Tuesday, November 30, 2010

New from France: The Joy of Singing, Inspector Bellamy

This post was originally going to be somewhat longer on both ends - I intended to see one or two other films in the MFA's series on Friday afternoon and Claire Denis's White Material tonight. Why have I not? Well, let me put it this way - I never get off the 47 bus as the right spot to see things at the museum. Never. On Friday, as usual, I missed the MFA stop, didn't realize I'd gone too far until the train pulled into Ruggles Station, and then got a bit turned around and ended up walking to Dudley Station. Sunday I at least managed to get off one stop too early, which was OK, since the schedule left me plenty of time.

Tonight, after seeing that Kendall Square was going to hold White Material over a week, I opted to go see The Narrow Margin as part of the VES screenings at the Harvard Film Archive instead... Only to get there and see a note taped to the door saying that it was unavailable, and they'd be playing the first two chapters of Godard's History of Cinema instead. Eh, no thank you. I stopped by Mr. Bartley's for a delicious burger as compensation (there's no line on summer weeknights for a seat!), and then walked home to find the UPS guy just leaving the Fantasia/Fantasia 2000 Blu-ray Discs on my doorstop. I'm no superstitious person, but I am willing to accept that as a message, and am watching three and a half hours of fantastic animation with amazing sound and picture instead.

Thing noticed while writing the review for Joy of Singing: I think the last time I used the word "airhead" was when reviewing The Girl on the Train. Do the French use this character type more than others? Speaking of which, I see Girl on the Train and Bellamyshare a writer. How odd, to never see anything by someone who has had a decades-long career and then see two in relatively rapid succession.

Le plaisir de chanter (The Joy of Singing)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 November 2010 at the Museum of Fine Arts's Remis Auditorium (New Films From France)

There are music and voice lessons in The Joy of Singing, but there's also sex. And spies. And screwball strangeness. It's a leftover stew of a movie, with filmmaker Ilan Duran Cohen apparently throwing in whatever bits of story caught his fancy and coming out with a droll, if occasionally bizarre, comedy.

Arms dealer Hans Muller has recently died, which is a problem for a great many people, as he was moving a shipment of uranium at the time. French Intelligence believes that a USB card with information on who purchased it may be in the hands of his widow, Constance (Jeanne Balibar), so they task a pair of agents to get close to her: Muriel (Marina Fois), thirty-five and starting to worry about her inability to conceive, and Philippe (Lorant Deutsch), her much younger partner and lover. The easiest way to get close appears to be the singing class she takes from opera singer Eve (Evelyne Kirschenbaum), but everyone else has the same idea: Anna (Caroline Ducey) is probably with Israeli or Russian intelligence, Xavier (Eytan Kirch) with another agency, and Julien (Julien Baumgartner) is a prostitute hired by Reza (Frederic Karakozian), a bear of an Iranian. They've got their work cut out for them, because while Constance seems to be an airhead fortunate to have married well and been widowed relatively young, her sister-in-law Noémie (Nathalie Richard) thinks it's an act and she murdered her husband.

If it's an act, it's an amusingly convincing one. We get a sense of this character and the movie's general sense of humor early on, when she's walking out of Eve's building and has her purse snatched. Instead of panic or terror, there's a confused look on her face that says "again?", and that's before we learn that, no, this is not the first time her bag has been stolen or her apartment searched. The film is one long, Gallic shrug at increasingly absurd situations, a laugh at how ineffectual the authorities are and how the ditzy Constance is seemingly able to just drift through, apparently unharmed and unaffected by the dead bodies and strange entanglements appearing in her wake.

Full review at EFC.

Bellamy (Inspector Bellamy)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 November 2010 at the Museum of Fine Arts's Remis Auditorium (New Films From France)

The opening scene of Claude Chabrol's final theatrical film gives a hint to why he was often compared to Alfred Hitchcock, though with a French sensibility: His camera threads its way through a graveyard until it finds corpse that is not there to be interred: It's burnt to a crisp, still in a sitting position, and clutching a steering wheel like nothing terrible has happened. The head is on the ground next to it. For all the gruesomeness of the image, it's a jaunty, whimsical moment, the sort of black comedy that was Hitch's trademark.

From there, things become rather more French. We see a man, Noel Gentil (Jacques Gamblin), lurking around the Nimes vacation home of Paul Bellamy (Gerard Depardieu). Paul's wife, Françoise (Marie Bunel), sends him away, but Paul, a Paris detective of some renown, cannot resist a mystery, especially when the alternative is spending time with half-brother Jacques Lebas (Clovis Cornillac). It turns out that Gentil is really Emile Leullet, the owner of the car, and with his insurance fraud discovered, he wants Bellamy to help him and his lover Nadia (Vahina Giocante) to find a way out of what he claims is not cold-blooded murder.

The story sounds ridiculous when described like that, and I suspect that there is no way to describe it where it would sound otherwise. Bellamy spends a good deal of time ferreting out information that should have been given to him up front, while the final pieces fall into place from somewhat conveniently. To the extent that Bellamy is a murder mystery, it is about determining degrees of culpability. Though Bellamy is not on official police business, he is still engaging in one of a detective's most important duties - trying to determine what a suspect is capable of, at that crucial moment, when there's no definitive evidence. Indeed, not being on official business is why Bellamy is able to spend so much time giving this thought.

Full review at EFC.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Love and Other Drugs (and, of course, previews)

Three mainstream movies this weekend, three different sets of previews. This one was short, as one of the Somerville Theatre's many charming qualities - such as evening tickets that cost less than the downtown theater's matinee price, full service ice cream, and hosting great film festivals - is not front-loading films too severely with a huge ad package, so the movie's running time actually provides a decent guideline for when you'll get out. So just two:

Source Code - I'm signed up just based on Duncan Jones directing science fiction again, as I am quite fond of Moon, to understate the case a bit. I like Jake Gyllenhaal. And I love Michelle Monaghan. Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright are not exactly negatives. The preview looks just about as spiffy as I'd hope.

Still, I'm not sure why they called it "Source Code". That term has a specific meaning to us folks who program computers for fun and profit, and it's not what you guys seem to think it means!

Black Swan - I'm glad I live in a big-ish city, because it doesn't look like anything else is getting a wide release this Friday, and ComingSoon.net is only showing it as "limited" (but those limits include Boston). I almost feel like I know too much just from seeing the preview, although it doesn't seem to give that much away.

A couple notes: Because people have yelled "bias!" for much smaller omissions (and that's leaving out the accusations that aren't completely imaginary), I'll mention here that my day job involves me doing work for drug companies, albeit with at least two levels of intermediaries so that they don't have to deal with me directly - this, I suspect, is good for everybody involved. Plus, the medical data I work with doesn't tend to involve antidepressants or vasodilators. All I'm saying is that just because certain characters are specified as working for Lilly or Pfizer, I'm not going to look on them favorably because they hire my employers or unfavorably because they may or may not be among the folks whose requests drive me bananas.

... and, before getting to the review, it's kind of amusing that when I came out of the screening, I planned on spending a little more time on how eminently screen-cap-able the eventual Blu-ray will be for fans of Ms. Hathaway (and Mr. Gyllenhaal, to a lesser extent), which was kind of surprising considering the genre and presumed audience - honestly, if this underperforms, I wonder if it will be because people don't realize the teasing cuts of the trailer don't represent how much skin you get to see in the movie. But then I went to a couple of French films the next day, and The Joy of Singing made me reconsider what I consider an unusual amount of casual nudity is for a comedy.

Love and Other Drugs

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 November 2010 at Somerville Theatre #2 (first-run)

Edward Zwick could have made an issue movie out of Love and Other Drugs; he and his co-writers have taken a story that focuses on one unsavory corner of the medical/pharmaceutical industry and elaborated on it so that it touches several others. Instead, he puts the focus on the love story, which is perfectly fine: It's akin to putting a few milligrams of medicine in a candy shell, and this turns out to be pretty good candy.

Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal) comes from a family of doctors, but while he washed out of college and is selling stereos as the movie starts - before getting fired due to his horndog antics - his brother Josh (Josh Gad) puts him onto another line of work, being Pfizer's point man for getting doctors to prescribe their drugs rather than those of the competition (or, perish the thought, generics). While making the rounds with Stan Knight (Hank Azaria), a doctor who influences a great deal of the region, he meets Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway), a pretty artist/waitress with early-onset Parkinson's Disease. She has no desire for commitment because she knows it will eventually end badly, and he's the type of slimeball that steals competing companies' samples when the doctors aren't looking. Perfect match, until they surprise each other by finding there's more than their respective libidos involved.

