonable to wish that some of the stuff that played once while there were six screens running over the weekend had encore showings during the same time period as, say, Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child.

But... This evening did give me a chance to see Marwencol, which is excellent. I don't know what the distribution situation is, but here are a couple of noteworthy sites if you'd like to see the art featured in the movie: "Marwencol on My Mind" in Esopus Magazine, and the official site, which is mainly a blog featuring Mark Hogancamp's action-figure fumetti.


* * * * (out of four)
Seen 27 April 2010 at the Institute for Contemporary Art (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

Documentaries about artists and art are frequently disappointing. Filmmakers try their best, but as artists themselves they can make intuitive leaps between their subject and his or her work that is not obvious to a general audience, who hear vague words and see abstractions. That's not the case with Marwencol; the artist and artwork are not just inseparable, but unusually accessible.

On 18 April 2010, Mark Hogancamp was attacked outside a bar in his hometown of Kingston, New York by five young men, and sustained tremendous brain damage - he had to relearn how to walk, talk, and even feed himself; he not only lost his memory, but a great deal of control over his anger and ability to concentrate. Naturally, he had a wholly inadequate rehabilitation program, and when released from the hospital, was more or less left ot his own devices. What he came up with was "Marwencol", a 1:6-scale Belgian village, circa World War II, that he built in his back yard and populated with army and fashion dolls. One was named after himself; others after friends and family. He would build an intricate narrative around these characters, and photograph them. Eventually, a professional photographer, David Naugle, would see his work, and forward it to Esopus magazine editor Tod Lippy, leading to a gallery show in Soho.

Even without context, Hogancamp's work is striking; he has a natural eye for composition (although, before he had a digital camera, it took long rounds of trial and error to learn the craft of photography), he can use a still photograph to tell a story, and an eye for detail. His photographs flit across the uncanny valley without being trapped in the middle; though clearly made of toys and sometimes out of scale to the environment, the scenes often seem real. I would (and will) happily purchase a book featuring Mark's photos.

Full review at EFC.

Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child

* * (out of four)
Seen 27 April 2010 at the Institute for Contemporary Art (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

In the last review I wrote (for the delightful "Marwencol"), I said that documentaries about art and artists were frequently disappointing, in part because filmmakers have a hard time translating the brilliance they see into something a non-artist can appreciate. Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child is an example of that, a loving tribute that probably tells his existing fans very little new but fails to paint a compelling enough picture to create new ones.

"In 1986," director Tamra Davis opens, "I filmed an interview with my friend Jean-Michel Basquiat." He died soon after, and Davis put the footage away, rediscovering it a decade later. It forms the spine of her documentary, although it is greatly augmented by stock footage, some imagery of his work, and contemporary interviews with Basquiat's friends and acquaintances. A familiar picture emerges - the talented youth who gains fame and success, gets into bad patterns, including substance abuse, and either emerges stronger or, like Basquiat, dies young.

You've seen this movie, both as a documentary and as a feature, if not necessarily about Basquiat specifically (in 1996's Basquiat), though it's the ones about musicians that generally get more play. And though it's a cruel thing to say, Basquiat's story as told by Davis isn't a particularly interesting variation on the theme. It's by turns inspiring and sad in all the usual ways, and his personal and professional life's intersections with the likes of Andy Warhol and the rest of the New York art scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s means that there's no shortage of colorful characters, but when looking at this film afterward, what stands out, makes it a particularly fascinating example of the genre? Very little.

Full review at EFC.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

This Week In Tickets: 3 May 2010 to 9 May 2010

Just out of curiosity, does anybody else read these previews or is it just me figuratively thinking out loud about what I'd like to see this weekend?

* The scheduled one-weeker at Kendall Square is Nobody Knows About Persian Cats; other new films opening there are Mother and Child and The Good Heart, but who knows which ones will actually last a week and which ones will stick around?

* Wide openings are Robin Hood, Letters to Juliet, and Just Wright. I honestly didn't know about the existence of Just Wright until I passed a standee while walking into Iron Man 2 last week, and while there's a good chance I'll find it insipid, how come I haven't been bombarded with trailers for it like I have for Letters to Juliet? There's something really wrong about how segregated films with primary white and primarily African-American cast can be.

As for Robin Hood... Eh. Somehow I've avoided seeing any previews for it other than what's popped up on TV, and neither Russell Crowe or Ridley Scott is enough to really excite me about a movie these days.