There's something kind of impressive about how Zwick and company split the difference between the currently-popular raunchy romantic comedy and the traditional model early on in the movie. It's not leeringly sleazy, but I suspect that a few eyebrows will be raised when the film doesn't have the same cuts as its green-band trailer. In some ways, maybe there should have been a little more of a creep factor to their meet-cute (Maggie disrobes in front of Jamie thinking he's a doctor, but is still open to hooking up later, and there's also implications that she's traded on her sexuality with more members of the medical and pharma community than just Jamie); then again, that's not necessarily something you want to have hanging over the couple as the movie goes on. At any rate, not being shy about the sex early on is certainly one way of making sure that the audience understands the initial basis for the relationship.

Full review at EFC.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Faster (+ previews)

You may find this hard to believe, but an R-rated action/crime movie like Faster has a completely different set of previews attached to it than the PG-rated Disney animated comedy from the night before! So, let's run down what's being sold to action fans, just like for the kids:

Battle: Los Angeles - Fun fact: The guys who made Skyline also worked on this movie about aliens attacking Los Angeles. This one looks to easily be the bigger and better film, apparently with a tight focus on the grunts fighting the aliens as opposed to the leaders.

Cowboys & Aliens - The graphic novel it's "based on" was just okay (with "based on" being a loose term - the comic was created to drum up interest in the property as a film, and then sold at a loss so that it could be called a best-seller), but the trailer is looking like all kinds of fun. There's a ton of behind-the-scenes talent, Jon Favreau is pretty good at this sort of thing, and the cast of Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, and Olivia Wilde is solid.

Speaking of Harrison Ford, one of the saddest things about how rare westerns are today is that Ford never really did them. This is a sci-fi western, and the last time Ford did something even remotely similar was over thirty years ago, in The Frisco Kid, a comedy where he played second fiddle to Gene Wilder. Someone need to cast him in a straight western, soon. Maybe Jon Carpenter - Ford and Carpenter doing a non-hybrid western together would kill two "movies that need to happen before the people involved are too old" birds with one stone.

True Grit - Wow, this looks good. As needless as remaking one of the films most closely associated with John Wayne is, the Coens do great work and Jeff Bridges looks absolutely fantastic in the preview.

Drive Angry - 3D makes some people completely irrational; follow Roger Ebert on Twitter and be amused by how every 3D movie not doing as well as it might have is conclusive evidence that the public has turned away from this gimmick and it's dooooooooooooooomed. And, yes, I do think that there has been some backlash, but what's actually happening seems to be moviegoers getting smarter about which movies they see in 3D and studios starting to make the distinction that certain movies are being made with it in mind. Drive Angry pushes the "Shot In 3D" big-time in the preview, but it looks like a fun movie regardless, with Nicolas Cage tearing into the insane premise (guy breaks out of hell to rescue his granddaughter), William Fitchner as the smooth demon pursuing him, and Amber Heard looking gorgeous. The director had fun with 3D in My Bloody Valentine, which while not really a good movie certainly made use of the technology well.

The Mechanic - Donald Sutherland is going to get knocked off early in this one, isn't he? --sigh-- Jason Statham will probably be worth watching - he generally is - but sometimes it feels like his agent should just throw out any scripts that don't have Guy Ritchie's or Luc Besson's return address (and be careful where Ritchie is concerned).

...And, after that, Faster started. The only thing really worth mentioning about it that's not in the review is that the opening credits indicate that divisions of three of the six major media empires were involved in making this thing: Viacom (CBS Films), Sony (Tri-Star Pictures), and Time Warner (Castle Rock). That's common in the rest of the world, but in Hollywood, does it really take that many investors to make a B-level action movie?


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 November 2010 at Regal Fenway #7 (first-run)

I wonder if Faster had a different name at some point, or evolved into something else from its original conception. With that title, and a character identified mainly as "Driver", you'd think it would be all about the high-speed chase. Instead, it's a terse, methodical movie, a flawed but intriguing opera of revenge.

A former getaway driver (Dwayne Johnson) is just being released from prison after ten years. He's stoically taken everything the other prisoners have dished out. Nobody meets him at the gate, so he starts walking. A car awaits him at a nearby junkyard, and the glove compartment contains a name, an address, and a revolver. Not caring who sees him, the driver puts a bullet in a telemarketer's head, then goes to get a list. A hungover cop (Billy Bob Thornton) a couple weeks away from retirement catches the case, and he and his partner (Carla Gugino) aren't the only ones on the driver's trail - a hit man (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) has been hired to take him out before he reaches the end of the list.

Faster seems like it should have been a race, with the Driver, the Cop, and the Killer speeding from one target to the next, ramming each other off the road and firing guns at each other's speeding cars. There's actually not a whole lot of vehicular action at all, and most of it takes place during a flashback to the heist that originally landed Driver in jail. What we see is fairly impressive stunt driving, and both Driver's '70s Chevelle and Killer's late-model Porsche are fine reflections of their personalities, but those going for non-stop action will be disappointed. There's only one real shootout, which comes early. Most of the kills are efficient.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, November 26, 2010

CineCaché #5: I Killed My Mother

Not much to say about this one other than what's in the review. Pretty decent, not great. I'll be interested to see what writer/director Xavier Dolan is capable of a few moves down the road, when he's not so much working with friends and has a chance to practice.

I was actually a little bit surprised by how much I liked it when all was said and done; this movie is one that the Chlotrudis folks have been playing up for a while, along with Dolan himself, and I discounted that opinion a bit. It's only natural - when a group of friends that includes a bunch of gay folks talks about how great the autobiographical film by the young gay filmmaker that they saw at Provincetown is.. Well, you know. To be fair, they probably apply a similar scaling factor to the hard science fiction or science documentaries I come back from Fantasia revved up about.

J'ai tué ma mère (I Killed Your Mother)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 November 2010 at the Brattle Theatre (CineCaché)

So, how important is liking a movie's main character to your enjoyment of the movie? That's a question worth asking yourself before sitting down to I Killed My Mother, because while it's not hard to find nice things to say about writer/director/star Xavier Dolan's first film even without mentioning his tender age, the character he wrote for himself is quite the obnoxious little bastard, and knowing that this film is semi-autobiographical may do more to hurt one's impression of the filmmaker than help one's impression of the film.

Hubert Minel (Xavier Dolan) is sixteen, gay, and fights with his mother Chantale (Anne Dorval) at the drop of a hat - and, honestly, the hat does not actually need to fall. Chantale and Hubert's father are long-divorced (Minel père just didn't see himself as the parenting type) and Chantale is, in Hubert's eyes, hopelessly bourgeois. His life really isn't so bad - he's a fairly talented artist who has a nice boyfriend in Antonin (François Arnaud) and an encouraging teacher in Julie (Suzanne Clément), and he thinks he's figured out a way to make things work - he should get an apartment of his own with the money his grandmother has left him in trust. The alternate housing arrangement she comes up with pleases him rather less.

Suffice it to say, Hubert has some growing up to do, and the folks around him don't always make it easy. Stepping back from the movie and looking at it as a whole, that progression of the character is handled rather well. Dolan isn't subtle with how he shows us that Hubert does, in fact, care for his mother despite conflicting feelings (the video diary entry is as close to the writer just handing character information to an audience as you can get, and having it be found is a clumsy plot device), but that fits with the character's tendency to be overdramatic. And we clearly see that said tendency comes from maman; neither she nor any of the supporting characters are an easy-to-emulate example of mature adulthood.

Full review at EFC.


I wound up leaving Maine about an hour and a half earlier than I'd originally planned on Thanksgiving, which meant I got back into Boston at about eight o'clock. South Station is pretty close to the AMC Boston Common theater, and though we were into the part of the day where movie tickets are expensive, I opted to compound it by going for the 3-D ticket. I figure I'd wind up seeing one of they weekend's new releases past matinee time anyway, and since this one looks to be the best, why not have it be the one I want to see the most? The same 3-D surcharge applies to the $6 tickets as the $11.50 tickets, so I might as well give Tangled more of my money than Faster.

It is kind of funny, though, that just before this movie gets released, word comes out that Disney is canceling future fairy tale/"princess" movies - this, after changing the name of this one from "Rapunzel" as a knee-jerk reaction to The Princess & the Frog under-performing. It seems nuts to me - this is what Disney is known for, this movie is both really good and likely more easily marketable than P&F was, and considering the development time for an animated feature, it seems like making long-term decisions based on short-term data.

Anyway, good movie. And while I mention that the songs don't really stick with me in the review, at the time of this writing (very early Friday 26 November), Amazon's got a digital download of the soundtrack for $4, which is a ridiculously good deal. Click that merch button if it's still there.

Also, we got a good set of 3-D family-friendly previews, which might be fun to run down, even if I catch crap for this first one:

Yogi Bear - So help me, this preview makes me giggle, even if I kind of suspect that funny lady Anna Faris is going to be wasted in this. I strongly suspect that Justin Timberlake is going to be a riot as the voice of Boo Boo.

The Smurfs - This one, on the other hand... No, just no. Maybe something other than a teaser trailer will do something more for me, but putting the Smurfs in the modern world rather than their quasi-medieval setting just seems wrong.

Mars Needs Moms - Berke Breathed is getting paid for this, right? I mean, it doesn't look like a terrible movie, just not a good one, even before we get into the dead-eyed motion capture style.

Cars 2 - I actually liked Cars quite a bit, even though a lot of people dismiss it as one of Pixar's and Lasseter's weak link. My main concern with the sequel was doing it without the voice of Paul Newman, who just seemed like such a perfect fit for the material, but Michael Caine is kind of brilliant in the trailer.


* * * * (out of four)
Seen 25 November 2010 at AMC Boston Common #16 (first-run, digital 3D)

Tangled is probably my favorite thing that the direct descendants of Disney's original feature animation group has done since Aladdin, in no small part because it's the first of their digitally-rendered features that embraces what worked during that 1990s run of success. From the Alan Menken score, to the fairy tale source, to the visual style, Disney has managed to put a slick new 3-dimensional paint job on the things that they've been hiding in the attic.

A fair amount of backstory leads into the film's present, but once there, the situation is like this: Princess Rapunzel (voice of Mandy Moore) was kidnapped as a baby by Mother Gothel (voice of Donna Murphy), who locked Rapunzel in a tower and raised the girl as her own daughter in order to have the use of her magical golden hair, which heals injuries and restores youth. Meanwhile, back at the castle, dashing thief Flynn Ryder (voice of Zachary Levi) and the Stabbington Brothers (voice of Ron Perlman) are fleeing with a stolen crown. Ryder stumbles upon Rapunzel's tower, and she makes a deal with him to guide her to the castle so that she can see the paper lanterns that fill the sky on her birthday every year in person.

There are a few ways that Tangled has a hard time equaling its cel-animated forebears. As comfortably familiar as Menken's score is, none of the songs by Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater are terribly likely to be remembered after the movie ends (they're fine, and it's nice that the film doesn't shrink from being a musical). Also, digitally-rendered animated films have had a hard time with human figures for the entire history of the medium, especially women. When not attempting photo-realistic motion capture, what happens is that stylized male characters are often bulked up and thus solid-looking, while the likes of Rapunzel and Gothel are slender, with thin necks and big heads (and in Rapunzel's case, very wide eyes), creating the impression of a mannequin that can be tough to shake.

Full review at EFC.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 24 November - 2 December

It's Thanksgiving weekend, which means, in chronological order, (1) travel, (2) turkey, (3) pie, (4) more pie, (5) more travel, and (6) a couple extra day to see the mix of popcorn and award-hopeful fare that are being released into theaters this weekend.

(And, of course, seeing the family, although that's a bit of a fizzle this year, as a couple of my brothers are traveling to their spouses' folks this year. It's rough being the accommodating family!)

(Which is not to say that my in-laws are selfish or... Oh, there's no digging out of this, is there? Let's just get to the movies playing Boston this weekend!)

  • Four fairly-wide openings this week, with Tangled looking to get the most screens, including some of the 3D ones. I'm looking forward to it, although it looks like it's gone through an absolutely ridiculous development and marketing process - the first concept art looked like gorgeous watercolors, but now the look seems a little more cartoony-CG; the name was changed from the more straightforward Rapunzel in an effort to appeal more to boys, and now there's talk that it's Disney's last princess/fairy tale movie for a while. Fortunately, it looks like fun in the Hercules or Emperor's New Groove mold, and every clip I've seen makes me think I'll really adore the Rapunzel character.

    For those not willing to hit Disney animated features, there are a few movies being sold on more conventional star power. Faster and Love and Other Drugs both look pretty by the books, but, hey, I like Dwayne Johnson (and this is his first straight-action role since Doom) and Billy Bob Thornton for the former and Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway in the latter. I'll probably see both at some point. There's no chance on Earth I'm seeing Burlesque, though. I'm not going to say Cher and Christina Aguillera can't make for an enjoyable viewing experience, just that I'm not going to bet $10 on it.

    Not really an "opening", but 127 Hours expands to Boston Common and some of the suburbs. Nobody appears to be taking a chance on the utterly insane-looking version of The Nutcracker scheduled to be released today. I suspect that releasing a 3D family movie on the same day as Tangled is not what you'd call great counter-programming.

  • The Brattle opts to go with classics for the next week, starting with the first half of 20th Century Fox's 75th Anniversary Series. It kicks off tonight with Leave Her to Heaven, which is where I'll be tonight before the weekly trip to the comic shop, because Gene Tierney is lovely and Vincent Price in a normal supporting role is always cool. Check the full schedule for times; other highlights are Alien for Thanksgiving dinner, a Friday double feature of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and All About Eve, Big Trouble in Little China Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, and a Sunday double feature of Butch Cassidy and Raising Arizona.

    Special screenings take over Tuesday - Thursday, including a World AIDS Day show (Sex in an Epidemic) on Wednesday and Harvard' Archeology Department presenting Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom on Tuesday and Wednesday. Note that this is a change from the printed calendar, apparently a decent print of Raiders of the Lost Ark is tough to come by. To be honest, though, this isn't really much of a downgrade.

  • Kendall Square staggers their openings this week. Made in Dagenham opens today, with Polly Walker as an unlikely labor leader in a 1960s London suburb. Spiffy supporting cast, too: Miranda Richardson, Bob Hoskins, Rosamund Pike, and Rupert Graves. Friday gives us the movie with the one-week warning, Claire Denis's White Material. The description on Landmark's site makes it look a lot more interesting than the preview I've seen before nearly every movie at Kendall over the past couple months (which gives off a "white people trying to stay in charge of Africa" vibe).

  • It's an extremely quiet week at the Coolidge, with no midnight shows and 127 Hours and Fair Game continuing their runs. Waste Land moves to the digital room from Kendall Square, though it will also have a special "Green Screens" screening on Monday evening. There's also a preview screening of Budrus next Wednesday (1 December 2010; the film will open its regular run two days later), and a "Social Work In Progress" screening of Carried Away.

  • The Regent theater in Arlington has a couple of film programs - Sing Along Mary Poppins runs Friday to Sunday, although only matinees on Saturday and Sunday, as there are comedy shows those nights. Those looking for something 180 degrees away from Mary Poppins will find it Wednesday night with Total Badass, a documentary by Austin filmmaker Bob Ray about local underground personality Chad Holt. Both will be there for the screening, and there will be door prizes.

  • As you might expect from a venue that mainly exists to serve a student/faculty population, the Harvard Film Archive takes Thursday and Friday off (and ArtsEmerson's screening room has nothing all weekend), but kicks a Cinema of Weimar Germany program that will run through December off on Saturday with the first part of Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler, an early Fritz Lang triumph (the second part runs Sunday night). I'm not sure who is doing the musical accompaniment for that and Monday's The Adventures of Prince Achmed (the earliest surviving animated feature), but it's sure to be worth it; Mabuse is an operatic, silent epic which I loved when the HFA showed as part of a Lang series a few years ago. There will be more Lang later in the series, and the newly reconstructed Metropolis is out on Blu-ray. You want that.

    The last free VES screening of the year is on Tuesday, and is, depending on whether you check the website or the printed calendar, the 1952 noir The Narrow Margin or its 1990 remake Narrow Margin (with Gene Hackman and J.T. Walsh). I'm a big fan of the latter, so I'm down for either.

  • The MFA kicked off a series of New Films from France this afternoon; it seems to mostly focus on comedy, crime, capers. The one I'm most looking forward to is Inspector Bellamy, which teams director Claude Chabrol and Gerard Depardieu; I'd recommend staying away from Heartbreaker.

    Like the Brattle, the MFA is having a screening for World AIDS Day on the 1st; it's 2004 documentary short "Kids Living with Slim" ("Slim" being what many in Africa call HIV/AIDS). They'll also be starting a New Korean Cinema series next Thursday (2 December 2010) with Like You Know It All.