* The Brattle opens Catherine Breillat's new film, Bluebeard, an adaptation of the famous fairy tale that looks genuinely screwy. Much of Breillat's work has been stuff where I've been turned off right by the description, but this looks fairly entertaining.

* Also continuing at the Brattle and MFA, The Boston LGBT Film Festival.

* Harvard Film Archive kicks off a couple weeks of films by João César Monteiro, a Portuguese auteur.

* For those who like inexpensive but interesting films, the Coolidge has Hilde Sunday at 11am as part of a series of recent German cinema with Goethe-Institut for $5. It's a biography of the mid-century German actress Hildegard Knef. They've also got Rebel Without a Cause on the big screen on Monday, and midnights of Human Centipede and Lost Skeleton of Cadavra over the weekend (don't go see Lost Skeleton; you'll only encourage director Larry Blamire and he needs to stop). Please Give and Babies continue on film with The Secret in Their Eyes and The Square in the video room.

This Week In Tickets!

Stubless: Iron Man 2 (4 May 2010, AMC Boston Common #14, 7pm)

I didn't originally plan on going to two Red Sox games this past week; the Monday night game was one of the ones I bought when tickets went on during the offseason; the Wednesday one I picked up practically as a reflex action when I heard that they'd be honoring Nomar Garciaparra before the game, it being 5/5 and all. Seriously, I saw that on Twitter, and then within moments and without really thinking about it, I was on the Sox website and clicking "best available". That turned out to be very good indeed, yet another example of how you can get really good seats when you only want one

To top it all off, they turned out to be great games. I won't lie, I was feeling kind of discouraged filing in; the Sox had just been swept by the lowly Orioles and it looked like things were never going to turn around. The first one was just a brutal butt-kicking of the Angels, one which was even more lopsided than the score made it look because Scott Shoenweiss gave up a bunch of runs pitching garbage time in the ninth. Wednesday was pretty good, too; not only were there all the pregame ceremonies with Nomar and friends (check out some pictures), but it was John Lackey's first game against his old team. It was another solid game on the way to a four-game sweep, making me feel much better about the team.

In between, there was a sneak preview of Iron Man 2, which I liked a great deal, and had fun attending. The pre-show of snarking on people trying to cut in line was worth the time by itself.

Then the weekend came, and it was too dreary and chilly to actually go out much, so I occupied myself with stuff around the house, and watching the Sox-Yankees series. That chased some of the goodwill generated by the Angels sweep away, although it ended on a good note.

Oh, and here's the updated IFFBoston 2010 index:

21 April 2010: The Extra Man
22 April 2010: Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam, Cracks
23 April 2010: Winter's Bone, Down Terrace, Machotaildrop
24 April 2010: Pelada, War Don Don, The Freebie, I Am Love, The Good, The Bad, the Weird
25 April 2010: The Parking Lot Movie, NY Export: Opus Jazz, Hipsters, The Killer Inside Me
26 April 2010: Tiny Furniture, Shorts 3: Animation
27 April 2010: Marwencol, Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child
28 April 2010: Micmacs

I think next week will be the last time we have to revisit this.

The Square

* * * (out of four)
Seen 6 May 2010 at Coolidge Corner #2 (first-ish run)

The Square is a quality thriller. It does a fine job of continuing to pile pressure onto its main characters, putting them in a box that is smaller and tighter and harder to escape. What really makes it work, though, is the way it continually compromises main character Raymond Yale (David Roberts). He starts out likable enough, even if he is stepping out on his wife, but every step of the plan he and girlfriend Carla (Claire van der Boom) hatch drags him further and further down, until whether he or her sketchy husband Smitty (Anthony Hayes) is the better man becomes a good question. It's good old-fashioned pulp that way, although transplanted to the Australian suburbs. Even as he sinks further and further down, Raymond does things that suggest he may still be salvageable, and van der Boom plays Carla as a sort of fille-voisin fatale, hatching dangerous schemes that she pulls Raymond into, but still sympathetic.

It's clever in spots, too - I love how director Nash Edgerton puts plenty of square shapes in the frame early on, so that the audience wonders if this bit is crucial. The scenes with Raymond's and Carla's dogs are bring smiles without being too cutesy, although the way the last one ends is random, although I guess that randomness winds up a pretty good parallel for how the movie finishes. I really like the twist the movie takes just before that, though, a darkly comic misunderstanding that ties things together.