It's potentially a very busy week(end); the only new release I'm sure I'll hit is Tangled, although Faster and Love and Other Drugs are both likely-looking. Prince Achmed and The Narrow Margin are likely at the HFA, as are Leave Her to Heaven, All About Eve, and maybe a Little Murders/Big Trouble combo at the Brattle. Maybe Inspector Bellamy and Joy of Singing at the MFA, and the new releases at Kendall.

In short: A lot of good stuff playing this week, and it's a darn good thing we've got extra days to watch it!

This Week In Tickets: 15 November 2010 to 21 November 2010

I'm a bad indie film-lover. All sorts of documentaries playing, and what do I do?

This Week In Tickets!

A fair number of days staying an extra half hour at work make it hard to get to stuff during the week, especially if the non-doc stuff one wants to see is in Arlington or Somerville for one more leg on the T.

It's worth noting that the 10:45am show of Hereafter was the only time it ran during the day for the past five days. Someday, when I get an eccentric millionaire to invest in an Alamo Drafthouse-type theater for me to run, I'll have to figure out the reasoning for scheduling like that. If you're going to be keeping a print around for another week, is that the best way to utilize it? If so, why? Do you figure Hereafter is going to appeal to seniors (or whoever else, aside from me, who is seeing movies at 10:45am)?


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 November 2010 at AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run)

I want to like this movie for the talent involved: Clint Eastwood directing from a script by Peter Morgan. Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, and Frank Marshall producing. Matt Damon and Cecile De France in leading roles, Bryce Dallas Howard in a supporting part. The easy way for me to dismiss it is to mention my general skepticism about paranormal activities, that I'm just not going to be able to go for a movie that takes them seriously.

And, I won't lie - such elements don't help. Even when Eastwood provides a thump and a visual effect as Damon's George Lonegan character touches someone's hand, I'm still going to process the rest of that scene as a cold read, or wait for the Sherlock Holmes explanation, and I always wind up a little disappointed when George says something that he couldn't have known or deduced; a man who can instinctively read people is much more interesting than a medium, especially when you consider that the movie avoids the big paradox inherent in this sort of spirituality: If the afterlife is so wonderful and peaceful, why should anyone want to live?

Put that aside (I know, it's a little late for that), though, and the individual characters and stories are quite good. All three threads are about people who have had close encounters with death and been changed by the experience, to the point of obsession, and each features a fine performance at the center. Eastwood gives the film a properly somber tone without things ever becoming leaden or depressing. The meat of the movie is quite good, and there's something reassuring about the way the film rotates between Marie, George, and Marcus in order, as opposed to trying to get clever with its editing.

It has issues on the ends, though. The tsunami that opens the film is well-realized, but it does look like a special effect, and there's something just a bit exploitative about using a disaster that devastates a city and region so that one European tourist will almost die. At the finish, all this mournful pondering is apparently in service of these three people eventually meeting at a book fair, which seems coincidental and small. Even considering that the film is about needing to connect with the living rather than the dead, both the physical and philosophical sprawl seem a bit much if the goal is to get a couple people into a restaurant for dinner.

Morning Glory

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 November 2010 at Regal Fenway #5 (first-run)

Morning Glory is a movie filled with characters and actors I really, really like, but saddled with a script that isn't quite sure how to put them together. It seems to me that if you've got Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton as diametrically opposed news anchors, you maybe let them play off each other a little more, use their bickering as more than background gags, and maybe get them to meet in the middle. I don't think you'd even have to take much focus off of Rachel McAdams to do that; you could even play the anchors' relationship against her character's and Patrick Wilson's.

And, maybe, doing it that way would help balance the dynamic between Ford and McAdams, too. Ford's hard-news-loving former evening news anchor and reporter, whom she hires to add gravitas to the fourth-place morning news program, is given so little to do that fits his skills that it makes McAdams's young executive producer look a little foolish.

Just a little, though. McAdams is rather delightful in this movie, all full-speed-ahead enthusiasm and dedication, genuinely funny and self-deprecating. Her driven character keeps the movie from ever slowing down too much, and Ford makes a fine grumpy foil to her (a grumbling combination of idealism and ego). The movie is in a way aggressively light - Ford's character is kind of beaten down in the end, his desire to be informative and substantial broken down, even after we're shown the characters getting a rush from actually breaking news - but it's fairly funny. It's just too bad the pieces don't fit together a little better.

HereafterThe Azemichi RoadMorning Glory

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Azemichi Road and the Paramount Center

I think there were about a half-dozen or so of us in the screening room for The Azemichi Road, which is a bit of a bummer; it's a pretty good movie and I would rather like ArtsEmerson's Saturday afternoon screening series to last at least long enough for my friends Gil & Amanda to be able to take their new daughter there in a few years. They love movies, and joked about how they were going to start having real concerns about the state of children's cinema starting this fall.

As far as I can tell, ArtsEmerson has the most ambitious program of family-friendly films of all the Boston area's independent and repertory cinemas: Most Saturdays at 2pm, they're running something you don't have to worry about bringing kids to, especially if they're old enough to be reading subtitles. The Coolidge has puppet shows and occasional film programs every few weeks, and the Brattle does fun stuff around the holidays (and is never more fun than when parents are showing their children the joy of silent pictures), but a well-curated program that shows kids that there can be more to movies than the stuff Hollywood makes for them is something that is good in the short and long-term.

If they're taking suggestions, I'd like to propose a couple from Japan: Mamoru Hosoda's and Satoko Okudera's Summer Wars, and Tetsuya Nakashima's Tatsuya and the Magic Book. Saw them both at Fantasia (different years), and would love to both see them again and show them to other people.


The Bright Family Screening Room is the second new room I've checked out in the past week, and I didn't see it under optimum conditions - this particular movie was widescreen and projected from DigiBeta media, and the low resolution was fairly evident in some shots. I've heard that the arrangement of the projection booth is such that film projection is sacrificed for digital, in that the 35mm projector is off-center. I can see where this would be a problem if the case, as while the room is wide enough to include a good-sized screen, it is not very deep; I counted 9 rows averaging 18 seats across, and the last couple are actually under the overhanging booth. If you can get seats in the center, you'll probably want to do so, as you're fairly close to the screen no matter what.

It's a nice-looking room for all that, in a very nice-looking building. Even when it was lying empty, the landlords kept The Paramount looking pretty good on the outside, and the restored lobby is nice-looking. It mostly serves the large main theater (which started out as a cinema, and for all I know could still be used as one), and has no concession stand - like the Harvard Film Archive, ICA, and Omnimax theater at the Science Museum, it's not that kind of place. I grabbed some peanuts from the vendor across the street, and I may have finished them before entering the theater. Less important is that the elevator is somewhat discrete, so you may not see it in the lobby, which I suppose could be an issue if you're not up to climbing to the fourth floor of the building.

The other thing to keep in mind when going there is that that screenings often take place at about the same time as theatrical productions and concerts (there are at least two separate stages in the center) - make sure you get there in time.

I'll be giving it a second look in a couple of weeks, when they play the original version of The Housemaid on 4 December. That's a 35mm print playing during the evening, so it will be a different view.

The Azemichi Road

* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 November 2010 at the Paramount Center, Bright Family Screening Room (special engagement)

I haven't seen enough from either locale to be considered an expert (I'd probably be kind of creepy if I had), but it seems that while American movies for and about teen/"tween" girls often tend to have a plot driven by a boy, while similar movies from Japan practically ignore them altogether, focusing much more completely on the relationships between the girls. This in and of itself isn't better or worse, or more or less accurate, but it works for The Azemichi Road; when it gets to the sappy bits near the end, it is all about these friendships and rivalries, without anyone being diminished.

Yuki Takano (Haruka Oba) has a hard time relating to the rest of the world; despite her prominent ears, she's severely hearing-impaired. One day, on a lonely visit to the city, an ad for the group Rip-Girls catches her eye; later, she spots a group of girls her own age practicing the same dance moves. One of the girls, Rena (Misaki Futenma), knows some sign language and invites her to join their dance crew, "Jumping Girls". It is, as one might expect, difficult for Yuki to catch up with the other girls, so she practices harder, and Rena works with her - which leads to jealousy from Miki and Noriko, both for how quickly Yuki moves to the front row as the Jumping Girls prepare for a competition and how much of Rena's attention she gets, and from the other girls at the school for the deaf, where she'd been considered a leader before she started spending all her time with hearing kids.

The Azemichi Road is not a complicated movie; it is made for a young audience and the goal is not exactly to impress audiences with its narrative complexity. It's a story about overcoming challenges and how the dynamics of friendship can be both rewarding and perilous. That's not exactly unmined territory, and there's sometimes a bit of a sense that the filmmakers don't want to push too hard: At the moment when Yuki is being treated the worst by the other members of Jumping Girls, the emotional speech comes out, and not just those conflicts, but the ones at school, more or less vanish from sight. Some of the issues aren't expanded on quite so much as they might be; for instance, Yuki doesn't tell her mother about her dancing, and it's an issue, but it's not clear why she wouldn't.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 19 November - 23 November

With Thanksgiving coming next week, a lot of movies will open on Wednesday, so it's a short-ish column this week in anticipation of a longer one next week (also, both the Regent and the MFA seem to be taking this weekend off).

  • And, besides, a certain film is sucking up a lot of screens. By now, you're either seeing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, or you're not, and if you are, well, congratulations, it's going to be bloody ubiquitous. I'd advise getting your tickets early, as a bunch of shows are already sold out at Jordan's. If you're going with a group, the chart from yesterday's TWIT may help you balance cost, specs, and location when choosing a screen to see it on (note: during weekday afternoons, Fenway's RPX screen is three times the cost of the Somerville Theatre's main screen, a fact well worth remembering if you're bringing kids).

    The boy wizard has the rest of the studios quaking in fear, so the only other wide opening is The Next Three Days. Paul Haggis remakes a French thriller with Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson and an interesting-looking cast. It's kind of got the look of something that's not exciting enough to be a great thriller but too pulpy to be a "serious" picture.

  • Fresh Pond doesn't get Harry Potter (to be fair, it is up the road in Arlington and at theaters one, three, and seven stops away on the Red Line), so they wind up picking up a new Hindi movie, Guzaarish, with Hrithik Roshan (who starred in Koi... Mil Gaya and Krrish) as a paralyzed man petitioning for the right to end his own life and Aishwarya Rai (who has just been ridiculously busy this year) as the nurse tending to him.

  • The Brattle runs Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt & The Magnetic Fields, which played IFFBoston to good reviews earlier this year, Friday through Sunday. Looking at the description, I don't have much of a read on whether it's mainly for fans or a wider audience, but if you are a fan, you might want to check out the 7pm show on Friday (19 November 2010), wich will be introduced by Claudia Gonson, described on the Brattle's site as Merritt's "creative collaborator and the band's manager".

    The Brattle and Chlotrudis have not yet announced what Monday's CineCaché screening is; check the theater's website, Twitter feed, and Facebook Page for updates. Or drop by and be surprised.

    EDIT: It's I Killed My Mother, (very) young filmmaker Xavier Dolan's semi-autobiographical story of coming out as a teenager (and Canada's submission to the Foreign Language Film category for the Oscars in 2010).

  • Kendall Square clears out one set of documentaries to add a couple more. The official one-week warning is for Wasteland, which features Brooklyn artist Vik Muniz returning home to Brazil for a project involving the world's largest garbage dump. Not officially on the one-week schedule (but I wouldn't be shocked if it only lasted the five days until Wednesday) is Ahead of Time, a portrait of Ruth Gruber, 96 at the time of filming, who was not only a prodigy (PhD candidate at 20) but lived a life of adventure as a globetrotting journalist. The other opening is Today's Special, a comedy about a man who takes over his parents' Indian restaurant despite only being trained as a French chef; lessons about food being a metaphor for life, and it being better for it to be spicy and improvised rather than meticulously planned are surely on tap.

  • No openings at the Coolidge this week (Vision moves from the Kendall to one of the digital rooms), but several special events. Friday and Saturday, there are midnight showings of "A New Generation of Spike and Mike"; this does appear to be the same program I saw, liked, and reviewed a few months ago. Saturday night also features an eight-hour burlesque marathon with 100 performances, from midnight to eight. But the best bet may be Monday night, when the Big Screen Classics series features Rear Window. What's better than Hitchcock, Stewart, and Grace Kelly on the big screen? Nothing.

  • The Harvard Film Archive this weekend pays tribute to director Jerry Schatzberg. The man himself will be present Friday and Saturday night, respectively, to introduce The Panic in Needle Park (Al Pacino's first starring role!) and Scarecrow (Pacino again, along with Gene Hackman). The series continues another two days after, with screenings of Puzzle of a Downfall Child on Sunday and Reunion on Monday. The VES screenings for the week are Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes on Tuesday and Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man on Wednesday.

  • Emerson features four different films this weekend, without an apparent theme: "Wavelengths", excerpts from the Toronto International Film Festival's experimental shorts program, plays Friday night. Touki Bouki, a recently-restored 1973 film from Senegal, plays once Friday night and twice Saturday evening, part of a series of movies from the World Cinema Foundation. The family-friendly film Saturday afternoon is Azemichi Road, a recent Japanese coming-of-age film focused on tween girls. And Sunday night, they welcome screenwriter Jay Cocks, introducing and commenting on his 1978 French film, The Green Room.

If I had to guess what I'll see over this period, it would be The Next Three Days, Azemichi Road, and the CineCaché selection, whatever it winds up being I Killed My Mother. (Potter can wait until Tron kicks it off the IMAX screens and it heads to the Aquarium, where Inception should just about be running its course by then.)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

This Week In Tickets: 8 November 2010 to 14 November 2010 - Including a new screen

I saw a fair amount of movies this week, and despite having to do the whole medical data thing to make money, they all get reviews, as I had something to say about most:

This Week In Tickets!

Before getting to the reviews, yes, there's a $15 movie ticket there for a regular movie, which isn't my usual thing (I'm cheap frugal!), but Regal re-opened screen #13 with enhancements, and I wanted to check it out.

The "Regal Premium Experience" screen (RPX) seems to be designed to tap the same wallets as the IMAX-branded digital screen across town at AMC Boston Common, although at first glance I'm not quite certain why the screen had to be closed down nearly a month for the upgrade. Screen 13 was already one of the "Screen Monsters" (although sometime between going from General City Cinemas to AMC to Regal, that cute local name seems to have vanished), a curved common-height screen that more or less filled the entire wall, and unless they've raised the ceiling, it's about the same size. It is, by necessity, a new surface, as the theater is advertising that 3D movies will play there, so the matte screen has been replaced by a reflective one. Maybe the curvature has increased a bit; I certainly noticed it more than I remember doing at other times. Switching that out is the work of a day or two, although it's possible that the actual seating was extensively rearranged, to the point of tearing out the stadium tiering and rebuilding it.

That is where a visitor notices the biggest improvements - the seating is all new, and comfortable. Some of that is likely entirely related to its newness - I can tell which seats in the Brattle Theatre are either seldom-used or recently replaced by how they feel when I drop my butt into them (similarly, I start moving around the Fantasia's Hall Theatre after a week or so because my usual seat has started to accommodate my shape too much) - but even after being broken in, they will still likely be thick and well-stuffed, with a nice leather-y covering as opposed to the usual fabric. I suspect/hope, considering the premium experience they're selling and price they're charging, that seats will be replaced more frequently than usual - heck, they may want to rotate materials with the seasons; as much as I liked the feel of the leather/vinyl on Saturday, I could see hating it next summer when I've just walked three miles there in shorts. For right now, though, they're some nice seats, an easy second place to the IMAX screen at Jordan's Furniture - which isn't bad, considering that comfortable chairs are what Jordan's does for a living.

The seats lack the "butt-kicker" subwoofers installed under every seat at Jordan's, but the sound is right up there with any other screen in the area, non-genuine-IMAX division. Unstoppable, with its constant sound of trains, proved a nice demo reel for the subs, and the room certainly makes a concerted effort to live up to its claim of being the best screen you've ever heard (or something like that; they've been pushing the sound). It's impressively clear even aside from the bass.

The picture... Well, it's bright, and sharp, and clear. It doesn't look quite so overtly digital once you get past the credits, and I'm starting to suspect that studios and distributors don't care about making those perfect any more (logos and credits are where it's easiest to notice staircases and jaggies, since they're relatively static images with non-horizontal/vertical straight lines). My preference is almost always going to be for film, but this looks pretty good, even on a big screen that I sat relatively close to.