In the "funny-only-to-me" category, I laughed when the name "David Roberts" flashed on-screen. Like many Red Sox fans (and fans of baseball in general), I'd been receiving tweets all week about how 2004 ALCS hero Dave Roberts (now working for the Padres front office) had been diagnosed with lymphoma, wishing him good luck and a speedy recovery. Each one of them freaked me out a little, as I've got a cousin by the name of David Roberts who is getting married at the end of the month, and because of the need to get travel arrangements and such in order, that was what I first thought every time I saw the name.

Anyway, I'm not complaining about sharing a name with a fictional character again)

(Aside - that R4 cover is way cooler than the poster image we've been seeing in the U.S.)

Joheunnom nabbeunnom isanghannom (The Good, The Bad, The Weird)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 9 May 2010 at Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run)

Tonight (13 May 2010) is this film's last night in Boston (barring a move to one of the FEI theaters), and anyone who can get to it should. I loved it when I saw it at, and a second viewing didn't disappoint. It, perhaps, wasn't quite so excitingly new and unexpected as it was two weeks earlier, but there were bits that didn't stick in my head during the late-night show that I liked, and stuff that had a new meaning the second time through.

The action still rocked, of course, even on screen #9 at Kendall. I can't wait for this to hit Blu-ray.

Sox destroy AngelsNomar Day!The SquareThe Good, The Bad,The Weird

IFFB 2010 Night Six: Tiny Furniture and Animated Shorts

Monday night is, effectively, the extra day added to the festival's schedule this year - the ICA day and Coolidge Corner closing film got pushed back a day, and this one was a little sparse - nine shows, two of them encores of features, three encores of short packages, nothing at the Brattle.

It was also a kind of drizzly, gloomy day, and that's part of why I went for Tiny Furniture instead of Cairo Time - the staff were letting folks into that first, if only by a few minutes. It had nothing to do with the other film presented by Chlotrudis being I Am Love on Saturday (I'm not that fickle) or having read the day before that star Patricia Clarkson was being a real source of aggravation for an art-house theater in Manhattan. The other factor was that Cairo Time had an August theatrical release date scheduled, and Tiny Furniture didn't. This may have been a mistake - I can't say I was a big fan of Tiny Furniture - but I doubt it will get much of a release, so this is a way to see two on the big screen rather than one.

The goal was to be able to work Shorts Package 3 in, anyway - that's the one that contained the new Don Hertzfeldt short in, and while it may seem silly to build a festival schedule around a crudely-animated (or apparently so) five-minute short, Hertzfeldt has yet to do something I don't find really impressive, and "Wisdom Teeth" is no exception.

Tiny Furniture

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 26 April 2010 at the Somerville Theater #4 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

I'm often not quite sure where I land on movies like Tiny Furniture. They spend a lot of their time annoying me, quite honestly, with their characters' awkward quirks and selfishness, and I'm never quite able to figure out whether I've just watched a filmmaker do a terrible job of presenting sympathetic characters or a note-perfect depiction of flawed human beings. And then I decide that the filmmaker's intentions don't matter; I was only mildly entertained and not particularly enriched by the experience, so that makes it a mediocre movie in my book.

We start with Aura (writer/director Lena Dunham) returning home to New York from college out in Ohio. Her mother Siri (Laurie Simmons) and sister Nadine (Grace Dunham) barely look up as she arrives, and on her first night back, she's at a party held where she meets her best friend from high school, Charlotte (Jemima Kirke), and is introduced to Jed (Alex Karpovsky), a YouTube performer in New York to discuss projects who is soon crashing on the sofa when Nadine and Siri go visit colleges. Charlotte gets her a job as a day hostess at a nearby restaurant, where she meets handsome chef Keith (David Call).

That doesn't sound so bad, right? And it's not, except we're seeing this through Aura's eyes. The film spends a fair amount of time as portraying her as being unappreciated and crapped on, and based on what we see, that's not inaccurate. It would be a lot easier to sympathize with her, though, if she at any point made some sort of positive contribution to the world around her. She's not uniquely selfish, but in a lot of ways she's the worst of a petty lot: Nadine's a bratty teenager, so it works as sibling rivalry, and Jed is hissably dickish, but Aura? She just acts entitled and inconsiderate, and doesn't mature much over the course of the movie.