Is it a worthwhile upgrade? I'm not sure. The presentation is as good as it gets at the multiplex, and $15.00 isn't that much more than the regular $11.50 that Fenway charges during the evening (though there will almost certainly be 3D surcharges on that when Tron Legacy, lest the RPX be only a token premium over the standard). During the day, when the matinee price is $9.00, they're still charging $15.00, a much more stark difference. In fact, let's revisit the chart from when AMC opened their "IMAX" screen, this time using Saturday's screenings of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1:

ScreenPrice (before noon)Price (afternoon)Price (evening)
Somerville Theatre, 35mmN/A$7.00$8.00
Arlington Capitol, 35mm/DLPN/A$7.00$8.50
AMC Harvard Square, 35mm/DLP$6.00$8.00$10.00
AMC Boston Common, 35mm/DLP$6.00$9.50$11.50
AMC Boston Common, IMAX Digital$10.00$13.50$15.50
Regal Fenway, 35mm/DLP$9.00$9.00$11.50
Regal Fenway, RPX$15.00$15.00$15.00
Jordan's Furniture Reading, IMAX$11.50$11.50$11.50
New England Aquarium, IMAXN/AN/A$12.95

Note: Somerville offers $5.00 matinees Monday-Friday, Arlington offers $6 matinees Monday-Friday. All prices are for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, except the Aquarium, which is for Inception (they'll likely pick up Harry Potter once Tron Legacy opens).

The RPX is the most expensive movie ticket in town before 4pm, barring festivals and special events, and darn close after. As of right now, it is a notable upgrade over everything but the genuine IMAX screens, but will that last? When I saw Megamind in the Imax-digital screen in Boston Common the other week, I was not blown away by the sound the way I was back when I saw Shrek 4 there. This is, sadly, the way things go - people complain that a theater is too loud, management turns the sound down, and it never gets turned back up again. Maybe in a couple of months the seats aren't as plush, or the projector's bulb starts getting turned down, or things generally start to slip. That, also, is the way things go, although by putting "premium" in the name, hopefully Regal will be motivated to keep on top of such things.

For what it's worth, I do think that the price is a factor - I saw Unstoppable at the 7pm Saturday show, generally one of the most busy, and I had a lot of elbow room. I can't compare how the regular 35mm show went at 6:30pm, but I suspect that without the IMAX branding, this may prove to be a bit more than audiences are willing to pay.

Well, at least for something second-tier like Unstoppable. Harry Potter is going to sell out no matter what, but it will be interesting to see if the higher price per ticket makes up for the smaller number of tickets sold for lesser draws.


* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 13 November 2010 at Regal Fenway #2 (first-run)

A guy I follow tweeted about Skyline this weekend, saying to tune into his podcast to hear a review/takedown of the movie, and although I don't want to imply that it's a good movie, that rubbed me the wrong way. Calling your own work a "takedown" seems like braggadocio, and applying it to Skyline... Well, that's bullying. You take down those with inflated reputations, not the independent filmmakers whose weaknesses sadly don't make up for their strengths.

The movie starts out promising, with ships appearing in the sky above Los Angeles and dropping some sort of glowing payload on the city. Then, unfortunately, it flashes back thirteen hours or so, to artist Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and his girlfriend Elaine (Scottie Thompson) arriving from the other coast to visit their successful friend Terry (Donald Faison). They go to a party a Terry's place, find things awkward with his wife Candice (Brittany Daniel), "assistant" Denise (Crystal Reed), and friend Ray (Neil Hopkins). Eventually it breaks up, they hit the sack, and then the aliens invade, vacuuming people up into their ships en masse.

The writing for this movie, by Joshua Cordes and Liam O'Donnell, is pretty much terrible. It's generic, filled with people having incredibly stupid arguments, and not only that, rehashing the same ones within minutes of each other. But in the interest of fairness to all the independent filmmakers who can write but don't have the Brothers Strause's technical skills, how are they when the movie plays to their strengths - the parts that the audience is coming to see?

Complete review on eFilmCritic


* * * (out of four)
Seen 13 November 2010 at Regal Fenway #13 (first-run, RPX)

Unstoppable isn't complicated. The filmmakers take a story about working class heroes facing long odds with high stakes and more or less lets it be, resisting the temptation to graft excessive contrivance or melodrama to an already thrilling situation. It's a fine example of how when a storyteller has a good story to work with and the means to tell it, everybody will be well-served by just getting out of the way - an apt metaphor for a story about a runaway train.

The train - filled with combustible and toxic chemicals! - is a runaway because Dewey (Ethan Suplee), a yard worker in central Pennsylvania, set the throttle in the wrong position when he hopped off to switch the tracks. Now it's picking up speed heading the wrong direction on the main line. Traffic supervisor Connie (Rosario Dawson) tracks the train but can't convince her boss (Kevin Dunn) to derail it early. Instead, it winds up on a collision course with a train driven by veteran engineer Frank (Denzel Washington) and rookie conductor Will (Chris Pine) - but Frank may be the guy who figures out how to stop it without major loss of life and property.

Part of the fun of a movie like Unstoppable is how, along with delivering an exciting thrill ride, it gives audiences an idea of the inner workings of something they tend to take for granted - railroads, in this case. Details can be fun, and both writer Mark Bomback and director Tony Scott do a good job of showing how this railway system works from top to bottom, doing it in context so that the information sinks into the audience's brains without dragging around a character whose entire purpose is to have things explained to him. Because of that, we're able to grasp the problems that the heroes are struggling with instinctively, and feel like we're working it right along with them.

Complete review on eFilmCritic

A New Leaf

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 14 November 2010 at the Harvard FIlm Archive (Elaine May)

There's a shortage of films like A New Leaf today, ones that are broad, absurd, and silly, but also refined in their way. These days, it's the other way around - broad comedies will go for anything, but figure it's okay so long as they tug at your heartstrings and impress you with their sincerity, rather than make the grudging allowance to sentiment that writer/director/co-star Elaine May makes here.

Henry Graham (Walter Matthau) has been a spendthrift his entire idle adult life, spending two hundred thousand dollars a year when his trust fund only generates about ninety thousand. Now, he's broke, although his butler Harold (George Rose), immediately after giving his notice, says that there is one time-honored solution - marry into wealth. Due to some conditions laid down by Harry's uncle Harry (James Coco), it must be done within six weeks lest Henry lose everything, which seems hopeless as a month passes. Then Henry meets Henrietta Lowell (Elaine May) - a mousy, clumsy, unrefined professor of botany with no need of the millions her family left her. She is easy to sweep off her feet, but the union is a perilous one - Henrietta comes with a Andy McPherson (Jack Weston), a lawyer whose entire practice has been managing the Lowell estate, and Mrs. Traggert (Doris Roberts), a housekeeper who runs a rather loose household; Henry, meanwhile, feels he'd be better off as a widower than a husband.

The Henry Graham model of rich buffoon is all but extinct in America, and likely endangered even in Britain. That's sad, because to watch Matthau in this film's opening act is to feast from a smorgasbord of tomfoolery: We start with a bit of banter that invites mockery with open arms, follow it up with Henry's accountant (William Redfield) pounding his head against Henry's obliviousness before delivering a tongue-lashing that only gets funnier as the distance between his even tone and his contemptuous words,grows, and chase it down with a laugh at Matthau's body language as he bids the beloved accouterments of his wealth a sad adieu. And that's before desperation brings a wily cunning to the character. It's an utterly delightful performance by Walter Matthau, as he plays his his loose, lanky frame and expressive face against his character's snobbish propriety. He's terrific whether playing silly or sophisticated.

Complete review on eFilmCritic
Guy & Madeline on a Park BenchSkylineUnstoppable127 HoursA New Leaf

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

127 Hours

I've likely mentioned this before, but as much as I like Boyle's movies, I also love the shape his career has taken as a story: Starting out in British TV; gaining notice with a couple of well-regarded independent movies (Shallow Grave and Trainspotting); going to Hollywood with a pair of movies that are not only sort of spectacular box office bombs (A Life Less Ordinary and The Beach), but which mark the end of working relationships with writer John Hodge and star Ewan MacGregor; heading back to the UK to do a couple of TV-movies for the BBC; returning energized and independent again with 28 Days Later...; and following that up with a string of well-executed movies that are most united by an abject refusal to be pigeonholed into a single genre (Millions, Sunshine, Slumdog Millionaire, and now 127 Hours).

Sure, it would be a better story if that "exile" between The Beach and 28 Days Later... lasted more than a couple of years, but isn't it better for us as movie lovers that there is effectively no real pause in his career? Still, even without the storyline, it's a remarkably diverse career, and that's one of the reasons I'm so fond of Boyle - even though he has a few tropes he likes to come back to (the "bag of money" movies) and does have a recognizable style (high-energy, optimism where many other filmmakers would go for dark & gritty), he seems nearly as determined as the Coen Brothers to make a different movie each time. Fortunately, I like his style and attitude, and though sometimes I wish he'd repeat himself (I would really, really like another Sunshine - not a sequel, just another great-looking, exciting science fiction movie with interesting ideas and a great international cast), it's actually quite amazing that he can be this good so consistently, no matter what he applies himself to.

Now - to actually watch some of his earlier movies. I'm kind of ashamed that I haven't seen Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, or The Beach, despite being a fan.

127 Hours

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 14 November 2010 at Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (first-run)

There is not a whole heck of a lot to 127 Hours, story-wise: Guy goes climbing on his own, gets pinned by a falling boulder, and has to figure out a way to get out of a thoroughly intractable situation. Filmmakers look at a story like that and figure getting ninety minutes of movie from it is either going to be all but impossible or a terrific challenge. Considering that Danny Boyle is one of those directors whose mission with each new picture seems to be pushing himself to do something he hasn't tried yet, it's not surprising that he both sees it as a challenge and does a fine job of rising to it.

Though Aron Ralston (James Franco) is a friendly and charming guy, he's too jittery and on-the-go to really set down roots or figure others into his plans. So, with the weekend off from his job at a sporting goods store, he heads into Utah's Canyonlands National park. He meets up with Kristi (Kate Mara) and Megan (Amber Tamblyn), a pair of cute hikers, but not long after showing them a cool swimming hole, and having them invite him to a party the next night, they split. He's miles away from anyone else at 3pm on Saturday when the boulder drops, pinning his right arm and trapping him in a narrow crevice, with provisions for maybe a couple of days.

127 Hours isn't really a movie about suspense; although a fair amount of people in the audience likely won't know what happens at the end of those 5+ days (though looking at the cover of the source material may tip them off). And while I've joked about wondering what this movie would be like had Werner Herzog been in the director's chair, it's not primarily a film about man versus nature. That conflict - the natural world's supreme indifference to whether any of its creatures (including human beings) live or die - is here just the catalyst for forcing Aron to think about the way he's been living his life.

Full review at EFC.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

CineCaché #4: Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench

Ah, the first CineCaché that really felt like the Eye-Opener series - I was bored practically to tears and then trapped in a conversation about just how terrific the movie was!

I kid. A little. The conversation afterward was a really weird dynamic for me, though - it started with an acknowledgment that the film was flawed and imperfect, but as the discussion rolled along, it became more and more "isn't this amazing?" And while that was probably good for me to hear, in terms of tempering the overwhelming aggravation that was my main reaction (I think I basically liked the scene on the T that I describe in the review, but almost everything else just didn't work for me), it's a bit of an odd phenomenon - were people convincing themselves it was a good movie, or just letting how much they actually enjoyed it out even though they had felt the need to acknowledge its weaknesses.

There was also a fairly emphatic sideline onto whether or not Guy and Madeline is a musical or not, and how musicals after the sixties were different from musicals before, but... who really cares? Obviously, the people arguing, but what does arguing about or even deciding whether or not a movie fits in one specific genre really gain? I suppose it might matter if you're trying to talk about a specific genre, but the official stance of this blog is Making Lists Is Stupid, and this sort of nit-picking generally seems to be more about excluding than including, and there's no need for that.

Similarly, there was some talk about how well director Damien Chazelle faked the geography - if you know your way around the Greater Boston area, it's either hilarious or confusing how someone will turn a corner by Berklee and wind up near Alewife Station - but I don't know that it's such a big deal: The whole city is made of brick, after all; it's not hard for one neighborhood to blend with another.

The film opens for its regular run at the Brattle on 17 December, playing for the week leading up to Christmas. Obviously, I'm not recommending it, but my prejudices are fairly well established by this point: I like movies where people do things, as a result other things happen, and as a result the people do other things; movies like Guy and Madeline drive me nuts beyond all reason (check out the difference between my opinion of I Am Love and the general critical consensus). It's a film that is engineered to aggravate me but which will have a fair amount of fans, and I wouldn't really think that they're wrong - just that we enjoy movies in different ways.

Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 8 November 2010 at the Brattle Theatre (CineCaché)

First impressions can be a heck of a thing to shake. Even before talking to the other people at the screening, I knew there were a lot of things that rookie filmmaker Damien Chazelle did well in Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench. This one rubbed me the wrong way early, though, and then never rose high enough above average to earn its way back into my good graces.

Guy (Jason Palmer) plays jazz trumpet in Boston, scraping the odd gig together, either still in college or not long graduated. Madeline (Desiree Garcia) was his girlfriend, but they've recently broken up, so she's looking for a post-college place to live and job, and having trouble moving on. Elena (Sanddhha Khin) is Guy's new girl, and there doesn't seem to be much to her.

Nobody says "mumblecore" any more, except maybe when referencing certain specific filmmakers, and besides, that's a stripped-down style, and Guy and Madeline has a fairly elaborate score and impressively choreographed musical numbers for a film of its clearly minuscule budget. The promotion mentions other influences, such as the French New Wave and MGM musicals. However, there's a reason that the plot description doesn't go much beyond listing the characters who take center stage; they don't actually do a whole lot. It's a movie about underemployed young people who don't know what's next, and who aren't hugely proactive in going after it.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 12 November - 18 November

New Danny Boyle this weekend! Regal opens their response to AMC Boston Common's IMAX-branded screen at Fenway! Tons of documentaries at Kendall Square! The Brattle and Coolidge splitting a small audience!

  • As I mentioned about a month ago, Regal Fenway 13 has actually been a 12-plex for the past few weeks as Regal upgrades one of their two larger screens to something they're calling "Regal Premium Experience", or RPX. It looks like it's meant to be something roughly equivalent to the digital IMAX ("Liemax") screen at Boston Common, with digital projection and 3-D on a screen much larger and closer to the audience than is typical. Of course, there's a price difference - $15.00 as opposed to the usual $11.50 in the evening, and apparently the same price during the day (when the price is usually $9.00). No word yet on whether there will be additional surcharges for 3-D. Interestingly, Regal has been pushing the sound quality in the theater harder that the picture quality, though I guess that's not surprising - it was already a good-sized screen, so it's hard to see how going digital rather than 35mm will be an improvement.

    The movie they're opening with is Unstoppable, Tony Scott's new runaway train film with Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, and Rosario Dawson. It looks like it could be fun, although I'm curious to see how they make an entire movie out of it. The other mainstream openings are Skyline, the second nifty-looking alien invasion movie done on a budget by guys best known for their special effects work in as many weeks, and Morning Glory, which looks cute, although I never thought I'd see Harrison Ford as a supporting actor in a Rachel McAdams comedy.

  • Strangely, the multiplexes aren't opening 127 Hours wide this week, although it looks pretty good - Danny Boyle directing James Franco in a very cool looking movie that has a nifty trailer and is reportedly intense enough that people are reported to have passed out while watching it at festivals. It's only opening at the Kendall Square and Coolidge Corner theaters, although it will probably expand in a couple weeks.

    Kendall Square also opens four other movies, including three documentaries - Cool It, about alternative methods for dealing with global warming; Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, which appears to depict both his attempts to handle the financial crisis and the scandal that took him down; and Tibet in Song, whose title is fairly self-explanatory. That's the one with the one-week-warning, and director Ngawang Choephel will be present for the 7:10pm show on Friday. The one-week warning likely also applies to Enter the Void, the latest from Gaspar Noe. He directed Irreversible, and his new film looks to be every bit the punishing mindbender as his previous work. Landmark is apparently serious about only adults getting in; not only are they treating it as an NC-17 film, but it's splitting a screen with Tibet in Song.

  • The other film opening at the Coolidge is Boxing Gym, which will be opening in one of the video rooms. It is, as the title implies, a look at the regulars at Austin's Lord's Gym, and it's directed by Frederick Wiseman, who has made a great may documentaries in his day and is still cranking them out at the age of eighty. The movie also opens at the Brattle theater, and this afternoon and evening (Friday 12 November 2010), Wiseman will prove he's not slowing down by doing introductions at both locations - 7pm at the Brattle, and 4:40 and 9:20 at the Coolidge. I'm not sure how much Q&A there will be - even with the theaters just a couple miles apart, going back and forth will likely be tight. It's kind of surprising both are opening the film; hopefully they don't split a niche audience too badly.

    The Coolidge offers some special features - "Spike & Mike's Twisted Festival of Animation" returns for a second weekend of midnights, and The Room joins it on Saturday. Sunday Morning, they have a pair of screenings - a program of kids' shorts at 10:30, and German film Gravity at 11:00am. Monday night they have a live show, the "One-Man Star Wars Trilogy".

    The Brattle has a couple of documentary specials of their own: Enemies of the People, the much-awarded documentary about the Cambodian Killing Fields, will have single matinees Friday (4:30pm) and Saturday (1:00pm), with the director present on Friday. Sunday at 3pm, there is a screening of The Things We Carry, presented by the Boston Asian American Film Festival.