Full review at EFC.

Shorts Package 3: Animation

Seen 26 April 2010 at the Somerville Theater #3 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

All of the shorts were collected into six packages this year, while previously some would play alongside features. I suspect that this makes things easier all around - you don't wind up confusing audiences with two ballots for the audience award, if filmmakers are in town, there's no awkwardness of when to have the Q&A, just one disc to keep track of in the booth. There were two for documentaries, two for drama, one for comedy, and one for animation, which is the one which fit my plans (and desires) best.

"One Square Mile of Earth" - * * ¾ - Fairly amusing with anthropomorphic animals meeting in a bar and lounge, talking about the things that people who meet up in bars do. It's frequently funny, although the art style isn't a particular favorite of mine; it's distorted and flattened in a way that distracts.

"Invisible Loneliness" - * * * * - Very cool little stop-motion bit where a little girl, given a key by her father, must go on a quest in her imagination to re-acquire it when it's lost. Director Lin Jung-hsien has a great design sense, has her characters communicate well without words, and the finale is very grand indeed, the sort of spectacle that I wish could have been shot in 3-D, as it uses depth so well.

"Sebastian's Voodoo" - * * * ¾ - Another great little short with a simple premise - that voodoo dolls are alive and suffer the same consequences of being stuck with those pins as the people they're tied to. In this adventure on a table-top, one tries to save his friends. It's a clever concept, the digital animation is very nice, and the film earns an emotional conclusion in very few minutes.

"Junko's Shamisen" - * * * - An interesting mesh of live action and various animation techniques, dressing up a familiar tale of murder and vengeance with plenty of style. Not bad, but not lodging in my memory like the others.

"Varmints" - * * * ½ - At 24 minutes, this one is just the right length to be a TV special, and I hope someone picks it up. It's obviously a story with a message - a forest is razed in order to erect a city that seems run-down almost immediately - but it's a beautifully told one, with whimsically designed creatures, a sweet little love story, and an impressively rendered finale.

"Wisdom Teeth" - * * * * - Don Hertzfeldt takes a break from his frequently dark "Everything Will Be OK" trilogy for his first flat-out crazy comedy since 2003's Animation Show bumpers. It's as simple as Hertzfeldt's stick figures - guy allows friend to pull the stitches from his dental surgery out, only to have one be much longer than it should, and connected to something so that pulling it out causes massive pain. It's viciously funny, with excellent comic timing and gags which get stranger and funnier as the film goes on.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

IFFB 2010 Day Five: The Parking Lot Movie, NY Export: Opus Jazz, Hipsters, and The Killer Inside Me

I'm now at the two week mark, so it's getting hard to remember the specifics of this Sunday. The main thing to remember is that it was a pretty upbeat afternoon - start off with the thoroughly entertaining Parking Lot Movie, a little down-time before the ballet, exit straight from that and into Hipsters (cutting it closer than I would usually advise when making a schedule)... And then you get out of the Russian musical and get hit with the pitch-black The Killer Inside Me.

The Parking Lot Movie

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2010 at the Somerville Theater #4 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

Most documentary features that get any sort of play beyond local public television do because not only are they generally well-made, but they have important subject matter; someone programming a film festival or a boutique movie house decides you need to see this. That's fine, although if you haven't cursed out a programmer for an unwatchable movie about a worthy topic, it's just a matter of time. So The Parking Lot Movie is worth a shot if it shows up in a theater near you. I mean, do the math; how entertaining must it be to get booked when it is so aggressively, delightfully trivial?

It is not, after all, a look at parking lots as a phenomenon. You won't hear commentary on how parking lots are asphalt hot spots that create strange weather on a micro scale, or how the demand for parking has pushed white collar jobs out of the inner city and into the suburbs. No, this is a film about a specific parking lot, the Corner Parking Lot in Charlottesville, Virginia, a triangular piece of land tucked between a few bars and railroad tracks. A likable fellow by the name of Chris Farina has owned and operated it for the past twenty-odd years, with the staff mostly coming from the nearby university. At the time of filming, it mostly seemed to be faculty and grad students from the philosophy department, as employees tend to bring their friends in as soon as a spot opens up.

They do this because the Corner Parking Lot appears to be one of those spots that is a delight to work at so long as you accept it for what it is: A parking lot. The hours are flexible, the pay is enough for a student to scrape by on, and there are long periods that can either be used for studying or goofing around with friends, so long as the work gets done. From what we see in the film, the Lot has a history of hiring folks who are clever and witty.

Full review at EFC.

NY Export: Opus Jazz

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2010 at the Somerville Theater #3 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

Is ballet the least-appreciated major art form in America? To perform it demands the physical fitness and training of a professional athlete and the skills a professional actor. The music is often lively, and the choreography is intricate, able to communicate emotion without language. And for this, it is widely derided. Part of the reason for this is that the stories told in the medium are often presented as fantasies, period pieces, or artsy abstractions; something as contemporary as NY Export: Opus Jazz is a rarity.

Though a product of the 1950s, with a score by Robert Prince and choreography by Jerome Robbins (perhaps best known for the choreography of West Side Story), this film version is done in modern street clothes. It has five movements, shot on location around New York City, with teenage characters romancing, fighting, and challenging each other. Those five segments are connected with brief narrative snippets tying them together (though not using dialogue to do it).

I cannot comment on the ballet aspects of NY Export: Opus Jazz in much detail or really with any expertise; I'm as guilty of ignorance where dance is concerned as anyone. I can say that I came to regret that while watching this movie; I was thoroughly drawn in by the recreated choreography of Robbins and the energetic performances of the New York City Ballet. The cinematography is excellent; a scene featuring two dancers overlooking the city is one of the most beautiful of the year. The locations are well-chosen; empty and sometimes a little run-down, suggesting that the characters are at best on the lower side of middle-class, but giving the characters plenty of room to move and jump.

Full review at EFC.

Stilyagi (Hipsters)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2010 at the Somerville Theater #1 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

It seems like every time I've seen western culture sneaking behind the iron curtain, it's been about The Beatles. Of course, youth chafing at authority existed well before the Fab Four, and represents more than mere fandom. So let's take a look at 1950s Moscow, where despite the monolithic image presented to the west, a subculture of youngsters goes against the gray orthodoxy of the Soviet Union. They're called stilyagi, or "hipsters".

(Doesn't that sound like great fodder for a musical? Good, because that's what director Valeriy Todorovskiy has for us.)

We see the garishly-dressed hipsters at a party, but it's not going to last long - a group of young Communist Party members led by the severe Katya (Evgeniya Khirivskaya) are coming to break it up, forcibly giving haircuts to the long-hairs. Some bolt over a wall, and star athlete Mels (Anton Shagin) gives chase - but when he finally catches up to one, it's Polza (Oksana Akinshina), and he's instantly smitten. He not only lets her get away, but asks Boris (Igor Voynarovskiy), a former classmate who goes by "Bob" when hanging out with other hipsters, how to get in the group and get close to her. But can he compete with "Fred" (Maksim Matveev), a handsome hipster whose well-connected father brings him a lot of privileges?

I don't know whether any of the architects of glasnost and perestroika were hipsters in their youth. It doesn't matter as far as the movie is concerned; in fact, it makes things a little more poignant - we know that the place they live in will either punish them or force them to conform, just as we know that the West that they are trying to emulate in many ways only exists in their heads. The Soviet Union is a gray, paranoid, joyless place, and just wearing bright colors or playing the saxophone is seen as a challenge to the the State, even if the people doing so are good Communists otherwise. Hipsters is a coming-of-age story, but that can be a grimmer thing than American audiences are used to; adulthood does not offer autonomy to balance responsibility; the fathers who smile at their sons' indulgences know this.

Full review at EFC.

The Killer Inside Me

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2010 at the Somerville Theater #1 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

The Killer Inside Me is getting a certain amount of notice for its violence, which is a little surprising to me, in a strict "well, I've seen worse" sense. But I suspect the filmmakers will be fine with that. It gets people talking about thei rmovie and maybe buying a ticket. It's a little unfortunate that saying Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba, and Kate Hudson turn in better work than many think them capable of won't get people into theaters, but that one beats the crap out of the others will, but it's also nice to know that cinematic violence can still shock people.