  • If you missed Four Lions at the Kendall, it moves over the Somerville Theatre this weekend, where it will share a screen with Hereafter. It will probably only last one more week, but that's still seven more days to see a very funny movie. Also opening at Somerville - albeit in the video screening room next to the Museum of Bad Art - is BearCity. Apparently, this is a Sex and the City-inspired romantic comedy taking place in New York's "bear" scene. If you know what that is, you probably also know whether this sounds like a good idea to you or not.

  • The Harvard Film Archive has guests again this weekend, but at least one is an order of magnitude less obscure than usual. Elaine May will be on-hand Friday and Saturday night, presenting Mikey and Nicky on Friday and Ishtar on Saturday. Yes, that's right, you can see Ishtar and demand explanations! She's not listed as hanging around for Sunday, but the Archive has two more of her films on tap that evening, A New Leaf and the original The Heartbreak Kid.

    On Monday, Harun Farocki returns with a pair of films, the short "I Thought I Was Seeing Convicts" and the featurette Images of the World and the Inscription of War, his best-known work according the the HFA website. The Archive also hosts a pair of free VES screenings, Spirit of the Beehive on Tuesday and Black Girl on Wednesday.

  • For the next couple of weeks, Emerson's main stage features what looks like an amazing bit of puppet theater, "Petrushka", set to music by Igor Stravinsky, and thier film programming this weekend ties in. Saturday afternoon, there is Animation Brigade: Puppet Animation Shorts Program, an hour of family-friiendly films from Latvia. Saturday evening features a pair of Stravinsky documentaries from the mind-1960s: Stravinsky and A Stravinsky Portrait. Also playing Saturday evening (as well as Sunday evening) is Ken Russell's Stravinsky biopic, The Music Lovers, which I gather is not quite so exaggerated as Lisztomania!.

    Like the Brattle, Emerson is also presenting a couple films with the Boston Asian American Film Festival this weekend: Aoki, a documentary of Japanese-American Richard Aoki, who was one of the founding members of the Black Panther Party, runs Friday night. After that, they will be running "Got Shorts?", a group of seven films that runs a total of about 90 minutes.

  • And, finally, the MFA wraps up its Boston Jewish Film Festival screenings on Sunday with Just Like Home and My Peristroika.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

This Week In Tickets: 1 November 2010 to 7 November 2010

The end of Daylight Savings Time: Why a person can stay up late cleaning out the DVR/writing a review of Action Replayy on Saturday and still make it to downtown Boston for two "A.M. Cinema" screenings on Sunday.

... albeit being pretty much ready to crash after Fair Game:

This Week In Tickets!

No "stubless" movies per se, although when cleaning out the DVR, a lot of what I watched was feature-length episodes of Masterpiece Mystery! - specifically, the latest entries in the Wallander series and most of Sherlock. And while this was a pretty decent weekend at the movies, those GBH/BBC co-productions certainly help raise the average.

Wallander is based upon a popular series of Swedish detective novels and stars Kenneth Branagh as a detective with depressive tendencies, the sort who cares too much and obsesses about each case to an unhealthy degree. This cycle has him confronting death not just in the messy aftermath, but first-hand, as he's forced to fire his weapon when confronted with a killer and sees his already-ailing father (David Warner) further deteriorate.

I'm not certain how much of a prestige project Wallander is for the BBC, but it's one of the most impressively-produced series on the air. Three or four times an episode, there will be a shot of the gray sky and bleak landscape that just stuns, and WGBH and Comcast had the good sense to not ever hurt it with much compression. Though set in Gstad, neither Branagh nor anyone else in the fine cast affects an accent, but it doesn't take away from the Scandinavian chill (and charm) at all.

As for Sherlock... Well, anyone reading this blog last December recognizes that I am something of a fan of Sherlock Holmes, and when I saw that Steven Moffat and Mark Gattis would be doing a new series called Sherlock for the BBC, I was understandably excited; Moffat has tended to be responsible for the best episode of Doctor Who ineach of the revival's first four seasons (as well as the fun "Timecrash" special), and though I hadn't heard of Benedict Cumberbatch before, Martin Freeman seemed like a fine Watson. I hadn't heard that the new show would be contemporary until the press release that WGBH had picked up the U.S. rights, but that certainly gave me pause.

Not that Holmes hadn't been updated before - throughout the silent era and thirties, when Doyle was either still writing new Holmes stories or had passed relatively recently, the movies tended to be set in the present day, although that wasn't too much of a stretch. The first two Rathbone/Bruce movies (done for Fox) were set in Victorian England, but when Universal picked the series up in the early 1940s, it was moved to the then-wartime setting to save production costs. Still, the idea of putting Sherlock in the present day seemed a little more nutty, if only because one of the things that set Holmes apart in the nineteenth century was Arthur Conan Doyle's emphasis on what we now call forensics, and it might make Holmes seem less exceptionally brilliant.

And it does, to a certain extent (as does Rupert Graves's Lestrade not coming off as a buffoon or goon); the producers and cast compensate by pushing Holmes's antisocial tendencies more than usual. But not so much that we ever lose track of how Holmes and Watson are among the best characters ever created. I wouldn't be shocked if Moffat and Gattis came to the BBC with a nameless pitch ("an army doctor back home after being wounded in Afghanistan teams with an antisocial genius to solve crimes too sensitive or strange for Scotland Yard") before telling them it was Sherlock Holmes. It's a great hook, and the producers do a fine job of building it into a contemporary series while still remaining true to the characters.

Oh, and the last fifteen minutes of the finale (which has enough going on for six episodes of most television series), where Holmes confronts Moriarty, is likely the best use of Moriarty ever. He's an overused character, especially compared to how seldom he appears in the canon, and I'm not sure his plan here makes senes, but the phrase he uses to describe himself makes it worthwhile.

This past summer/fall of Masterpiece Mystery! was outstanding all around, actually - though I didn't pay much mind to Miss Marple or Inspector Lewis, it still gave me new installments of Foyle's War, David Suchet in Poirot, Branagh as Wallander (again, honestly, one of the best-looking shows ever produced), and this new Sherlock. So if you missed any of it, use the Amazon links as something other than decoration.

Due Date

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 6 November 2010 at AMC Harvard Square #1 (first-run)

Speaking of Sherlock Holmes, Robert Downey Junior is usually worth checking out. Sadly, that's not the case here. While I can't literally say that I didn't laugh once during Due Date, the moments were, shall we say, well-spaced. What's worse is that the bit that generally had me laughing during the previews (Jamie Foxx speeding through a drainage ditch to toss Zach Galifianakis around in the back of his truck) turned out to be far less enjoyable during the actual film. Instead, they became examples of just how mean-spirited and dumb the movie is.

And it really is unpleasant. I don't require a movie to give me someone to root for, but I get the sense that director Todd Phillips and his co-writers really did want us to like Galifianakis's and Downey's characters, but it never happens for me: Galifianakis's idiot never grows on me, and Downey's high-strung guy still has me worried - this is a guy who gut-punches an annoying kid toward the start and alludes to a severe rage problem several times (as in, he apparently doesn't even remember the times he snaps) - and we're supposed to be rooting for him to get home to his wife and new child? Sure, the idea is that spending time with this goofball makes him a better man, but I never believe it.

For what it's worth, I didn't much like Phillips's previous film, The Hangover, very much either. Both movies share a crude, mean-spirited, black little heart, and seem to be built on people doing things that just make no sense other than the filmmakers needing other characters to accidentally be screwed over. Everybody's got their own line between amusing absurdity and lazy idiocy, of course, and Due Date consistently lands on the wrong side for me.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 7 November 2010 at AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run, 3-D, digital IMAX)

As expected, Megamind is akin to Monsters Versus Aliens - an affectionate pop-culture spoof with a decent combination of comedy and action, along with DreamWorks's trademark star-studded cast. Of course, big stars aren't always great voices, as evinced by how, when Megamind disguises himself as another character and I have no idea whether it's Will Ferrell or Ben Stiller speaking. And as much fun as some of the script's riffing on Superman is, it does mean it's a very specific parody. The details are kind of fun, though; it doesn't require knowing comic book minutiae.

It's nice enough, and along with superstar voices, DreamWorks is rapidly establishing good use of 3-D as one of their calling cards. It's not flashy, but it's well-done. It's an entertaining movie, not quite so good as some of the company's other animated films (such as How to Train Your Dragon), but it works well enough.

KuronekoMonstersDue DateAction ReplayyMegamindFair GameGerrymandering