Affleck plays Lou Ford, a county sheriff's deputy whose office covers a lot of ground in west Texas. He's seeing a sweet young waitress, Amy (Kate Hudson), people seem fond of him despite that trouble with his foster brother, and both the local labor union's lawyer, Joe Rothman (Elias Koteas), and the area's most prominent businessman, Chester Conway (Ned Beatty), can count on him to bend the law so that everything runs smoothly. The sheriff has had him scope out Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba), a single young woman supporting herself well with no source of income but her body, and then Conway engages him to be the go-between between him and her. It seems that Joyce is blackmailing Conway's son Elmer (Jay R. Ferguson), and what the Conways don't know is that Lou and Joyce have started a twisted relationship of their own. When things go wrong, Lou's attempts to remove himself from suspicion threaten to bring his violent nature into public view.

Lou is our narrator, and both in voice-over and on-camera, Affleck nails a sort of casual monstrousness. His voice breaks in a certain way that makes him sound almost frail, a humble country boy respecting his neighbors and betters, at least without context. Once one gets a peek at what he's capable of, it's something different, flat, without empathy, good manners covering for his sociopathy. There's a cunning intelligence to Lou Ford, but not quite so much as he thinks, and Affleck gives us just the right impression of him - mostly dead inside, but with just the right amount of contempt for his pursuers and arrogance that it will take the rest of the characters a little while to see his true nature.

Full review at EFC.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

A movie & dinner: Iron Man 2

I don't do many of these previews; since I work in Waltham and most of these take place at Boston Common; it takes me an hour and four bucks to get there on the T, and you're not guaranteed a seat. Tuesday was potentially a case in point; I met my brother Matt and his fiancée Morgan there at about 6pm (for a 7pm show), and they were the only ones in the line; the ushers had already let the bulk of the group up. So we settle in to wait for them to see how many of the seats reserved for the press will be unused and given to us.

Fortunately, being at the front of the line, we not only had a pretty good chance to get in, but we had a front row seat to a near-constant stream of people with the same passes we had (the type that don't guarantee seating) walking past the line, trying to get in, and seeming shocked that they had to go to the end of the clearly labeled line. Lots of "but I've got a pass", and a truly improbable amount of "my friend is already upstairs".

It's a weird progression. At first, you're ticked off and angry; who do these jerks think they are? But soon, the futility just becomes sort of hilarious; they're coming in one after another, some really should have seen the last person get shot down and just gone to the end of the line, because time spent trying to get past an impassive usher is time when other people are getting in line before them, and potentially being the ones who get in while they go home.

Being at the front of the line, we got in when they were done counting press, in decent seats even. For a radio-station screening, it was pretty well-behaved, although the guy next to me brought out his iPhone a few times. Naturally, he bailed as soon as the credits started, and missed the post-credits tease of ---- (a character I'm never had a huge amount of interest in, and Matt doesn't read comics much at all, but somehow we both wound up excited at the last shot).

Afterward, we bounced from place to place, looking for somewhere still open that I had a coupon for. We eventually wound up at Kitty O'Shea's. The food was pretty decent - good potato skins followed by a very nice Black Pastrami sandwich.

And now, back to writing up IFFBoston reviews...

Iron Man 2

* * * (out of four)
Seen 4 May 2010 at AMC Boston Common #14 (preview screening)

It's amazing what Marvel managed with the first Iron Man movie a couple years ago. It may be hard to remember, but back in 2007, Tony Stark was almost completely unknown outside of comic book shops, and Robert Downey Jr. was seen as a risk even by the folks who thought he was perfect for the role. Marvel opted to produce the film themselves, entering a distribution deal with Paramount rather than selling the rights. And then, in the closing credits, they revealed that they were planning something a little bigger than a superhero franchise.

It's easy to see Iron Man 2 as a little disappointing when compared to its predecessor, not because it's notably lower in quality (it isn't, really), but because it lacks the feeling that we're seeing something new and surprising. Instead, director Jon Favreau and screenwriter Justin Theroux have done what sequels have traditionally done - made a list of what people liked in the first one and delivered more of that, without making the repetition too obvious. That they do all right is commendable; that's harder than it looks when all you're talking about is surface elements, and almost impossible when one of the items on the list is "discovering something new".

Iron Man 2 starts six months after Tony Stark (Downey) ignored the advice recommendations of SHIELD and announced to the world that he was Iron Man, and in that time a lot of people have been busy. Stark has been intervening in trouble spots around the world; rival defense contractor Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) has been trying to duplicate Iron Man technology (as have rival nations); and a Russian physicist Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) with a grudge against Tony's late father has actually managed to duplicate the suit's power source. And while Tony Stark outwardly seems like the same arrogant man-child he started out as, what he hasn't told anybody - not newly-promoted CEO Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), best friend Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Don Cheadle), or new assistant Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson) - is that the toxic palladium that both powers the Iron Man armor and keeps his heart beating has been seeping into his bloodstream, and is rapidly poisoning him.

Full review at EFC.

This Week In Tickets: 26 April 2010 to 2 May 2010

Mostly previews this week, since I needed a bit of time away from theaters after IFFBoston. And it was a fantastic weekend, weather-wise, with Free Comic Book Day and the park that has been under construction near my house ever since I moved here finally opened to the public, so it was a good weekend to sit by the park, read comics, and watch baseball in the evening.

* Summer movie season kicks off Friday with Iron Man 2, which not only opens on a bazillion screens, but actually opens the long-awaited "Imax" screen at AMC Boston Common. It's not a real IMAX screen, but one of the digital screens that is branded such, and as yet, I'm not sure what the premium they'll be charging for Imax-branded shows will be. The movie is also opening in an IMAX blow-up at the furniture stores for a couple of weeks.

I saw a 35mm preview on Tuesday (minus the super-secret trailer); expect a review later today. It's a fun movie, not quite as great or surprising as the first, but still a nice way to kick off the summer. And, just as with the first, stay through the end credits; Marvel continues to expand their movie universe, and by gum, it actually got me excited about a character that never really interested me in the comics.

* The Boston LGBT Film Festival kicks off tonight (6 May 2010) at the Museum of Fine Arts, adds The Brattle as a venue tomorrow, and takes up residence at both venues for the next week and a half.

* The Coolidge moves The Square and The Secret in Their Eyes to digital screening rooms and opens Please Give and Babies on the larger screens. They will also be showing up on other screens around town.

* Late night: The Human Centipede (First Sequence) plays Friday and Saturday at the Coolidge. I think I can go without. The Brattle has digital presentations of House, and if you haven't seen it... Well, do so.

* The Harvard Film Archive has a series called The Poetic Realism and Casual Expressionism of Victor Gaviria; Mr. Gavaria will be on hand to introduce and take questions.

* The one-week wonder at Kendall square is The Exploding Girl; they're holding over The Good, the Bad, the Weird.

This Week In Tickets!

Since you can see both tickets up there, I didn't win anything in the raffles IFFBoston had for Marwencol and Micmacs attendees. Which is probably right - the guy with a press pass shouldn't be winning something.

The nice weather over the weekend got me lazy about writing reviews, although getting through Saturday takes some doing. Here's the updated IFFBoston 2010 index:

21 April 2010: The Extra Man
22 April 2010: Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam, Cracks
23 April 2010: Winter's Bone, Down Terrace, Machotaildrop
24 April 2010: Pelada, War Don Don, The Freebie, I Am Love, The Good, The Bad, the Weird
25 April 2010: The Parking Lot Movie, NY Export: Opus Jazz, Hipsters, The Killer Inside Me
26 April 2010: Tiny Furniture, Shorts 3: Animation
27 April 2010: Marwencol, Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child
28 April 2010: Micmacs

House (Hausu)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 1 May 2010 at the Brattle Theatre (Special Engagement)

The only other movie I saw last week was House (or Hausu), which I had seen a hear ago at BUFF '09, though only in digital projection. As you might expect, it looks really good in 35mm, and I suspect that Criterion or some related label will be putting it out on DVD and Blu-ray later this year, once these bookings die down a bit - for a movie released thirty-odd years ago, it's having a nice second life, first playing on the festival circuit in 2009 (it was at BUFF, NYAFF, and Fantasia last year, and that's just where it intersected my path), then having solid midnight bookings. In fact, I suspect that the only reason it had to wait until last weekend to play the Brattle was that it took nearly that long to pry the print out of New York City's IFC Center.

However, I suspect that when it does finally come out on video, I may wind up giving it a pass. Not because I don't love it - I do, in all its insanity - but because it's the sort of movie that needs an audience. At BUFF, the room was nearly full, and we fed off each other; for the 11pm show I saw, it wasn't crowded, and that didn't work quite as well. It's as though a certain percentage of the seats need to be filled for a cult movie to attain critical mass, and that screening fell just short of it.

Then again, in my living room, having a couple friends who have never seen it over would probably do it.
IFFBoston: ICA NightIFFBoston Closing Night: MicmacsHouse